Boo To You

Halloween 2014

Your hosts for the spookiest – but more likely unbearably cute 🙂 – Halloween party, Mr Cool SuperPuffles and Miss WonderHoney…

Halloween 2014

Yeay! We get to go trick or treat!

Halloween 2014

I’ve got a bone to pick with you pirates!

Halloween 2014

Hee, hee, we’re dressed for Halloween all year round!

Halloween 2014

I’m cooking up jokes!

Halloween 2014

The spiders are happy! It’s the one day of the year when they are cool!

Halloween 2014

Halloween 2014

We better rescue those cupcakes from the big spider!

Halloween 2014

Eww! The chef has left a finger and an eye on the cupcakes!

Halloween 2014

Yummy… Brewing spell cocktails!

Halloween 2014

I hope they don’t confuse us with the other pumpkins and try to set us alight!

Halloween 2014

These jokes tickle my funny bone!

Halloween 2014

Q: Why didn’t the skeleton dance at the Halloween party?
A: He had no body to dance with!

Q: Why did the skeleton run up a tree?
A: Because a dog was after his bones!

Q: What does a skeleton orders at a restaurant?
A: Spare ribs!!!

Q: Why do skeletons hate winter?
A: Because the cold goes right through them!

Q: What did the skeleton say when another skeleton told a lie?
A: You can’t fool me, I can see right through you!

Q: Who was the most famous skeleton detective?
A: Sherlock Bones!

Q: What do you call a skeleton that won’t get up in the mornings?
A: Lazy bones!

Q: Why wasn’t the naughty skeleton afraid of the police?
A: Because he knew they couldn’t pin anything on him!

Q: Why are skeletons so calm?
A: Because nothing gets under their skin!

Q: What type of art do skeletons like?
A: Skulltures!

Q: What happened to the skeleton who went to medical school?
A: The other students started to name tag his bones!

Q: What did the spider say to the fly on Halloween?
A: The web is the trick and you are the Treat!

Q: What do you call a big Irish spider?
A: Paddy long legs!

Q: How do spiders communicate?
A: Through the World Wide Web!

Q: How do you spot a modern spider?
A: He doesn’t have a web, he has a website!

Q: What are spiders webs good for?
A: Haunted Houses!

Q: What does a spider do when he gets angry?
A: He goes up the wall!

Q: What did the spider say when he broke his new web?
A: Darn it!

Q: Why did the spider move into the haunted house?
A: Ghosts can’t break their webs!

Q: Why did the spider get a job in I.T?
A: He was a great web designer!

Q: What did the wife spider say to her husband when he tried to explain why he was late?
A: You’re spinning me a yarn here!

Q: Why was the spider upset with Google?
A: Google kept take down his websites!

Q: What happened when the chef found a daddy long legs in the salad?
A: It became a daddy short legs!

Q: Why do black widow spiders kill their males after mating?
A: To stop the snoring before it starts!

Q: What do spiders eat in Paris?
A: French flies!

Q: Why do spiders spin webs?
A: Because they can’t knit!

Q: What did the spider say to the ghost?
A: Stop scaring the flies away!

Q: What is a Mummies’ favourite type of dance music?
A: Wrap!!!!!

Q: Why do ghosts and demons get along so well?
A: Because demons are a ghost’s best friend forever!

Q: Why doesn’t anyone like Count Dracula?
A: He’s a real pain in the neck!

Q: What goes Ha-ha-ha-ha!, thud!!! and keeps laughing?
A: A monster laughing its head off!

Q: How many witches does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Depends on what you want to change it into!!

Q: Who did the scary ghost invite to his party?
A: Any old friend he could dig up!

Q: What did one little girl ghost say to other little girl ghost?
A: Do you believe we use to be people?

Q: What does a cute baby bat say before going to bed?
A: Turn on the dark! I’m afraid of the light!

Q: Why can’t mummies go on vacation?
A: Because they’re afraid they’ll relax and unwind!

Q: How do vampires invite each other out for lunch?
A: Do you want to go for a bite?

Bewitching you a Happy Halloween!

Halloween 2014

Flying High

This is very exciting, we’re going on the London Eye!

London Eye
London Eye

It’s so big, it doesn’t fit in the photo any more!

London Eye
London Eye

Look, that’s Whitehall! Let’s go to see the Banqueting House. It hosted some of the most exuberant and decadent masques ever performed, as well as some of the most splendid state receptions.

Whitehall
Whitehall

And there’s Big Ben with the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey… We’re going there too!

Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey
Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey

This is a great hall for a party!

Banqueting House
Banqueting House

The idea of a ‘banquet’ comes from the medieval mind. Not the sumptuous feast we know today, but rather a peculiar little meal of exotic deserts and snacks. This was eaten, on special occasions, when diners had finished the meat course and were waiting for the entertainment to begin. People enjoyed their banquets so much that as time went on they began to built special little rooms, then special really big rooms!, or ‘houses’ to hold them in. These ‘banqueting houses’ were often highly decorated little buildings situated a pleasant (and digestion-aiding) walk away from the main dinner hall.

The Banqueting House in Whitehall was the biggest and grandest of the whole genre. While it was used formally as an impressive reception hall for ambassadors, it was intended for the kind of fanciful and playful activities that took place after dinner, such as masques and parties.

The grand palace that Henry VIII acquired from the Archdiocese of York in 1530, after Wolsey had fallen so spectacularly from grace, had one significant flaw for the amorous king. York Palace had been designed for a (nominally) celibate churchman. Whitehall Palace, as it was to be known from then onwards, required separate accommodation suitable for a queen. It also needed to suit a royal household to which sport and hunting were as natural as high politics and low cunning. Together, at Christmas 1529, Henry and Anne Boleyn set themselves the task of designing a new palace besides the Thames. James Nedeham, Master Carpenter to the King, realised the designs.

Henry VIII’s palace at Whitehall was remarkable for many things, not least the fact that it was split in two by a main road, the busy King Street (which survives to this day as Whitehall). It was crossed by a grand bridge within a striking gatehouse. On the river side, where Wolsey’s palace had been, was the residential and working palace, with private apartments for the King and for a queen, centred on an exquisite long gallery. On the other side of the road, close to the parkland, was the palace of pleasure, the royal recreation centre with provision for tennis, cockfighting, bowls and all manner of fun. A suburb of Westminster was swept away to accommodate a grand design, and part of the Thames foreshore was reclaimed to extend the built area.

Banqueting Hall
Banqueting Hall

Inside the new palace, little expense was spared in fitting out the new rooms, whether they were public or private. Wolsey’s rooms became those destined for the Queen, as Anne Boleyn was to be, once the inconvenient fact that Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, had been overcome. Speed became imperative when Anne was found to be pregnant.

Whitehall Palace was not completed in Henry’s lifetime and was always a building site. Anne, who was executed in 1536, never saw the rooms intended for her. That privilege was accorded to Jane Seymour, who gave Henry the son he craved (although she died in the process). The Prince was given his own palace, the new St James’ Palace, in the park to the west. And Jane was commemorated in two great paintings, one by Hans Holbein, the other by an unknown hand, that provide a sense of quite how magnificent the interiors of Whitehall Palace were. The Family of Henry VIII, by an unknown artist, portrays Henry, a chubby Prince Edward and the dead Jane.

The Family of Henry VIII, by an unknown artist, c 1545, detail
The Family of Henry VIII, by an unknown artist, c 1545, detail

By the time Anne Boleyn died, Whitehall Palace was sufficiently complete and sufficiently grand to be declared the official seat of the monarchy. In the years before his death in 1547, Henry VIII began building again, constructing a huge new set of royal lodgings on the waterfront, formal gardens, and another bridge over King Street. This was a magnificent palace, in an eclectic part-medieval, part-Renaissance style, filled with treasures and it was a setting appropriate to the power of the King. It fell to Elizabeth I to complete the building her father had left, and it would become the largest royal palace in Europe.

A somewhat flimsy, constructed of wood and canvas, Banqueting House was built by Elizabeth I, then two by James I, who scornfully described the earlier building on the site as a rotten shed. His displeasure at the design of the first house was short-lived – workers clearing up after a masque in January 1619 accidentally set fire to the oil painted scenery and burnt the Banqueting House to the ground. Despite the shortage of ready cash in the royal coffers, a new Banqueting House was immediately commissioned from the man of the moment, Inigo Jones. Jones, mindful of the King’s past displeasure, made use of his extensive notes on the buildings of Palladio that he had seen and studied in his visits to Italy, in designing the new house.

The Banqueting House, when almost completed in 1621, was stunning. Both in design and size it stood head and shoulders above the other ragbag assortment of buildings of Whitehall Palace. As John Chamberlain reported when the King entertained his first guests there on 25 April of that year: ‘This day the King kept St George’s feast in the new built banketting roome, which is too faire and nothing sutable to the rest of the house’.

The interior was one of magnificence and made exactly the impression that James I intended. The Venetian ambassador wrote: “His Majesty received us in a great hall newly built for public spectacles, royally adorned with marvellous tapestries and gold’.

Charles I’s marriage to a French princess, Henrietta Maria, was ratified in the Banqueting House on 21 June 1625, just three months after the death of James I. A period of war and an outbreak of plague marked the early years of Charles I’s reign and the Banqueting House was deserted until 1631, when the masque Love’s Triumph through Callipolis was performed.

The installation of Ruben’s masterly paintings in the Banqueting House ceiling in 1636 marked the end of the building as a venue for masques, with their requirement for brilliant, and highly damaging, illumination.

Ruben’s potent ceiling imagery of James I became a shrine to the Stuart dynasty, manifesting in the Banqueting House on a permanent basis, the pre-eminent theme of the Stuart masque: that peace, harmony and plenty will reign in the land ruled by the wide and just king.

Banqueting House Ceiling
Banqueting House Ceiling

No formal contract or record of meetings to discuss the subject of the Banqueting House ceiling survive, but at his final audience, we know Rubens was knighted by Charles I, who also presented him with a diamond, an ornamented hat cord and a ring from his own finger. Were these honours only for his part in the Spanish reconciliation, or perhaps also for the sketch that he almost certainly made during his visit to London, possibly from the floor of the Banqueting House itself? This monochrome oil sketch, now on view at Tate Britain, shows the overall composition of Rubens’ preliminary design for the nine panels for the Banqueting House ceiling. At its centre is a developed study of the apotheosis of King James I. Having brought union, peace and plenty to Britain, James I is seen ascending to heaven. ‘I confess that I am, by natural instinct, better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities.’ Rubens in a 1621 letter to James I’s agent was not deterred by the large-scale of the commission.

Banqueting House, Ceiling, Rubens The Apotheosis of James I
Banqueting House, Ceiling, Rubens The Apotheosis of James I

From left to right:
Genii playing with animals
The Apotheosis of James I
Genii bearing a garland

The nine canvasses were painted in Rubens’s Antwerp studio and completed by summer 1634 and were finally installed in the ceiling of the Banqueting House in around mid-March 1636. When the canvases were first unrolled on the floor, Inigo Jones and Rubens’ assistants realised with mounting horror that they wouldn’t fit in the ceiling. The problem had occurred because although both Belgium and England measured in feet and inches, each country used a different length for a foot. Drastic moderations had to be made on site to make them fit. Some of the canvases had to be extended slightly and others trimmed to fit in their settings. Charles I, nevertheless, was delighted with his new ceiling. So much so, that he immediately gave orders that no further masques were to be held in the building.

Banqueting House, Ceiling, Rubens The Peaceful Reign of King James I
Banqueting House, Ceiling, Rubens The Peaceful Reign of King James I

From left to right:
Wise Government holding a bridle above Intemperate Discord
The Peaceful Reign of James I
Abundance suppressing Avarice

Another project for the Banqueting House commissioned by Charles I – a set of tapestries from the Mortlake factory, depicting the Knights of the Gartner in procession to be made from an oil sketch by Van Dyck – was not completed. The royal coffers were almost empty and the nation in a state of increasing unrest. On 10 January 1642, Charles I left Whitehall for York. He would not set house on the Banqueting House for another seven years, when he was to walk across its hall on the final day of his life and the most fateful day in the whole of English history.

On Tuesday 30 January 1649, a little before two o’clock in the afternoon, Charles I left his Banqueting House for the last time. Stepping out as nonchalantly on to the scaffold, as if entering the Banqueting House on a masque night, Charles I walked on stage to lay the final scene as God’s representative on earth. It was a finale more bleak than anything imagined, a macabre masque of blackness and the ‘saddest sight that England ever saw’.

At the end of the English Civil War, Charles I had been escorted back to London to face a charge of high treason brought by a hastily convened revolutionary court, which the King refused to recognise as lawful. This court came to its predetermined sentence, that Charles Stuart should be ‘put to death by severing of his head from his body’. The execution of King Charles I is remembered every year on 30 January with a service in the Banqueting House.

Following the execution of Charles I, England entered the period known as the English Interregnum or the English Commonwealth, and the country was a de facto republic, led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell defeated Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, and Charles fled to mainland Europe. Cromwell became virtual dictator of England, Scotland and Ireland, and Charles spent the next nine years in exile in France, the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands.

A political crisis that followed the death of Cromwell in 1658 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy, and Charles was invited to return to Britain. On 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday, he was received in London to public acclaim. After 1660, all legal documents were dated as if he had succeeded his father as king in 1649. Charles II was popularly known as the Merry Monarch, in reference to both the liveliness and hedonism of his court and the general relief at the return to normality after over a decade of rule by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. Charles’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, bore no live children, but Charles acknowledged at least twelve illegitimate children by various mistresses. He was succeeded by his brother James.

James was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Members of Britain’s political and religious elite increasingly suspected him of being pro-French and pro-Catholic and of having designs on becoming an absolute monarch. When he produced a Catholic heir, the tension exploded, and leading nobles called on his Protestant son-in-law and nephew, William of Orange, to land an invasion army from the Netherlands, which he did. James fled England (and thus was held to have abdicated) in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was replaced by his Protestant elder daughter, Mary II, and her husband, William III.

Forty years almost to the day after Charles I had been executed at the Banqueting House, his grandchildren William of Orange and Mary, the elder daughter of the deposed James II, were offered the throne as joint monarchs. It was a unprecendented occasion. The offer depended upon them accepting the ancient legal rights of the people that James was said to have abused. It proved to be a constitutional turning point. The Convention were spelling out to William and Mary that the people of England possessed certain rights and liberties that James II had violated and there were certain things that English monarchs could not legally do, notwithstanding anything that James II had done to the contrary. William and Mary took the throne on the same terms that James II and all previous monarchs were presumed to have taken it – they were supposed to rule according to law.

In March 1689, Parliament turned its attention to devising a new coronation oath to oblige the new sovereign to rule according to law. In the traditional oath, which James II had taken in 1685, the monarch promised “to grant and keep and… confirm to the people of England the laws and customs granted to them by the kings of England”. The 1689 oath removed the notion that the people enjoyed their laws and customs as a grant from the king. Thus at their coronation, William and Mary solemnly swore and promised “to govern the people of this kingdom of England and the dominions thereto belonging according to the statues in Parliament agreed upon and the laws and customs of the same”.

Fire was the ever-present hazard for all royal buildings and Whitehall Palace was no exception. The oldest and most densely occupied, southern part of the palace burnt down in 1691 after a blaze was started by some candles lit in the Duke of Gloucester’s lodgings. The later 17th century parts were left unscathed, but just a few years later, on 4 January 1698, the remainder of the palace was engulfed in flames after a maidservant disobeyed standing orders by drying clothes on a charcoal brazier. The resulting fire swept through the palace, with its timber structure and open roof voids, and the firefighters were hampered by the extensive salvage operations to rescue the royal works of art and the many residents’ private possessions. On William III’s express orders, huge efforts were made to save the Banqueting House.

The Whitehall palace burnt down but the Banqueting House survived. The hall was fitted up after the fire as the principal Chapel Royal. The altar was at the north end, and a royal pew was placed opposite at the south end, where the replica throne is today.

Banqueting House
Banqueting House

Even when the Chapel Royal moved to St James’s Palace the place was used for preaching and public ceremonies. In 1808 the room became a military chapel. Rich velvet swags hung between the pillars and pew boxes ran down the long sides of the hall. Up to 2000 soldiers took part in a service.

In 1895, the Banqueting House began a new phase in its history as a tourist attraction. Queen Victoria granted the building to the Royal United Services Institution to use as a museum. Showcases full of military curiosities were crammed into the hall while banners hung from the ceiling. The museum lasted until 1962, and the house was reopened in 1964 as a historic building and events venue.

Banqueting House Event
Banqueting House Event

In 1689, the new joint monarchs, William and Mary, set about finding a new, private country home, where they could retreat from the old and rambling official palace of Whitehall (in 1689 there was still a palace at Whitehall). They purchased Nottingham House from Daniel Finch and within weeks the architect Sir Christopher Wren was set out to work transforming the house into a suitable royal residence. The court moved to the palace in Christmas 1689 following the efforts of Queen Mary who, impatient to move in, frequently visited to hurry the workmen along. Soon after one of her visits, several people were killed when some newly erected construction work fell down because it has been put up too quickly.

The new palace was furnished with a chapel, accommodation for courtiers, kitchens, stables, barracks, but above all, a series of grand rooms or State Apartments where the King and Queen could hold audience and ceremonies of state. Queen Mary was extensively involved in the design and furnishings of the palace. Echoes of her taste remain, most visible in the few pieces of her vast collection of oriental porcelain that survive. By 1692, the building was nearing completion, with a new gallery and staircase for the Queen, as well as rooms for her maids of honour. At the end of 1694, Queen Mary died of smallpox in her bedchamber at the palace.

Kensington Palace, Queen's Gallery, William of Orange Portrait
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Gallery, William of Orange Portrait

William lost interest in the building after Mary’s death, but he did complete the contract and very beautiful range that overlooks the south, housing his picture gallery with private apartments on the lower floors. In 1698, the King entertained the Russian Tsar Peter the Great here during this visit to England.

Kensington Palace, Queen's Gallery, Peter the Great Portrait
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Gallery, Peter the Great Portrait

After William and Mary, the palace continued to be at the centre of the life and government of the kingdom and played host to the courts of Queen Anne (Mary’s sister who ascended to the throne in 1702 when King William died childless), George I and George II. However, when George III came to the throne in October 1760, he made Buckingham Palace his principal London home and Kensington ceased to serve as the seat of a reigning monarch.

One of the most well-known residents of Kensington Palace was Princess Victoria. On 24 May 1819 Princess Victoria was born at Kensington Palace and she was christened the following month in a private ceremony in the Cupola Room.

Kensington Palace, King's State Apartments, Cupola Room
Kensington Palace, King’s State Apartments, Cupola Room

Eighteen years later, Princess Victoria was awakened at Kensington Palace early in the morning of 20 June 1837 with news of her accession to the throne.

Henry Tanworth Wells - Queen Victoria Receiving News of Her Accession to the Throne
Henry Tanworth Wells – Queen Victoria Receiving News of Her Accession to the Throne

Her first Privy Council was held in the Red Salon on this day, before the young Queen moved permanently to Buckingham Palace with her mother.

Kensington Palace, Victoria Exhibition, Red Saloon
Kensington Palace, Victoria Exhibition, Red Saloon

The private apartments at Kensington Palace continued to be used by members of the Royal Family throughout the 19th century, however, the State Apartments were sadly neglected and were used as stores for various paintings and furnishings from other palaces. It was only Queen Victoria’s love for the palace in which she had grown up that saved it. In April 1897, Parliament was persuaded to pay for the restoration of the State Apartments on condition they should be opened to the public. The State Apartments were opened to the public on Queen Victoria’s birthday, 24 May 1899.

Today, the State Apartments comprise the King’s and Queen’s Apartments (interpreted to represent the time of King William III and Queen Mary II) and the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. The private side of Kensington Palace has been home in recent years to Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales and now to William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Kensington Palace reopened to the public after a £12 million makeover in 2012, timed to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Queen Victoria’s wedding dress went on display for the first time in more than a decade.

Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Wedding Dress
Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Wedding Dress

The gown, which she wore when she married her cousin Prince Albert at St James’s Palace in 1840, is one of the star items in a new exhibition, Victoria Revealed, at Kensington Palace. Experts have been carrying out conservation work on the dress’ fragile silk satin and lace trimming. By wearing a fashionable white, silk satin court dress instead of her ‘robes’ at the wedding, the Queen diverged from protocol. The simpler style set a pattern for royal wedding dress which survives to this day.

Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Wedding Dress, detail
Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Wedding Dress, detail

Outside, in the grounds of the palace alongside Hyde Park, a statue of Queen Victoria has been given a facelift – with her shrapnel-damaged nose replaced for the second time. The statue was sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise, to celebrate 50 years of her mother’s reign.

Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Statue
Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Statue

The Queen’s Apartments are deliberately plainer and lower key than the King’s both inside and out. The oak-panelled Queen’s Staircase is a sharp contrast to the grand marble King’s Staircase. Mary would have glided down its steps to reach her beloved gardens, created in the Dutch style, through the door at its foot.

Kensington Palace, Queen's Staircase
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Staircase

At the top of the staircase is the Queen’s Gallery. Built in 1693, it was once filled with sumptuous artefacts including Turkish carpets, embroidered silk hangings and oriental porcelain. Queen Mary used the gallery for recreation and it was often filled with her ladies-in-waiting working at their embroidery, while one of them read out loud. Among the guests who visited the gallery was Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia who had been invited to court by William III in 1698. William persuaded his guest to sit for a portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, which still hangs in this room. Looking at this majestic portrait, few would guess how badly behaved the Tsar was during his stay. While in England, Peter lodged with the diarist John Evelyn, who later complained that nearly every window in his house had been smashed, his paintings had bullet holes in them and all of his chairs, and most of his staircase, had been chopped up for firewood.

Kensington Palace, Queen's Gallery
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Gallery

The Queen’s Closet was a room to withdraw into from the social world of the gallery. It was in this room that Queen Anne, Mary’s younger sister, and her childhood friend and confidante, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, had a terrible argument in 1711. Sarah and her husband were stripped of their high-rank positions and dismissed from court, which caused a shift of power between parliamentary factions.

A cherry painting! Clearly the Queen had good taste!

Kensington Palace, Queen's Closet
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Closet

The next room along is the Queen’s Dining Room which has beautiful panelling from the 17th century. It was a space where Mary and William could dine together, out of the public eye. They enjoyed dining modestly, on fish and beer. Mary also doubtless used this room to take tea, the newly fashionable hot drink, with the ladies of her household.

Kensington Palace, Queen's Dining Room
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Dining Room

Queen Mary was passionate about porcelain and filled the next room, her Drawing Room, with pieces from China and Japan.

The last room in the Queen’s State Apartments is the Queen’s Bedroom. As Mary extended her apartments and created a new bedroom, this room became a cosy sociable space in which she entertained friends.

The bed that is displayed in this room also tells its own fascinating story. It is thought to be the bed in which James Edward Stuart, son of King James II was born, at St James’ Palace, in 1688. As Mary and Anne’s Catholic half-brother, his birth was such a threat to the Protestant establishment that rumours were spread that the baby was an impostor, smuggled into the bed in a ‘warming pan’ to replace a stillborn infant.

Kensington Palace, Queen's Bedroom
Kensington Palace, Queen’s Bedroom

The King’s Staircase makes its way up to the King’s State Apartments. All of the great and good of Georgian London would have climbed up the stairs to visit the King. Visitors to court could only enter if their clothes and jewels were acceptable to the guards.

Kensington Palace, King's Staircase
Kensington Palace, King’s Staircase

The staircase paintings were completed around 1726 by William Kent, in place of the plainer wooden panelling installed by Wren. The young Kent included a portrait of himself on the ceiling, in a brown artist’s cap and holding a palette. The imaginary architecture of the staircase was inspired by work that Kent had seen in the palaces of Rome where he trained.

The Presence Chamber was furnished sparsely. The gilded armchair once belonged to George II’s son, Frederick.

Kensington Palace, The Presence Chamber
Kensington Palace, The Presence Chamber

Here, William Kent’s grotesque-style ceiling was inspired by the decorations found in Roman houses that had recently been excavated on the Palatine Hill in Rome. (People thought that these houses were caves, or grottoes, so this style’s name is based on a misunderstanding.) But the room’s decorative highlight is the limewood carvings by Grinling Gibbons surrounding the fireplace. These cherubs with closed eyes and beautiful roses were originally painted lead white.

The Privy Chamber was one of Queen Caroline’s favourite entertaining spaces. Its magnificent ceiling, painted by William Kent in 1723, shows Mars, the Roman god of war, and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, surrounded by emblems representing the arts and sciences. For Mars, read King George who was the last king to lead troops into battle; for Minerva, read Queen Caroline who invited many artists and scientists to court.

Kensington Palace, The Privy Chamber
Kensington Palace, The Privy Chamber
Kensington Palace, The Privy Chamber, Ceiling
Kensington Palace, The Privy Chamber, Ceiling

The Cupola Room is the most splendidly decorated room in the palace. It was the first royal commission of William Kent, the artist and designer who would go on first to decorate the rest of the State Apartments, and then to create a distinctive visual look for the Georgian age. Here he re-created in paint a baroque Roman palace but with the Star of the Order of the Garter as the ceiling’s centrepiece.

Kensington Palace, King's State Apartments, Cupola Room
Kensington Palace, King’s State Apartments, Cupola Room
Kensington Palace, King's State Apartments, Cupola Room, Ceiling
Kensington Palace, King’s State Apartments, Cupola Room, Ceiling

The King’s Drawing Room is the climax of the whole suite of rooms where courtiers would have come in search of power and patronage, but you have to imagine this empty room packed absolutely full with courtiers. It was here that the courtiers would cram themselves to gossip, indulge in flirtations, covertly size up their friends and enemies, get drunk on brandy, wine and port and, most importantly, play cards, often losing vast fortunes, family seats, eligible daughters and prized diamond jewellery in the process.

Kensington Palace, King's Drawing Room
Kensington Palace, King’s Drawing Room

Tables have been set up so that modern visitors, and little bears, can also play a hand of Hazard – although hopefully their losses won’t be so great as those that beleaguered and dissipated the fortunes of several leading aristocratic eighteenth century families.

Kensington Palace, King's Drawing Room
Kensington Palace, King’s Drawing Room

The King’s Gallery was built for William III as an addition to Wren’s original design in the new South Front and was finished in about 1700. Originally it was hung with green velvet, and William would meet his spies and plan his military campaigns here. The dial positioned over the fireplace is still connected to a wind-vane on the roof so that the King could see which way the wind was blowing, where his navy was likely to be heading, and when the posts were likely to arrive. Created for King William III, it is still (amazingly) in working order. It was here that William played soldiers with his little nephew and intended heir, the Duke of Gloucester, and after a riding accident at Hampton Court, it was here that the King caught the chill that led to his death in 1702.

The gallery was transformed in 1725 by William Kent for George I. Red damask replaced the green velvet, the fine oak joinery was painted white and gilded and a new marble chimneypiece, carved overmantel and new door cases were inserted. Kent and his assistants painted the seven large ceiling canvases that show scenes from the life of Ulysses.

The rooms are surprisingly empty – this is because unlike domestic rooms, the State Apartments were used for audiences and meetings. Courtiers and visitors stood in the presence of Royalty so there was no need for the sorts of furniture you normally find in a home.

Very grand but we like our rooms at home full of our friends and all our things!

Kensington Palace, King's Staircase
Kensington Palace, King’s Staircase

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster and often extended to refer to the clock and the clock tower. The tower is officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, renamed as such to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II (prior to being renamed in 2012 it was known as simply “Clock Tower”). The large west tower now known as Victoria Tower was renamed in tribute to Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee. The tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower.

Completed in 1858 presumably as a vertical tower, it is now tilting as a result of the excavations for the Jubilee Line Extension and the construction of Westminster tube station in the late 1990s. The tower’s tilt has increased an additional 0.9 mm each year since 2003, and the tilt can now be seen by the naked eye.

Big Ben
Big Ben

Westminster Abbey has been the setting for every Coronation since 1066 and for numerous other royal occasions, including sixteen royal weddings. Let’s go visit!

Westminster Abbey, Royal Entrance
Westminster Abbey, Royal Entrance

The Coronation Chair was made for King Edward I to enclose the famous Stone of Scone, which he brought from Scotland to the Abbey in 1296, where he placed it in the care of the Abbot of Westminster. The King had a magnificent oaken chair made to contain the Stone in 1300-l, painted by Master Walter and decorated with patterns of birds, foliage and animals on a gilt ground. The figure of a king, either Edward the Confessor or Edward I, his feet resting on a lion, was painted on the back. The four gilt lions below were made in 1727 to replace the originals, which were themselves not added to the Chair until the early 16th century. The Stone was originally totally enclosed under the seat but over the centuries the wooden decoration has been torn away from the front. At coronations the Chair with the Stone stands facing the High Altar. Every monarch has been crowned in this chair since Edward II in 1308, except Edward V and Edward VIII, who were not crowned. At the joint coronation of William III and Mary II in 1689 a special chair was made for Mary, which is now in the Abbey Museum. The Chair was taken out of the Abbey when Oliver Cromwell was installed upon it as Lord Protector in Westminster Hall. It was used by Queen Victoria at the 1887 Golden Jubilee Services in the Abbey. During the Second World War the Chair was evacuated to Gloucester Cathedral and the Stone was secretly buried in the Abbey. Most of the graffiti on the back part of the Chair is the result of Westminster schoolboys and visitors carving their names in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Chair was kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor for many centuries until that chapel was closed to general visitors in 1997. In February 1998 the Chair was moved out to the ambulatory and raised on a modern pedestal near the tomb of Henry V. In April 2010 it was moved to a specially built enclosure within St Georges Chapel at the west end of the Nave for essential conservation work and can currently be viewed there.

Marie-Louise Sauerberg of the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge doing conservation work on the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey
Marie-Louise Sauerberg of the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge doing conservation work on the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey

An architectural masterpiece of the 13th to 16th centuries, Westminster Abbey also presents a unique pageant of British history – the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, the tombs of kings and queens, and countless memorials to the famous and the great.

From the Middle Ages, aristocrats were buried inside chapels, while monks and other people associated with the abbey were buried in the cloisters and other areas. One of these was Geoffrey Chaucer, who was buried here as he had apartments in the abbey where he was employed as master of the King’s Works. Other poets, writers and musicians were buried or memorialized around Chaucer in what became known as Poets’ Corner. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried in their place of work.

Subsequently, it became one of Britain’s most significant honours to be buried or commemorated in the abbey. The practice of burying national figures in the Abbey began under Oliver Cromwell with the burial of Admiral Robert Blake in 1657. The practice spread to include generals, admirals, politicians, doctors and scientists such as Isaac Newton, buried on 4 April 1727, and Charles Darwin, buried 26 April 1882. Another was William Wilberforce, the man who abolished slavery in the United Kingdom and the Plantations, who was buried on 3 August 1833. Wilberforce was buried in the north transept, close to his friend, the former Prime Minister, William Pitt.

George Frederic Handel is buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey, near the Poets’ Corner.

The works that associate Handel most closely with Westminster Abbey are the four anthems written for the coronation of George II in 1727. The best known, ‘Zadok the Priest’, has been used at every coronation since then, but all four continue to be regularly performed and recorded. Handel also wrote an anthem, ‘The ways of Zion do mourn’, for the funeral of Queen Caroline (George II’s consort) who was buried in the Abbey in December 1737.

A less well-known link between Handel and the Abbey involves Esther, the composer’s first oratorio, performed privately at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand in 1732 under the direction of Bernard Gates. Gates was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, but he was also a long-standing member of the Abbey’s choir and had assembled a number of his Westminster colleagues to sing in the chorus.

Three days before his death in 1759 Handel signed a codicil to his will saying he hoped he might be buried in the Abbey and desired that his executor erect a monument for him. The funeral was attended by about 3,000 people including King George II, and the choirs of the Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Chapel Royal sang the service.

On the wall above his grave is a fine monument by the sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac. The life-size statue, unveiled in 1762, is said to be an exact likeness as the face was modelled from a death mask. Behind the figure, among clouds, is an organ with an angel playing a harp. On the left of the statue is a group of musical instruments and an open score of his most well-known oratorio Messiah, composed in 1741.

Westminster Abbey, Monument to George Frederic Handel in the south transept
Westminster Abbey, Monument to George Frederic Handel in the south transept
Westminster Abbey, Monument to George Frederic Handel in the south transept, detail
Westminster Abbey, Monument to George Frederic Handel in the south transept, detail

Handel’s statue has now a new index finger on his left hand. It got fitted the day we were there.

William Shakespeare was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and it was not until 1741 that a memorial statue to him was erected in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Shortly after Shakespeare’s death there was some talk about removing his remains from Stratford to the Abbey but the idea was soon abandoned.

Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare monument
Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare monument

The life-size white marble statue, shown in the dress of his period and wearing a cloak, was erected by the 3rd Earl of Burlington (Richard Boyle), Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The monument was designed by William Kent and executed by Peter Scheemakers, and both signed it, with the date 1740. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster charged no fee for its erection.
The carved heads of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry V and Richard III appear on the base of a pedestal. The figure of the poet, about 5 feet 6 inches in height, stands with his right leg crossed in front of his left, leaning his elbow on a pile of three books (they have no titles). A chaplet (wreath of bays, signifying immortality) with a dagger (symbol of tragedy) and a dramatic mask are also shown above the head of Richard III. The group is in front of a pedimented architectural frame. William’s left hand index finger points to a scroll hanging from the pedestal on which are painted a variant of Prospero’s lines from The Tempest:

The Cloud capt Tow’rs,
The Gorgeous Palaces,
The Solemn Temples,
The Great Globe itself,
Yea all which it Inherit,
Shall Dissolve;
And like the baseless Fabrick of a Vision
Leave not a wreck behind.

Westminster Abbey, Memorials in Poets' Corner
Westminster Abbey, Memorials in Poets’ Corner

A small stone with a simple inscription marks the grave of Charles Dickens, famous English novelist, in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey:
CHARLES DICKENS
BORN 7th FEBRUARY 1812
DIED 9th JUNE 1870

This was at his own wish. He wrote in his will “that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb… I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works…”. Dickens died at his house, Gad’s Hill Place, near Rochester in Kent and it was presumed that he would be buried at Rochester Cathedral. But public opinion, led by The Times newspaper, demanded that Westminster Abbey was the only place for the burial of someone of his distinction. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster, after being approached by John Forster and the poet’s son, readily agreed and the funeral was strictly private, following Dickens’ own instructions.

Only twelve mourners attended, made up of family and close friends, together with the Abbey clergy. So Dickens was buried in the almost empty and silent Abbey, the funeral service from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer being read by the Dean. On the top of the plain coffin was laid a wreath of ferns and roses, with single red and white roses down each side and a circle of white roses at the foot. The coffin-plate inscription was the same as that inscribed on the stone. Each year on the anniversary of Dickens’ birth a wreath is laid on the grave.

No one knows exactly when the first church was built on this site, but it was well over a thousand years ago. At that time, this area was a swampy and inhospitable place on the outskirts of London. The church stood on an island called Thorney Island, surrounded by tributaries from the Thames. There are various myths and legends to explain its origin. One story says that King Sebert (died 616 CE), king of the East Saxons, founded the church in 604. The monks in the 14th century were so impressed with this idea that they exhumed what they thought were Sebert’s bones from the cloisters and reburied them in a place of honour by the high altar. However, in 2003 archaeologists found what they now believe is the king’s grave miles away in Essex! A lot of these stories claiming ancient origin were embellished by the monks partly to establish that their abbey – the west minster, or church – was older than St Paul’s Cathedral – the east minster.

Legends apart, in 960 Dunstan, the bishop of London, brought twelve Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster. One hundred years later King Edward, who was known as ‘the Confessor’ because he led a particularly holy life, founded his church on the site.

In the 1040s King Edward (later St Edward the Confessor) established his royal palace by the banks of the river on Thorney Island. Edward chose to re-endow and greatly enlarge the Benedictine monastery, building a large stone church in honour of St Peter the Apostle. Unfortunately, when the new church was consecrated on 28 December 1065 the King was too ill to attend and died a few days later. His mortal remains were entombed in front of the High Altar.

The only traces of Edward’s monastery to be seen today are in the round arches and massive supporting columns of the undercroft and the Pyx Chamber in the cloisters. The undercroft now houses the Abbey Museum but was originally part of the domestic quarters of the monks. Among the most significant ceremonies that occurred in the Abbey at this period was the coronation of William the Conqueror on Christmas day 1066, and the “translation” or moving of King Edward’s body to a new tomb a few years after his canonisation in 1161.

Edward’s Abbey survived for two centuries until the middle of the 13th century when King Henry III decided to rebuild it in the new Gothic style of architecture. It was a great age for cathedrals: in France it saw the construction of Amiens, Evreux and Chartres and in England Canterbury, Winchester and Salisbury, to mention a few. Under the decree of the King of England, Westminster Abbey was designed to be not only a great monastery and place of worship, but also a place for the coronation and burial of monarchs. This church was consecrated on 13 October 1269. Unfortunately the king died before the nave could be completed so the older structure stood attached to the Gothic building for many years.

Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the Abbey, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII who were never crowned. It was natural that Henry III should wish to translate the body of the saintly Edward the Confessor into a more magnificent tomb behind the High Altar.

Westminster Abbey, High Altar
Westminster Abbey, High Altar
Westminster Abbey, High Altar Floor, Detail
Westminster Abbey, High Altar Floor, Detail

This shrine survives and around it are buried a cluster of medieval kings and their consorts including Henry III, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V. The Abbey contains over 600 monuments and wall tablets – the most important collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the country – and over three thousand people are buried here. Notable among these is the Unknown Warrior, whose grave, close to the west door, has become a place of pilgrimage. Heads of State who are visiting the country invariably come to lay a wreath at this grave.

A remarkable new addition to the Abbey was the glorious Lady chapel built by King Henry VII, first of the Tudor monarchs, which now bears his name.

Westminster Abbey, Lady Chapel
Westminster Abbey, Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel was begun in 1503 and constructed at the expense of Henry VII. It is the last great masterpiece of English medieval architecture. In 1545 John Leland called it “the wonder of the entire world”. Unfortunately the names of the master masons who designed it are not known but they were possibly Robert Janyns and William Vertue. The chapel is approached by a flight of stairs and at the entrance are finely wrought bronze gates displaying royal Tudor emblems.

The outstanding feature of the chapel is the spectacular fan-vaulted roof with its carved pendants.

Westminster Abbey, Detail of the eastern part of the vaulted roof of the Lady Chapel
Westminster Abbey, Detail of the eastern part of the vaulted roof of the Lady Chapel

Around the walls are 95 statues of saints. Behind the altar is the tomb of Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York. The bronze screen around it is by Thomas Ducheman and the gilt bronze effigies and Renaissance tomb were designed by Italian Pietro Torrigiano. James I is also buried in the vault beneath the monument.

In 1725 the chapel was first used for installations of Knights of the Order of the Bath and the heraldic banners of living knights hang above the oak stalls. Beneath the hinged seats of the stalls are beautifully carved misericords.

The painting of the Virgin and Child, ‘Madonna of the Cherries’, on the altar is by Bartolomeo Vivarini (Venetian School, about 1480). It was presented to the Abbey by Lord Lee of Fareham in 1935 to adorn the new altar of the Lady Chapel.

Westminster Abbey,  Painting Over the Altar Henry VII Chapel, Vivarini Madonna of the Cherries 1480
Westminster Abbey,
Painting Over the Altar Henry VII Chapel,
Vivarini Madonna of the Cherries 1480

For something different, let’s take on something our own size next!

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

An Artistic Weekend in London – Part II

Sunday morning finds little Puffles and Honey at the Royal Albert Hall…

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall is best known for staging the BBC Proms, the world’s largest classic music festival. But this is just one of the wide variety of events which take place in this remarkable building each year.

The flexibility of the venue as well as the ability to showcase the very latest in performance and innovation is not a new concept; the Royal Albert Hall was opened in 1871 for this very purpose. The frieze that decorates its exterior summarises the original dream for the building: “This Hall was erected for the advancement of the Arts and Sciences and works of industry of all nations…”

Royal Albert Hall, Freeze detail
Royal Albert Hall, Frieze detail

The great mosaic frieze depicts “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”, in reference to the Hall’s dedication. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the north side the sixteen subjects of the frieze are: (1) Various Countries of the World bringing in their Offerings to the Exhibition of 1851; (2) Music; (3) Sculpture; (4) Painting; (5) Princes, Art Patrons and Artists; (6) Workers in Stone; (7) Workers in Wood and Brick; (8) Architecture; (9) The Infancy of the Arts and Sciences; (10) Agriculture; (11) Horticulture and Land Surveying; (12) Astronomy and Navigation; (13) A Group of Philosophers, Sages and Students; (14) Engineering; (15) The Mechanical Powers; and (16) Pottery and Glassmaking.

Above the frieze is an inscription in 300 mm terracotta letters that combines historical fact and Biblical quotations: “This Hall was erected for the advancement of the Arts and Sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high and on earth peace.”

The vision for the Hall was that of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. He had played a leading role in staging the Great Exhibition of the Works and Industry of all Nations in 1851 at the newly built Crystal Palace, an enormous “international trade show” which was enjoyed by over six million people. Visitors to the exhibition were amazed by innovations such as the sewing machine, electric telegraph and daguerreotype. The Exhibition was a great success and made the organisers a profit of £186,000 which would be equivalent to around £10 million today. They decided to invest in the continuation of their dream by building a more permanent venue to celebrate the arts, industry and science.

Sadly, Albert did not live to see the completion of his dream. He died of typhoid in 1861 and Queen Victoria mourned her great love for the rest of her life, always wearing black until her death 40 years later. At the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871, Victoria was still so upset that she could not speak; it was left to her son, the Prince of Wales, to declare the Hall open.

Royal Albert Hall, Royal Entrance
Royal Albert Hall, Royal Entrance

However, Albert will not be forgotten in a hurry, there is something like 13,000 references to his name in the Hall alone! That is, not counting the other memorials to Albert around London. The Hall was originally supposed to have been called The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed by Queen Victoria to Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when laying the foundation stone. It forms the practical part of a national memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by the road Kensington Gore.

Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens
Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens
Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens
Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens

Most of the money originally intended for the Hall was diverted to building the Albert Memorial. Henry Cole, who oversaw the design and construction of the Hall (and who shared Prince Albert’s vision and had worked alongside him to stage the Great Exhibition) realised that if he wanted his Hall, then he would have to finance it by other means. The sums required were raised by selling 1,300 seats at £100 each on a 999 year lease. Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales were amongst the first supporters. Queen Victoria purchased 20 seats on the Grand Tier forming the Queen’s Box and making it the largest box in the Hall. About 1,200 of the venue’s 5,500 seats are still owned privately under the debenture system and most boxes are passed from generation to generation of the same family.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1023841/For-sale-The-Albert-Hall-box-1-2m-view.html

Queen Victoria got so obsessive with the memorials to her great love, that Charles Dickens wrote in a letter to John Leech on September 5, 1864:
“If you should meet with an inaccessible cave anywhere in that neighbourhood, to which a hermit could retire from the memory of Prince Albert and testimonials to the same, pray let me know of it. We have nothing solitary and deep enough in this part of England.”

There have been many modifications to the original building since 1871. The most important were the efforts made to cure the Hall’s famous echo. Henry Cole had been confident that the Hall would have marvellous acoustics, and one of Cole’s many claims when raising the private capital declared that, ‘the experience of the Central Transept of the Crystal Palace proves that even a large number can hear well in a building which was not originally designed for hearing’.

But it became obvious very early on that the acoustics were a problem and Henry Cole wrote in his diary in February 1871, ‘found echo in Balcony… echoes in Hall very curious’. When the Prince of Wales made his opening speech in March 1871, it is said that his words echoed so much that in parts of the Hall they could be heard twice. Indeed, it used to be jokingly said that the Hall was “the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice”.

Various solutions were tried, and the final solution to the echo came in 1969 (almost a hundred years later!) when 135 disc shapes like ‘mushrooms’, filled with glass fibre wool were hung from the dome. Ironically, a similar solution had been suggested 75 years earlier but was never acted upon.

Royal Albert Hall - Acoustic diffusing discs (lit in blue) hanging from the roof of the Hall. The fluted aluminium panels are seen above, lit in red.
Royal Albert Hall – Acoustic diffusing discs (lit in blue) hanging from the roof of the Hall. The fluted aluminium panels are seen above, lit in red.

From the early 1990s until 2004, the Royal Albert Hall undertook the largest refurbishment and restoration of the building since it opened in 1871, at a cost of £70 million. Incredibly, during the ten years of refurbishment and restoration the Hall only closed twice and on both occasions for planned periods of just a few weeks. Great project management and stakeholder engagement!

Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world’s leading artists from several performance genres have appeared on its stage and it has become one of the UK’s most treasured and distinctive buildings. Each year it hosts more than 350 events including classical concerts, rock and pop, ballet and opera, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets.

But the most famous event to be held at the Royal Albert Hall is the annual eight week season of the BBC Proms. In 1941, following the destruction of the Queen’s Hall in Upper Regent Street in an air raid, the Hall was chosen as the new venue for the proms. In 1944 with increased danger to the Hall, part of the proms were held in the Bedford Corn Exchange. Following the end of World War II the proms continued in the Hall and have done so annually every summer since. The event was founded in 1895, and now each season consists of over 70 concerts, in addition to a series of events at other venues across the United Kingdom on the last night.

Proms (short for promenade concerts) is a term which arose from the original practice of the audience promenading, or strolling, in some areas during the concert. Proms concert-goers, particularly those who stand, are sometimes described as “Promenaders”, but are most commonly referred to as “Prommers”.

No Proms concert today, but there is a Great Classics Concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Puffles and Honey check in on the rehearsal to make sure everything is as it should be…

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

…before attending the concert to enjoy the William Tell Overture by Rossini, the Piano Concerto No 2 by Rachmaninov (Natasha Paremski at the piano) and Symphony No 9 ‘From the New World’ by Dvorak.

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

Bravo!

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

A hop on a few buses 🙂

Bus Art, Cath Kidston
Bus Art, Cath Kidston
Bus Art, London Skyline Bus by Kristjana Williams
Bus Art, London Skyline Bus by Kristjana Williams

Have to love the ‘Do not climb’ sign. Of course, Puffles and Honey didn’t climb on the buses, they just magically landed on top of them!

Bus Art,  Trafalgar Panoramic by Rob Wilson
Bus Art, Trafalgar Panoramic by Rob Wilson

And we’re back at Trafalgar square…

Trafalgar Square, 360 Panorama
Trafalgar Square, 360 Panorama

Although the square itself has been criticized as a thoroughly incompetent piece of town planning, it keeps its hold on Londoners’ affections and remains high on the agenda of tourists in the capital. Known for its innumerable pigeons – a few years ago war declared on them – it is often the scene of political demonstrations. Its history goes back to 1812, when the architect John Nash proposed to clear away a clutter of buildings where the royal mews and stables once stood to create a square at nearby Charing Cross, but it was not constructed until the 1840s, by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament.

For Barry, a major consideration was increasing the visual impact of the National Gallery, which had been widely criticised for its lack of grandeur. He dealt with the complex sloping site by excavating the main area of the square down to the level of the footway between Cockspur Street and the Strand, and constructing a fifteen foot high balustraded terrace with a roadway on the north side, with steps at each end leading down to the main level. Wilkins had proposed a similar solution, but with a central flight of steps. Plinths were provided for sculpture and pedestals for lighting. The next year it was decided that two fountains should be included in the layout.

Nelson’s Column had been planned independently of Barry’s work. In 1838 a Nelson Memorial Committee had approached the government, proposing that a monument to the victor of Trafalgar, funded by public subscription, should be erected in the square, and the government had provisionally agreed. A competition was held, the winning design, by the architect William Railton, being for a Corinthian column topped by a statue of Nelson, with an overall height of more than 60 meters, guarded by four sculpted lions.

Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Column
Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column

The monument is a statement of triumph over the French and honors the greatest of English naval heroes. Lord Nelson was killed at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, in which the Royal Navy destroyed a combined force of 33 French and Spanish ships without itself losing a single ship. Lord Nelson’s statue, 5m high, surveys Trafalgar Square from a top of a fluted stone column of 52m. A few days before the statue was hoisted into place, a party of fourteen people ate a perilous steak dinner on top of the column. It is guarded at the bottom by four splendidly formidable lions designed by Sir Edwin Landseer and cast by Carlo Marochetti in 1867, and there are also bronze reliefs of Nelson’s naval victories made from captured French cannons.

Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Column Lion
Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column Lion

Building work undertaken on the south side of the square in 1960 revealed a number of deposits from the last interglacial. Among the findings, dating from approximately 40,000 years ago, were the remains of cave lion, rhinoceros, straight-tusked elephant and hippopotamus.

Let’s go check out the National Gallery.

National Gallery
National Gallery

The National Gallery houses the British collection of Western European paintings of all schools, from the late 13th century to the early 20th century, from Margarito of Arezzo to Monet.

Founded in 1824, the Gallery is a latecomer to the ranks of comparable institutions. The collections of the Medici in Florence had been presented to the State of Tuscany in 1737, and other major repositories of art opened to the public shortly afterwards: in Vienna in 1781, in Paris in 1793, in Amsterdam in 1808, in Madrid in 1809, in Berlin in 1823. While the British Museum had been founded in 1753, it was above all a collection of antique sculpture, coins and medals, growing to include books, prints and drawings; there were few paintings.

After some debate on the benefits of a National Gallery, with Constable deploring the idea while Sir George Beaumont (1753 – 1827), landscape painter and art collector, Constable’s patron, and a chief proponent of a national gallery, and Reverend Holwell Carr promising their own collections of paintings to the nation provided a suitable building could be found for their proper display and conservation, in 1824 two events took place that finally persuaded the government. The Old Masters collection built up by John Julius Angerstein (1735 – 1823), a self-made financier, philanthropist and collector born in St Petersburg, went on sale while at the same time there was an unexpected repayment by the Austrians of a war debt. The latter being used to purchase the former, the National Gallery came into being. Sebastiano del Piombo’s great altarpiece, The Raising of Lazarus, was an Angerstein picture and bears the accession number ‘1’ in the Gallery’s collection.

John Julius Angerstein, aged over 80 1824, Sir Thomas Lawrence
John Julius Angerstein, aged over 80
1824, Sir Thomas Lawrence

The gift of the pictures by Sir George Beaumont was made in 1826. They went on display alongside Angerstein’s pictures in Pall Mall until the whole collection was moved to Trafalgar Square in 1838.

Initially, the Gallery had no formal collection policy, and new pictures were acquired according to the personal tastes of the Trustees. By the 1850s the Trustees were being criticised for neglecting to purchase works of the earlier Italian Schools, then known as the Primitives.

Following the reform of Gallery administration in 1855, the new Director travelled throughout Europe to purchase works for the Gallery. In the 10 years that he was Director, Sir Charles Eastlake ensured that the Gallery’s collection of Italian painting expanded and widened in scope to become one of the best in the world.

In 1871 the Gallery’s collection was broadened yet further, when 77 paintings were bought from the collection of the late Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. These consisted mainly of Dutch and Flemish paintings, and included Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middleharnis.

From the very beginning, the National Gallery’s collection had included works by British artists. By the mid 1840s, the rooms of the National Gallery had become overcrowded. When Robert Vernon presented a large gift of British works to the Gallery in 1847, they had to be displayed elsewhere: first at Vernon’s private house, and later at Marlborough House.

Not long afterwards, the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner bequeathed over 1000 paintings, drawings and watercolours, including ‘Dido building Carthage’ and ‘Sun Rising through Vapour’. These two paintings came with the condition that they should be displayed alongside Claude’s ‘Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca’ and ‘Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba’ and so the gallery has displayed two 19th century paintings in the 17th century painting North Wing. Turner’s Dido has been called one of his most ambitious imitations of Claude Lorrain (born Claude Gellée), but by stipulating that their works be seen together, Turner did more than acknowledge his debt to his great predecessor or seek direct comparison with him. He asserted that landscape painting as a major art form was a creation of the 17th century.

The 17th century painting collection in the North Wing includes works by Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez, Claude, Rembrandt, Cuyp, Vermeer, including many famous works, such Rubens’ Samson and Delilah, Vermeer’s A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal, Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 34, Van Dyck’s Equestrian Portrait of Charles I and Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, which was annoyingly on loan to Vienna when we visited.

Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah, 1609
Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah, 1609

In 1608, Rubens hastily returned home to Antwerp after an absence of eight years in Italy, in a vain attempt to reach the bedside of his dying mother. His arrival in the city virtually coincided with the truce between Spanish Flanders and the Dutch United Provinces, and he was quickly appointed official painter to the Regents of the Southern Netherlands, the Archduke Albert and the Archduchess Isabella, with leave to remain domiciled in Antwerp. He was never to return to Italy, although he was irrevocably marked by his study of Ancient Greco-Roman and Italian Renaissance art. In Antwerp he proceeded to work towards the reconstruction of his war-torn country and to establish himself as a leading figure in its artistic and intellectual life.

One of his closest friends and patrons at this time was the wealthy and influential alderman Nicolaas Rockocx, for whom Rubens painted Samson and Delilah to hang in a prominent position over the mantelpiece of his ‘great saloon’ in Antwerp. When the picture was hung at its original height of just over two meters some years ago in an exhibition at the National Gallery, it became clear how nicely Rubens had calculated the angle of vision. The surface of Delilah’s bed receded to a properly horizontal plane, with the space of the room leading convincingly back to the wall and the door through which the Philistine soldiers enter to capture the hapless Jewish hero. To the multiple light sources in this room, for which Rubens was indebted to his friend Elsheimer – the flaming brazier, the candle held by the old procuress and the torch of the Philistines – we must add in our mind’s eye a fire blazing in the fireplace below, highlighting the saffron satin throw behind Delilah and the patterned Oriental rug, and casting warm reflections in the shadow of the skin tones and the white drapery, where the coarse brown hatching of the underpaint is left uncovered or barely veiled.

The story of Samson’s fatal passion for Delilah is told in the Old Testament. Bribed by his Philistine enemies, she cozens Samson into revealing the source of his supernatural strength: his uncut hair. As he lies asleep in her lap during a night of love, she calls in a barber to cut off ‘the seven locks of his head’. The tale of a man brought low by lust for a woman was often treated in 16th century Netherlandish art, and Rubens follows this Northern tradition by introducing a procuress, who does not appear in the Bible. Her profile juxtaposed with that of the youthful harlot both reveals her own past and suggests Delilah’s future. At the same time, the painting is rich in Italian memories, not least in the ample scale of its life-size foreground figures, accommodated on the panel only by being shown reclining. A statue of Venus and Cupid presides over the erotic scene. Brawny Samson derives from antique sculpture and from Michelangelo; Delilah’s pose is that of Michelangelo’s Leda and Night in reverse. In Delilah’s breast band Rubens draws on Roman marbles, but following his own maxim translates marble into soft and yielding flesh – some of the fleshiest ever painted.

Ultimately however, this sumptuous picture is entirely original, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the incongruously dainty professional gesture of the barber and in Delilah’s ambiguous expression, compounded of sensuality, triumph and pity.

Johannes Vermeer, A Young Woman Standing At A Virginal, 1670
Johannes Vermeer, A Young Woman Standing At A Virginal, 1670

The Delft painter Vermeer is famous for his small domestic scenes, mainly of the easeful life of women, serene interiors of subtle geometry inhabited by one or two figures. Yet his earliest works, large dramatic narratives influenced by the Italianate Catholic painters of Utrecht, show him to have originally aspired to ‘history painting’. At some point around 1656, the date of a low-life Procuress now in Dresden, he changed into the artist we see here, although we know from a few works in other collections that he never altogether gave up his allegiance to the ‘higher’ genre.

It may have been mainly teh difficulty of obtaining commissions in this traditional category that caused Vermeer, himself a Catholic, to turn to marketable subjects from ‘everyday life’ in Protestant Holland. In the event, only some thirty pictures by him in any genre, including two ravishing landscapes, were recorded and are known today, for he worked slowly, ran an inn inherited from his father, held town office, and practised as an art dealer and valuer. He was virtually bankrupted during the French invasion in 1672. After his death at the early age of 43, his widow, encumbered with debts and with eight under-age children, had to sell his paintings to pay off her creditors.

As we might suspect in an artist with his aspirations, Vermeer injected narrative or allegorical significance even into his domestic interiors. The young woman strokes the keys of the virginal – a smaller version of the harpsichord – but looks expectantly out of the picture. Music is ‘the food of love’ and the empty chair calls to mind an absent sitter, perhaps travelling abroad among the mountains depicted in the picture on the wall and on the lid of the virginal. Cupid holding up a playing card or tablet has been related to an emblem of fidelity to one lover, as illustrated in one of the popular contemporary Dutch emblem books, where the image is explained in the accompanying motto and text. It has been suggested, not altogether convincingly, that the painting forms a contrasting pair with its neighbour, Vermeer’s Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, where the viola da gamba is the foreground awaits the partner of a duet but the picture of the Procuress (by the Utrecht artist Baburen) behind the woman points to mercenary love.

Whether or not the paintings are thus related, both surely portray young women dreaming of love. But the these seems commonplace besides Vermeer’s treatment of it. Cool daylight streams in through the window on the left, as it always does in his pictures. The textures of grey-veined marble and white-and-blue Delft tiles, of gilt frame and whitewashed wall, of blue velvet and taffeta and white satin, of scarlet bows, are differentiated through the action of this light in their most minute particularities and specific lustre. Volume is revealed, shadows cast and space created. Yet the real magic of the painting is that all this does not, as it were, exhaust the light. Enough of it remains as a palpable presence diffused throughout the room to reach out to us beyond the picture’s frame.

Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648
Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648

When Claude Gellée arrived as a boy in Rome from his native Lorraine, perhaps to serve as a pastry cook, landscape painting was already a recognised specialty. Claude, however, was to surpass all previous practitioners. His poetic reinventions of a Golden Age, appealing to a cultivated aristocratic clientele, were assembled in the studio from drawings made out of doors in Rome and the surrounding countryside and in the Bay of Naples. The German painter Sandrart, who accompanied him on sketching trips, described his procedures:

[Claude]… only painted, on a small scale, the view from the middle to the greatest distance, fading away towards the horizon and the sky… [he is an example to all] of how one can order a landscape with clarity, observe the horizon and make everything diminish towards it, hold the colouring in proportion with the depth, each time represent recognizably the time of day or the hour, bring everything together in correct harmony by accentuating strongly the front and shading off the back in proportion…

Claude’s influence became all-pervasive, most of all in 18th century England, where it affected not only painting and collecting but the very ways in which real landscape was viewed and artificial parkland constructed.

Like many of Claude’s pictures, the Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba was conceived as one of a pair; its companion, the Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah (‘The Mill’), is also at the National Gallery. Both relate (through inscriptions, our only clues to their subjects) to stories from the Old Testament on the theme of love, or esteem, between men and women, and recounting faithful journeys.

Claude follows his usual method of simultaneously harmonising and contrasting two ‘pendant’ pictures: the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah is a landscape in late summer afternoon, the Embarkation a coastal view, depicted in early morning light, like all of Claude’s Embarkations. The Queen of Sheeba’s land journey with camels and very much gold to visit King Solomon is transformed into the viewer’s own imaginary voyage, leaving harbour to sail on the open sea towards the light.

Including the sun within a painting was Claude’s greatest early innovation. Exactly halfway up the canvas in this stateliest of his seaport compositions, it is the basis of its pictorial unity, all the colours and tones adjusted in relation to it; Claude’s palm and finger prints can be seen in many places in the sky where he smoothed transitions from one passage to the next. The boy sprawling on the quayside shields his eyes from the sun’s dazzle, and its rays gild the rounded edges of the fluted column and Corinthian capital besides him.

Rembrandt, Self-portrait At Age 34,  1640
Rembrandt, Self-portrait At Age 34, 1640

Rembrandt was a prosperous miller’s son and received more than rudiments of a classical education at the Latin School in Leiden. In this self-portrait he claims for himself the status not only of a wealthy man and successful painter, but also of a liberal artist whose power of eloquence rival those of a poet.

The composition was inspired by two great Italian Renaissance portraits, Raphael’s likeness of the courtier, diplomat and writer Baldassare Castiglione (Louvre Museum) and Titian’s Man with a Quilted Sleeve (National Gallery). The former was sketched by Rembrandt when it appeared on the Amsterdam art market in 1639. It was bought by Rembrandt’s acquaintance Alfonso Lopez. the Portuguese dealer and collector, who at some time between 1637 and November 1641 also owned Titian’s picture or a copy of it. While the dark hat silhouetting the sitter’s face derives from Raphael’s picture, the pose, the direct address to the viewer and the emphasis on the rich material of the sleeve are all indebted to Titian’s. At the time, Titian’s painting was thought to represent the illustrious Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto. By dressing up in luxurious ‘Renaissance’ costume (we know that he kept such props in his studio) the posing as Ariosto, Rembrandt was not only adapting a famous composition, he was drawing comparisons between his own art of painting and the art of poetry. The historic debate about their relative status concealed timely practical considerations. As craftsmen, painters were considered morally, intellectually and imaginatively inferior to poets; they were also subject to legal restrictions and taxes from which ‘liberal artists’ such as poets were exempt.

The self portrait is meticulously painted, covering the ground completely with smooth blended colours. Rembrandt may have intended to emulate the technique of Raphael and Titian. The only texture trick he allows himself is to suggest the hairs at the back of the neck by scratching in the wet paint with the end of his brush. X-rays show that he twice changed his mind while painting. He had originally included his left hand, the fingers distractingly resting on the parapet next to his right hand; he then painted it out. He also changed the shape of the coloured collar and shortened the shirt front, altering the proportions of the light and dark areas around and under the face.

The shape of the painting was later altered from a rectangle to the arch we see now, with a narrow strip added at the bottom. But the most drastic alteration – now visible to the naked eye only as a slightly sunken, wrinkly texture on the paint surface – was the transferral of most of the paint layers from the original canvas to a new one in the 19th century, some time before the painting entered the National Gallery collection.

Anthony Van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, 1637
Anthony Van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, 1637

King Charles I succeeded his father King James I in 1625. The union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, a matter of political, juridical and ecclesiastic controversy throughout his life, is celebrated on the Latin inscription on the tablet tied to the tree in this portrait: CAROLUS REX MAGNAE BRITANAE – Charles King of Great Britain. Van Dyck’s international reputation, his knowledge of contemporary painting and his devotion to Titian, whose work he had avidly studied during his stay in Italy between 1621 and 1627, particularly recommended him to the art-loving king. It was during his first trip to London in 1620, working for King James I, that Van Dyck first saw the work of Titian, whose use of colour and subtle modeling of form would prove transformational, offering a new stylistic language that would enrich the compositional lessons learned from Rubens.

Back in Antwerp after his Italian travels, and in demand as a painter of religious and mythological pictures as well as of portraits, he resumed his contacts with the English court. Charles was given, and commissioned, works by him. By April 1632 he had succeeded in attracting Van Dyck to London. In July of that year the artist, now Principal Painter in Ordinary to their Majesties, was knighted at St James. From that time he was to have a virtual monopoly of portraits of the king and queen on the scale of life, having rendered the work of his predecessors at court old-fashioned. In a series of huge canvases strategically placed at the end of the great galleries in the king’s various residences, he displayed the power and splendour of the British monarchy and of the early Stuart dynasty, modernising traditional themes of royal panegyric.

This likeness of the king on horseback takes as its point of departure the archetypal image on the obverse of all the Great Seals of England: the sovereign as warrior. King Charles is wearing Greenwich-made armour and holding a commander’s baton. A page carries his helmet. In keeping with the imperial claim of the inscription, the pose and woodland setting echo Titian’s equestrian portrait of Emperor Charles V at Muhlbert (at the Prado Museum) when the Catholic monarch defeated a league of Lutheran princes in the cause of Christian unity. (Titian’s painting itself recalled the famous Roman bronze of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback – Capitoline Museums, Rome, with a replica standing in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio.) Over his armour Charles wears a gold locket bearing the image of Saint George and the Dragon, the so-called Lesser George. He wore it constantly; it contained a portrait of his wife, and was with him the day he died. Here, however, it identifies him with the Order of the Garter of which Saint George was a patron. As Garter Sovereign he is riding, like Charles V, at the head of his chivalrous knights in defence of the faith. In a profound sense, the portrait is a visual assertion of Charles’ claim to Divine Kingship.

Diego Velázquez, Rokeby Venus, 1651
Diego Velázquez, Rokeby Venus, 1651

Fore reasons of religious scruple, the female nude was rarely represented in Spanish art, although the royal collection was rich in mythological nudes by Titian and other Venetian Renaissance masters. The Toilet of Venus, called the ‘Rokeby Venus’ after Rokeby Hall in Yorkshire where it hung in the 19th century, is the only surviving of this kind by Velázquez (one other, now lost, is recorded) and remained unique in Spain until Goya depicted the Naked Maja, which was probably inspired by it. Painted either just before or during Velázquez’s second visit to Italy in 1649-51, the Venus was recorded in 1651 in the collection of the young son of Philip IV’s prime minister, famous both for his womanising and his patronage of art. He was later to become Marques of Carpio and later still Viceroy of Naples and it must have been his standing at court which enabled him to commission such a painting without fear of the Inquisition.

If the subject of this picture is a conflation of the Venetian Renaissance inventions of ‘Venus at her mirror with Cupid’ and ‘Reclining Venus’, its all-pervasive theme is reflection. Venus reflects on her beauty, reflected in the mirror, since we can dimly see her face, we know that ours can be seen by her, and she may have thought to reflect on the effect her beauty has on us. Velázquez has reflected long before his canvas and the living model – for this girl, with her small waist and jutting hip, does not resemble the fuller more rounded Italian nudes inspired by ancient sculpture, and she wears her hair in a modern style. Only the presence of the plumply and innocently deferential Cupid transforms her into a goddess. The painter has moulded her body with infinitely scrupulous and tender gradations of colour, white, pink, grey and muted black and red, and the grey-black satin which reflects on her luminous skin itself shimmers with pearly reflections of flesh tones. Streaks of pink, white and grey loop in ribbons around the ebony frame of the mirror. Even more astonishing is the single brush stroke, laden with black paint, tracing the line that runs beneath her body from the middle of the back to below her calf. Both the exact notation of appearance and such free and spontaneous touches are the fruit of lengthy meditation and practice.

The very genesis of the painting may have been an act of reflection. The suggestion has been made that it was designed as a harmonious contrast to a nude Danae (later transformed into a Venus) attributed to Tintoretto. By 1677 both were incorporated, probably as a pair, in the decoration of a ceiling in one of Carpio’s palaces. The Danae-Venus, recently rediscovered in a private collection in Europe, is of nearly identical dimensions and a virtual mirror image of Velázquez’s Venus: the figure reclining in a landscape in the same pose, but facing the viewer, and on red drapery. The witty reversal echoes Titian’s procedure in the mythological poesie (‘poems’) painted for Philip IV’s grandfather Philip II and still in the royal collection, in which he promised to show the different aspects of the naked female form. But typically of Velázquez, in this haunting successor to the more sensuous and exuberant Renaissance works, the narrative and the poetry consist in the act of looking and being looked at.

That was very interesting!

National Gallery
National Gallery

Oh no! We spent so much time at the National Gallery, it’s dark outside! We better hurry back to the hotel to plan for tomorrow. It’s another day full of adventures!

National Gallery
National Gallery

An Artistic Weekend in London – Part I

It’s Saturday morning and Puffles and Honey are at the Globe Theatre!

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

The Globe was the primary home of Shakespeare’s acting company beginning in late 1599, and it is a possibility that As You Like It was written especially for the occasion.

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

The original Globe Theatre was a wood-framed building with plastered outside walls joining at angles to form a circle or an oval. The interior resembled that of a modern opera house, with three galleries protected from rain and sunlight by a roof. Between 2,000 and 3,000 playgoers paid two or more pennies to sit in these galleries, depositing them in a box. The stage was raised four to six feet from ground level and had a roof supported by pillars. In front of the stage was a roofless yard for up to 1,000 “groundlings” or “stinklings,” who paid a “gatherer” a penny to stand through a performance under a hot sun or threatening clouds. Playgoers could also sit on the stage if their wallets were fat enough to pay the exorbitant price. It is unlikely that the uneducated groundlings who huddled in the yard understood the difficult passages in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare himself belittled them in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, calling them (through lines spoken by Hamlet) incapable of comprehending anything more than dumbshows. But because the groundlings liked the glamor and glitter of a play, they regularly attended performances at the Globe. When bored, they could buy food and drink from roving peddlers, exchange the news of the day, and boo and hiss the actors.

There was no curtain that opened or closed at the beginning or end of plays. At the back of the stage, there was probably a wall with two or three doors leading to the dressing rooms of the actors. These rooms collectively were known as the “tiring house.” To tire means to dress — that is, to attire oneself. Sometimes, the wall of the tiring house could stand as the wall of a fortress under siege. Props and backdrops were few. Sometimes a prop used for only one scene remained onstage for other scenes because it was too heavy or too awkward to remove. Because settings on an Elizabethan stage were spare, Shakespeare had to write descriptions of them into his dialogue. This handicap proved to be a boon, for it motivated Shakespeare to write some of his best descriptions.

Whenever place or time mattered in a Shakespeare play, some references to them could be introduced into the dialogue, and if special atmospheric or dramatic effects were needed, they could be created by the poet’s pen. Hence, it is to the Elizabethan stage that we are indebted in great measure for the exquisite descriptive poetry of Shakespeare. Such conditions, moreover, encouraged a greater imaginative cooperation on the part of the audience in the production of a play, and this active participation was further increased by the informality of the platform stage. With such intimacy, soliloquies, asides, and long set speeches are natural and not absurd as they are in modern theatre.

The roof of the gallery was made of thatch, that is of straw or dried stalks of plants such as reeds. During a performance of Henry VIII on June 29, 1613, the Globe Theatre burned down after booming cannon fire announcing the entrance of King Henry at Cardinal Wolsey’s palace ignited the roof. The whole audience left safely by two exit doors, apart from one unfortunate man who, according to Sir Henry Wotton, “had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle ale”.

All the company’s costumes and props were rescued together with the manuscripts of the plays. In 1613, half of Shakespeare’s plays were not in print, including Macbeth, Othello, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Had the Globe burnt at night, these plays might have been lost forever.

Swift reconstruction did take place and the Globe reopened to the public within a year, with the addition of a tiled roof. Although the second Globe had a non-flammable tile roof, it was torn down in 1644 after a fire of another sort, Puritan zeal, closed all theatres. Puritans were strict Protestants who favored strait-laced living and opposed theatre performances. After the Globe was razed, tenements replaced it. Between September 2 and 5, 1666, the Great Fire of London, which destroyed more than 13,000 dwellings and more than 80 churches, consumed the foundations and whatever else was left of the Globe. Not a stick of wood from it was left. Modern recreations of the first and second Globe theatres are based on 17th Century descriptions and drawings. No one knows the exact dimensions or appearance of the second Globe or its predecessor. Globe Theatre recreations are based on educated guesses and on a surviving drawing of a rival theatre.

In Shakespeare’s time, all actors at the Globe and other theatres were males, even those who played Juliet and Cleopatra. It was forbidden for a woman to set foot on an Elizabethan stage. This proscription against females meant that Romeo probably recited his lines to a fuzzy-faced boy and that Antony may have whispered sweet nothings to a gawky adolescent male. However, because of wigs, neck-to-toe dresses and makeup artistry, it was easy for a young male to pass for a female. After an actor reached early adulthood, he could begin playing male parts. Shakespeare himself sometimes performed in his plays. It is said that he enjoyed playing the Ghost in Hamlet. All actors had to memorize their lines exactly; if they forgot their lines, they had to improvise cleverly or watch or listen for cues from an offstage prompter.

Actors playing gods, ghosts, demons and other supernatural characters could pop up from the underworld through a trap door on the stage or descend to earth from heaven on a winch line from the ceiling. Off the stage, the ripple of a sheet of metal could create thunder. Stage hands set off fireworks to create omens, meteors, comets, or the wrath of the Almighty. Instruments such as oboes and cornets sometimes provided music. If an actor suffered a fencing wound, he simply slapped his hand against the pouch (perhaps a pig’s bladder) beneath his shirt to release ripe red blood signaling his demise.

Shakespearean and other Elizabethan actors had to perform their own stunts, such as falling or tumbling. They also had to wield swords and daggers with convincing skill. In addition, most actors had to know how to perform popular dances of their era and earlier eras, depending on the time and place of the play. Finally, actors had to have a voice of robust timbre. After all, there were no microphones or megaphones and several thousand noisy people, sometimes cheering, sometimes booing, had to hear every line.

Actors at the Globe and other London theatres generally wore clothing currently in fashion. Thus, the characters in plays set centuries before the age of Shakespeare dressed in Elizabethan or Jacobean apparel. For example, the characters in King Lear and Cymbeline, both set in ancient Britain, wore clothing popular at the time of Shakespeare. Presumably, it would have been too costly and time-consuming to research and make costumes of another era.

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

Productions of Shakespeare’s plays often included vocal and instrumental music, especially in plays performed on special occasions before royalty. Minor characters usually sang the vocal selections. Instruments used included the trumpet, the oboe and stringed devices such as the viola and the lute. The plays also included dancing. In fact, Romeo and Juliet met at a masked dance. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the fairy king, Oberon, dances with his queen, Titania, after inviting her to “rock” with him, so to speak. Oberon says, “Sound, music! Come, my queen, take hands with me, and rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.” Shakespeare’s popular comedy As You Like It ends with a dance. Other plays with dancing include Henry V and Love’s Labour’s Lost. In The Two Noble Kinsmen, co-authored by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the schoolmaster and the jailer’s daughter speak of a dance called the morris.

The acting company to which Shakespeare belonged established itself in 1590 as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, also called simply the Chamberlain’s Men. Shakespeare joined the company about 1594. After the company’s patron—Henry Carey, First Lord Hunsdon, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth—died in 1596, Carey’s son, George (Second Lord Hunsdon), assumed the patronage of the company. It then adopted a new name, Hunsdon’s Men. However, the company reverted back to its old name, Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in 1597. It retained that name until the death of Queen Elizabeth I in March 1603 and the accession of James I as King England. At that time, James became the company’s patron, and its name changed to the King’s Men.

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. The modern reconstruction is an academic approximation based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings – including a thatched roof, albeit with sprinklers along rooftop intervals. It was founded by the actor and director Sam Wanamaker and built about 230 metres from the site of the original theatre and opened to the public in 1997, with a production of Henry V. The site also includes the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor theatre which opened in January 2014. This is a reconstruction of a winter Elizabethan theatre in general, not a particular theatre.

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

In 1970, American actor and director Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust and the International Shakespeare Globe Centre, with the objective of building a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe close to its original location at Bankside, Southwark. This inspired the founding of a number of Shakespeare’s Globe Centres around the world, an activity in which Wanamaker also participated.

Many detractors maintained that a faithful Globe reconstruction was impossible to achieve due to the complications in the 16th century design and modern fire safety requirements; however, Wanamaker persevered in his vision for over twenty years, and a new Globe theatre was eventually built according to a design based on the research of historical adviser John Orrell.

Globe Theatre - A model of the future International Shakespeare Globe Centre with the reconstructed Globe at its heart made in 1990. Many changes were made to the design of the Globe and the centre as a whole during construction, but it exists largely as displayed here.
Globe Theatre – A model of the future International Shakespeare Globe Centre with the reconstructed Globe at its heart made in 1990. Many changes were made to the design of the Globe and the centre as a whole during construction, but it exists largely as displayed here.

It was Wanamaker’s wish that the new building recreate the Globe as it existed during most of Shakespeare’s time there; that is, the 1599 building rather than its 1614 replacement. A study was made of what was known of the construction of The Theatre, the building from which the 1599 Globe obtained much of its timber, as a starting point for the modern building’s design. To this were added: examinations of other surviving London buildings from the latter part of the 16th century; comparisons with other theatres of the period (particularly the Fortune Playhouse, for which the building contract survives); and contemporary drawings and descriptions of the first Globe. For practical reasons, some features of the 1614 rebuilding were incorporated into the modern design, such as the external staircases.

Like the original Globe, the modern theatre has a thrust stage that projects into a large circular yard surrounded by three tiers of raked seating. The only covered parts of the amphitheatre are the stage and the seating areas. Plays are staged during the summer, usually between May and the first week of October.

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre

The reconstruction was carefully researched so that the new building would be as faithful a replica of the original as possible. This was aided by the discovery of the remains of the original Rose Theatre, a nearby neighbour to the Globe, as final plans were being made for the site and structure. Performances are engineered to duplicate the original environment of Shakespeare’s Globe; there are no spotlights, plays are staged during daylight hours and in the evenings (with the help of interior floodlights), there are no microphones, speakers or amplification. All music is performed live; the actors and the audience can see each other, adding to the feeling of a shared experience and of a community event.

Globe Theatre - Water Fountain
Globe Theatre – Water Fountain

The building itself is constructed entirely of English oak, with mortise and tenon joints and is, in this sense, an “authentic” 16th century timber-framed building, as no structural steel was used. The seats are simple benches (though cushions can be hired for performances) and the Globe has the first and only thatched roof permitted in London since the Great Fire of 1666. The modern thatch is well protected by fire retardants, and sprinklers on the roof ensure further protection against fire. The pit has a concrete surface, as opposed to earthen-ground covered with strewn rush from the original theatre. The theatre has extensive backstage support areas for actors and musicians and is attached to a modern lobby, restaurant, gift shop and visitor centre. Seating capacity is 857 with an additional 700 “groundlings” standing in the pit, making up an audience about half the size of a typical audience in Shakespeare’s time.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a theatre adjacent to Shakespeare’s Globe. Built making use of 17th century plans for an indoor theatre, the playhouse is intended to approximate the layout and style of the Blackfriars Theatre, though not an exact reconstruction. Its shell was built during the construction of Shakespeare’s Globe. The shell was used as a space for education workshops and rehearsals until enough money was raised to complete the playhouse. It finally opened in January 2014, with a production of The Duchess of Malfi.

The playhouse is an oak structure built inside the building’s brick shell. The thrust stage is surmounted by a musicians’ gallery, and the theatre has an ornately painted ceiling. The seating capacity is 340, with benches in a pit and two horse-shoe galleries, placing the audience close to the actors. Shutters around the first gallery admit artificial daylight. When the shutters are closed, lighting is provided by beeswax candles mounted in sconces, as well as on six height-adjustable chandeliers and even held by the actors. The design incorporated extensive fire precautions!

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - The Brodsky Quartet with Jacqui Dankworth
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – The Brodsky Quartet with Jacqui Dankworth
The gorgeous Jacqui Dankworth
The gorgeous Jacqui Dankworth

Re-energised by a big hug, Puffles and Honey visit the Handel House Museum next.

The stars were musically aligned in 1685 because in that year three great composers were born. One of them, the German genius Johann Sebastian Bach, is often described today as the greatest composer who ever lived. Another, the Italian Domenico Scarlatti, is famous mostly for his six hundred or so weird and wonderful sonatas for the harpsichord. And then there’s Handel.

Quite a bit is known about Handel’s childhood since a year after his death, a book called “Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel” was published, written by John Mainwaring, the first proper biography of a composer ever written.

Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg, to Georg Händel and Dorothea Taust. His father, 63 when George Frideric was born, was an eminent barber-surgeon who served the court of Saxe-Weissenfels and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. According to Handel’s first biographer, John Mainwaring, he “had discovered such a strong propensity to Music, that his father who always intended him for the study of the Civil Law, had reason to be alarmed. He strictly forbade him to meddle with any musical instrument but Handel found means to get a little clavichord privately convey’d to a room at the top of the house. To this room he constantly stole when the family was asleep”. At an early age Handel became a skilful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ.

Handel and his father travelled to Weissenfels to visit either Handel’s half-brother, Carl, who was serving as valet to Duke Johann Adolf I. Once at the court, young George Frederic seems to have taken every opportunity to show off 🙂 On one occasion, he was allowed to play the organ in the chapel after the service; the Duke was still in the church and demanded to see the prodigy. He then told Handel senior that it would be “a crime against the public and posterity” if this young genius was not allowed to study music. Handel senior reluctantly agreed and on return to Halle, George Frederic began to study with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the organist of Halle’s Marienkirche. Zachow composed music for the Lutheran services at the church, and from him Handel learned about harmony and counterpoint, copying and analysing scores, and gained instruction on the oboe, violin, harpsichord and organ.

In 1698 Handel went to Berlin and played for Frederick I of Prussia who offered him financial support, but Handel turned it down! Handel didn’t want to spend his life entertaining some prince, he wanted to conquer the world! He wanted to stretch his wings, to travel, to learn, to become a great composer. Mainwaring tells us at this point that it was decided that the best place for Handel would be the north German city of Hamburg, because operas were so good there. He reached Hamburg in 1703, at the age of 18, a young man ready for anything. He spent three years in Hamburg during which time he became very famous as an opera composer. Having got the opera bug, Handel decided that he wanted to travel to the land where opera had been invented – Italy. Handel was extremely successful in Italy, which is quite an achievement for a German to go to Italy and be taken seriously as an opera composer by the Italians. Despite his triumphs in Italy, in 1710 Handel decided to return to Germany. He became Kapellmeister to German prince George, the Elector of Hanover, who in 1714 would become King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. It was the perfect job offer for Handel, as the prince allowed him to travel as much as he wanted. So Handel accepted the generous salary, and left immediately. First he went to Halle to see his ailing mother and then he went to England. He visited Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici and her husband in Düsseldorf on his way to London in 1710. With his opera Rinaldo, based on La Gerusalemme Liberata by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso, Handel enjoyed great success, although it was composed quickly, with many borrowings from his older Italian works. This work contains one of Handel’s favourite arias, Cara sposa, amante cara, and the famous Lascia ch’io pianga.

Handel returned to Germany in 1711, after nine months in England, but in 1712, Handel decided to go back to England and this time he remained there permanently. He received a yearly income of £200 from Queen Anne after composing for her the Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate, first performed in 1713 at the first service in the newly built St Paul’s Cathedral. This was in addition to his income from Prince George!

The British royal family was very important to Handel – and he was quite important to them too. Some of his most famous works were written for royal occasions. The Water Music was written for an amazing sailing party that King George I held one evening in 1717. The musicians floated in a barge up the River Thames, playing as they followed the King’s barge.

George Frideric Handel (left) and King George I on the River Thames, 17 July 1717, by Edouard Hamman (1819–88)
George Frideric Handel (left) and King George I on the River Thames, 17 July 1717, by Edouard Hamman (1819–88)

One of King George I’s last acts was to grant Handel British citizenship in 1727. That same year, Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the Coronation ceremony of King George II.

In 1723 moved to the house in Brook Street and he lived there the rest of his life. Brook Street, off Grosvenor Square, was built in the 1720s and described in the following decade as “for the most part nobly built and inhabited by People of Quality”.

Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, Mayfair
Handel House Museum, 25 Brook Street, Mayfair

In 1735 Handel took over the Covent Garden theatre and produced six of his operas and numerous oratorios. The Brook Street house was handy for musical events and social circles in Covent Garden and Soho, and for St James’ Palace, where Handel was music master to the royal family and composer to the Chapel Royal. He regularly played the organ in the nearby church of St George’s, Hanover Square. Many of his masterpieces were written in the house, including Saul, Israel in Egypt, Messiah, and Samson, as well as the Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks. The house contained a variety of keyboard instruments, including harpsichords, a clavichord and a small chamber organ.

George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner
George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner

By 1741, Handel’s pre-eminence in British music was evident from the honours he had accumulated, including a pension from the court of King George II, the office of Composer of Music for the Chapel Royal, and — most unusually for a living person — a statue erected in his honour, in Vauxhall Gardens. Today the statue can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Victoria & Albert Musem
Victoria & Albert Museum

Is someone going to play some music already?

Victoria & Albert Museum
Victoria & Albert Museum

Handel composed Music for the Royal Fireworks in 1749 for King George II. It was to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. 12,000 people attended the performance at Green Park. The fireworks were not as successful as the music itself, the weather was rainy and in the middle of the show the right pavilion caught fire. In 1750 he arranged a performance of Messiah to benefit the Foundling Hospital. The performance was considered a great success and was followed by annual concerts that continued throughout his life. In recognition of his patronage, Handel was made a governor of the Hospital the day after his initial concert. He bequeathed a copy of Messiah to the institution upon his death. His involvement with the Foundling Hospital is today commemorated with a permanent exhibition in London’s Foundling Museum, which also holds the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. In addition to the Foundling Hospital, Handel also gave to a charity that assisted impoverished musicians and their families.

In August 1750, on a journey back from Germany to London, Handel was seriously injured in a carriage accident between The Hague and Haarlem in the Netherlands. In 1751 one eye started to fail. The cause was a cataract which was operated on by the great charlatan Chevalier Taylor. This did not improve his eyesight, but possibly made it worse. He died eight years later in 1759 at home in Brook Street, at age 74. The last performance he attended was of Messiah. Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey. More than three thousand mourners attended his funeral, including King George II, which was given full state honours.

The house was opened as a museum in 2001 by the Handel House Trust as the result of an initiative of the musicologist and Handelian Stanley Sadie in 1959. It comprises a carefully restored set of period rooms on the first and second floors of 25 Brook Street together with exhibition rooms in number 23, the adjacent house on the terrace. Where, by coincidence, Jimmy Hendrix lived.

Rehearsal and performance room
On the first floor at the front of the house, this was used as a rehearsal room by Handel from the 1730s onwards. It contains portraits of contemporary singers and a reproduction of a two manual harpsichord by the Flemish firm Ruckers. The harpsichord is used for concerts and is also available for rehearsals by musicians from the general public.
http://www.handelhouse.org/discover/photo-gallery/handel-house-museum#

Composition room
On the first floor at the back of the house, this is believed to be the room in which composed some of his most celebrated works, including Messiah. It contains portraits of Handel and Charles Jennens, Handel’s friend and librettist of Messiah.

Handel House Museum
Handel House Museum

http://www.handelhouse.org/discover/photo-gallery/handel-house-museum#

Bedroom
On the second floor at the front of the house, this is probably the room where Handel died. A complete inventory was made within months of his death. Amongst the furniture, it describes a large canopied tester bed similar to the one now in the room.
http://www.handelhouse.org/discover/photo-gallery/handel-house-museum#

More funny clothes!

Handel House Museum
Handel House Museum

We know a place where there will definitely be some music!

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields is an English Anglican church at the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square in London. It is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. There has been a church on the site since the medieval period. The present building was constructed in a Neoclassical design by James Gibbs in 1722–1724.

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

Because of its prominent position, St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the most famous churches in London. Dick Sheppard, Vicar from 1914 to 1927 who began programs for the area’s homeless, coined its ethos as the “Church of the Ever Open Door”. The church is famous for its work with homeless people through The Connection at St Martin, created in 2003 through the merger of two programs dating at least to 1948. The Connection shares with The Vicar’s Relief Fund the money raised each year by the BBC Radio 4 Appeal’s Christmas appeal.

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

Twelve historic bells from St Martin-in-the-Fields are included in the peal of the Swan Bells tower in Perth, Western Australia.

Bell Tower, Perth
Bell Tower, Perth

The church is known for its regular lunchtime and evening concerts, many ensembles perform there, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which was co-founded by Sir Neville Marriner and John Churchill, a former Master of Music at St Martin’s.

Drums! They look bouncy and fun. We should get some for home!

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

Tonight’s ensemble is the Belmont Ensemble of London with the English Chamber Choir performing:
Handel – Hallelujah Chorus (Messiah part 2)
Arne – Rule Britannia
Haydn – Nelson Mass
Mozart – Requiem

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

Hiding from the paparazzi 🙂

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

Pitoresque Bruges

Travel to Bruges and discover the most delightful little city of canals and bridges, medieval Flemish architecture and higgledy-piggledy cobbled streets. Often compared to Venice for its canals, Bruges also has a Florentine touch, evident in its Renaissance flamboyance thanks to a prosperous period in the 16th century. The Count of Flanders, one of the richest noblemen in the West, was based in Bruges, and the town was a hub of commerce, with merchants from 34 different countries regularly trading here.

The history of Bruges begins in Roman times, when a settlement grew up on the site of the present-day city. The town was fortified by the Romans and began to prosper through its trade with England and Scandinavia. The Roman fortifications were strengthened in the 9th century amid fears of Viking invasions.

In the 11th century the channel linking Bruges to the sea silted up, hampering trade. However, fortunes were restored by a violent storm in 1134, which resulted in the formation of a deep channel known as the Zwin. This channel re-opened Bruges to the sea and trade boomed once more.

Over the following centuries Bruges became a key trading centre in north-west Europe, exporting Flemish cloth all over the continent. The city expanded rapidly, which necessitated the construction of a new circuit of walls in the early 14th century. The city had grown so big that the new walls were 7km in length.

In 1300 Bruges had been annexed by France and when the inhabitants rebelled against French rule they were put down with force and the newly built city walls were partially demolished. It was probably in the mid 16th century that the first artillery defences were constructed at Bruges.

During the 80 Years War the city rebelled against Spain along with much of the rest of the Netherlands, but it was retaken in 1584. In 1640 Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, attempted to lay siege to the town but the Spanish reinforced it and he decided to abandon the venture. Bruges remained in Spanish hands.

The channel to the sea silted up again in the 16th century and Bruges lost its importance as a trading centre to the city of Antwerp. The lace industry revived in the 17th century and new canals were dug to link the city with the port of Sluis to the north, but Bruges never regained its medieval status.

In 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession Bruges was captured by the French in a surprise attack. A number of French troops pretending to be deserters succeeded in capturing one of the gates and they let in the rest of the French forces.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the city became poorer and was largely forgotten by the world. In 1810 Napoleon made another attempt to reconnect it with the sea by building a new canal through Damme and Sluis to the river Scheldt in the north, but the project was never completed.

Bruges’ earthwork bastions were allowed to decay as the city lost its importance and all that remains of them today are the earthen banks between the flooded ditches that still extend around three-quarters of the city. At one time Bruges was surrounded by a city wall with nine of these city gates, built in the 13th and 14th centuries. The city wall has been replaced with a band of grassy area that runs right inside the canal that surrounds almost the entire city. Out of the nine gates, there are four remaining: Ezelpoort (Donkey’s Gaye), Smedenpoort (Blacksmith’s Gate), Gentpoort (Ghent gate) and Kruispoort. The Ezelpoort was built during the construction of the second ring of ramparts in 1297. It was rebuilt in 1369 to a new design by Jan Slabbaerd and Mathias Saghen, who were also responsible for the construction of the Smedenpoort. The Gentpoort along with the Kruispoort were rebuilt by Jan van Oudenaarde and Maarten van Leuven in the beginning of the 15th century. The Gentpoort houses a small museum.

Kruispoort - Cross Gate
Kruispoort

The first Kruispoort gate was built simultaneously with the second rampart (1297-1304) and already rebuilt in 1366. Philip van Artevelde destroyed the gate when he captured the city with the Ghent militia in 1382. In the beginning of the 15th century the third gate was constructed. Only the two heavy towers with their narrow passage and two octagonal turrets were preserved. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Napoleon and Puffles and Honey all entered Bruges through this gate.

Kruispoort
Kruispoort

Near Kruispoort, four ancient windmills can be found along the canal path Kruisvest. Originally there were 25 windmills all around the edge of Bruges. The four windmills stand on the remains of the earthwork bastions of the inner fortification line. The northern most windmill, built around 1765, is Koeleweimolen Mill, but was rebuilt here in 1996 and is open to the public. Next is the Nieuwe Papegaai Mill, a rebuilt oil mill placed here in 1970. The St. Janshuismolen windmill is the only one still in it’s original position and still grinding grain, just like Koeleweimolen. The southern most windmill is Bonne Chiere Mill, built in 1888 in Olsene and moved here in 1911. The mills that are open to the public occasionally sell their own flour.

St. Janshuismolen Windmill
St. Janshuismolen Windmill
Bonne-Chiere Windmill
Bonne-Chiere Windmill

Back in the middle ages, Bruges ranked high as a city of great artists, princely palaces and economic affluence. It traced its connection with the world by the lines of canals which linked it to the sea. Today, the nearby port of Zeebrugge is one of Europe’s popular port visits for major cruise liners whose passengers help to swell the number of visitors constantly to be found thronging its streets throughout the year.

One of the most beautiful cities in Belgium, if not all of Europe, Bruges really is a must-see. The Venice of the North, as it is known, is a well-preserved centre whose entire historic area has been recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Rozenhoedkaai
Rozenhoedkaai

Bruges

Its attractions include a wide range of museums, churches, historical buildings and canals ans streets that can be explored by boat, foot or clip-clopping horse-drawn carriage. And cherry beer!

Prioritising any specific area becomes a difficult task. Around virtually every corner more magic, more surprises present themselves to the visitor. That said, summer or winter, morning or evening, sun or rain, the canals and their (usually packed) visitor vesels crowd the main canal – Rozenhoedkaai – which is constantly admired and undoubtedly the most photographed part of the city.

Another totally surprising ‘around the corner’ experience is the Princely Begiunage Ten Wijngaarde, a collection of small houses built for the Begiunes, a lay sisterhood of the Roman Catholic Church.

Princely Begiunage Ten Wijngaarde
Princely Begiunage Ten Wijngaarde

Its whitewashed houses front a hauntingly tranquil convent garden and a small museum. Founded in 1245, it is today still home to members of the Order of St Benedict. In addition, many small and spotless almshouses can be seen in the townscape of Bruges, mostly established in the 14th century by wealthy townspeople or guilds to accommodate poor elderly people or struggling widows.

The opposite of these poor people’s dwellings, the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges dominates the Burg Square from which the surrounding countryside was governed from the late middle ages until 1795. They were then occupied by law courts for nearly 200 years while to the left of the 14th century city hall, the old Court of Justice presents a rare example of Renaissance architecture in Bruges.

Burg Square
Burg Square with City Hall

A short walk over the cobblestoned square, the Belfry dominated Markt Square is overseen by statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, two of the city’s military leaders against French oppression in 1302.

Markt Square and Belfry
Markt Square with the Belfry

UNESCO has placed 55 belfries in Belgium and northern France on its World Heritage list, recognising their unique contribution to civic and public architecture. The Belfry of Bruges is one of the oldest and most beautiful of all.

Belfries are bell towers. Many people associate them with churches, but originally they were municipal structures. Their primary purpose was as a watchtower, where bells could be used to sound the alarm, but, over the years, they began to serve a wider range of civic purposes. Belfries could contain storage rooms for important charters and documents – the literal meaning of the word is “place of safety or protection” – as well as a conference room, a treasury, or an armory. The Belfry at Bruges formerly housed the city treasury and municipal archives. Similarly, the bells were not used solely in times of danger. They could be rung to inform citizens of the time, notify them of civic activities and help regulate the working day. As a result, most belfries acquired a set of bells – a carillon – that could chime out different melodies. The carillon at Bruges is particularly elaborate, consisting of no fewer than 47 bells.

The 88m high Belfry in Bruges is situated on top of the Hallen (the old Cloth Hall), which dates back to around 1240. The original wooden tower burned down in 1280, after being struck by lightning, and it was rebuilt in brick. An elegant, octagonal lantern tower was added in the 1480s. This was once crowned by a wooden spire but it, too, fell victim to a fire and the burghers of Bruges decided to settle for a stone parapet instead. This affords a breathtaking view over the city and its surroundings for any tourists who feel energetic enough to climb the 366 steps, past the clock mechanism, to the summit. We felt plenty energetic for the stair climb, having recovered from the one in Delft, but unfortunately we run out of time as the Belfry does come with opening hours.

More breathtaking views can be experienced from a hot air balloon flight over Bruges, an experience we also missed out on. I can see an ad for a new royal secretary coming out any moment now!

Hot air balloons over Bruges
Hot air balloons over Bruges
Aerial view of Bruges from hot air balloon
Aerial view of Bruges from hot air balloon

Equally breathtaking is the unexpected marble Madonna with Child by Michelangelo in the chapel of the Church of Our Lady, the 122m high tower of which is the highest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. The sculpture was twice recovered after being looted by foreign occupiers — French revolutionaries in 1794 and Nazi Germans in 1944. This we did see!

Madonna with Child by Michelangelo in Our Lady's Church
Madonna with Child by Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady
Michelangelo, Madonna with Child
Michelangelo, Madonna with Child

The Church of Our Lady dates mainly from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. In the choir space behind the high altar are the tombs of Charles the Bold, last Valois Duke of Burgundy, and his daughter, the duchess Mary. The gilded bronze effigies of both father and daughter repose at full length on polished slabs of black stone. Both are crowned, and Charles is represented in full armor and wearing the decoration of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady

Located next to the Church of Our Lady, there is one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings, St. John’s Hospital. The first ward of the hospital was built in the 12th century and the hospital continued to be expanded until the 14th century. It was a place where sick pilgrims and travellers were cared for. The site was later expanded with the building of a monastery and convent. In the 19th century, further construction led to a hospital with eight wards around a central building.

St. John's Hospital
St. John’s Hospital
St. John's Hospital
St. John’s Hospital

St. John’s Hospital is the odd combination of a museum, a 13th century hospital and Baroque church. It is the oldest preserved hospital building in all of Europe and the museum inside gives the visitor a look at this medieval hospital ward in the time it functioned, through the collection of records, original medical instruments and art that depicts the hospital at that time. As the museum display makes clear, medicine of the day was well-intentioned, but very crude. In many ways, this was less a hospital and more a hospice, helping the down-and-out make the transition from this world to the next. The hospital chapel is dedicated to the work of 15th century artist and master of the Flemish primitives, Hans Memling. He created works specifically for the St. John’s Hospital including the famous St. Ursula Shrine.

St John's Hospital, St Ursula Shrine
St John’s Hospital, St Ursula Shrine

The Shrine of St. Ursula is a carved and gilded wooden reliquary, looking like a miniature Gothic church, containing oil on panel inserts by Hans Memling made around 1489.

The work was commissioned by the Hospital of St. John. Differently from other works by Memling, such as the Triptych of the Two Saints John or the Florens Triptych, it is neither signed nor dated. It was a container for Saint Ursula’s relics which was shown publicly only in her feast day. The relics were solemnly put in the shrine on 21 November 1489.

St. John's Hospital, Medieval Ambulance
St. John’s Hospital, Medieval Ambulance
St. John's Altarpiece, The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine, Hans Memling
St. John’s Altarpiece, Hans Memling, 1479

The St John Altarpiece (sometimes the Triptych of the two Saints John or the Triptych of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist) is a large oil-on-oak hinged-triptych altarpiece completed around 1479 by Hans Memling. It was commissioned in the mid-1470s in Bruges for the Old St. John’s Hospital during the building of a new apse. It is signed and dated 1479 on the original frame – the date of installation – and remains at the hospital today in the Memling museum.

St. John Altarpiece, Hans Memling, 1479
St. John Altarpiece, Hans Memling, 1479

The altarpiece consists of five individual panel paintings: a central inner panel and two double-sided wings. The paintings on the outside of the shutters are visible when the triptych is closed, and show the hospital donors flanked by their patron saints. The interior has three inner panels. The focus of the central panel is the enthroned Virgin and Child flanked by saints and it is sometimes called the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine; the left-wing features episodes from the life of John the Baptist with emphasis on that of his beheading; the right-wing shows the apocalypse, as recorded by John the Evangelist who is pictured writing on the island of Patmos.

St John Altarpiece is one of Memling’s more ambitious works, and unusual in that it shares near-identical scenes with two other works: the Donne Triptych, held at London’s National Gallery, and the Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

St. John's Hospital, Diptych of Marin van Nieuwenhove, 1489
St. John’s Hospital, Diptych of Marin van Nieuwenhove, Hans Memling, 1489

The Virgin and Child with Maarten van Nieuwenhove diptych by Memling is a rare and beautiful example of an intact 15th-century diptych, known to retain its original frames and hinges. It is also notable that it reveals a new concept in the devotional portrait diptych: Hans Memling depicts the figures in a spatially coherent room, instead of showing them against the dark, featureless background favored by Rogier van der Weyden, who invented the prototype, as can be seen in the Virgin and Child with Philippe de Croÿ.

Diptychs that paired the Virgin and Child with the portrait of a donor have survived in relatively large numbers. The Virgin Mary was immensely popular in the Renaissance as a heavenly intercessor with God the Father, and the Christian faithful directed their prayers to her. The diptych format was ideal for enhancing the relationship between the secular realm of the donor and the sacred personage who was the object of his devotion.

The donor on the right panel, Maarten van Nieuwenhove of Bruges, was born November 11, 1463. He belonged to a patrician family whose members held prominent positions both in the government of Bruges and in the Burgundian court. About five years after this portrait was painted, Maarten became a councilor, then later the captain of the civic guard, and finally the mayor of Bruges (in 1498). He died on August 16, 1500, at the age of 36.

Painted not just an object of private religious devotion but also to advance Van Nieuwenhove’s career, the diptych includes numerous references to the donor’s eminent family and shows the figures richly attired and situated in an elegant interior.

Enough history and art, time for some Belgian favourites…

Cherry beer
Cherry beer
Mussels at Poules Moules, Simon Stevinplein 9, Bruges
Best mussels in Bruges at Poules Moules, Simon Stevinplein 9
A little cherry desert
And a little cherry desert to finish off a perfect day

Puffles’ Choice

It’s our last day in Paris, what shall we do?

Eminescu Statue, Rue des Ecoles
Eminescu Statue, Rue des Ecoles

I have a few ideas…

Eminescu Statue, Rue des Ecoles
Eminescu Statue, Rue des Ecoles

It’s a really long way to go to see a house.

Puffles Choice

It’s not a house, it’s a villa…

Puffles Choice

Is it a villa in the woods?

Puffles Choice

It is set in the middle of the meadows, without disturbing anything. Here is it, Villa Savoye!

Puffles Choice

Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye is a major example of 20th century architecture and one of the finest works by the great architect of Swiss origin Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965). The first impression of the villa is of a perfectly white parallelepiped resting on slender concrete columns in the middle of a lawn.

The villa is in Poissy, in the outskirts of Paris. It was designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, and built between 1928 and 1931 using reinforced concrete. A manifesto of Le Corbusier’s “five points” of new architecture, the villa is representative of the basis of modern architecture, and is one of the most easily recognizable and renowned examples of the International style.

The house was originally built as a country retreat on behest of the Savoye family. During World War II the Jewish Savoye family was sent to concentration camps by the Nazis who took over the house and used it for storage. After being purchased by the neighbouring school it passed on to be property of the French state in 1958, and after surviving several plans of demolition, it was designated as an official French historical monument in 1965 (a rare occurrence, as Le Corbusier was still living at the time). It was thoroughly renovated from 1985 to 1997, and under the care of the Centre des monuments nationaux, the refurbished house is now open to visitors year-round.

When Le Corbusier was commissioned to build the house for the Savoye family in 1928, he had just celebrated his 40th birthday. He had been living in Paris for the past ten years and was a fully acknowledged member of the artistic avant-garde, not only as an architect, but also as a painter and a man of letters. Between 1920 and 1925, he wrote a series of articles for the mythical review L’Esprit nouveau. It ran to 28 issues, from which were collected and published four books marking the beginning of modernity in architecture and town planning, the most famous of which was the highly polemical Vers une architecture, later translated as Towards a New Architecture and translated into several languages. He was one of the first members of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and was becoming known as a champion of modern architecture.

The villas designed by Corbusier in the early part of the 1920s demonstrated what he termed the “precision” of architecture, where each feature of the design needed to be justified in design and urban terms. His work in the later part of the decade, including his designs urban for Algiers began to be more free-form.

Pierre and Emilie Savoye approached Corbusier about building a country home in Poissy in the spring of 1928. The site was on a green field on an otherwise wooded plot of land with a magnificent landscape view to the north-west that corresponded with the approach to the site along the road. Corbusier received a very clear brief for a summer house to “be set like an object in the middle of the meadow without disturbing anything”. Apart from additional requirements for space for cars, an extra bedroom and a caretaker’s lodge, Corbusier had complete freedom with the job and he was only limited by his own architectural palette. He began work on the project in September 1928.

The idea of creating a box-like building on columns soon emerged as the obvious solution. The clients were pleased with the idea, but the first estimate proved to be much too high (although the final cost in fact exceeded it…). Between then and the summer of 1929, Le Corbusier, assisted by his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, thought up several variants, before adopting a solution that was very similar to the original version: the idea of using both a ramp and a spiral staircase to get to the upper levels was retained, while the top level became a solarium and all the distances were shortened (the distance between the posts was reduced from 5m to 4.75m).

The project met with the clients’ approval, but putting it into practice soon proved to be quite another matter. Hardly had the building been completed, in the summer of 1931, when it was discovered that the house was not watertight, the main culprit being the ramp. A first restoration campaign therefore had to be organised, the main objectives being to seal the terraces and restore the paintwork, but the architect seems to have taken very little interest in the proceedings!

Apart from the first repairs which were carried out by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in 1931, the Villa Savoye has undergone three important series of restorations.

The first full-scale restoration was carried out between 1963 and 1967, under the direction of the architect Jean Dubuisson. Le Corbusier was excluded from the operation, for fear that he might overmodify his work. He nevertheless had the right to inspect the work that was performed; it was with his support that all the original narrow frames of the sliding wood windows (steel windows initially planned turned out to be far too expensive) were replaced by thicker, painted aluminium frames.

Twenty years later, through lack of upkeep, the house was again in need of major restoration work. Particularly affected were parts of the main structure and its facades. This time the work was directed by Jean-Louis Veret (member of Le Corbusier studio) from 1985 to 1993.

The house has been opened to the public since 1992 and since then, it has received around 20,000 visitors a year, one third of them architects or architecture students. In 1996-1997 further was carried out to make the house more suitable for public use. The principal objectives were to scientifically restore the atmosphere of its interior by getting as close as possible to the original polychromy (complete restoration of the interior paintwork), improving safety conditions by rewiring and installing a system of electronic surveillance, and restoring its surroundings by reconstructing the original garden and grass-covered area on the southern side.

Puffles Choice

The Villa Savoye is probably Corbusier’s best known building from the 1930s, it had enormous influence on international modernism. It was designed addressing his emblematic “Five Points”, the basic tenets in his new architectural aesthetic. The freedom given to Corbusier by the Savoyes resulted in a house that was governed more by his five principles than any requirements of the occupants. Despite this, it was the last time this happened in such a complete way and the house marked the end of a phase in his design thinking as well as being the last of a series of buildings dominated by the colour white. His five principles allowed for increased access to vast amounts of light, air and space while creating uninterrupted openings in building facades and liberating the interior from the post and beam reinforced concrete structures within.

Roof Garden: As a means of bringing nature into the home, Le Corbusier utilized the flat roof for a domestic garden. The creation of a vegetal rooftop also allowed for increased views over the site.
Roof Garden: As a means of bringing nature into the home, Le Corbusier utilized the flat roof for a domestic garden. The creation of a vegetal rooftop also allowed for increased views over the site.

The Villa Savoye was a very influential building of the 1930s and imitations of it can be found all over the world. The west wing of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra designed by Ashton Raggatt McDougall, is a near exact replica of the Villa Savoye, except its black colour. This antipodean architectural quotation is according to Howard Raggat “a kind of inversion, a reflection, but also a kind of shadow”.

The southern hemisphere "shadow" of the Villa Savoye, in Canberra, Australia
The southern hemisphere “shadow” of the Villa Savoye, in Canberra, Australia

Villa Savoye is on the pilgrimage trail for architects and architecture students, and little bears with Lego sets.

Some of the pieces have fallen off!

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It needs restoration, just like the big one, but we can do that back home.

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Back in Paris, a little walk in the park to the north of the Place de la Bastille.

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On Thursdays and Sundays, a large, open-air market occupies part of the park, along the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. Consumers can find fresh fruit, fish, meat, cheese and bread along with clothing and typical flea market items. Little bears were looking for bear sized windmills. And they found one!

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After a little lunch…

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… two little bears decided to walk in the footsteps of inventors and pioneers of progress and explore a one-of-a-kind repository of scientific and technical knowledge… at Musée des arts et métiers.

In 1794, Henri Grégoire, a cleric and National Convention deputy, proposed that a “Conservatory for arts and crafts to assemble all f the newly invented or perfected tools and machines” be created. The museum would spark curiosity and help train artists and craftsmen by permitting them to “copy excellent models”. From this sprang the idea of a site to conserve and display machines, models, tools, inventories and books that would serve to “perfect the national industry”. The Conservatoire would be housed in the former abbey of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, appropriated by the Conservatoire des Arts at Métiers on June 10, 1798. The former abbey’s new purpose saved it from being demolished.

The collection dates back to the contraptions bequeathed to Louis XVI by the mechanical engineer Jacques Vaucanson (1709 – 1782). The collection of such objects as “machines for making chains” and “crafting techniques for producing silk fabrics” would soon be expanded to include Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s fardier or steam carriage, the first steam-run “automobile” which had just left the Arsenal in 1800 for the Conservatoire; Ferdinand Berthoud’s marine chronometers; and precious objects from Charles and Abbé Nollet’s collection of physical apparatus. Among the gifts from the Académie des Sciences were Lavoisier’s laboratory instruments and The Dulcimer Player, an automaton that once belonged to Marie-Antoinette.

Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum published in 1988 enhanced the popularity of the prestigious yet little known museum.

“You enter and are stunned by a conspiracy in which the sublime universe of heavenly ogives and the chthonian world gas guzzlers are juxtaposed.” Umberto Eco

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The year was 1600: The Florentine camerata had invented baroque music and Giordano Bruno, the link between Copernicus and Galileo, was burned at the stake for heresy when he insisted that the Earth revolved around the Sun. But this theory was soon to become a certainty, and the next two-and-a-half centuries were full of excitement for the inquiring mind, and on February 3, 1851, Léon Foucault finally proved that our planet is a spinning top! His demonstration was so beautifully simple and his instrument so modest that it was a fitting tribute to the pioneers of Renaissance. Foucault, having observed that a pendulum’s plane of oscillation is invariable, looked for a way to verify the movement of the earth in relation to this plane – and to prove it. He did this by attaching a bob to the sphere of the pendulum, so that it brushed against a bed of damp sand. The pendulum was only attached to the Earth at a single point, which allowed it to maintain its direction of oscillation. The pattern traced in the sand showed that it was not the pendulum that turned, but the Earth, turning beneath the pendulum. The rotation of the instrument was only apparent; it is the Earth and everything firmly attached to the Earth, including people, that are turning around the pendulum.

Foucault made his first demonstration to his peers, in the Observatory’s Meridian room at the beginning of February, and did it again in March for Prince Bonaparte, under the Pantheon’s dome. The pendulum he used was seventy-seven meters high, and swung in sixteen-second periods, thereby demonstrating the movement of the Earth in a single swing.

Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault’s Pendulum

It does swing! With an enigmatic tranquility. And little Puffles and Honey are hypnotized by Foucault’s pendulum, which shows before their very eyes that the Earth is turning.

Today, in the deconsecrated church of Saint-Martin-des Champs, built on the site of a 6th century Merovingian funerary basilica, a pendulum swings, left to right. Its oscillations continue with reassuring regularity, its movement maintained by an electromagnetic device in the base of the installation.

The Musée des arts et métiers was refurbished in 2000, and now exhibits over 2,400 inventions. They are split into seven collections Scientific instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication and Transport.

Abacus
Abacus
Lavoisier's Laboratory
Lavoisier’s Laboratory
Reading about energy
Reading about energy
Cray-2 Supercomputer, 1985
Cray-2 Supercomputer, 1985
The original model of the Statue of Liberty by Auguste Bartholdi
The original model of the Statue of Liberty by Auguste Bartholdi
Ford T, 1908
Ford T, 1908
Marsokhod Rover Lama
Marsokhod Mars Rover LAMA, Alcatel 1995

On the way back to the hotel, Puffles and Honey met a new pawsome friend 🙂

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At the hotel, little bears got excited about their new acquisitions…

Look Honey, Volta introduced his battery to Napoleon in 1801.

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Aha…

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And Levi invented blue jeans in 1873.

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Honey!

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Have you fallen asleep after snacking on the cakes?

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A Towering Little Puffles

Welcome to the Tower of London! You are entering the Tower via the same route as those who came riding over the drawbridges from the late 13th century onwards.

A Towering Little Puffles

A far more notorious entrance is Traitor’s Gate. Many prisoners accused of treason are thought to have entered the castle through the gates of St Thomas’ Tower, better known as Traitors’ Gate. Edward I built it as a watergate and royal accommodation between 1275 and 1279. The much restored timber framing above the arch was built in 1532 by Henry VIII’s Master Carpenter James Nedeham as part of the preparations for Queen Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession. The triumphant procession began at the Tower on 1 June 1533; less than three years later the Queen would return – as a prisoner.

Traitor's Gate
Traitor’s Gate

The history of the Tower of London begins with William the Conqueror (1066 – 1087). In 1066, Edward the Confessor (the name for someone believed to have lived a saintly life but who was not a martyr) died childless, leaving several claimants vying for the throne. Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson, was crowned immediately, but William, Duke of Normandy, a distant blood relative, said he too had been promised the throne.

William invaded and defeated the English under King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Realising he must secure England’s most powerful city – London – he did not attack directly, but first laid waste to the surrounding countryside. Seeing that the game was up, the city’s leading men came to William to submit.

William’s determination and faith in his own military might is reflected in the account of his biographer, William of Poitiers, who tells us that he sent an advance guard to London to construct a fortress and prepare for his triumphal entry into the city. After his coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, the new king withdrew to Barking in Essex, ‘while several strongholds were made ready in the City to safeguard against the fickleness of the huge and fierce population, for he saw that his first task was to bring the Londoners completely to heel’.

Archaeological evidence suggests one of these strongholds was built in the south-east corner of the Roman city walls, on the site of the future Tower of London. These early defences were soon replaced with a great stone tower (the White Tower) proclaiming the physical power and prowess of the new Norman monarch.

White Tower
White Tower

It is not clear exactly when work started on the White Tower or precisely when it was finished, but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s. Gundulf, the new Bishop of Rochester, was in charge; Norman masons were employed and some of the building stone was specially imported from William’s native Normandy. By 1100, the White Tower was complete.

Nothing like it had ever been seen in England before. The Tower was protected by Roman walls on two sides, and ditches to the north and west, and an earthwork topped by a wooden palisade. The building was immense, and the Tower dominated the skyline for miles around. It was built, to awe, subdue and terrify Londoners and to deter foreign invaders. Its primary function was to serve as a fortress but it was also designed to provide the king with royal accommodation for his occasional use and to provide the setting for both ceremonial and government functions.

As a power base in peacetime and a refuge in times of crisis, the Tower’s fortifications were updated and expanded by medieval kings. A series of separate building campaigns ensured that by about 1350,the Tower was transformed into the fortress we see today.

Tower of London, aerial view
Tower of London, aerial view

These building works started in the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189 – 1199) who, on gaining the throne, left England almost immediately on crusade. He left the Tower in the hands of his Chancellor, William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely who doubled the fortress in size with new defences. They came just in time. In the King’s absence, his brother John seized the opportunity to challenge the Chancellor’s authority and mount an attack. He besieged the Tower and its new defences held out, until lack of supplies forced Longchamp to surrender.

On his return in 1194, Richard regained control, John begged for forgiveness, and was later named as Richard’s successor. As king, John (1199 – 1216) often stayed at the tower and was probably the first king to keep lions and other exotic animals there. His reign was characterised by political unrest; John made concessions to the barons by issuing Magna Carta in June 1215, but went back on his word as soon as he could. His opponents, who were in control of London and the Tower,, invited Prince Louis of France to come and take the throne. Louis launched an invasion in 1216, but King John died suddenly in the midst of fighting for his crown.

So at the age of only 9, John’s son, Henry III (1216 – 1272), inherited a kingdom in crisis. However, within months the French were defeated at the Battle of Lincoln, and attention turned to securing the kingdom, with reinforcing the royal castles at the top of the agenda. The boy King’s regents began a major extension of the royal accommodation at the Tower, including the building of two new towers on the waterfront: the Wakefield as the King’s lodgings and the Lanthorn, probably intended as the Queen’s. But when rebellious barons caused Henry to seek refuge at the Tower in 1238 (to escape the hostile reaction to the secret marriage of his sister to Simon de Montfort), the nervous King soon noticed the weakness of the castle’s defences. Between 1238 and 1241, he embarked on the building of a massive curtain wall on the north, east and west sides, reinforced by nine new towers and surrounded by a moat flooded by the Flemish engineer John Le Fossur (the ditch-digger).

This very public display of the King’s power began to alarm Londoners. Contemporary writer Matthew Paris recorded their glee when a section of the newly built wall and a gateway near the site of the Beauchamp Tower collapsed. Evidence of one of the collapsed buildings was found during archaeological excavations in the 1990s.

Kind Edward I (1272 – 1307) was a more confident and aggressive leader who managed his country’s rebels, but he was determined to complete the defensive works his father had begun at the Tower. Between 1275 and 1285 he transformed the Tower into England’s largest and strongest concentric castle (with one ring of defences inside another). He filled the moat and created another curtain wall enclosing the existing wall built by his father, and also created a new moat. In spite of all this work and building comfortable royal lodgings, he seldom stayed at the Tower.

However, Edward’s reign saw the Tower put to uses other than military or residential. It was already in regular use as a prison (the first prisoner was Ranulf Flambard imprisoned by Henry I in 1100 – as Bishop of Durham, he was found guilty of extortion. He escaped from the White Tower by shinning down a rope that was smuggled into his cell in a wine casket); and Edward used the castle as a secure place for storing official papers and valuables. A major branch of the Royal Mint was established, an institution that was to play a significant part in the castle’s history until the 19th century.

Edward I’s less warrior-like son, Edward II (1307 – 1327), lacking in either military skill or statesmanship, soon put the efficiency of the Tower’s new defences to the test. The discontent of the barons reached a level comparable with his grandfather’s Henry III’s reign, and Edward was often forced to seek refuge there. He took residence in the area around the present Lanthorn Tower and the former royal lodgings in the Wakefield Tower and St Thomas’ then began to be used by courtiers and by the Wardrobe (a department which stored valuables and dealt with royal supplies).

Unlike his father, Edward III (1327 – 1377), was a successful warrior and the captured kings of France and Scotland were held at the Tower. He carried out minor building works at the fortress and extended the wharf, before Richard II (1377 – 1399) shepherded in another period of intense domestic strife. In 1381, the peasants revolted and 10,000 rebels under Wat Tyler burnt and plundered the capital. An unarmed but determined group managed to enter the Tower after the King had ridden out to pacify the rioters. Eventually, in 1399, Richard, accused of tyranny by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, was forced to renounce his crown while he was held in the Tower.

Henry IV (1399 – 1413) was declared king the next day. His reign and that of his successor, Henry V (1413 – 1422), were quiet ones for the Tower, with very little building work or domestic unrest, but instability soon returned with Henry VI (1422 – 1461 and 1470 – 1471) and the Wars of the Roses.

During the struggle between the royal houses of Lancaster and York, the Tower was of key importance, and for the victorious it became a place of celebration. Henry VI held tournaments at the Tower; it saw splendid coronation celebrations for Edward IV (1461 – 1470 and 1471 – 1483) and victory parties for Henry VII (1485 – 1509), who entertained his supporters in grand style. For the defeated, the Tower was a place of murder and execution; victims included Henry VI, and Edward IV’s sons.

The disappearance and supposed murder of the two young sons of Edward IV remains one of the most intriguing stories of the Tower’s history. After Edward’s death in April 1483, his sons, the 12-year-old Edward V and his 9-year-old brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, were taken to the Tower on the orders of their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. The princes were declared illegitimate in July and their uncle was crowned King Richard III. What became of the princes remains a mystery; they were never seen alive again. Rumours of their murder spread quickly and became the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s villainous portrayal of Richard III.

Then in 1674, the skeletons of two children were found hidden under a staircase leading to the Chapel of St John in the White Tower. Many people, including Charles II, considered them to be the bodies of the murdered boys and the bones were re-buried at Westminster Abbey. The skeletons were forensically re-examined in 1933. It was concluded that they belonged to two children, aged about 10 and 12 years – the same ages as the two princes when they disappeared.

The House of Tudor emerged triumphant under Henry VII, who added to the royal residential buildings at the Tower. Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) continued the work begun by his father on a grander scale, erecting a large range of timber-framed lodgings, primarily for the comfort and enjoyment of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, ready for her coronation in 1533. But, they were rarely used and from this point on, the Tower ceased to be an established royal residence.

Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome swelled the Tower’s population of religious and political prisoners from the 1530s onwards, while the country had to adjust to itself to their monarch’s new role as the Supreme Head of the new, Protestant, Church of England. Prisoners included Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher of Rochester, and two of Henry’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both accused of adultery. All four were executed.

William Frederick Yeames, R.A. (1835-1918)  The Meeting of Sir Thomas More with his Daughter after his Sentence of Death Painting sold by Christie's in 1999 for £24,150
William Frederick Yeames, R.A. (1835-1918)
The Meeting of Sir Thomas More with his Daughter after his Sentence of Death
Painting sold by Christies in 1999 for £24,150

Before his premature death, Edward VI (1547 – 1553) continued the political executions begun by his father. Mary I (1553 – 1558) returned the country to Catholicism and her short reign saw many rivals and key Protestant figures imprisoned at the Tower. Lady Jane Grey was executed at the Tower on the Queen’s orders and Princess Elizabeth, the Queen’s half-sister, was imprisoned there. Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) continued the trend, using the Tower for high-status and high-security but, like her successor James I (1603 – 1625), she made few improvements to the Tower’s defences.

Charles I’s reign (1625 – 1649) ushered a long and bloody civil war between the King and the Parliament. Once again, the Tower was one of the King’s most important assets. Londoners feared he would use it to dominate them but, in the end, the Tower was won by the Parliamentarians and it remained in their hands for the entire Civil War. Losing the Tower and London as a whole was a fatal blow to the King’s forces and a crucial factor in Charles’ defeat.

After the execution of Charles I in 1649, Parliament organised a great sale of the King’s possessions. Orders were issued to take the Crown Jewels and ’cause the same to be totally broken, and that they melt down all the gold and silver, and sell the jewels to the best advantage of the Commonwealth’. Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector in 1653, installed the Tower’s first permanent garrison, which succeeding monarchs used to quell trouble in the city.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II (1660 – 1685) planned ambitious defences for the Tower but they were never built. The Tower’s use as a state prison declined and instead it became the headquarters of the Office of Ordnance (which provided military supplies and equipment). Most of the castle was taken over with munitions stores and offices. The new Crown Jewels went on display – and in 1671 narrowly escaped being stolen. A program of maintenance rather than new building work characterised most of the 18th century, the existing fortifications were intermittently repaired. However, a new gateway and drawbridge were created at the east end of the outer southern curtain wall in 1774, giving access from the Outer Ward to the wharf.

Under the invigorating leadership of the Duke of Wellington, Constable of the Tower from 1826 to 1852, the moat, increasingly smelly and sluggish, was drained and converted into a dry ditch. Work on the new barracks, constructed to accommodate a thousand men – on the site of the Grand Storehouse destroyed by fire in 1841 – commenced. On 14 June 1845, the Duke laid the foundation stone on the barracks named after his greatest victory – Waterloo.

The last time the Tower exerted its traditional role of asserting the power of the state over the people of London was in response to rallies and disturbances in London in the 1840s supporting Chartist demands for electoral reform. More defences were constructed, including a huge brick and stone bastion that finally succumbed to a Second World War bomb, but the Chartist attack never materialised.

Visitor figures increased dramatically in the 19th century; now not just intrepid and privileged sightseers who were paying for a guided tour as early as the 1590s, but ordinary people enjoying a day out. It was also at the beginning of this century that many of the Tower’s historic institutions departed. The Royal Mint was the first to move out of the castle in 1810, followed by the Menagerie in the 1830s, which formed the nucleus of today’s London Zoo. The Office of Ordnance was next to leave in 1841 and finally the Record Office relocated in 1858.

An increasing interest in the history and archaeology of the Tower led to a process of ‘re-medievalisation’ in an attempt to remove the unsightly offices, storerooms, taverns, and barracks and restore the fortress to its original medieval appearance. In the 1850s, the architect Anthony Salvin, a leading figure in the Gothic Revival, was commissioned to restore the fortress to a more appropriately ‘medieval’ style, making it more pleasing to the Victorian eye – and imagination.

Salvin first transformed the Beauchamp Tower, refacing the exterior walls and replacing windows, doorways and battlements. Further commissions included restoring the Salt Tower, and making alterations to the Chapel of St John in the White Tower. Salvin also restored the Wakefield Tower, so that it could house the Crown Jewels which remained there until 1967. In the drive to complete the perfect ‘medieval castle’, his successor, John Taylor, controversially destroyed important original buildings to create uninterrupted views of the White Tower and to build a new southern inner curtain wall on the site of the old medieval palace.

Wall Walk
Wall Walk

The Wall Walk is also from the 19th century and its construction destroyed the remains of the rest of Henry III’s lodgings. The huge stone encirclement, defended by eight mural towers, was part of Henry III’s refortification of the castle in the mid 13th century. On the Wall Walk you can explore the Medieval Palace and seven huge towers: the Salt, Broad Arrow, Constable, Martin, ‘Royal Beasts’, Bowyer and Flint Tower, with narrow staircases!

A Towering Little Puffles

By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901, over half a million people were visiting the Tower each year and discovering the Tower’s many different uses from Medieval times through to the 20th century; a royal residence, home of the Crown Jewels, a zoo, a Mint, and above all else, a fortress.

A Towering Little Puffles

For more than 500 years, England’s coins were made at the Tower of London in Mint Street.

Mint Street
Mint Street

The coins made at the Mint are miniature works of art, the product of the skills and care of engravers, craftsmen, moneyers and Mint officials. Each of the coins featured in the exhibition Coins and Kings reveal secrets and stories about the people who lived and worked at the Mint in the Tower and the kings and queens who ruled them.

Edward I groat, 1279
Edward I groat, 1279

By the 1270s King Edward I’s currency was in crisis. England’s coins were old, worn and many had been damaged by years of deliberate ‘clipping’ (tiny parts of the coin were shaved off and melted down to sell). This caused the prices of essentials such as bread and livestock to rise sharply. The King acted decisively. He moved the Mint inside the secure walls of the Tower and ordered the currency to be completely re-made. New denominations of coins were introduced including the halfpenny and groat (worth four pennies). He also imprisoned anyone and everyone he thought responsible for the poor state of his coins, including goldsmiths, many of his own Mint officials. The currency was secured but at a huge cost.

Elizabeth I sixpence, 1560-1
Elizabeth I sixpence, 1560

By the reign of Elizabeth I, the Mint had expanded to fill nearly all the space between the inner and outer curtain walls of the Tower, in an area that became known as Mint Street. Elizabeth I was celebrated for restoring the Tudor currency. Her father, King Henry VIII, had reduced the purity of English silver and gold coins to fund foreign wars and an extravagant lifestyle. His actions caused huge price rises and public unrest as people lost faith in England’s coins. To put things right, Elizabeth I ordered all old coins to be brought to the Mint, melted down and re-made into new, purer coins with her portrait. It was a difficult undertaking that Elizabeth herself described as a ‘bitter medicine’, but slowly trust was restored.

Balance
Balance
Muffle Furnace - a small furnace used for melting silver and gold
Muffle Furnace – a small furnace used for melting silver and gold

Before the Mint could produce Elizabeth’s new coins, metal workers needed to calculate the amount of gold or silver in Henry VIII’s coins. In a process called assaying, a sample was weighed and melted in a furnace, and the precious and non-precious metals separated out by a series of chemical reactions.

Charles II Petition Crown, 1663
Charles II Petition Crown, 1663

Most of Europe’s coins were machine-made by the 1660s and under Charles II the Mint finally adopted the screw presses. The new machine-struck coins were thicker and more regular than the old hammered coins. This allowed the edges of the coin to be decorated and engraved to protect them from clipping. One engraver, Thomas Simon, who had been Chief Engraver to Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth, was eager to be appointed to engrave the King’s new coins and he sent the King one of these beautifully designed coins to prove his engraving skills. But despite Thomas’ efforts, Charles gave the job to Dutchman John Roettiers whose family had been loyal to him during his exile. Poor Thomas died of the plague just three years later.

William III fake halfcrowns, 1690s
William III fake halfcrowns, 1690s

By the 1690s most coins in people’s pockets were worn flat, clipped, or were even forgeries. Some even dated back to the reign of Elizabeth I and were over 100 years old. Despite the production of new machine-struck coins in the 1660s it was not illegal to use the old hammered coins. So while people hoarded or traded the new coins abroad for their silver, they continued to spend the old. Forgery of the machined coins was also rife and by 1696 almost ten per cent of the currency was fake. In an attempt to solve the problem, William III’s government ordered a ‘Great Recoinage’ of all the old silver coins in circulation. It took the Mint three years and over £2 million to complete.

George III Spanish eight reales, 1797
George III Spanish eight reales, 1797

In 1797 England narrowly averted a financial disaster. Years at war with France had left the Bank of England’s gold stocks perilously low and in late February 1797 the Bank stopped making most payments in gold. People were forced to accept banknotes or high value silver coins. As an emergency measure, the Mint began to stamp, or ‘countermark’, George III’s portrait on foreign coins to make them legal English money. This countermarked Spanish eight reales, known as a ‘Piece of Eight’, is one of over a million foreign coins countermarked in just 17 days.

By the 1790s, new technology and competition from private mints meant that a larger, purpose-built factory was necessary and plans were made for a new Mint. However, it did not go far – in 1810 the Mint moved to Tower Hill where it remained until 1968.

Theft Before Breakfast
Theft Before Breakfast

James Turnbull was a soldier who was recruited to work at the Mint. By 9am on the 20th December 1798 Turnbull and his fellow workers had struck several thousand guineas and were ready to go for breakfast. However, Turnbull and an accomplice lagged behind, attacked two of the supervisors and threatened them with a pistol to give up the key to the chest containing the freshly minted coins. The supervisors were locked inside a large cupboard whilst Turnbull stuffed four bags of guineas, containing 2,308 coins and weighing about 19 kilograms, into his coat pockets. He escaped from the Tower and was not heard of again until the 5th January when he attempted to buy passage to France from Dover on a fishing boat. Unfortunately for Turnbull, he was recognised from a ‘Wanted’ poster, arrested, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on 15th May 1799.

Jewel House
Jewel House

I hope you have enjoyed the Tower tour with us! I am wearing the Tudor State Dress, so-called since the uniform has very little modification from when first introduced during the Tudor Dynasty. Yeomen wear the Tudor State Dress when the Queen visits the Tower, and Queen Honey has visited the Tower with me! Everything was perfect since the other Queen, Elizabeth II, visited the Tower the day before to make sure everything was just right for our visit. Very thoughtful of her!

A Towering Little Puffles

This has been a grand visit!

A Towering Little Puffles

And there is more to it, the Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

London Bridge was originally the only crossing for the Thames. As London grew, so more bridges were added, although these were all built to the west of London Bridge, since the area east of London Bridge had become a busy port. In the 19th century, the East End of London became so densely populated that public need mounted for a new bridge to the east of London Bridge, as journeys for pedestrians and vehicles were being delayed by hours. Finally in 1876, the City of London Corporation, responsible for that part of the Thames, decided the problem could be delayed no longer.

A huge challenge faced the City of London Corporation – how to build a bridge downstream from London Bridge without disrupting river traffic activities. To generate ideas, the “Special Bridge or Subway Committee” was formed in 1876, and opened the design for the new crossing to public competition. Over 50 designs were submitted for consideration, some of which are on display at Tower Bridge Exhibition. It wasn’t until October 1884 however, that Horace Jones, the City Architect, in collaboration with John Wolfe Barry, offered the chosen design for Tower Bridge as a solution.

Jones’ engineer, Sir John Wolfe Barry, devised the idea of a bascule bridge with two towers built on piers. The central span was split into two equal bascules or leaves, which could be raised to allow river traffic to pass. The two side-spans were suspension bridges, with the suspension rods anchored both at the abutments and through rods contained within the bridge’s upper walkways.

Construction started in 1887 and took eight years, five major contractors and the relentless labour of 432 construction workers to build Tower Bridge. E W Crutwell was the resident engineer for the construction. Two massive piers, containing over 70,000 tons of concrete, were sunk into the riverbed to support the construction. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways. This was then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone, both to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the bridge a pleasing appearance.

Jones died in 1887 and George D. Stevenson took over the project. Stevenson replaced Jones’s original brick façade with the more ornate Victorian Gothic style, which makes the bridge a distinctive landmark, and was intended to harmonise the bridge with the nearby Tower of London. The total cost of construction was £1,184,000 (equivalent to £118 million in 2014).

The bridge was officially opened on 30 June 1894 by The Prince of Wales (eldest son of Queen Victoria and the future King Edward VII), and his wife, The Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark).

When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed (“bascule” comes from the French for “see-saw”). These bascules were operated by hydraulics, using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators, as soon as power was required to lift the Bridge, it was always readily available. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the system, the bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.

Today, the bascules are still operated by hydraulic power, but since 1976 they have been driven by oil and electricity rather than steam. The original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are now exhibits within the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Tower Bridge is still a busy and vital crossing of the Thames: it is crossed by over 40,000 people (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) every day, and two little bears occasionally.

Crossing the Tower Bridge
Crossing the Tower Bridge

To maintain the integrity of the structure, the City of London Corporation has imposed a 30 km/h speed restriction, and an 18 tonne weight limit on vehicles using the bridge. A camera system measures the speed of traffic crossing the bridge, utilising a number plate recognition system to send fixed penalty charges to speeding drivers. A second system monitors other vehicle parameters. Induction loops and piezoelectric sensors are used to measure the weight, the height of the chassis above ground level, and the number of axles of each vehicle.

The high-level open air walkways between the towers were reopened in 1982 as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, a display housed in the bridge’s twin towers, the high-level walkways and the Victorian engine rooms.

High Level Walkaways
High Level Walkways

The exhibition uses films, photos and interactive displays to explain why and how Tower Bridge was built. After watching an animated (and funny!) video about why Tower Bridge was built, you can walk on the high level Walkways, 42 metres above the River Thames. Here you also have the chance to admire stunning panoramic views of London, and popular landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral to the west and St Katharine Docks leading to Canary Wharf to the east. In the south tower a short video shows the construction of the Bridge.

Then you follow the bear paws to get to the Victorian Engine Rooms to view the original bridge lifting machinery 🙂

A Towering Little Puffles

Victorian Engine Room - Boiler Room
Victorian Engine Room – Boilers
Victorian Engine Room - Steam Pumping Engine
Victorian Engine Room – Steam Pumping Engine

Back at the hotel with two crowns from the Tower of London. They had so many!

A Towering Little Puffles