Located behind what was once Montague House (now the site of the British Museum) in Bloomsbury, this field – also referred to as the Brother’s Steps, so the story goes, was once the site of where two brothers both died after fighting a duel.

The more romantic version of the story has the two men – both soldiers in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 – fighting over a woman they were both in love with; another version said they had taken different sides in the conflict.

Either way, it was said that after the duel, no grass would ever grow on the 40 footsteps where they had trod (and, in the romantic version, no grass also grew on the tussock at the centre of the field where the woman had watched the tragedy unfold).

The field apparently became something of a tourist attraction during the 18th century – poet Robert Southey was among those known to have gone there (although he apparently counted 76 footprints). It was suggested by some wags that, rather than a supernatural explanation, no grass grew on the steps because of the number of people treading on them.

The story continued to attract public interest in the ensuing years with theatrical productions and newspaper articles and even a children’s book in the 1970s.

The exact site of the field remains a matter of conjecture – among sites suggested are a carpark behind Senate House to the west of Russell Square, Tavistock Square and Torrington Square.

PICTURE: Field posed by a model. (Elizabeth Lies/Unsplash).

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Death and burials in Roman London are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday with a rare sarcophagus discovered in Southwark last year one of the highlights. Roman Dead will look at the cemeteries of ancient London, the discoveries made there and their context in the modern cityscape. Alongside the sarcophagus discovered in Harper Road (which had possibly been disturbed by grave robbers), the exhibition features more than 200 objects including a multi-coloured glass dish found with cremated remains, a jet pendant in the form of a Medusa’s head and four men’s skulls which showed signs of violence and were buried in pits by the city’s wall as well as a tombstone of a 10-year-old girl named Marciana, found during excavations in 1979, and a pot decorated with a human face which was used as a cremation urn. The free exhibition can be seen until 28th October. For more, see www.museumofondon.org.uk/docklands.

The work of celebrated Twentieth century British artist and designer Edward Bawden (1903-89) has gone on display in a new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Edward Bawden is described as the “most wide-ranging” exhibition of his work since his death and the first to look at every aspect of his 60 year career. It features a number of previous unseen works as well as 18 rarely seen war portraits which are being displayed together for the first time. Some 170 works – half from private collections – are arranged thematically to follow the evolution of his style with rooms dedicated to leisure, architecture, animals, fantasy and gardens. Among the highlights are early designs for the London Underground, Rain (1926) – on display for the first time, portraits of places he visited in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe while working as an official war artist during World War II, and several linocuts from Aesop’s Fables. Runs until 9th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Bawden, St Paul’s, 1958 (Colour autolithograph/Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden).

Delve into the world of the ‘Gorgeous Georgians’ and ‘Vile Victorians’ at Hampton Court Palace this May half term. The Birmingham Stage Company will be uncovering centuries of grisly history in an hour long outdoor ‘Horrible Histories’ performance featuring characters including Georgian kings, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and Dr John Snow. Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket and some food for the “ultimate historical picnic”. Admission charge applies – check website for dates. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/explore/the-gorgeous-georgians-and-vile-victorians/.

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And so we come to one of the most curiously named, yet perhaps most famous, of all the Thames islands in London.

First, to the name. The almost nine acre island, which was previously divided into two and perhaps even three, was previously known by other names including Twickenham Ait and Parish Ait. A place of recreation since perhaps as early as the start of the 17th century – there’s an early reference to a bowling alley being located there, since at least the mid-18th century it was also home to an inn, known variously as The Ship and The White Cross.

During the 19th century, the island became a popular destination for steamer excursions and the inn was rebuilt on a grander scale in about 1830. It became famous for the eel pies that could be bought there – so popular were they that the island’s name was apparently changed in tribute (although there’s a very dubious story that it was King Henry VIII who first made the island’s eel pies famous by stopping to sample one from a stall there – that, however, seems unlikely).

Second, to the fame. Now known as the Eel Pie Hotel, in the first half of the 20th century the inn began an association with music which would see it one day make an important contribution to the development of British pop music.

Dances were held there in the 1920s and 30s and in the mid-1950s, jazz sessions were held there. By the Sixties, the venue – under the stewardship of Arthur Chisnall – had started to attract R&B bands and among those who played here in the following years were everyone from Eric Clapton (as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and The Rolling Stones to The Who, The Moody Blues, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. In 1967, the venue was forced to close due to the cost of repairs but reopened briefly in 1969 as ‘Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden’, attracting bands including Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band.

The new venture didn’t last. Squatters moved in and in 1971, the hotel burned down in a “mysterious” fire while it was being demolished.

The island, the centre of which was again damaged by fire in 1996, now hosts about 50 homes and a few boatyards as well as other businesses and artist’s studios. It’s also home to the Twickenham Rowing Club, which was first established in 1860 and moved to the island in 1880.

While for many years it could only be accessed by ferry, the island can these days be accessed via a footbridge (the first bridge was installed in 1957 and replaced in 1998).

Notable residents on the island have included William Hartnell, the original Dr Who, and inventor Trevor Baylis (best known for the wind-up radio). The island has appeared in several books and TV shows including the 2005 series How To Start Your Own Country in which TV personality Danny Wallace attempted to “invade” the island. He was unsuccessful.

PICTURES: Above – Eel Pie Island from Twickenham. Below – A signboard tribute to the island’s musical heritage. (David Adams).

Union Jacks daub Regent Street in the West End in honour of the wedding in Windsor last weekend of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. PICTURE: Pete (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

This month marks 150 years since the last public hanging in London (and, indeed, in Britain). It took place outside Newgate Prison and involved a Fenian (Irish nationalist) bomber named Michael Barrett.

Barrett had been arrested following the bombing of the Clerkenwell House of Detention in 1867 which, in a botched effort to free another Fenian, Richard O’Sullivan Burke, a number of bystanders were killed. Barrett’s case was a controversial one (he was the only one of six people to stand trial for the crime who was convicted) and his execution apparently postponed twice because of questions over his guilt.

The crowd at the hanging on the morning of 26th May, 1868, was said to be large – a “great surging mass” (indeed, such was the interest that seats in nearby houses were said to have sold for £10) – but described in The Times as “unusually orderly”.

“With the first sound of the bells came a great hungry roar from the crowd outside, and a loud, continued shout of ‘Hats off’, till the whole dense, bareheaded mass stood white and ghastly-looking in the morning sun, and the pressure on the barriers increased so that the girls and women in the front ranks began to scream and struggle to get free,” the newspaper reported.

“Amid such a scene as this, and before such a dense crowd of white faces, Barrett was executed…To neither cheers nor hisses did the culprit make the slightest recognition. He seemed only attentive to what the priest was saying to him, and to be engaged in fervent prayer. The hangman instantly put the cap over his face and the rope round his neck. Then Barrett turning spoke through his cap and asked for the rope to be altered, which the hangman did. In another moment Barrett was a dead man…He died without a struggle. It is worthy of remark that a great cry rose from the crowd as the culprit fell – a cry which was neither an exclamation nor a scream, but it partook in its sound of both.”

The hanging was carried out by William Calcraft, the orphaned son of an Essex farmer who many years earlier had found what was to be an almost life-long calling when, apparently while selling pies at a hanging he was noticed by his predecessor in the job and became his apprentice before taking in the job himself in 1829.

Calcraft, who was known for his use of controversial ‘short drops’ which meant the condemned would slowly strangle to death rather than have their necks broken, was to preside over the last public hanging – of Barrett – as well as the first private hanging inside Newgate – of 18-year-old murderer Alexander Mackay in September, 1868 – before eventually retiring in 1874 and dying shortly after.

Barrett, meanwhile, was buried under the ‘Birdcage Walk’ (also known as ‘Dead Man’s Walk’), the stone corridor which linked the prison with the Old Bailey. His body was transferred to the City of London Cemetery in 1903 as Newgate was demolished. The grave is marked with a plaque commemorating his place in history.

Public hangings were banned just three days after Barrett died when Parliament passed the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868.

PICTURE: Image from an “execution broadside” of Barrett’s hanging in 1868. These were commonly sold at public executions in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, The Royal Academy of Arts opens its “new” expanded £56 million campus on Saturday.

Designed by Sir David Chipperfield, the new two acre Royal Academy campus features 70 per cent more public space than the RA’s original Burlington House blueprint which will enable the institution to expand its programs of exhibitions and events and create new free displays of art and architecture.

One of the key features of the redevelopment is the new Weston Bridge between the institution’s landmark property, Burlington House, and the RA’s formerly “unloved” building at 6 Burlington Gardens which unites the two-acre campus and creates a new route between Piccadilly and Mayfair.

The Grade II-listed building on Burlington Gardens, which the RA bought in 1991 and which was previously home to, among other things, the Museum of Mankind, has been refurbished and a 250 seat lecture theatre, the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, inserted along with a new architecture studio within The Dorfman Senate Rooms – restored by architect Julian Harrap – for free architectural displays.

A new public route through the campus has integrated the Royal Academy Schools into the visitor experience with the new Weston Studio, a public project space for students and alumni, and provides views of the Schools’ Corridor and the newly landscaped Lovelace Courtyard, providing visitors with a “greater insight into Britain’s longest established art school”.

It also takes visitors through the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, a suite of three day-lit galleries for temporary exhibitions (Tacita Dean’s LANDSCAPE, the inaugural display, opens Saturday) and past the new Royal Academy Collection Gallery where works by the likes of Michelangelo, Reynolds, Kauffman, Thornhill, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner can be seen. There’s also a new Clore Learning Centre.

New places to eat and drink within the complex include the Senate Room bar and restaurant, and cafes and shops located on either side of the Burlington Gardens entrance.

The Royal Academy was founded by King George III in 1768 after he was presented with a petition by architect Sir William Chambers which had been signed by 36 artists and architects seeking to “establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design”. Initially based in Pall Mall, the institution’s first official home was in the new Somerset House. In the 1830s, it moved to Trafalgar Square where it shared premises with the newly created National Gallery and in 1867, the institution has moved to Burlington House where it’s been located ever since.

To celebrate the opening of the “new” Royal Academy, there will be a weekend-long “art party” this weekend with free workshops, tours, displays, late-night performances and DJs. Highlights will include performances by The Uncollective and Rachael Plays Disco; collaborative mural drawing, party hat making, architectural model making, RA Collection gallery tours, and a family printmaking workshop in the new Clore Learning Centre. The Annenberg Courtyard will host street food and cocktail bars.

For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk/plan-your-visit.

PICTURES: Top – The Weston Bridge and The Lovelace Courtyard/Below – The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre. (Both images by Simon Menges).

From coaching inns to horse markets, riverside mansions to gin palaces – the ‘lost’ buildings of London form the focus of a new exhibition which opens at the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell on Monday. Picturing Forgotten London features drawings, engravings, photographs, maps, films and contemporary recollections displayed under themes including entertainment, food, commerce and trade, and transport. Through the exhibition, visitors will discover frost fairs (pictured), ‘open-shout’ trading floors, pleasure gardens, almshouses, cabmen’s shelters, dockyards, farms and a 1960s supermarket. Among the highlights are a look at the notorious Westminster neighbourhood known as Devil’s Acre and images of such lost landmarks as Euston Arch and Crystal Palace as well as Geoffrey Fletcher’s observational drawings of 60s and 70s London and a large scale reproduction of an 1867 illustrated map of public buildings, theatres, music halls and other landmarks known as The Strangers Guide. Admission is free. Runs until 31st October. For more, follow this link. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives.

Marking 50 years since a series of significant protests took place around the world, a new display at Tate Britain in Millbank shows how artists responded to what it calls a “watershed moment in political and social history”. London: 1968 features a series of iconic agin-prop posters by the Camden Poster Workshop who moved their studio into the London School of Economics during the student occupation in October. They provide a visual record of some of the key issues of the time including industrial strikes, the Vietnam War, and civil rights movements in Ireland, America and South Africa. There’s also a Patricia Holland film looking at the occupation of the Hornsey School of Art and work by radical artists such as Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz who all participated in a landmark exhibition at London’s ICA in 1969. The display, which is free to see, coincides with another free display at Tate Modern – 1968: Protest and the Photobook – which brings together politically engaged photobooks made during this period. London: 1968 runs until 31st October. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A posthumous Victoria Cross awarded to Corporal Bryan Budd for bravery in Afghanistan has gone on display at the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth. Corporal Budd, who served in the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, was awarded the VC on 14th December, 2006, for two separate acts of gallantry in Helmand Province – the first in an incident on 27th July that year when he initiated a daring attack on the enemy in order to evacuate a wounded comrade, and the second, on 20th August, when he led a surprise attack on a Taliban position, killing several enemy but sustaining wounds from which he died. The VC, which was purchased by Lord Ashcroft, is the most recent now in his collection – prior to its acquisition the most recent he had was awarded to Sergeant Ian McKay in October, 1982, for gallantry during the Falklands War. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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Originally known as Petersham Ait, this small island located in a stretch of river known as Horses Reach between Petersham and Twickenham was renamed Glover’s Island after it was bought by a Richmond-based waterman, Joseph Glover, in 1872. 

Having originally paid the sum of £70 for it, in 1895 Glover advertised it for sale for the rather higher sum of £5,000. The Richmond Corporation was approached but declined to pay such a high sum and so a couple of years later Glover, apparently in a move designed to put pressure on the municipal authorities, put the island up for auction with the suggestion it could be sold to Pear’s Soap Company and a massive advertising billboard erected on it.

Amid concerns over the need to preserve the view from Richmond Hill from such an atrocity, efforts were made to raise public funds to purchase the island at auction but when the auction came around – in September, 1898 – only £50 had been raised.

It didn’t matter – the highest bid at the auction only reached £200, however, so Glover didn’t sell, nor did he accommodate a local resident who apparently subsequently offered £1,000 for the island (with the intention of passing it on to the Richmond Corporation). Instead, Glover withdrew it from sale.

Temporarily, it seems. Because in 1900, Richmond Hill resident – as well as businessman, art collector and philanthropist – Max Waechter, later Sir Max, bought the island for an undisclosed price and gave it to council with the condition that it never be developed.

It remains so to this day – the uninhabited, heavily wooded half acre island, which was raised to its present height using rubble excavated from London Tube tunnels in the 19th century, still provides a pleasant feature in the landscape for those looking out from Richmond Hill and, with the view now protected by an Act of Parliament, that’s not likely to change.

PICTURE: View from Richmond Hill of the Thames and Glover’s Island (David Adams)


The final days of Anne Boleyn are being brought to life in a new play running at the Tower of London. Written and directed by Michael Fentiman, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn tells the story of the last 17 days of the Queen’s life before her execution in 1536 following her spectacular fall from grace. The performance is staged on the site of the lost Tudor palace at the Tower where Anne spent her final days and is based on contemporary sources including letters to her husband, King Henry VIII, and her final speech on the scaffold in the moments before she was beheaded. The outdoor show (suitable for all ages) runs for 35 minutes with two performances a day – 11am and 2pm, from Friday to Tuesday until 28th August (weather permitting). Admission is included in the entry price. For more information, head here. PICTURES: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.

This corner pub was originally located in a former royal hunting lodge in what became The Regent’s Park.

It was one of several inns which were in the park which were demolished when it was created.

But unlike others, The Queen’s Head and Artichoke was rebuilt on its current site at 30-32 Albany Street in 1811. The existing building apparently dates from around 1900.

The licence for the pub is said to date back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The story goes that the establishment received its rather odd name thanks to Daniel Clarke, head gardener and master cook to the Queen and her successor, King James I – and, later, the pub’s proprietor.

For more, see www.theartichoke.net.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Little remains of this priory which once stood on the banks of the River Wandle in Surrey (and is now encompassed in Greater London).

The priory, which was founded as an Augustinian house in the early 12th century, rose to become one of the most influential in all of southern Britain.

The institution was created thanks to Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey, Huntington and Cambridge, who was granted the village of Merton by King Henry I. Gilbert came to live in Merton and there established a priory, building a church and small huts on land thought to be located just to the west of where the priory was later located.

Gilbert had been impressed with what he’d seen of the Augustinians, also known as the Austin friars, at Huntington and so gave control of the new church to their sub-prior, Robert Bayle, along with the land and a mill.

It was based on Bayle’s advice that the site of the priory was then moved to its second location and a new, larger wooden chapel built with William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, coming to bless the cemetery. The canons – there were now 17 – moved in on 3rd May, 1117.

Among the high profile people to visit the new priory was Queen Matilda, who brought her son William with her. In the early 1100s, a certain Thomas Becket (later the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) received an education here as did Nicolas Breakspeare (later the first English Pope, Adrian IV).

The priory expanded considerably over the next century and in 1217 its chapter house was the location of a peace conference between King Henry III and Louis, the Dauphin of France. The Statutes of Merton – a series of legal codes relating to wills – were formulated here in 1236.

The connection with royalty continued – in the mid-1340s, King Edward III is thought to have passed the Feast of the Epiphany here while King Henry VI apparently had a crowning ceremony here – the first outside of Westminster Abbey for more than 300 years – in 1437.

The priory remained in use until the Dissolution of King Henry VIII. The demolition of the buildings apparently started even before the priory had been formally surrendered to the commissioners – stones from its building was used in the construction of Henry’s new palace – Nonsuch – as well as, later, in the construction of local buildings.

The site came to be referred to as ‘Merton Abbey’ and, passing through various hands, was used to garrison Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War. It later became a manufacturing facility, works for the dying and printing of textiles, one of which became the workshops of William Morris.

Some of the priory buildings survived for some years after but the only remains now left as sections of the perimeter wall (the arch which now stands over the entrance to Merton parish church is reconstructed – there’s another ornamental gateway in the outer court wall which was also replaced with a replica in the 1980s).

The foundations of the unusually large chapter house, meanwhile, have been excavated and are now preserved in a specially constructed enclosure under a roadway. Construction is now underway to build better public access to the remains.

PICTURE: A ceiling boss from Merton Priory which still bears traces of its original red paint and guilding. It was found during excavations at Nonsuch Palace in 1959-60 is now on display in the Museum of London. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0).

A ‘pop-up’ World War I mail sorting office will appear in The Regent’s Park this Saturday as part of centenary commemorations of the Great War. The office evokes the giant wooden building known as the ‘Home Depot’ which was located in the park and which handled all the mail from and to the front line during the war – some two billion letters and 140 million parcels. Believed to have been the largest wooden building in the world, it covered at its greatest extent more than five acres. The sorting office provides visitors with an immersive experience as it brings to life the story of the 2,500 people who worked there and visitors can even work a shift as part of an interactive session led by The Postal Museum. There’s a chance to write a postcard to a soldier or postal worker to give them your thoughts on the war and outdoors, there’s a display on the role the Post Office played in keeping the war running. The sorting office can be visited for free this Saturday, 12th May, and Saturday, 19th May. For more, follow this link.

Two new acquisitions – the first ever painting by Spaniard Juan de Zurbarán to enter a UK collection and a teenage work by portraitist John Singer Sargent – have gone on show at the The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. The rather long titled Still Life with Lemons, Lilies, Carnations, Roses and a Lemon Blossom in a Wicker Basket, together with a Goldfinch perched on a Porcelain Bowl of Water, on top of a Silver Tray, all arranged upon a Stone Ledge was painted by Baroque artist de Zurbarán in about 1643–49 while Wineglasses was painted by Sargent at the age of 19, probably at St-Enogat in Brittany where he spent the summer of 1875 having just seen his first Impressionist exhibition in Paris. Still Life with Lemons in a Wicker Basket can be seen in Room 30 while Wineglasses is in Room 44. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Wineglasses, John Singer Sargent, RA (1856–1925) Probably 1875  © The National Gallery, London.

On Now – 50 Glorious Shows! The Cartoon Museum is this year celebrating 12 years at 35 Little Russell Street in Bloomsbury and to mark the occasion, this display features more than 170 original works which have been highlights in previous exhibitions. Among those whose work is represented are masters of the British tradition of cartooning like Hogarth, Gillray, Tennial and EH Shepard as well as that of top comic artists and graphic novelists like Dudley D Watkins, Posy Simmonds and Bryan Talbot. There’s also a selection of political satire and caricature. The show runs until 2nd September. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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Located between Richmond Bridge and Richmond Rail Bridge (and part of the much taken-in view from the Richmond waterfront), this is another uninhabited Thames island which is frequented by herons.

Heavily wooded, tree species include various willows and black poplars. In the 1960s, the council approved the cutting down of plane trees on the island – the willows were planted subsequently.

The name presumably comes from the Richmond Corporation – that is the Municipal Borough of Richmond – which owned the island.

Downstream of Corporation Island – also known as Richmond Ait –  lay two small islands called the Flowerpots.

PICTURE: David Kemp (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

PICTURE: Pete Owen/Unsplash

Hampton Court Palace will on Saturday launch a major representation of its Tudor kitchens with a new display designed to give visitors a ringside seat to preparations for a royal feast. Visitors will be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of King Henry VIII’s kitchens as they explore the stories of everyone from cooks to liveried pages who made the great court feasts possible and meet the likes of Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to the king, master cook John Dale and Michael Wentworth, clerk of the kitchen. A specially commissioned play will be launched for the summer and during holiday periods there will be workshops, games and competitions. Admission to the kitchens is included in the palace admission. For more information, head to www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

Kew’s iconic Temperate House – the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse – will reopen on Saturday after the biggest renovation project in its history. The five year restoration project has seen its entire framework repaired and thousands of panes of glass replaced. Some 500 plants were taken out and housed in a temporary nursery and some 10,000 plants, consisting of 1,500 species, have gone back in. A programme of events will take place involving the Temperate House, which dates from 1863, over the summer and there are special preview openings on Friday and Saturday night. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: Gareth Gardner/Kew.

The City of London Corporation is marking the centenary of the end of World War I with a new open-air exhibition highlighting the global nature of conflict. Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: 1918-2018, which opened on Monday, is the third and final display by photographer Michael St Maur Sheil to go on show in Guildhall Yard. The display can be seen until 28th May. Accompanying the exhibition is a free guided walk – The City’s Great War Heroes – which enables people to walk in the footsteps of City men and women who went off to the Great War. It departs from Bishopsgate every Monday and Saturday at 11am and 2pm until 28th May with an extra walk at 1.30pm on the final day. For more, follow this link.

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Another unpopulated ait (another word for river island), this nine acre isle is located in a stretch of the Thames with old Isleworth on one bank and the Kew towpath on the other.

The tidal island, which regularly floods, was once, like other arts in the Thames, used for the production of osiers, a type of willow used to make baskets to carry produce from Middlesex to London. There were once said to be five neighbouring islands, all of which have now disappeared.

Once the property of the Duke of Northumberland (it formed part Syon Park estate, his London property, which is located nearby), the island was purchased by the Metropolitan Water Board and is now owned by Thames Water.

Covered in trees, the ait provides a sanctuary for birds – including everything from kingfishers to swifts and herons – and rare snails like the two-lipped door snail. Officially declared a Local Nature Reserve, it has been under the management of the London Wildlife Trust since 1995.

The ait cannot be accessed without permission from the trust.

PICTURE: John McLinden (image cropped; licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Prime Minister Theresa May (below) and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently attended the unveiling of the first statue commemorating a female in Parliament Square – that of Suffragist leader Dame Millicent Fawcett. The work of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, the statue is not only the first of a woman to grace the square outside the Houses of Parliament but also the first in the square created by a woman. Its arrival marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the Representation of the People Act 1918. Mrs May paid tribute to Fawcett for her role in the “long and arduous” struggle to achieve votes for women while Mr Khan pointed out that the statue would stand near that of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – “two other heroic leaders who campaigned for change and equality”. “There couldn’t be a better place to mark the achievements of Millicent Fawcett, in the heart of UK democracy in Parliament Square,” he said. The statue, which was funded through the Government’s £5 million Centenary Fund, was unveiled by three generations of women including Jennifer Loehnis, a descendant of Millicent Fawcett, and activist Caroline Criado Perez who led the campaign lobbying for the statue to be placed there.

PICTURES – Top – Garry Knight/Flickr (public domain); Below Number 10/Flicker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

News recently that Parliament Square has its first female statue (more about that in an upcoming post) so we thought it timely to consider London’s oldest statue of a female.

It’s actually of a queen – Elizabeth I – and can be found on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in the City of London (also home to a rather famous clock).

Believed to have been made in 1586, the statue is said to be the work of one William Kerwin and originally adorned Ludgate.

It was moved to its current position over the church’s vestry door in 1760 when Ludgate was demolished due to road widening. Along with other statues from the gate, it had been given to Sir Francis Gosling who had it placed at the church.

The statue features a rather regal looking Queen, standing formally in royal robes with sceptre and orb.

 

Marking 250 years since Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth aboard the Endeavour in 1768 comes a new exhibition at the British Library focusing on the explorer’s three world-changing voyages aboard the Endeavour, the Resolution and the Discovery. Maps, artworks and journals from the voyages will be on show in James Cook: The Voyages alongside recently commissioned films bringing contemporary perspectives. The display features a collection of drawings by Polynesian high priest and navigator Tupaia – on display for the first time, as well as Sydney Parkinson’s natural history drawings including the first European depiction of a kangaroo, John Webber’s watercolour landscapes including the first European illustrations of Hawaii and works by William Hodges including the first artworks depicting the Antarctic. There’s also the first chart of New Zealand, specimens including the mouth parts of a squid from the first voyage, and, jewellery and musical instruments including a necklace from Tierra del Fuego, a ceremonial rate from Nootka Sound (Vancouver Island) and a bamboo flute from Tahiti. The display, which runs until 28th August, is being accompanied by a programme of public events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.ukPICTURE: Portrait of Captain James Cook (1728-79) © British Library Board.

A HALO Trust branded flak vest as well as a denim shirt and Armani chinos all worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, during a high profile visit to Angolan landmine fields in 1997 is among new items on show at Kensington Palace. Running since February last year, Diana: Her Fashion Story – which traces the evolution of the Princess’ style and her impact on British and global fashion – has been spruced up with the addition of new items including the landmine visit outfit as well as a pink Bellville Sassoon suit worn to board the train for her honeymoon, a Victor Edelstein evening gown worn for an official portrait by Terence Donovan (on public display for the first time), a floor length Yuki gown designed for the Prince and Princess of Wales’ visit to Japan, and a tartan dress by Caroline Charles worn to the 1982 Braemar Games in the Scottish Highlands. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/Diana.

The influence of ancient Greek art on 19th century sculptor Rodin is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Museum today. Rodin and the art of ancient Greece displays his work alongside the Parthenon sculptures that inspired him. Thanks to a collaboration with the Musée Rodin in Paris, the exhibition features more than 80 of Rodin’s works in marble, bronze and plaster along with sketches. Key works on show include The Kiss (1882), which, like two female goddesses originally on the East Pediment of the Parthenon, was carved from a single block of stone. Runs until 29th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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

Located just upstream (and around the bend) from Oliver’s Island, this 4.5 acre island (ait being a word for a river island) has also been known by numerous other names including Makenshaw and Twigg Ait.

It was (in)famously home to a pub known as The Three Swans – there’s still a series of steps on the Brentford bank which lead down to the river where people crossed it to the pub.

The pub ceased trade around the turn of the 18th century and the island is now uninhabited.

In 1920s, this long ait was planted with trees to screen the local gasworks from those looking across the river from Kew Gardens.

The island, which features willows and alders and is reportedly home to a “significant heronry” as well as other birdlife, has a gap in the middle known as Hog Hole which can apparently be seen at high tide when it effectively creates two islands.

At the western end of Brentford Ait can be found the smaller Lot’s Ait (also known previously as Barbel Island, apparently after the Barbel fish found in the river there).

This island was previously used for growing osiers used for basket-making as well as grass for cattle fodder. It has appeared on the screen including in Humphrey Bogart’s 1951 film, The African Queen.

It’s now privately owned and currently home to a boat-builders. It’s been linked to the riverbank by a footbridge since 2012.

PICTURE: Brentford Ait (Jim Linwood licensed under CC BY 2.0)