A major exhibition on the legendary city of Troy has opened at the British Museum. Troy: myth and reality showcases works of art inspired by the “tales of war, love and loss” connected to the Trojan cycle of myths and follows in the footsteps of archaeologists and adventurers who have sought to find evidence of the ancient city. Among the almost 300 objects on show are original finds – such as pottery, silver vessels, bronze weapons and stone sculptures – found by Heinrich Schliemann’s work at the site between 1870 and 1890, a Roman sarcophagus lid picturing a wheeled – and armed – wooden horse (on loan from Oxford’s Ashmolean), Filippo Albacini’s (1777–1858) marble sculpture, The Wounded Achilles, and a Roman silver cup from the National Museum of Denmark depicting the meeting of Priam and Achilles as described in Homer’s The Iliad (pictured). Admission charges applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/Troy. PICTURE: Priam and Achilles, Roman silver cup, 1st century AD, National Museum of Denmark Photograph: Roberta Fortuna and Kira Ursem © National Museet Denmark.

Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, unveiled a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating the site of Europe’s earliest recording studio in Covent Garden earlier this month. The studio was opened on Maiden Lane, one street north of the Strand, in 1898 by audio pioneer Fred Gaisberg and The Gramophone Company, a precursor to EMI – the same company which opened the world-famous Abbey Road Studios 33 years later. The campaign for the plaque – located on a building now housing a pizza restaurant – was led by music journalist and author James Hall with support from the EMI Archive Trust. For more, see www.westminster.gov.uk/green-plaques.

• On Now: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain. This interactive display throughout the entire Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 100 objects which highlight the similarities and differences between theatre going in the Georgian era and now. It explores key venues in London and beyond and is divided into four sections focusing on Georgian theatres like Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the importance of the Foundling Hospital Chapel as a music venue, and the provincial music festivals held in other major cities in Britain. Runs until 5th January. Free with museum admission. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both had an abiding love of performance and were avid theatre-goers (the Queen first attended the theatre as monarch to watch The Siege of Rochelle and Simpson & Co at the Drury Lane Theatre just a few months after ascending the throne in 1837).

Until Prince Albert’s death in 1861, they were regularly seen at various theatres with the Queen attending both ‘in state’ (that is, formally as monarch with all the pomp and ceremony that entails) as well as in private (despite Prince Albert’s concerns over her security). The royal couple’s visits to the theatre generally took place from February to June when the Queen was principally in residence at Buckingham Palace.

As well as the Drury Lane Theatre (more formally, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – pictured above in 2018), other theatres they attended include the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

They also attended the now demolished Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, most notably to see Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers in February, 1852. Keen not only directed but played both brothers mentioned in the title. So enamoured was the Queen of it, that she would see it four times.

The royal couple were such great admirers of Kean that they even had him stage private theatrical performances at Windsor Castle and when he died, Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife.

PICTURE: Marco Verch (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

royal-national-theatreIt was 40 years ago this year that South Bank landmark, The National Theatre, was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The National Theatre company had been founded 13 years before (although the concept was first proposed more than 100 years before) and was, until 1976, based at the Old Vic close to Waterloo Station.

The new (now Grade II*-listed) premises (which was originally also to house an opera house, although this plan was later dropped) was designed by architects Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softly and the structural engineers Flint & Neill. To this day the brutalist design provokes some strong opinions (Prince Charles once described it as “a way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”).

It contains three auditoriums: the Olivier (named for acting great Sir Laurence Olivier), the Lyttelton (named for Oliver Lyttelton, Lord Chandos, first chairman of the National Theatre) and the Dorfman (known as the Cottesloe until 2014, it was originally named for Lord Cottesloe, chairman of the South Bank board which oversaw the building of the theatre, before being renamed after businessman and philanthropist Lloyd Dorfman) and were opened progressively between 1976 and 1977.

While the first performances began to be held in the Lyttelton theatre from March, the complex was only officially opened by the Queen on 25th October with parts of the building still unfinished. Sir Laurence Olivier gives a speech of welcome in the auditorium which bears his name – it is his only appearance on the complex’s stages.

In 1988, the complex was granted the title Royal by the Queen – hence it’s officially the Royal National Theatre – in honour of the company’s 25th birthday.

More than 1,000 people now work on the five acre site which as well as the theatres, features rehearsal rooms, workshops where sets and scenes are created and painted and costumes and props are made.

Since it was founded, the National Theatre has presented more than 800 productions to an audience numbering well into the millions.

For more, see www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.

PICTURE: Aurelien Guichard/CC BY-SA 2.0)

TheatreLondon’s West End “Theatreland” and New York’s Broadway are jointly the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A this week. Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York takes visitors on an immersive, behind the scenes look at how award-winning plays, musicals and productions are made as well as the history of theatrical awards and life on the red carpet. Objects – taken from the V&A collection and that of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre – on display include Maria Bjornson’s original costume designs from The Phantom of the Opera (1986), one of the longest-running West End musicals and the longest running Broadway production in history as well as a selection of golden top hats from A Chorus Line which won both the Tony Award and the inaugural Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1976, a tunic worn by Rudolf Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet, winner of the Olivier Award in 1977, and a dress designed by Bob Crowley and worn by Dame Helen Mirren in The Audience, a production which earned the actress both an Olivier award in 2013 and a Tony Award in 2015. The free exhibition, organised in partnership with the Society of London Theatre as part of a year long celebration of 40 years of the Olivier Award, runs until 31st August in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries before touring to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre later this year. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/curtainup. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum.

A visually stunning exhibition highlighting the talents of Leonardo da Vinci opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington yesterday. Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius takes a look at some of the unique mechanical concepts dreamt up by one of “history’s greatest minds”. The display features 39 historical models of designs da Vinci drew – including those of flying machines, diving apparatus and weapons – which were made in Milan in 1952 to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/leonardo.

Kensington Palace is taking you even further into the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, in a new display of dresses as part of the Fashion Rules exhibition. The new display continues the exhibitions exploration of how each of the three women have navigated the fashion ‘rules’ defined by their royal duties in their own unique style. Among the dresses on display is a candy-striped dress in the “Parisian style” created by Norman Hartnell in the late 1940s for Princess Margaret – on show for the first time at the palace, as well as formal dresses worn by the Queen on state visits to France and the Middle East, and a bottle green silk velvet halterneck worn by Diana which was later made famous in images by photographer Mario Testino. The new display goes on show today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace.

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Last week we had a look at two former theatres in Shoreditch which had strong associations to William Shakespeare and in previous weeks we’ve talked about both The Globe and Blackfriars Playhouse. So this week we thought we’d wrap up our look at Elizabethan theatres with a brief glance at a couple of other theatrical establishments which may have had some association with The Bard…

The Rose. Built by Philip Henslowe in 1587, the theatre is located close to where The Globe later stood in Bankside. Many companies performed here – including Lord Strange’s Men in 1592 when, according to some, Shakespeare may have been the actors in the company. The theatre’s remains are open to the public. For more on The Rose, you can see our earlier Lost London entry.

The Swan. Built by Francis Langley in the mid 1590s in the Paris Gardens area in the west of Bankside, The Swan was the most impressive of London’s theatres when first constructed due to both its size – it’s believed to have held an audience as big as 3,000 people – and the manner of its construction. It’s a matter of debate whether the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – the acting troupe Shakespeare was a part of – ever performed here while waiting for the Globe to be built. By the early 1630s, the theatre had apparently fallen into disrepair.

Newington Butts. In use from 1580, this theatre was located in Surrey (the name is now preserved in that of the street still known as Newington Butts just to the south of the Elephant & Castle roundabout). Little is known about the theatre but it’s believed the Lord Chamberlain’s Men played here in the mid 1590s and apparently gave their earliest known performances of a number of Shakespeare’s plays including Titus Andronicus and The Taming of the Shrew took place. Butts were typically used in the national sport of archery but that may not apparently be the explanation behind the name here which may instead refer to an odd-shaped area of land.

For more on Elizabethan theatre, check out Elizabethan-Jacobean Drama: The Theatre in its Time.

While the association between the Bard and Bankside’s Globe Theatre is well known (see our earlier post here for more), the Bard and his plays were also performed in various other theatres around London. Here we take a quick look at a couple in Shoreditch, then a more rural suburb of London known for its associations with the (somewhat seedy) entertainment industry…

The-Theatre The Theatre, Shoreditch. Built in 1576 by James Burbage on property that had once been part of Holywell Priory, the Theatre was the home of a number of acting companies including The Lord Chamberlain’s Men of which Shakespeare was a member. The polygon-shaped theatre served as the home of the company between 1594 and 1598 when a dispute with a landlord over the lease led them to leave, temporarily settling at The Curtain Theatre, before rebuilding their theatre, now renamed The Globe, in Southwark. Between 2008 and 2010, archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) carried out an investigation beneath a disused warehouse in New Inn Broadway, near the intersection of Curtain Road and Great Eastern Street, and found the remains of a 14 sided theatre about 22 metres across. Plans have been mooted to build a new theatre on the site. To find out more about The Theatre and see a terrific animated recreation by Cloak & Dagger Studios and MOLA (pictured), head to www.explorethetheatre.co.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and Cloak and Dagger Studios.

The Curtain Theatre, Shoreditch. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men only performed here temporarily, between 1598-1599, before relocating to Southwark. Henry V (the reference to “this wooden O” in the prologue of the play is taken to refer to this theatre) and Romeo and Juliet are believed to be among Shakespeare’s plays which premiered here. Located just a couple of hundred yards south of The Theatre and built the year after it, it also hosted Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour, a play in which Shakespeare is known to have performed. The polygonal theatre’s name comes from the road on which it stood – Curtain Road, which, it has been suggested, was named after the Holywell Priory’s ‘curtain wall’. It continued as a theatre until the 1620s and was later converted into tenements. The remains of what is believed to have been the Curtain Theatre were found by MOLA archaeologists in 2012 and further excavations are expected with the hope that one day the site will be open to the public with plays performed here. There is a plaque commemorating the site at 18 Hewett Street which is only a short distance from where the excavations were carried out. For more on the Curtain Theatre, check out www.shakespearesshoreditch.com.

For more on Elizabethan theatres, see Julian Bowsher’s Shakespeare’s London Theatreland: Archaeology, History and Drama.

FireSince we’re talking about all things Shakespearean at the moment, we though we’d take a look again at the day on which The Globe Theatre burnt down.

The theatre was only about 14-years-old when on  29th June, 1613 – the 400th anniversary of which passed last year – a “special effects” cannon was fired during a performance of King Henry VIII (also known as All is True) – specifically as the king made his entrance on the stage. While cannons had apparently been used for years with no ill effect – that was not to be the case this time.

It is said sparks from the cannon landed on either directly on the theatre’s thatched roofing or a roof beam near the thatch and caught fire – there are also suggestions the fire was in fact caused when one of the stoppers used to block up the cannon came into contact with the thatch.

Theatre patrons apparently initially thought the smoke was simply from the cannon blast but can’t have been confused for long – the fire was said to have moved very quickly; in fact one contemporary letter writer – author, diplomat and politician Sir Henry Wotton – says the entire theatre was burnt to the ground in less than an hour.

The audience – the theatre is thought to have housed some 1,000 people seated and a further 2,000 standing – is thought to have escaped unharmed. There are no reports, at least, of any deaths as a result of the fire.

The theatre was quickly rebuilt – apparently more opulently – and reopened the following year. Traces of the burnt theatre was found during an excavation of the Globe site in 1989.

For more on The Globe, see our earlier post here.

PICTURE: Ashley Nummerdor/www.freeimages.com

• The Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving 19th century tea clipper, reopens to the public today following a £50 million, six year conservation project. The project to restore the Greenwich-docked ship has involved raising it more than three metres so visitors can walk underneath and see for themselves the sleek lines which helped the vessel set a then record-breaking speed of 17.5 knots or 20mph in sailing from Sydney to London. As well as raising the ship three metres, the project has involved encasing the ship’s hull in a glass casing to protect it from the weather – this area also contains the museum’s extensive collection of more than 80 ships’ figureheads, never been seen in its entirety on the site. The ship’s weather deck and rigging, meanwhile, have been restored to their original specification and new, interactive exhibitions on the vessel’s history have been installed below deck. Originally launched in 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland, Cutty Sark visited most major ports around the world, carrying cargoes including tea, gunpowder, whiskey and buffalo horns and made its name as the fastest ship of the era when carrying wool between Australia and England. The ship became a training vessel in the 1920s and in 1954 took up her current position in the dry dock at Greenwich before opening to the public. In November 2006, the ship’s rig was dismantled in preparation for a restoration project – this received a setback on 21st May, 2007, when a fire broke out aboard the ship and almost destroyed it. The ship – which was officially reopened by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) yesterday – is now under the operational management of the umbrella body, Royal Museums Greenwich. For more (including the online purchasing of tickets), see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark or www.cuttysark.org.uk. PICTURE: National Maritime Museum, London.

• A large statue of Genghis Khan has invaded Marble Arch. The 16 foot (five metre) tall sculpture of the Mongolian warlord, created by artist Dashi Namdakov, was erected by Westminster City Council as part of its ongoing City of Sculpture festival which is running in the lead-up to the Olympics. The statue has sparked some controversy – Labour councillors at Westminster have reportedly suggested Dambusters hero Guy Gibson would be a more suitable subject for a statue than the warlord Khan. The Russian artist, who has an exhibition opening at the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair next month, told the Evening Standard he simply wanted to honor Khan on the 850th anniversary of his birth.

• Development of a new West End theatre, the first to be built in the area in 30 years, has been given the green light. The new 350 seat theatre will be part of a development project located between Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street which will also feature office and retail spaces. The site was occupied by a pickle factory in the 19th and 20th centuries and from 1927 was the home of the Astoria cinema, remodelled as a live venue in the 1980s. Live music was last presented there in 2009 when the site was compulsorily acquired for the Crossrail project.

• On Now: Crowns and Ducats: Shakespeare’s money and medals. This exhibition at the British Museum explores the role of money in Shakespeare’s world and looks at how coins – a frequently recurring motif in Shakespeare’s work – and medals were issued to mark major events. Objects in the display include Nich0las Hilliard’s ‘Dangers Averted’ medal of Elizabeth I and William Roper’s print of the Queen, the first to be signed and dated by a British artist, as well as a money box such as might have been used at the Globe and a hoard of coins, including a Venetian ducat, deposited in Essex around the time of Shakespeare’s birth. Almost every coin mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays will be on show – from ‘crack’d drachmas’ to ‘gilt twopences’. Runs until 28th October in room 69a. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

It’s the most unlikely location for anything to do with a hospital. High above the street in what was a herb garrett above a former church sits what was the operating theatre for females of St Thomas’ Hospital.

Built in 1703, the attic space resembles something of a large barn and was likely first used for storing and drying herbs by the resident apothecary at the then newly reconstructed St Thomas’ Hospital (this was largely rebuilt at the end of the 17th century on the same site previously occupied by the hospital as far back as the 1200s).

In 1822, the hospital’s governors decided that part of the herb garrett be converted into a new purpose-built operating theatre for female patients. The addition of windows in what was left of the adjoining garret, meanwhile, suggest it may have been used as a recovery ward.

The first thing that assails you as you enter the herb garrett these days, having clambered up a narrow twisting staircase is the sweet, spicy smell of herbs.

There are plenty of these within the garret, each with a hand written card explaining the curative properties they were renowned for – who knew, for example, that the ash of bladderwrack, dried kelp or seaweed, could be used to treat scrofula and goitre, or that the origins of aspirin go back to 1758 when a Chipping Norton clergyman chewed on a willow twig?

Elsewhere in the space are displays featuring early surgeon’s implements (and all the horror that entails), specimen jars containing human organs, anatomical models, pill and medicine making equipment and a display on nursing (there’s also a display on the poet John Keats who briefly served as an apprentice apothecary at St Thomas’ and St Guy’s in 1815-17).

Through the garret is located the operating theatre itself, complete with the wooden operating table and series of seats for spectators. Information panels nearby speak of such things as the blood box located below the floor into which the blood drained away and the speed with which surgeon’s had to work (until 1846 there was no reliable anaesthetic and it wasn’t until 1865 that Sir Joseph Lister introduced antiseptic procedures). There’s also a panel on the resurrection men – people who traded in cadavers to meet the growing needs of anatomists in the 18th and 19th centuries (and whom were known in London and elsewhere to have murdered people to meet the demand for bodies).

For all the faux-horror of nearby attractions like the London Dungeon, it’s here that you can truly experience the horrors some people have had to face as they prepared to go under the surgeon’s knife.

WHERE: The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, 9a St Thomas’s Street, London Bridge (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: 10.30am to 5pm daily; COST: £5.90 an adult/£4.90 concessions/£3.80 children under 16/£13.80 a family (up to four children); WEBSITE: www.thegarret.org.uk.

While the remains of some of London’s oldest purpose-built theatres – such as The Rose and The Globe – can be found in once notorious Southwark, London’s oldest, still-in-use theatre is in fact in the West End. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane (not to be confused with the Theatre Royal Haymarket) apparently takes the honor – the latest incarnation of a theatre which has still on the same location since 1663.

First built on the orders of Restoration-era dramatist and theatre manager Thomas Killigrew, the original theatre on the site – where King Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn apparently trod the boards and which was originally known as the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street – was burnt down in 1672 only to be rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren two years later.

This building lasted for more than a century before it too was demolished – this time to make way for a larger theatre which opened its doors in 1794. Fire seems to have been a perennial problem, for it too burned down in 1809, being rebuilt and opened again in 1812 with a performance of Hamlet (the current building, designed by BenjaminWyatt).

Now owned by star composer Andrew Lloyd Webber via his Really Useful Group, the building has associations with some of London’s theatreland’s finest names – everyone from eighteenth century actor David Garrick (one of the theatre’s managers) to early nineteenth century child actress Clara Fisher and, in more recent times, Monty Python.

Currently hosting Shrek: The Musical, other recent productions there have included Miss Saigon and a musical adaption of Lord of the Rings.

First opened in 1587, The Rose was one of the first purpose-built theatres in London and the first Elizabethan theatre in Bankside, then an area noted for its entertainments including gambling dens, bear and bull baiting pits, and brothels.

The theatre was built for businessman and theatre developer, Philip Henslowe, and his partner John Cholmley, and subsequently hosted plays including Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s Henry VI part I and Titus Andronicus. Among the actors was Edward Alleyn, Henslowe’s son-in-law, while among the companies which performed there were Lord Strange’s Men, Sussex’s Men, the Queen’s Men and the Admiral’s Men.

Its success led to the building of rival theatres in the area including The Swan in 1595 and The Globe in 1599. It had apparently fallen out of use by 1603 and was abandoned soon after.

The theatre fell out of history until the late 1980s when, following the demolition of a 1950s office block, archaeologists from the Museum of London uncovered the remains of much of the theatre’s floorplan, revealing that it was a smallish many sided structure based on a 14-sided polyhedron. A campaign to save the remains was launched – attracting support from acting luminaries including Sir Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft – and much of the site was preserved from development.

Some 700 objects, including jewellery, coins and a fragment of one of the moneyboxes used to collect entrance money, were excavated at the site.

The site was reopened to the public in 1999 – it now features displays and some of the objects found by archaeologists – and part of it has been used as a performance space again since 2007.

WHERE: Rose Theatre, Park Street, Bankside; WHEN: 10am to 5pm Saturdays (Shakespeare’s Globe also offer tours during matinee performances at The Globe when tours there are not available – see www.shakespeares-globe.org for more details); COST: Free (donations welcomed and there is a charge for tours from The Globe); WEBSITE: www.rosetheatre.org.uk

Only discovered underneath Guildhall Yard in the 1980s, remains of London’s Roman-era amphitheatre can today be seen in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Built around 70 AD initially as a simple wooden structure and then remodelled shortly after 120 AD with masonry foundations and walls and timber stands, the amphitheatre would have held as many as 7,000 spectators and was probably used for events such as public executions and other public entertainments including animal fighting and gladitorial combat.

The amphitheatre – the size of which is marked in a black line on the yard above (see picture right) – was abandoned by the mid 4th century.

Don’t expect too much – these days only remnants of the walls remain at what was ground level in the Roman era but they and the accompanying digital reconstruction give a reasonable indication of what it may have once been like.

The Museum of London runs tours of the amphitheatre with the next scheduled for 25th January, 2011. Click here for more details.

WHERE: Entry via Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard, off Gresham Street (nearest tube stations are Bank, St Paul’s, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm; Sunday 12pm to 4pm ; COST (included in gallery admission): £2.50 adults/£1 concessions/children under 16 free (free on Fridays and after 3.30pm any day and to people living and working in the City) ; WEBSITE: http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Leisure_and_culture/Museums_and_galleries/Guildhall_Art_Gallery/visitor_info.htm

PICTURE: Google maps

King George III’s massive collection of military maps, views and prints forms a key part of the Royal Collection and to mark the 200th anniversary of the King’s death, more than 3,000 of which have been published online.

The publication of the selection from the more than 55,000 items in the collection marks the culmination of 10 years of research by Dr Yolande Hodson who has catalogued the contents of the collection which dates from the 16th to the 18th centuries and provides a contemporary account of theatres of war in Britain, Europe and America.

The collection includes everything from so-called “presentation maps” of sieges, battles and marches to rough sketches drawn in the field, depictions of uniforms and fortification plans.

Highlights include two-metre-wide maps of the American War of Independence (1775–83) which designed to hang on purpose-made mahogany stands in Buckingham House – among them is a map of the final British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, the only known copy to survive outside the US.

There’s also a memorandum written by Scottish military engineer William Roy to the king in 1766 in which Roy proposes a national survey of Britain based on his map and survey experience during the Seven Years War (1756–63) – it’s regarded as the founding document of the Ordnance Survey.

And there’s a rare engraving of the Siege of Malta (1565) showing how the Fort of St Elmo was overrun Turkish forces, resulting in the death of 1,300 Christian knights, captains and soldiers (pictured).

The collection can be found at militarymaps.rct.uk.

PICTURE: Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, A view of the Turkish assault on the Fort of St Elmo, Malta, on 23 June 1565. From the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020)

 

Looking for something to brighten up those grey wintry days? The VAULT Festival returns to Waterloo from today with the launch of eight weeks of shows including everything from theatre and comedy, to cabaret, immersive experiences and late night parties. One of the largest curated arts festivals in the world, it takes place over 18 different spaces located across Waterloo and South Bank with the central hub located underground in The Vaults on Leake Street. This year’s festival, which runs until 22nd March, features more than 600 shows including a diverse range of both experienced and emerging artists and, according to directors and producers Mat Burt and Andy George, “offers a platform for “underrepresented voices and stories to be heard”. The full programme and tickets are available at vaultfestival.com. PICTURES: Images fro VAULT Festival 2019.

We’ve entered a new year but before we leave 2019 completely behind, here’s quick look at four sites in London that were put on the National Heritage List for England last year…

1. Sainsbury Supermarket, Camden TownListed at Grade II, it was the first purpose-built supermarket to be placed on the National Heritage List. The store was built in 1986-88 as part of Grand Union Complex designed by architectural practice Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.

2. The Curtain Playhouse, Shoreditch. A scheduled monument, the theatre dates from about 1577 and hosted performances of Romeo and Juliet during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as well as Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour with Shakespeare himself listed as a performer. Archaeological investigations in the years from 2011-16 revealed parts of the stage as well as the wings, galleries and yards and 17th century structures which showed the later use of the site as tenement housing.

3. Nursemaid’s Tunnel, Regent’s Park. Grade II listed, this is one of the earliest surviving pedestrian subways in London. It was built under New Road (now Marylebone Road) – linking Park Crescent with gardens in Park Square – in 1821 after residents campaigned for its construction due to the dangers of navigating the busy road (especially for children being taken to the playground by their nursemaids).

4. Cabman’s Shelter, corner Northumberland Avenue and Embankment Place. Grade II-listed, this still-in-use shelter was built in 1915 on the orders of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. It was based on Maximilian Clarke’s original design of 1882 and is one of just 13 examples to survive in London.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

MOLA archaeologists have started excavating the site of The Boar’s Head Playhouse in Middlesex Street, Whitechapel, before construction of a new student housing complex. The playhouse, the location of which is known from historical accounts, was created in 1598 when inn owner Oliver Woodliffe converted his establishment by adding tiered galleries, a stage and central open air yard (extra galleries and a roof over the stage were added a year later). The playhouse hosted popular acting troupes including Lord Derby’s Men and the Lord Worcester’s Men, later the Queen’s Men, led by the famous actor and playwright Thomas Greene, and among the plays performed was the comedy No-body and Some-body as well as a chronicle of the life and reign of Elizabeth I, If You Know Not Me, You Know No Bodie. It is hoped the excavations will provide new insights into the theatre. The accommodation, being developed by Unite Students, will provide housing for 915 students and is expected to open in 2021. PICTURES: Top – Archaeologists record an 18th century clay tobacco pipe kiln built against 16th century walls associated with the Boar’s Head playhouse © MOLA; Below – Reconstruction of the Boar’s Head Playhouse from 1598, by C Walter Hodges.

 

This Bloomsbury pub, not surprisingly, takes its name from its proximity to the British Museum (it’s directly opposite).

Located at 49 Great Russell Street, the Grade II-listed, four storey building was refurbished under the eye of theatre and music hall architect William Finch Hill (and possibly Edward Lewis Paraire) in the mid-1850s in modified French Renaissance style. Along with the exterior, the interior also contains some elements dating from this period.

There has apparently been a pub on the site since the 1720s – it was previously called the Dog & Duck, a reference to the rural nature of the location back then, and was renamed the British Museum Tavern in the mid-18th century before taking its current name when the refurbishment took place in the 1750s.

Famous patrons have apparently included Karl Marx, who frequented it while writing Das Kapital in the British Museum Reading Room. Other famous figures associated with it are Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JB Priestley.

Ah, and the sign itself (pictured right). It depicts Sir Hans Sloane, a royal physician and MP whose collections formed the basis of the British Museum when it first opened its doors.

Now part of the Greene King franchise. For more, see www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/museum-tavern/.

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

 

This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

 

 

This West End thoroughfare obviously, now associated with London’s nightlife, owes its name to a windmill which once stood in the vicinity.

The windmill stood for at least 100 years before it was demolished in the late 17th or early 18th century – the rural land on which it stood was known as Windmill fields.

As the area now known as Soho was developed, the street, which runs between Brewer Street and Coventry Street (albeit split into two sections by Shaftesbury Avenue), was gradually constructed and by the early 1680s both sides of it had been developed.

Famous residents include the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter, who, built a large house at number 16 in 1767 which featured an anatomical theatre, dissecting rooms, library and museum. It now forms part of the Lyric Theatre and is recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

An upstairs room in the former Red Lion pub, located on the corner with Archer Street, is famous for being where Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were asked to write a program of action for the Communist League, published in 1848 as The Communist Manifesto.

Meanwhile, the former Windmill Theatre, which first opened in the 1930s and famously “never closed” during the Blitz, was known for its “Windmill Girls” in which nude girls posed motionless in what were known as “tableaux vivants”, has long been associated with risqué entertainment. The establishment was owned by Laura Henderson, the subject of the 2005 film starring Dame Judi Dench, Mrs Henderson Presents.

The street is also home to the Trocadero complex, originally built in 1896 as a restaurant by J Lyons and Co – of Lyon’s Corner Houses fame – to cater for theatre crowds on the site of what had been the Argyll Assembly Rooms, an establishment which become notorious as a meeting place for prostitutes and their customers. The Trocadero was redeveloped in the 1980s into a shopping and entertainment complex. There are now plans to build a hotel on the site.

Other landmarks include the Soho Parish School – the only school in Soho – which, located at number 23, traces its origins back to 1699 as well as St James Tavern, said to be built in the late 1890s on the site of an earlier tavern, The Catherine Wheel.

View down Great Windmill Street with The Lyric pub on the right and the former Windmill Theatre on the left (Pedro Szekely/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Before we launch a new Wednesday series, we pause to recap our recent look at significant sites in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s London, a series we ran in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of both the royal couple’s births…

1. Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace…

2. Buckingham Palace…

3. Constitution Hill…

4. Hyde Park…

5. West End theatres…

6. The South Kensington Museum…

7. The Palace of Westminster…

8. Paddington Railway Station…

9. Prince Consort’s Model Lodge, Kennington

10. Mount Street busts…