This Week in London – Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and, a new sculpture trail in Greenwich…

The 18 day meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France in 1520, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is the subject of an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, which is being held to mark the 500th anniversary of the event (having been rescheduled from last year), is being held in rooms in Hampton Court Palace that were once used by the architect of the summit, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and features objects from the actual meeting as well as treasures from the courts of the two kings. They include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments – woven from cloth of gold and chosen by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais, Wolsey’s Book of Hours, and a unique tapestry which, manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, depicts a bout of wrestling at the event with a black trumpeter shown among the brace of royal musicians. The display can be seen until 5th September. Admission charge applies. For more information and tickets – prebooking is essential, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A free sculpture trail, featuring works by artist Josie Spencer, has opened on the King William Lawns at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Fragments in Time features life-sized bodies captured in dramatic positions, including fractured figures, which demonstrate the beauty and resilience of the human spirit while highlighting the fragility of life. The artist says the works have been chosen from a group of pieces that treated the figures as if they were the “archaeology of our time found in another century, in the future, when those then looking at them can see the fragility of our life now”. The trail can be seen until 6th August.

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10 London hills – 10. Richmond Hill…

The famous and protected view looking south-west from Richmond Hill across The Thames and Glover’s Island. PICTURE: flicksmores (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For the final in this series we head out west to Richmond Hill which takes its name from the palace which once stood nearby.

At the summit of the hill, which stands about 50 metres (165 feet) high, stands the gate to Richmond Park while the steeper western slopes drop down to Petersham Meadows by the River Thames.

What was the village of Richmond – now incorporated into greater London – sits partly on the slopes of the hill. It and the hill take their names from a palace, established here in the early 16th century by King Henry VII as a replacement for Sheen (Shene) Palace which had been destroyed in a fire in 1499. The King named the new building Richmond Palace, in honour of the earldom of Richmond in Yorkshire, one of his titles.

Richmond Hill is famed for its views – they include the only view in England protected by an Act of Parliament (passed in 1902). It looks to the south-west over Petersham to the Thames, taking in Glover’s Island, and reaching as far as Windsor and has been immortalised in works by the likes of artists JMW Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds as well as by author Sir Walter Scott.

Richmond Hill features many fine 18th century homes including Wick House (built for Joshua Reynolds in 1771) and the westward slopes boast the Terrace Walk and Terrace Gardens, both of which are Grade II* listed, while the massive bulk of the former Royal Star and Garter Home for disabled ex-servicemen (now apartments) can be seen close to the summit.

Other famous residents on the hill have included Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood and actress Celia Johnson while scenes for the film, The Hours, were shot on The Terrace.

Looking at Richmond Hill from the Petersham meadows; to the left is the Petersham Hotel, to the right, the former Star and Garter Home. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

LondonLife – Hampstead Heath Act turns 150…

PICTURE: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

This month marks 150 years since the passing of the Hampstead Heath Act, which confirmed the heath as a public open space, and, to celebrate, the City of London Corporation, the Heath & Hampstead Society and other partners have launched a year of commemorations. Upcoming planned highlights include an outdoor exhibition showcasing the heath’s history and the significance of the 1871 Act which will be launched on the heath (on the main path leading onto the heath from the Hampstead Heath Overground Station) on 23rd June, a community fun day (27th June), an outdoor cinema screening (8th September), a summer music event (tentatively scheduled for 5th September) and historic walks as well as an Historic Postcard Project featuring an interactive online map with historic images of the heath. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath.

Treasures of London – Southwark Bridge…

Southwark Bridge lit up to mark its 100th birthday. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation.

Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.

The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.

Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.

Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.

Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.

The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.

The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.

The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

This Week in London – Noël Coward’s glittering world; figures from the African diaspora; and, reflections on land rights and colonialism in Australia…

The glittering world of playwright and songwriter Noël Coward is on show in a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery this Monday. The much delayed Noël Coward: Art & Style, which marks the 100th anniversary of Coward’s West End debut as a 19-year-old earlier this year, brings together never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive and demonstrates the impact he and his creative circle had on the culture of his time – and today. Highlights include an original page of Coward’s handwritten lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the chocolate brown evening suit he wore in the film Boom!, two of his signature silk dressing gowns, his iconic ‘Hamlet’ chair, and several of his own paintings. There’s also a specially commissioned new reconstruction of the iconic white satin dress that Molyneux designed in 1930 for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives and a never-before-exhibited gold lamé theatre cape by Lucile (Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon) from 1920. The exhibition, which is free, runs until 23rd December. Tickets must be booked in advance. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/noelcoward.

A new portrait depicting Dido Belle (1761-1804) has gone on display at Kenwood House – one of six works depicting historic figures from the African diaspora now on show at English Heritage properties across the nation. Belle, who is depicted by artist Mikéla Henry-Lowe, was the illegitimate daughter of a young black woman named Maria Bell and a Royal Naval officer, Sir John Lindsay. She spent much of her life at Kenwood House with her great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice. Other portraits in the series depict the likes of African-born Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (the work of Elena Onwochei-Garcia, it’s on display at Corbridge Roman Town on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland), North African-born 7th century Abbot Hadrian (the work of Clifton Powell, it’s on display at St Augustine’s Abbey in Kent) and Queen Victoria’s god-daughter Sarah Forbes Bonetta (the work of Hannah Uzor, it’s on display at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/black-history/.

More than 25 works by Australian artists exploring debates around land rights and colonialism have gone on show in a new exhibition at the Tate Modern. A Year in Art: Australia 1992 takes as its starting point the High Court of Australia’s landmark 1992 Mabo ruling which overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. Works on show include Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1989 Untitled (Alhalkere) – an expression of her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder, Gordon Bennett’s 1991 work Possession Island (Abstraction) which is presented in dialogue with Algernon Talmage’s 1937 work The Founding of Australia 1788, and Tracey Moffatt’s 1997 photographic series Up in the Sky, which speaks to the ‘Stolen Generations’ – the forced separation of Aboriginal families by government agencies. At the heart of the display is Vernon Ah Kee’s 2010 four-screen video installation tall man which shows footage of the protests and riots following the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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10 London hills – 9. Highgate Hill…

Highgate Hill seen from Hampstead Health (with the spire of St Michael’s visible). PICTURE: Adrian Scottow (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.

The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.

Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.

Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).

Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).

LondonLife – A forest at Somerset House…

Forest for Change – The Global Goals Pavilion at London Design Biennale. PICTURE: Ed Reeve

The courtyard at Somerset House has been transformed into a forest as part of the London Design Biennale. Forest for Change – The Global Goals Pavilion features some 400 trees with clearing in the middle containing an installation aimed at raising awareness of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The biennale also features a series of more than 30 pavilions from across all six continents – created in response to the theme ‘resonance’ – which have been placed in rooms and outdoor areas throughout the property. Among the countries represented with pavilions are Antarctica, Argentina, Austria, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Poland, Taiwan, and Venezuela. Others, including Italy, Nile Region, Norway, New York City and Pakistan, are taking part digitally. There’s also an exhibition – Design in an Age of Crisis – showcasing radical design thinking from the world’s design community, the public, and young people, as well as a series of installations by a selected group of universities and galleries in which they demonstrate their contribution to global issues through design under the banner of ‘Sustainability and Innovation’. The biennale runs all month. Admission charge applies. For more and to book tickets, head to www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/london-design-biennale-2021.

A Moment in London’s History – The coronation of King Edward IV…

It’s 560 years ago this month that the Yorkist King Edward IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

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King Edward IV by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1540 (NPG 3542). PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Only three months earlier, on 4th March, 1461, the 19-year-old Edward had been declared King at Westminster in London. He had then gone on to defeat the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Towton in North Yorkshire during a snowstorm on 29th March, said to have been the bloodiest single day battle ever fought on English soil with an estimated 28,000 men dying.

While his coronation was first set for July, ongoing trouble from the Lancastrians saw him bring the date forward (his predecessor, Henry VI, was in exile at the time).

Edward arrived at the Tower of London on Friday, 26th June, and then retired to Lambeth for the night. The following day – Saturday, 27th June – he crossed London Bridge and made his state entrance into the City.

Accompanied by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and some 400 of the elite citizens of the City, Edward, said to be an impressive figure at six foot, four inches tall, then processed through the City streets to the Tower of London.

Once at the Tower, he created some 28 new Knights of the Bath, including his younger brothers George and Richard. They then rode ahead of him as he rode through the streets to Westminster.

The following morning, Sunday, 28th June, Edward went to Westminster Abbey where he was crowned King. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, presided over the ceremony, assisted by William Booth, the Archbishop of York.

After the coronation, a banquet was held in Westminster Hall with the King sitting under a cloth of gold. One of the highlights was apparently the moment when Sir Thomas Dymoke, the King’s champion, rode into the hall in full armour. Flinging down his mail gauntlet, he is said to have challenged anyone who disputed Edward’s right to be king to do battle with him. No-one took up the offer.

A further banquet was held the following day at the Bishop of London’s Palace – in honour of his brother George who was created Duke of Clarence, and on the Tuesday, King Edward, wearing his crown, attended St Paul’s Cathedral.

Edward’s first reign ended in 1470 when on 30th October, he was forced into exile and King Henry VI. But it was only to be for a brief period – Edward IV reclaimed the throne on 11th April, 1471, defeating the Lancastrians in a decisive battle at Barnet on 14th April (April marked the 550th anniversary of that battle).

Lost London – The Reformers’ Tree…

A mosaic commemorating the former Reformers’ Tree in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks.

This large oak tree, planted in Hyde Park, was a focal point for protests in 1866 by the Reform League, a group which campaigned for all men to have the right to vote.

The tree was set alight during one protest (on what date and whether it was as an act of protest or simply an act of mischief by some boys during an otherwise orderly rally apparently remains a matter of debate).

The blackened stump was subsequently used a site for people to post notices, as a podium at meetings (including by the Reform League) and, more broadly, as a symbol of the right for people to assemble.

The tree was something of a precursor to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. That owes its formal establishment to an Act of Parliament, passed in 1872, that designated the north-east corner of Hyde Park as a site for public speaking and is now known – and emulated across the world – as Speaker’s Corner.

A circular mosaic depicting the blackened tree – the work of sculptor Harry Gray – now stands at the junction of numerous pathways close to the eastern end of Hyde Park. It was unveiled in the year 2000 by politician Tony Benn.

Whether it stands on the actual site of the original tree is also a matter of debate. The inscription on the memorial mentions that on 7th November, 1977, then Prime Minister James Callaghan planted a new oak tree on the spot where the Reformers’ Tree was thought to have stood. But there’s obviously no oak now where the mosaic is laid.

This Week in London – Royal gowns; first ‘blossom garden’; and, the brightest colours ever created…

A view of the Royal Style in the Making exhibition. PICTURE © Historic Royal Palaces.

A stunning wedding dress worn by Diana, the Princess of Wales – including its 25 foot long sequin encrusted train – and a rare surviving ‘toile’ – a working pattern – of the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, are among star items on display in a new exhibition in Kensington Palace’s Orangery. Royal Style in the Making features some never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century as well as original sketches, fabric swatches and unseen photographs from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a treasure trove of more than 10,000 items of dress and design history cared for by Historic Royal Palaces. Admission charge applies. The display can be seen until 2nd January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

• The first in a series of ‘blossom gardens’ has been opened by the National Trust in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London’s east. The garden features 33 trees including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple which represent the city’s 32 boroughs and the City of London itself. The garden, which was opened last month by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will be followed by further gardens planted over the next five years across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The brightest colours ever created are dazzling eyes at Kew Gardens. Naturally Brilliant Colour, an exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, explores the origins of colour and vision and showcases how botanical artists have depicted the brightest and most intense colours found in nature. Works by Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) and contemporary artist Julia Trickey are on show as well as the world’s first botanical artwork to accurately reproduce natural structural colour (it features flakes of ‘Pure Structural Colour’ which artificially replicates how microscopic structures within the surface layers of plants and animals reflect sunlight in a specific way to generate bright colours). Runs until 26th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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10 London hills – 8. Harrow Hill…

The Harrow School (left) and St Mary’s Church on top of Harrow Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

This hill in outer north-west London, which rises 124 metres (408 feet) above sea level, is the location of the village Harrow-on-the-Hill.

The hill’s name is said to refer to a Saxon place of worship and was later taken to mean the Christian church that stood upon it.

That church – the historic St Mary’s, the latest incarnation of a Christian church which has stood on the hill since the Norman Conquest – dominates the hill to this day. Nearby is a spot called King Charles’ Well where King Charles I is said to have stopped and taken one last look at London as he made his way from Oxford to surrender to the Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.

The other famous landmark atop the hill, opposite the church, is the world renowned Harrow School, founded under a Royal Charter by John Lyon in 1572, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The hill is also host to a Grade II-listed war memorial and a fine array of historic homes dating from the Georgian period to the early 20th century. Among this who have lived on the hill are 19th. century critic and writer Matthew Arnold and 19th century Scottish author RM Ballantyne.

Panoramic views of Central London can be seen from the top of the hill and there is a famous viewpoint in the churchyard known as Lord Byron’s View, which looks away to the north-west. It’s so-called because Byron, while a schoolboy at Harrow, was a frequent visitor to the spot by a tombstone – called the “Peachy Tomb”- where he would apparently spend time “dreaming”.

Byron’s View atop Harrow on the Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

LondonLife – The Bow Street Police Museum opens its doors…

The Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006, the year of its closure. PICTURE: Edward (public domain)

The Bow Street Police Museum, located on the site of the 1881 Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, has opened its doors in Covent Garden. The museum tells the story of the early Bow Street Runners, the first official law enforcement service in the city, and the Metropolitan Police officers who came after. Visitors can explore the former cells and hear the stories of those who once worked in the building. The connections between Bow Street and the constabulary dates back to 1740 when Thomas de Veil opened a Magistrates’ Court in his family home at number four Bow Street in the 18th century and continued until the closure of the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006. Among the famous faces who passed through Bow Street’s police station and court over that time were Oscar Wilde, Suffragettes Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond, and the Kray twins. For more, head to https://bowstreetpolicemuseum.org.uk.

London Pub Signs – The Pilot…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The former sign of this Greenwich pub made the origins of its name pretty obvious – it depicted the orange boat of the Thames pilot, one of the navigators who helped ships make their way down London’s great river (the current sign is a bit more subtle, depicting a gull flying over the river).

But there is an alternate theory for the pub’s name. William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801 and then again from 1804 to 1806, is said to have once owned the land on which the pub was built. His nickname? The “Pilot”.

The timing for the latter fits, given that the pub dates from 1801 when it opened under the name ‘The Pilot Inn and Ferry’ (and is thus believed by many to be the oldest surviving building on the Greenwich Peninsula).

The front of the pub bears a plaque which features the names Ceylon Place and New East Greenwich and the date 1801 – Ceylon Place refers the row of terraced houses to which the pub is joined and New East Greenwich which was the name given to this development overall when it was built (in the apparently unrealised hopes that it would be at the heart of a much larger estate).

This atmospheric pub, which features exposed beams and a rear terrace, can be found at 68 River Way, a short walk from the O2 Arena. Acquired by the Fuller’s chain in 2006, it offers accomodation as well as meals. For more, see www.pilotgreenwich.co.uk.

Treasures of London – The St Katharine Cree rose window…

The Rose Window in St Katharine Cree. PICTURE: John Salmon (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Said to have been modelled on a rose window once inside Old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London), the window, also known as Catherine (Katharine) Wheel, features some beautiful examples of 17th century stained glass.

The window, which is located in the chancel of the church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street in the City not far from Leadenhall Market, was installed when the church was rebuilt in the early 1630s (replacing an earlier medieval church – the church’s tower, however, dates from 1504 and was part of the earlier church on the site). It is abstract in design but

The window, which was removed to ensure its protection during World War II, has undergone repairs and the centre of the wheel was replaced after it was blown out in 1992 when a massive truck bomb went off at the nearby Baltic Exchange.

The Catherine Wheel, incidentally, was an execution device associated with the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine had upset the Emperor Maxentius in the early 4th century by speaking out against his persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Tradition has it that after failing to break her spirit through torture (and, so say some, a marriage proposal which she refused), Maxentius ordered her to be put to death on a spiked wheel, it broke at her touch and she was later beheaded.

This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

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Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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10 London hills – 7. Brockley Hill…

Looking north along the A5 as it passes over Brockley Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

Located in Stanmore in London’s northern outskirts, Brockley Hill has an elevation of 136 metres above sea level.

The name apparently comes from an Old English word for badger holes (the sandy soil on top of the hill being easier for them to dig than the surrounding clay).

The Celtic tribe the Catuvellauni is believed to have had a settlement on the hill top and legend says that it was on the hill that a battle was fought between the Catuvellauni, under their leader Cassivellanus, and the Roman Julius Caesar in 54 BC.

The Romans later are understood to have established their own settlement on the hill – Sulloniacae – which was served as an imperial posting station on Watling Street as it made its way north from Marble Arch to Verulamium (St Albans).

The sandy soil also meant the area was a centre for pottery making during the Roman period, in particular flagons and vessels known as mortaria (bricks were made here in more recent centuries). There’s a plaque commemorating the Roman pottery on the A5 (just pass the junction with Wood Lane)

There is an obelisk commemorating the battle on top of the hill which was erected in 1750 (which can still be seen although it suggests the Catuvellauni won the battle when historians today believe the reverse). It stands now in the grounds of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital which moved into the site of an earlier hospital in the late 1920s.

LondonLife – A facelift for a dinosaur…

Fitting the new jaw to the Grade I-listed Megalosaurus in Crystal Palace Park. PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic England.

The Megalosaurus dinosaur at Crystal Palace Park recently underwent an emergency face-lift to ensure it’s still looking its best for visitors following the lifting of lockdowns. The 167-year-old, Grade I-listed statue is said to be a favourite among the 30 sculptures in the collection at the park. Skilled craftsmen had to make and fit 22 new teeth on the 3.5 metre high and 10 metre long sculpture as well as a new nose and light-weight ‘prosthetic’ jaw. The work – which was supported by a grant from the Culture Recovery Fund (awarded by Historic England), the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs and Bromley Council – was carried out by conservation company Taylor Pearce. It was needed after the jaw on the beast collapsed last May and comes after all 30 of the life-sized sculptures were added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register early last year. First unveiled in 1854 (just 10 years after the term ‘dinosaur’ had been coined), the sculptures were made by renowned artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. For more on the dinosaurs and the 80 hectare park in which they stand, see www.bromley.gov.uk/crystalpalacepark.

The restored Megalosaurus back to all its glory after its recent facelift. PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic England.

Famous Londoners – Thomas Crapper…

One of the most famous plumbers in the world, Thomas Crapper was the founder of London-based sanitary equipment company, Thomas Crapper & Co, and a man whose name has become synonymous with toilets (although he was not, contrary to popular belief, the inventor of the flushing toilet).

A portrait of Thomas Crapper. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Crapper was born in the town of Thorne in Yorkshire in 1836, the son of Charles Crapper, a sailor (his exact birthday is unknown but he was baptised on 28th September, so it’s thought to have been around that time).

In 1853, he was apprenticed to his brother George, a master plumber based in Chelsea, and, having subsequently gained his own credentials, established himself as a sanitary engineer in Marlborough Road in 1861 (he had married his cousin, Maria Green, the previous year).

Sometime in the late 1860s, in a move some saw as scandalous, his company became the first to open public showrooms displaying sanitary-related products. He was also a strong advocate for the installation of flushing toilets in private homes.

While not the inventor of the modern flushing toilet (that is often credited to Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I, in 1595, although there are even earlier examples), he was responsible for a number of advances in the field including making design improvements to the floating ballcock, a tank-filling mechanism, and the U-bend, an improvement on the S-bend.

Crapper’s company did have some high profile clients – in the 1880s it supplied the plumbing at Sandringham House in Norfolk for then Prince Albert (later King Edward VII). This resulted in Crapper’s first Royal Warrant and the company would go on to receive others from both Albert, when king, and King George V.

Crapper’s branded manhole covers, meanwhile, can still be seen in various parts of London, including around Westminster Abbey where he laid drains. His name can also be found on what are said to be London’s oldest public toilets.

Thomas Crapper & Company logo. PICTURE: Oxyman (licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Crapper retired in 1904 (his wife had died two years earlier) and the firm passed to his nephew George (son of his plumber brother George) and his business partner Robert Marr Wharam (the firm, Thomas Crapper & Company, continues to this day – now based in Huddersfield, it still sells a range of vintage bathroom products).

Having spent some time commuting from Brighton, Thomas lived the last six years of his life at 12 Thornsett Road, Anerley, in south-east London (the house now bears a plaque). He died on 27th January, 1910, of colon cancer and was buried at Elmer’s End Cemetery nearby.

While it is often claimed that it’s thanks to Thomas Crapper and his toilets that the word ‘crap’ came to mean excrement, the word is actually of Middle English origin and was already recorded as being associated with human waste when Crapper was just a young boy.

But there is apparently more truth to the claim that toilets became known as ‘crappers’ thanks to Thomas Crapper’s firm. It was apparently American servicemen who, when stationed overseas during World War I, encountered Crapper’s seemingly ubiquitous branding on toilets in England and France and, as a result, started referring to toilets as such.

This Week in London – V&A celebrates Alice; life under Nazi air raids; and, carbon capture at the Science Museum…

A view of the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A landmark exhibition focusing on the iconic work of literature, Alice in Wonderland, opens at the V&A on Saturday. Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser features more than 300 objects encompassing film, performance, fashion, art, music and photography and explores the cultural impact of Alice in Wonderland and its ongoing inspiration for everyone from Salvador Dalí to The Beatles, Vivienne Westwood and Little Simz. Highlights of the exhibition, which boasts theatrical sets and immersive environments including a special VR experience, include Lewis Carroll’s handwritten manuscript, illustrations by John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Mary Blair for Walt Disney’s iconic 1951 film adaptation, Royal Opera House stage costumes, fashion from Iris van Herpen and photography from Tim Walker. Admission charges apply. Runs in The Sainsbury Gallery until 31st December. For more, see vam.ac.uk/alice.

Artworks which shine a new light on the experience of ordinary people forced into new patterns of living by Nazi air raids during World War II are the subject of a new exhibition which opened in the Churchill War Rooms this week. Wartime London: The Art of the Blitz includes newly acquired drawings from Henry Moore, as well as works from other British artists including William Matvyn Wright, Eric Ravilious, Ernest Boye Uden, Mabel Hutchinson, Evelyn Gibbs, Evelyn Dunbar, and Leila Faithfull. Admission charge applies. Runs until 12th September. For www.iwm.org.uk/events/wartime-london-art-of-the-blitz.

A prototype mechanical tree that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is among objects on display in a new exhibition Our Future Planet – at the Science Museum. The exhibition offers visitors a look at the cutting-edge technologies and natural solutions being used to mitigate the impacts of climate change and, as well as Klaus Lackner’s Mechanical Tree – on display in the UK for the first time, it features experts including leading ecologists studying ancient forests, engineers at Arizona State University who developed the earliest versions of carbon capture machines, and chemists at C-Capture who are working to remove carbon dioxide from emissions at the UK’s largest power plant. This free exhibition runs until 4th September, 2022. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/our-future-planet.

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10 London hills – 6. Shooter’s Hill…

Sunset from Shooters Hill. PICTURE: matbickle (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The highest point in the Borough of Greenwich in London’s south-east, Shooter’s Hill rises to 433 feet (132 metres) above sea level and provides views over the Thames to the north and London to the west as well as Kent and Essex.

Severndroog Castle. PICTURE: Public Domain

The name, which is also that of the surrounding district, apparently comes from the fact that archery was practiced there in the Middle Ages.

But the area – which still is reasonably well wooded – was also the haunt of highwaymen (in response, there was a gallows at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill and a gibbet on the summit where bodies were displayed).

The modern road known as Shooters Hill Road, part of the A2 and later the A207, follows part of the route of the ancient roadway known as Watling Street.

Landmarks on the hill include a Gothic revival water tower dating from 1910 and a rather impressive folly known as Severndroog Castle which was built in in 1784 by Lady James in honour of her husband, Commodore Sir William James, who captured a pirate fortress at Suvarnadurg on India’s west coast in 1755.

Other landmarks include Christ Church Shooters Hill which features a Grade II-listed milestone and a Bronze Age mound known as Shrewsbury Barrow.

Literary mentions include one in Samuel Pepys’ famous diary – he rode past a body on the gibbet in 1661 – and in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.