Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Architecture of London: A Short History

The story of London and its magnificent buildings is one of immense beauty and design, the ravages of fire, and the destruction of riots and world war. The city has been built and rebuilt several times over the last 1,000 years. Each new layer adds another dimension to the mystique of this great city's mystique, while each building tells its own unique history.
Buckingham PalaceBuilt: 1700, conversion 1820s Architect: Various
The Palace takes its name from the original owner John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. In 1762, George III purchased it for his wife, Queen Charlotte. It then became known as "The Queen's House." The house was converted into a palace in 1820 under the design of John Nash. Queen Victoria, the first sovereign to reside there, took up residence in 1837. Further renovations and expansions were made in 1847 and 1913. The grounds include gardens, a Victoria memorial and the Royal Mews (the livery and garage), which dates back to the 1820s.

Houses of Parliament, also known as Westminster PalaceBuilt: 1840-60Architect: Sir William Barry
Portions of the Houses Parliament, that includes the House of Commons and House of Lords, have existed since the 11th century when it was used as a royal residence. A fire in the 16th century destroyed a great deal of the palace when it ceased to be a residence. The House of Commons began to meet in the chapel by mid-century. After yet another fire, this one in 1834, Sir William Barry was brought in to design a structure to incorporate the remaining ruins. Westminster Hall that now stands in the entranceway is the only intact portion of the building from before the 1834 fire. The air raids of the Second World War made their mark on the Houses of Parliament, as they did through most of London, destroying some of the oldest sections of the building.
Big Ben, the famous clock designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, sits atop of St. Stephen's Tower. First installed in 1856, it stands an impressive 98 metres. This particular landmark has come to be synonymous with historical London.

Kensington Palace/GardensBuilt: 16th centuryArchitect: Wren, among others
Among other things, this royal abode is famous as the birthplace of Queen Victoria (1819) and the last residence of Princess Diana. It was known at Nottingham House when built in the 17th century. Additions were made in 1689 by Sir Christopher Wren to prepare it as a royal residence for William III. James Wyatt and William Kent made further renovations over the next century. The extensive Gardens surrounding the Palace are home the Albert Memorial and the Round Pond.

Royal Albert HallBuilt: 1867-71Architect: Francis Fowke/Henry Darracott Scott
Dedicated as a memorial to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, the Hall is one of London's principal concert venues. There have been a few renovations to the building - most notably to fix the acoustics - in the 1960s.St. Paul's CathedralBuilt: 1675-1700Architect: Sir Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren, who famously redesigned St. Paul's Cathedral, is often considered the great visionary of the "new London" after the Great Fire of 1666. A Cathedral had stood on that spot since 960 CE. Through the centuries, subsequent Cathedrals were built as fire or vandals destroyed the previous ones. (Even before the Great Fire, the Cathedral was in such a state of disrepair that Wren was commissioned for a restructuring.)
Wren's Cathedral, built in Gothic and Baroque styles, is shaped like a German cross. The Dome, which dominates the London skyline, is actually comprised of three separate domes. At the apex of the outer dome is the Golden Gallery that provides one of the best views of the city. The middle dome provides structural support while the inner dome contains the Whisper Gallery (so named because a whisper can be heard from the opposite side). Several naves and chapels are found throughout the Cathedral. The crypt holds the remains dignitaries such as Lord Nelson and Sir Christopher Wren.

Tower BridgeBuilt: 1894
The only movable bridge that still crosses the River Thames. It is 250 feet wide and 200 feet above the water with a pedestrian walkway that extends between the two towers. Until 1976, steam powered hydraulic pumps operated the drawbridge but electric motors are used today. However, there is little need to raise the bridge today as fewer large ships travel the Thames.

Tower of LondonBuilt: 1066Architect: Various
Originally built as a fortress, the Tower stands along the banks of the river Thames. William laid the Conqueror foundations in 1066. A moat surrounds the complex of 13 towers. It has, at various times, housed a menagerie, the royal family, a prison and the crown jewels. It is the site of many executions - and the Bloody Tower - Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Sir Thomas More. Among those imprisoned there were Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh. It was to the Tower that Edward II sent his young nephews, never to seen again.
The Tower is home to a garrison of Yeoman warders, or "beefeaters," and ravens. There is a legend that states should the ravens ever disappear from the Tower grounds the state of England would collapse. To guard against this the wings of the birds have been clipped.

Westminster AbbeyBuilt: Portions of building date from 1050 CEArchitect: Various
There is evidence of a monastery on this site as early as the 7th century. Around the year 1050, Edward the Confessor began construction on a large and impressive church in the shape of a cross. This only lasted until 1245 when Henry III had all but the nave destroyed. The Gothic style Abbey that he erected still stands today, with many additions of course. Various architects, including Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir George Gilbert Scott, contributed designs.
Westminster Abbey has been the site of coronations since the time of William the Conqueror. It is also the resting place of Sovereigns (ending with George II, 1760), writers and dignitaries, including Sir Isaac Newton, David Livingstone, Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Browning, and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Abbey was damaged a great deal during bombings of the Second World War, but was repaired soon after.

Whitehall PalaceBuilt: First occupied in 1245Architects: Various
Formally known as the York Palace, it was the Archbishops residence from 1245. Cardinal Wolsey lived there until Henry VIII took it over in 1530. Under the King's guidance, Hans Holbein the Younger redesigned the buildings. In the 1600s, James I commissioned Inigo Jones but only the Banquetting Hall was completed. It is not too surprising that fires took their toll on this building, as well. Of the original building, only Jones' Hall still


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