Richmond’s Blue Plaques

After last month’s stroll past some of the more prominent plaques in Putney, another piece, this time on the residents of Richmond upon Thames. This should appear in April’s The Richmond Magazine.

Given its size and history, the town of Richmond has surprisingly few ‘official’ English Heritage blue plaques, those roundels that commemorate where a famous person once lived or worked. And there isn’t a body – such as the Wandsworth or Putney societies – that puts up is own memorials, so the town seems a little bashful about its historic residents.

But perhaps what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. In Paradise Road, for example, a plaque shows where Leonard and Virginia Woolf founded the Hogarth Press. Mainly associated with Bloomsbury, the Woolfs lived in Richmond between 1917 and 1924 and while there Virginia published various stories and her novel ‘Jacob’s Room’. Not too far away on Richmond Hill a plaque marks where the actor Celia Johnson – star of Brief Encounter among many other 1940s and 50s films – was born.

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Christchurch Greyfriars and the 1666 Great Fire

In the post on the Firefighters’ Memorial we talked about the destruction caused by the Blitz – and Christchurch Greyfriars gives a hint of that devastation. This was a Wren church built after the 1666 Great Fire and gutted in WW2. Rather than being restored like so many others, it was turned into a garden. Flowerbeds mark where the pews once stood, and wooden frames with climbing plants show where the towers once stood in the nave.

Before Wren’s church it had been one of the largest churches in London. Originally it was part of a Franciscan friary (Franciscans wore grey habits, hence greyfriars). Four queens were buried in the friary grounds, including the wives of Edward I and Edward II , which stretched from King Edward Street (once known as ‘Stinking Lane’ by the way) right down to the City Wall at Newgate.

When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church in 1533 over his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, he also ‘dissolved’ many religious institutions and Greyfriars was one of those. The friary church became Christchurch. Another part of the friary was to become the site of Christ’s Hospital School – which still exists, although it moved out of the City at the start of the 20th century. The pupils still wear a tudor-style uniform of a long blue coat and yellow knee length socks.

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Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar

Buried under the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall is an extraordinary historical survivor.   Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar is one of the few remaining parts of Whitehall Palace – the main London residence of Kings and Queens (and Lord Protectors – because Oliver Cromwell also lived there) for over 150 years.

Today Whitehall is the name of the broad road linking Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, or it’s used as a synonym for ‘government’, but Whitehall was once the biggest palace in Europe – bigger than the Vatican, bigger even than Versailles – covering over 93,000 square metres between the river and Green Park.   It became a royal palace when Henry VIII confiscated a residence called York Place from Cardinal Wolsey. As well as being Lord Chancellor of England and the most powerful commoner in the realm, Wolsey was also Archbishop of York whose London seat since the 13th century had been York Place.  

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