This Week in London – Raphael Court to reopen at V&A; naming a Tower raven; and, Caroline Norton’s Blue Plaque…

The V&A has unveiled its refurbished Raphael Court – home to the world famous Raphael Cartoons – after a renovation last year to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The gallery, which reopens to the public along with the rest of the museum on 19th May, transforms the way visitors will encounter the large scale cartoons on loan to the V&A from the Royal Collection. The new gallery features state-of-the-art LED lighting, acoustic panelling and bespoke furnishings. There are also high-resolution images of the cartoons which can be explored at the gallery as well as online. The cartoons were created by Raphael in 1513 after he was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a set of 10 designs for a series of tapestries to hang in the the Sistine Chapel. Illustrating scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, each of the cartoons – which were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels to be made into tapestries – measures around five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of them survive and were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I). They were first lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865. For more, see vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.

People across the globe are invited to help name a baby female raven, one of a pair born at the Tower of London during lockdown. Until 18th May, people are invited to vote for their favourite name on the Ravenmaster’s shortlist – from Matilda (the name of a medieval queen) to Florence (named for Florence Nightingale), Brontë (named for the writing family), Winifred (named for Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale, who plotted her husband Lord Nithsdale’s escape from the Tower in 1716 disguised as a woman) and Branwen (a figure from Celtic mythology). The poll can be found at http://bit.ly/NameOurRaven and the winning name will be announced as part of the reopening of the Tower on 19th May.

Nineteenth century women’s rights campaigner Caroline Norton has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located on a townhouse at 3 Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, the home from where Norton fought for the rights to own the proceeds of her own work as a writer. Her abusive marriage and subsequent separation from George Chapple Norton was one of the most highly publicised cases in 19th-century Britain. It led to Norton successfully lobbying for legal rights for married women and, as a result of her campaigning, mothers were eventually granted custody of children under seven (and access thereafter) in cases of divorce or separation. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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

LondonLife – Signs of the Times (V)…

Spotted in Sloane Square Tube station. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash

This Week in London – Well-being at Kew; Poussin wins credit for ‘The Triumph of Silenus’; and, Euston explored…

Kew Gardens have unveiled a new programme of well-being events with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors after the COVID-19 lockdown. The events, all of which will be COVID-19 safe and follow government guidelines, including everything from forest bathing sessions in the Arboretum inspired by the Japanese art of Shinrin-yokuto, a rare chance to cycle through the gardens on an evening bike ride, pilates in the Nash Conservatory and yoga sessions in the Temperate House. Check the Kew website for dates and times and admission charges.

The Triumph of Silenus hanging in Room 29 at The National Gallery. PICTURE: © The National Gallery

• The creator of The Triumph of Silenus (c1637), which was one of the first paintings to enter the collection of The National Gallery when it did so in 1824, has been confirmed as 17th century French painter Nicolas Poussin. The painting had long been plagued by questions of authenticity but following recent conservation work and in-depth technical analysis, it has been confirmed as a work of Poussin. The confirmation means the gallery holds 14 works by Poussin, making it one of the world’s leading collections of paintings by him. Later this year, the picture will feature in a new exhibition, Poussin and the Dance.

• People will have the chance to see parts of Euston Station usually not accessible to the public on a new virtual tour announced by the London Transport Museum. The tour is part of the next season of ‘Hidden London’ virtual events with new dates also to be announced for tours of King William Street, Brompton Road, Holborn (Kingsway) and Aldwych. Meanwhile, the museum will recommence its ‘Secrets of Central London’ walking tour in the West End on 17th May. Charges apply. For more on the virtual tours and dates, head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london/virtual-tours.

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

10 London hills – 4. Parliament Hill…

View up Parliament Hill. PICTURE: stevekeiretsu (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Located to the north-west of the city, Parliament Hill – with its elevation of 98 metres above sea level – offers expansive views of the city skyline including The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.

The hill, which can be found in the south-east of Hampstead Heath, was once part of the manor of Hampstead. It was apparently previously known as Traitor’s Hill – some believe it was so-named because it was from here that those involved in the (as it turned out, unsuccessful) Gunpowder Plot of 1605 were to gather to watch Parliament explode.

The current name may also come from that association, or the hill’s association with Parliamentarians who saw it as a defensive strongpoint during the English Civil War.

A tumulus on the north side of the hill, which some have believed to be the grave of Queen Boadicea, was excavated in the 1890s and is thought to be a Bronze Age burial mound.

The hill – which is known to have been a favourite of Romantic poets including Shelley, Keats and Coleridge – was acquired for the public in 1889.

Traditionally used for livestock grazing (and, according to some, having an ancient association with druids), it has also been a popular site for kite-flying. There’s various sporting facilities including a lido, located on the lower slopes of the hill as well as a monument called the Stone of Free Speech which was apparently previously used as a site for public meetings in the past.

The hill is managed by the City of London Corporation.

View from Parliament Hill. PICTURE: Magnus D (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

LondonLife – Covent Garden says hello…

PICTURE: Kevin Grieve/Unsplash

Where’s London’s oldest….(continuously used) cricket green?

Mitcham Green. PICTURE: Google Maps

While Lord’s and The Oval may be more famous, the honour of being London’s oldest (still-in-use) cricket ground goes to a rather less-well-known ground in Mitcham, south London.

Once located in Surrey but now part of greater London, Mitcham Green has been the home of the Mitcham Cricket Club since 1685 (cricket was reportedly being played earlier elsewhere in London but the grounds haven’t survived).

There are reports that Lord Nelson was among those who came to watch a game here (he lived nearby) and in the 19th century, Mitcham Cricket Ground was used as a practise wicket by the visiting Australian team (the team would apparently stay at the aptly named pub The Cricketers, which formerly overlooked the green).

The ground is rather unusual for the fact that the club’s pavilion, which was built in 1904, lie on the other side of a road (the A323).

In July, 2002, the ground hosted a game between Mitcham and Hambledon, a Hampshire village which boasts a team founded about 100 years after Mitcham. Known as the Golden Jubilee Challenge Match, it was played in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and resulted in a draw.

Treasures of London – Hyde Park’s ‘Grand Entrance’…

David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This ornate triple stone entrance in the south-east corner of Hyde Park (better known as Hyde Park Corner), was designed by Decimus Burton when he was just 25-years-old.

Made of Portland stone, the gate, also known as the ‘Apsley Gate’ (after the nearby home of the Duke of Wellington) or the ‘Hyde Park Screen’, was installed in the late 1820s and replaced a former tollgate.

Several designs were proposed in the late 18th century but it was only after work started to transform Buckingham Palace from a home into the grand building we know today that Burton, who was already working on designing a series of gates, lodges and railings around Hyde Park for the Office of Woods and Forests, was asked to design the screen alongside plans for a grand memorial arch to serve as an entrance to Green Park which would be located opposite.

Burton’s designs for the Hyde Park gateway were approved by none other than King George IV and it now stands true to his original design. Decorative elements in the gate include scroll-topped columns and friezes by John Henning which were copied from the Elgin Marbles. Burton also designed the classical-style lodge house just inside the gates.

Burton’s initial plans for the Green Park arch, however, were deemed not to be grand enough – after all, this would be one of the approaches to Buckingham Palace – and so he produced a second design which is now largely embodied in what became the Wellington Arch.

While the Hyde Park gateway originally stood in line with Wellington Arch, traffic management matters saw the latter moved to its current position in the 1880s, putting it out of alignment with the gateway.

Showing part of the frieze. PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace’s Tulip Festival, National Gallery acquires ‘Portrait of a Girl’, and, art at Canary Wharf…

Hampton Court Palace is hosting its first ever Tulip Festival. Featuring more than 100,000 bulbs placed throughout the formal gardens, the festival pays homage to the estate’s long history of tulip cultivation and, thanks to partnership with the Hortus Bulborum in the Netherlands, involves some types of tulip that have not been on show at the palace since the 17th century. First introduced to the British Isles in the 1630s, tulip planting at Hampton Court dates back to the reign of Queen Mary II. Ten different heritage and modern types have been planted across the gardens for the festival including Parrot, Triumph, Rembrandt and Darwin tulips. Visitors can undertake a self-guided trail which takes in both the palace’s courtyards – filled with ornate planters and flowers specially-selected to match the historic brickwork – and the gardens. Admission charge applies (tickets must be pre-booked). Runs until 3rd May. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/tulip-festival-2021.

Isaack Luttichuys (1616–1673), Portrait of a Girl, about 1650 © The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery has acquired Portrait of a Girl (about 1650) by Isaack Luttichuys, the first work by the artist to enter a British public collection. Luttichuys, who name is pronounced ‘Lootickhouse’, was born in London to Dutch parents and spent his early life in England (where the family was known as Littlehouse, the literal English translation of the name). The artist later moved to Amsterdam where he enjoyed a highly successful career as a portrait painter until his death in 1673. The work was acquired from the estate of banker and philanthropist George Pinto under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council. 

Escape to faraway lands with a new art installation at Crossrail Place Roof Garden at Canary Wharf. Crossorelle is the work of artists Baker & Borowski, and features a design inspired by the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech which fuses the Moroccan garden’s rich palette and art deco shapes with exotic flora. Free to visit, the display can be seen until 19th June. For more, see https://canarywharf.com/whats-on/crossorelle-roof-garden-mar-jun-2021/.

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

10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

LondonLife – The Shard under a mackerel sky…

PICTURE: Bex Walton/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A Moment in London’s History – Sir Robert Walpole becomes first ‘Prime Minister’…

Portrait of Robert Walpole (1676-1745); probably a work of Godfrey Kneller (via Wikipedia).

This month – over the Easter weekend, in fact – marked the 300th anniversary of the date on which Sir Robert Walpole effectively became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Walpole, who had entered Parliament as a Whig at the age of 25 in 1701, had had a tumultuous political career which had included rising quickly to the positions of Secretary at War and Treasury of the Navy before, having been targeted by his Tory opponents, spending six months in the Tower of London after he was found guilty of corruption.

The accession of King George I in 1714 was good news for the Whigs and the following year Walpole was appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715. He resigned a couple of years later due to a party split but by 1720 he was once again man of influence, appointed to the Privy Council and made Paymaster General as well as Paymaster of the Forces.

The following year, on 3rd April, 1721, he was effectively elevated to the position of Prime Minister after being appointed First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and leader of the House of Commons.

Walpole remained at the head of the government until 1742 when he resigned after a motion of no confidence was moved against him. But it wasn’t all bad news, King George II subsequently elevated him to the House of Lords as the Earl of Orford.

Interesting, it was also King George II who offered Walpole the residence in Downing Street (Walpole only accepted on condition that it be a gift to the office of the First Lord of the Admiralty so he wasn’t liable for the cost of upkeep).

Walpole was the first of what has since been an unbroken line of 77 Prime Ministers (although only 55 people have held the office due to the multiple occasions on which individuals have served).

While the term was used informally to describe Walpole as far back as the 1730s (although in 1741 he denied he was the “sole and prime minister” in the House of Commons, thanks to the association of the term with foreign tyrannies), it wasn’t until the following century that it was used in Parliament (Benjamin Disraeli, was the first to sign an act using the title in 1878) and not until 1905 was the post of prime minister officially given recognition in the order of precedence.

This Week in London – Online Book of Condolence; IWM’s photographic tribute; and, ZSL London Zoo reopens…

PICTURE: duncan c
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0/image cropped)

With books of condolence not available for the public to sign due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Royal Family has created a national Online Book of Condolence for those who wish to leave a message following the death of Prince Philip. The family have also asked that members of the public consider making a donation to a charity instead of leaving floral tributes in memory of the Duke. The ceremonial funeral, which is not open to the public, will be held on Saturday at 3pm in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. A national one minute of silence will observed at 3pm, as the funeral, commences.

Meanwhile, among tributes to remember Prince Philip is an online gallery of images at the Imperial War Museum’s website. Access the gallery from the IWM’s collections here.

ZSL London Zoo reopened to the public this week, three months after it closed its doors for the third national coronavirus-related lockdown. Visitor numbers are limited to ensure social distancing and visitors must pre-book. A one-way system is in place, with three prescribed routes ensuring guests remain socially-distanced while exploring. Indoor exhibits, including the Reptile House and Rainforest Life, will remain closed for now. For more, see www.zsl.org.

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

10 London hills – 2. Cornhill…

Looking along the street named Cornhill from its western end with the Royal Exchange on the left. PICTURE: Teseum
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.

In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.

Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.

Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.

These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).

The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.

The area became famed for its coffee houses in the 16th to 19th centuries (Pasqua Rosée opened what is claimed to be London’s first in St Michael’s Alley in 1652) and as such was a financial centre. Much of Cornhill is now occupied by offices.

London mourns – Vale Prince Philip…

Piccadilly Circus. PICTURE: duncan c (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – Women commemorated in new Blue Plaques, and, Buckingham Palace gardens explored…

A social reformer, a former slave turned campaigner and the “people’s princess” are among six women who will be commemorated with new English Heritage Blue Plaques this year. The first of the new plaques – dedicated to crystallographer and peace campaigner Kathleen Lonsdale – was unveiled last week at the home in Seven Kings, Redbridge, where she lived from 1911 to 1927 during her early days at UCL and the Royal Institute. Lonsdale went on to carry out ground-breaking work on crystal structures and played what’s described as a “fundamental role” in progressing x-ray crystallography. Other plaques will commemorate social reformer Caroline Norton, designer Jean Muir, former slave and campaigner Ellen Craft, barrister Helena Normanton, and, Diana, Princess of Wales. For more on English Heritage’s Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The lake in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Bob Jones (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The garden at Buckingham Palace will open to the public this summer, allowing visitors to explore the 39 acre grounds on a self-guided tour for the first time. The route will encompass the 156-metre herbaceous border, plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and take in views of the garden’s 3.5 acre lake and island with its beehives. Visitors will also have the chance to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and explore the south-west of the garden – which includes the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow – on guided tours. Meantime, during April and May enthusiasts are able to enjoy the garden in springtime on guided tours. And for those unable to make it in person, a series of digital talks, A Warden’s Welcome, which explore Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse kick off online next Wednesday. Charges apply for all – for more information and tickets, see www.rct.uk.

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

10 London hills – 1. Ludgate Hill…

Rome has its seven hills, Athens has the Acropolis and Paris – well, who can go past Montmatre? Yet, while hills may not be the first thing which come to mind when thinking of London, the city is home to numerous (low) peaks which have shaped the urban environment since ancient times (and some of which provide magnificent viewing points).

Looking up Ludgate Hill (the street) to where St Paul’s sits on top of Ludgate Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps.

First up, we’re looking at Ludgate Hill, located in the western end of the City of London. One of the three ancient hills within the City walls, Ludgate Hill, which is now the site of St Paul’s Cathedral, is believed in Roman times to have been the site of a temple dedicated to Diana.

The hill, which today rises just 17.6 metres above sea level (the highest point lying apparently just to the north of the cathedral), is named after the former city gateway of Ludgate which is, in turn, named after the mythical King Lud.

These days the hill’s name is also commemorated in a street – Ludgate Hill – which runs from Ludgate Circus at its western end to St Paul’s Churchyard at its eastern end. It was also formerly the name of a railway station which opened in the late 1860s but was closed in 1923.

LondonLife – Blossom, Camden Road

PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash

This Week in London – Gold bunnies at Hampton Court; ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ on a phone; and last two trees for London Blossom Garden…

Despite the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we hope you have a happy Easter break!

A screenshot from ‘Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition’

The National Gallery’s first exhibition aimed at mobile phone users – exploring Jan Gossaert’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Kings – goes live from Friday. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition features six poems in the voice of King Balthasar, a character depicted in the painting, who interprets six scenes shown in the work while interactive sound brings them to life, all in an effort to guide people to details they may have missed in the work. Users can use their zoom function to explore the masterpiece’s minutiae and share their favourite finds on Instagram. The mobile phone offering is a pre-cursor to the planned reopening of the physical exhibition Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ – forced to close just a week after opening last December – on 17th May. To see the mobile display, head to nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours.

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its Lindt Gold Bunny hunt for Easter. Families are invited to join in the search for the famous Lindt Gold Bunnies which have been hidden around the palace, enjoying the gardens along the way. Using a trail map, children will be able to learn about various lesser known Hampton Court residents including John Dale, Henry VIII’s master cook, and John Blanke, the King’s royal trumpeter. Successful treasure hunters can then claim a chocolate reward and a pair of gold bunny ears. Included in admission, the trail is designed for children aged three to 12-years-old and takes about one-and-a-half hours to complete. Runs until 18th April. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/easter-lindt-gold-bunny-hunt/.

The final two blossom trees have been planted in the new London Blossom Garden. The public garden, which is being created as a lasting, living memorial to Londoners who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the city’s shared experience of the pandemic, is located in the northern part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham. Scheduled to open later this spring, it has been created in partnership with the National Trust and with the support of Bloomberg, and features 33 blossoming trees representing London’s boroughs and the City of London.

Send all items for inclusion to exploring-london@gmail.com

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

LondonLife – A wall for remembrance…

The National COVID Memorial Wall. PICTURES: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash

A memorial wall for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic has been established on The Queen’s Walk outside St Thomas’ Hospital. Bereaved family and friends on Monday began to paint the first of tens of thousands of love hearts – representing those who have died of COVID-19 – on the wall which faces the Houses of Parliament across the Thames. The memorial, which is expected to stretch for hundreds of metres, is the work of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group which has called for a public inquiry into how the government has handled the pandemic. Co-founder Matt Fowler, whose 56-year-old father, Ian, died last April, was the first to paint a heart on the wall on Monday. “This is an outpouring of love,” he reportedly said. “Each heart is individually hand-painted; utterly unique, just like the loved ones we’ve lost. And, like the scale of our collective loss, this memorial is going to be enormous.”