Liberty of London…

A grand Regent Street department store, Liberty’s has been synonymous with high fashion since the Victorian era. It is housed in a magnificent neo-Tudor style building from 1924

Getting Started

The brainchild behind London’s wonderful Liberty department store was its founder, Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843-1917). Liberty, of Buckinghamshire, England, had worked as a retail clerk in his early years and after 10 years in the furnishings and clothing business, shop.

Liberty of London

was inspired to start his own With a small loan and a staff of three, Liberty opened his first store in 1875 at 218a Regent Street. Influenced by what he had seen at the 1862 International Exposition in London, Liberty’s store sold ornaments, fabric and objects d’art from Japan and the East.

The shop was a huge success and within a decade’s time, Liberty purchased the remainder of 218 Regent Street as well as a number of additional properties on the block.

Soon, the growing store was the place to shop for anybody who was anyone in London society. Liberty’s had an “Eastern Bazaar” in the basement, which offered fine home furnishings and carpet, and other departments upstairs. In 1884, Liberty opened his first “costume department”, an apparel division that would soon rival the fashion houses of Paris.

Arthur Liberty also developed important relationships with top English designers, many who were key figures in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. So influential was the British store that the Art Nouveau movement in Italy became known as “Stile Liberty”.

The Building

Liberty, London
The current Liberty Department Store consists of two wings. The older portion (which fronts Great Marlborough Street) is the best example of Tudor Revival Arts and Crafts architecture in London and beyond. Built in 1924, the timbers used in its construction came from two British naval ships: the HMS Hindustan and the HMS Impregnable.The building was designed by the father and son team of Edwin T. and Edwin S. Hall. Three light wells form the main focus of the buildings and each is surrounded by several additional small rooms that give the store a homey feeling, which was Liberty’s goal. (He called it Chesham Place, after the town where he grew up.) The rooms often had fireplaces and the store boasts warm touches, such as decorative elevators instead of escalators, small intimate staircases, wood balconies, and sparkling glass atriums.

Truly, Liberty’s is one of the most aesthetically pleasing stores in London and a delightful place to shop or just “window” shop. At Christmastime, wandering through the store is a true holiday treat, as thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights adorn the ceilings, creating a sparkling holiday wonderland.


Brompton Cemetery…

Brompton Cemetery is a Victorian era cemetery in South West London. Despite the absence of famous names the cemetery is one of the most interesting in the city, full of beautiful tombstones and memorials.
Brompton Cemetery, London

Brompton Cemetery

Grand Circle, Brompton Cemetery, London

Grand Circle

Chapel, Brompton Cemetery, London

The chapel
The 16.5 hectare (41 acre) large cemetery feels more like a park strewn with sculpture and local residents often come here for a walk or use it as a shortcut between Earl’s Court and Chelsea. The cemetery also boasts an unusual abundance of faun and flora.


In the nineteenth century London’s population boomed and sanitary conditions were often appalling, which resulted in the frequent outbreak of diseases. One of the remedies proposed was the abolition of intramural burials and the creation of large cemeteries outside the city center. Brompton Cemetery, at the time known as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery was one of the first of such cemeteries.It was established by the West London and Westminster Cemetery Company, which envisioned a grand cemetery with magnificent monuments. In 1838 they organized a competition for a design of the cemetery, which was won by Benjamin Baud. His plan included a formal layout with a wide central avenue and several large buildings, several of which were unfortunately never built due to financial difficulties encountered by the cemetery company.

The cemetery opened in 1840. In 1850 a law was passed that allowed the government to nationalize the cemeteries. By the time the law was repealed in 1852, only Brompton Cemetery had been acquired . Today it is still the only public cemetery under government control.

Cemetery Design

Tomb of Frederick Leyland, Brompton Cemetery, London

Tomb of Frederick Leyland
The cemetery is laid out in the vein of a formal French garden, with a central axis and rectangular sections arranged like parterres around round points.The focal point of Brompton Cemetery is the octagonal, domed chapel, which is said to have been modeled after the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. And the catacombs and Grand Circle in front of the chapel are reminiscent ofSt. Peter’s Square. Another remarkable feature of the cemetery is its grand entrance, built in the shape of a triumphal arch.

Tombs and Graves

Tomb of John Jackson Brompton Cemetery, London

Tomb of John Jackson

Tomb of John Snow, Brompton Cemetery, London

Grave of John Snow

Tomb of Robert Coombes, Brompton Cemetery, London

Funerary monument of
Robert Coombes
More than 200,000 people are interred here and the cemetery contains more than 30.000 monuments. Unfortunately many monuments are in need of a renovation and too many of them have been vandalized. Nonetheless there are still plenty of interesting tombs to see and the crumbling sculptures and buildings certainly have a certain charm.The most impressive monuments in the cemetery are located in the north section near the central avenue but the Grand Circle in the southern half, with its forest of crosses, many of them of Celtic design, is just as fascinating.
Some of the monuments to look out for include the tomb of the celebrated boxer John “Gentleman” Jackson, on which rests a huge statue of a resting lion. Another large tomb is that of Frederick Leyland, a shipowner. His tomb was designed by Edward Burne-Jones and resembles a medieval shrine, beautifully wrapped in a wrought iron grille of wild lilies.
The monument to world champion sculler Robert Coombes shows a boat on its head with broken sculls. At each corner of the monument stand the figures of four champion rowers.

Other names to look include suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst; John Snow, a physician who discovered the link between contaminated water and Cholera; Henry “Gus” Mears, founder of the Chelsea Football Club (their home ground, Stamford Bridge, is right near the cemetery); Fanny Brawne, the fiancée of John Keats; Reginald Warneford, the first pilot to shoot down a zeppelin; and Samuel Sotheby, an auctioneer and antiquary.

There are also many soldiers buried in the cemetery. There is even a separate section in the cemetery with only military graves. At its center is a large white cross honoring the Brigade of Guards. Another memorial, a large obelisk, honors the more than 2500 pensioners from the Royal Hospital Chelsea (a retirement and nursing home for soldiers) who were buried here.

The Cenotaph…

The Cenotaph is a memorial that honors the British soldiers who died in the Great War of 1914-18 and all wars that followed. The memorial is the focal point of Remembrance Day, when the fallen soldiers are commemorated.
The Cenotaph, London

The Cenotaph
In general a cenotaph (derived from the Greek words κενό τάφο, meaning ’empty tomb’) is a monument that honors a deceased person whose remains are entombed or buried elsewhere. In London, the Cenotaph refers specifically to the monument in the middle of Whitehall that was erected in 1920 to remember the soldiers who were killed in the First World War.


Even though the First World War hostilities ended in 1918, the war wasn’t officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of June the following year. That same month a committee to organize peace celebrations invited the celebrated architect Edwin Lutyens to design a memorial for a Peace Parade

The Cenotaph, London

that was to be held the following month. In just a couple of hours Lutyens created a sketch of a solemn monument. Since it was meant to be a temporary monument it was made of wood and clad in plaster. Construction only took a week.

Despite the victory in the war, the mood was very much one of sorrow for the many lives lost rather than celebratory and the sober monument was deemed very appropriate for the occasion. The Cabinet immediately decided to build a permanent version in stone for the anniversary of Armistice Day. It was officially unveiled on 11 November 1920 by king George V.

The Memorial

Detail of the Cenotaph in London
The Cenotaph is surprisingly simple in design despite its significance; during the interbellum the memorial was among the most important landmarks in London.The monument, built in Portland stone, resembles a large stele. There is barely any decoration apart from two stone wreaths. Flags on the front and back represent branches of the British Armed Forces. Inscriptions read ‘The Glorious Death’ and, in Roman numerals, the years 1914, 1919, 1939 and 1945

Remembrance Day

Every year on Remembrance Day – the Sunday closest near November 11 – the Cenotaph is the centerpiece of the Remembrance Day celebrations, when people pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the war. It is also called Armistice Day since on that day in 1918 the Germans signed the armistice that effectively ended the First World War. During the interbellum all citizens across the British Empire observed a two-minute long silence on 11/11 at 11 o’clock.Today Remembrance Day service is still observed and the occasion is even televised. During the ceremony the Queen and other dignitaries place wreaths and poppies at the foot of the monument.

National Maritime Museum…

The National Maritime Museum illustrates the historical relationship between the British and the sea. The museum has an extensive collection of items ranging from paintings, ship models and uniforms to actual vessels.
National Maritime Museum, north entrance

North entrance
The holdings of the museum are spread across three premises in Greenwich. The main building of the museum occupies the west wing of the Royal Naval Asylum, a former school for orphaned children. Many of the marine paintings of the museum are on display in the Queen’s House and other nautical objects can be found in the Royal Observatory.


The origins of the museum go back to 1823 when the National Gallery of Naval Art opened in the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College. A collection of three hundred paintings and nautical objects were displayed in the magnificent hall. In 1934 the collection was transferred to the newly founded National Maritime Museum which opened its doors three years later in the nearby Queen’s House.The Queen’s House still holds a collection of maritime paintings but the bulk of the content of the National Maritime Museum is now housed in a separate building that was constructed in the nineteenth century as an expansion for the Royal Naval Asylum. The museum underwent a significant modernization in 1999 and in 2011 it opened a new wing with a more modern and spacious entrance.

The Museum

Gallery in the National Maritime Museum

Museum gallery
The National Maritime Museum boasts a collection of over two million items; a selection of this vast collection is spread over three floors, arranged around a glass covered courtyard.

Ground Floor

Entering the museum from the new south entrance brings visitors to the gallery “Voyagers: Britons and the Sea”, which, through a number of objects and an audio-visual installation introduces visitors to the special relation between the island nation and the sea. One of the galleries in the main wing pays tribute to explorers, from the Vikings to British explorers, many of whom lost their lives. A room in the middle of the museum’s main hall shows that working on the ships in the arctic waters during the Second World War was equally fraught with peril. An adjoining room focuses on the maritime history of London from 1700 to today.

Royal Barge, National Maritime Museum

Royal Barge

Some of the museum’s largest objects are displayed in the main hall between the galleries. Amongst them are a number of vessels and a colorful collection of wooden figureheads that once decorated ships’ bows. But the main highlight is the nineteen meter (62 ft) long royal barge, made in 1732 for Prince Frederick, the oldest son of George II. The gilded barge is elaborately decorated with carved figures and ornaments that symbolized Britain’s status as a sea power.

First Floor

A huge world map painted on the floor of the main hall is a new attraction for the youngest visitors, who can sit on miniature boats and follow the trails of explorers. A touch-enabled tablet gives visitors more info and real-time data while they walk across the map.

Baltic Exchange Memorial Windows in the National Maritime Museum

Baltic Exchange
Memorial Windows

The galleries focus on the trade routes to the corners of the British Empire, from the New World to Asia. It also highlights less pleasant aspects of maritime history such as slavery.

A must-see in the museum are the magnificent 1920 stained glass memorial windows from the Baltic Exchange Building. The building, which was home to a maritime trading market, was bombed by terrorists in 1992 but the windows were saved from the rubble. The striking Gherkin now occupies the former site of the Baltic Exchange.

Second Floor

The top floor has several attractions geared toward children. Young children will enjoy exploring the ‘Seahorse’, a ship in the Children’s Gallery,

Ship Models in the National Maritime Museum

Ship models

while older children can try to navigate a ship in the Ship Simulator.

The museum also displays an excellent collection of model ships from 1660 to 1815 including a large wooden model of the Royal William, a warship from 1719 with one hundred guns.

Finally a gallery of the museum is devoted to Britain’s most famous naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson. You can see the jacket Nelson wore in 1805 during the Battle at Trafalgar, where he was fatally wounded. You can clearly see the bullet-hole in the jacket.

Royal Opera House…

London’s Royal Opera House is the third one that has occupied the Covent Gardensite. Built in the mid-nineteenth century as the ‘Italian Opera House’, it is now one of the world’s premiere opera houses.

The Italian Opera House

London's Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House
London’s current Royal Opera House replaced a previous theatre, built in 1732 that was destroyed by fire twice, once in 1808 in again in 1856. Little time was wasted before plans were made to construct another theatrical venue after the latest blaze. Construction of the new theatre, designed by Edward Middleton Barry, began in 1857 and was completed less than a year later.The inaugural performance at the new “Italian Opera House” on May 15, 1858 was a production of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. By 1892, the theater was given its present name, The Royal Opera House of London, and productions increased, including both winter and summer seasons of opera and ballet as well as recitals.

Dance Hall

Opera House, London
During the tumultuous years of World War I, the Royal Opera House ceased operations and the building became a repository for furniture. During the next World War, it was a popular dance hall. Plans to have the opera house remain a dance hall after the war were thwarted by music publisher Boosey and Hawkes, who pushed to return the venue to its original purpose.The Covent Garden Opera Trust was created and charged with the task of re-establishing the Opera House as “the national centre of opera and ballet”. The Royal Opera House officially reopened in February 1946 with a production of the Sleeping Beauty.

Making Improvements

Floral Hall, Royal Opera House, London

Floral Hall
Though the foyer, facade, and auditorium at London’s Royal Opera House date back to the original 1858 structure, much of the remainder of the venue is a result of extensive renovations in the 1990s and a few improvements made in the 60s.Most of the reconstruction took place between 1996 and 2000 and involved the demolition of almost the entire site. Jeremy Dixon and Ed Jones of Dixon Jones BDP were the chief architects while Rob Harris and Jeremy Newton of Arup Acoustics were the acoustic engineers.

The building retained a horseshoe-shaped auditorium, just like the original. This one seats 2,268 people and consists of four tiers of boxes and balconies and an amphitheatre gallery. New rehearsal and educational facilities were added as well as more public space, including adjacent Floral Hall, which used to be part of the oldCovent Garden Market.


Old Royal Naval College….

The Old Royal Naval College was built at the end of the seventeenth century as a hospital for seamen of the Royal Navy. The hospital’s chapel and dining hall show the grandeur of a bygone era.

Greenwich Palace

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London

Old Royal Naval College
King Charles II spent more than eight years in exile in France. When he returned to England after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 he had ambitious plans to replace the derelict Palace of Placentia in Greenwich with a new palace as grand as the one he had seen in Versailles. The location along the river Thames seemed ideal. Construction started in 1664 after a design by architect John Webb, but after spending a fortune on the first of three planned buildings the king realized he couldn’t afford such a palace and abandoned his plans.

Greenwich Hospital

Painting of the Old Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich

Painting of the
Greenwich Hospital

Queen Anne Court, Old Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich

Queen Anne Court

Main courtyard of the Old Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich

Main courtyard
Thirty years later Queen Mary II, who preferred to live in Hampton Court, decided to use the existing building as a Royal Hospital for Seamen, similar to the 1691 Royal Hospital for Soldiers in Chelsea. In 1695 the queen asked the architects of the hospital, the esteemed Christopher Wren and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor, to come up with a plan for a similar, albeit grander, complex in Greenwich.Wren’s first proposal was rejected by the queen since it would block the view of the river from the Queen’s House. His revised plan is the one we now see. It consists of four separate buildings that form a quadrant with an axis pointing towards the Queen’s House. Wren mirrored Webb’s building along the river and, behind, created two large domed buildings, each a mirror of the other. The hospital was completed in phases by different architects, all following Wren’s plans. The chapel was finished last, in 1751.

After the hospital closed in 1869 it became the Royal Naval College, a training center for naval personnel. Today the buildings are used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music but the site is still called the Old Royal Naval College.


Painted Hall and Chapel

The buildings of the Old Royal Naval College are not open to the public with the exception of the Painted Hall and the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul, two absolute must-sees for any visitor toGreenwich. The chapel and hall are situated opposite each other, right below the two domes.

The Painted Hall

Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London

Painted Hall

Painting in the upper hall in the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London

George I and his family
The Painted Hall was designed by Wren as the dining room for the seamen. The hall is considered England’s most magnificent dining hall. The room was rarely used for its intended purpose; the Baroque interior is so opulent that it was considered too grand for the seamen. Instead it became one of London’s first tourist attractions.The reason why the hall is called Painted Hall becomes clear as soon as one enters the room: covering the ceiling is a huge painting, 15 meters wide and 32 meters long, the largest in the country. It was created by the English painter James Thornhill who spent nineteen years on this masterwork. It is an allegorical representation of the triumph of Peace and Liberty (represented by King William and Queen Mary) over Evil (represented by the French king Louis XIV).

A grand arch, created by Hawksmoor, leads to the upper hall, painted on all sides by Thornhill. The paintings here depict members of the royal family in triumphal fashion, as if they were mythical heroes. On the back wall you can see the dome of the St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background.

The Chapel

Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich

The chapel is dedicated to the saints Peter and Paul. It was built by Thomas Ripley, who followed Christopher Wren’s design. Retired seamen who lived in the Royal Hospital were required to attend mass daily.In 1779 a fire destroyed the chapel. It was rebuilt under the guidance of James Stuart, Surveyor of the hospital. After a visit to Athens, Stuart had become an admirer of ancient Greek architecture so it comes as no surprise that he designed the new chapel in Greek Revival Style.

Statue of Hope, Chapel of the Old Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich


Much of the design of the Rococo style interior however is attributed to Robert Myline and William Newton, Stuart’s assistants. It features finely crafted stucco created by master plasterer John Papworth. The paintings of the apostles and evangelists on the walls of the upper galleries were painted by Biaggio Rebecca after a design by Benjamin West, who wanted to make them look like marble statues. The altarpiece was painted by West himself, and shows St. Paul in a biblical scene. Opposite the altar is the chapel’s organ, built in 1789 by Samuel Green.

In the narthex of the chapel are several statues created from Coade stone, an artificially created ceramic that enjoyed popularity as a sculpting material in the late eighteenth century. The statues are allegorical representations of Faith, Hope, Charity and Meekness.


Duke of York Column…

The Duke of York Column was built in 1831-1834. It rises to a height of over forty meters, occupying a prominent spot at Waterloo Place, a square flanked by the palatial Carlton House Terraces.

The Duke of York

Duke of York Column, London

Duke of York Column

Statue of the Duke of York, London

The statue
Prince Frederick Augustus, better known as the Duke of York, was the second son of King George III. As Commander-in-Chief of the British army he soon recognized the army was outdated and the duke carried out significant reforms to modernize and improve the army. Those reforms would later prove vital in the Napoleonic Wars.Shortly after his death in 1827 all British soldiers donated one day’s wage for the construction of a monument in honor of the Duke of York.

The Column

A committee selected a design created by the English architect Benjamin Dean Watt, who came up with the idea of a huge Tuscan column crowned with a statue of the duke.The bronze statue, more than four meters tall, was created by Richard Westmacott and stands on a small circular platform. Below his feet is a small balcony, which can be reached by a spiral staircase inside the nearly 42 meter (138 ft) tall column. At the time of construction the story went that the column was built so tall because the duke, who died two million pound in debt, was trying to escape his creditors. The more famous Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Squareis even taller, but was built almost a decade later.

Waterloo Place

Waterloo Place, London

Waterloo Place
The granite column occupies a prominent spot at Waterloo Place, right above a flight of steps and overlooks The Mall and St. James’s Park.Waterloo Place was created in 1929 when Carlton House, the former residence of King George IV, was demolished. The square is flanked by two large grand buildings known as the Carlton House Terraces. The terraces were designed by John Nash, George IV’s favorite architect who is best known for his design of Buckingham Palace.

There are many more sculptures at Waterloo Place besides that of the Duke of York. In front of the duke’s column stands an equestrian statue of King Edward VII. No less than six sculptures border Waterloo Place and another three, including the Crimean War Memorial, can be found at the northern side of the square.


Southwark Cathedral…

Southwark Cathedral is one of London’s most interesting churches, with a history that goes back to the twelfth century. Inside visitors find plenty of monuments, memorials and beautiful stained glass windows.
Southwark Cathedral, London

Southwark Cathedral

Side portal of the Southwark Cathedral, London

Side Portal

The main nave of the Southwark Cathedral in London

The cathedral is one of only a few historic buildings in Southwark that survived the nineteenth century. Many of the historic buildings in this neighborhood at the south bank of the river Thames were demolished to make way for the construction of railroads and the London Bridge. The cathedral only barely survived – the ramp to the London Bridge and the elevated railroads are just meters away.The cathedral is commonly known as Southwark Cathedral but its official name is Cathedral church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie. The suffix ‘overie’ stems from the church’s position ‘over the river’.


The history of the church starts in 1106 when it was built as part of the Augustinian priory of St. Mary Overie, possibly at the site of a smaller church that might have stood here since the early seventh century. In 1212, the Great Fire of Southwark completely destroyed the church but reconstruction started only a few years later.By the turn of the nineteenth century the church had fallen into decay and a series of renovations took place during the following decades. The tower and retrochoir were restored in 1822 and in 1838 the nave was completely rebuilt, only to be rebuilt once again in 1890-1896 in the style of the thirteenth-century chancel. In 1823 plans to demolish the Lady Chapel to make room for the ramp to the new London Bridge were only shelved after they were met with fierce opposition from locals.

In 2000 the church – which only received its cathedral status in 1905 – was renovated and at the same time expanded with a library, a refectory, a shop and visitor center.

The Cathedral

Tomb of John Gower, Southwark Cathedral

Tomb of John Gower

High Altar, Southwark Cathedral

High Altar and screen

Harvard Chapel, Southwark Cathedral

Harvard Chapel
Despite the many reconstructions and renovations throughout much of its nine-hundred-year long history the church’s appearance is homogenous in style and balanced in proportion.The iconic crossing tower, built in the fourteenth century, is decorated with four pinnacles that were added in 1689. The church is Gothic in style with a mixture of French and English elements. There are several interesting tombs and monuments inside, often painted in bright colors.

In the south aisle is a monument erected in 1912 as a tribute to William Shakespeare, who lived in Southwark from 1599 to 1611. Reliefs in the background show the Southwark Cathedral and the nearby Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed.
In the north aisle is the tomb of John Gower, a fourteenth-century poet. His head rests on three books: one in Latin, one in French and one in English. There’s another interesting monument in the same aisle, a thirteenth-century oak effigy of a knight in full armor.
In the north transept you find a humorous epitaph at the tomb of Lionel Lockyer, a seventeenth-century quack who claimed he used sunbeams as an ingredient for his pills. Opposite his tomb is the Harvard Memorial Chapel, named in honor of John Harvard, who was baptized here in 1607.

Behind the altar is a magnificent screen that divides the choir and retrochoir. The screen was built in 1520 by bishop Fox of Winchester. The two rows of statues were added in 1905 and depict Christ, saints, bishops and people related to the history of Southwark Cathedral. A central gilded statue depicts Mary, to whom the church is dedicated.

Also of interest are the cathedral’s many stained glass windows. Some of the most notable include those near the exit at the north aisle, created by the Victorian manufacturer Charles Eamer Kempe. It depicts people involved in the construction of the cathedral. The window near the monument to William Shakespeare shows figures from his plays.


Somerset House…

Somerset House is a majestic eighteenth-century edifice that was built on the banks of the River Thames at the site of a former palace. Originally an office complex, Somerset House is now a center of the arts.
The massive building provides space for a multitude of cultural and artistic organizations. There are also several rooms reserved for the display of temporary art exhibitions but the highlight of Somerset House is the Courtauld Gallery,

Somerset House, Thames facade

Somerset House

a museum with a fine selection of art from such famous artists as Botticelli, Van Gogh, Rubens, Brueghel, Cézanne and Goya.


Somerset Place

When King Henry VIII died in 1547 his son Edward was too young to be crowned king and his ambitious uncle Edward Seymour arranged to become his main advisor. Seymour made good use of his new powers: he granted himself the title Duke of Somerset and planned the construction of a palace worthy of his new position. He confiscated a number of properties near the River Thames and demolished the existing houses.His new palatial house, at the time named ‘Somerset Place’ was built in Renaissance style. Seymour could not enjoy his new house for long; in 1551, before the house was fully completed, he was charged with treason and in January 1552 he was executed in theTower of London.

The building fell into the hands of the crown and under Queen Elizabeth I it was used as a residence for visiting dignitaries. Somerset House enjoyed its heyday in the early seventeenth century when Queen-consort Anne of Denmark lived here. She renamed it Denmark House and entertained guests with lavish parties.

North wing, Somerset House

North wing

The royals continued to use the house as a residence until the eighteenth century, by which time Somerset House had started to fall into decay due to neglect.

Office Complex

By then it had become obvious that the building was beyond saving and it was demolished in 1775 to make way for a new building. But unlike its predecessor, the new Somerset House was planned as a government building used to house public offices rather than a royal palace.William Chambers was appointed as architect. Not to be outdone by his main rivals, the Adam Brothers, who had just built the magnificent (now demolished) Adelphi Terrace nearby, Chambers designed the building we see now: a grand edifice with monumental wings arranged around a large courtyard. The north wing, on the Strand, was built first and was completed in 1780.

Arch of the Somerset House

Arch on Victoria

The south wing was completed in 1801, five years after Chambers’s death. The other wings were added much later: the east wing was finished in 1834 and in 1856 the addition of the west wing finally completed the complex.

Center for the arts

The first occupants of Somerset House were the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries. Increasingly Somerset House also accommodated a number of government institutions such as the Inland Revenue and the Navy Board. By the end of the twentieth century the building was deemed unsuitable for modern offices and one by one the government institutions vacated the building.In 1990 the Courtauld Institute moved its art collection to the empty north wing of Somerset House. Several more art galleries and other cultural institutions settled here as well. This prompted a major renovation of the building as well as a transformation of the courtyard, which was used as a parking lot, into a public space with a fountain display. The terrace on the south side of the building, with views over the Thames, also opened to the public.

Architecture and sculptures

Sculpture of Mermen on Somerset House

Somerset House is a massive building designed in the neoclassical style. The north front, facing the Strand, is the smallest and is designed like a giant triumphal gateway. Opposite, the monumental facade facing the river is enormous, measuring 244 meters long (800ft). It rests on large arches that used to rise out of the river until the construction of the Victoria Embankment in 1864-70 separated Somerset House from the Thames. Before, the arches allowed boats to dock right under the building.The courtyard is surrounded on three sides by wings with Corinthian style porticoes. Their massive columns support pediments decorated with reliefs. The domed south wing, which houses the Seamen’s Hall, is the most impressive. The other two wings are each crowned with a tiny clock tower. The courtyard itself is vast and measures 106 by 96 meters (350 x 310 ft). Architects Inskip and Jenkins modernized the courtyard and installed the fifty-five fountain jets in the pavement.

Monument of George III

George III statue

In the middle of the courtyard is a large monument that honors George III, the king who initiated the reconstruction of Somerset House. The monument was created in 1789-90 by John Bacon the Elder. It portrays the king standing in Roman garb on a large pedestal while leaning on a rudder. A lion rests at the king’s feet. In front of the pedestal is another bronze statue that shows Old Father Thames, an allegorical representation of the River Thames.

There are many more nautical sculptures and reliefs visible on the facade of Somerset House, including statues of mythical sea creatures, mascarons of sea gods and other nautical-themed ornaments. Most of these were designed by the Florentine painter Giovanni Battista Cipriani and carved by a variety of sculptors.

Courtauld Gallery

The main attraction in Somerset House is the Courtauld Gallery. This museum has an excellent selection of art from the Renaissance period up to the post-impressionists. The museum is worth a visit just to see a glimpse of the regal interior of Somerset House, which matches its exterior in grandeur.

A bar at the Folies-Bergère, Courtauld Gallery

A bar at the

The collection was founded by Samuel Courtauld, an English industrialist who had a passion for art. In 1931 he provided funds for the creation of the Courtauld Institute, a center for the study of art. He bequeathed his collection to the institute upon his death.

The museum has a collection of artwork encompassing a period from the sixteenth up to the twentieth century. It is particularly renowned for its impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Among the highlights are ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ by Manet, Van Gogh’s ‘Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear’, Rubens’s ‘Descent from the Cross’ and Lucas Cranach the Elder’s ‘Adam and Eve’. The museum also has a collection of decorative arts including fine majolica as well as sculptures from the antiquity to the twentieth century.

Holland Park…

Holland Park is the green heart of Kensington, an upscale residential district in the west of London. It is considered one of the most beautiful parks in the city and some even prefer it over the more famous Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.


Holland Park

Holland Park
In the early seventeenth century, the land that now makes up the park was owned by Walter Cope, who built a large mansion on the property, originally known as Cope Castle. The home was built in the grand Jacobean style, typical of the second phase of Renaissance architecture in England.Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the owners began to sell off the outlying parts of the land for the purpose of adding new residential areas to the city. The twenty-two hectares (54 acres) that were left of the estate opened in 1952 as a park.

Orangery, Holland Park


In 1940, during the Blitz, Holland House was damaged beyond repair by incendiary bombing. Only the south wing, a couple of walls and terraces are all that remain of the former mansion. Fortunately some of the original nineteenth-century geometrically arranged gardens have been preserved and are now part of the public park.

The park

Generally, the park is divided into three sections. The northern area is very bucolic and still quite rural, attracting a fair amount of wildlife to this semi-wild woodland area of the park. You’re likely to spot a peacock or two as well as a number of other animals.

Kyoto Garden

Kyoto Garden

In the central section of the park, you’ll find the ruins of the old Holland House mansion. There’s not a lot to see as far as the house is concerned, but the gardens make up for it.

Near the former mansion is the Dutch Garden, a meticulously maintained geometric garden. The most popular garden in Holland Park is the beautiful Kyoto Garden, a Japanese garden with a waterfall and pond with plenty of large koi. The park also has an orangery (greenhouse) and the open-air Holland Park Theatre, where visitors can see a production by Opera Holland Park.

The remainder of the park is used for sport and includes a cricket pitch and an excellent children’s playground that’s always a big hit with young visitors.