Located in the South Kensington estate – known to some during the Victorian era as Albertopolis (see previous entry in this series) – each of the two museums mentioned here represents an architectural and cultural feat in its own right, for the sake of space (and to allow us to explore a wider range of buildings as part of this series) we’re grouping them together…
Initially known as the Museum of Manufactures, it was founded with the three aims of making art accessible, educating people and inspiring British designers and manufacturers.
Renamed the South Kensington Museum after moving to its current site in 1857, its collections – which now include everything from metalwork, furniture and textiles to fine art such as paintings, drawings and sculptures from a range of contemporary and historical periods – continued to expand.
Located in what were only meant to be temporary exhibition buildings – factory-like structures which become known as the ‘Brompton Boilers’, in 1899 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the grand new facade and entrance that we see today (it was at this point that that the museum took on its current name).
The Science Museum – the third major museum of Albertopolis – initially formed part of this museum and only gained its independent status in 1909.
WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (late opening Fridays); COST: Free (apart from special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk.
• Natural History Museum: Created to house what was previously the natural history collection of the British Museum (itself founded out of the collections of Sir Hans Sloane), the museum was founded thanks largely to the efforts of Sir Richard Owen.
The superintendent of the natural history department at the British Museum and later the founder of the NHM, it was he led the campaign for a separate premises for the museum’s natural history collections which had outgrown the museum’s home in Bloomsbury.
It first opened its doors on Easter Monday, 1881, but the museum legally remained part of the British Museum until 1963 and continued to be known as British Museum (Natural History) until 1992.
Known as the Waterhouse Building (after Alfred Waterhouse, the young architect who designed it following the death of the original designer, engineer Captain Francis Fowke, who was also involved in the initial design of Royal Albert Hall), the museum’s main structure – faced in terracotta – is said to be one of the finest examples of a Romanesque structure in Britain.
The premises and collections of the Geological Museum – now the ‘red zone’ of the NHM – merged with the Natural History Museum in 1985.
WHERE: Natural History Museum (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.50pm daily; COST: Free (apart from special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.nhm.ac.uk.
February 7, 2012
Image: Copyright, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
January 11, 2012
It’s not often you’d come across a church named after a type of shoe, but that’s the case with the church of St Margaret Pattens.
Located in Eastcheap, a church dedicated to St Margaret – a saint who was martyred in Antioch in the Middle East – has stood on the current site for at least 900 years. The earliest reference dates from 1067 and the church was rebuilt at least once in the medieval period, with the costs of construction apparently partly funded out of gifts presented to a crucifix or rood which stood in Rood Lane close to the church.
It’s only since the 17th century, however, when the church was rebuilt to the design of Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, that it took on the name ‘Pattens’ to distinguish itself from other churches dedicated to St Margaret.
Pattens were wooden undershoes which were trapped beneath normal footwear and raised the wearer above the street, allowing them to walk across muddy roads and still arrive at their destination cleanshod. This footwear was apparently made and sold near which the church was located.
The trade of pattenmaking, incidentially, died out as streets became paved – according to the church’s website, the last pattenmaker died in the 19th century. There’s still a sign in the church asking women to remove their pattens before entering.
It’s worth noting before we move on that there is an alternative theory as to the origins of the name – this is that it commemorates a benefactor, possibly a canon at St Paul’s named Ranulf Patin – but it’s the former interpretation which is more widely accepted.
St Margaret Pattens, which was united with that of St Gabriel Fen after the latter was destroyed in the Great Fire, was damaged by bombing in World War II but was restored in the mid 1950s.
While the church lost many of its valuables during the Reformation (with the exception of a silver gilt communion cup dating from 1545 – on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum), notable features inside include a memorial to King Charles I (since 1890, the king has been remembered in a special service each year held on the nearest Thursday to the date of his execution – 30th January) and a Royal Stuart Coat-of-Arms believed to be those of King James II.
There’s also a reredos containing a painting by Italian Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), two unusual canopied pews reserved for churchwardens, an hourglass dating from 1750 used to time the sermons, and a bell which dates from before the Great Fire. It’s also possible to view a set of pattens.
Among those who have been associated with the church is famed medieval Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington, apparently at one time the church’s patron (you can see our earlier post on him here), as well as livery companies including, as one would expect, the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers, and the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers.
WHERE: Corner of Eastcheap and Rood Lane (nearest Tube stations are Monument, Bank and Tower Hill). WHEN: Weekdays from 10.30am (check website for services); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmargaretpattens.org.
June 27, 2011
Now famed for its shopping and proximity to museums, the former village of Knightsbridge takes its name from a bridge which once spanned the Westbourne River (a river now located underground which flows from Hampstead down through Sloane Square to enter the Thames at Chelsea) and linked the village of Kensington with London.
While the origins of the bridge’s name remain shrouded in mystery (the bridge itself reportedly stood at what is today Albert Gate), the anecdotal stories which might explain it include a tale that two knights once fought here and another which attributes the name to the fact that the area was thought so unsafe that to come without a knight was considered foolhardy. Indeed the name Knightsbridge was once synonymous with highwayman and robbers waiting to plunder passersby.
While the name is apparently not mentioned in the Doomsday Book, by the 13th century it is listed as a manor belonging to the monks at Westminster Abbey (this was apparently a gift from King Edward I – in fact some accounts have the area also recorded as King’s Bridge, Kyngesbrigg). One of the key events which the area apparently hosted was the meeting of Empress Matilda with representatives of London’s citizens in 1141 during her ongoing fight for supremacy with King Stephen.
The area remained relatively rural – and as a village in its own right – until the late 18th century when the area finally became joined to the ever-expanding metropolis.
These days Knightsbridge is little more than a road and a strip of highly developed land to the south (Westminster City Council’s Knightsbridge conservation area, which contains more than 275 listed buildings, runs as far east as Queen’s Gate) but it does boast some very high end shopping – think Harrods (pictured), founded in 1824 and opened on the current site almost 30 years later, and Harvey Nichols, founded in 1813.
There’s also some very grand late Victorian residential real estate (much of which is owned by the the Duke of Westminster and Earl Cadogan), which, along with new developments, have made Knightsbridge one of the highest price property markets in London (and indeed, the world).
The eastern end of Knightsbridge – Westminster Council include Royal Albert Hall in its Knightsbridge Conservation Zone - runs into the museum district of South Kensington, home to some of London’s best museums, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National History Museum.
Keats’ love letter to be returned home; a royal wedding Oyster; youngest Spitfire pilot honored; and, The Cult of Beauty at the V&A
March 31, 2011
• A love letter Romantic poet John Keats wrote to his beloved Fanny Brown will be returned to the house in which it was written. Keats wrote the letter in 1820 while living next door to her at Wentworth House in Hampstead, north London – his home from 1818 to 1820 and the setting that inspired some of his most memorable poetry including Ode to a Nightingale. The City of London Corporation, who manage the house – now a museum known as Keats House, recently purchased the letter with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund for £80,000. They say it will now be returned to the house and displayed there. In the letter Keats wrote: “I shall Kiss your name and mine where your Lips have been – Lips! why should a poor prisoner as I am talk about such things.” He said his consolation was “in the certainty of your affection”. See www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
• Amid the host of souvenirs and trinkets up for sale in the lead-up to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton comes news of a unusual offering from Transport for London – a limited edition royal wedding Oyster card. The card, which will go on sale in the week leading up to the ceremony, features a portrait of the couple and their wedding date – 29th April, 2011. More than 750,000 of the cards will be offered for sale. The move is not without precedent – in 1981, a unique ticket was produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
• Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, the youngest Spitfire pilot to take part in the Battle of Britain, was granted the Freedom of the City of London at a ceremony at Guildhall last week. Wellum was just 18-years-old when he joined the RAF in August 1939. Serving in a frontline squadron, he flew many combat missions including dogfights during the Battle of Britain and was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
• On Now: The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in . Said to be the “most comprehensive” exhibition ever staged on the Aesthetic Movement in Britain, it brings together masterpieces in painting as well as sculpture, design, furniture, architecture, fashion and literature of the era and explores some of the key personalities involved in the movement – from William Morris and Frederic Leighton through to James McNeil Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Oscar Wilde. Organised in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the exhibition runs until 17th July. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). See www.vam.ac.uk.
February 18, 2011
It’s been described as the greatest find of Jacobean and Elizabethan jewellery ever made – an extraordinary cache of some 500 gemstones, jewellery and other related items found buried under the floor during the demolition of a building at 30-32 Cheapside on 18th June, 1912.
Now known as the Cheapside Hoard, it dates from the 16th and 17th centuries and includes neck chains, pendants, hat ornaments, cameos and rings – among the items is a gold watch set into a hinged case made from a Columbian emerald, a tiny bejewelled gold scent bottle, and an onyx cameo of Queen Elizabeth I.
Other items include unfinished ornaments and unmounted gemstones which have origins spanning the world – from Asia and Middle East to South America. While these give support to the idea that the hoard is part of a goldsmith’s reserve stock, mystery still surrounds why it was buried in the building (although Cheapside was known for its goldsmiths during the era which the hoard dates from).
The majority of the hoard is held at the Museum of London where some of the items are on display. Other items are at the British Museum and one, an enamelled gold chain, is at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Museum of London is planning major exhibition of the hoard starting in late 2013. Stay tuned for more information.
WHERE: Museum of London, 150 London Wall (nearest tube station is Barbican, St Paul’s or Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 6pm, Monday to Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk
PICTURE: Museum of London