LondonLife – Lone tower…

PICTURE: Alex Motoc/Unsplash.

This Week in London – Borealis at Guildhall Yard; princess panto costumes; and ancient Greeks at the Science Museum…

Borealis. PICTURE: Doug Southall

A dazzling light show inspired by the Northern Lights – one of the seven natural wonders of the world – can be seen in the Guildhall Yard this December. Borealis – which can be seen between 11th and 22nd December – is the work of artist Dan Acher and is one of a number of light displays which is illuminating London this winter as part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘Winter Lights’ campaign. Others include an animal-themed display bringing to life the beasts that once lived at the Tower of London, an outdoor programme of installations and video art projections illuminating the Southbank Centre’s site, the ‘Illuminated River’ display lighting up nine of London’s bridges in what is be the longest public art project in the world, and a free Canary Wharf ‘Winter Lights Spectacular’ in January which will feature 20 new light commissions by some of the most innovative artists across the globe. In Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, thousands of illuminated white roses will form an ‘Ever After Garden’ designed by fashion designer Anya Hindmarch while traditional favourites like the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland as well as winter markets and ice rinks at locations like the Natural History Museum and Somerset House are also once again returning to the city. London’s red buses are an easy way to see the Christmas lights this year with routes 12, 94, 98, 139 and 390 all travelling through Oxford Circus. Free tickets to Borealis can be booked at www.visitlondon.com/Borealis while, for more on the best bus routes, see https://londonblog.tfl.gov.uk/festive-bus-routes/. For more information on all the light shows and events (some of which are already underway), see visitlondon.com    .

Costumes worn by then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret in wartime-era pantomimes are at the heart of a new display at Windsor Castle this Christmas. The princesses spent much of their time at Windsor during World War II – away from the Blitz in London – and, between 1941 and 1944, they performed in and helped to stage a series of pantomimes to raise money for the Royal Household Wool Fund which supplied knitting wool to make comforters for soldiers fighting at the front. Six of the costumes they wore have been brought together for the first time and are being displayed in the castle’s Waterloo Chamber where the pantos were originally performed. The costumes on show were worn in the last two pantos – Aladdin, which was performed in 1943, and Old Mother Red Riding Boots which was performed in 1944. Also on show are 16 large scale pictures of fairy-tale characters that were pasted around the walls to create the space for the performances. Visitors to Windsor this Christmas will also see State Apartments decorated for the festive season and a 20 foot high Christmas tree in St George’s Hall. The Semi-State Rooms, created for King George IV and now used for official entertaining, are also now open to visitors. The costumes can be seen until 31st January. Admission charges apply. For more on the Christmas activities at Windsor, including a ‘Mary, Queen of Scots at Christmas Family Activity Day’ on 18th December, see www.rct.uk/whatson/. Meanwhile, Buckingham Palace is offering guided tours of the State Rooms over winter with special family guided tours available for the first time. The tours run until 30th January. Admission charge applies. For more on the guided tours, head here and for more on the family tours, head here.

• The ancient Greeks’ pursuit of knowledge is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom takes visitors on a journey in which they will sail the perilous seas with a statue of Hermes that was discovered on a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera, experience the lost music of the aulos instrument through interactive displays and an exclusive video that reimagines its ancient sounds, and gaze at the starry cosmos through ancient Greek eyes via a beautiful and rare silver globe depicting the known constellations and a Byzantine sundial-calendar – the second oldest known geared mechanism in the world. The free display can be seen until 5th June. Tickets are required – to book head to sciencemuseum.org.uk/ancient-greeks.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 9. Site of 2i’s Coffee Bar, Soho… 

PICTURE: zoer (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Located at 59 Old Compton Street in Soho, the 2i’s Coffee Bar is crediting with playing a key role in the development of Britain’s modern music culture during the mid-20th century with stars including Tommy Steele – described as the first British rock ‘n roll star – and Sir Cliff Richard among those who performed there.

Opened in April, 1956, the coffee house (which was named for the two men Freddie and Sammy Irani who owned building), was run by Australian wrestlers Paul Lincoln and Ray Hunter.

Its basement had a small stage and was used as a live music venue, initially with skiffle groups such as the Vipers and then as a rock ‘n roll venue. Along with Steele and Sir Cliff, others who performed there included Johnny Kidd, Tony Sheridan, Hank Marvin, Rory Blackwell and Screaming Lord Sutch as well as American acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis.

Among those who patronised the venue, meanwhile, was everyone from Beatles producer Sir George Martin to actor Sir Michael Caine and painter Francis Bacon.

The 2i’s closed in 1970. A Westminster City Council Green Plaque was unveiled at the site in 2006, marking 50 years of British rock ‘n roll.

LondonLife – Parliamentary silhouette…

Looking across the River Thames alongside Westminster Bridge. PICTURE: Mark Haupt/Unsplash

Famous Londoners – Thomas Arne..

Eighteenth century English composer Thomas Arne, considered one of British greatest theatrical composers and most well known for creating the music for his patriotic song Rule Britannia, spent most of his life in London.

Thomas Augustine Arne after Robert Dunkarton line engraving, circa 1775-1800 (NPG D13867) PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery, London

The son of an upholster, Arne, whose middle name was Augustine, was born in Covent Garden in 1710 and baptised in St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Arne was educated at Eton College where, such was his passion for music, he is said to have secretly practised with a spinet, a smaller type of harpsichord, in his room at night, muffling the strings to keep from being discovered.

He became a violin student of composer Michael Festing and, such was his love of music, that he is said to have disguised himself in the livery of servant to attend the opera.

Following his father’s wishes, Arne worked briefly as a solicitor after leaving school but was subsequently permitted to leave the law and pursue a life in music (there were other family connections to music and performance – his father had actually been involved in financing some operas and both his sister Susannah Maria and brother Richard would go on to have careers in the theatre and music worlds).

Over the more than 40 years between 1733 and 1776, Arne wrote music for about 80 stage works which included everything from plays and masques to pantomimes and operas.

His big break came when he became house composer at Drury Lane Theatre, writing music for various plays and pantomimes and involving both his brother and his sister in the performances (his residences at this time are said to have included properties in Great Queen Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields).

Arne was already a star when, on 15th March, 1737, he married the singer Cecilia Young (he may have already had a son prior to this).

In 1738, he – along with others including George Frideric Handel – founded the Society of Musicians (which would become the Royal Society of Music). Arne also received the patronage of Frederick, the Prince of Wales – in fact, it was at the prince’s country house, Cliveden, that he debuted Rule, Britannia, during a performances of his Masque of Alfred in 1740.

Arne and his wife spent two years in Dublin in the early 1740s and on his return to London in 1744, he was again composing music for Drury Lane. He also composed music for performances at Vauxhall Gardens.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Arne left Drury Lane for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750 after he had begun to fall out of favour with theatre manager David Garrick who was increasingly turning to other composers.

In 1755, while again in Dublin, he separated from Cecilia, alleging she was mentally ill, and began a relationship with one of his students, Charlotte Brent. Brent would perform in several of his works including in Thomas and Sally (the first English opera to be completely sung) and Artaxerxes (which became one of the most successfully and influential English operas of the era). Brent would eventually go on to eventually marry a violinist in 1766.

His career took a downturn in the mid 1760s but in 1769, Garrick appointed Arne musical director for the Shakespeare festival at Stratford upon Avon. Arne composed several pieces for the event including An Ode upon Dedicating a Building to Shakespeare, the success of which put him back into favour with the London theatres.

In late 1777, Arne was reconciled with his wife (their son, Michael, went on to become a composer). But his health deteriorated soon after and Arne died on 5th March, 1778, at a house in Bow Street, Covent Garden. He was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque was erected at the site of his former home at 31 King Street, Covent Garden, in 1988 (pictured above).

Lost London – Arundel House…

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One of a string of massive residences built along the Strand during the Middle Ages, Arundel House was previously the London townhouse of the Bishops of Bath and Wells (it was then known as ‘Bath Inn’ and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was among those who resided here during this period).

Following the Dissolution, in 1539 King Henry VIII granted the property to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton (it was then known as Hampton Place). After reverting to the Crown on his death on 1542, it was subsequently given to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, a younger brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and known as ‘Seymour Place’. Then Princess Elizabeth (late Queen Elizabeth I) stayed at the property during this period (in fact, it’s said her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour took place here).

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Seymour significantly remodelled the property, before in 1549, he was executed for treason. The house was subsequently sold to Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, for slightly more than £40. He was succeeded by his grandson, Philip Howard, but he was tried for treason and died in the Tower of London in 1595. In 1603, the house was granted to Charles, Earl of Nottingham, but his possession was short-lived.

Just four years later it was repurchased by the Howard family – in particular Philip’s son, Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel – who had been restored to the earldom.

Howard, who was also the 4th Earl of Surrey, housed his famous collection of sculptures, known as the ‘Arundel Marbles’, here (much of his collection, described as England’s first great art collection, is now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum).

During this period, guests included Inigo Jones (who designed a number of updates to the property) and artist Wenceslas Hollar who resided in an apartment (in fact, it’s believed he drew his famous view of London, published in 1647, while on the roof).

Howard, known as the “Collector Earl”, died in Italy in 1646. Following his death, the property was used as a garrison and later, during the Commonwealth, used as a place to receive important guests

It was restored to Thomas’ grandson, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, following the Restoration. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, for several years the property was used as the location for Royal Society meetings.

The house was demolished in the 1678. It’s commemorated today by the streets named Surrey, Howard, Norfolk and Arundel (and a late 19th century property on the corner of Arundel Street and Temple Place now bears its name).

This Week in London – Faberge eggs; Royal jeweller Garrard; and, Christmas at Kew…

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, rubies, nephrite, rock crystal, glass, wood, velvet, bone, 1908 © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

• The largest collection of Faberge’s Imperial Easter eggs to be displayed together in a generation go on show at the V&A from Saturday. Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is the first major exhibition devoted to the international prominence of Russian goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, and his little-known London branch. Divided into three sections which cover everything from the techniques and detailing synonymous with the Faberge name to his time in London, the royal patronage he received, and the impact of the Great War and Russian Revolution on the business. The display features more than 200 objects with highlights including a prayer book gifted by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on his Coronation Day, the only known example of solid gold tea service crafted by Fabergé, a rare figurine of a veteran English soldier commissioned by King Edward VII, and a “kaleidoscopic display” of 15 of the Imperial Easter Eggs. The latter include several that have never before been shown in the UK including the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – which was inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, the Alexander Palace Egg – which features watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and contains a model of the palace inside (pictured), the recently rediscovered Third Imperial Egg of 1887 (found by a scrap dealer in 2011) and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Basket of Flowers Egg. Runs until 8th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the jeweller Garrard is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened in Kensington Palace’s ‘Jewel Room’. Going on display for the first time are examples of the firm’s ledgers which document royal commissions dating back to 1735 while other highlights include Queen Mary’s fringe tiara which was made in 1919 using diamonds taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding gift to Queen Mary and which was subsequently worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding day. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace.

Botanical illustrations from the archives at Kew Gardens are brought to life on a canvas consisting of a selection of spectacular trees from the arboretum as part of this year’s Christmas display. Christmas at Kew also includes Spheric – a 15-metre-wide dome of light covered in more than 2,000 individually controlled LED pixels which sits on a reflective water pool and allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in a unique mirrored illusion as they cross the lake, a new installation for Holly Walk which will illuminate the night sky for over 200 metres overhead as it replicates the enchanting visual phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, a vibrant rainbow tree illumination which brings to life the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ever-popular Fire Garden. The display can be seen until 9th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 8. The home where Mozart composed his first symphony…

180 Ebury Street, Belgravia. PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Think of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and chances are it isn’t London which immediately comes to mind. But it was in a home in Belgravia that the then-precocious eight-year-old composed his first symphony.

Mozart, his father Leopold, mother Anna Maria and his elder sister Maria Anna spent almost a year-and-a-half in London, between April, 1764, and July, 1765, as part of a European grand tour. Having initially taken lodgings above a barber’s shop in Cecil Court in Soho, they moved to the more rural setting of 180 Ebury Street, then known as Five Fields Row, in August so his father could recover from a serious illness which apparently developed after he caught a cold.

Philip Jackson’s statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Orange Square. PICTURE: Peter O’Connor (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mozart and his sister were both child prodigies and during their London sojourner performed in various London theatres and for King George III and Queen Charlotte at Buckingham Palace on several occasions. But, with his father now needing quiet, they were forbidden to play instruments in the house and so, according to his sister’s writings, in order to keep himself busy it was there that he composed his “first symphony for all the instruments of the orchestra, especially for trumpets and kettledrums”.

While the work she was referring to is now lost, Mozart did go on to compose the symphony that is now seen as his first at the same time. Known as K.16 in E flat major, it was first performed at the Haymarket Little Theatre in February, 1765.

Leopold did recover and so the family moved back to Soho – lodging at 20 Frith Street to be précise – in September, 1764. It was there that Mozart met the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian, who was to be a key influence on his musical style. They left the property – and brought their time in England to an end in July, 1765, amid waning public interest in their performances (they gone from performing for the Royal Family to entertaining pub patrons). The family continued with their European tour before eventually returning to their home town of Salzburg (Mozart later settled in Vienna where he died at the young age of 35).

Mozart’s time at the Ebury Street residence (and the composition he wrote there) is commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (albeit this one is brown) which was erected by the then London County Council in 1939. Following damage in the war, it was reinstated in 1951. There’s also a statue commemorating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in nearby Orange Square. Designed by Philip Jackson, it was erected in 1994.

LondonLife – Commemorating World War I at Hampton Court Palace…

Hampton Court Palace. PICTURE: David Adams

Standing with Giants, a thought-provoking art installation at Hampton Court Palace, commemorates the lives lost in World War I and II and, in particular, the Indian soldiers who resided on the palace’s estate prior to the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, and again for the World War I Victory Parade in London. The work of Oxfordshire artist Dan Barton and a dedicated group of volunteers, the work – located in the East Front gardens – features 100 almost life-sized silhouettes of soldiers and 75 screen-printed poppy wreaths along with an additional 25 specially commissioned silhouettes which represent the Indian soldiers. Almost 1,800 Indian Army officers, soldiers, and civilian workers sailed from India for the World War I Victory Parade and a camp was specially created to house them in the palace grounds in what was at the time one of the largest gatherings of people from India and South-East Asia ever assembled the UK. During their stay in London, the soldiers were treated to excursions in London and across the country which included trips to the Tower of London and a Chelsea football match. Alongside the display, a special trail map has been created to allow visitors to explore other aspects of the palace’s World War I history and former residents who took on roles ranging from frontline nurses to campaigners for improved care for injured veterans. One of the most poignant contributions the palace made to the war effort was the use of wood, supplied from an oak tree felled in Hampton Court’s Home Park, for the making of the coffin for the Unknown Soldier. Can be seen until 28th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

London Explained – Pearly Kings and Queens…

Pearly Kings and Queens at a Harvest celebration outside Guildhall in September, 2014. PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Often simply called ‘Pearlies’, Pearly Kings and Queens are easily identified through their tradition of wearing clothes decorated with mother-of-pearl buttons.

The habit of wearing clothes decorated with mother-of-pearl buttons was adopted by London’s costermongers (street vendors) in the 19th century. The costermongers had a tradition of helping each other out during tough times and costermongers later elected “Coster Kings” to organise and represent them.

It was this tradition that street sweeper Henry Croft, who was raised in a workhouse orphanage in Somers Town, north-west of the City of London, is said to have drawn on when he created a suit completely covered in mother-of-pearl buttons in a bid to help his efforts to raise funds for the orphanage he grew up in (although some say he was inspired by the costumes of music hall ‘coster-singers’ who entertained crowds in music halls with cockney songs).

Such was Croft’s success at raising funds that hospitals and other charities subsequently asked him to fundraise on their behalf as well. The work soon grew beyond what Croft, who is often referred to as the first ‘Pearly King’, could personally handle and so many costermongers and others joined in his efforts giving birth to the broader movement.

By the early 20th century there were 28 ‘Pearly families’ in London, one for each borough. Pearly titles are pass down through families, a tradition which continues to this day (although there have been cases of Pearly families leaving their title behind as they left London which case it it awarded to someone new). There are a number of “pearly” organisations in London these days which engage in a range of charitable activities.

It’s also worth noting that the symbols, patterns and images on the pearly costumes have various meanings – a heart, for example, means charity. One of the key events the Pearlies take part in each year are Harvest festivals.

This Week in London – The Lord Mayor’s Show returns; Peru at the British Museum for the first time; and, Heritage at Risk in London…

The Lord Mayor’s Show returns to London this weekend after being cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 6,500 people, 120 horses and more than 50 decorated floats are expected to take part in the event – which dates back to the 13th century – on Saturday. It comes a day after Alderman Vincent Keaveny, who has been elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London, officially takes office tomorrow. Highlights in this year’s three mile-long procession include colourful full-size model elephants, Japanese taiko drummers, and a horse-drawn bus as well as a fire engine with a 210-foot extendable turntable ladder – the tallest in Europe. The procession, which will be watched by millions live on the BBC and through online streaming, will leave The Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence, at 11am. In honour of this year’s show, three of London’s Thames bridges – London, Cannon St and Southwark – are being lit specially for the occasion. For more, including details on where to watch the show, see www.lordmayorsshow.london.

Gold alloy and shell ear plates with feline features, Peru, 800–550 BC. Museo Kuntur Wasi.

More than 40 ancient objects from Peru are the centrepiece of a new exhibition which opened at the British Museum this week. Peru: a journey in time is the first major exhibition the museum has ever staged focused on Peru and coincides with the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence. The exhibition charts the rise and fall of six societies, from the early culture of Chavin in 1200 BC to the fall of the Incas in AD 1532. Highlights include a 2,500-year-old gold headdress and pair of ear plates which were part of an elite burial found at the site of Kuntur Wasi, Cajamarca, a ceremonial drum from around 100 BC-AD 650 featuring a depiction of the capture of defeated enemies in ritual combat, and, the oldest object on loan – a ceremonial vessel from the Cupisnique culture in the shape of a contorted human body, which dates from up to 1200 BC. The display can be seen until 20th February, 2022, in the Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• Streatham Hill Theatre in London’s south is among buildings added to Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register for this year. Opened in 1929, the Grade II-listed building was designed by William George Robert Sprague and is described as an “unusually lavish example of a theatre built outside of the West End”. Other London buildings on the list include everything from a Toll Gate House in Spaniards Road, Highgate, to Alexandra Palace in Wood Green, and churches such as St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London. Meanwhile, among the sites removed from the list this year after being “saved” are the Battersea Power Station, first added to the list in 1991 and in recent years the subject of a major redevelopment, and former public conveniences at Guilford Place, Lamb’s Conduit Street, in Bloomsbury, which have been “sensitively transformed into a cosy wine and charcuterie bar”. For more, see https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/heritage-at-risk-2021/.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 7. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… 

PICTURE: Google Maps

Tenor saxophonists Ronnie Scott and Pete King opened their jazz club in Soho in 1959.

Located in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street in Chinatown, the club was initially created as a place where local jazz musicians could jam but was soon attracting a who’s who of jazz to the stage.

The 1965, the club moved to 47 Frith Street where remains today (it took over the building next door in 1968).

Over the years, the club has played host to jazz greats including Zoot Sims, Sarah Vaughn and Count Basie to Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Wynton Marsalis as well as musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits, The Who and Mark Knopfler with the Notting Hillbillies.

Patrons, meanwhile, have included everyone from Harold Pinter and the Beatles to Peter O’Toole and Spike Milligan.

Scott died on 23rd December, 1996, and King continued to run the club for another nine years before selling it to theatre impresario Sally Greene.

The club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 and was honoured that year with an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating the original site.

LondonLife – Up close with a Komodo dragon…

Dougie Poynter meets ZSL London Zoo’s dragon Ganas during The Komodo Dragon Experience. PICTURE: © ZSL

ZSL London Zoo launched its ‘Komodo Dragon Experience’ this month with McFly bassist, Dougie Poynter, getting hands-on in caring for the 13-year-old dragon Ganas. Poynter joined zookeeper Joe Capon behind the scenes at the Attenborough Komodo Dragon House and watched Capon demonstrate the 54 kilogram creature’s training routine. He then helped prepare its food before hiding the meat in holes and inside logs to allow Ganas, one of just 1,400 Komodo dragons left in the world, to use its remarkable sense of smell in obtaining its next meal. The Komodo Dragon Experience is only available twice a month. Admission charge applies. For books, head to zsl.org/the-komodo-dragon-experience.

Where’s London’s oldest seafood restaurant?…Sweetings…

Sweetings Restaurant (ground floor) in the Albert Buildings, Queen Victoria Street. PICTURE: Phil Beard (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

London’s oldest seafood restaurant is generally said to be Sweetings, the origins of which go back to the opening of John S Sweetings, Fish and Oyster Merchant, in Lad Lane, Islington, in 1830.

Additional premises at 159 Cheapside and 17 Milk Street soon followed, promoted as “Very Superior Oyster Rooms”. In 1889, Sweetings Restaurant opened at its present site at 39 Queen Victoria Street, inside the Grade II-listed Albert Buildings which was constructed in 1871 and the shape of which (if not the scale) has been compared to New York City’s Flatiron Building.

The food aside, Sweetings is famous for its signature ‘Black Velvet’, a mix of champagne and Guinness which was created in 1861 in response to the death of Prince Albert.

Famous patrons have reportedly included the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as well as the late George Francis, reportedly an associate of the Kray twins, who is said to have offered £1 million to buy the restaurant (an offer which was refused).

For more, see www.sweetingsrestaurant.co.uk.

Treasures of London – Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I…

Held in the National Archives at Kew, this great seal was used during the second half of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign – from 1586 to 1603.

The seal, which replaced an earlier one used by Queen Elizabeth I, was used by the Chancery to prove the document it was attached to was issued in the Queen’s name. The seal also acted as a security device, ensuring the document couldn’t be read before reaching the intended recipient. Made of wax, it was created using a metal pattern or matrix.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I. PICTURE: Courtesy of The National Archives, Kew.

The metal pattern for this seal was created by court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

The obverse or front side of the seal, which is made of resin and beeswax which turns brown with age, shows Queen Elizabeth I on her throne, her hands holding a sceptre and an orb – royal insignia – and accompanied by the Royal Coat of Arms. The reverse (pictured) shows Queen Elizabeth I mounted on a horse and surrounded by symbols including the Tudor Rose, a harp representing Ireland and fleur de lys representing France. The inscription around the seal reads: Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’).

The seal was traditionally carried before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal in a purse or burse. One used to carry Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix is in the collection of the British Museum.

The matrix used to create the second seal was surrendered to King James I on his accession to the throne on 3rd May, 1603. James then used it for the next 11 weeks until his own was ready (at which time Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix was defaced).

This Week in London – William Hogarth and the Europeans; Christmas in the post; and, Paul McCartney’s lyrics…

William Hogarth, ‘Marriage A-la-Mode: 2, The Tête à Tête’ (1743) 45 © The National Gallery, London.

• See the works of 18th century English artist William Hogarth alongside those of his European contemporaries in a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain this week. Hogarth and Europe features more than 60 of Hogarth’s works and has some of his best-known paintings and prints – such as Marriage A-la-Mode (1743), The Gate of Calais (1748), Gin Lane (1751) and his celebrated series, A Rake’s Progress (1734) – shown alongside works by famed European artists including Jean-Siméon Chardin, Pietro Longhi, and Cornelis Troost. The display also includes Hogarth’s work, Miss Mary Edwards (1742) – it depicts the eccentric, wealthy patron who commissioned many of Hogarth’s best-known works and has not been seen in the UK for more than century. Admission charge applies. See www.tate.org.uk.

The first commercial Christmas card, created after civil servant Henry Cole commissioned artist​ John​ Callcott​ Horsley to design one for him in 1843, can once again been seen at The Postal Museum’s permanent display. That’s just one of the drawcards (pardon the pun), at the Postal Museum in the lead-up to Christmas with others including a new display, Letters to Santa, featuring Royal Mail cards sent by Father Christmas to children between 1963 and 2010 (from a recently donated collection), and the chance to ride on the Mail Rail which has undergone a Christmas makeover. The museum is also holding a series of ‘Festive Family Fun Days’ on selected dates in December. Admission charges apply. For more, head to www.postalmuseum.org.

Handwritten lyrics and photographs spanning the career of Paul McCartney feature in a new free Entrance Hall display at the British Library from tomorrow. Paul McCartney: The Lyrics features previously unseen materials from his personal archives as it reveals the process and people behind some of the most famous songs of all time, from some of his earliest compositions to his time with The Beatles, Wings and through to today. The display accompanies his new book, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. Can be seen until 13th March next year. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/paul-mccartney-the-lyrics.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 6. Royal Albert Hall… 

PICTURE: Raphael Tomi-Tricot/Unsplash

Arguably the grandest music venue in London, the Royal Albert Hall, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has been hosting musical events since it first hosted a concert in 1871.

The Grade I-listed hall, which has a seating capacity of more than 5,000 and which did suffer from acoustic problems for many years (until mushroom-shaped fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the ceiling following tests in the late 1960s), has been the setting for some of the most important – and, in some cases, poignant – music events of the past 150 years, not just in London but the world at large.

Among some of the most memorable are the Titanic Band Memorial Concert – held on 24th May, 1912, just six weeks after the sinking of the iconic ship to remember the 1514 people who died with a particular focus on the eight musicians who played on as the stricken vessal sank, the ‘Great Pop Prom’ of 15th September, 1963 – only one of a handful of occasions when The Beatles and Rolling Stones played on the same stage, and Pink Floyd’s gig of 26th June, 1969 – coming at the end of a UK tour, the on-stage antics saw the band banned (it was short-lived, however, they returned just a few years later in 1973).

Other musical figures to have taken to the stage here include everyone from composers Richard Wagner, John Philip Sousa, and Benjamin Britten to the Von Trapp family, jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bob Dylan and Elton John – a veritable musical who’s who of the past 150 years. The venue also hosted the 13th Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.

Of course, Royal Albert Hall is famous for The Proms, an annual festival of classical music which was first performed here in 1941 after the venue where it had been held since 1895 – the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place – was lost to an incendiary bomb during World War II.

Prom stands for ‘Promenade Concert’,  a phrase which originally referred to the outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens during which the audience was free to walk around while the orchestra was playing (there are still standing areas during performances). The most famous night of the season is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which, broadcast by the BBC, features popular classics and ends with a series of patriotic tunes to stir the blood.

LondonLife – Foggy morning on the Lea, East London…

PICTURE: Dan Poulton/Unsplash

A Moment in London’s History – Crystal Palace burns…

The Crystal Palace fire in 1936. PICTURE: Unknown author (via Wikipedia)

This month marks 85 years since the Crystal Palace in London’s south was destroyed in a fire.

The Joseph Paxton-designed building had originally been located in what is now Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and, following the end of the exhibition, had been dismantled and relocated to Sydenham.

When the fire in broke out on the night of 30th November, 1936, two night watchmen tried to put it out. Sir Henry Buckland, the building’s general manager, was out walking his dog with his daughter Crystal (named, apparently after the building) when he spotted the flames and called the fire brigade.

They arrived at about 8pm but the fire, fanned by a wind, was soon out of control and so further aid as summoned with hundreds of firefighters and some 88 engines attending the scene. It has been said the blaze could be seen across eight counties.

A crowd of spectators – said to number as high as 100,000 – arrived to watch what was apparently a rather spectacular sight (special trains were apparently put on to transport people from towns in Kent and private airplanes were spotted overhead). Police, some on horseback, did their best to keep the crowds away but had limited success given the numbers who turned out (Winston Churchill, among those watching the building burn, is said to have remarked: “This is the end of an age” while Sir Henry told reporters later that the palace would “live in the memories not only of Englishmen, but the whole world”).

By morning, the building was reduced to bits of twisted metal and ash but thankfully no lives were lost in the conflagration. The cause, however, remained a mystery – there was speculation it had been started by a stray cigarette butt or had been deliberately lit by a disgruntled worker. Television pioneer John Logie Baird, who had a workshop in the building, believed it could have been started by a leaking gas cylinder in his workshop.

Two water towers, located at either end of the building, survived the blaze but were later demolished. Among the few remains of the building which did survive the blaze is the subway located under Crystal Palace Parade. The park which surrounded the building remains home to the famous ‘Crystal Palace dinosaurs’.

Lost London – Prison hulks on the Thames…

Floating prisons known as ‘hulks’ were a regular site on the Thames in London between the late 18th century and mid-19th century, used to house convicts awaiting transportation to British penal colonies including in what is now Australia.

The ‘hulks’ were actually decommissioned warships, dismasted and repurposed for the purpose of housing prisoners.

The Warrior’ converted into a prison hulk off Woolwich. PICTURE: Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 21st February, 1846.

The decision to use the former warships – some of which had a storied history – for such a purpose was initially seen as a temporary measure to ease overcrowding in the jails with an Act of Parliament in 1776 only authorising their use for two years.

But, despite rising concerns over conditions on the hulks, they remained in use until 1857 when the act finally expired for good. Some 8,000 convicts were housed upon them in the first 20 years alone.

The hulks were initially moored off Woolwich – the former East Indiaman Justitia and a former French Navy frigate Censor were among the first – and the convicts aboard them put to use working to improve the river and at Woolwich Arsenal and nearby docks. The hulks were also later positioned at sites including Limehouse and Deptford (and the idea of using hulks was also exported to colonies in Australia and the Caribbean).

The hulks were initially operated by private individuals under a government contract but from 1802 they were placed under the supervision of the Inspector of Hulks. Aaron Graham was first to hold the post while his successor John Capper, who was appointed Superintendent of Prisons and the Hulk Establishment in 1814, oversaw numerous reforms of the system. During Capper’s tenure, the use of private contractors was later phased out with the government assuming direct responsibility for the hulks.

Some hulks – like positioned at Limehouse – were used as “receiving hulks” where prisoners were initially sent for several days where they were inspected and issued clothing, blankets, and a mess kit. They were then sent to “convict hulks” where they were assigned to a mess and a work gang for the long-term. Other hulks were to serve specific purposes such as being a “hospital hulk” (there was also a hulk off Kent, the Bellerophon, which was specifically designated for boys).

Conditions on board the vessels were indeed appalling and disease spread quickly with mortality rates of 30 per cent not uncommon. Prisoners were kept chained when aboard and floggings handed out as punishment for any offences. Food and clothing were of poor quality.

Despite this, the hulks continued to be seen as a convenient means of housing convicts and, in 1841, there were still more than 3,500 convicts on board hulks in England. It was said that one ship – a second vessel named Justitia – housed as many as 700 convicts alone.

Following several government inquiries into the hulks and the construction of more prisons on land, the hulks were gradually decommissioned. But altogether, between  1776 and 1884, the British Government had converted more than 150 ships into hulks in both the UK and the colonies.