The London and Waterloo Tour – Victoria and Albert: Art in Love at the Queen's Gallery

Victoria and I are looking forward to the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Exhibition features 400 items from The Royal Collection including gifts exchanged by Victoria and Albert such as drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, musical scores and jewellery and encompasses their mutual love of music and art. The display also touches upon Prince Albert’s work on ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851’ as well Queen Victoria in the years after Albert’s death in 1861.

Works by the couple’s favorite artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, are on display, as are photographs taken of the Royal couple. A German painter first recommended to Queen Victoria by Louise, Queen of the Belgians, Winterhalter came to England in 1842 and subsequently worked regularly for the queen and her family over the next two decades. Winterhalter was granted the largest number of royal commissions and produced numerous formal portraits, including the one pictured above, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise for her husband’s 24th birthday. The artist presents the Queen in an intimate pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair half unravelled from its fashionable knot.

Winterhalter (at left) was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. He excelled at painting and drawing as a teen and went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. By the late 1830’s he drew attention as a painter of royal subjects. He traveled and painted in almost every court of Europe until the last few years of his life. Though art critics were never very enthusiastic about his work, his portraits were well executed and conveniently flattering.

Costumes are also displayed in the exhibit, including Queen Victoria’s costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball  designed by French artist Eugène Lami. The French silk gown is rich in lace and brocade.
You can take a really in-depth video tour of the exhibition here and/or visit the Royal Collection website.

Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851, at right,  shows the Duke of Wellington presenting a casket to his one-year-old godson, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who is supported by Queen Victoria. Behind these figures and forming the apex of a pyramidal composition is Prince Albert, half looking over his shoulder towards the Crystal Palace in the left background. Both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert are dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal and wear the Order of the Garter. The painting derives its title from the fact that both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Arthur were born on 1 May, which was also the date of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

 The painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria, but Winterhalter clearly encountered some difficulties in devising an appropriate composition. In the queen’s words, he ‘did not seem to know how to carry it out’ and it was Prince Albert ‘with his wonderful knowledge and taste’ who gave Winterhalter the idea of using a casket, instead of the gold cup the Duke had actually presented to the child. The painting hangs at the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.

Above, Victoria and Albert with their children in 1846, Buckingham Palace

The Young Victoria

Victoria H. (as opposed to Victoria R) loved this film when she saw it in London in May 2009. And she will buy a copy as soon as it comes out on DVD. It’s still in Kristine’s Blockbuster queue.

We’d love to know what you think of it, so if you’ve already seen it, do tell us all. Wasn’t Emily Blunt wonderful? She even looked the part.

Victoria H. has this warning.  Do not expect the film to be entirely historically accurate. They played a little fast and loose with a couple of aspects.  For the benefit of the drama, of course.

 For example, Prime Minister Lord Melbourne was almost 60 when Victoria came to the throne. He might have had a long history of being a ladies’ man (and he had been married to Lady Caroline Lamb, remember), but  he was not the studly figure that Paul Bettany presented in the film, see left. Not that anyone could complain about Paul’s looks.  And Prince Albert did not take a bullet for his bride — he was as uninjured in the attack as she was.

Kristine tells an amusing bon mot regarding Patty Suchy of Novel Explorations . . One year we went to England to do a Queen Victoria tour and arrived a day or so early. The movie Mrs. Brown had just come out and we both wanted to see it, so we went to a cinema in Baker Street, where after buying our tickets we were presented with a floor plan and asked to reserve our seats. And what seats they were – plush red velvet, deep and supremely comfortable. Well, it also happened to have been the day we landed in Merry Old. And you know what air travel does to one. So, here we settled into our seats, the picture started and sometime later I turned to Patty in order to impart some witty aside or other, only to find her fast asleep! She missed the entire film. However, Patty embodies true friendship and after she’d awoken, she said, “Well, as long as you enjoyed it.”  Have you ever!?

Author Hester Davenport to Speak at Burney Society Conference

Hester Davenport, author of The Prince’s Mistress: A Life of Perdita, Mary Robinson and Faithful  Handmaid: Fanny Burney at the Court of King George III, (Sutton Publishing) will be speaking at a conference entitled “Women under Napoleon 1802–12” that has been jointly organised by  The Burney Society and the Université-Paris Diderot, to celebrate the life of Frances Burney in Paris, and to promote Anglo-French relations and the study of women’s writing on revolution and empire. The conference will take place 10–11 June 2010 at the Institut Charles V, rue Charles V, Paris.
Hester’s talk English Women and the Revolution, will include dramatised readings by Hester and Karin Fernald. Other seminars include Napoleon through British and French Caricatures (1799–1815), Germaine de Staël’s 1812 Dilemma by Flora Fraser,  Pauline Bonaparte: Procuress for her Brother the Emperor Napoleon?, Florence Filippi on French actresses and Napoleon and Madame d’Arblay’s ’French Notebooks’ by Peter Sabor of McGill University.
For more details, a list of hotels and to make a reservation, contact David Tregear (Burney Society secretary): 36 Henty Gardens, Chichester PO19 3DL Email: tregear.david@virgin.net

The London and Waterloo Tour – The Grenadier Pub

Let me preface this post by saying that it may be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written due to the fact that I had the most chilling experience of my life at the Grenadier Pub. Read on. . . .

Tucked away down London’s exclusive Wilton Mews, on the corner of Old Barrack Yard, the patriotic Grenadier pub is painted red, white and blue and boasts a red sentry box that serves as a nod to the property’s military history. Reputedly, the Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards used it as their mess. Inside it is small, dark and cozy, the  paneled walls covered with military and Wellington memorabilia. Reputedly, the pub’s upper floors were once used as the officers’ mess of a nearby barracks, whilst its cellar was pressed into service as a drinking and gambling lair for the common soldiers.

A display at the entrance to the pub informs us that “18 Wilton Row was built circa 1720 as the home to The 1st Regiment of Foot Guards regiment and famously known as the Duke of Wellington’s Officers Mess. Originally named The Guardsman as a Licensed Premises in 1818, and frequented by King George IV, the Grenadier enjoys a fine reputation for good food and beer.” From the same display we also find out that the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards was created in 1656, and that 1st Guards were renamed by Royal Proclamation as the ‘Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards’ because of their heroic actions against French Grenadiers at Waterloo in 1815. Continuing the Wellington connection, directly outside in the old Barrack Yard at the side of the pub is what is reputed to be the remaining stone of the Duke’s mounting block, whilst an archway down the nearby alley forms part of his stables.

Here, a young subaltern is said to have once been caught cheating at cards, and his comrades punished him with such a savage beating that he died from his injuries.

The Grenadier is said to be one of the most haunted places in London. People who have worked there have quit after supernatural run-ins with a solemn, silent spectre reportedly seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects either disappear or else are mysteriously moved overnight. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs, and a strange, icy chill has been known to hang in the air, sometimes for days on end. A ghostly face floats in an upstairs window and – the most common tale – the sentry box out front is haunted by the ghost of the dead subaltern.

So . . . a few years ago I was at the Grenadier with Sue Ellen Welfonder (Bozzy) and three other women whom I won’t name because I haven’t seen them in years and have no idea whether or not they want to be associated with the following story. I don’t talk about it myself, as it makes one seem as odd as those who claim to have been abducted by aliens or to have seen the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. We, Reader, saw ghosts. Not a ghost, but a circle of ghosts. Regency soldier ghosts, no less.

The five of us could see that the alley beside the Pub led back to a yard with stable doors and a row of quaint single story houses along one wall. Very atmospheric, very historic . . . very tempting. What was back there? we asked. Let’s go look! we answered. What. A. Mistake. As you can see by the photo, a sort of alley runs beside the Pub and opens up at the end to the doors to what is reputed to have been Wellington’s stable.

We walked down the alley to the end, where the car is visible in the photo below. There was a car parked in the very same spot on the night in question. We got to the end of the alley and saw . . . . . a ring of ten to twelve men – soldiers, whose red coats had been thrown in a pile atop the cobbles. They wore breeches and boots and white shirts. They stood in a circle in the space between the front of the car and the stable doors – surrounding a man who was on his knees at the center of the circle, his face already bloody and bruised from the beating that had already been going on for some time (centuries?). These men were pissed off. Even taking into account the fact that cheating at cards was a much more serious offence then than it is today, their anger was beyond anything justified by such an offence.


We watched them as though we were watching a film that was being played at half strength. That’s the only way I can describe it. The scene was playing out before our eyes, in the bricked space between the car and the black stable doors, the men utterly oblivious to our presence. The film ran for a minute, probably less in hindsight, and then flickered out. Except this film had something extra – this one had been filmed in “emotion-vision.” As we watched the ghostly events, each one of us could actually feel the anger and the venom that was being directed towards the poor schmuck on his knees in the middle of the circle. In fact, I think the strength of that collective emotion was more overwhelming to us than the fact that we’d actually just seen ghosts. The experience was so shocking, so life altering that I will be forever grateful that I was in the company of others when it happened or else I’d truly doubt whether it had all taken place. Bozzy has reminded me that these events happened on Saturday, August 3, 1996, though September is supposed to be the month for the most ghostly occurrences at the Grenadier. Now you see why I call Sue Ellen “my Boswell” for she documents my life – in words and pictures – as thoroughly as Boswell did for Dr. Johnson.

The side door to the Grenadier Pub is now kept locked and access to the alley was blocked when I was there last (too right, mate!) and I have to admit that I really only gave getting to the exact site where we’d seen the ghosts a half hearted effort. You might now only be able to gain entry to the stable yard from the street behind. I suppose seeing ghosts is much like childbirth – the true horror of the experience abates with time and fourteen years have passed. Therefore, I’ve promised my eager-to-see-a-ghost daughter we’d go back to the Grenadier when we’re in London in June and so Brooke, Victoria and myself will be stopping by one evening for dinner.  And you can bet that I’ll be hoisting a few drinks before I even attempt to visit the alley again. I’ll report back on what we find. Or, with luck, don’t find. I say – Where’s the ghost of Arthur Wellesley when you need him?

Did You Know . . . That You Can Have Your Very Own Blue Plaque?

Thanks to a great website brought to our attention by Jo Manning, you can now make your very own Blue Plaque and immortalize yourself as part of London history. Well, okay, you can make one that appears as a photo and then you can print it, frame it and hang it on your own wall.

Here’s some history behind them:

The scheme for blue plaques, which make a stroll down any London street all the more interesting,  has been running for over 140 years and is one of the oldest of its kind in the world. The idea of erecting ‘memorial tablets’ in London was first proposed by William Ewart MP in the House of Commons in 1863. It had an immediate impact on the public imagination, and in 1866 the Society of Arts (later Royal Society of Arts) founded an official plaques scheme for the capital. The Society erected its first plaque – to the poet Lord Byron – in 1867. In all, the Society of Arts erected 35 plaques; today, less than half of them survive, the earliest of which commemorates Napoleon III (1867).

In 1901, the plaques scheme was taken over by London County Council (LCC), which erected nearly 250 plaques over the next 64 years and gave the scheme its popular appeal. It was under the LCC that the blue plaque design as we know it today was adopted, and the selection criteria were formalised.

On the abolition of the LCC in 1965, the plaques scheme passed to the Greater London Council (GLC). The scheme changed little, but the GLC was keen to broaden the range of people commemorated. The 262 plaques erected by the GLC include those to figures such as Sylvia Pankhurst, campaigner for women’s rights; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer of the Song of Hiawatha; and Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse and heroine of the Crimean War.

English Heritage is now in charge of the scheme and has erected nearly 300 plaques in London, bringing the total number to over 800. Blue plaques are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape. They adorn the façades of buildings in areas as different as Primrose Hill, Soho and Wimbledon; some of these buildings are grand, others look very ordinary, but all are connected by the fact that a remarkable person lived or worked there at some point in history.