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Visitors can take guided tours of the Houses of Parliament that include Westminster Hall, the Royal Gallery, Lords Chamber, Commons Chamber, St Stephens Hall, and other major areas of the Palace. You can also opt to take afternoon tea on the Riverside Terrace, overlooking the Thames.
Tradition suggests that a Roman temple to Apollo stood when the Palace now stands. That temple was supposedly destroyed in an earthquake, and no trace of it remains, if, indeed, it ever existed. In the Saxon period, a timber church dedicated to St Peter was built here in the 8th century.
To distinguish the new church from St Paul’s in the centre of London, the new church was known as the West Minster, while St Paul’s was known as the East Minster. The name was contracted over time until the area around the church became known as Westminster. In the 10th century Westminster church was re-established as a Benedictine monastery.
In the early years of the 11th century, King Cnut built a royal palace on Thorney Island, a rise of high ground in the River Tyburn. The most influential Saxon king, however, was Edward the Confessor, who founded Westminster Abbey and built a new royal palace beside his great new monastic foundation.
When William the Conqueror came to the throne he used the existing Palace and Abbey as his base of power in London, but it was his son, William Rufus, who began to transform the earlier Saxon palace. William Rufus began building Westminster Hall in 1097 and created the largest royal hall in Europe. The Hall was used as a ceremonial centre, for banqueting and entertaining.
Over the next few centuries, several of the most important administrative arms of government, such as the Court of Common Plea and the Chancery, were established at Westminster Hall. It was not until the 13th century, however, that Westminster was used as the centre for parliamentary gatherings.
The first true Parliament, called by Simon de Montfort in 1265, probably met in the chapter house of nearby Westminster Abbey, but by the reign of Edward I gatherings met in the king’s private chamber, called the Painted Chamber, or in the neighbouring White Chamber. It was only when Henry VIII left Westminster Palace for Whitehall in 1512 that Westminster Palace became the permanent home of Parliament.
Aside from the Hall itself, other remains of the medieval palace include the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, begun by Edward I in 1297 for the royal household and court. Across the road from the current Palace is another medieval survivor, the Jewel Tower, built in 1365 by Edward III as a storeroom for royal gold, silver, and jewels.
Over the following centuries, it became a repository for all manner of royal treasure, including clothing, children’s toys, even the royal chess set. Today the Jewel Tower is administered by English Heritage and is regularly open to the public.
On 16 October 1834, a pair of stoves used to burn old tally sticks for the Exchequer started a fire that soon swept through the timber-framed Palace. It was the worst fire in London’s history to that point, save for the Great Fire of London. Records stored in the Jewel Tower were saved only because the wind was blowing the other way. Apart from the Jewel Tower only the medieval hall, cloister, and Chapel of St Mary Undercroft were saved.
An architectural competition was launched to choose a design for a new Palace of Westminster. The winning entry was by Sir Charles Barry, who proposed a complex of buildings in Gothic style, incorporating the surviving medieval buildings. Barry enlarged the site by reclaiming 8 acres of land from the River Thames. He estimated a construction time of 6 years, but in the end, construction took 30 years, at a cost of over 2 million pounds.
The central block of the Palace is flanked by striking towers. To the south is Victoria Tower, which at 325 feet was the tallest square stone tower in the world. The tower was intended to serve as a royal entrance, with archways through the tower base large enough for Queen Victoria’s royal coach to pass through for State Openings of Parliament. The Victoria Tower was also intended to serve as an archive storage for Parliamentary records, a service it still fulfils.
The Elizabeth Tower – to clear up a common misconception. Big Ben is not the same thing as the iconic clock tower, also known as the Elizabeth Tower, which overlooks Westminster Bridge and Parliament Square. Nor does the name refer to the huge clock face, designed by AW Pugin.
The name Big Ben applies to the hour bell that hangs within the Clock Tower. Quite why the ‘Great Bell’ gained its popular nickname is a subject of historical debate, but it may have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works, or perhaps for a heavyweight boxer named Ben Caunt.
Opening times vary; it’s good to check the Westminster Abbey website for details. There is no admission charge for services, but there is a fee for general admittance. Verger-led tours are available.
Westminster Abbey is probably the most famous necropolis (burial place) in the world
The Abbey at Westminster is built upon what was once an island – Thorney Island – a marshy retreat from the City of London. The island was at one time flanked by two channels of the Tyburn River, which flowed where Downing Street and Great College Street now run.
There may have been a Christian church on Thorney Island as early as 604 AD, just eight years after the first Christian mission under St Augustine landed near Canterbury in 596 AD. In that same year of 604, Ethelbert, uncle of the king of the East Saxons, founded St Paul’s in the City of London.
Later royals followed the pattern; King Edgar (957-75) gave land for a church, and several kings, including Canute and Ethelred, donated relics. St Dunstan endowed a place for a dozen monks in 960 AD. But it is to one man that we owe the marvellous church we can see today: Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) had a vision of an ecclesiastic-royal complex including a palace with a large monastery and an abbey church suitable for royal functions and burials.
Devout though Edward certainly was, he was also driven by guilt in his building project. Earlier in his reign, he had been forced to flee from a Danish invasion into exile in Normandy. He made a solemn vow that if he ever regained his throne he would make a pilgrimage to Rome in gratitude. He did indeed manage to oust the Danes and regain the throne, but the politically uncertain climate made it unwise for him to leave for Rome. Pope Leo, being an understanding sort, excused Edward from his vow but on condition that the king re-endow the monastery of Westminster.
He rebuilt the old Saxon church in the new Romanesque style and began his palace nearby. The work was consecrated on December 28, 1065, but Edward himself lived only another eight days.
Harold Godwinson followed him as king, and he may have begun the tradition of royal coronations in the Abbey. Certainly, Harold’s successor, William the Conqueror, was crowned here, on 25 December 1066.
The first great contributor to the abbey in the Middle Ages was Henry III (1216-1272). The abbey we see today is largely Henry’s work, though at the time few of his subjects appreciated his efforts; Henry diverted huge amounts of money meant for running the kingdom into his building plans at Westminster.
In 1245 Henry began rebuilding the entire church in the new Gothic style, intending it as a shrine to the memory of Edward the Confessor, whom Henry idolized. Henry’s master builder in this new French style was a man named Henry de Reyns, who, despite his Gallic name, was most likely English.
Under the direction of Master Henry, the rebuilding of the eastern end of the abbey sped along, taking just 14 years to complete. By the time Henry III died in 1272 the choir and 5 bays of the 103-foot high nave were finished, but there the work halted for a full century. It took until 1532 before the abbey, apart from the West Towers, was finished.
The West Towers were eventually designed by another master architect, this one considerably better known to us; Sir Christopher Wren, builder of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The towers were finished in 1745, well after Wren’s death. In the meantime, one of the prime jewels of English architecture had been added; the divine Lady Chapel of Henry VII.
The Lady Chapel is an amazingly elaborate exercise in fan vaulting, with delicate vaults like a network of lace leading your eye aloft. It is almost too pretty, and in a sense, it marked the end of the medieval style of building.
When Henry VIII began his Dissolution of the Monasteries, the rich prize of Westminster was one of the first to catch his eye. The Abbey was taken over by the crown in 1534 and closed in 1540. The church then was briefly a cathedral.
It was during this time of turmoil that Westminster played its part in the creation of the expression ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, when money meant for the abbey (dedicated to St Peter) was diverted to the coffers of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Catholic Queen Mary I restored the monks at Westminster, but her successor Elizabeth quickly reversed that decision when she became monarch. It was under Elizabeth that Westminster assumed its present role; collegiate church of St Peter at Westminster under the leadership of a dean who is answerable directly to the monarch. In a sense, then, Westminster Abbey is the monarch’s own church.
The facade of this internationally known palace has not always presented the appearance it does today. It was originally a townhouse built by John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham, and a friend of Queen Anne. In 1703 she granted him the land-at the corner of St James’s Park and Green Park-on which the Palace now stands. It was first known as Buckingham House.
Part of the land was once a mulberry garden, planted by James I. Today the 40-acre secluded garden contains specimen shrubs, trees and a large lake. Eight to nine thousand people visit it during the annual garden parties.
George III liked Buckingham House, and, wanting a London residence, bought it in 1762, for 28,000 pounds. He renamed it Queen’s House and gave it to his wife, Charlotte. Many of their children were born at the house.
It took George IV, on becoming King in 1820, and John Nash, Surveyor-general to George IV when he was Prince Regent, to turn the house into a sumptuous palace. Both had the experience: George IV was the instigator, and Nash the architect, of Brighton Pavilion.
Parliament granted George IV 150,000 pounds for the rebuilding. A thousand workmen were hired to face the exterior with Bath stone and add new rooms on the western side. Nash demolished the North and South wings and rebuilt them. He constructed Marble Arch as a grand entrance to the enlarged courtyard.
As work continued, Nash let his costs run away with him, and Parliament complained. Joseph Hume, an English politician and reformer fighting for financial retrenchment, said, “the Crown of England does not require such splendour. Foreign countries might indulge in frippery, but England ought to pride herself on her plainness and simplicity.”
Nevertheless, elegance reigned, and the rooms, which today are known as the State and semi-State Rooms remain virtually unchanged since Nash’s time.
The rooms contain much of the furniture and works of art that were originally made for Carlton House (George IV’s London home when he was Prince). English Regency furniture and Sevres porcelain vie for attention in the Green Drawing Room along with silk covered walls and a coved and gilded ceiling. Curving marble staircases and large mirrors add to the Palace decor.
The Picture Gallery, the length of two tennis courts, was designed by Nash to display paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto and others. The Marble Hall, clad in Italian marble, was built by Nash as a sculpture gallery. Its 137 feet contain sculptures purchased by George IV. Among them are three groups by Antonio Canova.
Nash’s extravagance can be seen in the red silk walls of the State Dining Room and the gold walls and cut-glass chandeliers that dominate the White Drawing Room. Treasures in the opulent Blue Drawing Room, with its 30 fake onyx columns, include the Table of the Grand Commanders, made of Sevres porcelain and once belonging to Napoleon.
The monarchs’ thrones are located in the scarlet and gold Throne Room used for formal photographs. The thrones are placed beneath a canopy with gold capitalled pilasters on either side and are presided over by a proscenium arch supported by a pair of winged figures of Victory holding garlands.
The Music Room, on the garden front of the Palace, has seen the christening of Queen Elizabeth’s children. It’s also where guests are presented during a state visit and receptions are held. George IV planned it as his library.
Unfortunately, George IV died before he could move in and enjoy the remodelled building. William IV ascended to the throne in 1830. Nash was fired for his extravagance, and Edward Blore was hired in his place to finish the Palace. Work continued, but William IV disliked the place and never moved in. The bills amounted to GBP700,000 by the time Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837. When she moved in, Buckingham Palace became, for the first time, the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s rapidly expanding family needed nurseries. The Palace was short of bedrooms for guests. More building followed. Marble Arch was moved to the northeast corner of Hyde Park to make room for a fourth wing that turned the Palace into a quadrangle.
There wasn’t a room large enough for grand entertainments, so in 1853-55, Queen Victoria ordered the Ballroom built. 122 feet long, 60 feet wide and 45 feet high, it is, today, used for many events such as the State Banquet, the Diplomatic Reception, and memorial concerts. This is the site of Investitures, where the Queen presents the recipients of British honours with their awards.
It was after Queen Victoria’s death that the Palace metamorphosed into today’s familiar landmark. The present gravelled forecourt and the wrought iron and bronze gates were added in 1911. A memorial statue to Queen Victoria, flower gardens, and a new road layout were completed.
The memorial statue is topped by the gilded figure of Victory, and Queen Victoria is surrounded by the figures of Charity, Truth and Justice. In 1913 the deteriorating stone on the east front was replaced by Sir Aston Webb with grey Portland stone.
During World War II a chapel, converted by Queen Victoria from Nash’s conservatory, was bombed. Prince Philip oversaw its rebuilding as the Queen’s Gallery, home to a rotating collection of art from the Royal Collection, with a Doric Portico entrance in the Greek classical style and new interior spaces and galleries.
More than 600 rooms, including 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms comprise the castle’s assets. But the “room” best known around the world is the balcony where the Royal family gathers on celebratory and solemn occasions to be seen by their subjects. The forecourt below is witness to the ceremony of the changing of the guard. In their full-dress uniform of red tunic, black pants and bearskin hats, the ceremony is a magnetic attraction to all.
The Palace is more than a home for the Royals. It is the official administrative headquarters of the monarchy and contains the offices of their staff. It is the place where all Royal ceremonies and official banquets are held. Government ministers, top civil servants and heads of state visit to carry out their duties. More than 50,000 people visit Buckingham Palace each year, either officially or as guests.
Founded nearly a millennium ago, The Tower of London has been expanded upon over the centuries by many a king and queen. The first foundations were laid in 1078 and the castle has been constantly improved and extended. The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe.
The origins of the Tower began with the William of Normandy invasion of England. William was a foreigner in a land he did not yet firmly control. He needed a stronghold to keep the rebellious citizens of London in line. The site William chose for his castle was the very same site upon which Claudius, the Roman Emperor, had built a fortress more than a thousand years before, and traces of the old Roman walls can still be seen within the Tower grounds.
The Tower began as a simple timber and stone enclosure. The original structure was completed by the addition of a ditch and palisade along the north and west sides. Within this enclosure, a stone structure was built. This stone building came to be called The Great Tower.
Around the year 1240 King Henry III made the Tower of London his home. He whitewashed the Great Tower, widened the grounds to include a church, and added a great hall and other buildings. The Normans called the tower ‘La Tour Blanche’ (White Tower) on account of its whitewashed exterior. The White Tower formed the basis of a residential palace and fortress suitable for a monarch.
Henry III began to use the Tower as a prison, but at the same time he continued to use it as a palace where he entertained important guests. Many of these guests came with gifts of animals for the king. These gifts were kept near the drawbridge where Henry built Lion Tower; a royal zoo where visitors would be greeted by roaring beasts.
Originally the caps at the top of the White Tower’s four turrets were conical, but were replaced by the present onion-shaped ones in the sixteenth century.
The Tower of London ravens are flightless birds due to the fact their wings are clipped. This tradition relates to a superstition from the time of Charles II that when there are no longer ravens at the Tower both the White Tower and the Commonwealth of England will fall.
The Tower was a dynamic project for the monarchs of England. Kings and queens built upon the Tower over the centuries, adding walls and smaller towers (thirteen inner and six outer) and finally encircling the entire complex within a moat fed by the River Thames.
Today the official title of the Tower is still ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London’ although there isn’t actually a single Tower of London. Each Tower has its own gruesome story:
The walls of the White Tower are 15 feet thick and it stands 90 feet high. One of the four corner turrets housed the first royal observatory. The White Tower currently contains the Chapel of St John, where the Royal Family and their court worshipped and where knights of the Order of Bath spent a vigil the night before a king or queen was crowned. The White Tower also contains an exhibition of arms, armour and torture instruments.
The Middle Tower was built in the 13th century and its arched entrance was defended by a portcullis. The Bloody Tower was originally known as the Garden Tower. The name Bloody Tower can be traced back to 1571. It was here that the ‘Princes in the Tower’, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were supposedly murdered in 1483 on orders from their uncle Richard III.
Many years later, during the reign of Charles II, two sets of bones of young boys were found under a stairway. The bodies were presumed to be those of the Princes in the Tower and were re-buried in Westminster Abbey. Since then the tower was dubbed the ‘Bloody Tower ‘.
In 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh became a prisoner here, and during his internment he wrote his History of the World. He was released in 1616 and died in 1618 when James I had him beheaded.
The Wakefield Tower is where Henry VI was brutally murdered in 1471, during the time of the ‘Wars of the Roses’. The pious king was stabbed to death while praying in a small chapel. The Wakefield Tower housed the Crown Jewels from 1879-1967.
Important prisoners were usually kept in Beauchamp Tower, where the interior walls are covered with graffiti carved by the prisoners. The most elaborate carving is a memorial to the five Dudley brothers, one of whom was Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of Lady Jane Grey. Both were executed in 1554.
The Traitor’s Gate was originally known as Water Gate but the name was changed when it began to be used as a landing place for boats bearing important political prisoners. For some unfortunate prisoners, their view of the water gate was their last glimpse of the outside world before execution.
The Tower Green is where two of Henry VIII’s queens and several other people were beheaded. It was a rare honour to be beheaded inside the tower walls; most people were executed outside on Tower Hill, so the crowds who enjoyed such events could get a better view.
German spies were executed in the courtyards during the two World Wars, and in 1941 Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess was imprisoned in the Tower.
The Jewel House is where you’ll find the Crown Jewels, a collection of gold, silver, precious stones and other royal regalia. The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula is the oldest royal chapel in England. It is in this chapel that most of those who died on Tower Hill and six of the seven executed on Tower Green were laid to rest under flagstones without ceremony.
Between the Chapel and Tower Green is a small paved area where a scaffold was erected for beheadings. Amongst the six people beheaded on the site were three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey.
The Queens House built around 1530 by Henry VIII. It takes its name from the Victorian myth that it was built by Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife and mother of Elizabeth I. In actual fact, Anne spent the last 18 days of her life in the Queen’s Lodgings, an extension of the royal apartments which have since been torn down.
Queen’s House is used now as the Council Chamber and it is here that Guy Fawkes was interrogated before being tortured on the rack in the White Tower and signing a confession incriminating his fellow conspirators in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Adjoining the Council Chamber is a room in which William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was once a prisoner.
The Martin Tower was built by Henry III and is famous as the scene of Colonel Thomas Blood’s attempt to steal the crown jewels in 1671. Colonel Blood and his accomplices were interrupted in the act and taken prisoner.
The Salt Tower was also built during the reign of Henry III around 1235. Later it was used as a prison for Jesuits. It also contains a number of carved inscriptions, the most notable one being a complicated diagram for casting horoscopes cut into the stone wall. In several places on the walls you can see a pierced heart, hand and foot, signifying the wounds of Christ with a cross and an H, a symbol used by Jesuits.
The Bell Tower was built in the 13th century. In the past when the bell at its top rang in alarm, drawbridges were raised, the portcullises were dropped and gates were shut. The only time the bell is now rings is in the evening to warn visitors that it is time to leave.
Prisoners were kept in the Bell Tower. One of the most famous was Sir Thomas More, who was at one time a close friend of Henry VIII. More refused to acknowledge the validity of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon or acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church. In consequence he was imprisoned in 1534. He was executed in July 1535 and buried in St Peter’s Chapel.
Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) was imprisoned here in 1554 by her half-sister Mary I on suspicion of being concerned in a plot against the throne.
The earliest record of what would become Bloomsbury is in the 1086 Domesday Book, which states that the area had vineyards and “wood for 100 pigs”. But it is not until 1201 that the name Bloomsbury is first noted, when William de Blemond, a Norman landowner, acquired the land. The name Bloomsbury is a development from Blemondisberi – the bury, or manor, of Blemond.
At the end of the 14th century, Edward III acquired Blemond’s manor, and passed it on to the Carthusian monks of the London Charterhouse, who kept the area mostly rural. In the 16th century with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII took the land back into the possession of the Crown and granted it to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton.
In the early 1660s, the Earl of Southampton constructed what eventually became Bloomsbury Square. The Yorkshire Grey public house on the corner of Gray’s Inn Road and Theobald’s Road dates from 1676. The area was laid out mainly in the 18th century, largely by landowners such as Wriothesley Russell, 3rd Duke of Bedford, who built Bloomsbury Market, which opened in 1730. The major development of the squares that we see today started in about 1800 when Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford removed Bedford House and developed the land to the north with Russell Square as its centrepiece.
Historically, Bloomsbury is associated with the arts, education, and medicine. The area gives its name to the Bloomsbury Group of artists, the most famous of whom was Virginia Woolf, who met in private homes in the area in the early 1900s, and to the lesser known Bloomsbury Gang of Whigs formed in 1765 by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford.
The publisher Faber & Faber used to be located in Queen Square, though at the time T. S. Eliot was editor the offices were in Tavistock Square. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in John Millais’s parents’ house on Gower Street in 1848.
The Bloomsbury Festival was launched in 2006 when local resident Roma Backhouse was commissioned to mark the re-opening of the Brunswick Centre, a residential and shopping area. The free festival is a celebration of the local area, partnering with galleries, libraries and museums, and achieved charitable status at the end of 2012.
Bloomsbury is home to Senate House and the main library of the University of London, Birkbeck College, Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, School of Pharmacy, School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Royal Veterinary College and University College London (with the Slade School of Fine Art), a branch of the University of Law, London Contemporary Dance School, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and Goodenough College. Other colleges include the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, the Architectural Association School of Architecture in Bedford Square, and the London campuses of several American colleges including Arcadia University, the University of California, University of Delaware, Florida State University, Syracuse University, New York University, and the Hult International Business School.
The British Museum, which first opened to the public in 1759 in Montagu House, is at the heart of Bloomsbury. At the centre of the museum the space around the former British Library Reading Room, which was filled with the concrete storage bunkers of the British Library, is today the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, an indoor square with a glass roof designed by British architect Norman Foster. It houses displays, a cinema, a shop, a cafe and a restaurant. Since 1998, the British Library has been located in a purpose-built building just outside the northern edge of Bloomsbury, in Euston Road.
Also in Bloomsbury is the Foundling Museum, close to Brunswick Square, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital opened by Thomas Coram for unwanted children in Georgian London. The hospital, now demolished except for the Georgian colonnade, is today a playground and outdoor sports field for children, called Coram’s Fields. It is also home to a small number of sheep. The nearby Lamb’s Conduit Street is a pleasant thoroughfare with shops, cafes and restaurants.
The Dickens Museum is in Doughty Street. The Petrie Museum and the Grant Museum of Zoology are at University College London in Gower Street.
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is on the northern edge of South Kensington, London. One of the United Kingdom’s most treasured and distinctive buildings, it is a registered charity held in trust for the nation, as it receives no public or government funding. It can seat 5,267.
Since the hall’s opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world’s leading artists from many performance genres have appeared on its stage. It is the venue for some of the most notable events in British culture, in particular the Proms concerts, which have been held there every summer since 1941. It is host to more than 390 shows in the main auditorium annually, including classical, rock and pop concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, and charity performances and banquets. A further 400 events are held each year in the non-auditorium spaces.
The hall was originally supposed to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall’s foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her husband, Prince Albert, who had died six years earlier. It forms the practical part of a memorial to the Prince Consort; the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by Kensington Gore.
Follow in the footsteps of Legends on the Wembley Stadium Tour. Explore the behind-the scenes of the UK’s largest sports and music venue. Taking you deep into the heart if the stadium, the award-winning tour includes the Dressing Rooms, the Press Conference Room, Players’ Tunnel, Pitch-side and the iconic Royal Box.
From England’s glorious 1966 World Cup victory, UEFA Champions League triumphs or sell out concerts and sporting spectacles, the Wembley Stadium Tour gives you the chance to relive some of sports greatest moments, and create some new ones of your own in the most famous Stadium in the world.
Not just a concert venue, but also an arena for sports events, exhibitions, for private hire and a magnificent view of London by climbing onto the roof! Initially thought of as a white elephant it is now the world’s busiest music venue with over 1.4 million tickets sold in 2017.
Following the closure of the Millennium Experience at the end of 2000, the Millennium Dome was leased to Meridian Delta Ltd. in December 2001, for redevelopment as an entertainment complex. This included plans for an indoor arena. Construction of the arena started in 2003, and finished in 2007. After the interior of the dome had been largely cleared and before building work inside began, in December 2004, the dome was used as the main venue for the annual Crisis Open Christmas organised by the London based homelessness charity Crisis.
Owing to the impossibility of using cranes inside the dome structure, the arena’s roof was constructed on the ground within the dome and then lifted; the arena building’s structure was then built around the roof. The arena building, which houses the arena and the arena concourse, is independent from all other buildings in the O2 and houses all the arena’s facilities. The arena building itself takes up 40% of the total dome structure.
The arena was built to reduce echoing, a common problem among London music venues. The seating arrangement throughout the whole arena can be modified. The ground surface can also be changed between ice rink, basketball court, exhibition space, conference venue, private hire venue and concert venue.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has its origins in the Great Exhibition of 1851, with which Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, was involved in planning. Initially it was known as the Museum of Manufactures, first opening in May 1852 at Marlborough House, but by September had been transferred to Somerset House. At this stage the collections covered both applied art and science. Several of the exhibits from the Exhibition were purchased to form the nucleus of the collection.
By February 1854 discussions were underway to transfer the museum to the current site and it was renamed South Kensington Museum. In 1855 the German architect Gottfried Semper, at the request of Cole, produced a design for the museum, but it was rejected by the Board of Trade as too expensive. The site was occupied by Brompton Park House; this was extended including the first refreshment rooms opened in 1857, the museum being the first in the world to provide such a facility.
The official opening by Queen Victoria was on 20 June 1857. In the following year, late night openings were introduced, made possible by the use of gas lighting. This was to enable in the words of Cole “to ascertain practically what hours are most convenient to the working classes”—this was linked to the use of the collections of both applied art and science as educational resources to help boost productive industry. In these early years the practical use of the collection was very much emphasised as opposed to that of “High Art” at the National Gallery and scholarship at the British Museum. George Wallis (1811–1891), the first Keeper of Fine Art Collection, passionately promoted the idea of wide art education through the museum collections. This led to the transfer to the museum of the School of Design that had been founded in 1837 at Somerset House; after the transfer it was referred to as the Art School or Art Training School, later to become the Royal College of Art which finally achieved full independence in 1949. From the 1860s to the 1880s the scientific collections had been moved from the main museum site to various improvised galleries to the west of Exhibition Road. In 1893 the “Science Museum” had effectively come into existence when a separate director was appointed.
The laying of the foundation stone of the Aston Webb building (to the left of the main entrance) on 17 May 1899 was the last official public appearance by Queen Victoria. It was during this ceremony that the change of name from the South Kensington Museum to the Victoria and Albert Museum was made public. Queen Victoria’s address during the ceremony, as recorded in The London Gazette, ended: “I trust that it will remain for ages a Monument of discerning Liberality and a Source of Refinement and Progress.”
The exhibition which the museum organised to celebrate the centennial of the 1899 renaming, “A Grand Design”, first toured in North America from 1997 (Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), returning to London in 1999. To accompany and support the exhibition, the museum published a book, Grand Design, which it has made available for reading online on its website.
The opening ceremony for the Aston Webb building by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra took place on 26 June 1909. It has had a varied and interesting history in itself.
In 1939 on the outbreak of World War II, most of the collection was sent to a quarry in Wiltshire, to Montacute House in Somerset, or to a tunnel near Aldwych tube station, with larger items remaining in situ, sand-bagged and bricked in. Between 1941 and 1944 some galleries were used as a school for children evacuated from Gibraltar. The South Court became a canteen, first for the Royal Air Force and later for Bomb Damage Repair Squads.
Before the return of the collections after the war, the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition was held between September and November 1946, attracting nearly a million and a half visitors. This was organised by the Council of Industrial Design established by the British government in 1944 “to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry”. The success of this exhibition led to the planning of the Festival of Britain in 1951. By 1948 most of the collections had been returned to the museum.
In July 1973, as part of its outreach programme to young people, the V&A became the first museum in Britain to present a rock concert. The V&A presented a combined concert/lecture by British progressive folk-rock band Gryphon, who explored the lineage of mediaeval music and instrumentation and related how those contributed to contemporary music 500 years later. This innovative approach to bringing young people to museums was a hallmark of the directorship of Roy Strong and was subsequently emulated by some other British museums.
In the 1980s, Sir Roy Strong renamed the museum as “The Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Art and Design”.
Since 2001 the museum has embarked on a major £150m renovation programme. In 2001 “FuturePlan” was launched, which involves redesigning all the galleries and public facilities in the museum that have yet to be remodelled. This is to ensure that the exhibits are better displayed, more information is available and the museum meets modern expectations for museum facilities.
In March 2018, it was announced that the Duchess of Cambridge would become the first royal patron of the museum.
There is something very special about King’s Road, Chelsea. No one can quite define it. That’s the point. It’s visceral. It’s made up of generations of memories all woven into a love affair that’s indescribable. So why try?
Just come on over and get the feeling for yourself. Stroll along. Kick back. Mooch. Drop the pace. Still the mind. Catch the breeze. Forget the world, just jump on the tube, catch the bus, hail a taxi, get the plane, sail in by boat, phone the chauffeur, ride the bike or take a walk. However you want to get here is fine – although we recommend Holt Coach Services of course!
To visit London by coach contact Holt Services