This Week in London – ‘The Blue Boy’ returns; Heath Robinson’s children’s stories; and, architectural wonders…

‘The Blue Boy’, Thomas Gainsborough PICTURE: © Courtesy of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California

A century after it last appeared in the UK, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy returns to the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square from next Wednesday. The showing of the painting, which left for the United States in 1921 after it was purchased by rail and property businessman Henry E Huntington, marks the first (and possibly the last) time it has ever been lent out since that date. The full-length portrait, which was created in 1770 by Gainsborough during a period he spent in Bath, can usually be found at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The painting is being shown alongside four other works that, among other things, demonstrate Gainsborough’s interest in Flemish artist Sir Anthony van Dyck’s work from 100 years earlier. They include Van Dyck’s George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Lord Francis Villiers (1635) and Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart (about 1638) as Gainsborough’s works Elizabeth and Mary Linley (about 1772) and Mrs Siddons (1785). The display can be seen for free in Room 46 from 25th January until 15th May. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

An exhibition showcasing artwork from Heath Robinson’s children’s stories opened at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner last Saturday. Heath Robinson’s Children’s Stories features works from books including The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902), The Child’s Arabian Nights (1903), Bill the Minder (1912) and Peter Quip in Search of a Friend (1922). Entry is included in general admission charge. Runs until 15th May. For more, see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

Shortlisted and winning entries from The Architecture Drawing Prize 2020 and 2021 have gone on show at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The competition, run in partnership with Make Architects and the World Architecture Festival, is now in its fifth year with awards made across three categories – digital, hand-drawn and hybrid. Entry is free (pre booking required). Runs until 20th February. For more, see www.soane.org/exhibitions/architecture-drawing-prize-2021.

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10 historic stairways in London – 2. Queen Mary’s Steps, Whitehall…

PICTURE: Paul Farmer (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

This small stone stairway which now sits in the midst of a grassy expanse at the back of the Ministry of Defence was once part of the Palace of Whitehall.

Named for Queen Mary II, wife of King William III, for whom they were designed, the stairs were part of a terrace built in 1691 abutting the Thames in front of an old river wall constructed for King Henry VIII.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the stairs were one of a pair located at either end of the terrace which gave direct access to the river – and state barges – from the Royal Apartments.

Excavations in 1939 during construction of the MoD revealed the Tudor river wall, the terrace and the northern-most of the two flights of steps. The upper part of the steps have been repaired and the terrace and wall reconstructed.

The steps and palace fragments are now a Grade I listed monument.

This Week in London – Spitfires at Duxford; The Jam in photos; and, Waterloo & City line reopens…

A Spitfire at IWM Duxford. PICTURE: Peter Bromley/Unsplash

The largest collection of Spitfires gathered under one roof can be seen at the Imperial War Museum Duxford’s AirSpace hall. Twelve of the iconic planes have been gathered at the airfield, often referred to as the “home of the Spitfire”. Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon, which is being accompanied by a programme of tours, talks, events and family activities, shows how the plane evolved throughout World War II in order to keep pace with German aircraft development. As well as the IWM’s iconic Mk Ia Spitfire, the display also features Mk V, Mk IX and Mk XIV models. The Spitfires be seen until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more including details of events, head to www.iwm.org.uk/events/spitfire-evolution-of-an-icon.

A new exhibition focused on photographs of iconic 70s and early 80s band The Jam opens at the City of London Corporation’s Barbican Music Library tomorrow. True is the Dream features the photography of Derek D’Souza who has captured the band and frontman Paul Weller, who went on to found The Style Council, on film over several decades. D’Souza’s work include a career-defining shoot of the band at Chiswick House. The display is free to see until 16th May. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2022/event/true-is-the-dream.

The Waterloo & City line has reopened following a brief closure over Christmas. The London Underground line, which connects Waterloo to Bank, was temporarily closed by Transport for London in late December following increasing COVID cases in the capital and the impact on staff absence. Meanwhile, the Bank branch of the Northern line (between Moorgate and Kennington) for 17 weeks from 15th January to allow for upgrade works.

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10 historic stairways in London – 1. The Tulip Stairs, The Queen’s House, Greenwich…

London has many beautiful stairways – and some of them have some incredible historic connections. In this series, we’re going to be looking at 10 of them and the history that goes with them. First up, it’s the spectacular Tulip Stairs found in The Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The Tulip Stairs. PICTURE: Mcginnly (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The wrought-iron stairs – which have the honour of being the first self-supporting spiral stair in the UK (meaning each tread is cantilevered from the wall and supported by the stair below rather than being supported by a central pillar) – were designed by Inigo Jones in 1635.

They are so named because the stairs, which are topped with a glass lantern, feature a flower pattern on the railings which resembles tulips although it is thought the flowers could be actually French lilies designed to compliment the Queen at the time of their completion.

Detail of the flowers on the Tulip Stairs. PICTURE: Maarten de Loud/Unsplash

For while Jones originally designed the house for Queen Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I, the building was unfinished and the stairs weren’t in place when she died in 1619. It was Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I and daughter of French King Henry IV, who was Queen when he completed the property.

The stairs were at the centre of a ghost sighting in the mid 1960s when retired Canadian clergyman Rev RW Hardy took a photograph while visiting the house with his wife which appeared to show a couple of spectral figures on the staircase. The couple were both adamant that the stair was clear when the photo was taken and the mystery of the image, despite subsequent investigations, apparently remains unsolved.

WHERE: The Tulip Stairs, The Queen’s House, Greenwich (nearest stations are Cutty Sark DLR, Greenwich Station and Maze Hill Station or by water, Greenwich Pier); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (but check the website for closures); COST: Free (but a prebooked ticket is required); WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.

LondonLife – Buckingham Palace…

Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Debbie Fan/Unsplash.

Buckingham Palace is among the sites across London which will be hosting events to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee this June. The Queen’s 70th year on the throne will be marked with four days of celebrations across the June bank holiday weekend which will include the Queen’s Birthday Parade (known as Trooping the Colour), the lighting of Platinum Jubilee Beacons – including the principal beacon at Buckingham Palace, a Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, the ‘Platinum Party at the Palace’ – a celebration concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, The Big Jubilee Lunch in communities across the city, and a special Platinum Jubilee Pageant, part of which will see a moving river of flags rippling down The Mall. For more information, head to www.royal.uk/platinum-jubilee-central-weekend.

A Moment in London’s History – The ‘Cock Lane Ghost’ appears…

It’s 260 years ago this month that a supposed poltergeist known as the ‘Cock Lane Ghost’ was at the centre of an infamous scandal.

There had been several reports of strange sounds and spectral appearances at the property prior to January, 1762, but it was the events which took place that month which were to elevate the hauntings to the national stage.

Cock Lane, shown in Charles Mackay’s 1852 work ‘Haunted Houses’. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia

It was in that month that Elizabeth Parsons, the 11-year-old daughter of Richard Parsons, the officiating clerk at St Sepulchre Church, reported hearing knockings and scratchings while she was lying in bed. Her father, Richard Parsons, the officiating clerk at nearby St Sepulchre, enlisted the aid of John Moore, assistant preacher at St Sepulchre and a Methodist, to find their cause and the two concluded that the spirit haunting the house was that of Fanny Lynes, who had formerly lived in the property before apparently dying of smallpox in early February, 1760.

The two men devised a system for communicating with the spirit based on knocks and based on the answers they received, concluded that Lynes had not died of smallpox but actually been poisoned with arsenic by her lover (and brother-in-law) William Kent.

Kent had been married to Fanny’s sister Elizabeth and after her death, he had lived with Lynes as man and wife despite prohibitions on them being married due to their status as in-laws. Parsons, who was their landlord at the time, had taken a loan from Kent while they were living at the property but subsequently refused to pay it back leading Kent to successfully sue him for its recovery.

It was against that backdrop – and earlier reports that the ghost of Fanny’s sister Elizabeth had haunted the property after her death – that the story of ‘Scratching Fanny’ began to spread and led to crowds gathering in Cock Lane to witness the phenomena. Writer Horace Walpole was among them – he attended along with Prince Edward, the Duke of York and Albany, and, apart from not hearing the ghost (he was told it would appear the next morning at 7am), noted that the local alehouses were doing a great trade.

Such was the case’s fame that the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Samuel Fludyer, ordered an investigation – among those who was involved was famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson. They concluded that the girl had been making the noises herself (Dr Johnson went on to write an account of it which was published in The Gentlemen’s Magazine). Further investigations were held – Fanny’s body even exhumed – and Elizabeth was later seen concealing a small piece of wood (apparently to make the sounds), subsequently confessing that her father had put her up to it.

Kent, however, was determined to clear his name and Moore, along with Parsons, Parson’s wife Elizabeth, Mary Frazer, a relative of Parsons, and a tradesman Richard James, were all subsequently charged with conspiracy to take Kent’s life by alleging he had murdered Frances. The trial, which took place at Guildhall before Lord Chief Justice William Murray, on 10th July, 1762, saw guilty verdicts returned for all five defendants. Moore and Richards agreed to pay Kent a sum of more than £500 but the others refused and so in February the following year they were sentenced – Parsons to three turns in the pillory and two years imprisonment, his wife Elizabeth to a year in prison and Frazer to six months hard labour in Bridewell.

The case, which also caused controversy between the new Methodists and Anglicans over the issue of ghosts, was widely referred to in literature of the time including by satirical poet Charles Churchill in his work The Ghost. It was also referenced by William Hogarth in his prints and Victorian author Charles Dickens even alluded to the story in A Tale of Two Cities.

Happy New Year for 2022!

PICTURE: SHansche/iStockphoto.

After another tough year for so many, we wish all our readers a great start to 2022!

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 2 and 1…

And so we reach the end of our countdown to our two most popular posts of 2021…

2. 10 Questions – John Brodie Donald, Lost London Churches Project

1. Lost London – Gunter’s Tea Shop…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 4 and 3…

We’re almost there!

4. Lost London – Prison hulks on the Thames…

3. LondonLife – Tunnel of colour…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 6 and 5…

6. 10 London hills – 1. Ludgate Hill…

5. LondonLife – Tunnel of colour…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 8 and 7…

8. Where’s London’s oldest…tree?

7. Lost London – William Blake’s birthplace, Soho…

10 most popular posts for 2021 – Numbers 10 and 9…

It’s that time of year again – our annual countdown of our 10 most read posts for the year! First up are numbers nine and ten…

10. London Pub Signs – Dirty Dicks…

9. 10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 1. Cheapside…

Wishing all our readers a very Merry Christmas…

Waterloo Place decorated for Christmas. PICTURE: Alexey_Fedoren/iStockphoto.

Don’t forget to check the site next week when we do our annual most popular posts countdown.

LondonLife – Christmas comes early at ZSL London Zoo…

Christmas came early for some of the residents at ZSL London Zoo this week. Asiatic lions Bhanu and Arya discovered brightly wrapped boxes scented with seasonal spices in the Land of the Lions while in the Gorilla Kingdom, the zoo’s troop of Western lowland gorillas found gifts of their favourite festive vegetables. “Gorillas Alika, Gernot, Mjukuu and Effie are always keen to clean their plates of all the festive veg at Christmas – they loved digging into their presents to find juicy carrots and tasty Brussels sprouts,” said head zookeeper Dan Simmonds. “And while lioness Arya carefully picked up her gifts and carried them off to play with later, Bhanu opened his all at once, rolling around in the boxes to release his favourite seasonal scents – nutmeg and cinnamon.”  The zoo is open every day apart from Christmas Day. For more, see www.zsl.org/london-zoo.   PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.

This Week in London – ‘Westminster Elves’; a song for Nelson; and, Caribbean-British art…

Christmas is fast approaching and, to add to the festivities, Westminster City Council has created an augmented reality experience for families to enjoy at four landmark locations. Under the ‘Westminister Elves’ initiative, families are invited to scan a QR code at Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch Mound, Soho Square and Hanover Square which will lead them to a microsite which, in turn, will transport them into the elves’ world. There, they can throw snowballs, share a moment with Santa’s reminder and glimpse inside Santa’s workshop as well as, of course, seeing the man himself. Those taking part are also invited to take a selfie or picture of a family member or friend alongside the elves at one of the four locations and post it on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the #WestminsterElves and tagging @CityWestminster. They’ll then be entered into a competition to win a £50 Love to Shop voucher. The competition closes at midnight next Wednesday with the winner announced on Christmas Eve. For more, see www.westminster-elves.co.uk.

A recording of old sea song paying tribute to Horatio Nelson was released by the Museum of London this week. The song, which was  thought to have been sung after the battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797 and subsequently transcribed by Nelson, was brought to life by musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. The recording marked the first performance of the piece in more than 200 years. While th song’s existence had previously been known about – it was referred to in a letter from Nelson to William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry, which was was sold at auction in 2013 – it was one of four rediscovered last year among songbooks belonging to Nelson’s lover, actress and model Emma Hamilton. “The song was written by Nelson’s crew in one of his early victories,” said Lluis Tembleque Teres, the Museum of London librarian who found the songs. “It is fascinating how, some four years later and already a national hero, he recovers the lyrics and sends them to the Duke of Queensberry, almost as if showing off his early successes. The Duke then adds music and a chorus, and gifts the manuscript to Emma Hamilton, thus allowing us exactly 220 years later to relive Nelson’s fame while performing it.” The song’s release follows a special one-off live performance of all four songs at the Museum of London Docklands on 11th December, which will be available to watch in full as an online event – DIGITAL Emma’s Songbooks: rediscovered music for Nelson – next Tuesday, 21st December. Admission charge applies. For more, see museumoflondon.org.uk 

Denzil Forrester Jah Shaka, 1983. Collection Shane Akeroyd, London © Denzil Forrester

A landmark exhibition exploring the extraordinary breadth of Caribbean-British art over four generations can be seen at Tate Britain. Life Between Islands  spans 70 years of culture, experiences and ideas expressed through art and features more than 40 artists, including those of Caribbean heritage as well as those inspired by the Caribbean, such as Ronald Moody, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, Peter Doig, Hew Locke, Steve McQueen, Grace Wales Bonner and Alberta Whittle. Highlights include Neil Kenlock’s Black Panther school bags (1970), Denzil Forrester’s Death Walk (1983) – a tribute to Winston Rose who died in police custody, Lisa Brice’s After Ophelia (2018) – a work inspired by her time on Trinidad and new works including designs by Grace Wales Bonner evoking the brass bands and parades of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Runs until 3rd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – A recap…

We’re completed our latest Wednesday series on London’s musical heritage. So here’s a recap before we move on…

1. 25 (and 23) Brook Street, Mayfair…

2. 23 Heddon Street…

3. Denmark Street…

4. Marc Bolan’s Rock Shrine… 

5. Henry Purcell’s grave in Westminster Abbey…

6. Royal Albert Hall… 

7. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… 

8. The home where Mozart composed his first symphony…

9. Site of 2i’s Coffee Bar, Soho… 

10. Wembley Stadium, host of Live Aid…

LondonLife – A Christmas menagerie at the Tower…

ALL PICTURES: © Historic Royal Palaces.

The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London has been decked out for Christmas with an array of glittering decorations. Animals including a polar bear, elephants and lions were kept at various times in the Tower’s menagerie which started thanks to a royal penchant to giving exotic animals as gifts to fellow monarchs. King Edward I created the first permanent home for the menagerie which, after hundreds of years, closed for good in 1835. The Christmas display the Tower, which centres on the Tower Green Christmas tree, can be seen until 3rd January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

Treasures of London – Bas-relief of Charles Dickens (and some famous friends)…

PICTURE: Eden, Janine and Jim (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Christmas is fast arriving so we went in search of some related monuments in London and found one depicting two famous characters from an iconic Yuletide text.

Located on the site of a house where 19th century writer Charles Dickens wrote six of his famous books, including A Christmas Carol, is a stone relief featuring several characters from them including Scrooge and Marley’s Ghost (represented as a door knocker in the top left).

Dickens lived at the property at what was then 1 Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone, between 1839 and 1851. It was demolished in the late 1950s and replaced with an office block upon which was incorporated the stone relief.

The bas-relief is the work of Estcourt J “Jim” Clack and features a large portrait of Dickens as well as the characters who, alongside the characters from A Christmas Carol.

They apparently include Barnaby Rudge with his raven ‘Grip’ (from the book of the same name), Little Nell and Granddad (The Old Curiosity Shop), Dombey and his daughter Florence (Dombey and Son), Sairey Gamp (Martin Chuzzlewit), David Copperfield and Wikins Micawber (David Copperfield).

Correction: The name of Barnaby Rudge’s raven has been corrected.

This Week in London – Hampton Court’s astronomical clock after hours; Beethoven explored at the British Library; and, the Sherman Rangers Yeomanry at the National Army Museum…

Palace of Stardust at Hampton Court Palace. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

• An after-hours light trail featuring clocks, moons, planets and sundials has opened at Hampton Court Palace this week. Palace of Stardust takes people through the palace’s historic cobbled courtyards and gardens which have been filled with magical illuminations inspired by the palace’s famous astronomical clock installed at the command of King Henry VIII. Visitors to the display, designed and created by award-winning outdoor event producers Wild Rumpus, will uncover the mysterious meanings on the clock’s dial, attend a flickering moonlit ball in the East Front Gardens, hear the ancient royal trees as they whisper their secrets and peek into mysterious miniature shadow worlds before being transported to another planet in the deepest depths of the Wilderness, once home to King Charles II’s formal pleasure garden. Seasonal food and drink will also be available. Runs until 3rd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats- on/palace-of-stardust-at-hampton-court-palace.

Beethoven’s tuning fork. PICTURE: © British Library Board, Add. MS 71148 A. Photography by Justine Trickett

One of the greatest composers of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library. The display, which draws on the library’s world-famous collection, features manuscripts, archival documents, personal belongings and sound recordings with highlights including Beethoven’s own copy of his earliest published works which he composed at age 12 and 13, sketches for his Pastoral Symphony and late string quartets, a tuning fork which is thought to have belonged to him until 1803, and a pocket sketchbook the composer used to note down musical ideas when out walking, which dates from 1825. There is also a specially commissioned audio-visual incorporating bone conduction to present extracts from the composer’s music in an engaging and immersive way, in particular to those with hearing impairments. The exhibition runs until 24th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/beethoven. To coincide with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, the library last year launched ‘Discovering Music: 19th century‘, a free online resource which explores key works of 19th-century classical music and the social, political and cultural contexts in which they were written.

The World War II story of the elite tank regiment, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, is being told in a new exhibition which opens today at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Based on broadcaster and historian James Holland’s book, Brothers in Arms, the exhibition spans the period from the D-Day landings on 6th June, 1944, to VE Day almost a year later and focuses on the stories of eight soldiers who served in the regiment as it explores the dangers and pressures they faced and the camaraderie and bonds that bound them together. The exhibition is being accompanied by a programme of events. This Saturday, the Museum is putting a spotlight on tanks with free talks, tours and tank challenges for the family – plus the chance to see a Sherman tank parked up at the Museum. Online booking is recommended. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/brothers-arms.

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10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 10. Wembley Stadium, host of Live Aid…

Wembley Stadium in London’s north-west has hosted numerous musical acts since the early 1970s but the most famous event was undoubtedly the British Live Aid concert in 1985.

Ultrasound perform at Live Aid at Wembley. PICTURE: cormac70 (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Organised by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Ultravox vocialist Midge Ure (although it was apparently Boy George who first came up with the idea of a concert), the event featured an all-star line-up of the notable artists of the day.

Held to raise funds to support relief efforts aimed at those impacted by the devastating Ethiopian famine of 1983 to 1985, it followed the release of Band Aid’s single Do They Know It’s Christmas? the previous December (that song closed the British concert while We Are The World closed the US one).

About 72,000 people attended the event held on 13th July which featured artists including Paul McCartney, David Bowie, The Who (who reunited for the event), Queen and U2 (the latter two bands in show-stealing performances) and was held simultaneously with an event at at John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia (attended by more than 89,000 people.

There were also concerts held in a range of other nations in Australia in support of the cause on the same day which were woven into the TV broadcast of the event. This was seen by an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide.

The British event kicked off at noon and ran until 10pm that night while the US concert ended just after 4am, giving a total of 16 hours of concert time. Phil Collins famously performed at both events, taking a British Airways Concorde to the US after performing at Wembley and performing there.

Among the crowds watching were Prince Charles and Princess Diana.