April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
April 24, 2015
Tomorrow is the 25th April – commemorated every year as Anzac Day in Australia in memory of that country’s soldiers who lost their lives. This year marks 100 years since Australian troops first landed at Gallipoli during World War I.
While attention will be focused on Anzac Cove in modern Turkey and the Australian war memorials on what was the Western Front in western Europe, in London there will be several events including a wreath laying ceremony at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, a commemoration and thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey and a dawn service held at the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park Corner.
This last memorial, dedicated to the more than 100,000 Australians who died in both world wars, was unveiled on Armistice Day, 2003, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, then-Australian PM John Howard and then British PM Tony Blair.
It records the 23,844 names of town where Australians who served in World War I and II were born.
Superimposed over the top are 47 of the major battles they fought. Principal architect Peter Tonkin said the somewhat curvaceous design of the memorial, made of grey-green granite slabs, “reflects the sweep of Australian landscape, the breadth and generosity of our people, the openness that we believe should characterise our culture”.
For more on the wall – including the ability to search for town names – see www.awmlondon.gov.au.
This Week in London – Charles I’s overlooked artist; St George’s Day in Trafalgar Square; Indigenous Australia; prints from the Royal Collection on show; and, ‘What is Luxury’ at the V&A…
April 23, 2015
• The first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
• Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.
• Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.
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This week we’re starting a new series in honour of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in which we look back at the London of 1215. First up we take a look at the Tower of London which was a smaller version of the complex of buildings which today exists on the site.
By 1215, the Tower of London – the fortress first constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror – had already existed for more than 100 years, nestled into a corner of the city’s walls which had existed since Roman times.
Then, as now, the White Tower – initially itself known as the Tower of London, it was later dubbed the White Tower thanks to the whitewash used to cover the Kentish limestone to protect it from the weather (and for its visual impact) – stood at the heart of the complex. Unlike today’s building, it lacked the large windows which date from the early 18th century, and while the towers were believed to be capped with cones, the present cupolas date from the reign of King Henry VIII.
While it had long been surrounded by a palisade and ditch, in 1189, King Richard I’s chancellor William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, had begun to extend the castle’s defences while the king was on crusade (in fact, the first siege of the Tower took place in 1191 when the then Prince John did so in opposition to Longchamp’s regime – it only lasted three days before Longchamp surrendered).
This extension, which was completed by King John following his accession to the throne in 1199, saw the size of the bailey around the White Tower doubled and a new curtain wall and towers – including the Bell Tower – built around its outer perimeter with a ditch below (the ruins of the Wardrobe Tower, just to the east of the White Tower show where the original Roman-era wall ran).
But it wasn’t until the reign of King John’s son, King Henry III, that the royal palace which now stands on the river side of the White Tower was constructed. Until that point – and at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta – the royal apartments remained within the White Tower itself, located on the upper floor.
Like those of the garrison commander known as the constable (located on the entrance level), the king’s apartments would have consisted of a hall and a large chamber, which may have been divided into smaller chambers with wooden partitions as well as a chapel (on the upper level this was the still existing Chapel of St John the Evangelist, although it would have then been more more richly decorated). Unlike the lower levels, the king’s level was of double height with a gallery (this level now has its own full floor).
The royal apartments had a variety of uses – as well as a residence and refuge for the king, they were also at times a place to keep high profile prisoners such as the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, who was imprisoned on the orders of King Henry I (and who escaped from an upper window on a rope which had been smuggled in to him and fled to Normandy).
It is also worth noting that while King John apparently kept exotic animals at the Tower, it is his son, King Henry III who is usually credited with founding the Royal Menagerie there.
And it was his son, King Edward I, who expanded the Tower to its current size of about 18 acres by rebuilding the western section of the inner ward and adding the outer ward.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.50 adults; £11 children under 15; £18.70 concessions; £60.70 for a family (discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.
April 21, 2015
The fringe loom of Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – is among the objects on display at Kew Palace this year. Historic Royal Palaces is exploring some of the untold stories of the king’s daughters who once called the palace, which was originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant before it was acquired by King George II, home. Under examination are the pastimes of the royal women – from drawing and painting to weaving, paper cutting and even the decoration of a ‘Baby House’ created by the princesses as a showcase of their talents. Along with Kew Palace – located inside Kew Gardens in London’s west, also opened is the nearby rustic retreat built in 1770 known as Queen Charlotte’s cottage. Inside is the “Print Room”, hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, and the “Picnic Room”, decorated paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus – the work of Princess Elizabeth, an acclaimed artist. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KewPalace/.
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces
April 20, 2015
Located in a former bank at the corner of Chancery Lane and Carey Street, this pub takes its name from the Crusader order known as the Knights Templar who once owned the land upon which the lane was constructed.
The Knights Templar was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christian pilgrims and took its name from the Temple of Solomon upon the remains of which its headquarters in Jerusalem was built.
The order arrived in London later that century and Chancery Lane was created to connect the site of their original headquarters in Holborn with their subsequent home which lay between Fleet Street and the Thames – with the latter centred on a chapel (consecrated in 1185) which still stands and is now known as the Temple Church.
The pub, which opened in 1999, was formerly the home of the Union Bank of London Ltd, built in 1865 to the design of architect FW Porter.
Original features inside the Grade II-listed building – built in the ‘high Renaissance’-style – include cast iron columns and ornate detailing.
It is now part of the Wetherspoon’s chain. For more information, see www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/pubs/the-knights-templar-chancery-lane.
This Week in London – Wellington Arch marks the Battle of Waterloo; Shakespeare’s Globe celebrates the Bard’s birth; and the ‘cathedral on the marsh’ open day…
April 17, 2015
• The Battle of Waterloo comes under the microscope in a new exhibition opening at Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner tomorrow. Wellington Arch: Waterloo 1815 – The Battle for Peace provides an overview of the battle and the reasons which led to it, the people involved and the battle’s legacy. Displayed items include the sword the Duke of Wellington carried at the battle, his handwritten battle orders and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’ as well as, of course, the arch itself, which was built in 1825-27 as a monument to Wellington’s victories over Napoleon. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wellington-arch/.
• Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark celebrates the Bard’s birthday with a Hamlet-themed day of free family events this Sunday. Along with an Elsinore bouncy castle, there will be sword-fighting demonstrations, ‘skull’ coconut shies and a grave-digging ball pool while actors who have taken on the role of Hamlet over the years while appear on stage attempting to deliver the quickest ever reading of the play and famous film adaptions of Hamlet will be playing on screen around the site. The day will also mark almost a year since Shakespeare’s Globe embarked on an unprecedented two year global tour of Hamlet taking in every country in the world in honour of last year’s 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The birthday event at the Globe runs between 11am and 4.30pm. For more, see www.shakespearesglobe.com.
• The famous “cathedral on the marsh” – the Crossness Pumping Station – is open to the public this Sunday, the first of five days it will be open this year. The pumping station at Abbey Wood in south-east London was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette as part of a general sewerage system upgrade and was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865. The Grade I-listed Beam Engine House was constructed in the Romanesque-style and features some of the “most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork” to be found today. The day runs from 10.30am to 4pm. Admission charges apply but no booking is required. For more, see www.crossness.org.uk.
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We finish our series on Winston Churchill, we take a look at a couple of the more odd memorials to him in London.
First up, it’s the remains of the church of St Mary Aldermanbury in the City. Among the scores of churches destroyed in the Great Fire of London, it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren but was again gutted by fire during the Blitz of 1940, leaving on the walls standing. In 1966, the town of Fulton, Missouri, in the US had the remains of the building transported to their town where they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College. It was there that he had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 and the citizens had the church restored as a memorial to him (beneath the reconstructed church now lies National Churchill Museum). The scant remains of the church in London (pictured above), meanwhile, is now a green oasis in the midst of the city. There’s a memorial plaque at the site which were added by the US college. (The grounds, incidentally are also home to a monument to Shakespeare – you can read more on that in an earlier post here).
The second odd Churchill memorial we’re looking at is a clock face located on the facade of Bracken House – a building which sits opposite St Paul’s in the City. The astronomical clock, the work of Philip Bentham, features shows the time, date and astronomical symbol as well as a sunburst at its centre – look closely and you’ll see a familiar face at the centre. The building, which dates from the 1950s, is apparently named after Brendan Bracken, onetime chairman of the Financial Times which was published in the building until the 1980s. The Churchill connection comes in thanks to the fact that Bracken was a close personal friend of Churchill and served as his Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945.
And that brings to an end our series on Churchill. Next week we kick off a new Wednesday series.
April 14, 2015
London has been making headlines around the world recently thanks, in part, to the estimated £200 million heist which took place in Hatton Garden last week. So we thought it was a good time to take a look back to one of London’s most famous robberies (or attempts at least)…
The attempt dates back to 1671 when a self-styled colonel, Irish adventurer Thomas Blood, made an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
The Irishman – whose history included fighting on both sides in the English Civil War, first with the Royalists and then with the Parliamentarians when he saw the tide was turning – visited the Tower of London several times in the lead-up to the attempt as he, disguised as a parson, cultivated a relationship with Talbot Edwards, an elderly keeper of the jewels, and his family.
On the night of 9th May, he and a group of accomplices, including his son, attended a dinner put on by the Edwards at the Tower. While waiting for the meal, Blood asked to see the jewels which were housed behind a grille in the basement of the Martin Tower (pictured above) above which the Edwards had an apartment.
Edwards complied and once in the Jewel House, Blood and his accomplices attacked him, knocking him to the floor with a mallet and then stabbing him before binding and gagging him.
They then turned their attention to the jewels – Blood used a mallet to flatten St Edwards Crown so he could hide it beneath his coat while his brother-in-law Hunt filed the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in two to fit it in his bag and a third man, Robert Perot, stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers.
Things didn’t go smoothly after that and the alarm was raised before the gang could make their getaway. It has been suggested it was Edwards who raised the alarm – that despite efforts to shut him up he managed to remove his gag and raise the alarm – but other versions say it was his son, returning from service in Flanders, who raised the alarm on seeing the gang.
In any event, the gang fled, evading efforts of the warders to stop them, before Blood, Hunt and Perot were captured on the Tower of London wharf. The crown, globe and orb were all recovered, albeit damaged.
Blood refused to speak after his capture and was eventually taken before King Charles II for interrogation. But he was evidently so impressed with his captive that he not only pardoned Blood but also rewarded him with land in Ireland.
Blood did later end up briefly in prison after a dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and died soon after his release in August, 1680, but in the intervening years he had become something of a celebrity around London including the Royal Court.
Security around the Crown Jewels, meanwhile, was upgraded somewhat in the wake of the attempt. While others have tried to steal them, none have ever been successful.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Monday (last admission 5pm); COST: £24.50 an adult/£11 a child (5-15 years)/£18.70 concession/£60.70 a family of four (discount applies to online bookings); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.
April 10, 2015
Among the treasures on show at this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace, the Australian State Coach was a gift to Queen Elizabeth II by Australia on 8th May, 1988, to mark the Australian Bicentennial.
The coach – the first to be built for the Royal Family since the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 – was built by Australian WJ “Jim” Frecklington who also designed the Diamond Jubilee State Coach.
The coach, which is usually kept in the Royal Mews where it can be viewed by the public, has been used at the State Opening of Parliament and other occasions involving foreign royal families and visiting heads of state. It was also used to carry Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Michael and Carole Middleton back to Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
It was last used to carry the Duke of Edinburgh and Señora Rivera, wife of the president of Mexico, on a State Visit in March this year.
The summer opening of the palace runs from 25th July to 27th September. The coach will be on display in the Grand Entrance portico.
WHERE: Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 25th July to 31st August – 9.30am to 7.30pm daily (last admission 5.15pm)/1st to 27th September – 9.30am to 6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm); COST: £35.60 adults/£20 under 17 and disabled/£32.50 concessions/£91.20 family (2 adults and three under 17s); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace/plan-your-visit.
PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2015
This Week in London – The Boat Race; Designs of the Year; Heckling Hitler; and Victorian-era homelessness…
April 9, 2015
• The 161st Boat Race is on this weekend and will once more see Oxford and Cambridge rowing crews battling it out in their annual contest on the Thames. The day’s schedule of festivities kicks off at noon at Bishop’s Park near the race’s starting point just west of Putney Bridge and at Furnivall Gardens near Hammersmith Bridge but the main highlights don’t take place until late in the afternoon – the Newton Women’s Boat Race at 4.50pm and the main event, the BNY Mellon Boat Race, at 5.50pm. The race runs along the Thames from Putney Bridge through to Chiswick Bridge with plenty of vantage points along the way. The tally currently sits at 78 to Oxford and 81 to Cambridge. For more information, including where to watch, head to http://theboatraces.org/.
• Prospective “Designs of the Year” are on display at the Design Museum in Shad Thames ahead of the announcement of awards in May and June. With the awards – handed out in six categories – now in their eighth year, the 76 designs on display include Google’s self-driving car, the Frank Gehry-designed Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris and Asif Kahn’s experimental architectural installation Megafaces which debuted at the Sochi Olympics as well as Norwegian banknotes, a billboard that cleans pollutants from the air and a book printed without ink. Runs until 23rd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org/exhibitions/designs-of-the-year-2015.
• On Now: Heckling Hitler: World War II in Cartoon and Comic Art. Showing at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury, this exhibition explores how World War II unfolded through the eyes of British cartoonists. It features more than 120 original drawings and printed ephemera and while the focus is largely on those contained newspapers and magazines, the exhibition does include some sample materials from books, aerial leaflets, artwork from The Dandy and The Beano, postcards and overseas propaganda publications as well as some unpublished cartoons drawn in prisoner-of-war camps and by civilians at home (the latter on scrap paper from the Ministry of Food), and even a rare pin cushion featuring Hitler and Mussolini. Among the artists whose works are featured are ‘Fougasse’ (creator of Ministry of Information posters reminding the public that ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’), William Heath Robinson and Joe Lee. The exhibition runs until 12th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/heckling-hitler.
• On Now: Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London. This exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch explores the places inhabited by London’s poor during the 19th and 20th centuries and brings them to life through paintings, photographs and objects as well as the retelling of personal stories and reports. Starting in the 1840s, the exhibition charts the problems faced by London’s poor and examines the dirty and cramped conditions of lodging houses, workhouses and refuges where they took shelter along with, for those even less fortunate, the streets where they slept rough before moving on to some of the housing solutions designed specifically to help the poor. Runs until 12th July. Admission charge applies. Running alongside the exhibition is a free display, Home and Hope – a collaborative exhibition with the New Horizon Youth Centre which explores the experience of young homeless people in London today. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/whatson/exhibitions-and-displays/homes-of-the-homeless/.
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There are numerous memorials to Sir Winston Churchill around London and today we’ll look at a handful of them (while next week we’ll take a look at a couple of the most unusual memorials). We’ve already looked at the most famous statue of him in Parliament Square (in an earlier post here), but here’s some more…
• Allies, Mayfair. These almost life-size bronze statues, located at the juncture of Old and New Bond Streets, depict Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt in an informal pose, sitting and talking together on a bench. The sculpture was a gift from the Bond Street Association to the City of Westminster and was unveiled by Princess Margaret on 2nd May, 1995 commemorating 50 years since the end of World War II. It is the work of US sculptor Lawrence Holofcener. There’s a space between the two World War II leaders where the passerby can sit and have their picture taken between them.
• Member’s Lobby, House of Commons. We’ve already mentioned this bronze statue (see our previous post here), erected in 1969, which stands just outside Churchill Arch opposite one of another former PM, David Lloyd George. It is the work of Croatian-born sculptor Oscar Nemon who also created numerous other busts of the former PM now located both in the UK (one of which is mentioned below) and around the world.
• Great Hall, Guildhall. Commissioned by the Corporation of the City of London and unveiled in 1955, this bronze statue shows Churchill, wearing a suit and bow tie, seated in an armchair and looking ahead. Another work of Nemon’s, it was commissioned as a tribute to “the greatest statesman of his age and the nation’s leader in the Great War of 1939-1945″.
• Outside former Conservative Club, Wanstead. A very thick-necked bust of Churchill, erected in 1968, sits outside the 18th century mansion in Wanstead High Street, north-east London, which was once the Conservative Club and is now occupied by a restaurant. The bigger than life-sized bust is the work of Italian artist Luigi Fironi and stands on a plinth once part of old Waterloo Bridge. Churchill was the Conservative member for this area between 1924-1964 and based at the club from 1930 to 1940.
The Museum of London has opened two new display spaces which feature new archaeological discoveries, reveal the relevance of the museum’s collection to current events in London and showcase objects not usually on display. Opened last week, Looking for Londoners currently features objects uncovered during recent excavations to improve the Baitul Aziz Mosque at Dickens Square in Southwark, including the skull of an 18th century longhorn cow, pots used in burying Roman remains, and as child’s cup dating from the mid-19th century believed to have belonged to Richard Greenfield, born in 1847 as the fourth child of grocer Samuel Greenfield and his wife Mary Ann (pictured). Show Space’s current display, meanwhile, is themed on the idea of ‘spring’ and Londoners attempts to bring nature into the capital with objects including a ‘spring’ fancy dress outfit worn in the late 1890s to a ball in the Portsmans Rooms in Baker Street, cupcake coloured porcelain figurines featuring various embodiments of spring and a ‘mystery gnome’. Access to the new permanent galleries is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURE: © Museum of London
This Week in London – Party time at Hampton Court; new rooms unveiled at Eltham; Richard III at the Science Museum, and Kew’s Easter egg hunt…
April 2, 2015
Wishing all of our readers a very happy Easter!
• It’s party time at Hampton Court Palace this weekend as the palace celebrates its 500th anniversary with festivities including a spectacular (and historic) light show. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the palace will be open for an evening of festivities including the chance to taste-test pork cooked in the Tudor kitchens, enjoy a drink at a pop-up bar in the Cartoon Gallery, listen to live performances of period music in the state apartments and watch a 25 minute sound and light show in the Privy Garden taking viewers on a journey through the palace’s much storied past culminating in a fireworks finale. The nights run from 6.30pm to 9.15pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam
• A luxury wartime bunker, a map room dating from the 1930s and a walk-in wardrobe complete with vintage fashion are among five new rooms at Eltham Palace in south London which are opening to the public for the first time this Easter. The rooms also include a basement billiards room and adjoining bedrooms, one of which features one of the first showers ever installed in a residential house in the UK. They have been restored as part of English Heritage’s major £1.7 million makeover of the property – the childhood home of King Henry VIII which was converted into a stunning Art Deco gem in the 1930s. Visitors will be invited to join one of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld’s legendary cocktail party’s of the 1930s while children can take part in an interactive tour exploring the story of the animals that lived at the palace including Mah-Jongg, the Courtauld’s pet lemur (who had his own heated bedroom!). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/eltham. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to donate to support the renovation of the map-room can do so at www.english-heritage.org.uk/donate-eltham.
• A new exhibition showcasing the latest scientific displays concerning the life and death of King Richard III has opened at the Science Museum. King Richard III: Life, Death and DNA, which opened last Wednesday – the day before the king’s remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, features an analysis of Richard III’s genome, a 3D printed skeleton (only one of three in existence) and a prototype coffin. It explores how CT scans were used to prove the king’s fatal injuries at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 were caused by a sword, dagger and halberd (a reproduction of the latter is on display). The exhibition will run until 25th June. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RichardIII.
• Join Shaun the Sheep and friends for Kew Garden’s annual Easter Egg hunt this Sunday. The hunt will take place from 9.30am to noon (or when the eggs run out!) with participants needing to find three sheep and collect a token/chocolate dropping from each before finding the Easter bunny and claiming eggs supplied by Divine chocolate. Shaun, meanwhile, who hit the big screen for the first time this year, will be found in the Madcap Meadow until 12th April. Admission charge applies. For the full range of events taking place at the gardens this Easter season, check out www.kew.org. PICTURE: RBG Kew.
• London’s Boroughs are turning 50 and to celebrate London councils – working with the London Film Archive – have released a short film telling the story of the past half century. Follow this link to see it. Councils across the city, meanwhile, are holding events throughout the year to mark the occasion – check with your local council for details; some, like Barking and Dagenham, and Camden have dedicated pages.
• The first chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Mansfield Cumming, has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Westminster. Known as ‘C’ thanks to his habit of initialling papers (a tradition which has been carried on by every chief since), Cumming was chief of the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau from 1909 until his death in 1923. Flats 53 and 54 at 2 Whitehall Court – now part of Grade II*-listed The Royal Horseguards Hotel – served as Cumming’s home and office at various times between 1911 and 1922. The plaque was unveiled by current Secret Intelligence Service chief, Alex Younger. Meanwhile, Amelia Edwards, pioneering Egyptologist, writer, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, has also been honoured with a blue plaque on her former home in Islington. Edwards lived at 19, Wharton Street in Clerkenwell between 1831 and 1892. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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Sir Winston Churchill will be forever associated with this now rather nondescript East London street, thanks to a series of events that occurred when he was Home Secretary.
Known as the Siege of Sidney Street or the Battle of Stepney, the event was sparked when, on 16th December, 2010, a gang of Russian and Latvian exiles attempted to break into a jewellers in Houndsditch by tunnelling from an adjacent property in Exchange Buildings.
Tipped off by a neighbour, the police arrived and in the series of events that followed, a number of officers were shot and three – Sergeant Charles Tucker, PC Walter Choate and Sergeant Robert Bentley – were killed (Sergeant Tucker died at the scene and the latter two later that day in hospital). The event became known as the Houndsditch Murders.
The gang members largely escaped – although one gang member, George Gardstein, was later found dead of wounds he had received during the gunfight – and an intensive manhunt commenced for the gang.
Some two weeks later, on 2nd January, 1911, police were informed that several members of the gang, including the alleged mastermind known as Peter the Painter (who may not have even existed or who may have been a Polish decorator Peter Piaktow), were hiding at a property at 100 Sidney Street.
Expecting fierce resistance, several hundred police officers moved in to surround the property the next day and, at dawn – after encountering heavy fire from the building, the siege began.
When the then 36-year-old Churchill received word of the siege (apparently while taking a bath), he made his way to the site, already attracting crowds of onlookers, to observe and apparently offer advice.
At the scene he authorised the use of the military – including a detachment of Scots Guards from the Tower of London and 13 pounder artillery pieces. These, drawn by the Royal Horse Artillery, had just arrived when a fire began to consume the building (it may have been sparked by a bullet hitting a gas pipe). The fire brigade attended but Churchill apparently refused them entry until the shooting stopped.
The gang members inside the building never attempted to escape the building and the remains of two of them – Latvians Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow – were subsequently found in its ruins.
Along with the thee policemen killed at the attempted burglary, a firefighter – Charles Pearson – was also killed, struck by falling debris. There is a memorial plaque to him at the former site of 100 Sidney Street.
Seven supposed members of the gang were eventually captured by police but all either had the charges dropped, were acquitted or had their convictions quashed.
Churchill’s role at the six hour siege was the matter of some controversy and former PM (and then Opposition Leader) Arthur Balfour was among those who accused him of acting improperly and risking lives.
There’s a famous photo of Churchill – who was recorded by one of his biographers saying the event had been “such fun” – peering around a corner at the scene (there’s a story that a bullet tore through his top hat, almost killing him, during the siege) while the event was also one of the first news stories to be captured on film (by Pathe News).
March 31, 2015
March 30, 2015
Farringdon is a name that crops up quite a bit in London. As well as Farringdon Road, Farringdon Street and Farringdon Lane, there’s a Tube/overground train station which also bear the name along with two of the 25 wards of the City of London.
These latter are named Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without – a distinction which relates to their placement within and without the City’s walls and dates to the late 14th century.
While the name Farringdon, which can be found elsewhere in England, apparently meant ‘ferny hill’ in Old English, its origins in London apparently relate to two medieval London goldsmiths, William de Faringdon (also spelt de Farindon and various other ways) and his son Nicholas.
Both William and Sir Nicholas were aldermen and Lord Mayors of London in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
Sir Nicholas was apparently well favoured by King Edward II – he was several times appointed mayor, a job the king apparently said he could hold for “as long as it pleased him”. He was buried at St Peter-le-Chepe, destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Interestingly, another well-known alderman of this ward was the radical MP John Wilkes, who was elected while in Newgate Prison.
Farringdon Street, which becomes Farringdon Road, runs along the course of the former Fleet River and dates from the 1730s when the river was arched over.
March 27, 2015
A trade hall for the wool and cloth trade, Blackwell Hall, also known as Bakewell Hall, once stood on the east side of Guildhall Yard in Basinghall Street.
The buttressed stone building – whose previous owners included Thomas Bakewell (from where apparently it gets its name) – is understood to have been purchased by the City of London Corporation during the reign of King Richard II and subsequently established as a cloth market.
‘Factors’ were introduced to act as agents and handle the sale of goods on behalf of the clothiers but shifts in trade – in particular the expansion of northern mills which led to them handling their sales directly – saw the importance of the London-based factors wane.
The structure was rebuilt a couple of times over its lifespan – there are records of a rebuilding in 1588 and again after the Great Fire of 1666 – before it was finally demolished in 1820 to make way for the Bankrupcy Court.
Remains of the foundations were discovered during excavations in Guildhall Yard in 1988.
This Week in London – Greek sculpture at the British Museum; Hew Locke at HMS Belfast; an interactive high seas adventure at the National Maritime Museum; and, coral reefs at the Natural History Museum…
March 26, 2015
• The ancient Greek “preoccupation with the human form” is the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Defining beauty: The body in ancient Greek art features about 150 objects dating from the prehistoric to the age of Alexander the Great. Highlights include a newly discovered bronze sculpture of a new athlete scraping his body with a metal tool after exercise before bathing, six Parthenon sculptures from the museum’s collection including a sculpture by Phidias of the river god Ilissos, and copies of Greek originals including the Towny Discobolus (discus-thrower – pictured) – a Roman copy of Myron’s lost original – and Georg Romér’s reconstruction of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (spear-bearer) . Runs until 5th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/definingbeauty. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.
• London-based contemporary artist Hew Locke has transformed an entire deck of the HMS Belfast in a major new work, ironically titled work, The Tourists. The installation – which is on show until 7th September – depicts imaginative events in which the crew of the ship are preparing to arrive at Trinidad in time for Carnival in 1962 (the ship’s last international journey – to Trinidad – actually arrived three months after the celebration). Free with general admission charge. For more see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is hosting a free exhibition of Locke’s work in which he explores the idea of naval power through a series of ship sculptures. This free exhibition can be seen until 4th May. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.
• Families are invited to take part in a new interactive experience on the “high seas of maritime history” which launches at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Saturday. The museum has joined with Punchdrunk Enrichment to take six to 12 year-olds and their families on an adventure, Against Captain’s Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted. Visitors don life jackets as they become part of the crew of the HMS Adventure and take on various seafaring roles as they navigate their way through the exhibition. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st August. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/againstcaptainsorders.
• See a real coral reef and take a virtual dive in new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea – which opens tomorrow on World Oceans Day – also features more than 200 specimens including coral, fish and fossils. These include examples collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, giant Turbinate coral and creatures ranging from the venomous blue-ringed octopus to tiny sponge crabs. For more see www.nhm.ac.uk.
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