February 9, 2016
A quiet moment in one of Covent Garden’s covered arcades. For more on the history of Covent Garden, see our earlier post here.
February 8, 2016
Grimaldi was born in Clare Market, London on 18th December, 1778, the son of actor and clown Joseph Giuseppe Grimaldi (known simply as the “Signor”), and Londoner Rebecca Brooker, a dancer who was more than 50 years younger than Grimaldi when she become one of a string of mistresses.
Joe was groomed for the stage by his father from an early age and made his debut at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in late 1780. He was soon also working at Drury Lane Theatre, running between the two to make performances (at the same time, he did attend a theatrical academy in Putney known for educating the children of performers).
Joe’s father died when he was just nine-years-old and he became the family’s main breadwinner and while he was still able to work at both Sadler’s Wells and Drury Lane, his pay was cut after his father’s death meaning the family had to move out of their home in Holborn and into the slum of St Giles where they took lodgings in Great Wild Street.
In 1799, having met three years before, he married Maria Hughes, the eldest daughter of Richard Hughes, the proprietor of Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The newlyweds moved to a home at 37 Penton Street in Pentonville. It was not to be a long-lasting marriage – Maria died during childbirth on 18th October, 1800.
Further hardship was to come soon after when, while performing at Drury Lane Theatre, he accidentally shot himself in his foot and was forced to bed to recover. But there was a silver lining – his mother employed a dancer, Mary Bristow, to look after him during his rehabilitation and they formed a bond which led to them being married on 24th December, 1801.
After recovering from his injury, meanwhile, he had resumed his hectic schedule at London theatres as well as country venues and it was during this period that he redesigned the way in which he painted his face – adopting a white face design still used by many clowns today – and created the iconic clown which he named simply ‘Joey’.
In 1802, his only child was born – Joseph Samuel, known simply as ‘JS’ – and from the age of 18 months, he was introduced to the theatre, making his own acting debut at Sadler’s Wells in 1814.
In 1806, Joe played what is arguably his most famous roles – as both Bugle and the Clown in Thomas Dibdin’s Harlequin and Mother Goose, which opened at the Covent Garden Theatre on 29th December, 1806, and ran for the next two years.
Financial need saw him continue to take on roles in London and elsewhere but finally, in 1823, ill health – the consequence of his many years of physically abusing his body for his act – forced him into retirement. In 1828, two farewell benefit performances were held in which he had a limited role, his last was at Drury Lane on 27th June.
The last years of his life were marked with tragedy – relations which his son were strained (and they spent years estranged) before JS died on 11th December, 1832, at just the age of 30 while his wife died in 1834.
Grimaldi spent the last years of his life living alone in Southampton Street, Islington, before he was found dead in his bed by his housekeeper on 1st June, 1837. He was buried in St James’s churchyard, Pentonville, on 5th June, 1837 – the area is now Joseph Grimaldi Park and features, as well as his grave, a coffin-shaped memorial (pictured, top) that plays musical notes when danced upon (it’s apparently possible to play his signature song, Hot Codlins when “dancing upon his grave”).
Described as being the pre-eminent entertainer of his day, Grimaldi is credited with transforming the role of the Clown in pantomime and ushering in a whole new era in the art of clowning. His legacy – still remembered by clowns everywhere – received a boost when after his death, Charles Dickens edited his memoirs in 1838.
He is remembered in an annual service held on the first Sunday in February every year in Holy Trinity Church, Hackney (the Sunday just past), an event which is attended by clowns in full get-up.
For a detailed look at the life of Grimaldi, see Andrew McConnell Stott’s The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian.
This Week in London – Norway on show at Dulwich; Bruegel the Elder at the Courtauld; and, Kew Gardens celebrates the orchid…
February 4, 2016
• The first UK show dedicated to the works of Norwegian landscape painter and printmaker, Nikolai Astrup, opens at the Dulwich Picture Gallery tomorrow. Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) features more than 120 paintings, woodcuts and archive material – many of public display for the first time. Astrup is described as one of Norway’s finest 20th century artists and long with Munch, expanded the possibilities of woodcuts to capture the wild landscapes and traditional way of life in his western Norway home. Works on show include everything from the woodcut A Clear Night in June (1905-07), the many coloured masterpiece A Night in June in the Garden (1909), and the celebratory Midsummer Eve Bonfire (1915). Runs until 15th May. Admission charges apply. The gallery is also hosting a series of related events. For more, head to www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Marsh Marigold Night, c.1915 – The Savings Bank Foundation DNB/The Astrup Collection/KODE Art Museums of Bergen. Photo © Dag Fosse/KODE.
• Bruegel the Elder’s only three surviving grisaille paintings have been brought together in a new exhibition opening at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House today. The works, painted in shades of grey, include the Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery as well as The Death of the Virgin (brought from the National Trust-managed Upton House) and Three Soldiers (borrowed from the Frick Collection in New York. They’re among the less than 40 works attributed to the artist (c1525-1569) and while The Death of the Virgin was owned by his friend, map-maker Abraham Ortelius, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery was one of few paintings kept by the artist himself. The exhibition Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited also includes replicas made by Bruegel’s sons as well as other grisailles while other works by Bruegel from the Courtauld’s collection will be displayed in the Butler Drawings Gallery. Runs until 8th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.
• Head to Kew Gardens for a splash of colour as the annual Orchid Festival kicks off in the Princess of Wales Conservatory on Saturday. And, following the success of last year’s events, the conservatory will once again throw its doors open after dark on the 11th, 18th and 25th February and 3rd March for Orchid Lates at Kew Gardens (there’s also a special Valentine’s Late at Kew Gardens on 13th February). Admission charges apply. For more, head to www.kew.org.
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February 2, 2016
The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots, which apparently tells the story of a black cat that leads a double life, was found two years ago by Penguin Random House Children’s publisher Jo Hanks. Its publication forms part of the celebrations surrounding the 150th anniversary of Ms Potter’s birth.
The story, which Ms Hanks unearthed in three separate manuscripts in the archive, was sent to Ms Potter’s publisher in 1914 and Ms Hanks told the BBC that Ms Potter had “fully intended” to publish it but, thanks to interruptions including World War I, her marriage and illness, she never went back to it.
Ms Hanks told the BBC that “the tale really is the best of Beatrix Potter”.
“It has double identities, colourful villains and a number of favourite characters from other tales. And, most excitingly, our treasured, mischievous Peter Rabbit makes an appearance – albeit older, slower and portlier!”
Artist Quentin Blake has been asked to illustrate the new book.
The V&A holds the world’s largest collection of Beatrix Potter’s drawings, literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and related materials. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/beatrix-potter-collections/.
An official public record of the British Government, The London Gazette, initially known as The Oxford Gazette, was first published on 7th November, 1665.
But its publication didn’t take place in London – rather it was in Oxford (hence its being initially named – The Oxford Gazette) where King Charles II, having fled London due to the plague, ordered the publication to be printed at the University Press.
There’s several reasons behind its publication – one is that courtiers were apparently so worried about the plaque they didn’t even want to touch newspapers from London for fears of contagion of the plaque. But there was also a need, amid the swirl of rumours, gossip and sensationalism found in other publications, for a reputable publication of record (not the least because the introduction of censorship a few years before had suppressed other publications).
Published for the first couple of months under its Oxford masthead, it wasn’t until the following year – on 5th February, 1666 – that the gazette was first published in London (issue 24) after the royal court’s return.
The gazette had unparalleled access to government information – including reports from foreign embassies about what was happening abroad (important when news from overseas was limited), and official reports, including those ‘Mentioned in despatches’ from the War Office and Ministry of Defence.
Adopting the same model, official government gazettes followed in the coming years in Edinburgh (1699) and Dublin (1706 – later The Belfast Gazette). All three, from 1889, were published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Today, The Gazette is published by The Stationary Office (TSO), on behalf of The National Archives (and is now online as well as in print).
Initially published only a couple of days a week, it is now published every weekday except on Bank Holidays.
Notable events published in The London Gazette include the Great Fire of London in 1665 (issue 85), the founding of the Bank of England in 1694 (issue 2982), the burial of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727 (issue 6569), the announcement of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 (issue 11690), the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in a “Gazette Extraordinary” in 1815 (issue 17028), and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (Supplement 40020).
You can see The London Gazette today and back issues as well as to order commemorative editions, head to www.thegazette.co.uk.
January 29, 2016
Erected to the memory of Queen Alexandra, the consort of King Edward VII, the memorial – an ornate bronze screen – is located on the exterior of the garden wall of Marlborough House – the Queen’s former home – in Marlborough Road, opposite St James’ Palace.
It depicts a central figure, described as “Love Enthroned”, supporting a young girl (perhaps a symbol of the Queen’s support for the next generation), and attended by two crowned bowing figures which it’s believed represent faith and hope. An inscription – “Faith, hope, love – The guiding virtues of Queen Alexandra” – sits below.
The memorial was unveiled on 8th June, 1932, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in attendance. Queen Alexandra’s Memorial Ode, composed by Sir Edward Elgar, was first performed at the ceremony.
The memorial was the last public artwork to be completed by Gilbert, noted for having also created what is arguably London’s most famous statue – that of Eros in Piccadilly (see our earlier post here), who was knighted by King George V after the unveiling.
The Queen lived at the property during her widowhood until her death in 1925.
Apologies – we neglected to put in the link! Now corrected.
This Week In London – Artists and gardens at the RA; London tattoos; and, out of this world photos at the Natural History Museum…
January 28, 2016
• A major exhibition looking at the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries opens at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly on Saturday. Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse spans the period from the 1860s to the 1920s and includes more than 120 Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde works including 35 by Monet as well as “rarely seen” masterpieces by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky. Highlights include Monet’s Agapanthus Triptych (1916-1919) as well as his Water Lilies (1904) and Lady in the Garden (1867), Auguste Renoir’s Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil (1873) , Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II (1910) and Pierre Bonnard’s Resting in the Garden (1914). The exhibition, which has previously been at The Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, runs until 20th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Claude Monet, Lady in the Garden, 1867; © The State Hermitage Museum/Vladimir Terebenin.
• The world of professional tattooing is the subject of a new display at the Museum of London. Tattoo London, which opens at the City-based museum tomorrow, looks at the history of tattooing in the capital – which dates back to a time before Captain Cook – as well as life inside four contemporary tattoo studios. Also on display will be newly commissioned artworks by tattooists from the studios – Lal Hardy at New Wave, Alex Binnie at Into You, Claudia de Sabe at Seven Doors, and Mo Coppoletta at The Family Business. A series of events are being held in conjunction with the display which runs until 8th May. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• A new photographic exhibition exploring the solar system has opened at the Natural History Museum. Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System features 77 composite images pieced together from date collected on NASA and ESA missions by artist, curator and writer Michael Benson. Highlights include A Plutonian haze – a colourised image of Pluto created from data captured during New Horizon’s flyby of the dwarf planet in July last year, Enceladus vents waters into space – captured in 2009 by NASA’s Cassini mission it shows Saturn’s sixth largest moon Enceladus spraying water into space, and, A Warming Comet – a picture of the twin-lobed comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko venting gas and dust captured by ESA’s Rosetta probe in July last year. The exhibition can be seen until 15th May at the South Kensington museum. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/otherworlds.
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January 26, 2016
Brompton Cemetery in London’s west is to undergo a major renovation thanks to a £6.2 million project. Designed by Benjamin Baud and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1840, the 39 acre cemetery – one of the oldest Grade I listed cemeteries in the country and known as one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries – was strongly influenced by landscapes around St Peter’s in Rome. Among the 205,000 people buried there are suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Thomas Spencer Wells – Queen Victoria’s surgeon, and thousands of former Chelsea pensioners. The project will see the chapel, central colonnades and catacombs restored and the transformation of North Lodge into a visitor’s centre with shop and cafe as well as other conservation and improvement works. It is funded by an almost £4.5 million grant from the BIG Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as a £1.2 million investment from The Royal Parks, managers of the site, and £500,000 from The Royal Parks Foundation, only half of which has been raised. Those looking to donate to the foundation’s appeal, can visit www.SupportTheRoyalParks.com. PICTURE: © The Royal Parks
This Week in London – Literary ‘foundlings’; Anthony Van Dyck re-examined; Astronights; and, Liberty in Fashion…
January 21, 2016
• A new exhibition featuring drawings of fictional child protagonists who were orphaned, adopted, fostered or ‘found’ opens at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow. Drawing on Childhood shows how illustrators, spanning the period from the 18th century until today, was inspired by Lemn Sissay’s 2014 commission, Superman was a Foundling. It features original drawings, first editions and special illustrated editions depicting everyone from James Trotter (James and the Giant Peach) to Cinderella and Rapunzel. Among the artists whose work will be on display are Phiz (Hablot K Browne), Arthur Rackham, Quentin Blake, Stref, George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson, Nick Sherratt and David Hockney. Three contemporary artists – Chris Haughton, Pablo Bronstein and Posy Simmonds – have also been invited to produce a new illustration for Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Runs until 4th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• The works of Anthony van Dyck are the subject of a new display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I Am Van Dyck centres around a self-portrait of the artist recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and lent to Dulwich and juxtaposes the painting with two works by contemporary British artist Mark Wallinger – Self (Times New Roman) and I Am Innocent – in an effort to explore the meanings of individuality and our sense of self. The display – the first of four under the umbrella of Making Discoveries: Dutch and Flemish Masterpieces – also reveals new information on works by Van Dyck held by the gallery and shows how he developed and altered his compositions. Runs until 24th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
• The Science Museum is holding the first of its Astronights – “sleepovers for grown-ups” – this Saturday night. Guests will be treated to a midnight screening of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens before which they’ll enjoy a three course meal with live music and an evening of entertainment. The next Astronight will be held on 4th March. Charges apply. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/astronights.
• On Now: Liberty in Fashion. Commemorating the 140th anniversary of the company in 2015, this exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey Street explores the impact of Liberty & Co on British fashion and features more than 150 garments, textiles, and objects which demonstrate the company’s relationships with designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. The exhibition, which opened in October, runs until 28th February. Admission charge applies and there’s a series of events accompanying the exhibition (many of which have still to run). For more, see www.ftmlondon.org.
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January 20, 2016
It seems an age ago that we started this Wednesday series on some of London’s ‘battlefields’ (we’ve used quotes given many of the battlefields we’ve covered haven’t featured what we might think of as having hosted battles in the traditional sense).
But we’ve finally come to an end, so before we launch a new series next week, here’s a recap of what the series entailed and please vote for your favourite below…
January 19, 2016
Last weekend saw London transformed in a blaze of colour and light as the city hosted its first Lumiere light festival. More than a million people hit the streets over the four nights of the event – developed by creative producers Artichoke and supported by the Mayor of London – to take in the 30 artworks. Above are some of images of British screen stars and directors which were projected on 195 Piccadilly in an installation by Newcastle-based studio NOVAK. Below are some more images from the rather spectacular event. For more on the event, check out www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.
Above is Les Voyageurs (The Travellers) by French artist Cédric Le Borgne (located in St James) while below is Litre of Light by Mick Stephenson and Central Saint Martin’s students in Kings Cross.
Above is binaryWaves by LAB[au] while below is Ron Haselden’s Diver depicting an illuminated figure plunging into the water of the King’s Cross Pond Club.
January 18, 2016
Famous around the world as the home of bespoke tailoring in London, Savile Row owes its name – like so many other streets in Mayfair – to landowner Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington.
Burlington (1612-98) resided at Burlington House (now home of the Royal Academy of Arts) on Piccadilly and after his death the land around his former home was developed and the streets named for Burlington and members of his family.
Among them was his wife, Lady Burlington, née Lady Dorothy Savile, after whom Savile Row was named. Laid out in 1695, the street was actually located on the site of the former kitchen gardens of Burlington House and was given its name (originally Savile Street) in the 1730s.
The first to reside here were apparently mostly military and politicians (these included PM William Pitt the Younger) and it was only in the early 19th century that the first tailors started to set up shop here. With clients including society dandy Beau Brummell (see our our earlier post here) and the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the street’s fame grew rapidly and continued into the 20th century when customers included some of the biggest names in Hollywood – Cary Grant, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra among them.
Among the famous tailoring firms still operating in Savile Row are Anderson & Sheppard (at number 30, it’s where the Prince of Wales has his suits made), Henry Poole (at number 15, Victorian-era owner Henry Poole is credited as the inventor of the tuxedo), and Hardy Amies.
Headquartered at number 14 (with a shop at number 8), Amies gained an international reputation when appointed dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II in 1955/the address was previously owned by the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and was also the address Jules Vernes gave Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days).
One last tailor worth a particular mention is that of Tommy Nutter, who set up shop at number 35 in the late Sixties with a nameplate out front simply reading Nutters and shocked traditionalists with his modern take on tailoring – this modern approach continues among some tailors in the street even today.
The street also has a famous claim in the story of the Beatles – the moved their company Apple Corps Company into number 3 in July, 1968, and it was on the roof of this building that they played their last live gig on 3rd January, 1969.
January 15, 2016
Holywell Street, which ran parallel to the Strand in the West End, was – as we pointed out in a story earlier this week – named for a ‘holy well’ which is still located in the basement of Australia House.
Once a favoured location for secondhand clothes dealers (it was then known to many as ‘Rag Street’), the street became known as something of a hot-house for those selling books containing radical and dissenting opinions in the late 18th century and early 19th century and it was during this time that it also started to attract a less reputable trade – that of the pornography industry.
So much so that by the 1820s, the narrow street – also then known as Bookseller’s Row – had effectively become the centre of the pornographic industry in London (one estimate puts at 57 the number of purveyors of indecency in the street by 1834). William Dugdale, who died in ignominy in prison, was the most infamous purveyor of such goods to work in the street.
The combination of its proximity to the church of St Clement Danes – which sits at the eastern end of what was the street (St Mary le Strand stands at what was the western end) – and the indecent trade which went on in it led to it being nicknamed the “Backside of St Clements”.
The street and is disreputable trade were removed during the building of what is now Aldwych – a crescent at the southern end of Kingsway – in 1901.
PICTURE: Holywell Street shown in 1888 book, The District Railway Guie to London, with coloured maps, plans etc./via British Library Flickr
This Week in London – London illuminated; commemorating Shakespeare’s death; and, of bees and pollination…
January 14, 2016
• The biggest ever light festival to hit London opens tonight. Lumber London, produced by Artichoke with the support of the Mayor of London and visitlondon.com, will see a host of international artists transform a series of iconic buildings and locations in four areas across the city – Piccadilly, Regent Street and St James’s, Trafalgar Square and Westminster, Mayfair and King’s Cross. The 30 installations include French collective TILT’s Garden of Light featuring giant illuminated plants in Leicester Square, Patrice Warrener’s The Light of the Spirit which envelopes the west front of Westminster Abbey in colour and light, Deepa Mann-Kler’s Neon Dogs – a collection of 12 neon dogs inspired by the balloon dogs seen at children’s parties, this sits near Trafalgar Square, and, Pipette, a colourful installation by Miriam Gleeman (of The Cross Kings) and Tom Sloan (of Tom Sloan Design) which sits in the pedestrian subway, the King’s Cross Tunnel. Other highlights include Julian Opie’s work Shaida Walking, 2015 which will be permanently located in Broadwick Street, Soho, and Janet Echelon’s enormous net sculpture 1.8 London which is strung between buildings at Oxford Circus. The festival runs from 6.30pm to 10.30pm over the next four nights. You can download a free map on the installations or use the free London Official City Guide app to locate them. For more information – including the full programme – see www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.
• A property deed signed by playwright William Shakespeare and one of the most complete first folios of his works have gone on show in the London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Alongside the two documents which dates from 1613 and 1623, the Shakespeare and London exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – to be commemorated on 23rd April this year – will also display other documents related to the story of London’s playhouses. The property deed – which relates to a property in Blackfriars – is only one of six surviving documents to bear the playwrights authenticated signature while the first folio is one of five of the most complete copies in existence and is apparently usually only brought out for consultation by Shakespearean scholars and actors. The exhibition runs until 31st March. Admission is free. For more on it and other events being run to commemorate the Bard’s death, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/shakespeare400. For more on other events this year, check out www.shakespeare400.org.
• See your art featured in an upcoming exhibition on the importance of bees and pollination by attending a drop-in workshop at Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament next week. The workshop, which will be held from 10am to 2pm on 20th January, will see participants create their own 3D flowers based on famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Jan Van Huysum currently in The National Gallery’s collection – all as part of a focus looking at what plants bees are attracted to. The art created in the workshop will be seen in an exhibition A Right Royal Buzz which is the result of a collaboration between The Royal Parks, The National Gallery and Mall Galleries and will be seen across all three venues (Victoria Tower Gardens representing the Royal Parks) from 17th t0 20th February. For more, head to this link.
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January 13, 2016
The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).
Taking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.
The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.
One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.
The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.
The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.
It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.
Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.
Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.
As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.
There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.
January 12, 2016
News this week that scientists have confirmed an ancient sacred well beneath Australia House in the Strand (on the corner of Aldwych) contains water fit to drink. The well, believed to be one of 20 covered wells in London, is thought to be at least 900 years old and contains water which is said to come from the now-subterranean Fleet River. Australia’s ABC news was recently granted special access to the well hidden beneath a manhole cover in the building’s basement and obtained some water which was tested and found to be fit for drinking. It’s been suggested that the first known mention of the well – known simply as Holywell (it gave its name to a nearby street now lost) – may date back to the late 12th century when a monk, William FitzStephen, commented about the well’s “particular reputation” and the crowds that visited it (although is possible his comments apply to another London well). Australia House itself, home to the Australian High Commission, was officially opened in 1918 by King George V, five years after he laid the foundation stone. The Prime Minister of Australia, WM “Billy” Hughes, was among those present at the ceremony. The interior of the building has featured in the Harry Potter movies as Gringott’s Bank. PICTURE: © Martin Addison/Geograph.
January 8, 2016
Donated to the British Museum in October (the last acquisition made under former director Neil MacGregor), the Lampedusa Cross was constructed by carpenter Francesco Tuccio out of wreckage from a refugee boat which sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3rd October, 2013. At least 349 of the 500 refugees on board were drowned, some of whom were Eritrean Christians fleeing persecution, while 151 survived. Mr Tuccio, a resident of Lampedusa, decided to make a series of small crosses from the wreckage after meeting some of the refugees in the church of San Gerlando as a gift for them to both reflect their salvation and as a symbol of hope for the future. He was subsequently also asked to make a further cross which was carried by Pope Francis at the memorial service for the survivors. Asked by the British Museum if it could acquire a cross for its collection, Mr Tuccio made a cross specifically for the museum which he then donated to the institution, saying after he received a letter of thanks that “it is I who should thank you for drawing attention to the burden symbolised by this small piece of wood.” The cross went on display in Room 2 of the museum on 18th December (the last day of Mr MacGregor’s directorship). Entry is free. For more on the British Museum, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: © Trustees of the British Museum.