10 unusual parks or gardens in London…6. The Hill Garden and Pergola, Hampstead…

A view of the pergola. PICTURE: Kent Wang (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tucked away in the north-west of Hampstead Heath is a Edwardian-era garden and extravagant pergola that were originally created for a mansion but are now open to the public.

The garden and pergola were created on the orders of the wealthy William H Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, who in 1904 purchased a sizeable Georgian townhouse on the Heath called “The Hill”. Remodelling the house extensively, Lever wanted to also create a garden where he could entertain and sought the help of renowned landscape architect Thomas Mawson to design one on what was steeply sloping land.

Mawson’s plan involved raising the level of the gardens by up to 30 feet and creating a series of terraces. This was made possible due in part to the close proximity of the Hampstead extension of the Northern Line of the Tube – Lever paid to have the spoil which had been dug out to make the Tube tunnels transported the short distance to his garden so it could be used to build it up.

An Italianate pergola was constructed on the boundary between 1905 and 1906, providing views over West Heath while at the same time preventing the general public from looking into the garden. The gardens and pergola were subsequently extended after he bought the neighbouring property in 1911 – the same year Lever was made a baronet – and again in with further works completed in 1925 just months before the now-Lord Leverhulme’s death.

A view of the pergola. PICTURE: Kent Wang (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The property was sold to Scots shipping magnate Lord Inverforth and, on his death in 1955, was bequeathed it to the private Manor House Hospital. Following a long period of neglect, London County Council bought the pergola and the gardens which had once been those of the neighbouring property, Heath Lodge, and opened them to the public in 1963 as the Hill Garden.

The City of London Corporation took over management with the abolition of the GLC in 1986 and restoration work was carried out. When the hospital closed in 1998 and the house was sold for luxury housing, further works were carried out and the public part of the gardens took on their current form.

WHERE: The Hill Garden and Pergola, Inverforth Close, North End Way, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Golders Green or Hampstead Heath); WHEN: 8:30am to 8pm daily; Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/where-to-go-at-hampstead-heath/hill-garden-and-pergola.

LondonLife – City skyline from Hackney…

PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash

A Moment in London’s History – The Great Fire of Southwark…

Think of fire in relation to London and the events of 1666 no doubt spring to mind. But London has had several other large fires in its history (with a much higher loss of life), including during the reign of King John in July, 1212.

The fire started in Southwark around 10th July and the blaze destroyed most of the buildings lining Borough High Street along with the church of St Mary Overie (also known as Our Lady of the Canons and now the site of Southwark Cathedral) before reaching London Bridge.

PICTURE: Guido Jansen/Unsplash

The wind carried embers across the river and ignited buildings on the northern end before the fire spread into the City of London itself (building on the bridge had been authorised by King John so the rents could be used to help pay for the bridge’s maintenance).

Many people died on the bridge after they – and those making their way south across the bridge to aid people in Southwark (or perhaps just to gawk) – were caught between the fires at either end, with some having apparently drowned after jumping off the bridge into the Thames (indeed, it’s said that some of the crews of boats sent to rescue them ended up drowning themselves after the vessels were overwhelmed).

Antiquarian John Stow, writing in the early 17th century, stated that more than 3,000 people died in the fire – leading some later writers to describe the disaster as “arguably the greatest tragedy London has ever seen”.

But many believe this figure is far too high for a population then estimated at some 50,000. The oldest surviving account of the fire – Liber de Antiquis Legibus (“Book of Ancient Laws”) which was written in 1274 and mentions the burning of St Mary Overie and the bridge, as well as the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket built upon it – doesn’t mention a death toll.

London Bridge itself survived the fire thanks to its recent stone construction but for some years afterward it was only partly usable. King John then raised additional taxes to help rebuild destroyed structures while the City’s first mayor, Henry Fitz Ailwyn, subsequently apparently joined with other officials in creating some regulations surrounding construction with fire safety in mind.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Lost London – Northumberland House…

London: Northumberland House painted by Canaletto in 1752.

Among a number of mansions built between the Strand and the River Thames, the property was built for Henry Howard, first Earl of Northampton, in about 1605.

Then known as Northampton House, the Jacobean mansion at Charing Cross was built on the site of a former convent (roughly located on the corner of the modern-day Northumberland Avenue and The Strand).

The property was built around a courtyard with turrets at each corners and had a great hall and apartments for the various members of the household. It featured a four-storey high stone gateway opening onto the Strand and a large garden at the rear but it didn’t apparently reach all the way down to the river unlike many of the neighbouring properties.

The house passed to the Earls of Suffolk and then in the 1640s was sold to Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland, at the discounted price of £15,000, as part of a marriage settlement (hence the name change).

Various improvements were made over the years – including relocating the principal living rooms from the Strand side of the building to that facing onto the gardens and adding extra wings which protruded into the gardens.

In the 1770s, Robert Adam was commissioned to redecorate the state rooms on the garden front – the ‘Glass Drawing Room’ at Northumberland House was one of his most celebrated interiors. Shortly after this, part of the Strand front had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1780.

Northumberland House on the Strand, shortly before it was demolished in 1874. PICTURE: London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty

By the mid-19th century, the mansions on The Strand had all been demolished and the Metropolitan Board of Works wished to acquire Northumberland House to construct a road across the site connecting The Strand to the Embankment.

The Duke of Northumberland resisted but after a fire substantially damaged the property, he agreed to sell which he did for £500,000 in 1874. The house was subsequently demolished and Northumberland Avenue built across the site.

A remnant from the property – a stone lion, known as the ‘Percy Lion’ – was taken from the property by the Duke in 1874 and placed atop Syon House, the Duke’s seat in London’s west. An archway from the property, designed by William Kent, is now the principal entrance to the Bromley by Bow Centre.

This Week in London – Natural History Museum unveils a new ‘Urban Nature Project’; BBC at 100; and, UK sculpture goes online…

The Natural History Museum’s five acre site in South Kensington will be transformed into a free-to-visit green space under a new project. The Urban Nature Project will feature new outdoor galleries telling the story of life on Earth from 540 million years ago to the present day as it follows an immersive timeline of plants, trees, reptiles, birds and mammals. Children will come face-to-face with a giant bronze diplodocus surrounded by plants from the Jurassic period. The garden will also be home to scientific sensors gathering environmental DNA and acoustic data, to monitor, understand and protect urban nature. You can find out more and donate at www.nhm.ac.uk/support-us/urban-nature-project/donate.html.

Cyberman costume as used in the T.V. series ‘Dr Who’ made by the BBC, London, c1988

• A new display exploring how the BBC developed and popularised new media has opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington. BBC at 100 features five iconic items from broadcast history that have influenced how we interact wth modern media platforms. They include a six foot tall 1988 Cyberman costume from Doctor Who, a World War II “Midget” Portable Disc Recorder developed to bring listeners close to the reality of conflict, and the BBC microcomputer developed during the Computer Literacy Project in the 1980s. The display, which is part of the Science Museum Group’s  Broadcast 100  activities marking the 100th anniversary of the BBC and the 40th anniversary of Channel 4, to free to visit. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/bbc-100.

More than 36,000 sculptures on public display across the UK can be seen online. Art UK has photographed and digitised more than 13,500 outdoor sculptures as well as almost every sculpture inside public collections from the last 1,000 years. The project, which was funded with a £2.8million Heritage Fund grant and involved more than 500 photography and data volunteers, can be accessed at Art UK website

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10 unusual parks or gardens in London…5. Tibetan Peace Garden, Imperial War Museum…

PICTURE: J Nathan Matias (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

A fitting location for such a place of reflection, the Tibetan Peace Garden can be found near the Imperial War Museum in Kennington.

The Language Pillar. PICTURE: Robert (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The circular garden, located in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, was commissioned by the London based Tibet Foundation and opened by the Dalai Lama in May, 1999. It was named ‘Samten Kyil’, which is Tibetan for ‘Garden of Contemplation’.

The garden features several sculptural elements carved from Portland stone. The work of sculptor, Hamish Horsley, they include The Language Pillar – based on the historic 9th century treaty stone known as Sho Pillar in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet – on which is carved a welcome message from the Dalai Lama in English, Tibetan, Chinese and Hindi.

There are also four “gateways” depicting the elements of air, fire, earth and water as well as a blue stone disk representing the fifth element of space. At the centre of the garden is a bronze cast depicting the Kalachakra Mandala which was designed by Tibetan monks in India.

The inner gardens are planted with herbs and plants from Tibet and the Himalayan regions, while the pergola is covered with climbing plants, including jasmine, honeysuckle and scented roses.

WHERE: Tibetan Peace Garden, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, St George’s Road (nearest Tube stations are Lambeth North and Elephant & Castle); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.southwark.gov.uk/parks-and-open-spaces/parks/geraldine-mary-harmsworth-park.

LondonLife – Light trails by St Paul’s…

PICTURE: Jason Hudson/Unsplash

London Pub Signs – The Admiral Vernon, Dagenham…

The Admiral Vernon in Dagenham. PICTURE: Via Google Maps

This inter-war estate pub – which was recently added to the National Heritage List for England – is named for an 18th century British Navy admiral who is perhaps best remembered today for watering down his men’s ration rum to create what become known as ‘grog’ (apparently after his nickname).

Designed in the then-popular ‘Brewers’ Tudor-style, the pub was among several built by London’s Courage Brewery to serve the Beacontree Estate and the wood-panelled interior remains much as did when it first opened in 1939. The “almost intact” 1930s interior includes public and saloon bars, and publican’s offices behind the counter.

Admiral Edward Vernon had a long and distinguished naval career, first promoted to captain in 1706 and going on to serve as a vice-admiral during the War of Jenkin’s Ear between Britain and Spain (1739-48) – during which he famously captured the Spanish colonial possession of Porto Bello (after which the London district of Portobello is named). Promoted to the rank of admiral in 1745, he was appointed to command the North Sea Fleet during the Jacobite rebellion. Vernon, who also served as an MP, was cashiered out of the navy in 1746 in controversial circumstances after he published two pamphlets about his disagreements with the Admiralty.

Vernon’s nickname of “Old Grog” apparently came from his habit of wearing a grogram coat (grogram was coarse, loosely woven fabric of silk, silk and mohair, or silk and wool). In 1740 he ordered that his men’s rum be diluted with water and it duly became known as ‘grog’ after him.

The pub, which is located at 141 Broad Street, is Grade II heritage listed (the pub sign at the front is now empty – the name appears on the front facade). For more, see www.facebook.com/192074204220830.

Treasures of London – The ‘Line of Kings’…

PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A star sight at the Tower of London for some 350 years, the ‘Line of Kings’ dates back to the mid-17th century and was originally installed in the Royal Armouries at the Tower to promote the restored monarchy of King Charles II and the Stuart dynasty.

Often described as the “world’s longest running tourist attraction” (the first visitor was recorded in 1652), it features the historic armour of monarchs on wooden figures and accompanied by fully decked-out carved horses – the work of Grinling Gibbons and others among Britain’s best woodcarvers.

The line has been added to and redisplayed numerous times over its history, partly to accommodate successive monarchs (17 in all were included with King George II being the last).

Only those monarchs deemed worthy were included – this deemed “bad” kings like King Richard III were omitted while “good” kings like King William the Conqueror, King Edward III and King Henry V were included. Queens were not included – when Queen Mary II and King William III were created joint monarchs, only King William was included.

The display began to be mentioned in guidebooks from the 1750s onwards. In 1825, amid growing scholarship and criticism, the line underwent a major change.

It was dismantled and then redisplayed in a purpose-built gallery adjoining the south side of the White Tower. The new line-up included prominent noblemen as well as kings while the kings themselves were reshuffled with some, like King Edward III, dropped, and King James II added.

It was further enhanced in 1869 but the display closed in 1882. The equestrian figures then appeared on the upper floor of the White Tower.

The Line of Kings, which is now located on the entrance floor of the Tower, last underwent a significant revamp between 2011 and 2013.

Highlights include the earlier surviving armour of King Henry VIII – a silvered and engraved armour which was made in the years following his coronation in 1509 – as well as the gilded armours of King Charles I and King James II.

WHERE: White Tower, Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm daily; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children under 15; £24 concession; family tickets from £52.20; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

This Week in London – New COVID memorial entrance portico at St Paul’s; observation wheel a centrepiece of new Somerset House festival; and newly acquired 16th century works at The National Gallery…

A new entrance to a memorial dedicated to those who died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has opened at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Remember Me memorial entrance portico, which is accessed through the cathedral North Transept door, has been designed by Caroe Architecture with Connolly Wellingham and is an elliptical structure made from British Oak into which the words ‘Remember Me’ have been etched in gold. It leads through to the Middlesex Chapel where a digital book of remembrance can be accessed. The inner portico is the first project of its kind to be built inside St Paul’s for nearly 150 years and this is the first time the North Transept of the cathedral has been used as a permanent entrance since this part of the cathedral was bombed during World War II. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk/remember-me-memorial.

A temporary 35 metre high observation wheel providing new views of London is being placed in Somerset House’s central open-air courtyard as part of a new cultural festival which kicks off Monday. This Bright Land features art installations and a programme of events featuring everything from music and dance performances through to workshops and talks. As well as the wheel, the courtyard will host a ‘Wonder Garden’, a soundscape installation telling Londoners’ stories, a futuristic custom-built ‘Clubhouses’ where complimentary make-up services will be provided, and a pop-up experimental zone which will feature immersive installations and complimentary light treatments. The month-long festival, which runs until 29th August, will also include a series of open air balls and parties at night as well as weekly family-friendly activities. There is free daytime entry on weekdays and pay-what-you-can entry on Monday to Thursday evenings and Saturday daytimes. Charges apply for special events and observation wheel rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/this-bright-land.

Two 16th century works have gone on display in The National Gallery for the first time following their acquisition.  Paolo Veronese’s ful-length Portrait of a Gentleman of the Soranzo Family (about 1585) can be seen in Room 12 while Lo Spagna’s Christ Carrying the Cross (perhaps 1500–5) can be seen in Room 61. Admission to the gallery is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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10 unusual parks or gardens in London…4. Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden…

PICTURE: Courtesy of VisitLondon.com

This garden can be found on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre.

The 1,200 square metre garden, which was created in 2011 as part of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations, was developed in partnership with the Eden Project.

It is maintained by volunteers from Grounded Ecotherapy, a group which offers people dealing with issues like homelessness and addiction help through horticulture.

The Garden features more than 200 wild native plants as well as a lawn, paths and paving – and stunning views across the river. There’s also a cafe and bar.

WHERE: Queen Elizabeth hall Roof Garden (nearest Tube stations are Waterloo and Embankment); WHEN: Wednesday to Sunday from noon; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/visit/outdoor/queen-elizabeth-hall-roof-garden-cafe-bar.

LondonLife – Black holes pioneer, Sir Roger Penrose, awarded Freedom of the City of London…

Sir Roger Penrose at a conference in January, 2011. PICTURE: Biswarup Ganguly (licensed under CC BY 3.0)

World-renowned mathematical physicist Professor Sir Roger Penrose has received the Freedom of the City of London. Sir Roger, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics two years ago for his pioneering studies in the 1960s, was the first to prove mathematically that black holes exist. The now 90-year-old, who is currently Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College in Oxford, also jointly won the 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics with the late Stephen Hawking for their work on gravitational singularity theorems. Sir Roger said he was “hugely honoured” to be given the Freedom of the City. “London is a magnificent city in which I have spent many happy and productive years since my school and undergraduate days, and then with four separate academic appointments,” he said. Sir Roger, who is also known for discovering Penrose tiling in which a pair of rhombus-shaped tiles can be used to tile a flat service without the pattern ever repeating itself, was nominated for the Freedom by Lord Mayor of the City of London, Vincent Keaveny, and the City of London Corporation’s policy chairman, Chris Hayward. The tradition of the Freedom of the City of London is believed to have begun in 1237 and enabled recipients, who were also required to join a Livery Company, to carry out their trade.

What’s in a name?…St Swithin’s Lane…

Looking south down St Swithin’s Lane near the intersection with Cannon Street. PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps.

This narrow City of London pedestrian laneway, which runs south from King William Street to Cannon Street, bears the name of the Church of St Swithin London Stone.

The medieval church, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Great Fire of London only be badly damaged in the Blitz and finally demolished in 1962, was located on the corner of the laneway’s intersection with Cannon Street.

St Swithin (also known as St Swithun) was a ninth century Bishop of Winchester while the other part of the church’s moniker – London Stone – comes from the fact the ancient stone was formerly located opposite the church.

The church was the resting place of Catrin Glyndŵr, wife of the rebel Edmund Mortimer and daughter of Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr, who, after being held in the Tower of London, died in mysterious circumstances (there’s a memorial to her in a garden on the former site of the church).

Lost London – Greenwich’s Romano-Celtic temple…

Although little now remains of it (and none to be seen above ground), a mound in Greenwich Park is thought to have once been the location of a Romano-Celtic temple.

Site of the temple remains in Greenwich Park. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Given its site close to Watling Street – the main Roman road linking London and the Kent ports, it’s believed that the temple may have served travellers as well as the local community. The Historic England listing for the ruins, which are a scheduled monument, suggests the temple was in use by 100AD and continued to be used until about 400AD.

The remains, which are now located on the eastern side of Greenwich Park on a site known as Queen Elizabeth’s Bower, was excavated in 1902 after they were stumbled across during works on the park. Three different floor surfaces were revealed, one of which was a tessellated pavement, along with the right arm of an almost life-sized statue, fragments of stone inscriptions and more than 300 coins dating between the 1st and 5th centuries.

A further excavation occurred in the early 1970s and another in 1999 – all of which provided further evidence of a temple.

Finds from the 1999 dig – which was undertaken by TV Channel Four’s ‘Time Team’, Birkbeck University of London and the Museum of London in the creation of a programme broadcast the following year – included part of an inscription to Jupiter and the spirits of the emperors and a stamped tile.

It is thought the temple precinct, known as a temenos, would have included a main temple building known as a cella as well as ancillary buildings and been surrounded by a stone wall.

This Week in London – The Queen’s jewellery; ‘The Future of Ageing’; and painting the view from Tower Bridge…

Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, Diamond Diadem, 1820–1. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust / © All Rights Reserved
Dorothy Wilding, ‘HM Queen Elizabeth II’, 1952. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust / © All Rights Reserved

Key items of Queen Elizabeth II’s jewellery including the Diamond Diadem and the Delhi Durbar necklace go on display in Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms from tomorrow as part of the palace’s Summer Opening. Created for the coronation of King George IV in 1821, the Diamond Diadem is set with 1,333 brilliant-cut diamonds, some of which are set in the form of a rose, a thistle and two shamrocks, the national emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland. The diadem, which was inherited by Queen Victoria in 1837 and passed down to the current Queen, will be displayed alongside the official portraits of the Queen taken by photographer Dorothy Wilding just weeks after the Accession (the portraits were later were used as the basis of the Queen’s image on postage stamps from 1953 until 1971, as well as providing the official portrait of Her Majesty sent to every British embassy throughout the world). The Delhi Durbar necklace, meanwhile, incorporates nine emeralds originally owned by Queen Mary’s grandmother, the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as an 8.8 carat diamond pendant cut from the Cullinan diamond – the largest diamond ever found. It was made for Queen Mary as part of a suite of jewellery created for the Delhi Durbar in 1911. The Queen inherited the necklace in 1953 and wore it in a portrait sitting for Dorothy Wilding in 1956 – thought to have been their last sitting together before Wilding’s retirement in 1958. The jewellery, a special display to mark the Platinum Jubilee, can be seen at the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, the first time the palace has been open to the public in three years, until 2nd October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

An exhibition exploring how design can enhance our experience of ageing has opened at the Design Museum. The Future of Aging includes a selection of prototypes, sketches and research from projects that are being developed by Design Age Institute and its partners. They include a self-balancing, two-wheeled personal electric vehicle known as ‘The Centaur’, a hands-free cargo-carrying robot called Gita, and a digital ‘audioscape’ app that uses the sound of birdsong to engage visitors with their hearing health. The free display also includes a long-term participatory project that explores opportunities for an intergenerational garden at the museum and two new film commissions which showcase stories and experiences of later life. Runs until 25th September. For more, see https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/the-future-of-ageing.

On Now: Painting ‘A Bridge with a View’. Until the end of August, English artist Melissa Scott-Miller is painting the views she spies from Tower Bridge’s West Walkway. Visitors are able to observe her at work and take part in related public workshops and family activities. Admission charge applies. For more including the dates for activities, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/see-bridge-view.

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10 unusual parks or gardens in London…3. Crossbones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance…

The Crossbones Cemetery in 2017. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This small walled garden, located in Southwark, for centuries served as a burial site for the poor of the area nd by the time of its closing in 1853, was the location of some 15,000 burials.

The graveyard is said to have started life as an unconsecrated burial site for ‘Winchester Geese’, sex workers in the medieval period who were licensed to work in the brothels of the Liberty of the Clink by the Bishop of Winchester.

Excavations carried out in the 1990s confirmed a crowded graveyard was on the site.

While the site had been neglected for years following its closure, in 1996 local writer John Constable and a group he co-founded, the Friends of Crossbones, began a campaign to transform Crossbones into a garden of remembrance – something which has happened thanks to their efforts and those of the Bankside Open Spaces Trust and others.

Tributes left on the fence outside the graveyard in Red Cross Way. PICTURE: Garry Knight (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The garden provides a contemplative space for people to pay their respects to what have become known as the “outcast dead”.

A plaque, funded by Southwark Council, was installed on the gates in 2006 which records the history of the site and the efforts to create a memorial shrine.

WHERE: Crossbones Graveyard, Redcross Way, Southwark (nearest Tube stations are London Bridge and Borough); WHEN: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 12 to 2pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/crossbones-graveyard.

LondonLife – Keeping things cool…

ALL PICTURES: Sgt Donald C Todd RLC Photographer/UK MOD © Crown copyright 2022

As London swelters, the Troopers of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment conducting the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards take care to ensure their loyal horses are well looked after. That includes a hose off in the shade after duty to help them cool down, bobbing for in the water trough to help ensure they’re drinking enough and providing fans in the stables.

Famous Londoners – Great Paul…

The bell casing used by Taylor’s Bell Foundry to cast Great Paul in Loughborough. PICTURE: Phil McIver (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Not the name of a person, Great Paul is in fact the name of the largest of four bells in south-west tower of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The south-west tower at St Paul’s Cathedral which contains Great Paul. PICTURE: jan buchholtz (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The bronze bell was cast in 1881 by JW Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough. With a diameter of some 11 metres, it weighs an impressive 16.8 tons (in fact, until the casting of the Olympic Bell for the 2012 London Olympics, it was the largest bell in the UK).

Brought to London from Loughborough on a train over a period of 11 days, Great Paul was hung in the tower in May, 1882.

The bell was traditionally sounded at 1pm every day but was silent for more than 40 years after its ringing apparatus broke in the 1970s.

Following a restoration, Great Paul started being rung again last year when it was rung during a festival of church bells to mark the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this year, it led a bell ringing tribute marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Previous historic occasions on which the bell was rung included Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the cathedral in 1981.

The south-east tower of the cathedral is also home to the storied bell known as Great Tom – but we’ll deal with that in a future post.

Treasures of London – The Cyrus Cylinder…

The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This clay cylinder, found beneath the sands of what is now Iraq, records an account of the conquest of Babylon by the Persian Achaemenid leader Cyrus the Great in 539 BC when he took power from Nabonidus and in doing so brought an end to the Babylonian empire.

The cylinder, which is written in Babylonian cuneiform script, was discovered in March, 1879, during excavations carried out for the British Museum. It had been placed in the foundations of Babylon’s main temple, dedicated to the god Marduk. It was formally acquired by the British Museum the following year.

The barrel-shaped cylinder measures 22.5 centimetres long with a maximum diameter of 10 centimetres. It was excavated in several parts which have since been reunited (although some sections are still missing).

The inscription, which consists of 45 lines of script, states that Babylonians welcomed Cyrus as their ruler “amid celebration and rejoicing” and extols him as a great benefactor who improved their lives, restored religious sites and repatriated displaced people.

The cylinder, which is today what we would describe as propaganda, has been seen by some as confirming the Biblical account of the repatriation of captured Jews back to their homeland while the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, called it “the world’s first charter of human rights”.

It has been loaned twice to Iran – in 1971 when it was displayed to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire and more recently in 2010 when it was exhibited at the National Museum of Iran. It has also been exhibited in Spain, India and the US.

WHERE: Room 52, British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street); WHEN: Daily, 10am to 7pm (8:30pm Fridays); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.

Another view of the Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This Week in London – Museum of London prepares to move; London’s open spaces celebrated; Kenley Airfield restored; and Milton Avery at the RA…

The Museum of London has launched a six-month programme of events celebrating its 45 year history ahead of its doors closing on 4th December in preparation for its move to West Smithfield. The programme includes a range of family activities – from Roman picnics to large LEGO builds – as well as behind the scenes access at the museum during Open House London and two festivals on the closing weekend celebrating the past 50 years of London’s history. For the full programme of events, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk. Following its closure at the London Wall site, the new site at West Smithfield, to be named The London Museum, will open in 2026.

A group of children paddling in Whitestone Pond on the edge of Hampstead Heath in 1920. PICTURE: © London Metropolitan Archives

An outdoor exhibition on the essential role of London’s parks and open spaces – which have served as everything from playgrounds and picnics to concerts and Sunday football kickabouts – opens in Guildhall Yard on Monday. Green City: A Visual History of London’s Parks and Open Spaces, which is curated by the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives, celebrates the role open places have played in the capital since the 16th century and brings together 100 photographs and prints from the archives’ collections. The exhibition can be seen in Guildhall Yard until 1st August when it moves to Aldgate Square. On 15th August it will open at Hampstead Heath and then, from 1st September, spend two weeks at The View in Epping Forest’s Visitor Centre.

Kenley Airfield – an integral part of London’s defence during World War II – has reopened following a £1.2 million restoration. The airfield, which sits in the Borough of Croydon, was a station for the Royal Flying Corps during World War I and the Royal Air Force during World War II. The restoration work has brought back to life eight deteriorating fighter blast pens, which protected RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes from attack. The site also includes The Kenley Tribute, a memorial to all who served there between 1917 and 1959, both on the ground and in the air. For more, including information on visiting the airfield and self-guided walks, see www.kenleyrevival.org.

The work of 20th century American artist Milton Avery is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy of Arts on Friday. Milton Avery: American Colourist – which can be seen in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries in Piccadilly – features some 70 works including portraits and landscapes dating from 1910 until the 1960s. The exhibition is divided into four sections – ‘Early Work’, ‘Portraits’, ‘Innovation in Colour and Form’ and ‘Late Work’ – and highlights include Blossoming (1918), a portrait of Avery’s friends known as The Dessert (1939), two portraits of his daughter March – Seated Girl with Dog (1944) and March in Brown (1954), and, Black Sea (1959). Runs until 16th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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