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Trafalgar Square

​The square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain which took place on 21 October 1805. The victory was achieved under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson who lost his life in the battle.

​From the time of Edward I to the early 19th century, most of the area now occupied by Trafalgar Square was the site of the King's Mews, which stretched north from the location of the original Charing Cross.  In 1826 John Nash was instructed to draw up plans for redevelopment of the mews. The National Gallery was built on the north side in 1832-38 to a design by William Wilkins. In 1840 work began on Trafalgar Square using plans by Charles Barry.

​The square consists of a large central area with roadways on three sides and a terrace to the north, in front of the National Gallery. Nelson's Column is in the centre of the square, flanked by fountains designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1937-39 and guarded by four monumental bronze lions sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer which were installed in 1867. The lions were cast in bronze melted down from the cannons aboard French and Spanish ships that had taken part in the battle.

​Today Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in Central London.  The square is also used for political demonstrations and community gatherings, such as the celebration of New Year’s Eve.

Covent Garden

​The area was briefly as part of the Anglo-Saxon trading town of Lundenwic. The land was walled off by 1200 for use as arable land and orchards by Westminster Abbey, and was referred to as "the garden of the Abbey and Convent". The name eventually got changed to "the Covent Garden".

​Covent Garden was seized by Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and was granted to the Earl of Bedford in 1552. It was then turned into a fashionable square.  A small fruit and vegetable market had developed on the south side of the square by 1654.

​Gradually the area went downhill and it became a notorious red-light-district. Parliament decided to improve the area and Charles Fowler's neo-classical building was erected in 1830 to cover the market. The market grew and other buildings were added. By the end of the 1960s traffic congestion was causing problems, and in 1974 the market relocated to Nine Elms.

​The central building re-opened as a shopping centre in 1980, and is now a tourist location containing cafes, pubs, small shops, and a craft market called the Apple Market, along with another market held in the Jubilee Hall.  There is an area in front of the central building where there are licensed street entertainers who draw large crowds. Close to the central building are the London Transport Museum and the Royal Opera House.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

​England had a long tradition in theatre based originally in Shoreditch and then during Tudor times in Southwark. Elizabeth I was a great patron of the theatre as were her successors James I and Charles I.

​Originally all female roles were played by boys. In France, Italy and Spain female roles were played by women. The wife of Charles I Henrietta Maria arranged for a French company including women to appear in London. The puritans were outraged and the French company were booed and pipped off stage (tradition of throwing orange pips at performers to show disapproval) and sent scurrying back to France.

​Under Oliver Cromwell's rule theatres along with music and Christmas were banned. During this period theatre continued illegally with performances held in private homes by invitation only. In these performances female roles were increasingly played by women.

​When Charles II was restored to the throne he granted a charter to a group of players headed by Thomas Killigrew, who were allowed to call themselves the Kings Company. This charter stipulated that all female roles were to be performed by women. The first professional actress was possibly Margaret Hughes who played Desdemona in 1660.

​Thomas Killigrew built the first wooden theatre at Drury Lane in 1663.  One of the first actresses to perform here was Nell Gwynn who famously became Charles II's mistress. The first wooden theatre burnt down in 1673. Killigrew built a second larger wooden theatre on the same site which lasted 120 years and was managed by amongst others David Garrick and Richard Sheriden. It was Sheriden demolished the theatre in 1791 and built a new theatre in 1794. This burnt down in 1809.

​The current theatre opened in 1812 and has been the home of Edmund Kean, Dan Leno and Ivor Novello. Since WWII it has hosted long running musicals. It is the oldest theatre site in London still in use.

​Regents Canal

​As part of the master plan by John Nash to redevelop the Regents Park area, it was decided to build the Regents Canal as a link from the Paddington arm of the Grand Junction Canal to the River Thames at Regents Park Dock (now Limehouse Basin).

​The work began in 1812 under the direction of chief engineer James Morgan. The construction which involved building 3 tunnels opened in 1820.

The opening of the railway in 1838 increased trade in the short term, however, by the early twentieth century, with the trade lost to the railways, and more deliveries made by road, the canal had fallen into a long decline.

​There were a number of attempts to turn the canal into a railway but none got passed the planning stage. Eventually in 1883 the canal was sold and in 1904 became the Regent's Canal and Dock Company. ​In 1927, the Regent's Canal Company bought the Grand Junction Canal and the Warwick Canals, and merge them to form Grand Union Canal. After investing in a fleet of 186 pairs of new narrow boats, the canal could offer a cheaper and faster service than the railways for the transport of goods (mainly iron and steel) from Birmingham.

​Traffic increased from 9000 to 168,000 tons between 1931 and 1941 (WW2 presumably played a part here). However by the time the canal was nationalised in 1948 trade had declined. It virtually ceased in the sixties after competition from road transport. Regents Canal Dock closed to shipping in 1969.

​Today the Regents Canal is used for pleasure cruising and the tow-path is extensively used by cyclists and joggers.

​Victoria Park

​During the early 19th century there was a move towards greater leisure time for workers. Saturday afternoon became leisure time and leisure activities like football flourished. There was a growing demand for public open spaces. There was a big need in particular for a public park in East London.

​The Crown Estate purchased 218 acres of land for the purpose of establishing a municipal park serving the needs of the people of the East End.  The land had originally been parkland, associated with the Bishop Bonner's Palace, but by the mid-1800s had been spoiled by the extraction of gravel, and clay for bricks. The plans were laid out by architect Sir James Pennethorne (a pupil of John Nash). It was opened to the public in 1845.

​The park quickly became much loved by the people of the east end and became known as “Vicky Park” or the “People’s Park”. Facilities like the bathing pond enabled many east Londoners to learn to swim. The park become a focal point for political rallies.

​During the Second World War, Victoria Park was largely closed to the public and effectively became one huge Ack-Ack (anti-aircraft) site.  Anti-aircraft activity in the war has been blamed for the crowd panic that caused the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster of 1943.

​In the latter part of the 20th century the park started to deteriorate due to neglect and vandalism. Partly due to the 2012 Olympics being held one mile away in 2010 the park underwent a £12 million refurbishment including £4.5 million of National Lottery money. Many of the old Victorian features have been restored including the Old English gardens, the Burdett-Coutts fountain, and Pagoda Island.  Pedallos and row boats were brought back on to the West Lake for the first time since the 1980s.

​Today the park covers 210 acres of open space. There are two playgrounds, one on either side of the park, as well as sporting facilities and a skate park in the East. The park is home to many historic artefacts and features and has decorative gardens and wilder natural areas as well as open grass lands. It is famous for the Victoria Model Steam Boat Club, founded in the park in 1904 which holds up to 17 of their Sunday regattas a year. The park is also used as a concert venue and hosts many festivals each year.

The park is open daily from 7:00am to dusk.

​Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

​In 2002 Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell successfully persuaded a sceptical cabinet and civil service that Great Britain should bid for the 2012 Olympics. 9 cities eventually made bids and 5 cities were short listed.  Paris were strong favourites but the popular appointment of Lord Coe, one of Britain's greatest athletes, as head of the bidding team shortened the odds. On 4 July 2005 Great Britain narrowly defeated Paris to be selected as host city. Madrid, New York and Moscow were also rans. The bid had the full support of all political parties and local councils, however a large section of the media and public were initially hostile.

​Venues were scattered around London with a few venues elsewhere in Britain. There was a large amount of disused contaminated industrial land in Stratford which was ripe for redevelopment and was considered the ideal location for the Olympic Park. Construction went well and most venues were finished a year before the games took place. The Westfield Shopping Centre was built which transformed the Stratford area.  

240,000 people applied to be unpaid volunteers (games-makers) during the Olympics and 70,000 were chosen. Thousands of service personnel made sure that the games were secure. A 70 day torch relay around Britain attracted big crowds and most events were sold out. The Olympics were a huge success. The public fell in love with the Olympic Park which ensured that the Paralympics in the Olympic Park were also a sell-out.

​The London Olympics provided one of most ambitious projects undertaken in Europe in recent times. One of the most important legacies was the £300 million spent transforming the Olympic site into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. New waterways and green spaces have been introduced. As well as the Athletes Village being converted into East Village, 5 other residential developments are being gradually introduced into the former Olympic Site.

​The Olympic Stadium has been converted into the home for West Ham United (now sadly called the London Stadium) and was used to stage the 2017 World Athletics Championships and well as being a live concert venue. The Aquatics Centre provides 2 full size swimming pools for the use of the local community. The Velodrome has become part of the Lea Valley Velo Park containing BMX and mountain biking courses and a one mile road circuit. The Copper Box has become a local sports centre and the home to London Lions Basketball Club.

​The coming years will see the building of the Olympicopolis which is the new cultural and education centre comprising 2 sites which are UCL East which will contain a new 3000 strong campus for the University College London, and Stratford Waterfont which will contain a collaboration between the V & A and the Smithsonian, a campus for the London Fashion School and a new 750 seat auditorium for the Sadlers Wells Theatre.

​Refreshments Available

​There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the Covent Garden area.

There are 2 cafes in Victoria Park.

There are a couple of cafes in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

There are lots of places to eat in Stratford either in the Westfield Centre or “The Street”.

Attractions and Other Links

Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery free entry.

The National Portrait Gallery free entry.

​Covent Garden,_Drury_Lane

The London Transport Museum.

​British Museum

The British Museum free entry.

​Regents Canal

​Victoria Park,_London

​Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Orbit Tower.


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