Treasures of London: The Diana Fountain, Green Park

The statue atop the fountain. Neil Turner (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
The fountain. David Short (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This fountain and statue ensemble – also known as Diana of the Treetops and the Constance Fountain (and not to be confused with the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park or the Diana Fountain in Bushy Park) – for many years stood at the centre of Green Park.

The fountain replaced an earlier one by Sidney Smirke – installed in 1860 – that had fallen into disrepair.

The Ministry of Works approached the Constance Fund – which had been established by artist Sigismund Goetze and was administered by his wife Constance following his death – to provide finances for a replacement and after they agreed, a competition for the design was held overseen by Sir William Reid.

Escourt J “Jim” Clack, a teacher from Devon, won and designed a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Diana to top the fountain. Depicting a naked Diana unleashing a hunting dog, it sits atop a stylised tree under which sit the fountain basins. The fountain was unveiled in 1954.

In 2011, the statue was removed, restored and some gilding added and then placed near the entrance to Green Park tube station in the north-east corner of the park.

This Week in London – Museum of London takes delivery of ‘Trump Baby’; and, a call-out for African fashions…

As the inauguration of US President Joe Biden took place in the US this week, the Museum of London announced it had taken possession of the larger-than-life ‘Trump Baby’ balloon. The blimp first appeared at protests in July, 2018, during then-US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the city, and has since followed the President around the world. The museum said it will now form part of its protest collection which also includes objects relating to the Suffrage movement, banners, flags, and tents that belonged to Houses of Parliament protestor Brian Haw and placards used recently by protestors against public spending cuts. Sharon Ament, director of the museum, said: “From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches, free speech and Black Lives Matter most recently – the capital has always been the place to have your say. By collecting the baby blimp we can mark the wave of feeling that washed over the city that day and capture a particular moment of resistance – a feeling still relevant today as we live through these exceptionally challenging times – that ultimately shows Londoners banding together in the face of extreme adversity.” The Trump Baby team added that it was their hope the blimp “will stand as a reminder of when London stood against Trump – but will prompt those who see it to examine how they can continue the fight against the politics of hate”. “Most of all we hope the Trump Baby serves as a reminder of the politics of resistance that took place during Trump’s time in office.”

Kofi Ansah ‘Indigo’ Couture 1997 – Narh & Linda – PICTURE: © 1997 Eric Don-Arthur http://www.EricDonArthur.com

The V&A is seeking to contact people who have worn fashions designed by the likes of Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, and Alphadi – a group who, along with their peers, represent the first generation of African designers to gain international attention. The call out comes as the South Kensington museum announces plans to hold an exhibition, supported by GRoW @ Annenberg, which aims to celebrate the creativity, ingenuity and global impact of contemporary African fashions in June. The display will feature more than 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection (many of which are being displayed for the first time). Alongside the objects, the museum is seeking a range of items – and the stories that go with them – from the public. They include Chris Seydou’s 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini, 20th century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years in Africa, and family portraits and home movies showing African and African diasporic fashion trends. Members of the public with objects that fit the above description are asked to get in touch by email at africafashion@vam.ac.uk, and to share their pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion. For the full list of sought after items, head to www.vam.ac.uk/blog/news/va-africa-fashion-call-out.

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

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 2. Merton Priory…

There’s little known about Becket’s education but it’s believed that he attended a school in London as a young boy before, at the age of 10, he was sent to Merton Priory in Surrey (now part of Greater London) as a boarder.

The Augustinian priory had been founded in 1114 by Gilbert, the sheriff of Surrey, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and moved to a new site beside the River Wandle in 1117.

The remains of the Merton Priory chapter house as seen in 2017. PICTURE: Peter Trimming (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hence, it was still rather new when he arrived in 1130 and facilities probably rather primitive but there was already a tradition of schooling established there under the first schoolmaster, an Italian named Guy who had apparently died in about 1120.

At some point in his teenage years, Becket was moved to one of the London grammar schools – perhaps one located at St Paul’s Cathedral – to continue his education and then later to Paris where he spent a year before it’s believed he returned home by the age of 21.

Despite his years at various schools, Becket apparently wasn’t much of a scholar, preferring more outdoor pursuits. But his studies, nonetheless, must have covered the trivium, which included Latin grammar, rhetoric and logic, and even some of the more advanced quadrivium, which included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.

Becket’s connections with Merton were to remain strong later in life and included taking one of its canons, Robert, as his chaplain and confessor.

Little of the priory, which was dissolved during the Dissolution, now remains but the ruins of the chapter house can be visited (post-lockdown). Other famous students at the priory included Walter de Merton, the founder of Merton College Oxford.

LondonLife – On the Thames Path…

PICTURE: Francesca Grima/Unsplash

Where’s London’s oldest…(operational) fire station?

New Cross Fire Station in 2007. PICTURE: Danny Robinson (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)

The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.

The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.

The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.

One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.

The station is now Grade II-listed.

This Week in London – The ‘Queen’ is missing from the Tower; and, ‘Unreal City’ online…

Merlina and Christopher Skaife in 2014. PICTURE: Megan Rosenbloom (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The ‘Queen’ is missing from the Tower of London. ‘Merlina’, who is one of seven ravens in residence at the Tower under the care of raven master Christopher Skaife, reportedly hasn’t been seen at the fortress for several weeks. A spokesman for the Tower said it was feared Merlina, who joined the flock in 2007, had died. “Merlina was our undisputed ruler of the roost, Queen of the Tower Ravens,” he told the Evening Standard. “She will be greatly missed by her fellow ravens, the ravenmaster, and all of us in the Tower community.” Legend states that there must be six ravens at the Tower or the Kingdom will fall.

An exhibition of augmented reality art (often known as AR art) is available to be viewed online. Unreal City, described as London’s biggest public festival of AR art, was launched back in December and involved 36 digital sculptures by the likes of Olafur Eliasson, Cao Fei, Alicja Kwade, Koo Jeong A, and Marco Brambilla, arranged in a walking tour along the Thames. The festival, which is  a partnership between Acute Art and Dazed Media, has now made the works available to be seen online via the via the Acute Art app. Also to be seen are works by artists KAWS, Bjarne Melgaard, and Tomás Saraceno.  The works can be seen for free via the Acute Art app until 9th February.

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

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 1. Cheapside…

Looking east down Cheapside from the corner of Ironmonger’s Line (with the bust of St Thomas Becket visible in the left). PICTURE: Google Maps.

The 29th December, 2020, marked 850 years since the dramatic murder of then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral.

Metallic bust of St Thomas Becket on the wall at 90 Cheapside. PICTURE: Caroline (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While many of the commemorations have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve decided to push ahead with our series in commemoration of the martyred saint’s connections with London.

First up, it’s the famous City of London street of Cheapside – one of the main commercial streets in the medieval city – which was where, on 21st December, in what is generally believed to be the year 1120, he was born.

Becket was the son of Norman parents – his father, Gilbert, was a mercer (and served as a City sheriff) and his mother was named Matilda. He is believed to have had at least three sisters.

The location of what was a large residence – and the fact the family owned other property in the area – indicated they were relatively prosperous.

The property was next door to the church of St Mary Colechurch – lost in the Great Fire of London and not rebuilt – which was where St Thomas was baptised, apparently on the evening of his birth suggesting he may have initially been sickly. He was named after the Biblical St Thomas.

The site – which was later occupied by a hospital run by the Order of St Thomas of Acre – is marked with a small metallic bust of St Thomas attached to a wall on 90 Cheapside (on the corner with Ironmongers Lane) as well as a City of London blue plaque.

LondonLife – Signs of the times (V)…

COVID vaccination stickers seen in Putney. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of the Royal Exchange…

This month marks the 450th anniversary of the opening of London’s Royal Exchange, a complex created to act as a commercial centre in the City of London.

The Royal Exchange in London as built by Thomas Gresham by Wenceslaus Hollar (etching, probably mid 17th century) NPG D25432 © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under Creative Commons)

The exchange was built on the orders – and with the funds – of the merchant Sir Thomas Gresham at a site on the junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle streets which was – and still is – jointly owned by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

Drawing inspiration from the Antwerp Bourse, credited as the oldest financial exchange in the world (and where Sir Thomas had served as an agent of the crown), the Royal Exchange was built in ranges around a central courtyard and designed by an architect from Antwerp.

It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I on 23rd January, 1571. The Queen, who was lodging in Somerset House at the time, reportedly took a detailed look at the premises – which had apparently been completed a few years earlier.

At the close of her visit, she awarded the exchange the use of the word ‘Royal’ in its title (an honour announced by a herald and with the sound of a trumpet). She also granted it a license to sell alcohol and other luxury goods.

Earlier in the day, the Queen had dined at Sir Thomas’ own house in Bishopsgate. She was later to return to Somerset House.

Gresham’s original building – to which two floors of retail had been added in 1660, creating what is said to have been England’s first shopping mall – was sadly destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It was replaced by a second complex, this time designed by Edward Jarman, in 1669, but this too succumbed to fire, this time on 10th January, 1838. The building which now stands on the site – and is now an upmarket retail centre – was designed by Sir William Tite and was opened by another Queen, Victoria, in 1844.

Gresham’s contribution is remembered by the building’s weathervane which features a golden grasshopper – an insect featured on Sir Thomas’ crest.

Lost London – The Carlton Hotel…

The Carlton Hotel (via Wikimedia Commons)

A luxury hotel built at the turn of the 20th century in the West End, the massive Carlton Hotel was part of an even larger redevelopment that included the (still standing) fourth version of Her Majesty’s Theatre (which provides a good idea of what the overall building looked like).

Located on the Crown estate on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket, the hotel was designed by CJ Phipps (who died before it was completed). Building started in 1896 and was completed by 1899.

Swiss hotelier César Ritz – who had been dismissed from his position as the manager of the Savoy Hotel in 1897 and subsequently successful opened his own establishment, the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris the following year – agreed to take a 72-year lease of the new hotel and a new company, The Carlton Hotel, Limited, was formed.

The building, which had interiors designed in the French Renaissance style, contained more than 300 guest rooms, all with telephones, including 72 suites which came with en suite bathrooms. There were also private dining and reception rooms for guests as well as reading and smoking rooms and a highly regarded Palm Court. And, of course, a restaurant in which Auguste Escoffier, who had left the Savoy under a cloud with Ritz, was employed as a head chef.

The Palm Court at The Carlton Hotel as featured in the Illustrated London News on 5th August, 1899.

The hotel, the upper floors of which contained private residences, was a hit and quickly threatened the status of the Savoy as the city’s most fashionable hotel. But in 1902, as the hotel was preparing to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the king fell ill and the festivities were postponed indefinitely. Ritz suffered a nervous breakdown – apparently from the shock – and Escoffier was left in charge.

While its reputation was never again as high as it had been in the years immediately after opening, the Carlton Hotel remained profitable until World War II when it was heavily damaged during German bombing in 1940. Residential parts of the building were closed and in 1942 the remainder of the building was requisitioned by the British Government (with the exception of the American Bar and Grill Room which remained open).

The hotel never fully reopened, however, and, in 1949, the lease was sold to the New Zealand Government. The Carlton Hotel was demolished in 1957-58 and the New Zealand High Commission subsequently built on the site.

Among the hotel’s most famous clientele was Winston Churchill who was apparently dining in the restaurant with Lloyd George when World War I was declared.

Another famous association is commemorated by an English Heritage Blue Plaque which records the fact that Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, worked there as a cook in 1913 (when he was then known as Nguyen That Tanh).

There’s a story that Tanh, seeing how much food was being thrown away, asked Escoffier if he could give it to the poor, to which Escoffier told him to put aside his revolutionary ideas so he could teach him “the art of cooking, which will make you a great deal of money”. Tanh clearly choose another path.

This Week in London – Behind the scenes at the Tate; keep the Christmas tree up, says English Heritage; and, a new mineral found at Natural History Museum…

Take a behind the scenes look at how Tate gallery curators have been looking after their art during the coronavirus period. A new film released by the Tate just before Christmas features art handlers, conservators, archivists and registrars discussing the challenges of transporting, installing and preparing artworks during this unprecedented time.

The Tate has also released a range of online resources through which people can experience exhibitions online – check the Tate’s YouTube channel for artist interviews and exhibition guides as well as in-depth exhibition guides available on the Tate website.

English Heritage has urged people to keep their Christmas decorations up until February to “bring some cheer” into the dark winter months. The organisation says Candlemas, which falls exactly 40 days after Christmas, was observed as the official end to Christmas during the medieval period. More formally known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas was so called because the candles which would be used in churches in the coming year would be blessed on that day. Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage’s senior properties historian adds: “The tradition that it is bad luck to keep decorations up after Twelfth Night and the Epiphany is a modern invention, although it may derive from the medieval notion that decorations left up after Candlemas eve would become possessed by goblins! I’m of the opinion that, after the year we’ve all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer.”

A new mineral, named kernowite after the Cornish name for Cornwall where it was originally found, has been discovered in the collection of the Natural History Museum. The mineral, which was probably collected in the 1700s and which entered the museum’s collection in 1964, was previously believed to be a green variety of the traditionally blue liroconite. It was only when the museum’s principal curator of minerals, Mike Rumsey, decided to investigate colour variation in liroconite that it was recognised as a new species. “Although many liroconites are greenish, with this unusually dark-green ‘liroconite’ specimen in question my colleagues and I discovered a subtle difference in its chemistry,” he said. “Overall, one part of its internal structure was dominated by iron instead of aluminium, so we found it worthy of a new name, kernowite.”

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…4. The Boy Bishop of St Paul’s…

Inside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This tradition is actually one which is no longer observed – but we thought it worth a mention to finish this short series.

The creation of temporary of ‘boy bishops’ was relatively widespread at greater churches in Middle Ages (and several other churches in London also observed the tradition apparently including Westminster Abbey).

At St Paul’s, it involved one of the choir boys being elected to be the ‘boy bishop’, usually on 6th December, for a role that would run through until Holy Innocents Day on 28th December.

Dressed in child-sized bishop’s robes, the ‘boy bishop’ performed various ceremonial duties throughout the season, culminating with them delivering a sermon and leading a procession through the city.

The tradition apparently became more raucous as time went on, so much so that eventually it was abolished during the Reformation by King Henry VIII, revived by his successor Queen Mary I, and then abolished again by Queen Elizabeth I.

Since then, the idea of a ‘boy bishop’ or ‘youth bishop’ has been revived in a somewhat updated form in certain cathedrals including those in Salisbury and Hereford.

We’ll start a new Wednesday series next week.

LondonLife – Back in lockdown…

The City of London, as seen from Tower Bridge. PICTURE: Claudia Owczarek/Unsplash

London Pub Signs – The Dove, Hammersmith…

While many establishments have been temporarily forced to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we publish this piece in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon…

The Dove, Hammersmith, seen from the Thames. PICTURE: Tarquin Binary (public domain)

This storied Thames-side pub in London’s west apparently has associations with everyone from King Charles II to Arts and Crafts designer William Morris and author Graham Greene and is known as a prime site to watch the annual Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford universities.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the-dove-hammersmith-3.jpg
The Dove, Hammersmith. PICTURE: Michael Gwyther-Jones (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The establishment, now Grade II-listed, at 19 Upper Mall is said to have a history dating back to the late mid 18th century and was originally founded as a coffee house.

The rooms within are fittingly small given the building’s age; in fact, the bar was once listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest bar room in the world.

The pub’s name apparently comes from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark in which a dove is sent out after the great flood to find dry land and returns with an olive leaf in its beak indicating the receding waters (it’s also interesting to note that the pub was known for almost 100 years as ‘The Doves’ for many years – it has been said this was due to a sign-writer’s error which was only corrected in the last 1940s).

King Charles II is said to have met his mistress Nell Gwyn at this riverside location prior to its current incarnation. Others who have come to be associated with the pub itself – Morris and Greene aside – include American author Ernest Hemingway, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and Scottish poet, playwright and lyricist James Thompson who is said to have written the words for his 1740 song, Rule, Britannia!, here.

Another association comes from Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, founder of the Doves Bindery and the Doves Press, both of which he named after this pub. It’s also mentioned in the pages of Sir Alan Herbert’s 1930 popular novel, The Water Gipsies.

Now part of the Fuller’s chain. For more information, see www.dovehammersmith.co.uk.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 2 and 1…

And so we’ve made it – the end of our year-long countdown of Exploring London’s most popular posts in honour of our 10th anniversary. And so, without any further ado, here’s the final two (and surprisingly, they both relate to the same fictional character)…

2. 10 iconic London film locations…1. Mary Poppins and feeding the birds at St Paul’s Cathedral

1. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 5. 17 Cherry Tree Lane…

We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at where we’ve been and look forward to bringing you some exciting new stories as we continue to explore London’s history and culture in 2021!

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 6, 5, 4 and 3…

The next four in our countdown as we head to the final couple of entries…

6. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 4. 186 Fleet Street…

5. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 2. ‘Whitehaven Mansions’…

4. A look back at 10 fictional character addresses in London…

3. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 8. The Darling’s House…

New Year’s greetings from Exploring London!

Looking forward to a better year ahead in 2021! Don’t forget to check the site on New Year’s Day for the final two in top 100 posts countdown!

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 10, 9, 8 and 7…

We’re into the top 10! Here’s the next four in our countdown…

10. 10 London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill – 5. London residences…

9. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Windsor Gardens…

8. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 9. 7 Savile Row, Burlington Gardens…

7. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 7. Saffron Hill…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 14, 13, 12 and 11…

And, just before we get to the top 10, here’s the next four in our countdown…

14. Treasures of London – The Cheapside Hoard

13. Lost London – The Devil Tavern…

12. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 1. 221b Baker Street…

11. London Pub Signs – The Hung, Drawn and Quartered…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 18, 17, 16 and 15…

The next four in our countdown…

18. LondonLife – New Underground line named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II…

17. Treasures of London – The Pearl Sword…

16. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 8. A square in Soho?…

15. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 10. 165 Eaton Place