Greenwich is a fascinating area of London, with a host of museums and places of interest for tourists to visit; not least the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum.
The area is dominated by the Old Royal Naval College, an impressive complex of riverside buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor at the behest of Queen Mary in 1694 as a Royal Hospital for men invalided out of the Navy. The buildings might be familiar with those even yet to visit London, as this World Heritage Site has formed the backdrop to many a blockbuster film; Pirates of the Caribbean, Les Miserables, Cinderella, The King’s Speech, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall …to name but a few.
I recently visited the Painted Hall, known as the UK’s ‘Sistine Chapel’ and originally conceived as a dining room, but soon became a ceremonial space reserved for special functions. Once you go inside, it’s not hard to see why.
As the name suggests, the Painted Hall is covered in frescos, totalling about 40,000 square feet and took Baroque artist James Thornhill (and his team of assistants) nearly twenty years to complete. They began work in 1707.
The Painted Hall comprises three connected spaces; the domed vestibule, the Lower Hall and the Upper Hall. Thornhill’s compositions, which include a cast of over 200 characters presents a vivid and suitably biased picture of early Eighteenth Century Britain, beginning with King William and Queen Mary, then Queen Anne and her consort Prince George of Denmark, and finally the arrival of the Hanoverians with King George I sitting in the midst of a large family portrait.
Baroque painting is not really my cup of tea, but the sheer scale, skill and audacity of the project cannot be disputed. Also, Thornhill’s masterpiece has only recently re-opened to the public following a two year (and £8.5 million) restoration, so is particularly striking and bright.
For those interested in Naval history, you can stand on the exact spot where Admiral Lord Nelson’s body lay-in-state after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 before being moved to St Paul’s Cathedral for his burial in January 1806. You can also view a copy of the maquette made by E.H. Baily for the statue which now stands on the top of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Over the last few years I’ve been joined on a couple of walks by Naomi Clifford, a writer of history books specialising in telling the forgotten stories of women in history.
After our most recent wander around London Naomi presented me with one of her recent books; Women and the Gallows (1797 – 1837) which delves in to the stories of 131-female “unfortunate wretches” hanged in England and Wales. Naomi has also published ‘The disappearance of Maria Glenn’ and most recently ‘The Murder of Mary Ashford’ and is already beavering away on a new book about an auxiliary ambulance driver in London during WW2 called June Spencer.
As if she hasn’t got enough to do, Naomi and producer Lena Augustinson have launched a podcast series called ‘The Door’, which through conversations with historians, writers and the like and keeping with the theme of Naomi’s books, aims to further unlock little-told stories of women in history.
The episodes (all of which are under 30 minutes long) thus far include topics such as discussing Maria Branwell (mother of the Bronte sisters) and A Stitch in Time: Women, Needlework and Art.
The City of London recently hosted a temporary outdoor exhibition about forgotten businesswomen of 18th century Cheapside in the City of London. Naomi invited me along to look at the exhibition with her and talk a little bit about the development of the City, its Guild system and endeavour to put in to context the environment and world in which these women operated. So, on a rather wet and windy Friday afternoon in October, we did just that, the fruits of which can be heard under the title ‘Businesswomen of 18th century London’. If you do listen, perhaps ignore the fact that I was evidently having a competition to see how many times I could say the word ‘basically’.
The exhibition is no longer in situ but can still be viewed Online.
If you enjoy the content of Naomi and Lena’s podcast series, please do subscribe so as not to miss their future offerings.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.