• Kew Garden’s iconic Orchid Festival returns to the Princess of Wales Conservatory this Saturday. This year’s display takes its inspiration from the biodiversity of Cameroon – the first time it has celebrated the flora of an African nation. Highlights include giraffe sculptures and a troop of gorillas as well as arrangements featuring lions and hippos. The festival also includes ‘Orchids After Hours’ with music, food and drink. Runs until 5th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.
• English Heritage Blue Plaques honouring anti-racist activist Claudia Jones, suffragette Emily Wilding Davison and Ada Salter, the first female mayor of a London borough, will be among those unveiled in London this year. English Heritage announced this year’s plaques will also honour 20th century violinistYehudi Menuhin, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh – a god-daughter of Queen Victoria and also a suffragette, and Marie Spartali Stillman, a Pre-Raphaelite model who appeared in paintings by the likes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. For more on the Blue Plaques scheme, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• Images of Ukraine during its conflict with Russia go on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth on Friday.Ukraine: Photographs from the Frontline features images taken by renowned photojournalist Anastasia Taylor-Lind which were taken during her time in Ukraine between 2014 and June, 2022. The exhibition is presented in three sections – the first focusing on the 2014 protests in Kyiv, the second on the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and the third on Russia’s invasion in February last year. Runs until 8th May. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/events/iwm-london-ukraine-exhibition.
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This extraordinary west London property is an artistic treasure trove thanks to its once being the residence and studio of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton.
The red brick home at 12 Holland Park Road was purpose-built by Leighton. He acquired the land in 1864 and commissioned his architect friend George Aitchison, who had never before designed a home, to draw up plans (along with his own input).
Work started on the property in 1865 and Leighton, who spent some of the year in Spain and Rome, was able to move in late in in the year. The property, which was rather plain on the outside, featured a large studio – with large window overlooking the garden – and his bedroom on the second floor.
Leighton was to subsequently undertake a series of extensions – the first, to enlarge the size of the studio, after just three years.
In 1877 he began construction of the domed Arab Hall which was inspired by his trips to Turkey and Syria and the interior of a 12th-century palace in Palermo, Sicily. Craftsmen were sourced from across London and the new room featured a gold mosaic frieze made in Venice and shipped in sections and wall tiles which mostly come from Damascus and which mostly date from the late 16th and early 17th century. It wasn’t fully completed until 1881.
A large “winter studio” featuring a glass roof for light was added in 1889-90 and the final addition was the Silk Room which, built on the first floor, was designed as a picture gallery for the works of Leighton’s contemporaries including the likes of John Everett Millais, George Frederic Watts and John Singer Sargent. It was completed just months before Leighton’s death in 1896.
After Leighton’s death, his collection of art was auctioned off. But his house was retained and in 1900 it opened as a museum run by a committee lead by Leighton’s neighbour and biographer Emilie Barrington to display art by Leighton and others.
In 1927, ownership of the house was transferred to current managers, The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Further additions to the house followed including a new wing for exhibition space.
Many of the home’s fittings and fixtures were lost during the 20th century but in the 1980s curator Stephen Jones began restoring the interiors, a process which continued in 2008-10 in what was known as the Closer to Home project. A further project of restoration was commenced in 2019 to refurbish the home’s 20th century additions and create new visitor facilities including a cafe.
The home’s garden, meanwhile, remains largely unchanged from Leighton’s design.
As well as the artistry contained in the house itself, the museum hosts a significant collection of art including paintings by Leighton himself as well as Pre-Raphaelites including Edward Burne-Jones, Millais and Watts. There’s also several of Leighton’s sculptures.
The Grade II*-listed house, which features an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade, has been seen in numerous films, TV shows and music videos including the Poirot TV series and the 2020 film, Rebecca.
WHERE: Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road (nearest Tube stations are Kensington (Olympia) and High Street Kensington; WHEN: 10am to 5:30pm Wednesday to Monday COST: £11 adults/£9 concession/£5 children (six to 18 years; five and under free); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/museums/leighton-house.
This name of this rather long laneway, which runs from Charterhouse Street, under Holborn Viaduct, all the way south to Fleet Street, doesn’t have anything to do with footwear.
The name is actually a corruption of the Sho Well which once stood at the north end of the thoroughfare (and which itself may have been named after a tract of land known as Shoeland Farm thanks to it resembling a shoe in shape).
In the 13th century the lane was the London home of the Dominican Black Friars – after they left in the late 13th century, the property became the London home of the Earl of Lincoln and later became known as Holborn Manor.
In the 17th century, the lane was known as for its signwriters and broadsheet creators as well as for a famous cockpit which was visited by none other than diarist Samuel Pepys in 1663. It was also the location of a workhouse.
Prominent buildings which have survived also include St Andrew Holborn, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (it actually survived the Great Fire of London but was in such a bad state of repair that it was rebuilt anyway). The street these days is lined with office buildings.
Famous residents have included John de Critz, Serjeant Painter to King James I and King Charles I, preacher Praise-God Barebone who gave his name to Barebone’s Parliament held in 1653 during the English Commonwealth, and Paul Lovell, who, so the story goes, refused to leave his house during the Great Fire of 1666 and so died in his residence.
• Stephen Lawrence, a London teenager who was killed in a racially motivated murder in 1993, and four-times medieval Mayor of London, Richard Whittington, are both remembered in a new display at the City of London Heritage Gallery. Among the items on show is a report by the headteacher of John Roan School in Greenwich which was created following Lawrence’s death along with the last will and testament of Whittington and a book recording his third election as mayor in 1406 and showing his decorated coat of arms. Also on show in the gallery is a Bomb Damage Map which, produced by London County Council, shows the extent of damage to Rotherhithe and part of the Isle of Dogs following a German Luftwaffe raid in September, 1940. The display can be seen until 28th April. Admission is free but booking is recommended. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/heritage-gallery-exhibition.
• The Museum of London is seeking information on high-profile items of clothing created by leading Jewish fashion designers ahead of an exhibition running later this year. Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners Shaped Global Style, scheduled to open in October, will explore the major contribution of Jewish designers had in making London an iconic fashion city during the 20th century. It will feature pieces from the museum’s own collections but those behind the exhibition are also looking for a range of other high profile items. These include menswear made by Mr Fish and Cecil Gee which were worn by famous names such as Sean Connery, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Muhammad Ali, Michael Caine and The Beatles, womenswear made by Rahvis in the 1930s and 1940s and worn by Hollywood film stars, hats made by Otto Lucas and worn by the likes of Greta Garbo and Wallis Simpson, a theatre costume made by Neymar for Cecil Landau’s 1949 production of Sauce Tartare, and 1930s gowns made by dressmaker Madame Isobel (Isobel Spevak Harris). Anyone who has information about the location of these objects are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any information. More information on the exhibition will be provided closer to the date.
• The Royal Parks is looking for volunteer rangers in The Regent’s Park this spring. Following the success of volunteer ranger programmes in Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks, the charity is seeking “friendly and chatty people who are passionate about The Regent’s Park, and keen to inspire and educate visitors”. Volunteers, who need to commit to a minimum of three hours per month, will work in pairs and share facts about the park’s heritage as well as provide tips on the best walking and cycling routes and inform visitors on how everyone can help nature thrive in the parks. Rangers can choose from a range of 90-minute volunteering sessions across weekdays and weekends. Applications close on 26th February. Full training will be provided. To apply, visit www.royalparks.org.uk/rangers.
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Briefly the home of Romantic poet John Keats, this Hampstead premises is a now a museum dedicated to the writer and exhibition space.
Constructed in around 1815 as a pair of semi-detached dwellings, the now Grade I-listed house was one of the first to be built in the area. The two residences were initially occupied by critic Charles Wentworth Dilke and his family, and by the writer Charles Armitage Brown.
Keats, a friend of Dilke and Brown, began visiting the Regency-era villa, then named Wentworth Place, soon after. He was then living with his two younger brothers nearby in Well Walk but after George married and emigrated to America and Tom died of tuberculosis and, Brown invited Keats to move in as a lodger.
He did so in December, 1818, and it was while living at the property that he composed La Belle Dame sans Mercians, completed The Eve of St Agnes and write his famous odes, including Ode to a Nightingale.
The Dilkes family moved out in April, 1819, and Mrs Brawne and her daughter moved in. Keats developed an intimate relationship with the daughter, Fanny, and the couple were secretly engaged but owing to his premature death, never married.
In September, 1820, with his health failing, Keats left the property and headed to Rome (the trip was funded by friends who hoped the warm climate would help improve his health). He died in the eternal city on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery.
Brown, meanwhile, left the property in June, 1822 (he also left for Italy) and Keats’ sister Fanny – who had become friends with Fanny Brawne – moved into Brown’s half of the house with her husband Valentin Llanos between 1828 and 1831. The Brawnes left in early 1830.
Subsequent occupants included actor Eliza Chester who converted the two residences into one.
The property was threatened with demolition in the early 20th century but saved by public subscription. It opened to the Keats Memorial House on 9th May, 1925. In 1931, a new building was erected nearby house artefacts related to Keats.
Since 1998 the property has been under the management of the City of London Corporation. It underwent a restoration project in the mid-1970s and again between 2007 and 2009. The Keats Foundation was established in November, 2010, and is involved in educational initiatives, both at Keats House and elsewhere.
Visitors to the house today are taken on a journey through Keats’ short life and legacy. Among the artefacts which can be seen there are items related to his time as a medical student, portraits of some of the famous people Keats met while living at the property including the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley as well as Shelley’s wife Mary (author of Frankenstein), a bust of Keats which stands at his actual height – just over five feet tall, and a mask of Keats’ face made by his artist friend Benjamin Haydon.
There’s also portraits of both Keats and Fanny, Fanny’s engagement ring, and a volume of Shakespeare’s plays Keats gave her before leaving for Rome as well as busts of Charles Brown and editor Leigh Hunt (it was through Hunt that Keats met Dilke and Brown).
The garden features a 200-year-old mulberry tree and a plum tree which was planted to commemorate Ode to A Nightingale.
A Blue Plaque (although it’s actually brown) was unveiled at the house at 10 Keats Grove by representatives of the Royal Society of Arts on the property as far back as 1896 to commemorate Keats.
• The collection of the Hispanic Society Museum & Library in New York is being celebrated in a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy of Arts. Opening Saturday, Spain and the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library features more than 150 works from the collection – founded in 1904 by Archer M Huntington – which range from paintings and sculptures to jewellery, maps and illuminated manuscripts. Highlights include Francisco de Goya’s painting The Duchess of Alba (1797), Pedro de Mena’s reliquary bust, Saint Acisclus (c1680), earthenware bowls from the Bell Beaker culture(c2400-1900 BC), Celtiberian jewellery from the Palencia Hoard (c150-72 BC), and Hispano-Islamic silk textiles including the Alhambra Silk (c1400). There’s also a beautifully illuminated Hebrew Bible (after 1450-97), an exceptionally rare Black Book of Hours (c1458), and, Giovanni Vespucci’s celebrated world map from 1526. The exhibition runs until 10th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
• The Lunar New Year is being celebrated in Greenwich this Saturday with a series of events at the National Maritime Museum. Activities range from Mahjong workshops to seeing a traditional lion dance, lantern making, a tea ceremony demonstration and, of course, the chance to find out about the items in the museum’s collection with Asian connections. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/national-maritime-museum/lunar-new-year.
• Twenty contemporary artworks gifted by the Royal Academy of Arts to Queen Elizabeth II ar on display at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. The works on paper – created by Royal Academicians elected in the past decade – were presented to the Queen to mark her Platinum Jubilee in 2022. They include Wolfgang Tillmans’ Regina – a photograph taken during Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 depicting the Queen in the Gold State Coach passing along Fleet Street, Yinka Shonibare’s Common Wealth – a digital print of an orchid against a collage of platinum leaf and Dutch wax printed fabric, and Sir Isaac Julien’s Lady of the Lake – a fictionalised portrait of the American abolitionist Anna Murray Douglass as well as a digital print of Thomas Heatherwick’s design for the Tree of Trees project. This 21-foot sculpture incorporates 350 saplings and was erected outside Buckingham Palace as part of The Queen’s Green Canopy and was illuminated during a special Platinum Jubilee ceremony on 2nd June last year. The works can be seen until 26th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.
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This Chelsea terraced house, now owned by the National Trust, was once the home of the Victorian literary couple, essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife (and skilled letter writer) Jane.
The Carlyles moved into the red brick property at 24 Cheyne Row (formerly number 5) in 1834, having left rural Scotland to see what they could make of themselves in London.
As their stars rose – by mid 19th century Thomas, the “sage of Chelsea”, had become an influential social commentator, the home became something of a hub for Victorian literati with the likes of Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot and William Thackeray all visiting them here.
When Thomas died at the property on 5th February, 1881 (Jane had died in 1866), the home reverted to the landlord but a group of admirers decided it needed to be preserved as a memorial to their friend. They raised funds through a public subscription and in 1895 opened it as a shrine to the writer.
The National Trust took over the running of the house, which was built in around 1708, in 1936 with the enthusiastic support of founder Octavia Hill who herself was a Carlyle fan.
The property, which still retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, features a recreation of the couple’s parlour based on Robert Tait’s painting A Chelsea Interior which depicts the Carlyles in the room in 1857.
The property also boasts the attic study that Thomas had constructed in August, 1853, and where he wrote The French Revolution, Latter Day Pamphlets and Fredrick the Great. His attempts at sound-proofing it had failed.
Meanwhile, Jane’s dressing room features a pair of original chintz curtains which she made in the late 1840s.
Among the items on show in the property is a necklace given to Jane by German writer and stateman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which features a pendant containing a portrait of him. There’s also a a decoupage screen made by Jane using prints in 1849 and wallpapers by William Morris.
The property, which also features a small walled garden and a bust of Thomas Carlyle on the facade, is currently undergoing restoration work and will reopen in March.
WHERE: Carlyle’s House, 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea (nearest Tube stations are Sloane Square and South Kensington); WHEN: Check website when it reopens; COST: £9 adults/£4.50 children; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house.
• The 18th and 19th century concert series – ‘Concert of Antient Music’ – is explored in a new display at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Located in the Handel Gallery, Music for the King: The Concert of Antient Music looks at the story behind the establishment of this concert series which were held at various locations in London annually from 1776 to 1848 and which only featured works composed at least 20 years prior. The concerts attracted patronage from the likes of King George III and members of the nobility – in fact, the King was such an admirer of Handel’s music that he instructed an extra concert – a performance of Handel’s Messiah – be given annually for the benefit of the Royal Society of Musicians. The display includes portraits of composers including Handel, Geminiani and Corelli as well as those of singers and other performers along with the index of performances and payment records for performers, letters, tickets and programmes of the concerts. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th October. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/event/music-for-the-king-the-concert-of-antient-music/.
• The National Portrait Gallery has announced it will reopen its doors for the first time since 2020 on 22nd June this year. The reopening will follow a major redevelopment project, ‘Inspiring People’, which includes a comprehensive redisplay of the gallery’s collection, spanning from the Tudor period to today, as well as the restoration of Grade I-listed buildings and historic features. The new design – the work of Jamie Fobert Architects working in partnership with Purcell – will incorporate the Blavatnik Wing, the entire first floor encompassing nine galleries, which will explore society and culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It will also see the return of the gallery’s East Wing to public use as the Weston Wing, restore original gallery spaces and create new retail and catering facilities.
• On Now: Heath Robinson’s Shakespeare Illustrations. This exhibition at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner features Robinson’s illustrations from works including Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1902), Twelfth Night (1908) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1914) as well as some of the illustrations he created for a never published complete works of Shakespeare commissioned by the publishing house of Jonathan Cape. The exhibition can be seen until 19th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org/whats-on/heath-robinsons-shakespeare-illustrations/.
London is replete with historic homes but only a few have become museums. In this series we want to look beyond the more famous ones – think of the Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury or of the John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, to name two – to some of the lesser known homes that have became museums.
First up, it’s Benjamin Franklin House at 36 Craven Street. While the history of this Georgian terraced house goes back to 1730, Franklin himself is known to have lived in what was a lodging house for some 16 years from 1757 to 1775 (his wife Deborah had apparently refused to come and remained in Philadelphia).
Franklin, who had first lived in London in the mid-1720s while working as a trainee printer and stayed in various lodgings including in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, initially served as an agent for the Pennsylvania Assembly in London but, after a brief time back in Philadelphia, returned to London in 1764, this time as ambassador for the colonies in America. He left the property in 1775 to return to Philadelphia where, shortly after, on 4th July, 1776, he was among the signatories to the Declaration of Independence.
The four storey townhouse, which is the only surviving property lived in by Franklin left in the world, remained a lodging house up until World War II. It later served as the headquarters for the British Society for International Understanding.
The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House was founded by Mary, Countess of Bessborough in 1978 and in 1989 the government gave the friends the freehold to the land. The friends then undertook a major renovation and restoration project.
During the works some 1200 bones fragments – believed to be the remains of 15 people, at least six of them children – were found buried in the cellar. They were dated to about the time Franklin had been living there.
But, fear not, the bodies were not of Franklin’s doing. It is believed that William Hewson, an early anatomist and friend of Franklin (as well as being married to Polly, the daughter of the property’s landlady Margaret Stevenson), was responsible for the remains.
Hewson, who was among tenants at the property between 1770 and 1774, ran a small anatomy school here where he conducted secret dissections to avoid any legal complications. The bodies were thought to have been buried in the back garden which, when the property was expanded, later became part of the basement.
The Grade I-listed property – which contains many original features including the floorboards, ceilings and staircases – finally opened as a museum for the public in January, 2006.
These days, the history of the property – including its architecture and Franklin’s residency – can be explored through an ‘historical experience’ and ‘architectural tour’. There’s also a virtual tour available online recreating what the property may have looked like in Franklin’s time.
Among the artefacts on show in the house are Franklin’s leather wallet (inscribed with the Craven Street address and his name), a bust of Franklin dating from about 1800, and what is believed to be the property’s original door-knocker.
The house also features an English Heritage Blue Plaque – although the plaque, which was erected in 1914, is grey, not blue and rectangular, not circular.
WHERE: Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven Street, Westminster (nearest Tube stations are Embankment and Charing Cross); WHEN: Various times for tours – check the website for details; COST: Historical Experience – £9.50 adults/£8 concessions/free for under 12s; Architectural Tour – £7.50 adults/£6 concessions/free for under 12s; WEBSITE: https://benjaminfranklinhouse.org.
This brown brick pub (and boutique hotel) in Parson’s Green, west London, was built just after the start of the 19th century. But its name comes from a much earlier historic connection.
The site where the four storey pub now stands was once a dower house which belonged to Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII.
It’s believed that the property was given to Catherine by King Henry VII, father of her first husband, Prince Arthur – who died in April, 1502 – and her second husband and his younger brother, King Henry VIII, whom she married in 1509.
The site was later part of a parcel of land upon which was located the home of novelist Samuel Richardson. Richardson, famed for his works Pamela and Clarissa, lived there from 1756 until his death in 1761. The property was subsequently known as ‘Richardson’s Villa’.