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All that Chaz

It’s a right royal ramble as Diary’s virtual walk this week leaves Charles II in Green Park, before going on to Piccadilly and Mayfair, and meeting Gracie Fields and the Earl of Clarendon along the way

24 April, 2020 — By The Xtra Diary

King Charles II by John Michael Wright

DEAR reader, last week we parted ways in Green Park and saucy tales of scandal.

Let us meet by the same spot and resume our stroll.

We’ll kick this instalment off by heading to the south-western end of Green Park, where we will find Constitution Hill – a road with an important, political-sounding name. Sadly it has nothing to do with Bills of Rights or our lack of a written one – instead, it earned its name as Charles II liked to use it for a daily walk.

There is a story that he was once kicking the leaves through Green Park with just a couple of attendants, when his brother James rolled past in a grand carriage with full-on escort. When James leaned out of the window in a fury, and remonstrated with his brother for travelling without guards, Charles replied something along the following lines:

“I have no fear, James. I am perfectly safe. No man in England would ever do me in, because it would put you on the throne.”

It seems his judge of his brother’s character was accurate – James II was shoved off the throne in the Glorious Revolution.

Green Park is known, unsurprisingly, for its expanse of general greenness, and lacking the flowers usual to ornamentally laid-out London parks. It is said that flowers have never thrived because of a huge communal grave holding the bodies of leprosy sufferers beneath the topsoil – which is also why it lacks a pond or lake.

Before we dive back into town, a quick word about the Wellington Arch, which is at one end of Constitution Hill.

In the 1830s, committees were formed to create national monuments to celebrate Wellington and Nelson.
Nelson’s gang gave us the Column – but the Wellington lot were less successful.

The 80-strong committee was hoodwinked by a smaller clique led the Duke of Rutland. They suggested plonking a statue on top of an arch already built as a northern entrance to Buckingham Palace, positioned as it was across the way from Wellington’s home.

But what should have been an easy enough task soon turned into a bit of a stink: the job was given to Wyatt, a mate of Rutland’s, and then he proceeded to forge something completely out of proportion to the arch itself.

It was huge, and ridiculed by Londoners, many of whom thought Wellington was no hero but the public face of an oppressive army that had conspired to discourage the population from following the French Revolution. It was eventually removed.

Onwards! Along Piccadilly a little way and then north a bit to pause for a moment outside Dartmouth House, the home of the English-Speaking Union since 1926.

The Union was established in 1918 by Sir Evelyn Wrench as an inclusive, non-partisan, non-sectarian club open to both men and women (not usual then) with its stated aims fostering “international fellowship and peace”.

It organised cultural exchanges, literary projects, and much more.

During the Second World War, it became an aid hub – and singer Gracie Fields donated every penny she earned from a British and American tour to them.

After some Mayfair window shopping at outlets selling stuff for a lot of money to people who like that sort of thing, we find ourselves in Albemarle Street, one-time home to Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (1609-74)… which brings us nicely back again to the time of Charles II.

He was Chaz’s Lord Chancellor for a while and the monarch gave him land in Mayfair, where he splurged £40,000 on building a magnificent mansion. He didn’t spend much time enjoying it: soon after the last brick was laid, he was accused of treason and fled abroad.

His son had to sell the house to pay off debts for less than it cost to build. It was bought by Chris­topher Moncke, the Second Duke of Albemarle, who was a well-known fritterer of inherited wealth. Creditors came calling and once again the house was sold to pay debts. When new owner Thomas Bond (of Bond Street fame) decided to demolish the pile, he named the street Albemarle to mark what once lay in situ.

The unfortunate Earl of Clarendon has no such lasting mark in the neighbourhood, but he does hold a unique claim. His daughter Anne married James II before he was crowned, and they had two daughters who went on to take the throne – Mary II, who reigned jointly with her husband William III, and Queen Anne. He is therefore only the second man who can claim to be grandfather to two English queens, the other being Mary I’s and Elizabeth’s old gramps, Henry VII.

Stay safe, and join us for more wanderings next week.

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