More correctly known as the crypt of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, this subterranean chamber dates from the 12th century and is the oldest surviving part of what remains of the priory.

Based close to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell – another surviving section of the monastery, the partly Romanesque crypt features some magnificent 16th century monuments including the rather skeletal-looking funeral effigy of the last prior, Sir William Weston, who apparently died on the very day the priory was dissolved in May, 1540 (he apparently collapsed on hearing the news).

The crypt also contains a 16th century tomb effigy (pictured below) believed to be that of Don Juan Ruiz de Vergara, a Castilian Knight Hospitaller who died fighting the Turks at sea off the coast of Marseilles (it had apparently formerly been located in Valladolid Cathedral in Spain and was donated by a member of the order (and first Keeper of the London Museum, now known as the Museum of London), Sir Guy Francis Laking, in 1915). Understood to have been the work of Esteban Jordan, sculptor to King Philip II of Spain, the knight bears the eight pointed star of the order on his breastplate.

Meanwhile, the stained glass in the crypt chapel’s east lights depict the entombment of Christ as well as Raymond du Puy (Grand Master of the Order of St John from 1118–60), St John the Baptist and St Ubaldesca. Other stained glass windows in the chapel depict saints like St George, Andrew, Patrick and David and some of the English branch’s priors and knights.

Other items of interest in the crypt include a 13th century font, originally from a church in Buckinghamshire, and a stone fragment from the pavement of the Grotto of the Nativity at Bethlehem.

The priory once served as the English headquarters for Order of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. The order was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and spread across Europe. The English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset. It was dissolved, as we’ve already heard, in 1540.

WHERE: Crypt, St John’s Church, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: The crypt can only be visited on tours – public tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

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Snow at Kenwood House near Hampstead Heath. PICTURE: Ashley Coates (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.

 

Designed by Witherdon Young, this 24 metre long arcade on the Strand was built in 1830 and was famously topped with glass domes. 

Named after Lord Lowther, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, when this section of the Strand was improved, the arcade’s 24 small shops initially sold luxury goods and various items but by the mid 19th century they were nearly all toyshops, making this a popular place for children (and particularly so, one might assume, at Christmas time!).

The northern part of the arcade was initially home to the Adelaide Gallery, described as a “National Gallery of Practical Science, Blending Instructions with Amusements” – this part of the building later became an amusement hall and then a puppet theatre.

The arcade was demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of Coutts Bank.

PICTURE: Lowther Arcade as seen in an engraving published in a periodical in 1832.

A new exhibition celebrating the role of the court of King Charles II in promoting the arts in England has opened at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. Charles II: Art and Power highlights the key role Charles II played in developing the Royal Collection following the Restoration in 1660 as a means of decorating royal apartments and, perhaps more importantly, of glorifying the restored monarchy and helping it to take its place back on the European stage. The display features works ranging from John Michael Wright’s monumental portrait of the king in coronation robes (pictured) to Henry Greenway’s silver-gilt dish that adorned the high altar of Westminster Abbey and Wenceslaus Hollar’s The Coronation of King Charles the II in Westminster Abby the 23 of April 1661. Other paintings on show include Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1535-40), Antonio Verrio’s The Sea Triumph of Charles II (c1674), Pieter Brugel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents (c1565-67), and Sir Peter Lely’s Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (c 1665) as well as tapestries and silver-gilt furnishings. The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a major exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts in January and a series of documentaries on various BBC channels under the banner of a BBC Royal Collection Season, runs until 13th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: John Michael Wright, Charles II, c.1676 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The lives of convicts in 18th and 19th century London are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the London Metropolitan Archives. Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts includes original documents from the Old Bailey archives and items such as a policeman’s truncheon, a reproduction Millbank Prison uniform and convicts’ photographs drawn from collections in Britain and Australia to provide insights into the lives of offenders, from the time of the Gordan Riots in 1760 to the early 20th century. Among those whose lives are featured are prostitute and pickpocket Charlotte Walker, notorious receiver of stolen goods Ikey Solomons and serial thief Thomas Limpus. The exhibition, created in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council Digital Panopticon Project, opens on Monday and runs until 16th May. Admission is free. There is an accompanying programme of events. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

The National Gallery is running a season of events aimed at exploring the theme of ‘gold’ in its collection in the run-up to Christmas. Running until 1st January, the programme includes free lunchtime talks, a life drawing session this Friday, a workshop on the traditional intaglio printmaking technique of drypoint, drawing sessions and a series of films. For the full season of events, check out www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/christmas-at-the-gallery/christmas-events.

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Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see www.popesgrotto.org.uk.

PICTURE: verdurin (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Be dazzled by more than a million twinkling lights at the enchanted wonderland that is Kew Gardens this Christmas.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in London’s west have once again teamed up with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay Ltd to create a brand new illuminated trail. It starts with a path lit by hundreds of illuminated globes winding through trees festooned with silvery shards of light, snowflakes and stars and includes attractions such as an enormous glowing ‘Sledge Tree’ – made from more than 360 wooden Santa sledges, and a chorus of ‘Singing Trees’.

Other artistic installations along the trail include an ultraviolet walkway of thousands of continuously moving bubbles (created by Between Art and Technology (BAT) Studio), an enchanted promenade of hundreds of huge glowing peonies, giant grasses and coloured reeds (the work of French art studio TILT), and a host of giant trees, made from thousands of colourful, sparkling flowers complete with holographic petals (creative studio PITAYA) located along the Great Broad Walk Borders (included in the trail for the first time).

The fire garden has also returned – this year as a corridor of intricate pulsing fire sculptures and rotating lantern-lit Christmas trees – as has the Palm House finale in which the pond and glasshouse spring to life in an explosion of laser beams, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen.

And, of course, there’s roasted chestnuts, mulled cider and Santa and his elves as well as a festive fairground and other food and drink. Open between 5pm and 10pm (timed entries between 5pm and 7.40pm),  the after dark event runs until 1st January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

PICTURES: Above – A sea of illuminated globes by the Palm House / Below (top to bottom)  – 1. Giant glowing trees along The Great Broad Walk Borders; 2. Animated illuminations at Kew’s lake;  3. Giant peonies; 4.Palm House Grand Finale. ALL PHOTOGRAPHY © Jeff Eden/RBG Kew.

Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events are kicking off all over the city. Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

The world famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree will be lit next Thursday – 7th December – in an event that kicks off at 6pm. The 25 metre high tree is an annual gift from the people of Norway as a thank you for Britain’s support during World War II. Christmas carols will kick off in the square on 11th December while the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service will be held in Southwark Cathedral on 18th December. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.

Sounds Like Christmas at the V&A. A month long musical celebration across the museum’s South Kensington and Museum of Childhood sites, it features choirs, candlelit concerts, pop-up performances, film screenings, decoration-making workshops, and special installations of objects relating to the music of Christmas, as well as, at the grand entrance to the South Kensington site, ‘The Singing Tree’ (pictured). A project conceived by leading stage designer Es Devlin, the tree features digital word projections that create a poem and comes with a layered polyphonic soundscape of human and machine-generated voices. The season runs until 6th January. For the full programme, see www.vam.ac.uk/Christmas. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Greenwich Winter Time Festival. The inaugural festival, set in the grounds of the World Heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, kicks off in December and features an alternative to the traditional seasonal market as well as a covered ice rink, entertainment including live music, theatre and children’s shows, and an “authentic” Father Christmas experience. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Christmas at the Historic Royal Palaces. As well as its ice rink, Hampton Court Palace is hosting the BBC Good Food’s Festive Feast and a Christmas Music Weekend while at the Tower of London, visitors can once again skate in the dry moat, join in medieval Christmas festivities and enjoy a treat for their ears with the Noel Noel concert in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Kensington Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Christmas festivities under a Victorian theme with a 25 foot tall Christmas tree, a display of illuminated Victorian scenes, live music performances and family friendly events including ‘Under the Christmas Tree’, ‘Funtastic Sunday’, and ‘Tasty Talks’. Check website for dates – admission prices apply. See www.hrp.org.uk for more.

Meanwhile, the final release of New Year’s Eve tickets goes on sale tomorrow (Friday) from noon. People can buy up to four tickets, priced at £10 each to be among the 100,000 spectators lining the banks of the River Thames. Those without a ticket can still watch it live on BBC One. Head to www.london.gov.uk/nye for tickets.

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Located beneath Guildhall’s Great Hall is the oldest surviving part of the structure, the largest of London’s medieval crypts.

Dating from the reign of King Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, the vaulted East Crypt is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England with a ceiling featuring a series of carved bosses depicting heads, shields and flowers.

It features a series of stained glass windows depicting five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys.

The pillars holding up the roof, meanwhile – once located at ground level – show signs of where horses were once tied up while their riders went about their business.

The West Crypt, which is believed to date from the 13th century, was sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the roof of the Great Hall which fell down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was reopened in 1973.

The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City of London’s livery companies (pictured above, right).

One of the most famous incidents took place in the crypts on 9th July, 1851, when Queen Victoria attended a banquet here during a state visit.

The crypts today are available to hire for atmospheric events.

WHERE: Guildhall, Guildhall Yard, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm daily (when not being used for events); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall.aspx.

The moniker of this Soho street owes its origins to the Greek Orthodox Church – London’s first – which was built in the area following an influx of Greeks in the 17th century.

The street was laid out in the 1670-80s and along with taverns, coffee houses and tradesmen’s workshops, also had some aristocratic tenants such as the 5th Earl of Anglesey. Casanova stayed in the street when visiting in 1764 and writer Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, also lodged here temporarily.

Other tenants have included Josiah Wedgwood who had a warehouse and showrooms here from 1774 to 1797. Number 1, the House of St Barnabas, was once the home of twice Lord Mayor of London, William Beckford, and also the location where Sir Joseph Bazalgette commenced work on designing the city’s famed sewer system (it was then the offices of the Westminster Commissioners Sewers). It’s now a private members club.

The church, meanwhile, was soon taken over by the French Protestants who came into the area and eventually demolished in 1936. A remnant of the church, an inscription which was once embedded in the wall of the church, was salvaged and apparently taken to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater.

Current premises based in the street include pubs like the Pillars of Hercules (number 7) and Coach and Horses (number 29) as well as establishments such as The Gay Hussar restaurant (number 2) and French patisserie Maison Bertaux (number 28).

Works including a recently acquired portrait of Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) which was painted on the Western Front during World War I, a self-portrait in stained glass of artist and actor Pauline Boty (pictured), and three life-sized World War I portraits of military officers which have been reunited for the first time in decades, are among highlights of the National Portrait Gallery’s new early 20th century galleries. Four new rooms – split into the ‘Early 20th Century’, ‘The Great War’, ‘The Interwar Years’, and the ‘Second World War and Post-War Recovery’ – hold 121 portraits which have been hung chronologically and feature everyone from Virginia Woolf to Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Christabel Pankhurst to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Along with Frank O Salisbury’s oil sketch of Prince Edward, Boty’s stained glass portrait (the gallery’s first), and the three group portraits from World War I,  highlights of the gallery include a 1913 portrait of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace by Sir John Lavery, a 1931 portrait of Aldous Huxley by Vanessa Bell and a portrait of Roald Dahl in RAF uniform by Matthew Smith. Admission to the galleries is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

The “most comprehensive” exhibition of the work of French artist Amedeo Modigliani opens at the Tate Modern today. Modigliani features 100 works including portraits, some of his lesser known sculptures and 10 of his controversial nude paintings, the largest group of such ever shown in the UK. The exhibition re-evaluates Modigliani’s work and experimentation and includes well known and lesser known works with more than 40 of them never seen in the UK before. The works on show include Bust of a Young Woman (1908), Jean Cocteau (1916), and Boy with a Blue Jacket (1919). Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Former iconic Carnaby Street shop Lord John has been honoured with a City of Wesminster Green Plaque. Lord John, which dressed everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Beatles and The Kinks, was opened by brothers Warren, David and Harold Gold in 1964. The plaque can be seen at 43 Carnaby Street.

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The Hatton Garden diamond district is the inspiration behind a new work by artist Simon Periton which will appear inside the new Elizabeth Line station at Farringdon when it opens in December, 2018. A series of giant gems will appear to tumble down and along the walls of the station’s western ticket hall in what has been described as a “huge glazed frieze”. Each ‘gem’ will be created using special paint and then backlit so it shimmers and appears three dimensional. Periton is also creating a work of art for the station’s eastern ticket hall which will see exterior glazing being placed on three sides of the building featuring an intricate pattern reminiscent of the elaborate Victorian-era metalwork of the historic Smithfield Market found opposite. Says the artist: “The feel of each site is very different. The artwork for the Eastern Ticket Hall is visually more organic. Not only does the intricate pattern reflect the elaborate Victorian metalwork of Smithfield Market, it also references fragmented elements of the fauna and flora sold traditionally in the market. The design for this site is printed to emulate etched glass. The artwork design for the Western Ticket Hall is based on a large faceted diamond. A series of these giant gems cascade down and spin around the concourse, animating the space and echoing the movement of commuters. This design will be printed in bright coloured ceramic inks.” The artworks are just a couple of the many being incorporated into the new Elizabeth line stations under the Crossrail Art Programme. For more, see www.crossrail.co.uk/. PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail


It’s 40 years ago this month since the Concorde – the ultimate in luxury plane travel – set off for the first flight on what would be – for almost three decades, at least – a regular service between London and New York.

The British Airways service between London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK airports began on 22nd November, 1977 – the same date as regular services between Paris and New York – after a ban on the Concorde landing in New York was lifted by the US Supreme Court.

The flight came almost two years after the first commercial flights of the Concorde anywhere in the world had started in January, 1976, between London and Bahrain, and Paris and Rio via Dakar.

With the jets flying at a cruising speed of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), the journey from London to New York took an average of three-and-a-half hours (compared with seven to eight hours for a subsonic flight). Concorde still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a civil aircraft – a flight from New York to London on 7th February, 1996, which took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The aircraft – BA had seven in service – seated 100 passengers in two cabins – 40 in the front and 60 in the rear – and a crew of nine. The London to New York service (and the return trip) was particularly popular among celebrities.

The London to New York route hosted the last commercial flight of the Concorde on 24th October, 2003.

The decision to stop flying the Concorde followed a July, 2000, tragedy in which an Air France Concorde had crashed while taking off in Paris, killing 109 people on the plane and four on the ground. Safety concerns had seen the planes grounded for more than a year. And when they did finally take to the skies again in November, 2001, the world had witnessed the September 11 terror attacks – a fact which was said to have led a dramatic drop in passenger numbers.  In the end, it was said to be these declining passenger numbers along with the rising maintenance costs of ageing fleets which led to its demise.

One of the retired British Airways Concordes – it was used for spare parts by BA and never used commercially – and the world’s only surviving Concorde simulator, built in 1974, can be found just outside London at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.

There are apparently several supersonic jet passenger planes in development but when – or indeed if – they end up flying the New York to London route remains to be seen.

PICTURES – NOW AND THEN: Top – A Concorde in retirement (Simon Boddy, licensed under CC BY-NC SA 2.0); Below – The British Airways official handover ceremony in 1976 (Steve Fitzgerald under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2).

Soldiers of African and Caribbean descent who fought for the British Empire in the 19th century as part of the West India Regiments are the subject of a new display at the Museum of London Docklands. Fighting for Empire: From Slavery to Military Service in the West India Regiments focuses particularly on the story of Private Samuel Hodge, the first soldier of African-Caribbean descent to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honour. Central to the display in the museum’s ‘London, Sugar & Slavery’ gallery, is Louis William Desanges’ painting, The Capture of the Tubabakolong, Gambia 1866 (pictured above), which gives greater prevalence to the British commanding officer Colonel George D’Arcy than to Hodge and which was never displayed with Desanges’ other military paintings in the Victoria Cross Gallery at the Crystal Palace in the 1870s. The exhibition also includes prints, ephemera and maps. Runs until 9th September next year. Admission is free. Meanwhile, this weekend the museum is hosting a Maritime Music Festival celebrating the Docklands’ proud maritime heritage. The festival offers the opportunity to try your hand at a poetry rhyming session, learn knot tying skills and listen to sea shanty crews performing. The festival runs from noon to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled at the former South Kensington home of artist Francis Bacon. Bacon moved to the converted Victorian coach house at 7 Reece Mews in 1961. He kept a studio on the first floor and lived at the property, described as “insanely eccentric”, until his death in 1992. Among significant works he completed there was his first large-scale triptych, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, in 1962 as well as portraits including his 1966 work Portrait of George Dyer Talking. Six years after Bacon’s death in 1992, his studio and its entire contents – including the walls, doors, floor and ceiling – were removed and recreated in The Hugh Lane Gallery in the city of his birth, Dublin. The property is today in the care of  The Estate of Francis Bacon. Meanwhile, another Blue Plaque was unveiled this week, this time commemorating Sister Nivedita. She was one of the most influential female figures in India, an Indian independence campaigner and someone who helped introduce Hindu philosophies to a western audience. The plaque can be found at 21A High Street in Wimbledon, where Nivedita stayed with Swami Vivekananda in 1899. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The first UK exhibition dedicated to the works Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela has opened at The National Gallery. Lake Keitele: A Vision of Finland centres on the work titled Lake Keitele which, acquired by the gallery in 1999, is one of four versions, all of which have been reunited for the first time in the UK in this display. They are some of the dozen or so works in the exhibition which spans 30 years of Gallen-Kallela’s career. The free show, which can be seen in Room 1 until 4th February, marks the centenary of Finland’s independence. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

LondonLife – Moody sky…

November 14, 2017

London from The Shard. PICTURE: Genevieve Perron-Migneron/Unsplash

The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday as the new Lord Mayor of London, Charles Bowman, takes office with the event once again culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Thames. The Lord Mayor will arrive in the City at 9am via a flotilla which includes the QRB Gloriana and other traditional Thames barges. Riding in the splendid State Coach, the Lord Mayor then joins in the world famous procession which sets off from Mansion House at 11am, pausing at the Royal Courts where he swears allegiance to the monarch before returning via Victoria Embankment at 1pm. The fireworks display will start at 5.15pm from a barge moored between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges. For more details, head to https://lordmayorsshow.london. Meanwhile, on Sunday, annual Remembrance Sunday services will be held around the country centred on the Cenotaph in Whitehall where, in a break with tradition, Prince Charles is expected to lay a wreath on behalf of the Queen who, along with Prince Philip, will be watching from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building.

More than 50 portraits by Paul Cézanne have gone on show in a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Cézanne Portraits features works previously unseen in the UK including three self-portraits – one of which is Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat (1885-86) –  and two portraits of his wife –  Madame Cézanne Sewing (1877) and Madame Cézanne (1886–7) – as well as Boy in a Red Waistcoat (1888-90) and Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair, both of which haven’t been seen in London since the 1930s. The exhibition, which includes paintings spanning the period from the 1860s until shortly before Cézanne’s death in 1906, explores the special pictorial and thematic characteristics of the artist’s portraiture work such as his use of complementary pairs and his creation of multiple versions of works featuring the same subject. The exhibition, which has already been on show at the Musée d’Orsay and will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC from late March next year, runs until 11th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat by Paul Cézanne, 1885-6, © Private Collection 

The use of venom as the ultimate natural weapon is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on Friday. Venom: Killer and Cure explores how the use and effects of venom, the different biological roles it plays and how humans have attempted to harness and neutralise its power, with the former including some remarkable medical innovations. Specimens on show include everything from snakes to spiders, wasps, scorpions and the duck-billed platypus as well as live example of a venomous creature. Highlights include a gaboon viper head – a snake species with the largest known venom fangs, an emperor scorpion which engages in unusual mating behaviour known as “sexual stingings”, a flower urchin which can inject venom that causes muscular paralysis in humans for up to six hours, a tarantula hawk wasp which has one of the most painful venomous stings, and a box jellyfish, larger specimens of which can cause death in humans in two to five minutes. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Coinciding with the centenary of the Russian Revolution comes a new exhibition at the Tate Modern which offers a visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is based around the collection of late graphic designer David King (1943-2016) and charts how seismic events such as the overthrow of the last Tsar, the revolutionary risings of 1917 and Stalin’s campaign of terror inspired a wave of art and graphic design across the country. The display includes more than 250 posters, paintings, photographs, books and other ephemera by artists such as El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Nina Vatolina. Runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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A highlight of any journey through subterranean London is spending some time in the St Paul’s Cathedral crypt, famously the resting place of, among others, Admiral Lord Nelson and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

Built as an integral part of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, the crypt is said to be the largest in Europe and runs the complete length of the building above. It features some 200 memorials.

Nelson’s resting place is under the centre of the dome – his remains, brought back from the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in a keg of naval brandy, are entombed inside a wooden coffin made from one of the French ships he defeated at the Battle of the Nile which is then contained in a black sarcophagus. Originally made for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s but left unused when the Cardinal fell from favour, it’s now topped with Nelson’s viscount coronet in place of where the cardinal’s hat would have stood.

The Duke of Wellington, meanwhile, lies just to the east in a tomb of Cornish porphyritic granite set atop a block of Peterhead granite carved with four sleeping lions at its four corners. The coffin was lowered through a specially created hole in the cathedral floor above Nelson’s tomb and then moved into the sarcophagus.

Other memorials – not all of which commemorate people actually buried here – include one to the architect, Sir Christopher Wren, which features the words, written in Latin, ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you’.

There’s also memorials to everyone from artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Blake to Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, Lawrence of Arabia and, more recently, one for Gordon Hamilton Fairley, killed by a terrorist bomb in 1975. There’s even a bust of the first US President, George Washington.

The crypt also contains a number of war memorials and is the location of the OBE Chapel, dedicated at a service attended by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960, honouring those who have given distinguished service to the nation.

Other features of the crypt include the Treasury where more than 200 items are on display including some of the cathedral’s plate and vestments (much of which has been lost over the years including when a major robbery took place in 1810), liturgical plate from other churches in the diocese and some Wren memorabilia including his penknife, measuring rod and death mask.

The crypt is also home to the cathedral’s gift shop and cafe where you can stop for a refreshment before heading back out into the streets above.

WHERE: The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s and Mansion House); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 adults (18+)/£8 children (aged 6 to 17)/£16 concessions/£44 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Admiral Lord Nelson’s tomb (Marcus Holland-Moritz/ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.o)


PICTURE: Rene Böhmer/Unsplash