I meet many people on my walks who are visiting London and have either already been or are about to visit Windsor Castle, which as you might know is one of the Queen’s official residencies, that lies about 25 miles to the west of London. For that reason I thought I’d write a brief post about what to expect from your visit and how to get there. It is expressly forbidden to take photos inside Windsor Castle, so you’ll have to make do with a few exterior shots.
Windsor Castle was founded at the end of the 11th century by William the Conqueror (also responsible for leaving us The Tower of London) and is the oldest royal residence in the British Isles to have remained in continuous use. It has served as home to 39 monarchs. Not bad.
The castle dominates the whole area (which was of course the idea) and when you enter, you’ll find yourself in The Middle ward, (there are 3 main wards) with the Norman motte (or mound) on top of which you’ll see the Round Tower. It probably makes sense to head towards the Upper Ward and explore the State Apartments and royal apartments, which are arranged around the Quadrangle in the centre. As you leave through the Lower Ward, you pass the incredible St George’s Chapel, which is well worth a visit before you go.
What to expect from your visit to Windsor Castle?
Without going in to minute detail about each room, I suppose that if you happen to visit during the height of summer you can expect a vast amount of people. Aside from that, be prepared for a whistle stop tour through 900 years of British Royal history, opulent and richly furnished interiors (many of which date back to Charles II in the 17th century), although a number of monarchs have been instrumental in Windsor Castle’s alterations throughout history. As this year is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo there are specific exhibitions dedicated to this event and those involved, including the Duke of Wellington. You’ll see an array of arms and armour and through the medium of King Henry VIII’s armour (made in about 1540) it’s possible to see just how fat he really was towards the end of his life ... if you like that sort of thing.
You can also see Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, a model of a London town house built in 1924 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and filled with thousands of objects made by leading designers, artists and craftsmen of the day. It even has electricity and running water.
Windsor Castle is chock full of treasures with an exceptional collection of paintings and drawings including works by Holbein, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Canaletto to name just a few. In 1992 a fire broke out destroying many rooms including St George’s Hall, the Grand Reception Room and State Dining Room, amongst others. Reconstruction work took five years and cost £37 million.
In my humble opinion, one of the highlights of my visit was St George’s Chapel. Work on the chapel began under Edward IV in 1475, the Quire (choir) was completed in 1485 and the chapel finally finished during the reign of Henry VIII in 1528. As well as being able to marvel at the stunning medieval stone and woodwork, the chapel is also the final resting place for Henry VIII, Charles I, King George VI & Elizabeth (the Queen mother). St George’s chapel is a fully functioning chapel with at least 3 services taking place each day, which visitors are of course welcome to attend.
I took a train from Paddington Station to Slough, then at Slough you change on to a train that just goes to Windsor & Eton Central. The return journey costs £10.40 and if you get the fast train can take 30 minutes, but I’d leave 45 minutes to an hour just to make sure, as you could have a 10 to 15 minute wait at Slough. Once you arrive in Windsor, you’ll have no problems finding the castle, it’s literally a couple of minutes from the platform and the town itself is quite pleasant, if not geared towards tourists (as you’d expect), but worth having a look around. I'd allow a couple of hours for visiting the castle itself.
Last week I showed a young guy from Singapore around London. We spent the whole day together and in the afternoon, found ourselves by The Monument, just north of London Bridge. It'd been years since I'd traipsed up the 311 steps to the viewing platform, 160 feet (48.7 metres) above ground. Yong Hao, who I was with was incredibly keen to go up, so we paid our £3 (he very kindly paid for me) and began our ascent. It dawned on me, that I'd never written specifically about The Monument, so am rectifying that now.
Monuments in general are usually erected to commemorate specific events, so they naturally form part of a much larger picture than just the stone that was used to make it, or the architects whose vision it was. The Monument I suppose is reasonably intriguing in this respect as its very being manages to encapsulate the essence of modern London, and is completely entwined with so many facets of the City's history and the people responsible for both its destruction and its rebuilding. For starters, it's simply called 'The Monument' ... which would indicate that any other monument anywhere must surely pale in to insignificance. As people who have been on my walks can testify, I can talk about the Great Fire of London for hours. I don't though, because that would be incredibly tedious, but suffice to say it is a fascinating, remarkable and catastrophic period of London's history. As ever, to do it justice here would be entirely inadequate (which is why there are entire books on the subject) so I shall give you a light dusting, a sprinkling of information about The Monument, which if you didn't already know, commemorates, the Great Fire of London, which in the 17th century, burned and destroyed the vast majority of the medieval (and largely wooden) City of London.
The Great Fire of London began in a baker's house on Pudding Lane belonging to a guy called Thomas Farriner (or Farynor). It began in the early hours of the 2nd September 1666 and as you can imagine, got pretty out of hand. So much, so than in about four days it had burned down approximately 14,000 homes, 87 churches and about 100,000 people were forced to flee the City. That is an incredibly abridged version of events that makes no mention of the political climate, the wind, the preceding hot summer, the plague year of 1665, the inept Mayor Thomas Bludworth or the fact that instead of trying to put out the fire, many Londoner's ran around in mobs murdering foreigners. The wooden City was turned to ash, and from those ashes a new City was built, this time out of stone and brick (a good idea) largely by Christopher Wren (Surveyor General to King Charles II) and his right hand man, Robert Hooke. If you haven't heard of Hooke, then the name Wren might be familiar, as he rebuilt 51 of the City churches, including St Paul's cathedral ... which had also succumbed to the fire.
One of the churches that was not rebuilt was called St Margaret on Fish Street Hill, but on the site where it had stood, it was decided to build a monument to commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It was finished by Wren and Hooke in 1677, and is the same one, myself and Yong Hao climbed just last week. At a total of 202ft (61 metres) tall, The Monument is the largest free standing stone column in the world, and the idea apparently is that if it were to fall to the east (which hopefully it won't) the top would reach the spot where the fire began. If you're not claustrophobic, scared of heights or unable to climb all those steps, then the viewing platform (for a very small fee) gives you really great 360 degree views across London.
The pictures above from left to right show the Thames and Tower Bridge (unfortunately the Tower itself has recently disappeared behind a new building development), the Shard just south of the river, the view to the west, which includes the dome of St Paul's cathedral, and in the distance, the BT Tower (originally Post Office Tower), the first building in London to be taller than St Paul's. Finally, the view north is dominated by a cluster of the City's newer additions, which continue to develop.
As you're either going up or coming down the staircase, keep an eye out for bits of graffiti, which are still carved in the walls. The one on the photo below was evidently etched in to the wall in 1770, just 20 years after the picture you can see at the top of the page was made. I should mention that when you reach the bottom, you are handed a certificate to verify that you have indeed just ascended and descended all 311 steps, and the drawing forms the front and is reproduced courtesy of Guildhall Library.
On final point I will mention is that when you exit, turn to your left, have a look at the inscription on the north facing part of the base. There is a latin inscription, which details the rebuilding of the City after the fire. If like me you can't read latin, then don't worry because all of the inscriptions have an English translation. At the bottom you'll discover that in 1830 a line was deleted. It said "But Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched" which in my own layman's terms can be read as "The Catholic's did this and we still haven't sorted them out".
On this note, I'll end my very brief post about The Monument and the Fire of London by mentioning that today we are generally told that the Great Fire of 1666 was an accident, but at the time (and for a long time after) it was anything but ... it was considered to be a terrorist attack. Very often, history has a habit of teaching us that in the grand scheme of things ... very little has changed.
If you fancy escaping central London for a day, and heading somewhere a bit more leafy, then I can heartily recommend Richmond in west London. You can even take a boat all the way there if you like, and if you do venture out that way, then I can also recommend taking a wander down the Thames and stopping off at Ham House, a magnificent 17th Century mansion and National Trust property.
Ham House was built in 1610, but was leased to a courtier called William Murray by Charles I, as a gift in 1626. What did Murray do to receive such a splendid gift? Well, he’d probably earned it, as William Murray had the misfortune (or fortune, depending on how you look at it) of being the young Charles’s ‘whipping boy’. A whipping boy, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, was a young boy who was chosen to be schooled alongside a Prince (in this case Charles) and receive any punishment, meant for the future King, each time he misbehaved. It all seems a little unfair, but that’s how things were.
The two men became life long friends, and Murray set about renovating and decorating his new abode. Unfortunately, his enjoyment of his rather grand home was reasonably short lived, as Civil War broke out resulting in King Charles I having his head chopped off. No doubt Murray was thankful that Oliver Cromwell did not apply the ‘whipping boy’ protocol to the execution, but as a devout Royalist, found it necessary to leave the country. Murray’s daughter Elizabeth managed to keep the house away from Republican hands and no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne and all was well again with the wealthier echelons of English society. Her father unfortunately, did not live to see the restoration. However, Elizabeth wasted no time in returning Ham House to a place of entertainment and extravagance for all who moved in Whitehall circles and was rewarded by the restored King for her support during his exile with a rather handsome annual pension. Her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache died and Elizabeth married again, this time the Duke of Lauderdale, John Maitland.
Together, they transformed Ham House in to one of the finest Stuart houses in England and after Elizabeth’s death, the house was passed down through the children from her first marriage until it was passed to the National Trust in 1948.
That is a rather brief, whirlwind-esque appraisal of Ham House’s history, but if you have even the slightest interest in Stuart England, then it’ll give you a brilliant insight in to the life and times of 17th century courtiers.
The house itself is stunning. From the moment you step in to the aptly named Great Hall you really feel like you’ve rewound the clock 400 years. The equally aptly named Great Staircase, is just that and from then on you can loose yourself amongst the ornately decorated rooms, the furniture and textiles, wander down the Long Gallery and myriad of other assorted rooms and stroll around the gardens. The original walled kitchen garden still provides all the produce served up in the café.
The other thing I like about Ham House, is that you get a real sense of the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life of the place, and can scour the kitchen and pantry and find out what life was like for those who served and worked behind the scenes to keep the whole place going. Whilst ‘upstairs’ you are guided through the secret passage ways, doors and staircases that pass discreetly between walls so that servants could move around the house completely unseen, popping out to collect plates or refill glasses with minimum interruption … as if they were ghosts.
Talking of ghosts, Ham House is also reputed to be haunted, by non other than Elizabeth herself and perhaps not too surprising for a Stuart mansion, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
So, if you’re in Richmond, why not pay Ham House a visit.
If you wander around London and in particular Mayfair, St James's Street and Piccadilly (or indeed many other parts of the UK), you might notice a particular shop displaying a small, or occasionally large coat of arms with a bit of blurb saying 'By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen'. It basically means that they supply goods or services to the Royal Family. This one belongs to H. R Higgins, specialist supplier of fine coffee and tea.
It's not just The Queen though, it could be for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, or HRH The Prince of Wales ... AKA 'The Big Three'.
About 800 individuals or companies hold prestigious Royal Warrants and it could be an individual practicing traditional crafts or a massive computer company. Either way, it is supposed to signify a mark of quality and they can apply for Royal Warrant status after they've been supplying any one of 'The Big Three' with whatever it is they supply, for five years. However, if you're a fan of 'After Eight' mints (like me), or Jacob's Cream Crackers (can't say I'm a massive fan), then you might have noticed that the Royal Warrant has been subtly omitted from their product packaging in recent years. It seems that some companies just aren't feeling the prestige as much as they once did.
That aside, you can pretty much guarantee that many of the companies and shops that are proud owners of a Royal Warrants have been around for donkeys and in some cases continued to serve the Royal Family for centuries. H. R Higgins (above) on that note are pretty new to the game, only receiving there's in 1979 I think.
The earliest record of a Royal Charter dates back to 1155 and was granted by Henry II to the Weavers' Company. Also, perusing lists of Royal Tradesmen over the years, shines an intriguing light on how things have changed. Henry VIII for instance employed a guy called Thomas Hewytt to 'Serve the court with Swanes and Cranes', whilst Charles II, in 1684 couldn't possibly survive without his Sword Cutter, Operator for the Teeth and very importantly, his Goffe-Club Maker. The whole operation was formalised by Queen Victoria in 1840 and Royal Warrants are now granted and overseen by what is now called the Royal Warrant Holders Association. Here are some of my favourite holders of Royal Warrants (in no particular order):
Lock & Co - Hatters
Lock & Co have been making hats since 1676, which makes them the oldest hat shop in the world. They have provided hats for Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. In fact, you can see drawings they still have inside the shop of Nelson's hat measurements. They also are responsible for bringing about the once ubiquitous 'bowler hat' although, they'd call it the Coke (I might tell you why another time). To give you an idea of the kudos they have in the world of hat making, they once received a postcard from overseas, addressed simply to 'the best hatters in the world, London.' Enough said.
Berry Bros & Rudd - Wine & Spirit Merchants
Although they sell alcohol, confusingly, Berry Bros & Rudd have a picture of a coffee grinder on the sign outside their 315 year old shop. The reason being that when they started off at the end of the 17th century, they sold coffee to the reasonably newish coffee houses that had been popping up. They have some huge coffee scales, and the likes of Lord Byron and William Pitt have sat on them to be weighed. They still have all the leather bound volumes of various people's weights inside the rickety shop and until recently boasted the largest wine cellars in London; a whopping 8,000 square feet over two floors. They began their Royal connection back during the reign of King George III.
Floris - Perfumers
I really like Floris on Jermyn Street. I very much doubt that when people meet me, they think, 'this guy likes to buy luxury fragrances' but I've always found the staff in Floris to be incredibly friendly and helpful, despite my obvious lack of interest in smelly water. Founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris, as a perfumers, comb maker and purveyor of shaving products, they received their first Royal Warrant from George IV in 1820 as his Smooth Pointed Comb Maker. Aside from an amazing array of fragrances, they have a tiny little pseudo museum in the back room, which among other things includes a letter from Florence Nightingale to Mr Floris thanking him for his 'beautiful sweet-smelling nosegays'.
Paxton & Whitfield - Cheesemonger
Despite the name, which could almost be bywords for 'quality' and 'cheese', the seed of the business was actually sown by a bloke called Stephen Cullum who had a cheese stall in Aldwych Market back in 1742. His son Sam, moved the business to west London where many of his wealthy customers were based and took on two new partners, Henry Paxton and Charles Whitfield who somehow in 1797 managed to join their two names to become what is still today Paxton & Whitfield. They received their first Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1850 and have had mixed blessings over the years, as the popularity of cheese has waxed and waned, not mention rationing in the 1940's when they were forced to become a regular grocery shop. I'm very pleased to say they seem to be doing pretty well at the moment, with shops also in Stratford Upon Avon, Bath and the Cotswolds.
Hatchards - Booksellers
Hatchards, started by John Hatchard in 1797 has the distinction of being London's oldest bookshop. Based on Piccadilly, just next to Fortnum and Mason and opposite the Royal Academy of Arts, it's famous for the myriad of authors and politicians that have done book signings there and is crammed with books over five floors. They also hold Royal Warrants for all of 'The Big Three' and if you're a bit worried that Waterstones just a hop and a skip down the road might be stealing their business, then in fact, Waterstones bought Hatchards, but kept the much older and more prestigious name. It does mean though that if someone buys you Waterstones vouchers, you can use them in Hatchards too. Bonus.
And last but not least ...
John Anderson Hire Ltd - Portable Toilet Hire
Pretty much every Sunday I visit Columbia Road Flower Market on my east end walk. Every Sunday, there is a guy asleep in a land rover, behind which he has towed (for the use of visitors to the market) a portable toilet. Emblazoned on the doors of his vehicle is the Royal Warrant (which you can see above). Every time I use the toilet, which I do every Sunday, the emptying of my bladder feels that little bit more special, knowing that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II might have used the very same one ... albeit probably not the gents. So thank you very much John Anderson Hire Ltd for the wonderful service.
We were talking about this on yesterday's walk, so thought I'd do a little post about it. As you may or may not know, the City of London was once a walled and gated city. The gates have long since disappeared, but linger on in the names of streets, areas and Underground stations like Aldgate, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate, Newgate and Ludgate. Only one of the gates still exists; Temple Bar, itself a curious later addition outside the original western most gate of Ludgate and providing a sort of sticking plaster at the point where Fleet Street meets the Strand, and a boundary between the City of London and Westminster.
First mentioned in 1293 it was very possibly nothing more than a chain strung between two posts, but by 1351, a gate had been built housing a small prison above it.
Temple Bar survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but as if they didn't have enough building to do, it was decided (largely at the insistence of King Charles II) that a new gate should be erected, courtesy of course of Sir Christopher Wren.
Temple Bar stood proudly on its spot on Fleet Street for just over 200 years and as you left the City, you'd have been looked down upon by stone carvings of King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark, and if you were arriving from Westminster, greeted by King Charles I and Charles II.
Eventually, due to the widening of the street and the cost of maintenance, the gate was taken down in January 1878, stone by stone, numbered and spent the next ten years lying in a yard on Farringdon Road. After a new owner was evidently not forthcoming (there's only a short list of people who need a massive gate) it was given to a London Brewer, Sir Henry Meux, who erected Temple Bar as the gatehouse to his newly acquired residence; Theobalds Park and Mansion in Hertfordshire.
The family sold the property in 1929 and subsequent owners neglected the gate until by the 1970's it was a decaying wreck.
Many people in the City of London had always hoped that one day, Temple Bar would return home and in the late 1970's, the Temple Bar Trust was formed with this objective being their sole purpose. It took 25 years, but in 2001 the current site between St Paul's cathedral and Paternoster Square was approved. It took 16 months to remove, restore and re-assemble Temple Bar, at a cost of £2.9 million.
There's a small room above the main arch, which in the 19th Century had been a ledger room for the adjacent Child's Bank on Fleet Street and during its stay in Theobalds Park, an additional dining room where Lady Meux entertained guests such as King Edward VII and Sir Winston Churchill. Today, it can be hired by the public for meetings or meals, seating up to 14 people. Quite a unique experience, I think you'll agree.
So, next time you're by St Paul's cathedral and see the rather large gate forming the entrance to Paternoster Square, remember that it's had an interesting history and moved ... twice.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.