December 1, 2015
It was Queen Charlotte who first dressed the branches of a Christmas tree in Kew Palace in the 1790s and, drawing on that tradition, Kew Gardens is once again hosting a mile long winter light experience. Visitors can walk through ribbons of light, count the festooned Christmas trees and listen to a holly bush choir as well as see larger than life winter flora such as snowdrops and Christmas roses and pause at the scented Fire Garden for a moment of reflection. Santa and his elves are appearing on stage at the Princess of Wales Conservatory and a Victorian carousel and other rides are located at the White Peaks Cafe where visitors can sample goodies like mulled wine, spiced cider and roasted chestnuts. The after-dark event runs from 5pm to 10pm on select dates until 2nd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: The Palm House at Kew Gardens lit up for Christmas. Courtesy Kew Gardens.
This Week in London – Alice in Wonderland’s 150th; Remembering Julia Margaret Cameron; and, Imperial Britain’s artistic influence…
November 26, 2015
• A new exhibition has opened at the British Library in Kings Cross to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The free exhibition explores the story of how the tale came to be written and features Lewis Carroll’s handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (complete with 37 illustrations by Carroll) as well as an entry from Carroll’s diary in which he relates how he first came to tell the story to Alice Liddell and her sisters on the “golden afternoon” of 4th July, 1862. Other highlights include two first editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel (including the suppressed first edition; suppressed because Carroll and Tenniel were unhappy with the quality of the illustrations), the first movie adaption of the story – a 1903 silent film, early Alice memorabilia, and three new computer game concepts. The exhibition, which runs until 17th April, is accompanied by a series of events and a pop-up shop. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/alice-in-wonderland-exhibition. PICTURE: Sir John Tenniel’s illustration of Alice and the Cheshire Cat from the 1866 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll © The British Library Board.
• An exhibition featuring more than 100 photographs by celebrated 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron opens at the V&A on Saturday to mark the bicentenary of her birth. The display at the South Kensington museum offers a retrospective of her work and looks at her relationship with the V&A’s founding director Sir Henry Cole who presented the only exhibition of her work during her lifetime in 1865. Her relationship with the museum goes back to the very start of her work – within two years of being given a camera by her daughter she was selling and giving photographs to what was then the South Kensington Museum while, in 1868 she was granted the use of two rooms at the institution to use as a portrait studio, becoming the museum’s first artist-in-residence. The exhibition features original prints acquired from Cameron as well as a selection of her letters to Cole, his 1865 diary, the first photograph identified as being of her studio and a variety of her portraits in which family, friends and servants posed as characters from Biblical, historical and allegorical stories. The free exhibition runs until 21st February. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/juliamargaretcameron.
• The influence of the British Empire on art over the past 400 years is the subject of a new exhibition which opened in Tate Britain’s Linbury Galleries yesterday. Artist and Empire will showcase art from across the empire – including the British Isles, North America, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Asia and Africa – and features some 200 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and artefacts. These include paintings by the likes of George Stubbs and Anthony Van Dyck through to Indian miniatures, Maori objects, and the works of contemporary artists such as Sonia Boyce and Judy Watson. Runs until 10th April at the Milbank gallery. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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November 25, 2015
An important battle during the late medieval Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Barnet was fought on 14th April, 1471, between the Yorkists, led by the deposed King Edward IV and Lancastrian forces loyal to the King Henry VI.
While we have looked briefly at the battle before as part of our A Moment in London’s History series (see here), we thought we’d take a more in-depth look.
Edward had been driven from the throne in October, 1470, after his alliance with the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, fell apart. With King Henry VI restored to the throne, Edward was exiled over the Channel.
By early 1471, Edward was ready to make his push for the throne again and in March he landed in Yorkshire in England’s north along with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy.
Heading south, Edward gathered more troops as he went, briefly pausing at Coventry where the Earl of Warwick refused to offer battle before pressing on to London, arriving unopposed on 12th April. There he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth Woodville and young son Edward (later Edward V) and the hapless King Henry VI was once again taken into Yorkist custody.
The Earl of Warwick, who had been raising troops in the Midlands, moved with a 15,000-strong force to confront him and took up a position about a mile north of the village of Barnet, just north of the City, on 13th April.
Edward – who brought 10,000 to 12,000 troops to the fight and had his brothers, the erstwhile traitor George, Duke of Clarence, and the young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, by his side – arrived that same evening and took up a position just to the south of the Lancastrians. Unaware of the close proximity of the Yorkists (it’s not known whether this was by accident of design but Edward had instructed his men not to light fires and to keep silent), the Lancastrian artillery flew over their heads.
The battle was joined in earnest the following day – Easter Sunday – at around dawn. The Lancastrians were initially successful in driving back Edward’s forces on the right flank under the command of John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, but thick fog is said to have been responsible for sowing confusion in the Lancastrian ranks, leading to allies attacking each other and the Lancastrian army eventually fell apart amid cries of treachery.
Warwick was killed in the battle as he attempted to reach his horse. His body was allowed to be displayed at St Paul’s before being buried in the family vault.
The exact site of the battle remains something of an unknown although it is thought to be located in Monken Hadley just to the north of Barnet itself (that is the area marked on the official English Heritage Register of Historic Battlefields).
A stone monument to the battle, the Hadley Highstone, was erected in the 18th century and in the 1800s was moved to its current location at the junction of Kitts End Road with the Great North Road in Monken Hadley and was originally thought to have marked the spot on which Warwick died. The Battlefields Trust is currently developing a project to pin down the location further.
The battle was a resounding victory of King Edward IV for while some suggest the numbers killed were said to be about the same on both sides – somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000, Warwick was removed, depriving the Lancastrians of a key ally and giving the Yorkists a significant edge in the ongoing conflict which saw Edward IV back on the throne for the next 14 years.
PICTURE: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia
For more on the Wars of the Roses, see Alison’s Weir’s book Lancaster And York: The Wars of the Roses.
November 24, 2015
A detailed picture of the inhabitants of Roman London, known as Londinium, has been created for the first time, the Museum of London announced this week. Detailed analysis of the DNA of four skeletons has revealed a culturally diverse population. The examined skeletons include that of a Roman woman (pictured left), likely to have been born in Britain with northern European ancestry, found buried with high status grave goods at Harper Road, Southwark, in 1979, and another of a man, whose DNA revealed connections to Eastern Europe and the Near East, who was found at London Wall in 1989 with injuries to his skull which suggest he may have been killed in the nearby amphitheatre before his head was dumped in a pit. The other two skeletons examined were found to be that of a blue-eyed teenaged girl found at Lant Street, Southwark, in 2003, believed to have been born in north Africa, whose ancestors lived in south-eastern Europe and west Eurasia, and that of an older man found at Mansell Street who was born in London and whose ancestry had links to Europe and north Africa. The examination – the first multi-disciplinary study of the inhabitants of a Roman city anywhere in the empire – also revealed that all four suffered from gum disease. Caroline McDonald, senior curator at the museum, said that while it has always been understood Roman London was a culturally diverse place, science was now “giving us certainty”. “People born in Londinium lived alongside people from across the Roman Empire exchanging ideas and cultures, much like the London we know today.” The four skeletons will form the basis of a new free display, Written in Bone, opening at the Museum of London on Friday. PICTURE: © Museum of London
WHERE: Museum of London, 150 London Wall (nearest Tube stations are Barbican and St Pauls); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
November 23, 2015
The National Maritime Museum is hosting a new exhibition on the life of Samuel Pepys and, while we’ve looked at the life of the famous diarist before (see our earlier post here), we thought we’d take a look at his not-so-famous manservant and clerk William Hewer.
“Will” Hewer, who is mentioned several times in Pepys’ diary and, as well as being a business partner also became a fast friend of Pepys, is thought to have been born in about 1642.
He was first introduced to Pepys when still a young man – about 17 – by his uncle Robert Blackborne in 1660. They obviously hit it off because Hewer, who was the son of a stationer, was soon working as a manservant and clerk for Pepys in his role as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board.
Hewer, who was subjected to some bullying by Pepys who apparently could reduce him to tears (but at the same time Pepys also defended him at work from attacks from others), at first lived with Pepys at his Seething Lane home. However, by late 1663 – apparently thanks to his misbehaviour which included staying out late, drunkenness and corrupting maids – he was told to leave Pepys’ house and moved into his own lodgings.
Pepys moved to the Admiralty in 1673 and Hewer went with him, appointed Chief Clerk the following year. In 1677, he was appointed as Judge Advocate-General.
Hewer’s star continued to climb and in 1685, he was appointed MP for Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. The following year he was appointed to the Special Commission which replaced the Navy Board and had a special responsibility for accounts.
After King James II fled the country in 1688, Hewer, along with Pepys, lost their patronage from the Crown; both were briefly imprisoned, but were released without trial.
Thanks largely to his involvement in trading with his uncle Blackborne – who served as both Secretary to the Admiralty and Secretary to the British East India Company and to an inheritance he received from his father, Hewer became a wealthy man (as was the case with Pepys, there have been suggestions he may have made considerable illicit sums from people doing trade with the Navy thanks to his position, but these claims have not been substantiated).
Hewer, who never married (but he did apparently have a special attachment to Pepys wife Elizabeth who was of a similar age), owned a house near The Strand which became the Admiralty Office when he followed Pepys from the Navy Board. Pepys lived with him in the house when he was at the Admiralty.
He also owned other properties, including a country retreat on Clapham Common which he bought in 1688. It was here that Pepys lived in during his latter years (and where he died in 1703).
Hewer was the executor of Pepys’ will and kept his library – including, of course, his famous diary until his own death on 3rd December, 1715. He was buried in St Paul’s Church, Clapham. In an odd twist, his estate was left to his godson Hewer Edgeley but only on the condition that he change his surname to Hewer, becoming Hewer Edgeley-Hewer.
Hewer is depicted in a painting by Godfrey Kneller (1689) now in the National Maritime Museum’s collection. It was a pair with another painting by Kneller of Pepys.
WHERE: Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark; nearest railway stations are Greenwich and Maze Hill; and nearest river pier is Greenwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £12 adults/£6 children WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/samuel-pepys-plague-fire-revolution-exhibition.
For more on Pepys, see Margarette Lincoln’s book Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution.
November 20, 2015
A week ago tonight the world was left reeling in the wake of the devastating series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which have left 132 people dead and hundreds more wounded. In the wake of the attacks, national landmarks across the world were lit up in the colours of the French flag, among them, the London Eye, overlooking the River Thames. PICTURE: Martin Sylvester/Digital Concepts.
This Week in London – Samuel Pepys and his world revealed; the world of contemporary cycling; and, Indian jewellery traditions…
November 19, 2015
• The largest exhibition ever mounted about the life of 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution features more than 200 paintings and objects brought together from museums, galleries and private collections which explore the life of the famous diarist (depicted here in a bust outside the Guildhall Art Gallery) against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of Stuart London, from the execution London of King Charles I in 1649 through the Great Fire of London and the Glorious Revolution on 1688. Objects on show include the famous painting, Portrait of Charles II in Coronation Robes, objects connected to Pepys’ mistresses including one of his love letters to Louise de Kéroualle (aka ‘Fubbs’ or ‘chubby’) and other personal items such as a lute owned by Pepys. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events including Pepys Show Late: Party like it’s 1669 (26th November) and a series of walks and talks. Admission charge applies. The exhibition runs until 28th March. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.
• Cycles are in the spotlight at the Design Museum in Shad Thames with a new exhibition, Cycle Revolution, opening yesterday. The display, which focuses on the world of contemporary cycling, features dozens of bicycles from key manufacturers as well as high end accessories, items belonging to celebrated cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Paul Smith and specially commissioned films and photography. It looks at cycling subcultures – everyone from the “high performers” to the “cargo bikers”, examines manufacturing techniques and innovations in the use of materials and design with exhibits including a large scale recreation of a bespoke bicycle making workshop, and tackles questions about the future of cycling particularly in relation to the urban environment. The exhibition is being accompanied by a ‘cycle cafe’, large scale installations and a series of public events. Runs until 30th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.com.
• The jewellery traditions of the Indian sub-continent are set to sparkle at a new exhibition opening at the V&A in South Kensington this Saturday. Part of the V&A India Festival, Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection features 100 items, drawn from a single private collection, including a Golconda diamond given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot in South India in 1767, a jade-hilted dagger that belonged to the 17th century emperor Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal), and a jewelled gold tiger’s head from the throne of the Tipu Sultan of Mysore. As well as showcasing the types of jewels collected by the Mughal emperors, the exhibition reveals the influence of India on European jewellery houses in the early 20th century and the ongoing impact of Indian influences on more modern pieces. The exhibition runs until 28th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/BejewelledTreasures.
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November 18, 2015
Little is known of Jack Cade until the former soldier from Kent led an uprising against the rule of King Henry VI during the Hundred Years War with France. And London was a key site of fighting during the uprising.
Cade, who adopted the name John Mortimer and who some claimed to have been a relative of Richard, Duke of York, was said to have been a veteran of the war who led rebels protesting against the king’s rule amid the general state of disorder affecting England at the time which saw such abuses as lands being illegally seized and a lack of confidence in courts to rule fairly. There was also some discontent over the loss of lands of Normandy.
While many of the rebels were peasants, the rebellion – which rose in late May or early June, 1450 – was also supported by nobles and churchmen who were protesting what they saw as poor governance.
Led by Cade, who also attracted the title ‘Captain of Kent’, were camped on Blackheath in what is now the city’s south-east by mid-June and there apparently presented an embassy from the king with a list of grievances.
Thomas, Lord Scales – authorised by the king to raise troops, subsequently marched out to Blackheath but Cade and his rebels retreated into the forests of Kent and managed to lure the royal troops into an ambush.
Cade and the rebels returned to Blackheath while back in London the Royal soldiers turned mutinous, angered over the defeat. They were disbanded to protect the City and the king retired to Kenilworth Castle, effectively abandoning London to the rebels (despite the offer of the Lord Mayor and aldermen to resist the rebels).
Cade then marched on London itself, reaching Southwark on 2nd July (apparently using the now vanished White Hart Inn as his HQ). He forced his way over London Bridge the next day, cutting the drawbridge ropes personally with his sword to ensure it couldn’t be raised again
Such was the support the rebels had in London, that resistance was initially minimal. Following his entry to London, Cade struck the famous London Stone (pictured above – for more on it, see our earlier post here) with his sword, declaring “Mortimer” was now lord of the city.
While initially under tight control, Cade gradually lost control of many of his followers who turned to looting. Meanwhile, to head off an attack on the Tower of London – where Lord Scales had retreated – he handed over the hated Lord Treasurer, James Fiennes, Lord Saye, and his son-in-law William Crowmer, Under Sheriff of Kent (they had apparently been imprisoned in the Tower by the King for their own protection such as their unpopularity). Both were beheaded – Fiennes at Cheapside, Crowmer at Mile End – and their heads placed on poles on London Bridge.
The king’s supporters in the Tower had regrouped by early July and, with the rebels, while initially welcomed by many, now clearly having outstayed their welcome, they and city militias drove the rebels from the streets and had taken back the northern half of London Bridge (another bloody battle over the bridge) when William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, arrived with promises of pardon for the rebels on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, John Kemp.
His forced much reduced, Cade – a pardon in his pocket under Mortimer’s name only – moved back into Kent and continued to cause trouble. He was, however, captured by the new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, on 12th July, – one version says this took place near Heathfield in Sussex at a hamlet now known as Cade Street. In any event, Cade was mortally wounded during the struggle and died en route to London.
His corpse, however, completed the journey and Cade was hanged, drawn and quartered and his head placed atop a pole on London Bridge.
While the rebel ringleaders were later captured and killed, in the most part King Henry VI honoured the pardons he had granted.
The story of Cade’s rebellion features in William Shakespeare’s play, King Henry the Sixth.
November 17, 2015
View looking west from St Paul’s Cathedral down Fleet Street.
November 16, 2015
There’s a couple of different suggestions as to how Bleeding Heart Yard – a small courtyard located in the Farringdon area of the City of London, just north of Ely Place – obtained its rather descriptive – and gory – name.
The more prosaic answer is that it was named after an inn which, from the 16th century, stood on the yard and had a sign showing the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.
The more interesting answer, on the other hand, is that the name commemorates the horrible murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton (of the famed Cecil family), second wife of Sir William Hatton (formerly known as Newport), and, after his death, wife of Sir Edward Coke.
The story goes that her corpse was found here on 27th January, 1626, with the beating heart torn from the body.
A version of the legend – albeit with a slightly different protagonist – appears in a story published in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 which told of how the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton (he was actually the uncle of Sir William Hatton), made a somewhat ill-conceived pact with the Devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. The Devil dances with her during the housewarming party at the new home and then tears out her heart, found beating in the yard the next morning.
The yard also features in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit where it is the location of the home of the Plornish family.
This Week in London – Lord Mayor’s Show marks 800 years; Dutch masters and Thomas Rowlandson at Queen’s Gallery; and, Alexander Calder on show at Tate…
November 12, 2015
• The Lord Mayor’s Show will mark its 800th anniversary on Saturday as the newly elected Jeffrey Mountevans – the 688th Lord Mayor of the City of London – makes his way through the City to Westminster to swear loyalty to the Crown. The procession of 7,000 people, some 180 horses and 140 vehicles will set off on its way along a three-and-a-half mile route at 11am, starting at Mansion House and traveling down Cheapside to pause at St Paul’s Cathedral (which is open for free all day) before heading on via Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice before returning the City via Queen Victoria Street from 1.10pm. In a special nod to the 800th anniversary, the famous bells of St Mary-le-Bow will ring out a special 800-change at noon. The day will conclude with fireworks over the River Thames kicking off at 5.15pm (for the best view head down to the riverside between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges, either on Victoria Embankment or on the South Bank). The show’s origins go back to 1215 when, in exchange for a Royal Charter granting the City of London the right to elect its own mayor, King John insisted the newly elected mayor travelled to Westminster each year to swear loyalty to the Crown. For more (including a map to print out), see https://lordmayorsshow.london. PICTURE: From a previous show.
• Vermeer’s The Music Lesson is among 27 of the finest 17th and 18th century Dutch paintings in the Royal Collection which will go on display in a new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer also features works by the likes of Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen, all produced during what is known as the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. The exhibition is being shown alongside another display – High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson – which will focus on the work of 18th and early 19th century caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson. Around 100 of Rowlandson’s works feature in the display with highlights including The Two Kings of Terror featuring Napoleon and Death sitting face-to-face after Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in 1813, The Devonshire, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes depicting Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, kissing a butcher (it was claimed she had claimed kisses for votes in the Westminster election of 1784), and A York Address to the Whale. Caught lately off Gravesend in which the Duke of York thanks a whale for distracting attention from accusations that his mistress was paid by army officers to secure promotions from the Duke. Admission charge applies. Both exhibitions run until 14th February, 2015. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The first major UK exhibition of the works of kinetic sculpture pioneer Alexander Calder opened at the Tate Modern this week. Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture features more than 100 of the ground-breaking 20th century artist’s works which trace how Calder turned sculpture from the idea of a static object to a continually changing work to be experienced in real time. Works on show include figurative wire portraits of artists – Joan Miró and Fernand Léger (both 1930), works exploring the idea of forms in space – Red Panel, White Panel and Snake and the Cross (1936), motorised mobiles such as Black Frame and A Universe (1934), and chiming mobiles such as Red Gongs (1950) and Streetcar (1951). It closes with the large scale Black Widow (c.1948), shown for the first time ever outside Brazil. Runs until 3rd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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November 10, 2015
Facade of New Schomberg House at number 80-82 on the south side of Pall Mall. While the rest of the building dates from the 1950s, much of the facade from what is now known as Old Schomberg House (among numerous buildings in Pall Mall once occupied by the War Office) was retained and the eastern end restored. The house was originally built in the late 17th century for the Duke of Schomberg, a general in the service of King William III (hence the name), and replaced Portland House on the site. Later residents here included the painter Thomas Gainsborough, who lived here between 1774 until his death in 1788.
November 9, 2015
Another Drury Lane pub, the origins of this one go back to 1852 when it was established by Henry Wells on the site of what was once a potato warehouse.
The name, in this case, comes from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest son, Albert Edward.
Only about 11-years-old when this West End pub was first built, he remained Prince of Wales until succeeding his mother as King Edward VII (nonetheless, the location proved somewhat prescient – Albert Edward was to become known for his bon vivant lifestyle including his love of the theatre (along with, of course, his love of philandering.))
Located close to theatres and the Royal Opera House, the pub at 150-151 Drury Lane (on the corner of Long Acre) was rebuilt in Portland stone in the early 20th century when the street was widened.
Now part of the Taylor Walker group, it remains a popular pub for theatre goers (and even hosts its own events). For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-covent-garden/c0659/.
This Week in London – Gallery of Japanese art reopens; Botticini’s Assumption back on show; Bonfire Night; and, celebrating wildlife photography…
November 5, 2015
• A Hello Kitty! rice cooker, a selection of mobile phones designed by Naoto Fukasawa and a group of kimono from the 1920s and 1930s are among recent acquisitions on show in the V&A’s Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art which reopened to the public following a refurbishment this week. The gallery, which first opened at the South Kensington premises in 1986 and was the first major gallery of Japanese art in the UK, now has about 550 items on show including 30 or so recent acquisitions. Spanning the period from the sixth century to the present day, the display features swords and armour, lacquer, ceramics, cloisonné enamels, textiles and dress, inro and netsuke, painting, prints and illustrated books. They include everything from modern objects such as the first ever portable stereo Walkman designed and manufactured by Sony in 1979 and a pair of gravity-defying shoes designed by Noritaka Tatehana through to historic items such as the Mazarin Chest, made in Kyoto around 1640, a late 17th century six fold screen depicting the Nakamura-za Kabuki theatre in Edo (Tokyo), and a group of high quality cloisonné enamels dating from 1880 to 1910. Admission to the gallery is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
• Francesco Botticini’s monumental Palmieri Altarpiece is at the centre of a new exhibition, Visions of Paradise: Botticini’s Palmieri Altarpiece, which opened in the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square yesterday. The altarpiece, depicting the Assumption of the Virgin, was completed in about 1477 for the funerary chapel of Matteo Palmieri (1406-1475) in the church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence, Italy. The exhibition, based on years of research, explores Palmieri’s life with special attention to his friendship with the Medici rulers of Florence and the King of Naples and his creative collaborations with Botticini including both the altarpiece and Palmieri’s epic poem of 1465, Citta di Vita (City of Life) – which he had Bottinci provide illustrations for. Along with the altarpiece panel (which has been off display since 2011), the exhibition features around 30 works including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints and manuscripts as well as a polyptych by Jacopo di Cione and his workshop made for the high altar of the same church in which Botticini’s altarpiece sat – Florence’s San Pier Maggiore. The polyptych includes a painted representation of the church and was later moved to the same chapel as Botticini’s Assumption. The exhibition is being held in the Sunley Room until 14th February. Admission is free. See www.nationalgallery.org.uk for more.
• Bonfire Night will be celebrated across the UK tonight as we “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” and burn effigies of “the guy” (Guy Fawkes) (for more on the background, see our earlier story here). Find your local bonfire event in London via Visit London or Time Out.
• On Now: Wildlife Photographer of the Year. This annual exhibition at the Natural History Museum features works selected out of the more than 42,000 entries to this year’s awards including the winning image, Tale of two foxes, taken by Canadian amateur photographer Don Gutoski at Cape Churchill in Canada. Other images on show include Fighting ruffs which won 14-year-old Ondrej Pelánek from the Czech Republic the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. The exhibition at the museum in South Kensington runs until 10th April next year. Admission charge applies. Entries for next year’s competition open in December. For more, see www nhm.ac.uk.
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November 4, 2015
OK, so not really a battle although it must have felt something like that to those involved (and the ‘battlefield’ turned out to be much of the City itself), the uprising known as Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 saw two great armies march upon London – one from Kent led by Wat Tyler and another from Essex which is said to have been under the command of Jack Straw.
The armies had risen in response to a series of events which they saw as unjust and which trace their origins back to the Black Death. Killing about a third of the population when it struck some 30 years earlier, this had resulted in a growing demand for labourers to work the fields raising, as one might expect, hopes of increased wages and greater freedom of movement among the peasant class.
But to ensure the social order was maintained, authorities had not only put limits on how much farm workers could be paid but ensured long-standing but increasingly unpopular practices – such as serfs being forced to work some time for free for their landlords – were maintained. On top of this came the imposition and enforcement of a series of poll taxes to fund England’s wars with France.
The poll taxes – and the harsh way in which they were enforced – were a step too far and when a tax collector visited the village of Fobbing in Essex in May, 1381, he was shown short shrift and thrown out. The unrest soon spread and by June, the rebels, having rampaged through the countryside were marching on London.
By 12th June, the men from Essex were camped at Mile End while Tyler and his army from Kent were at Blackheath. The next day, after being denied a meeting with the king, the rebels headed into the City where sympathetic Londoners opened the gates. Once inside, they targeted the property of those they deemed responsible for their misfortune, opening prisons and destroying any legal records they could find.
Foremost among the sites attacked and looted was the Palace of Savoy (see our earlier post here), home of the King’s uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and, as the power behind the throne, the man many deemed as the ultimate source of the ills besetting them (John himself had a lucky escape – he was away from the city when the palace was attacked.).
King Richard met with the leaders of the men from Essex on 14th June at their camp at Mile End and, after they pledged their allegiance, agreed to their petitions to abolish serfdom and allow them to sell their labour. But the attacks, meanwhile, were continuing in the City with a group of rebels led by Tyler storming the Tower of London (pictured above) the same day and seizing and beheading the Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, along with the Robert Hales, Lord High Treasurer and Prior of St John’s in Clerkenwell – both key figures in the government of the king (you can read more about Simon of Sudbury here).
The following day – 15th June – King Richard again met with the rebel leaders – this time with Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish band, at Smithfield. It was then that things went awry for the rebels. Apparently enraged by Tyler’s insolence (already stories differ as to exactly why he did so), the Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth (see our earlier post here), stabbed Tyler in the neck. King Richard managed to keep the situation under control until armed troops arrived and after the king declared a general pardon, the rebels dispersed.
Tyler, meanwhile, was taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital but on the orders of the Lord Mayor was dragged from his bed and beheaded (his head was displayed atop a pole positioned in a field). He was among dozens of the rebels who were subsequently executed for their role in the uprising (leaders Jack Straw and another, John Ball, were among them).
Hundreds gathered at Westminster Abbey last Thursday for a service to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt – 600 years to the day when word of the battle’s victory arrived in London. During the service, the sword of King Henry V – who was buried in the abbey and whose chantry chapel is located above his tomb (see our earlier post here) – was carried through the abbey and presented to the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, at the High Altar (pictured below). “A hundred years ago, as our countrymen fought alongside the French, the old enmities had been put away,” Rev Dr Hall told those at the service who included the Duke of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent. “In the dark days before the Second World War, the story of Agincourt encouraged men and women alike to strive their utmost for freedom from tyranny. Today we give hearty thanks for our freedoms, and we pray for an end to tyranny wherever it is found, and for enduring peace and prosperity.” Royal Shakespeare Company actor Sam Marks read the St Crispin’s Day speech from the Bard’s Henry the Fifth (pictured above) while veteran of the stage and screen, Robert Hardy, read the prologue from Act IV of the same play. For more on abbey, visit www.westminster-abbey.org. PICTURES: Ian Stratton/Westminster Abbey.
It wasn’t until four days after the battle which had taken place on 25th October, 1415, that news of King Henry V’s stunning victory over the French reached the English capital.
At 9am, a solemn procession of clergy made their way from St Paul’s Cathedral in the City to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey (pictured) to give thanks.
Other attendees at the abbey included the Mayor-elect, Nicholas Wotton (this was the first of two occasions on which he was elected Lord Mayor), and the alderman of London, as well as the Queen Dowager, Joan of Navarre.
A few days later, on the 4th November, King Henry V’s brother – John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford, announced the news to Parliament.
King Henry V, meanwhile, arrived back in Dover on 16th November (apparently as a great snowstorm was making its presence felt) and headed for London. After pausing in Canterbury to give thanks in the cathedral and St Augustine’s Abbey, he reached the manor of Eltham (now in south-east London) on 22nd November.
He was met the next day on Blackheath by Wotton and City dignitaries who then, along with what were recorded as a crowd of 20,000 citizens, accompanied him and his small retinue, which included some of his most high profile prisoners such as Charles d’Orléans, Duke of Orléans (who spent 25 years as a prisoner in England), and Marshal Boucicaut (he would die six years later in Yorkshire), towards London.
There, welcomed as Henry V, “King of England and France”, he processed through the City which had been elaborately decorated – the decorations included the hanging of various coats of arms from various prominent sites as well as the positioning of statues of the likes of St George – ahead of his arrival.
Travelling down Cheapside, the king – who was modestly dressed in a purple gown and had eschewed wearing a crown for the event – stopped at St Paul’s where he performed his devotions, before proceeding to Westminster where he did the same before taking up residence for the night in the nearby Palace of Westminster.
On the king’s orders, a solemn mass was held in St Paul’s the next day for the fallen of both sides. The victorious king had returned!
October 30, 2015
This weekend London is once again taking part in the Museums at Night event (yes, this is the first year it’s being held over two weekends – the first was back in May). In honour of that milestone, we thought we’d take the time to list five of the quirkier places that are taking part this time around, either tonight or on Halloween itself…
• The Marvellous Mysteries of Hackney Museum at Night. An interactive and “creative making” tour of the museum and local surroundings (be prepared for some walking!).
• The Monument, City. Ascend the spiral staircase of 360 degree views of the City and hear stories about the Great Fire and its aftermath and Hookes’ telescopic column.
• The Fan Museum, Greenwich. Take a look at its latest exhibition ‘Made in China’ which features a display of 8o fans and “traces the evolution of Chinese export fan design from its emergence toward the end of the seventeenth century to its eventual decline in the latter part of the nineteenth century”.
• Severndroog Castle, Castle Wood. Take a candlelit tour on Halloween including the chance to take in the vistas from the viewing platform. The tearooms are also opening.
For details of all London events – some of which are free – check out www.museumsatnight.org.uk and search under ‘London’.
This Week in London – Life after the pharaohs in Egypt; Days of the Dead; horrible histories at two royal palaces; and Dickin and Gombrich honoured with Blue Plaques…
October 29, 2015
• Still at the British Museum and a free four day festival of art, performance, storytelling and talks kicks off on Friday night to mark the Mexican tradition of the Days of the Dead. The annual celebration, which draws on both native and Catholic beliefs, is held on 1st and 2nd November and sees families gather to remember relatives and friends who have died. The festival, which is being conducted in association with the Mexican Government, includes a Friday evening event, a weekend of family activities featuring storytelling, films, music and dance, and a study day on Monday featuring lectures, gallery talks and activities. The museum will feature elaborate decorations by Mexican artists – including Betsabeé Romero – throughout the festival with a particular focus on the Great Court and Forecourt. Events – which run from 30th October to 2nd November – are free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/dotd.
• Horrible histories indeed! Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace are both hosting ghost tours from this weekend. The tours focus on some of the more grisly aspects of the history of the palaces with tours at Hampton Court featuring a visit to a shallow grave which was only uncovered in 1870 and those at Kensington Palace encountering the gruesome details of King William III’s fatal horse-riding accident and Queen Caroline’s horrific final hours. Admission charges apply. For more details, head to www.hrp.org.uk.
• Animal welfare campaigner Maria Dickin (1870-1951) and art historian EH Gombrich (1909-2001) have been honoured with English Heritage Blue Plaques. The plaque commemorating Dickin – founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and of the PDSA Dickin medal, awarded to animals associated with the armed forces or civil defence who have shown conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty – has been placed on the Hackney house at 41 Cassland Road where she was born and spent the first few years of her life. Meanwhile the plaque to Gombrich was placed on the house at 19 Briardale Gardens in Hampstead where he lived for almost 50 years, from shortly after publication of his seminal work The Story of Art to his death in 2001. For more see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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October 28, 2015
We’ve touched on this story before but it’s worth a revisit as part of this series. London changed hands several times during the later half of the first millennium as the Anglo-Saxons fought Vikings for control of the city, meaning the city was the site of several battles during the period.
One of the most memorable (or so legend has it, there are some archaeologists who believe the incident never took place) was the battle in 1014 in which London Bridge – then a timber structure (today’s concrete bridge is pictured above) – was pulled down. A story attributed to the Viking skald or poet Ottarr the Black but not found in Anglo-Saxon sources, the event, if it did take place, did so against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict between the Danes and Anglo-Saxons.
Anglo-Saxon London had resisted several attempts at being taken by the Vikings – a fire was recorded in the city in 982, possibly caused by a Viking attack – and in 994, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that a fleet of 94 Danish and Norwegian ships were repelled with prejudice. Further attacks was driven back in 1009 and it wasn’t until 1013 that the city finally submitted to Danish rule after Sweyn Forkbeard had already claimed Oxford and Winchester.
But Sweyn, the father of the famous King Canute (Cnut), didn’t hold it long – he died on 3rd February the following year.
The deposed Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred II (also spent Ethelred, he was known as ‘the Unready’) – who had been forced to flee from London, which he used as his capital, to what is now Normandy thanks to Sweyn’s depredations – is said to have seized his chance and along with the forces of his ally, the Norwegian King Olaf II, he sailed up the Thames to London in a large flotilla.
The Danish had taken the city, occupying both the city proper and Southwark, and were determined to resist. According to the Viking account, they lined the timber bridge crossing the river and rained spears down on the would-be invaders. (The bridge, incidentally, had apparently been built following the attack in 993, ostensibly to block the river and prevent further incursions further upstream – there is certainly archaeological evidence that a bridge existed in about the year 1000).
Not to be beaten, Æthelred’s forces, using thatching stripped from the rooves of nearby houses to shield themselves, managed to get close enough to attach some cables to the bridge’s piers, pulling the bridge down and winning the battle, retaking the city.
There’s much speculation that the song London Bridge is Falling Down was inspired by the incident but it, like much of this story itself, remains just that – conjecture (although Ottarr’s skald does sound rather familiar).
The bridge was subsequently rebuilt and King Æthelred died only two years later, on 23rd April, 2016. The crown subsequently passed to his son Edmund Ironside but he too died after ruling for less than a year leaving Viking Canute to be crowned king.