English Heritage Properties in Central London
Winchester Palace is so named because it was the London residence of the Bishops of Winchester. It was built in the 12th century by Henry of Blois, younger brother of King Stephen of England.
Winchester Palace is on the south bank of the Thames, and therefore in Southwark as opposed to the City of London, and can be seen by walking along the Thames Path between the replica of Drake’s Golden Hinde and the Clink Prison Museum.
There is not much left of the original Palace, but one can still see some of the walls of the great hall with its rose window (devoid of glass).
It is often forgotten that it was the Romans who founded Londinium, at the first point up the Thames where it was safe to cross the river and therefore a good place to build a defensive stronghold.
Stone walls were built around the original settlement and it is still possible to see traces of these despite all the destruction and building that has taken place in the intervening centuries. The site in question is the best preserved stretch of Roman wall, being some 50 feet long and 35 feet high. It dates from around 200 AD. It is just to the north of the Tower of London.
Apsley House was originally the home of Baron Apsley but is best known for being the London residence of the Duke of Wellington, the victor of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Part of the house is still lived in by descendants of the “Iron Duke”.
Designed by Robert Adam, Apsley House is the only aristocratic town house in London that is open to visitors. It is at Hyde Park Corner and once had the postal address “No 1 London” because this is the point from which distances from London to everywhere else in the country are measured.
Wellington had many honours thrust upon him after Waterloo, including being made Prime Minister in 1828. His celebrity status can be appreciated from a visit to Apsley House. Some of the lavish gifts from foreign governments are on display and one can also view the grandiose dining room where the annual Waterloo Banquets were held.
Wellington was a keen collector of art, and the walls are lined with paintings by Goya, Rubens, Velazquez and others.
Apsley House is close to several other memorials to the Duke of Wellington, but none are as impressive as Wellington Arch, which is just over the road. It is a triumphal arch built on classical lines, as is Marble Arch which is not far away. At one time both arches formed part of a processional route that led to Buckingham Place, but both were moved to their present positions in the 19th century.
Wellington Arch was built in 1826 and was originally surmounted by a large statue of the Duke of Wellington astride his famous horse Copenhagen. However, this was taken down and replaced in 1912 by a massive bronze statue (the largest in Europe) of the Angel of Peace being carried by the “Quadriga” – the chariot of War drawn by four horses. The original Wellington statue is not far away – on a plinth facing Apsley House.
Inside the Arch are three floors of exhibition space that are devoted to aspects of British military history, including the Battle of Waterloo.
From balconies just below the Quadriga bronze there are extensive views over the Royal Parks (Hyde Park, Green Park and Buckingham Palace Gardens) and much of central London.
Chapter House and Pyx Chamber, Westminster Abbey
The Chapter House of Westminster Abbey can be entered without having to visit the Abbey itself, and this is worth doing if time is short.
It was built in 1250 when the Abbey was home to a community of monks who used the Chapter House for daily meetings. It was also used at one time for sessions of Parliament.
The building is notable for its vaulted ceiling, tiled floor and impressive wall paintings.
The nearby Pyx Chamber takes its name from the “Trial of the Pyx” which was the practice in medieval times of testing the purity of gold and silver coins by melting down samples of them. A pyx was a wooden box in which the coins were stored before the test.
The Chamber was originally the undercroft to the monks’ dormitory and dates from around 1070. Some of the floor tiles have been in place since that time.
This building, which dates from around 1365, is opposite the Victoria Tower of the current Houses of Parliament. It is the only part of the original Palace of Westminster that survived the disastrous fire of 1834 and is also regularly open to the public.
The name “Jewel Tower” is due to its use as a treasury during the reign of King Edward III, although it has performed a number of functions since that time. Today, the Tower houses a number of interesting exhibits on three floors, including the “Westminster Capitals” which are eight Norman sculptures dating from the 1090s, and the highly decorated Anglo-Saxon “Palace of Westminster Sword” from the 800s.
Also of interest is the 14th century ribbed vault ceiling on the top floor, the anti-clockwise spiral staircase and the views of Westminster to be had from the top of the Tower.