Visit London Blog » henry viii Enjoy the very best of London Fri, 22 May 2015 17:44:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Quick Guide to London Beards Mon, 16 Jun 2014 09:00:20 +0000 Sham, winner of the beard contest at the 2014 Great British Tattoo Show at Alexandra Palace. Photograph by: Jonathan Daniel Pryce

Once the favoured accessory of weathered fishermen and chin-stroking academics, the beard has had a revival in fortunes of late – and no more so than in London.

New research warns we may have reached ‘peak beard’ – but you just try telling that to East London, where the ‘hipster’ beard reigns supreme. London’s finest fuzz was even captured by photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce in his blog-turned-book 100Beards.

We look back at some of the beard’s most famous moments in London history and culture…

The UK’s most beard friendly pub

The Cock Tavern in Hackney was recently crowned the most beard-friendly UK pub 2014. It was selected in an online poll organised by The Beard Liberation Front. It’s also where the British Beard Club hold their meetings – although that might be more to do with the pub’s great range beers from different micro-breweries – including its own.

Henry VIII. Image credit: Lucas Horenbout/ Web Gallery of Art

Henry VIII’s Beard Tax

Everyone’s favourite head-chopping king, Henry VIII, is said to have introduced a ‘beard tax’ in 1535 – despite having one himself. Walk in the king’s footsteps at his stunning former home, Hampton Court Palace.

Tower Green and the Queen's House at the Tower of London

A bearded escape at the Tower of London

On the eve of his execution in 1716, Lord Nithsdale staged a daring escape from the Tower of London. His wife and two of her friends smuggled in a set of women’s clothes and managed to sneak out the prisoner disguised as one of them – even though he hadn’t had time to shave his long beard. Visit the Tower of London for a glimpse of the site where the Lieutenant’s Lodgings (where the Lord was held) once stood – next to what is now the Queen’s House.

Weird Beard Brewery

West London brewers Weird Beard Brew Co (“all beard, no sandals”) concoct fantastically named beers like American IPA Five O’Clock Shadow, K*ntish Town Beard and Black Perle. Give them a taste for yourself at the Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden or The Harp near Charing Cross, which regularly stock Weird Beard Brews – just two of many other pubs and bars across London to do so.

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Regan outside Number 10 Downing Street. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.

Margaret Thatcher’s fear of beards

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a thing against facial hair and famously declared “I wouldn’t tolerate any minister of mine wearing a beard”. See where the Iron Lady once lived by peering through the imposing gates of Downing Street.

The Beard of the Great Sphinx at the British Museum

The Great Sphinx is one of the most iconic sights of ancient Egypt – and the British Museum has a piece of this massive sculpture: specifically a fragment of its beard. It dates back to about 1500-1295 BC – possibly even further back – and was excavated at Giza in 1817. See it for yourself in Room 4 at the British Museum.

To Beard or Not To Beard window display at Selfridges London. Photograph by Gareth Davies/Snap Media Productions

To Beard or Not to Beard at Selfridges

The latest window display at Selfridges cheekily picks up on the beard/no beard debate. Titled To Beard Or Not To Beard, it features a recreated barber’s shop – with all the trimmings. Step inside and you’ll find an actual barber’s shop – a collaboration between the people behind Return of the Rudeboy (an upcoming exhibition at Somerset House), top hairdresser Johnnie Sapong and Soho salon We Are Cuts – snipping beards into shape until 12 June.

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Visiting the Past: Traitors’ Heads on Old London Bridge Wed, 23 Oct 2013 09:00:58 +0000

As Halloween looms, London is likely to be awash with people dressed as zombies and other members of the ‘undead’. Less than 400 years ago, you could have witnessed the genuinely ghoulish sight of the rotting heads of traitors, stuck up on poles on Old London Bridge.

The first recorded head displayed on London Bridge was that of William Wallace, the Scottish patriot executed in 1305 for fighting against the English rule of King Edward I. From then on, heads were shown on the Drawbridge Gate before they were moved to the Great Stone Gate at the southern end of the bridge in 1577. A Keeper of the Heads had the job of looking after the rotting skulls, which were often par-boiled and dipped in tar to preserve them.

Tudor visitors to London recorded the grisly sight in their travel journals. In 1592, one German visitor saw a total of 34 heads on display. The political and religious upheavals of the 16th century led to the execution of many people and a ready supply of heads for London Bridge, including Henry VIII’s ministers Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell.

Bishop John Fisher, who refused to accept Henry VIII as head of the Church, was executed in 1535. His head was displayed on the bridge for 14 days and instead of decomposing “grew daily fresher and fresher, so that in his life time he never looked so well”. So many people visited London Bridge to view this macabre miracle that it caused serious traffic jams. The head was discreetly thrown in the river at night to end these disturbances.

The practice of exhibiting traitors’ heads on London Bridge continued into the 17th century (the heads of Guy Fawkes and the other Gunpowder Plot conspirators are famous examples) but it finally ceased in the 1670s.

Find out more about 16th and 17th century London at the Museum of London’s Medieval London and War, Plague and Fire galleries.

Learn more about the legendary Tower of London in Tudor Times by watching Tower Beefeater Barney Chandler sharing his London Story. Watch this video  for a chance to win a dream trip to London for two. Find out more here.

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Visiting the Past: Syon House and Abbey Tue, 16 Jul 2013 09:30:49 +0000 Syon House and its 200 acre park has been the London home of the Duke of Northumberland and his family for 400 years. Originally the site of a medieval abbey, Syon was named after Mount Zion in the Holy Land. The abbey was dedicated to the Bridgettine Order, established in the 14th century by the great Swedish mystic St Bridget. One of the last great abbeys to be built in 1415, Syon was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539.

Syon House

In 1547, King Henry VIII’s coffin was brought to Syon on its way to Windsor for burial. It burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the bloated remains of the body! This was regarded as a divine judgement for the King’s desecration of Syon Abbey.

Excavations by the Museum of London and Museum of London Archaeology have happened in the grounds almost every year since 2003 primarily looking for the medieval abbey.

The gardens at Syon are renowned for their extensive collection of rare trees and plants since Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped the park in the mid 18th century. It is a registered Grade I landscape in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Importance in England.

This year’s excavation, with members of the community, produced an assortment of pottery and building material from Roman and early medieval periods but also an unexpected quantity of 18th century pottery and clay tobacco pipes. This disturbance in the ground reflects the landscaping that was being conducted during this time by Brown.

Syon House and grounds are open to the public but not every day of the week. I also highly recommend the Gardening Centre for keen gardeners and The Refectory for food, one influenced by Capability Brown, the other not influenced by King Henry VIII’s “visit”.

A guest post by Dan Nesbitt, Assistant Archaeology Curator at the Museum of London as part of our Visiting the Past series. More London history next week

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How London Became the Menswear Capital of the World Thu, 27 Jun 2013 09:00:14 +0000  

Ancient and modern gentlemen, 1829 Teddy Boys, 1956 Punks gathering in the park, 1976c


Tim Long, Curator of Fashion & Decorative Arts at the Museum of London offers a brief history of men’s fashion in London.

Walk around London today and you’d be hard pressed not to find a man in a suit. But men’s fashion here is not only about business and suits. Scratch the surface and you’ll find over 2,000 years of fashionable history in London, right under your feet.

London’s been a centre of trade and commerce since the days of Londinium when the mighty Roman Empire reached this far north. We can trace the origins of the lucrative trade of fashion back to those early days in the form of jewellery, leather goods and woven textiles, which are continuously discovered in archaeological digs in and around the city.

By the 16th century, we begin to see a unified industry when King Henry VIII grants a Royal Charter to a group of businesses involved in making and selling fashionable clothing and accessories. Piccadilly Circus is itself named after one such business. A tailor named Robert Baker worked in this area creating “piccadills”, the stiffened understructure that supported fashionable Elizabethan neck ruffs. Due the trend’s success, he became a rich man and built a house called Piccadilly Hall. The house has long disappeared, but the name remains.

It was during King Charles II’s reign in the 17th century when some fashionable trends that are still well in use today start to emerge. On 7 October 1666, and right here in London, Charles introduced a new fashion to men’s wardrobes: the waistcoat. While a form of the jacket and trousers can be traced back much earlier, Charles’s introduction of the waistcoat meant that the three-piece suit was born on this day.

Throughout the 18th century, the UK became increasingly interested in the uniforms of the military. The jacket, trousers and waistcoat served as the core for many uniforms forcing tailors to experiment with new and various designs that aided fit, but also provided a visual difference between ranks. By the early 19th century, many of these tailors turned their attention, and their skills, to the production of fashionable clothing for men in Mayfair on and around the area of Savile Street, now, of course, known as Savile Row.

Key to this transition was Londoner Beau Brummell. After serving in the military, he returned to his tailor and pushed the boundaries of fashionable dress and helped usher in the dandy! Always impeccably dressed, but with an air of elegant restraint, the dandy relied on and respected British tailoring traditions and craftsmanship.

The Industrial Revolution led to many advances in production, allowing for the invention of items such as the bowler hat and waterproof material for the trench coat. Even tartan and tweed fabrics, which have a much older history, became far more widely available. Since the end of World War II, subcultures in England, like the Teddy Boys, Mods and Punks have changed and subverted the meaning and codes of the modern suit.

Combine this rich heritage with the unrivalled talent and success of the city’s menswear industry it’s not hard to understand why London is the menswear capital of the world.

Follow the history and heritage of 300 years of London men’s fashion on this London Menswear Map

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Discover Greenwich Opens in the Old Royal Naval College Mon, 22 Mar 2010 19:57:49 +0000

This morning I headed down to a sneak preview of Greenwich’s newest visitor attraction. Discover Greenwich is a fantastic mix of museum, exhibition, education centre, tourist information centre, café, and brewery.

Its different titbits of information, entertainment, interaction and refreshments reflect the diversity of Greenwich itself perfectly.

As a destination, Greenwich is also a potentially confusing mix of Tudor palace, old hospital, art gallery, observatory, architectural treasure and naval college. What the new exhibition-and-more at Discover Greenwich does so well is bring all the different bits of this amazing heritage site together into one manageable room.

I really liked the way traditional ways of displaying attraction information were mixed with interactive objects to twist, build, play with, doodle, watch, listen to, take away, and try on! Discover Greenwich is certainly a classy opener to one of the world’s heritage sites, and a great way to introduce all the different aspects of Greenwich in one space.

Once you’ve tasted a particularly tempting piece of Greenwich’s diverse platter of historical, architectural and cultural offerings, you can head out into Maritime Greenwich and explore your selected morsel further.

Or, if you’re particularly interested in Greenwich’s gastronomical past, there’s the fantastic Old Brewery, run by the Meantime Brewing Company, promising an “astonishing range of beers”. The experimental micro-brewery is going to create historical and modern beers, including recreations of recipes drunk at the time of Henry VIII, and avant-garde beers, such as Mojito Pilsners and Juniper Pale Ales. Like the sound of those!

Discover Greenwich opens to visitors on 23 March. Check out more images from Discover Greenwich on flickr. Give us your feedback in the comments below!

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A Wicked Weekend in London Thu, 17 Sep 2009 15:00:19 +0000 Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre, London

Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre, London

Gina Gitonga aged 11 lives in Kenya and recently spent a few weeks in London. We know it’s a bit early for Halloween, but here are her highlights for a frighteningly fun weekend in London.

Friday night kicks off with one of the best musicals around. Wicked is about the witches of Oz before they became Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West. The pair meet at university: one is popular and one is not and yet they become friends. Catchy songs, brilliant singing and spectacular sets make an amazing show. I loved it!

Saturday morning is a visit to the London Dungeon. We braved the queues and once we got inside it was really scary! I found out about London’s horrible past from Jack the Ripper to the Great Fire of London. There are also two rides; a boat through Traitors’ Gate in the dark and the terrifying Extremis: Drop Ride to Doom where you get lifted up and then freefall down! To recover we went to Dim T – my first ever dim sum – delicious.

Then it’s off to the Tower of London for the afternoon to see the real Traitors’ Gate and the scene of many executions including Anne Boleyn. We also saw Henry VIII’s armour and the famous crown jewels.

On Sunday head off on a thrilling, high-speed boat ride with Thames RIB Experience. Our trip started slowly like a normal tour and then we sped up and the boat rocked from side to side! We went under Tower Bridge  and as far as Canary Wharf before turning round.

I enjoyed every minute of my time in London and look forward to coming back again soon.

Do you have any suggestions for Halloween high jinks in London?

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Visit London Asks: What’s Your Favourite Period in London’s History? Mon, 14 Sep 2009 10:50:53 +0000 Mayor Boris Johnson launched Disney's A Christmas Carol in New York yesterday

Last week, we asked for your Only in London recommendations. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the comments!

With news announced yesterday that London will be heading back to Victorian times this Christmas with the exciting world premiere of Disney’s A Christmas Carol and Christmas Carol themed Christmas lights in the West End, we’ve been discussing London’s history here at VL towers.

So, imaginative thinking caps on. We want to know, if you were given a time machine, which period of London’s history would you most like to travel back to?!

Would you be interested in galloping across to Hampton Court Palace with Henry VIII and his Tudor court?

Or maybe you’d like to pop into an 18th century coffee house, and witness the new revolutionary age of pamphlets and trade and Enlightenment.

Perhaps you’re another fan of Dickens’ Victorian London, and would like to go back to the golden age of railway with stations like St Pancras; new buildings like the Houses of Parliament, and the Royal Albert Hall; the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the wonderful Crystal Palace.

Or would you rather swing with Twiggy and The Stones in Carnaby Street in the 1960s? Let us know!

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