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

Merry Christmas (and the next four in our countdown!)…

Christmas tree outside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: Alex Liivet
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In what has been, and continues to be, such a hard year for so many, we at Exploring London hope you’re still able to celebrate Christmas in some form this year…

Meantime, here’s the next four in our countdown of the 100 most popular posts of all time…

22. Lost London – The Savoy Palace…

21. What’s in a name?…St Mary Overie…

20. Treasures of London – The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral

19. Treasures of London – Admiral Lord Nelson’s coat

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…3. The Peter Pan Cup…

Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Peter Pan Cup is a swimming event that usually takes place on Christmas Day in Hyde Park’s Serpentine.

The bracing 9am event, which is only open to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club, is a handicapped race across a 100 yard course.

While the tradition of a Christmas Day swimming event goes back to 1864, it became the ‘Peter Pan Cup’ in 1904 when JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and a member of the club, presented the first cup to the winner. It was the same year Peter Pan debuted on the London stage (and Barrie would continue to present the cup to the winner until 1932).

Club members have to complete a certain number of winter races to be eligible to swim on Christmas Day. These days the race, which usually starts and ends on the southern bank of the Serpentine, is usually quite a spectacle with hundreds turning out to cheer the swimmers on.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 26, 25, 24 and 23…

The next four in our countdown…

26. 10 iconic London film locations…5. Belle at Kenwood House (but not as you know it)…

25. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 6. Wimbledon Common…

24. Where’s London’s oldest…department store?

23. LondonLife – A rare glimpse inside King Henry V’s chantry chapel…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 28 and 27…

The next two in our countdown…

28. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

27. Lost London – The ‘Tyburn Tree’

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 30 and 29…

London’s back under restrictions meaning doors to many of the city’s institutions are once again closed. So, for the moment, here’s the next two in our countdown…

30. 10 small, ‘secret’ and historic gardens in central London…5. Seething Lane Garden…

29. Lost London – Jacob’s Island…

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…2. The Smithfield Meat Auction…

Reportedly cancelled for this year, the boisterous Christmas Eve meat auction at Smithfield usually draws a considerable crowd eager to snag a bargain.

The origins of the tradition, which apparently started at least 30 years ago, stems from the fact that most of the market butchers take at least a week off over Christmas, generally not returning to their stalls until the new year.

As a result, they would auction off their remaining stock on Christmas Eve to those keen enough to brave the cold and come out.

There has been a market at Smithfield since the 12th century – the premises was rebuilt in the mid-19th century after being formally established by the 1860 Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act.

LondonLife – Vale John Le Carré (but George Smiley lives on)…

PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps

News this week that spy turned novelist John Le Carré has died at the age of 89. His family reportedly confirmed the author had died of pneumonia at the Royal Cornwall Hospital on Saturday night. Born as David Cornwall, Le Carré worked as an intelligence officer for the British Foreign Service and, drawing in his work, began writing Cold War spy thrillers under the pseudonym of Le Carré with his first, Call for the Dead, published in 1961. It was in this novel – Le Carré went on to write others – that his most famous character, George Smiley, made his first appearance. Initially a minor character, Smiley went on to become a star in three novels published in the 1970s, the most famous of which is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Smiley’s last appearance was in a later book, 2017’s A Legacy of Spies). In tribute to Le Carré and George Smiley, pictured is 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea, the fictional home of Smiley (albeit a very real property!)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 32 and 31…

The next two in our countdown…

32. 10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens – 5. Seven pubs associated with Dickens (including one he never visited)…

31. The Royal Wedding – Eight curious facts about Royal Weddings past and present…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 34 and 33…

The next two in our countdown…

34. Treasures of London – The lions of Trafalgar Square…

33. Lost London – Mrs Salmon’s Waxworks…

This Week in London – ‘Fantastic Beasts’; artwork of The Blitz; and, ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ explored…

The links between mythical and fictional creatures with animals of the natural world are explored in a new exhibition which opened at the Natural History Museum this week. Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature, a partnership between the museum, Warner Bros Consumer Products and the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, features some 120 exhibits including Dracorex Hogwartsia dinosaur – named in recognition of Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts, along with a hoax mermaid, a 16th century map depicting sea monsters, and what was once believed to be a unicorn horn. There’s also the chance to learn more about the Galapagos marine iguana and the boneless hagfish as well as fictional creatures like the mooncalf and erumpent. Admission charge applies and pre-booking required. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Preparing for the Natural History Museum’s ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature Conservation’ PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

Artworks depicting The Blitz are the subject of a new exhibition at the Churchill War Rooms. Art of the Blitz shines a new light on the experiences of ordinary people who lived through the Nazi air raids. The display includes works by Henry Moore, William Matvyn Wright, Eric Ravilious, Ernest Boye Uden, Mabel Hutchinson, Evelyn Gibbs, Evelyn Dunbar, and Leila Faithfull. Free with general admission ticket purchase, the display can be seen until 30th April. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/events/wartime-london-art-of-the-blitz.

Jan Gossaert’s 16th-century masterpiece The Adoration of the Kings is at the heart of a new immersive digital experience which launched at the National Gallery this week. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration, which has been designed with social distancing in mind, starts with the voice of the African King Balthasar speaking to viewers before light and sound guide them to an individual pod where they can experience an interactive version of the painting. The experience can be seen in Room 1 until 28th February. Admission is free but pre-booking is required. Meanwhile, Father Christmas is making a special appearance at the National Gallery on the 12th and 13th December – and again on 17th to 23rd December – along with the chance to step into a ‘winter wonderland’ inspired by the iconic National Gallery painting A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle (about 1608–9) by Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634). Admission charge applies and pre-booking required. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Four unusual London Christmas traditions…1. The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses…

This tradition, the origins of which go back centuries, centres on a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which involves the blessing and cutting of a ‘Christmas Cheese’ with a sword.

The origins of the tradition go back to 1692 when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the Chelsea Pensioners – retired members of the British Army – for Christmas. Since 1959, it’s been organised by industry body Dairy UK and sees cheesemongers from across the UK donate cheeses to the hospital.

The ceremony involves the largest cheese among those donated being blessed and then cut with a sword by a selected pensioner. The cheese is then distributed to the pensioners at meal times in the run-up to Christmas.

This year a special COVID-safe ceremony was held and some 258 kilograms of cheese were donated to the hospital. The largest cheese – a 25 kilogram Montgomery Cheddar – was cut by Chelsea Pensioner George Reed who had a 25 year career in military as well as a career at the BBC.

As well as last year’s 60th anniversary ceremony aside, other milestones have taken place in 2016 – when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese – and in 2009, when two members of Territorial Army London Regiment bound for Afghanistan joined the ceremony for the first time.

LondonLife – Tate Britain goes Technicolour…

Artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman has transformed the facade of the Tate Britain with an eye-popping art installation, the fourth in an annual series of outdoor commissions to mark the winter season. The Liverpool artist’s neon work, Remembering a Brave New World, references Hindu mythology, Bollywood, colonial history and family memories. It can be seen until 31st January. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: A Winter Commission – Chila Kumari Singh Burman © Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 36 and 35…

We’re picking up the pace in our countdown as the end of the year approaches, so stay tuned. Here’s the next two…

36. Curious London Memorials – 4. The Suffragette Memorial

35. Where’s London’s oldest…church?

This Week in London – Buckingham Palace masterpieces; the Museum of London wants your dreams; theoretical physicist honoured; and, Khadija Saye’s self-portraits…

Gerrit Dou The Grocer’s Shop (1672) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

World renowned artworks from Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery go on show at the Queen’s Gallery from tomorrow. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace features 65 works by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto and, unlike in the tours of the State Rooms, visitors to the Queen’s Gallery will face the chance to enjoy the works close-up. The paintings on show include Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (early 1660s), Sir Peter Paul Rubens Milkmaids with Cattle in a Landscape, (c1617–18), Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633), Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day (c1733–4), Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1537) and Gerrit Dou’s The Grocer’s Shop (1672). The exhibition runs until January 2022. Advance booking is essential and admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

The Museum of London is seeking to record the dreams of Londoners during the coronavirus pandemic in a new project with the Museum of Dreams at Western University in Canada. Guardians of Sleep represents the first time dreams as raw encounters and personal testimonies will be collected by a museum. Londoners are being asked to register their interest to take part by 15th January with conversations with members of the Dreams network – an international team of trained scholars from the psychosocial community, slated to be held over Zoom in February. Contributions will be considered for acquisition by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ project. To volunteer to participate in the study, or to find out more details, members of the public should contact info@museumofdreams.org.

Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, has been honoured with a Blue Plaque at his former property in Putney. The red brick Edwardian house was the Pakistani scientist’s London base from 1957 until his death in 1996. It features a study where Salam would write while listening to long-playing records of Quranic verses and music by composers ranging from Strauss to Gilbert and Sullivan. Salam’s work on electroweak theory contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle – the ‘God particle’ which gives everything mass, and he was also involved in improving the status of science in developing countries.The unveiling comes as English Heritage issues a call for the public to nominate more notable scientists from history for its Blue Plaque scheme in London with only around 15 per cent of the 950 plus blue plaques across the capital dedicated to scientists. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A self-portrait series by late Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye can be seen at the British Library’s entrance hall from today.  Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe features nine silk-screen prints and demonstrates Saye’s deep concern with “how trauma is embodied in the black experience” as well as her Gambian heritage and mixed-faith background. Saye, who died in 2017, photographed herself with cultural, religious and spiritual objects of significance both to her Christian mother and Muslim father and in African traditions of spirituality. The free display is on show until 2nd May. For more, see www.bl.uk.

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10 London buildings that were relocated…A recap…

We recap our recent series ahead of a new series next week…

1. Marble Arch…

2. Crosby Hall, Chelsea…

3. St Mary Aldermanbury…

4. The tower of All Hallows Lombard Street…

5. The Wellington Clock Tower…

6. The spire of St Antholin…

7. St Luke’s, Euston Road…

8. Temple Bar…

9. St Andrew’s Church…

10. Sir Paul Pindar’s house…

LondonLife – Signs of the times (IV)…

Taken at Bank Underground station. PICTURE: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 38 and 37…

The next two in our countdown…

38. Treasures of London – Winston Churchill statue, Parliament Square…

37. Lost London – The Egyptian Hall…

This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner.  For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.

Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. ​  ​Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco.  The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable ​(Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris.  The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.

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