A cache of papers and items found in Vincent Van Gogh’s former south London home – and dating from 1873-74, the period he lodged there – have shed new light on his time in the city.
The papers, which include insurance documents, a small pamphlet of prayers and hymns, and scraps of paper painted with watercolour flowers (probably not the work of Van Gogh), were found under the floorboards and between the attic timbers of the house at 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell. They were discovered during a renovation of the early Victorian terraced house in which Van Gogh lived in while working as an assistant for an art dealer in Covent Garden. During the period he stayed at the house, it has been suggested that the Dutch artist fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord (although his love was apparently not reciprocated). He also apparently became devoutly Christian during his time there (perhaps explaining the prayer pamphlet). The home’s current owners Jian Wang, a former professional violinist who originally hails from China, and his wife Alice Childs have reportedly been renovating the property in order to use it as a base for visiting Chinese artists in collaboration with the nearby San Mei Gallery. For more on the house, see www.vangoghhouse.co.uk. A near life-size photograph of the facade of the Hackford Road house forms part of Tate Britain’s upcoming display The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain which opens later this month (more on that shortly). PICTURE: An English Heritage Blue Plaque adorning the house (Spudgun67 – licensed under CC BY 2.0).

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This mid-Victorian pub takes its name, like the nearby thoroughfare Alma Road, from the Battle of Alma, fought during the Crimean War.

Fought between allied – British, French and Turkish – forces and the Russians on 20th September, 1854, the battle was a victory, albeit a costly one, for the allies and took its name from the River Alma which lay near where it was fought.

The pub, at 499 Old York Road directly opposite the Wandsworth Town train station, opened in 1866, just 12 years later.

It still has numerous original features including its distinct green tiled exterior, three mosaic roundels bearing the pub’s name on the wall in the main bar, and a decorative frieze in the main dining room which was only rediscovered during a 1987 renovation.

The pub, one of a number which bear the name ‘Alma’ in London, is now part of the Young’s group and also serves as a bespoke 23 bedroom hotel.

For more, see www.almawandsworth.com.

PICTURE: The Alma in 2009 (Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))

 

The first major UK exhibition of the work of “Spain’s Impressionist”, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), opens at the National Gallery on Monday. Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light – the first UK retrospective of the artist’s work since 1908 when he mounted an exhibition in London’s Grafton Galleries, spans seven rooms in the Sainsbury Wing and features more than 60 works including portraits and scenes of Spanish life as well as the landscapes, garden views and beach scenes for which he is most renowned. Highlights include his first great success, Another Marguerite! (1892 – pictured), The Return from Fishing (1894), Sewing the Sail (1896), Sad Inheritance! (1899), a portrait of the American painter Ralph Clarkson (1911) and Female Nude (1902) – both of which were responses to the work of Velázquez, large scale preparatory studies from 1912 for Vision of Spain, and sizeable canvases painted out of doors such as Strolling along the Seashore (1909) and The Siesta (1911). The exhibition, which runs until 7th July, is organised in partnership with the National Gallery of Ireland and the Museo Sorolla, Madrid. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, ¡Otra Margarita! (Another Marguerite!), 1892. Oil on canvas, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St Louis. Gift of Charles Nagel, Sr, 1894.

On Now – The Poster Prize for Illustration 2019 – London Stories. One hundred illustrations depicting an aspect of London – in a current or historical, real or fictional state – and capturing a familiar or lesser-known narrative in a single image are on show at the London Transport Museum. The images were selected by a panel of judges and visitors have the chance to vote for their favourite poster with the winning illustration to be announced in June (it will then become a permanent part of the museum’s collection). Runs until 14th July. There’s a series of talks accompanying the display including ‘Bus Fare: Stories of the London Bus’ open 21st March. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions.

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Designed by the architect Charles Fitzroy Doll in distinctive French Renaissance-style for the Frederick Hotels Company, the Hotel Russell opened on the east side of Russell Square in 1898.

The now Grade II*-listed building, which is said to have been based on the 16th century Château de Madrid in Paris, is clad in decorative Doulton’s thé-au-lait (“tea with milk”) terracotta.

Its facade incorporates the coats-of-arms of the world’s nations as they were in 1898 and above the entrance are life-sized statues of four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne and Victoria – which were designed by sculptor Henry Charles Fehr (pictured). The Guilford Street frontage features busts of four Prime Ministers: Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli.

The hotel’s interior features ornate fixtures and fitting including a Pyrenean marble staircase which runs off the opulent marble foyer and an interior courtyard housing a Palm Court. Each bedroom was fitted with an en-suite bathroom.

Its restaurant, now named the Neptune but originally named after Doll, was designed almost identically to the RMS Titanic‘s dining room (Doll designed both). That’s not the only Titanic connection – the hotel also features a bronze statue of a dragon on the stairs named ‘Lucky George’ and the Titanic carried an identical statue.

The hotel survived World War II largely intact – with the exception of a roof-top dome which was damaged in an air raid in 1941 and not replaced.

Fast forward to April, 2018, and the hotel reopened as the The Principal Hotel (on the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic) following an extensive £85 million, two year renovation by designer Tara Bernerd.

But the Principal Hotel Company sold its portfolio of hotels to Covivio a few months later and they, in turn, leased the management of the hotels to the InterContinental Hotels Group. The Principal was renamed the Kimpton Fitzroy London in October that year.

Alongside 330 or so rooms, amenities at the five star hotel include the glass-roofed Palm Court, cocktail bar Fitz’s (named for Charles Fitzroy Doll), and the coffee shop Burr & Co. There’s also a grand ballroom, meeting rooms and a fitness centre.

Interestingly, Doll designed another hotel, the Imperial, also on Russell Square, which opened in 1911. It was demolished in 1966.

For more, see www.kimptonfitzroylondon.co.uk/us/en/.

PICTURES: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY 3.0); Right and below – Jack1956.

This is the final in our series on historic London hotels. We’ll be launching a new special series next Wednesday.

Queen Elizabeth II posted her first Instagram photo while visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington last Thursday in a promotion for its exhibition on computers. Under the account @theroyalfamily, the Queen posted two images of a letter at the museum which comes from the Royal Archives. It was written to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Charles Babbage and in it, the 19th century inventor and mathematician spoke of his invention of an “Analytical Machine” upon which the first computer programs were written by Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Having explained the origins of the letter, the Queen added: “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.” The Royal Family’s Instagram account has some 4.9 million followers. For more on the Science Museum, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert.  Charles Babbage, credited as the world’s first computer pioneer, designed the “Difference Engine”, of which Prince Albert had the opportunity to see a prototype in July 1843.  In the letter, Babbage told Queen Victoria and Prince Albert about his invention the “Analytical Engine” upon which the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.  Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R. PHOTOS: Supplied by the Royal Archives © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

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His name was once given to a prominent London fortification, Baynard’s Castle, and now lives on in a City of London ward – Castle Baynard. But who was Ralph Baynard?

A Norman nobleman, Baynard was among those who accompanied William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066.

He was rewarded with a barony centred on Little Dunmow in Essex; the parish church was founded by his wife, Lady Juga, in 1104, and their son Geoffrey founded an Augustinian priory dedicated to St Mary there in 1106.

Ralph Baynard was also granted permission to build Baynard’s Castle in the City of London – it sat where the Fleet River entered the Thames. He is said to have died in the reign of William Rufus, aka William II, who ruled from 1087 to 1100.

Baynard’s Castle in London was eventually razed by King John in 1213.

Baynard’s name, meanwhile, may also live on in the district of Bayswater.

The wedding dress and tiara worn by Princess Eugenie at her wedding in October last year has gone on display in a new exhibition at Windsor Castle, just to the west of London. A Royal Wedding: HRH Princess Eugenie and Mr Jack Brooksbank also features groom Jack Brooksbank’s morning suit and the maid-of-honour outfit worn by Princess Beatrice of York. But the star is the wedding dress, designed by Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, which features fabric interwoven with symbols including the White Rose of York. The exhibition also includes the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara, lent by Queen Elizabeth II and on public display for the first time, Princess Eugenie’s diamond and emerald drop earrings – a wedding gift from the groom, a replica of the bridal bouquet, and the Zac Posen-designed evening gown worn by the princess for the reception. The display can be seen as part of visits to Windsor Castle until 22nd April. Admission charge applies. For more see www.rct.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust / © All Rights Reserved.

The work of pioneering artist Dorothea Manning is the subject of a new exhibition at the Tate Modern on South Bank. Opened last week, Dorothea Tanning is organised in collaboration with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and is the first large scale exhibition of her work for 25 years. It brings together some 100 works, a third of which are being shown in the UK for the first time, including ballet designs, stuffed textile sculptures, installations and large scale pieces. Highlights include the self-portrait Birthday (1942), Children’s Games (1942), Insomnias (1953), Etreinte (1969),Tango Lives (1970) and the room-sized installation Chambre 202, Hôtel du Pavot (1970-73). Runs until 9th June. Admission charge applies. For more see www.tate.org.uk.

A new exhibition on the impact photographic reproduction had on illustrative art at the end of the 19th century has opened at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner. The Beardsley Generation looks at how a new generation of artists versed in process engraving replaced the craft wood engravers of the past and how the new technology led to an expansion in the production of illustrated books and periodicals. The work of Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts, Laurence Housman and the Robinson brothers will be on display in the form of original drawings, books and periodicals drawn from public and private collections. Runs until 19th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

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The Connaught Hotel, another five star Mayfair establishment, was built in 1892 on the site of smaller hotel which had opened in what is now Carlos Place in the early 19th century.

Known as The Prince of Saxe-Coburg Hotel (or The Coburg for short), the first hotel on the site opened in 1815 as an offshoot of Alexander Grillon’s hotel in Albemarle Street. The Coburg was created out of two houses owned by the Duke of Westminster.

In 1892, the owners of The Coburg – Lewis Isaacs and H L Florence – embarked upon a complete rebuild of the hotel and in 1897 it reopened with a 90-year lease on the building signed by Sir John Blundell Maple, of a famous furniture making family.

The new premises was renamed The Connaught during World War I amid anti-German sentiment. The new moniker was a reference to the seventh child of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.

Frequented by the gentry between the wars thanks to its handy position between Buckingham Palace and Harley Street, during World War II the hotel served as home to French President General Charles de Gaulle.

In the post war years, the hotel soon established a reputation for fine food and drink thanks in part to the opening, in 1955, of The Grill Room. This was only enhanced with the arrival of Michel Bourdin as head chef in 1975 – a position he held for 26 years.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, opened the hotel’s new kitchens in 1992 and 10 years later Angela Harnett’s Menu at The Connaught opened, winning a Michelin star in 2004 (it closed in 2007).

In the mid 2000s, the Grade II-listed hotel underwent a major £70 million restoration and refurbishment with new additions including a new wing, the Aman Spa and a Japanese garden. In 2008, French chef Hélène Darroz opened a restaurant at the hotel and the following year, in 2009, a new art deco ballroom designed by Guy Oliver – Mayfair’s first in more than 80 years – opened its doors.

Most recently, in 2017, New York-based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened a new restaurant at the Connaught. Other newer additions include Tadao Ando’s Silence, a water feature installed outside the main entrance in 2011.

With around 120 rooms and suites (not to mention the world-famous Connaught Bar), the hotel, which had been acquired by the Savoy Group in the 1950s, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group along with Claridge’s.

Famous names which have been recently associated with the hotel include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, of course, Ralph Lauren, who was so enamoured of the hotel’s famous staircase that he had a replica made for his Madison Avenue store in New York.

For more, see www.the-connaught.co.uk.

PICTURE: Via Google Street View.

 

Making headlines last month was the discovery – by mudlark Martin Bushell – of a skull fragment found on the south bank of the Thames.  While it was initially reported to the Metropolitan Police, radiocarbon dating soon discovered that the frontal bone (or piece from the top of the skull) was actually likely to be that of a man over the age of 18-years-old who lived in about 3,600 BC in the Neolithic Period. The Museum of London, who now have the fragment on display, state that traces of human activity dating from between 4,000-3,500 BC – mainly in the form of flint tools or weapons and pottery fragments – have been found along the River Thames floodplain. They say that those residing on what would be the site of London lived as semi-nomadic herders who supplemented their food sources by hunting and gathering and some agriculture. With some evidence that Neolithic people viewed the Thames as a sacred river, the remains could belong to that of a man dropped into the river as an offering – but the body may also have been swept down the river when his grave was swamped. The skull fragment is on display in the museum’s ‘London Before London’ gallery. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

WHERE: The Museum of London, 150 London Wall (nearest Tube stations are Barbican and St Paul’s); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Located at the western end of West India Quay in Docklands, the Hibbert Gate is a smaller scale replica of an original gate that stood at the main entrance to the quay for more than 130 years.

The gate was originally installed in 1803 and was topped with a model representing an East Indiaman, the Hibbert, which was named for George Hibbert, one of the principals of the West India Dock Company (and who apparently had a financial interest in the slave trade). The ship ran between London and the West Indies before later being used to transport convicts to Australia.

The gate, which became the emblem for West India Docks and was even incorporated into the Poplar Borough Council’s coat-of-arms, was removed in 1932 due to traffic measures. The model was initially preserved and moved to the Poplar Recreation Ground but vandalism and bomb damage saw it eventually fall apart.

The replica gate, commissioned by the Canary Wharf Group and topped with a replica model by artist Leo Stevenson, was installed in the year 2000, marking 200 years since the construction of the quay.

It was unveiled on 12th July by then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Part of the signage accompanying the gate reads that it was meant to be “memorial to the man – the replica in no way represents support for slavery”.

PICTURE: Prioryman (Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0/image cropped)

One of the first ever exhibitions devoted to the work of French Revolution-era artist Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) opens at The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square today. Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life features at its heart 18 paintings from private British collection the Ramsay Manor Foundation which have never been displayed or published before. They include early works like Two Young Women Kissing (1790-94), urban vistas like The Poor Cat (1832), The Barrel Game (c1828), and A Carnival Scene (1832), and portraiture like Portrait of the Comtesse François de Sainte-Aldegonde (c1800-05), and Portrait of a Lawyer (early 19th century). Also on display is The Meeting of Artists in Isabey’s Studio (1798, now held in the Musée du Louvre), the painting which, depicting the greatest artists of his generation, rocketed him to fame, and the National Gallery’s own Girl at a Window (Boilly was apparently the first to use the phrase “trompe l’oeil” to describe illusionistic paintings that “deceived the eye” by creating the illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions and this work gives the illusion that, though it’s oil on canvas, its a print in a mount). Though born in Lille, Boilly spent six decades in Paris from 1785 onwards and was an eyewitness to events including the French Revolution of 1789, the Terror, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the restoration of the French monarchy. The free display can be seen in Room 1 until 19th May and admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Louis-Léopold Boilly, ‘The Barrel Game’ (about 1828/oil on canvas/37.8 × 46.8 cm – The Ramsbury Manor Foundation) Photo © courtesy the Trustees.

The ‘Renaissance Nude’ and how it inspired some of the world’s most renowned masterpieces is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly on Sunday. The display features about 90 works in a variety of media from across Europe with artists including Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Jan Gossaert, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci all represented. It will look at developments that led to the nude holding a pivotal place in art between 1400 and 1530 and is organised around five main themes: ‘The Nude and Christian Art’, ‘Humanism and the Expansion of Secular Themes’, ‘Artistic Theory and Practice’, ‘Beyond the Ideal Nude’ and ‘Personalising the Nude’. Highlights include Titian’s Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’) (c 1520), Agnolo Bronzino’s Saint Sebastian (c1533), Dürer’s engraving Adam and Eve (1504), Cranach’s A Faun and His Family with a Slain Lion (c1526) and Gossaert’s Hercules and Deianira (1517). Can be seen in the Sackler Wing of Galleries until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

How women have helped shaped the British Army will be the subject of a special day featuring theatrical performances, live music and discussion at the National Army Museum in Chelsea this Saturday (2nd March). The day, which is the first of new series of Saturday events at the museum and this month is being held in recognition of Women’s History Month, will feature a theatrical performance by Dr Kate Vigurs of History’s Maid telling the story of Mother Ross who in 1693 disguised herself as a man so she could join the army and find her husband who had gone missing while at war. There’s also a panel of five women – serving soldiers, veterans and army wives – who will share their stories as well as musical performances by the Military Wives Choirs, the chance to engage with re-enactors, gallery tours and object handling opportunities all centred around women in the army. Runs from 10am to 4.30pm and is free. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/women-and-army.

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This five star luxury Mayfair hotel opened in 1931 and quickly established a reputation for luxuriousness.

Located at 35 Park Lane on the site of what was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Dorchester (and later a mansion built for millionaire RS Holford), the hotel was the dream of Sir Robert McAlpine who bought the site in partnership with Gordon Hotels in 1929 for £500,000 and vowed to create a luxury hotel that would “rank as the finest in Europe”.

Engineer Sir Owen Williams initially oversaw the building’s design but a falling out saw architect William Curtis Green take over the project (meaning while the structural frame was Sir Owen’s work, the elevations are largely the work of Green). A quarter of the building was constructed underground.

When the 10 storey modernistic building was opened on 18th April, 1931, by Lady Violet Astor, it featured luxurious rooms and suites (with, apparently, the deepest baths of any hotel in London), a ballroom built to accommodate 1,000, an Oriental Restaurant and, of course, the Dorchester Bar (it was here the ‘Dorchester of London’ cocktail was invented).

The Dorchester survived World War II with only minor damage (its basement served as an air-raid shelter). In fact, during World War II, such was the reputation of its reinforced concrete structure, that UK Cabinet members including Lord Halifax stayed here while US General Dwight D Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his suite – now the Eisenhower Suite – during World War II.

In the 1950s, stage set designer Oliver Messel revamped various aspects of the hotel including designing some suites in an extension in Deanery Street (the Oliver Messel Suite is named for him).

The hotel has hosted its share of the rich and famous – Prince Philip hosted his bachelor party in the hotel’s Park Suite on the eve of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (the Queen, meanwhile, had dined there the day before the engagement was announced), and actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used the hotel as something of a “second home”.

Other notable figures who have stayed at the hotel include writers Cecil Day-Lewis and Somerset Maugham, painter Sir Alfred Munnings, director Alfred Hitchcock and film stars Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye and James Mason as well as Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman.

The Dorchester was listed as a Grade II building in 1981 and, having been sold by the McAlpine family to a consortium headed by the Sultan of Brunei in the mid-1970s, it was purchased outright by the Sultan of Brunei in the Eighties (and later transferred ownership to the Brunei Investment Agency).

The hotel was completely renovated between 1988 and 1990 and was again refurbished in 2002.

Facilities today at the hotel – alongside the 250 rooms and suites – include numerous restaurants and bars such as the three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, China Tang, The Spatisserie and The Grill at the Dorchester, as well as The Bar at the Dorchester and The Promenade where afternoon tea is served. There’s also a spa.

Today The Dorchester is the flagship of the Dorchester Collection of hotels which also includes 45 Park Lane, Cowarth Park in Ascot, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hotel Bel-Air in LA, the Hotel Eden in Rome, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.

Out the front of the hotel is a London Plane tree which was named one of the “great trees of London” in 1997.

For more, see https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/.

PICTURE: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || (licensed under CC BY 2.0/image cropped)

Looking across central London with the colourful facades of the Renzo Piano-designed Central Saint Giles mixed-use development – located east Charing Cross Road and south of New Oxford Street in the found in the district of St Giles, prominent. The £450 million project was completed in mid-2010. PICTURE: John Jackson/Unsplash.

Famous for its Beatles connection (and a particular pedestrian crossing), Abbey Road in London’s north-west takes it name from, you guessed it, a former religious house.

Kilburn Priory was founded at what is now the road’s northern end under the auspices of Westminster Abbey in about 1130 AD. It was eventually dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII in 1537.

The religious house gave its name not only to Abbey Road but also the intersecting Priory Road and Priory Terrace, and nearby Abbot’s Place, to name a few.

Of course, Abbey Road is famous for being the location of EMI’s Recording Studios (later renamed the Abbey Road Studios, they are located at number three at the southern end in St John’s Wood) where the Beatles and many others, including Shirley Bassey, Yehudi Menuhin, Max Bygraves and Cliff Richard, recorded albums (it’s also been used for recording film scores including for Star WarsRaiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter films).

The Beatles named their last studio LP after the street and the album’s cover shows the four of them walking across the aforementioned famous zebra crossing just outside the studio. The crossing, which attracts a steady stream of tourists year round, was given Grade II-listed status in December 2010. The studios are also Grade II-listed.

Abbey Road was also the site of the founding of the Abbey National Building Society, now Santander UK, which was founded in a church here in 1874.

PICTURE: Looking northward up Abbey Road across the famous crossing (the studios are just beyond the crossing on the left) (WillMcC/licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0/image cropped)

 

The City of London’s largest rooftop viewing space – The Garden at 120 – has opened atop the newly opened Fen Court office building in Fenchurch Street. The viewing platform – located 15 storeys above the street – offers 360 degree views of the City and features a pergola planted with fruit trees and Italian wisteria, a water feature and coffee hut. Entry is free and access is between 10am and 6.30pm weekdays until 31st March (5pm on weekends) and between 10am and 9pm from 1st April to 30th September. For more, see www.thegardenat120.com. PICTURE: diamond geezer (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rembrandt’s drawing and prints are the subject of a new free exhibition at the British Museum. Marking 350 years since the death of Rembrandt van Rijn in 1669, Rembrandt: thinking on paper features more than 60 of the Dutch artist’s works ranging from quick sketches to fully realised compositions with subject matter including self-portraits, landscapes and Biblical scenes. Works include Young woman sleeping (Hendrickje Stoffels?) (c1654), his printing plate for Reclining female nude (1658), the pen-and-ink Sketches of an old man and child (c1639-40), Self-portrait, bareheaded, bust in frontal view (1629), Self-portrait drawing at a window (1648), the Raising of Lazarus (c1632) and his late, large drypoints the Three Crosses (1653) and Ecce Homo (1655). Runs until 4th August in Room 90. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The first posthumous retrospective of the work of Franz West (1947-2012) ever staged in the UK has opened at the Tate Modern. Franz West spans the artist’s career over four decades and includes examples from his series of early abstract small sculptures like Passstücke (Adaptives), furniture work first displayed in the artist’s pivotal 1989 exhibition at the Haus Lange Museum, as well as later, large-scale installations such as Auditorium (1992) and Epiphany on Chairs (2011). The artist’s works in papier-mâché – Legitimate Sculptures – are also featured and there’s a room devoted to Redundanz (1986), a three-part ensemble accompanied by text that stresses “the difference between language and art as ways of understanding the world”. The display finishes with an array of West’s dramatic aluminum works and a collection of maquettes for the artist’s outdoor sculptures, five of which are installed in the South Landscape. Runs until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Built on the site of what was Grosvenor House in Park Lane – London residence of the Dukes of Westminster, the Grosvenor House Hotel opened in 1929 but wasn’t completed until the 1950s.

The Mayfair hotel was conceived and constructed on the orders of commercial speculator Albert Octavius Edwards and was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie with luxury in mind (Sir Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the external elevations).

Originally designed as two apartment blocks, it was apparently only when the first block was completed that it was decided the second north block would be a hotel. It opened on 14th May, 1929, with an event described as “outstanding”.

Along with some 472 rooms – it was the first hotel in London to feature en suite bathrooms which came with running ice-cold water in each, its facilities included The Great Room, originally an ice-skating rink where then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) learned to ice skate which Edwards decided in the 1930s to convert into one of the largest banqueting spaces in Europe.

It was subsequently the scene of many awards evening and charity events including Queen Charlotte’s Ball as well as BBC broadcasts (the Beatles are among those who have performed there). The hotel was also the first in London to have a swimming pool.

The hotel, which only suffered minor damager during the Blitz, saw service during World War II. The Great Room was initially home to the Officers’ Sunday Club and later as one of the largest US officers’ mess. During the war, the premises hosted everyone from Charles de Gaulle and King Haakon of Norway as well as US generals Dwight D Eisenhower and George S Paton.

The hotel actually has strong American connections from the get go – American methods were used during construction to speed things along – and its restaurant was noted for swerving American-style food. Among other Americans who have stayed there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Orson Welles, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Madeline Albright.

The actual construction of the hotel continued into the 1950s when permission was given to demolish a house at 35 Park Street (located next door to the hotel) following the death of its owner – Bruno, Baron Schroder, and a 92 bedroom extension to the hotel was built. It was officially opened by Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1957.

The hotel, which was acquired by Trust Houses in 1963, underwent several changes of ownership in more recent years and following an extensive renovation in the Noughties, it reopened in September, 2008 as a JW Marriott hotel.

It was reportedly announced late last year that Qatari-owned Katara Hospitality was buying the hotel from Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which has owned the hotel since 2010, for an undisclosed sum.

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

PICTURES: Park Lane facades and entrance in Park Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

The 24th annual Kew Orchid Festival is underway in west London with displays inspired by the flora and fauna of Colombia. For more, see www.kew.orgPICTURES: Above – Orchid stems (Ines Stuart Davidson); Below – A jaguar prowls among the orchids (photo by Jeff Eden); The Legend of El Dorado in a yellow orchid display (Jeff Eden); A sloth in a “carnival of animals” (Jeff Eden); and, Vanda orchids in a display representing the rainbow river, Cano Cristales (Jeff Eden). All pictures courtesy of Kew Gardens.

A small air raid shelter designed for people to erect on their properties in preparation for the expected bombing campaigns of World War II, the first of London’s ‘Anderson’ shelters were rolled out 80 years ago in a backyard garden of a house in Islington on 25th February, 1939.

The shelter’s name comes from Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal and the man tasked with the job of overseeing air-raid preparations across the country. As part of that job, he commissioned engineers to come up with an easy-to-construct, affordable shelter that could be used by the population at large.

The resulting arched-roofed structures, designed to be flexible and absorb the impact when bombs hit, were made from six curved sheets of corrugated steel or iron and, at six feet tall, 6.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide, could house a family of six. They were designed to be buried under four feet of earth in backyards and the roof covered with a minimum of 15 inches of soil.

The shelters were given out for free to lower income families but those with the means had to buy them for £7. Some chose to incorporate them into their gardens and grew vegetables and plants on top and some decorated them – there were even competitions held for the best looking.

By the time bombs started hitting London in the Blitz, more than 1.5 million of the shelters had been built (and a further 2.1 million were erected as the war raged).

It was expected that families would use them every night but the shelters were found to be cold and damp and often flooded which meant many people only used them when air raid sirens sounded (and some not even then – one 1940 survey apparently found only 27 per cent of Londoners used them).

After the war, most were scrapped for the metal but some of the Anderson shelters were repurposed as garden sheds. A small number of them survive across London.

PICTURE: An intact Anderson shelter sits amid devastation in Poplar caused after a land mine fell a few yards away in in 1941. The three people inside were not hurt. Via Imperial War Museum (© IWM (D 5949))

Long connected with the low end trade in words, Grub Street was once located on the site where the Barbican development now stands.

The street – its name possibly comes from a man called Grubbe or refers to a street infested with worms – was located in the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate outside the city wall. It northwards ran from Fore Street to Chiswell Street and had numerous alleys and courts leading off it.

Originally located in an area of open fields used for archery and so inhabited by bowyers and others associated with the production of bows and arrows, the relative cheapness of the land – due to its marshiness – later saw the Grub Street and its surrounds become something of a slum, an area of “poverty and vice”.

During the mid-17th century, it became known as a home for (often libellous or seditious) pamphleteers, journalists and publishers seeking to escape the attention of authorities.

And so began the association of Grub Street with writing “hacks”, paid line-by-line as they eked out a living in tawdry garrets (although how many actually worked in garrets remains a matter of debate). The word “hack”, incidentally, is derived from Hackney, and originally referred to a horse for hire but here came to refer to mediocre writers churning out copy for their daily bread rather than any sense of artistic merit.

Residents included Samuel Johnson (early in his career), who, in 1755 included a definition for it in his famous dictionary – “a street near Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet”, and 16th century historian John Foxe, author of the famous Book of Martyrs.

The street, which was also referenced by the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift as a symbol of lowbrow writing, was renamed Milton Street (apparently after a builder, not the poet) in 1830. Part of it still survives today but most of it disappeared when the Barbican complex was created between the 1960s and 1980s.

PICTURE: John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing Grub Street.

The flowers of Colombia are at the heart of this year’s Kew Orchid Festival which kicked off in west London late last week. Featuring what’s promised to be “dazzling displays” inspired by Colombia’s fauna and flora – the country boasts some 4,270 species of orchids alone, the 24th annual festival includes music, food, crafts and, of course, coffee. More than 5,700 orchids – including the Flor de Mayo – feature in the display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory with visitors led through a series of zones that evoke the sights, smells and sounds of Colombia. The central display is a “carnival of animals’ which depicts a toucan in flight, a hanging sloth and swimming turtle – all made of orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants. There’s also a cascade of colourful hanging vandas representing the “rainbow river” – the Cano Cristales, an enchanted forest with life-sized jaguars, and, a golden floating display featuring yellow orchids depicting the legend of El Dorado. Meanwhile, the glasshouse film room features Bogota-style street art murals by Colombian multidisciplinary artist, Vanessa Moncayo González. The festival runs until 10th March. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

The works of Harald Sohlberg, one of the great masters of landscape painting in the history of Norwegian art, are on show at Dulwich Picture Gallery in the first ever exhibition of his works outside of Norway. Marking the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway boasts more than 90 works revealing the role of colour and symbolism in his art as well as his passion for Nordic landscapes. Spanning the period from 1889 when he was starting out as a 20-year-old through to 1935, the last year of his life, the works include the ‘national painting of Norway’ – Winter Night in the Mountains (1914) which took some 14 years to complete (pictured), as well as Fisherman’s Cottage (1906), Summer Night (1899), Sun Gleam (1894) and Street in Røros in Winter (1903). Runs until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. Accompanying the exhibition is a new sculptural installation in the gallery’s mausoleum by Bristol-based artist Mariele Neudecker – And Then the World Changed Colour: Breathing Yellow. For more see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE:  Harald Sohlberg, ‘Winter Night in the Mountains’, 1914, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway.

A new photographic exhibition documenting the living conditions of London’s most disadvantaged children has opened at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Being run in partnership with The Childhood Trust, Bedrooms of London features images of sleeping spaces by Katie Wilson and they are shown alongside stories collected by Isabella Walker which bring into sharp focus the consequences of London’s social housing shortage. The display builds on the history of the Foundling Hospital, providing a glimpse into what life is like for the 700,000 London children currently living below the poverty line. It can be seen until 5th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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