Queen Elizabeth II opened the new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum this week by sending her first tweet. Following a tour of the new gallery exploring the way technologies – including everything from the telegraph through to the world wide web – have transformed the way we communicate, the Queen tweeted: “It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting.  Elizabeth R.” The gallery in the South Kensington museum explores the growth of communications technologies through important events such as the sinking of the Titanic in the Atlantic in 1912, the first BBC broadcast in 1922, the TV broadcast of the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the creation of the first international link on the ARPANET network – the forerunner of the internet – by University College London in 1973. Entry to the new gallery is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

• In a European first (and only the second time it’s occurred around the world), an East London skatepark has been given heritage protection. Known as ‘the Rom’, the Hornchurch structure was purpose-built in 1978 by leading skatepark designers Adrian Rolt and G-Force. It has been listed as Grade II and is only the second skatepark to in the world to win such protection with the first being the ‘Bro Bowl’ in Tampa, Florida, added to the US National Register of Historic Places in October last year. Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey said the listing is testament to the park’s design. The listing was carried out on the advice of English Heritage.

The Natural History Museum’s ice rink opens today, the 10th year it’s been positioned outside the stunning South Kensington building. The 1,000 square metre rink has been decorated with 80,000 fairy lights and a 40 foot high Christmas tree, and this year has been joined by an interactive Lindt Christmas chalet where you’ll be able to sample complimentary truffles and join in activities. The rink is open to 4th January. For more, see www.nhmskating.com.

The works of pioneering Canadian artist Emily Carr are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south on Saturday. From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia is the first major solo exhibition in Europe dedicated to the modernist artist who lived between 1871 and 1945. It features more than 140 works and indigenous artefacts as well as a recently discovered illustrated journal, Sister and I in Alaska, in which Carr documented her pivotal trip up and down the north-west coast of Canada in 1907. Highlights include Totem and Forest, (Untitled) Seascape and View in Victoria Harbour, one of a number of momentary records left behind in her trunk after her death. Runs until 8th March. Admission charge applies. See www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk for more.

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Trafalgar-Square

It’s Trafalgar Square but not as we know it. In a new Wednesday series we’re looking at eight proposed structures in London that were never realised and first up, is a proposal which would have seen a 300 foot high pyramid on what has become one of the city’s most iconic sites.

The stepped pyramid was the brainchild of an early 19th century Tory MP, Colonel (later General) Sir Frederick William Trench, and was designed in 1815 as a grand military and naval memorial to the Napoleonic Wars with each of the structure’s 22 steps apparently dedicated to a different year of the war.

Apparently drawn up by architects Philip and Matthew Cotes Wyatt – of the famous Wyatt architectural dynasty, the pyramid – which would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and pretty much covered the entire space now occupied by the square – was, according to Nick Rennison’s The Book of Lists, costed at £1 million, a figure Sir Frederick – a veteran of the wars – apparently thought was not unreasonable.

But it didn’t prove a popular design with the public and got no further than the drawing board.

Among Sir Frederick’s other unrealised dreams was an elevated railroad running between London and Hungerford Bridges, an immense new royal palace which would have covered much of the West End, and an embankment – ‘Trench’s Terrace’ – along the north bank of the Thames. An embankment was, of course, later built, but not until after his death in 1859.

 

 

County-Hall

 

Located on the South Bank of the Thames opposite Whitehall is the former vast  headquarters of the London County Council and later, the Greater London Council. The Grade II* listed building, first opened in 1922, these days houses everything from the London Sea Life Aquarium, the London Dungeon and the visitor centre for the London Eye as well as hotels, restaurants and even flats.

The boat on this iconic Greenwich pub’s sign probably gives the game away here – the Gipsy Moth is named after a yacht of the same name.

The-Gipsy-MothThe Gipsy Moth IV was sailed single-handedly around the globe by Sir Francis Chichester, then aged in his 60s, in 1966-67, who broke numerous records as he did so including the fastest voyage around the world by any small vessel, the longest non-stop passage by a small vessel and what was then the longest single-handed passage.

Following the death of Sir Francis on 26th August, 1972 (he had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on the steps of the Old Royal Naval College using the same sword that had knighted Sir Francis Drake in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I in 1581), the boat was put on display in a Greenwich dry dock next to the Cutty Sark. Initially open to the public, it was later closed due to deterioration.

Following a restoration in the early Noughties, in 2006 the Gipsy Moth IV was again sailed around the world (on a trip that wasn’t always smooth sailing) to mark the 40th anniversary of Sir Francis’ journey. It is now owned by a charitable trust based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The renovated pub, located at 60 Greenwich Church Street next to the Cutty Sark, is situated in a building which dates from the late 18th century. It apparently changed its name from the Wheatsheaf in the mid-1970s apparently to mark the arrival of the Gipsy Moth IV.

The pub features a beer garden with views of the Cutty Sark. For more information, see www.thegipsymothgreenwich.co.uk.

MoroniThe works of 16th century artist Giovanni Battista Moroni go on show at the Royal Academy of Arts this week. The exhibition will feature more than 40 works including portraiture as well as his lesser-known religious paintings. They include a number of altarpieces from the churches of Bergamo in northern Italy as well as portraits including Portrait of a Lady (c1556-60), A Knight with a Jousting Helmet (c1556), and The Tailor (1565-1570) – the first known portrait of a man depicted undertaking manual labour. The exhibition in The Sackler Wing, off Piccadilly, runs until 25th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURED: A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ, (c.1555-60) (Gerolamo and Roberta Etro).

This year marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the birth of modern Germany so it’s a fitting time for the British Museum in Bloomsbury to host an exhibition looking at Germany’s tumultuous history. Germany: memories of a nation features 200 objects reflecting themes ranging from ‘empire and nation’ to ‘arts and achievement’ and ‘crisis and memory’ spanning a period from the 15th century to today. They include Tischbein’s iconic portrait Goethe in der Campagna, an early edition of Grimm’s fairy tales, a home-made banner from demonstrations in late 1989 and Ernst Barlach’s bronze figure Der Schwebende, designed as a World War I memorial for Gustrow Cathedral. The exhibition, sponsored by Betsy and Jack Ryan, runs until 25th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Britain’s 13 year involvement in Afghanistan is the subject of a new display at the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth. Opening today, War Story: Afghanistan 2014 features new objects, photographs, film and video interviews and looks at the experiences of the Afghan national security forces and UK government and NGO workers as well as those of British troops. Objects, all collected between 2012 and this year, include a beadwork lamp made by Afghan prisoners in training workshops aimed at developing skills prior to their release and an Afghan dress and trousers. The display is part of the War Story project which started in 2009. Runs until 6th September next year. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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Eltham-PalaceAnnie Kemkaran-Smith, curator at Greenwich’s art deco masterpiece Eltham Palace, examines the 1930s ‘map room’, one of five new rooms to be opened at the palace this spring following a major renovation by English Heritage. Alongside the map room – to be opened for the first time in a decade following a renovation for which English Heritage has launched a £25,000 appeal – other rooms include the luxury wartime bunker, a basement billiards room, a walk-in wardrobe and two new bedrooms. The project, work on which started earlier this month, also includes restoration of the gardens, the creation of a new visitor centre, shop and cafe in former glasshouses. The former childhood home of King Henry VIII, Eltham Palace was transformed in the 1930s by art collectors and philanthropists Stephen and Virginia Courtauld and features an interior now boasting a mix of art deco, ocean-liner styles and Swedish design with then cutting-edge features such as under-floor heating, multi-room sound systems and a centralised vacuum system. The palace will remain open to the public on Sundays over winter with the new rooms to be opened in April. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

For some it sounds like a dream come true but what is known as the London Beer Flood of 17th October, 1814, was a very real tragedy, leaving eight dead in its wake.

PorterThe flood of more than a million litres of fermenting porter – a dark beer (pictured) – occurred when corrosion caused one of the metal hoops around a three storey high vat to give way inside the Horse Shoe Brewery.

The force of the vat’s collapse – which took place late in the afternoon – caused further vats to rupture and the resulting wave of beer reportedly stood as tall as 15 foot high as it smashed into neighbouring buildings.

Standing at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street in central London, the brewery was located in the midst of the St Giles Rookery – a overcrowded slum filled with flimsy structures. This meant the damage was considerable and while many buildings were at least partially damaged, the worst hit were a pair of homes which were apparently completely destroyed.

Among the dead were four women and a three-year-old boy who were attending a wake for a child in a nearby basement and a four-year-old girl and her mother who were having tea in their house.

While an enterprising watchman apparently charged voyeurs to see the ruins of the vat, it is believed that reports mobs ran amok getting drunk on the spilt beer have no basis in fact.

The brewers, Henry Meux & Co, were subsequently taken to court but, with the incident ruled an “Act of God”, no-one could be held accountable (in fact, the brewers were refunded duties they had paid on the lost beer). The brewery itself was finally demolished in 1922 and the Dominion Theatre now stands on the part of the site.

The nearby Holborn Whippet pub now commemorates the event with a special brew.

PICTURE: Michal Zacharzewski/www.freeimages.com

Famous as the home of the Apollo Club, the Devil – more completely the Devil and St Dunstan or The Devil and the Saint, thanks to its sign which showed the saint tweaking the Devil’s nose with pincers – was a Fleet Street institution.

The-Devil-TavernLocated at number 2, Fleet Street close to the Temple Bar, the tavern’s origins date back to at least 16th century but it was Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson who made it home to the literary dining club known as the Apollo Club (the moniker comes from the name of the room in the tavern in which the club was located).

As well as Jonson, members of the club are said to have included William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and Dr Samuel Johnson. Samuel Pepys is also said to have frequented the tavern.

A bust of Apollo was mounted over the door to the room and a verse of welcome on the wall – they apparently still exist inside the bank of Child & Co (now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) which now occupies the site on which the tavern once stood. The ‘rules’ of the club – which have been penned by Jonson – also apparently hung over the fireplace (and the name of the club lives on in Apollo Court over the road).

The tavern is also noted for its associations with ‘Mull Sack’ (aka chimney sweep turned 17th century highwayman John Cottington) and hosted concerts and other important gatherings including that of the Royal Society which held its annual dinner here in 1746.

It was demolished in the 1787 when the site was annexed by the neighbouring bank. A plaque can now be seen on the bank’s wall in Fleet Street.

PICTURE: Open Plaques

Sherlock-15Sherlock Holmes and his relationship to London, the city in which he lived, is the focus of a new exhibition which opens at the Museum of London from Friday. Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, the first major temporary exhibition on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character to be held in London in more than 60 years, will look at his literary origins and his relationship with late 19th century London, through to his portrayal in popular culture including through stage and screen performances starring everyone from Peter Cushing to Jeremy Brett and Robert Downey, Jr. Highlights of the exhibition include Conan Doyle’s notebook containing the first ever lines of a Sherlock Holmes story and notes in which he experimented with names for his to leading characters (later Holmes and Dr John Watson), a rare oil on canvas painting of Conan Doyle painted by Sidney Paget in 1897 which has never before been on public display in London, the original manuscript of 1903’s The Adventure of the Empty House, the Belstaff coat and the Derek Rose camel dressing gown worn by Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC series and original pages from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1841 hand-written manuscript of The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Poe was an important influence on Conan Doyle’s writings). The exhibition will also include paintings, drawings, illustrations and photographs of Victorian London along with a vast collection of objects from the period. Runs until 27th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/sherlock. PICTURE: Two editions of A Study in Scarlet in which Conan Doyle introduced Holmes and Watson, Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887.

The first ever in-depth exploration of Rembrandt’s final years of painting opened at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square yesterday. Rembrandt: The Late Works features about 40 paintings, 20 drawings and 30 prints with key works including moving The ‘Jewish Bride’ (from Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam), An Old Woman Reading (The Buccleuch Collection in Scotland), Bathsheba with King David’s Letter (Musee du Louvre in Paris) and Lucretia (National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC) as well as the last minute loan of The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Sweden). The exhibition provides new insights into some of the artist’s most famous works including The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers (aka The Syndics), and brings together a number of self-portraits usually seen in different galleries. The exhibition runs in the Sainsbury Wing until 18th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

The first exhibition devoted to Pre-Raphelite William Morris and his influence on 20th century life opens at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square today. Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, 1860-1960 explores the ‘art for the people’ movement which Morris and the artists of the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood initiated, reveals the work of Arts and Crafts practitioners inspired by Morris, and shows how Morris’ “radical ideals” influenced the Garden City movement and post-war designers like Terence Conran. Highlights include Morris’ handwritten Socialist Diary, his gold-tooled hardbound copy of Karl Marx’s Le Capital and Burne-Jones’ handpainted Prioresses Tale wardrobe. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 11th January. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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In this, the final in our series looking at London’s World War I memorials, we’re taking a look at one of the city’s most visited monuments – the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

Located at the west end of the minster nave (pictured is the west front of the abbey inside of which lies the grave), the grave is that of a British soldier whose body was brought back from France and buried on the site on 11th November, 1920. The grave, which also contains soil brought from France, is covered by a slab of black marble from Belgium.

Westminster-Abbey2The slab bears an inscription written by Herbert Ryle, then dean of the abbey, which commemorates the “many multitudes” who died during World War I. “They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house”.

It is believed the idea for the memorial was that of a chaplain at the front during the war – Rev David Railton – who in 1916 saw a grave in northern France which featured a cross upon which was written, “An Unknown British Soldier”. He wrote to Ryle about what he’d seen and the idea for the new memorial slowly took shape – albeit with the initial misgivings of some including King George V.

Representing servicemen from the army, navy or air force from anywhere within Britain and its dominions who died in the war and have no other memorial or known grave, the unidentified body which lies in the grave is believed to have been selected at random from among a number bodies of soldiers who died early in the war – accounts suggest they numbered either four or six – and which were exhumed from battle areas at the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres.

Covered with Union flags, the bodies were taken to a chapel at St Pol on 7th November, 1920, and one selected by Brigadier General LJ Wyatt, commander of troops in France and Flanders. 

The three remaining bodies were reburied while the selected remains were placed in two coffins, the outer one made of oak harvested from a tree which had grown at Hampton Court Palace. A 16th century crusader’s sword taken from the Tower of London’s collection was placed in the wrought iron bands of the coffin and it was then covered with a flag which Rev Railton had used as an altar cloth during the war (known as the Ypres or Padre’s Flag, it now hangs nearby in St George’s Chapel at the abbey).

The coffin was then transported on the destroyer HMS Verdun to Dover and then taken by train to Victoria Station before, on the morning of 11th November, it was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and transported through massive but silent crowds which lined the streets.

Pausing at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, King George V unveiled the monument which represent an empty tomb (see our earlier post here) and placed a wreath on the coffin and then, followed by the king, other royal family members and dignitaries, it was taken to the abbey minster and lowered into the grave at a special service attended by the king, Queen Alexandra, the queens of Spain and Norway, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister HH (later Lord) Asquith (a recording made of some of the service – apparently conducted simultaneously with one at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – became the first ever electrical recording to be sold to the public).

Thousands of mourners paid their respects at the open grave before the grave was filled in and covered with temporary stone on 18th November. The marble stone which now stands there was unveiled at a special service on 11th November the following year. A framed US Congressional Medal of Honor, conferred by General John J Pershing on the unknown warrior on 17th October, 1921, hangs from a pillar nearby.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Generally open to tourists everyday except Sunday  (times vary so check the website); COST: £18 an adult/£15 concessions/£8 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£44 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org.

Clock-tower

 

The Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament, home to Big Ben. For more on it, see our earlier posts on the Palace of Westminster, the Clock Tower and Big Ben PICTURE: Tony Kerrigan.

He lends his name to one of London’s best small museums but who was the person behind the name the Geffrye Museum?

Sir-Robert-GeffryeDetails about his life are somewhat scant but it is generally believed Sir Robert Geffrye (among a number of variants of the spelling of his name) was born around 1613 in the village of Landrake near Saltash in Cornwall.

Moving to London while still just in his teens, he is believed to have undertaken a seven year apprenticeship, eventually admitted as a member of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers and freeman of the City of London.

It’s been suggested he was an ironmonger in name only but it seems to be the case that his new status gave him the opportunity to launch his career as a merchant and he apparently made a fortune from investing in African and East Indian trade.

Geffrye – who married Priscilla Cropley, a lawyer’s daughter, at the chapel in the Mercer’s Hall in Cheapside in 1651 and lived in Lime Street – was twice Master of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (first in 1667 and then again in 1685).

He was knighted by King Charles II in 1673 (his coat-of-arms can still be seen in the Ironmonger’s Hall) and in 1674, he was appointed a sheriff of London before being elected Lord Mayor in 1685 (his wife Priscilla had died in 1676).

In 1688, Geffrye became president of Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospitals – a role which he held for two years and which apparently saw him attending Bridewell every Friday to judge and sentence prisoners.

He died in February 1704 and was buried in the now long-gone St Dionis Backchurch, where his wife had been buried earlier. Their remains were transferred to the almshouses grounds after the church was demolished in 1878.

Geffrye left behind a substantial fortune and, along with bequests to family, friends and charities, he made a sizeable bequest which funded the building of 14 almshouses in Shoreditch (now home to the Geffrye Museum which this year celebrates its tercentenary) (for more on the museum and alms houses, see our earlier posts here and here).

A replica of an original 1723 statue of Sir Robert still adorns the almshouses which bear his name (pictured above).

For more on the people that made London, see Boris Johnson’s Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World.

Magna-Carta• The only four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta from 1215 will go on display together for the first time ever  at the British Library in King’s Cross next February – and you have a chance to be among the 1,215 people to see them. In an event to mark the 800th year of the creation of the document, the library – which holds two copies of the document – along with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral – each of which holds one copy – are holding a ballot with winners able to attend an event in which they’ll have the unique opportunity to see the documents side-by-side as well as be treated to a special introduction on its history and legacy by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. The ballot to see the documents is open until 31st October with winners drawn at random. It’s free to enter – head to www.bl.uk/magna-carta to do so. The four documents will subsequently feature separately in displays at each of the three institutions. One not to miss! PICTURE: Salisbury Cathedral’s Magna Carta/Ash Mills.

The Silent Swoon Free Film Festival kicks off in St Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden, next week. The courtyard will be transformed into an open air movie theatre showing a different movie each night – The Talented Mr Ripley on 14th October, Crazy, Stupid, Love on 15th October and Rebel without a Cause on 16th October. Most of the free tickets will be allocated through an online draw but a small number will be allocated each night on a first come, first serve basis. For those with tickets, a range of freebies will be available on the night (including popcorn!). For more information, head to www.stmartinscourtyard.co.uk/silent-swoon-cinema-festival.

Crime writer and film noir pioneer Raymond Chandler has been remembered with the placement of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his childhood home in Upper Norwood, south east London. Chandler, who received global acclaim for his Philip Marlowe novels and his work on movies like The Blue Dahlia, lived at the home from 1901 after emigrating from the US with his mother, aunt and grandmother at the age of 12. He remained at the double-fronted red brick villa until 1908 – the same year he published his first poem, The Unknown Love. In his early Twenties, Chandler worked as a freelance reporter for London newspapers but, disillusioned with writing, returned to the US in 1912. He spent the next decade working for an oil company before the loss of his job in 1932 pushed him to restart writing. He first novel was published in 1939, and he went on to write further books and movie screenplays to ongoing renown. For more on the blue plaques scheme, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Two early works of Rembrandt have gone on display at Kenwood House this month. Anna and the Blind Tobit and Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, both of which date from around 1630, will be seen in the Hampstead landmark until May next year. The two paintings replace Rembrandt’s Portrait of the artist which usually hangs in Kenwood and is on show at the National Gallery and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (from where the two paintings now at Kenwood have come). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/kenwood. An exhibition of Rembrandt’s works opens at the National Gallery next week – more details then!

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One of many memorials located in London’s railway stations, the  Great Western Railway War Memorial is located on platform one of Paddington Station.

The memorial features a bronze figure of a soldier sculpted by Charles Sargeant Jagger standing against a granite and marble backdrop designed by Thomas S Tait. The soldier, who is dressed in battle gear with a helmet on his head and a great coat thrown about his shoulders, is depicted apparently reading a letter from home.

GWR-Memorial-smallTo either side of the soldier are reliefs depicting the emblems of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy while inscribed on the plinth beneath him is an inscription dedicated the memorial to employees of the railway who died in World War I. Inside the plinth was placed a sealed casket containing a vellum roll on which is written the names of all 2,524 men who died.

The memorial, known as the ‘GWR Memorial’, was unveiled on Armistice Day by Viscount Churchill, chairman of the Great Western Railway, in 1922 before a crowd estimated at around 6,000 people. It was later updated after World War II.

Restored in 2001, the memorial recently featured in the World War I commemorative project – “Letter to an Unknown Soldier” – in which members of the public were invited to write a letter to the soldier. The statue is also among more than 20 in London which have been brought to life as part of Sing London’s Talking Statues initiative (it has the voice of Patrick Stewart!).

Among our favourite railway memorials, others include the magnificent “Victory Arch” at Waterloo Station.

PICTURE: Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia

Sheep

A small flock of sheep made their way across London Bridge this week as the Freemen of the City of London exercised their ancient prerogative to drive sheep over the span. A reported 600 Freemen from the City’s 110 livery companies took part in the annual drive along with a score of sheep – all in an effort to raise for the Lord Mayor’s Appeal. There’s a permanent reminder of the tradition of driving sheep in the heart of the City in Paternoster Square near St Paul’s Cathedral where Dame Elisabeth Frink’s bronze sculpture of Shepherd and Sheep can be found (pictured above).

This central London street, which runs between Fleet Street and High Holborn, has long been associated with the law and government, and still is so today with the Royal Courts of Justice standing close to its southern end and Lincoln’s Inn – one of the four Inns of Court – located on the lane’s western side.

Its name is a corruption of the original Chancellor Lane – a moniker which apparently dates back to at least the 14th century – and which referred to the buildings where the official documents of the Lord Chancellor’s Office, known as the Rolls of the Court of Chancellory (Chancery), were stored.

The street was apparently first known as New Street and later as Converts Lane; the latter in reference to the House of Converts (Domus Conversorum) King Henry III founded here in the 1272 for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

When King Edward I expelled all the Jews from the kingdom in 1290, the ‘house’ continued in use as such for foreign-born Jews, albeit with very small numbers of residents until the early 17th century.

In the meantime, in 1377 King Edward III gave orders that the complex of buildings used by the Domus Conversorum also be given over to the Master of the Rolls for the storage of chancellory documents and it was this move which led to the lane gaining its new name.

The buildings – which included a chapel which had become known as the Chapel of the Master of the Rolls or the simply the Rolls Chapel which had been rebuilt several times including to the designs of 17th century architect Inigo Jones – were finally demolished around the turn of the 20th century and subsumed into the Public Records Office complex on Chancery Lane (this was formerly housed in what is now the Maughan Library of King’s College London).

The lane these days is also home to such august institutions as The Law Society and the London Silver Vaults. It also lends its name to an Underground Station located to the east of the lane entrance in High Holborn.

Maiden-Castle

Located just outside the town of Dorchester in southern Dorset to the south-west of London, Maiden Castle is the largest extant Iron Age hillfort known to have been built in Britain and among the largest and most complex in all of Europe.

Featuring multiple earthen ramparts (pictured above is the ditch between two of them) – from the top of which you can see spectacular views of the surrounding countryside – and well-defended entrances, it would have once been home to several hundred people. It’s been speculated the name may come from the Celtic word “mai-dun”, meaning a great hill.

Maiden-Castle2The first archaeological excavations were carried out here in the 1930s by Mortimer Wheeler and then later in the 1980s.

Initially built between 800 and 550 BC, the first Iron Age hillfort – built on the site of an earlier Neolithic enclosure with settlement dating back some 6000 years – was enclosed by a single rampart.

In the middle Iron Age, between 550 and 300 BC, it was extended to some 19 hectares or 50 football fields and, apparently densely populated with “round houses” which over time were organised into an increasingly regimented layout, eventually become the pre-eminent settlement in southern Dorset.

In the late Iron Age, the settlement became focused on the eastern end of the fort and with the arrival of the Romans and their establishment of the town of Dorchester (Durnovaria), it was finally abandoned.

Among the features identified within the hillfort’s precincts are well-defended and complex entrances at the western and eastern ends and a large Iron Age cemetery just outside the eastern entrance.

Discovered by Sir Mortimer, the cemetery contained more than 52 burials, some of which held the remains of males with terrible injuries. While Sir Mortimer believed it was a war cemetery created following a battle between the locals and the Roman, it is now thought to have been used as a more general cemetery over a longer period of time.

The remains of a Romano-British temple (pictured above right), dating from the late 4th century AD – about 200 years after the site was abandoned, has also been found inside the hillfort’s boundaries. It consisted of a central room surrounded by a passage with a portico open to the weather. Nearby is what is believed to have been a shrine and a two roomed building thought to have been a priest’s house. A bronze plaque depicting the goddess Minerva has been found on the site, suggesting the temple have been dedicated to her.

The site is managed by English Heritage who have an MP3 audio tour you can download from the website and play on an iPod, smart phone or MP3 player to give an extra dimension to your visit!

WHERE: Maiden Castle, two miles south of Dorchester, off A354, north of bypass or train – two miles from Dorchester South/West; WHEN: Any reasonable time in daylight hours; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/maiden-castle/

For more on Iron Age Britain, check out Barry Cunliffe’s Iron Age Britain (English Heritage).

Gothic The UK’s largest exhibition of Gothic literature opens at the British Library in Kings Cross on Saturday (4th October), marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of the breakthrough book, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will feature manuscripts and rare and personal editions of Gothic classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as the work of contemporary writers like Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake. There will also be Gothic-inspired artworks by the likes of Henry Fuseli and William Blake and modern art, photography, costumes and movies by the likes of Chapman Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. A range of literary, film and music events will accompany the exhibition which runs until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/. PICTURE: Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma, Henry Fuselli. © Tate.

The founder of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Marylebone. Sir Fabian lived at the early 19th century Grade II-listed terraced house at 14 Wyndham Place between 1911 and 1919. It was during this period that he served with the British Red Cross in France and first began recording the graves of soldiers killed in battle. In 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was formed with the task of reburying the war dead in permanent cemeteries in France. Knighted in 1920, Sir Fabian was to be director of graves registration and enquiries at the War Office during World War II and it was at this time that he extended the war graves scheme to civilians killed in the conflict. The commission changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. Today it cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

New Year’s Eve in London will be a ticketed event for the first time this year with 100,000 tickets being made available to the public with each costing a £10 administration fee – the entire sum of which will apparently be used to pay for the ticketing system. Making the announcement last month, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, office, said the growth in numbers of those who have gathered to watch the fireworks on the Thames – from around 100,000 in 2003 to an estimated 500,000 last year – has put an enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure and meant people have had to turn up earlier and earlier to get a good view, facing hours waiting in cold and cramped conditions, or risk being among the “hundreds of thousands” unable to get a good view or even see the display at all. Booking tickets – people may secure up to four – will guarantee “good views of the celebrations and a better visitor experience”. To book tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.

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RAF-Memorial
Aerial combat probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the fighting in World War I but, as the Royal Air Force Memorial on Victoria Embankment records, air crew played a vital role.

The memorial features a bronze eagle perched on an orb girded with a belt depicting the signs of the zodiac which sits atop a Portland stone pylon. It was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with the eagle, inspired by the RAF’s badge, sculpted by William Reid Dick. Along with the dedication, it carries an inscription from the Bible (Exodus 19:4) –  “I bare you on eagles wings and brought you unto myself” (sic).

Various other sites were apparently considered for the memorial before the location – amid a string of other memorials between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge – was settled upon (as were other designers including the renowned Edwin Lutyens).

Unveiled on 13th July, 1923, by the Prince of Wales, the memorial was dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the ranks of the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service  and the Royal Air Force  (formed through the amalgamation of the RFC and RNAS at a hotel in Strand in 1918) during World War I, along with those who had died while serving in air forces from across the British Empire.

A further dedication was later unveiled in 1946 on Battle of Britain Sunday remembering the men and women of air forces from across the Commonwealth and Empire who died during World War II.

A simple, yet still evocative, memorial.

Admiral-Arthur-PhillipA memorial to Admiral Arthur Phillip, described as the “father of modern Australia”, was unveiled in Westminster Abbey back in July. Admiral Phillip (1738-1814) commanded the ‘First Fleet’ which left the UK in 1787, transporting convicts and military to the new colony Phillip founded as New South Wales. Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, attended the memorial’s dedication service on 9th July which was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, Dr John Hall, who credited Admiral Phillip – a “modest, yet world-class seaman, linguist and patriot”- with laying the foundations “on which was developed the Commonwealth of Australia”. Among other dignitaries who attended was Dame Marie Bashir, the Governor of the Australian state of New South Wales, who described Admiral Phillip as “enlightened, far-sighted and indeed humane” and paid tribute to his attempts to actively foster harmonious relations with the Aboriginal people. Carved from Sydney sandstone, the memorial is set in the floor of the nave of the minster close to memorials of David Livingstone, Thomas Cochrane and Isaac Newton. The memorial stone is among a number of projects around Britain instigated by the Britain-Australia Society to mark the bicentenary year of Admiral Phillip’s death. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org. PICTURE: Andrew Dunsmore/Westminster Abbey.