There really is so much to see and learn about in London and this is just one borough of it, so I should be kept busy for quite a while. I’ll not be attempting to share all of it in one go though as that is impossible and potentially boring to some, so here are just a few more to be going on with.
One place which you may have heard of before is Lambeth Palace. This is a medieval riverside palace and is the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It isn’t open every day, but you can book a guided tour to see the Crypt, Chapel and Great Hall or go to one of the monthly garden open days in the summer. It is situated in north Lambeth, on the south bank of the River Thames, some 400 yards (370 metres) south-east of the Palace of Westminster which houses Parliament on the opposite bank. Although the original residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury was in his ‘episcopal see’ of Canterbury in Kent, a site originally called the Manor of Lambeth or Lambeth House was acquired by the Diocese around 1200AD and this has served as the Archbishop’s London residence ever since. An ‘episcopal see’ is, in a practical use of the phrase, the area of a bishop’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Phrases concerning actions occurring within or outside an ‘episcopal see’ are indicative of the geographical significance of the term, making it synonymous with diocese. The site is bounded by Lambeth Palace Road to the west and Lambeth Road to the south, but unlike all other surrounding land it is excluded from the parish of North Lambeth. The garden park is listed and resembles Archbishop’s Park, a neighbouring public park, but it was a larger area with a notable orchard until the early 19th century. The south bank of the Thames along this reach, not part of historic London, developed slowly because the land was low and sodden, so was called Lambeth Marsh as far downriver as the present Blackfriars Road. What I didn’t previously know was that the name Lambeth embodies ’hithe’ as a landing on the river, also a landing place or small port for ships or boats. So it stands to reason that Archbishops came and went by water. This place has a history though, as in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the Palace was attacked, also the oldest remaining part of Lambeth Palace is the chapel, which was built in the Early English Gothic architectural style. Lollards Tower, which retains evidence of its use as a prison in the 17th century, dates from 1435 to 1440. The front is an early Tudor brick gatehouse built by Cardinal John Morton and completed in 1495. Also, Cardinal Pole lay in state in the palace for 40 days after he died there in 1558. It is said that the fig tree in the palace courtyard is possibly grown from a slip taken from one of the ‘White Marseille’ fig trees here for centuries and reputedly planted by Cardinal Pole. In 1786, there were three ancient figs, two of them ‘nailed against the wall’ and still noted in 1826 as being ‘ traditionally reported to have been planted by Cardinal Pole, and fixed against that part of the palace believed to have been founded by him’. On the south side of the building, in a small private garden, is another tree of the same kind and age and by 1882 their place had been taken by several massive offshoots. The orchard of the medieval period has rather given way to an adjoining public park and built-up roads of housing and offices, but the palace gardens were listed grade II in October 1987. Sadly the Great Hall was completely ransacked, including the building material, by Cromwellian troops during the English Civil War and after the Restoration it was completely rebuilt by archbishop William Juxon in 1663 with a late Gothic ‘hammerbeam’ roof. This choice of roof was evocative, as it reflected the High-Church Anglican continuity with the Old Faith, which was fitting as the brother of King Charles II was an avowed Catholic and so served as a visual statement that the Interregnum (literally meaning ‘between reign’ in Latin and which was the period between the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649 and the arrival of his son Charles II in London on 29 May 1660 which marked the start of the Restoration) was over. During the Interregnum, England was under various forms of republican government and as with some Gothic details on University buildings of the same date, it is debated among architectural historians whether this is ‘Gothic survival’ or an early work of the ‘Gothic Revival’! The diarist Samuel Pepys recognised it as ‘a new old-fashioned hall’. The building is listed in the highest category, Grade I, for its architecture as its front gatehouse with its tall, crenellated gatehouse resembles the one at Hampton Court Palace, which is also of the Tudor period. However Morton’s Gatehouse was at its very start in the 1490s, rather than in the same generation as Cardinal Wolsey’s wider, similarly partially stone-dressed deep red brick façade. Whilst this is the most public-facing part, it is not the oldest because at the north-west corner, the Water Tower or Lollards’ Tower mentioned above is made of Kentish Ragstone with ‘ashlar quoins’ and a brick turret which is much older. What this has taught me is that Ashlar is finely dressed (cut or worked) stone, either as an individual stone that has been worked until squared, or a structure built from such stones, also quoins are corners. New construction was added to the building in 1834 by Edward Blore (1787–1879), (who later rebuilt much of Buckingham Palace in neo-Gothic style) and it fronts a spacious quadrangle. The buildings form the home of the Archbishop, who is an ex officio member of the House of Lords and is regarded as the ‘first among equals’ in the Anglican Communion.
As a lad I would often hear of my parents and other members of the family talk about Brockwell Park. This large south London park has excellent views of the central London skyline from Brockwell Hall. I can imagine them just taking a stroll among the ornamental ponds and formal flower beds. The park is a 50.8 hectare (125.53 acre) park located south of Brixton, commands views of the city of London skyline and hosts almost 4 million annual visits. Whilst competing against multiple demands from a broad range of other interests, the entirety of Brockwell Park is a ’Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’ of Grade I Borough Importance, with mature trees including ancient oaks, substantial lawn areas set to meadow, and a series of lakes. As well as adding to the landscape value, these support a variety of birds, and bats including Pipistrelles, with frequent visits from rarer species like Daubentons, Noctule, Leisler’s and Serotine bat. The Park is listed for its heritage value on The National Heritage List for England. Noted for its nineteenth-century layout as a gracious public park, the clock-tower, water garden, designed walled garden and other monuments, the park provides a pleasant exploration with links to its eighteenth-century agricultural past in the hedge lines and mature oak trees. The model village houses which are outside the walled garden were originally donated to London County Council (LCC) by Edgar Wilson in 1943. Also the Rockwell Lido, a Grade II listed Art Deco building near the top of the park, is an open-air swimming pool popular with swimmers and bathers. Its attached café/restaurant is also popular. Other amenities in Brockwell Park include tennis courts, a bowling green, a BMX track and a miniature railway. In 1901, the LCC acquired a further 43 acres of land north of the original park and in the 1920s, there were 13 cricket pitches in the park, which attracted crowds of up to 1,500. During World War I it is recorded that Brockwell Park grazed a large flock of sheep, then during World War II three sites in the Park were set aside for wartime food production in the form of ‘Pig Clubs’, built of timber and bricks salvaged from bombed houses. Pig swill for this purpose was collected from local homes. Also, each July the free Lambeth Country Show is held here.
Built in 1951 as part of the festival of Britain, the Royal Festival Hall is a 2,700-seat concert, dance and talks venue within the Southbank Centre. It has been a Grade I listed building since 1981 and was the first post-war building to become so protected. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are resident in the hall. The place was built as part of the Festival of Britain for London County Council, later the Greater London Council (GLC) and was officially opened on 3 May 1951. When the GLC was abolished in 1986, the Festival Hall was taken over by the Arts Council and managed together with the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery, eventually becoming an independent arts organisation in 1998 as the Southbank Centre. The complex includes several reception rooms, bars and restaurants and the Clore Ballroom, accommodating up to 440 for a seated dinner. A large head and shoulders bust of Nelson Mandela, created in 1985 by Ian Walters, stands on the walkway between the hall and Hungerford Bridge approach viaduct. Originally made in glass-fibre, the bust was repeatedly vandalised until re-cast in bronze. A 1948 sketch of the building depicts the design of the concert hall as an egg in a box but the strength of the design was the arrangement of interior space, the central staircase seems to have an almost ceremonial feel and moves elegantly through the different levels of light and air. There was concern that whilst the scale of the project demanded a monumental building, it should not ape the triumphal classicism of many earlier public buildings as the wide open foyers, with bars and restaurants, were intended to be meeting places for all and there were to be no separate bars for different classes of patron. Because these public spaces were built around the auditorium, they also had the effect of insulating the Hall from the noise of the adjacent railway bridge. Something I have to mention here is the 7,866 pipe organ which was built between 1950 and 1954 by Harrison & Harrison in Durham, to the specification of the London County Council ’s consultant, Ralph Downes, who also supervised the tonal finishing. It was designed as a well-balanced classical instrument embracing a number of rich and varied ensembles which alone or in combination could equal the dynamic scale of any orchestra or choral grouping, in addition to coping with the entire solo repertoire. The design principles enshrined in its construction gave rise to a whole new school of organ building, known as the English Organ Reform Movement, influencing in the UK alone the cathedral organs of Coventry and Blackburn, also the concert hall organs of the Fairfield Halls in Croydon and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. There are also innumerable organs in other countries which have been influenced by it. However, the design of the organ in its housing made maintenance difficult, and by 2000 it had become unusable. It was consequently completely removed before restoration of the Hall itself began in 2005, and after restoration and updating by Harrison & Harrison, a third of the organ was reinstalled. The remainder was reinstalled between 2012 and 2013, and voicing completed in 2014.
I had to include this. The Oval has been the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club since it opened in 1845 and every year the final Test match of the English season is traditionally played here as it is a 23,000-seater stadium. It is the the birthplace of The Ashes and at present is known, for sponsorship reasons, as the ‘Kia Oval’. It is a recognised International cricket ground and has been the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club since it was opened in 1845. It was the first ground in England to host international Test cricket in September 1880. In addition to cricket, The Oval has hosted a number of other historically significant sporting events as in1870, it staged England’s first international football match, versus Scotland. Two years later it hosted the first FA Cup final, as well as those between 1874 and 1892. In 1876, it held both the England v. Wales and England v. Scotland rugby international matches and, in 1877, rugby’s first varsity match. It also hosted the final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.
The Oval is built on part of the former Kennington Common. Cricket matches were played on the common throughout the early 18th century and the earliest recorded match was the London v Dartford match in June 1724. However, as the common was also used regularly for public executions of those convicted at the Surrey Assizes, by the 1740s cricket matches had moved away to the Artillery Ground. Kennington Common was eventually enclosed in the mid-19th century under a scheme sponsored by the royal family but by 1844 the site of the Kennington Oval was a cabbage patch and market garden owned by the Duchy of Cornwall who were willing to lease the land for the purpose of a cricket ground and on 10 March 1845 the first lease, which the club later assumed, was issued to Mr. William Houghton (the then president of the progenitor, Montpelier Cricket Club) by the Otter Trustees who held the land from the Duchy ‘to convert it into a subscription cricket ground’, for 31 years at a rent of £120 per annum plus taxes amounting to £20. The original contract for turfing The Oval cost £300, the 10,000 grass turfs came from Tooting Common and were laid in the spring of 1845, allowing for the first cricket match to be played in May 1845. Hence, Surrey County Cricket Club (SCCC) was established. The popularity of the ground was immediate and the strength of the SCCC grew. In 1868, 20,000 spectators gathered at The Oval for the first game of the 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England, the first tour of England by any foreign side. On 3 May 1875 the club acquired the remainder of the leasehold for a further term of 31 years from the Otter Trustees for the sum of £2,800. Thanks to C.W. Alcock, the Secretary of Surrey from 1872 to 1907, the first Test match in England was played at The Oval in 1880 between England and Australia. Consequently The Oval became the second ground to stage a Test, after Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Then in 1882, Australia won the Test by seven runs within two days and The Sporting Times printed a mocking obituary notice for English cricket, which led to the creation of the Ashes trophy which is still contested whenever England plays Australia. Surrey’s ground is also noted as having the first artificial lighting at a sports arena in the form of gas-lamps, dating to 1889. The famous gas-holders just outside the ground were built around 1853. With the gas-holders long disused, there was much speculation as to whether they should be demolished, however many believed they were an integral part of The Oval’s urban landscape and so were retained and in 2016 the main gas-holder was given official protected status as a historically important industrial structure. The ground has also retained traditional names, for example the north-western end of The Oval is traditionally known as the ‘Vauxhall End’, as it is nearer to the district of Vauxhall and its railway station, whilst the opposite end (south-east) is known as the ‘Pavilion End’ because it is the location of the Members’ Pavilion. There has been a large amount of redevelopment over the years, including the redevelopment of the Vauxhall End by demolishing the outdated north stands and creating in their place a single four-tier grandstand. In January 2007 Surrey CCC announced major plans to increase capacity of the ground, but these plans were delayed by objections raised by the Health & Safety Executive as the ground is close to a gasometer. Planning permission was eventually granted, but financial difficulties meant that this development did not proceed. In 2009, four masts of semi-permanent telescopic floodlights were installed for use in evening matches and these were especially designed to comply with strict residential planning regulations to lessen their visual impact and any light overspill to residents, as well as to improve the game experience within the ground by reducing excess glare affecting all concerned. Further development has meant adding extra seating as well as a new stand and a major project will mean that a planned £50m long-term redevelopment of the ground by Surrey County Cricket Club will see The Oval transformed into the largest cricket stadium in the western hemisphere, with a capacity of 40,000.
These are just a few of the sights and sounds to be found in London and I plan to share more of these in the future.
This week… on a lighter note!
The basics of the game of cricket, as explained to a foreigner…
I’ll share more detail another time!
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