If you're wandering around Mayfair and Piccadilly, which as I've mentioned before has a reasonably high concentration of pretty swish shops and certainly quite a few that hold Royal Warrants, then you might find yourself in what is the longest covered shopping street in Britain. It's called the Burlington Arcade and has been providing the discerning and generally wealthy customer with antiques and silver, jewellery and watches, shoes, perfumes and fashion accessories since 1819.
Like a lot of places in London, there is often a story attached, and the Burlington Arcade is no exception. The Royal Academy of Arts is now next door, occupying a rather grand building called Burlington House, which gets its name from Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Burlington who bought it in the 17th century. It was a much later occupant, Lord George Cavendish, who in the early 19th century reputedly got so fed up with people throwing rubbish from the adjoining street in to his garden, that he decided to cover the entire street. He did also state that the newly covered street should also be "for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females", which strikes me as being somewhat ambiguous.
Either way I can only surmise that Lord George Cavendish was a bit of a worrier and perhaps a bit of a kill joy. My reason for thinking this (aside from the fact that he covered the whole street in the first place), is because he also employed some former members of the Cavendish family's regiment, the 10th Hussars to act as a sort of police force on his covered shopping street. In fact, you can still see them there today (different guys obviously) dressed in Edwardian frock coats and top hats, forming what is apparently the smallest private police force in existence. You can see one of them on the above photo, his back turned, looking down the arcade. They're known as Beadles and still uphold the rules and regulations of the arcade, so if you do happen to go, remember ... no whistling, no open umbrellas, no singing or playing of musical instruments, definitely don't even think about carrying a large parcel and please, please, please ... no babies' prams thank you very much. Oh yes, there's no running either.
As you walk in, you'll notice that there are a couple of rather sturdy looking bollards in the centre of both entrances. They're a reasonably new addition in the grand scheme of things, another security measure, added in 1964 after six masked men drove straight down the arcade in a Jaguar Mark 10, smashed in to a jewellery shop, stole £35,000 worth of bling and drove off again and were never caught. The funny thing about this incident is that it's mentioned in various sources and the car is always, without fail described as a 'Jaguar Mark 10'. Now I've just done it. I know nothing about cars, but evidently this piece of information seems to be of vital importance to everyone and I doubt if it had been ... I don't know ... a Fiesta, it would get mentioned quite so much. Therefore I wonder whether it's because it was a swish car (I'm assuming it was) and that in itself is unusual, or whether the car could accommodate six fully grown men that is so startling. I have no idea.
Either way, it's not particularly important, so I'll end by saying that if you are in the vicinity, then check out the Burlington Arcade and if you're feeling particularly mischievous, then why not see what happens if you whistle, or run. You could even go all out and play a musical instrument. Once you've been swiftly ejected, then head along to the Royal Academy of Arts, and there under the arched entrance you'll find a rather unusual thing ... a wooden telephone box. It's one of the original prototypes known as the K2 telephone box, made in the 1920's and designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. I think three were made and placed discreetly around to see how the public got on with them after a competition had been set to find a new design for the now iconic red telephone box. Just thought I'd mention it.
Men show their appreciation and affection for their wives in different ways ... sometimes. It might involve a bouquet of flowers, a surprise dinner out or maybe just abstaining from going to the pub for one evening. For Prince Albert however, he came up with something all together a bit more extravagant, when in the 1860's he created an ornamental water garden in Kensington Gardens as a landscaped love letter to his wife, Queen Victoria.
The garden is still there just by Lancaster Gate, having recently undergone a £486,000 restoration programme and overlooks the tranquil Long water, the river which flows through the Royal Park in to the Serpentine. It is quite a lavish affair complete with four basins, fountains, sculptures and urns, many of which have had their ornate carvings re-worked and restored in recent years. As you wander around you might notice five motifs which recur throughout; the swan's breast, woman's head, ram's head, dolphin and oval.
Prince Albert didn't dive in at the deep end, but as a man with 'green fingers' had already created an Italian style garden at Osborne House, the Royal retreat on the Isle of Wight, where he had taken charge of the garden. The pump house to the north originally had a steam engine for operating the fountains and a stoker was apparently employed to work each Saturday night, through the night, pumping water in to the pond, so that on Sunday, the fountains could work with no engine running, as if by magic.
Unfortunately, when I took these photos, it was a rather grey day, but Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are a wonderful place to go for a stroll, and apart from the distant hum of traffic, you can almost forget you're in London. For film buffs, the Italian Gardens featured in both 'Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason' and another film called 'Wimbledon' (starring Kirstin Dunst and Paul Bettany). Also, you'll notice that all the parks in London have oodles of benches, should you wish to rest your weary legs, but just next to the Italian Gardens is what must surely be one of the most extravagant park benches I've ever seen. It looks like this.
The Italian Gardens are a Grade II Listed English Heritage site, and the care and dedication taken to restore them to their former glory has ensured that many people will be able to enjoy them for many years to come.
Each Friday, or at least, most Fridays, I do a Friday quiz over on the Bowl Of Chalk Facebook Page. Last Friday's question related to the statue below, of John Wilkes, which would appear to be the only statue in London that has a squint, because not surprisingly, John Wilkes did have a prominent squint.
It got me thinking, that I've discovered that many of London's statues which people wander past every day have interesting, strange or mildly absurd stories attached to them, so thought I'd share a few of my favourites with you here ... in no particular order.
This statue of Elizabeth I nestles up in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street, and made in 1586 during the Queen's own life time, originally stood on the old Ludgate, but was saved during the Fire of London, and later placed in its current position. (It's currently hiding beneath scaffolding, and won't be seen again until the autumn). The statue however, in 1929 received its own income, when Dame Millicent Fawcett, an English Suffragist and early feminist left £700 to the statue in her will.
It is said that when this statue of George Washington (which stands to the north of Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery) was given to us as a gift in the 1920's by the people of Virginia, they sent with it, a load of American soil to be placed underneath, as Washington had stated that he never wanted to set foot in England.
This statue of Queen Anne stands very prominently outside the main entrance to St Paul's cathedral. It's not the original, made in the 1700's by Francis Bird, but a Victorian copy made by sculptor Richard Claude Belt. According to author Tom Quinn, Belt was forced to make the statue from prison after he was imprisoned for fraud having already been commissioned to make the statue. It could be entirely possible as Belt did spend 12 months behind bars at about the same time.
This statue of Charles I just south of Trafalgar Square is the oldest bronze equestrian statue in Britain, made during Charles' life time. After the unfortunate Monarch had his head chopped off in 1649, a metalsmith called John Rivet was ordered to melt down the statue and turn it in to trinkets, which people could buy as macabre souvenirs of the execution. However, Mr Rivet evidently melted down something else, realising perhaps that fortunes might change, and kept the statue hidden until Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and bought it back. Incidentally, you can see Nelson's Column in the background, which comes furnished with its own fascinating stories.
Prince Frederick, Duke of York
This 137 ft statue overlooks St James's Park and the Mall. Frederick was the second eldest son of King George III and when he died, every member of entire British army forewent a days pay to help raise the funds for the statue. Depending on which sources you read, they either did this gladly, or were forced to, as no one was willing to fork out the £21,000 needed to build it. Either way, when it was eventually finished in 1834 it was joked that the statue was so high up, so the Duke could escape his creditors. He died, £2 million in debt.
If you're visiting London and pick up one of the tourist maps, you'll notice immediately that central London has an abundance of parks. Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Regent's Park form the largest swathes of green across the city, but there's Holland Park to the west, Victoria Park to the east and right in the heart of Westminster, Green Park and its neighbour that I'm going to mention here ... St James's Park.
I wandered through St James's Park yesterday on my way to meet Cindy and Mercedes who are visiting from Arizona, and as it was a beautiful day, thought I'd take a few photos and also take the opportunity to talk a little bit about it here.
The park is flanked on one side by Buckingham Palace and on the other, Horse Guards Parade (and the intriguing Citadel building) and Whitehall, whilst the Mall runs down the north side. Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are all just a couple of minutes walk away.
The park takes its name from the nearby St James's Palace, built during Henry VIII's reign in the 1530's and at that time was a deer park, just one of the many surrounding hunting grounds. When James I became King in 1603 he had the rather marshy area drained and landscaped and used it as an exotic animal enclosure, apparently keeping crocodiles, elephants and camels there, so not the kind of place you'd want to take a late night stroll. There was also a large aviary on the south east side, from which the road, Birdcage Walk, that stretches along the south of the park takes its name. During the Restoration period, Charles II had the whole place landscaped in to a formal garden with a canal cutting through the centre and was opened to the public.
Today, you don't need to worry about bumping in to a crocodile, but the park is home to a startling array of wildfowl. The most famous residents are probably the Pelicans, which have been a constant since the arrival of the first Pelicans in 1664; a gift from the Russian Ambassador. St James's Park has just received three new Pelicans from Prague Zoo, but the ones which arrived in the 1980's caused a bit of a stir when they were seen and photographed eating other birds in the park. In fact, periodically, the Pelican's pigeon eating exploits have on occasion become headline news.
It's well worth walking across the bridge that traverses the small lake as you get great views of Buckingham Palace, which make you forget you're in the centre of London and is more like looking at a stately home set in the depths of the countryside. On the east side, the numerous roof tops of Whitehall appear like some sort of fairytale castle and behind them, and the London Eye looks down, now intersected by The Shard.
I often take people through St James's Park when we're walking around Westminster, as we did yesterday, and at this time of year, the flower beds look amazing, but be warned, if the sun is out and you feel inclined to relax on one of the many deck chairs, they're not free ... someone will eventually come along and try to get you to pay. I'd just sit on the grass if I were you.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.