This Week in London – English Heritage sets out timetable for reopening; Westminster Abbey a vaccination clinic; and, rare meteorite arrives at Natural History Museum…

Eltham Palace grounds in south-east London. PICTURE: Gordon Joly (licensed under CC BY SA 2.0)

English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.

It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.

Meteorite recovered from Winchcombe PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

Following Thomas Becket’s brutal murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, King Henry II is ordered by Pope Alexander III to perform acts of penance for his death, going on a public pilgrimage to Canterbury where he spent a night in prayer at Becket’s tomb and was whipped by monks.

The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett Museum now resides in the former St Thomas’ Church which probably started life (in a previous version) as the chapel for the medieval hospital. PICTURE: Calstanhope (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

Becket’s renown, meanwhile, quickly grew in the aftermath of his death and miracles soon began to be attributed to him. And then, little over two years after he was killed, the Pope declared him a saint. It’s believed that soon after that, in 1173, St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark- which had been founded a couple of years earlier – was named in commemoration of him.

The hospital was run by a mixed-gendered order of Augustinian canons and canonesses, believed to be of the Priory of St Mary Overie, and provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. Following a fire in the early 13th century, the hospital was relocated to a site on what is now St Thomas Street.

In the 15th century, Dick Whittington endowed a ward for expectant unmarried mothers at the hospital and in 1537, it was the location for the printing of one of the first English Bibles – which is commemorated in a plaque at the former site of the hospital.

When the monastery at Southwark, which oversaw the hospital – also referred to as the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, was closed in 1539 during the Dissolution, the hospital too was closed. It did reopen a decade later but was dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle instead of St Thomas Becket (and has remained so since). The name change was political – King Henry VIII had ‘decanonised” St Thomas Becket as part of his reform of the church in England.

The hospital was rebuilt from the end of the 17th century (the long-deconsecrated Church of St Thomas in St Thomas Street, home to the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett, is the oldest surviving part of this rebuild) but it left Southwark in 1862 when the site was compulsorily acquired to make way for the construction of the Charing Cross railway viaduct from London Bridge Station.

Following a temporary relocation to Royal Surrey Gardens in Newington, it moved into new premises at Lambeth – across the river from the Houses of Parliament – in 1871. It has since been rebuilt and merged with Guy’s Hospital.

Correction: Apologies – we had typo in the copy – the date Becket was made a saint was, of course, 1173!

LondonLife – Women’s history inspires comedians for International Women’s Day…

Female bus conductor. March 1975 © Henry Grant Collection – Museum of London

The world observed International Women’s Day on Monday and to mark the occasion, the Museum of London has launched an original video series featuring five female comedians performing short original pieces inspired by objects in the museum’s women’s history archives. The first of the videos features comedian Thanyia Moore responding to a Henry Grant photograph of a female bus conductor from the mid-1970s when London Underground first officially employed women as bus drivers (pictured right). Further videos – which will be rolled out over Women’s History Month – feature comedians Samantha Baines, Jenny Bede, Jen Ives and Leila Navabi responding to objects ranging from a commemorative toilet roll created by First 100 Years to mark a century since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act made it illegal to ban people from jobs based on their sex in 1919 (pictured below) to a recruitment letter from Sainsbury’s seeking female staff to work in their shops during World War I. To watch the first of the series head here.

Commemorative toilet roll, 2017 © Museum of London

What’s in a name?…London Wall…

The name of this street is self-explanatory – it follows the line of part of the wall that once surrounded the City of London, of which only fragments now remain.

The wall dates from as far back as Roman times and this street – which runs from the intersection with Aldersgate Street to the west to Old Broad Street in the east – broadly follows the course of its northern edge.

View from the west end of London Wall. PICTURE: Romazur (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The road was re-laid out – it features dual carriageways at the east and west ends – after the area was devastated by bombing during World War II.

A roundabout at the western end of London Wall – named the Rotunda – provides a link with Aldersgate Street, which runs perpendicular, and in the centre was built the Museum of London (which is now being relocated to West Smithfield).

Looking toward the eastern end of London Wall with All Hallows on the Wall to the left. PICTURE: Keith Murray (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The western end of the street, part of which is straddled by the hulking early 1990s building known as Alban Gate, has until recent years also featured a series of raised walkways which were part of the post war redevelopment of the area (and partly integrated with office buildings).

Known as ‘pedways’, some of them are now in the process of being replaced with a more modern take on the idea (such as can be seen at London Wall Place).

Part of the Roman gate, known as Bastion 14, near the western end of London Wall. PICTURE: Ethan Doyle White (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The street features a number of remnants of the actual wall along its length including the remains of a Roman gate close to the western end (on the street’s north side, it’s known as Bastion 14) and in St Alphage Gardens (St Alphage, London Wall is one of several now lost churches along the street – St Olave, Silver Street is another).

Close to the eastern end of the street is the church of All Hallows-on-the-Wall which dates from 1767 (replacing an earlier church that had survived the Great Fire of London).

Other prominent buildings on London Wall include the Brewer’s Hall, the Carpenter’s Hall and the Plaisterer’s Hall.

This Week in London – Take One Picture images hit giant screens; Old Royal Naval College to reopen; and, women at the Jewish Museum…

‘Take One Picture’ exhibition artwork displayed on Ocean Outdoor’s screen at Holland Park Roundabout, London. PICTURE: © The National Gallery, London

Artworks created by primary school children have taken centrestage on giant screens around the country including in London. The gallery’s 25th annual ‘Take One Picture’ exhibition, being run in partnership with Ocean Outdoor, sees the artworks appear on the large format screens until 15th March. Each year schools taking part in the initiative are invited to have students respond to a particular National Gallery collection work in creating their own works. This year’s focus painting is American painter George Bellows’ 1912 work Men of the Docks which depicts a group of longshoremen waiting to unload an ocean liner against the backdrop of a wintry river landscape in New York. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk/take-one-picture.

The grounds of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich will be open from 12th April in line with government guidelines. Meanwhile, a route through the college grounds – along College Way via the East and West Gates – will continue to be open to pedestrians and cyclists between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday and 8am and 4pm over the weekends.

The Jewish Museum has announced a new virtual tour focusing on the pioneering women whose stories are told in its collection. The tour, which will be delivered via Zoom on 8th March to mark International Women’s Day (as well as later dates), looks at the various ways women have contributed to Jewish history and culture in Britain over the centuries. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/event/women-of-worth/.

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

PICTURE: Morgaine (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

High profile and influential though he was during his lifetime – serving as Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, it was the brutal and shocking nature of Thomas Becket’s death that ensured he would be remembered down through the ages.

Already strained, relations between King Henry II and Becket took a further downturn after the Archbishop excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the Archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, thanks to their role in crowning Henry, the Young King, in York, without the Archbishop’s permission.

On hearing the news of the excommunication, King Henry II is said to have uttered those immortal words, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (although there is considerable dispute over exactly what he said – contemporary biographer (and Canterbury monk) Edward Grim, for example, has the quote as: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”).

Whatever the exact words, the King’s utterance – made while he was at Bur-le-Roi near Bayeaux in modern France – was interpreted as a command by four knights who were present – Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton. Leaving the castle, they set out for England to confront the Archbishop.

The knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December, 1170, and informed Becket that he was commanded to go to Winchester to answer for his actions. Becket refused and the knights, retrieving weapons and armour they had stashed outside the cathedral, returned to the cathedral and hunted down Becket (who had apparently ordered the doors to remain open) with swords in their hands.

They found him at a door to the cloister near the stairs leading up to the cathedral quire where monks were chanting vespers. Becket is reported to have said “I am no traitor and I am ready to die” before one of the knights tried to pull him inside. Grabbing a pillar, he refused to go. The knights then struck him with a series of blows on the head which proved fatal.

A modern memorial to Becket which features a statue depicting him lying back with his hand raised as though to ward off blows as he is attacked, is located in St Paul’s Churchyard. The statue, which is made from resin coloured to appear as bronze, is the work of Bainbridge Copnall and was created in 1970 as part of commemorations marking 800 years since his death. It was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1973.

It was damaged by a falling cherry tree in 1987 but was restored by a student of Copnall.

LondonLife – Award-winning Thames views…

Overall winner – Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning

Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning was the overall winner of this year’s Thames Lens competition. The Thames Festival Trust received more than 350 entries to the competition between July last year and January this year which was held under the theme of ‘Thames Unlocked’. As well as submitting new images, photographers were encouraged to consider past photos for submission given the impact of coronavirus related restrictions. Other notable images, which were selected by representatives of the Thames Festival Trust and Port of London Authority, included Fraser Gray’s LV 21 and Royal Terrace Pier Gravesend (the runner-up – pictured below), and Sarah Gannon’s highly commended image Costa del Rotherhithe (pictured far below). For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/read-watch-listen/thames-lens-2020/.

Runner-up – Fraser Gray’s Royal Terrace Pier and LV 21 Light Vessel in the early morning fog.
Highly commended – Sarah Gannon’s Costa del Rotherhithe

Where’s London’s oldest…livery company?

There are 110 livery companies in London, representing various “ancient” and modern trades. But the oldest is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers.

What was then known as the Weavers’ Guild was granted a charter by King Henry II in 1155 (although the organisation has an even older origins – there is an entry in the Pipe Rolls as far back as 1130 recording a payment of £16 made on the weaver’s behalf to the Exchequer).

Saddler’s Hall in Gutter Lane where the Worshipful Company of Weavers is based out of.

In 1490, the Weaver’s Guild obtained a Grant of Arms, in the early 16th century it claimed the status of an incorporated craft, and, in 1577 it obtained ratification of its ordinances from the City of London.

By the late 16th century, the company – its numbers swollen by foreign weavers including Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe – built a hall on land it owned in Basinghall Street. A casualty of the Great Fire of London, the hall was rebuilt by 1669 but by the mid-1850s had fallen into disrepair and was pulled down and replaced by an office block.

After the office building was destroyed during World War II (fortunately some of the company’s treasures which had been stored there had already been moved), the company considered rebuilding the hall but decided its money could be better used, including on charitable works.

For many years, the company’s business was run from various clerk’s offices outside the City of London but since 1994 it has been run from Saddlers’ House.

The company, which ranks 42nd in the order of precedence for livery companies, has the motto ‘Weave Truth With Trust’.

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

Lost London – Gunter’s Tea Shop…

Berkeley Square, one time home to Gunter’s Tea Shop, as it is in more modern times. PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

This origins of this Mayfair establishment go back to 1757 when it was first opened by an Italian pastry cook, Domenico Negri, who sold all sorts of English, French and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats under the sign of the ‘Pot and Pineapple’.

The name Gunter became attached after Negri formed a partnership with James Gunter, whose family came from Wales, in 1777. By 1799 Gunter was running the place alone (henceforth Gunter’s Tea Shop). His son Robert took over the business on his father’s death in 1819, having previously spent time studying the confectionary trade in Paris.

Located on the east side of Berkeley Square at numbers seven and eight, Gunter’s had, by the early 19th century, become particularly famous for its ices and sorbets which were said to be made from a secret recipe. It become popular among the beau monde and Gunter operated something of a takeaway service for well-do-ladies so they could attend without a chaperone – waiters would dodge traffic to take ices out to their open-topped carriages parked by the square. All very respectable!

Gunter’s also became noted for their multi-tiered wedding cakes among Mayfair families – in 1889, they even made the cake for the marriage of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter, Princess Louise.

Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street when the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-1930s. It finally closed 20 years later although the business’s catering arm continued for another 20 years operating out of Bryanston Square.

This Week in London – Astronomical wonders; Lambeth Mayor’s homemade chain; a gift for conservation; and, a Darwinian donation…

Winner of the People’s Choice Awards 2020 – The Cave of the Wild Horses © Bryony Richards (Winner)

A photograph of the Milky Way taken from the Cave of the Wild Horses in the southern Utah desert has won the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year: People’s Choice Awards 2020. The stunning image by Bryony Richards was captured in the cave after a long hike through the desert. It was selected from 25 images short-listed by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. ‘Reflection of the Stars’ by Linh Nguyen won second place award and Qiqige (Nina) Zhao won third for ‘Anniversary of Apollo 11 Mission’. Meanwhile, the deadline for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 13 competition run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine is looming – photographers need to have submitted their images by 12pm on 5th March. The overall winner of the competition will take home a top prize of £10,000 and see their image in the accompanying exhibition, which is scheduled to open at the National Maritime Museum on 18th September. For more details, see www.rmg.co.uk/astrocomp.

The Mayor of Lambeth’s homemade ceremonial chain has been acquired by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ initiative. The chain was made by the mayor, Councillor Philip Normal, for the virtual ceremony in which he was created mayor on 22nd April, 2020, during the first national lockdown. Made of card and plaited t-shirt fabric, it features Lambeth’s coat of arms painted within a fluorescent pink oval with the words ‘Spectemur Agendo’ meaning, ‘Let us be judged by our acts’. For more on ‘Collecting COVID’, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

An oil painting of Sir John Maitland by an unknown Anglo-Dutch artist, part of the art collection at Ham House in London’s south-west, is among artworks which are to undergo restoration thanks to a £3 million gift to the National Trust from American charity, the Royal Oak Foundation. The gift will support the Trust’s conservation work for the next five years mainly based at its specialist conservation studio in Knole, Kent. It was made in honour of the 125th anniversary of the National Trust, which cares for more than 200 historic properties containing more than a million objects – everything from artworks to furniture, textiles and ceramics. The painting of Sir John came to public attention in 2017 when X-ray analysis revealed what is believed to be an unfinished portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, hidden underneath it. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

• Looking further afield and a keepsake box containing mementos associated with Charles Darwin – including shells gathered on his famous voyage in the HMS Beagle – have been donated to English Heritage. The charity announced the gift this week to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1871 publication of his book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. The red leather box and its contents will go on display at Down House in Kent later this year following conservation work. Charles and Emma Darwin initially gave the box to their eldest daughter Annie but, following her death at the age of 10 in 1851, it passed to her sister Henrietta, known as “Etty”. Among the souvenirs placed in it were locks of hair belonging to different members of the Darwin family (including Emma and Henrietta), a silk handkerchief embroidered with Charles’ initials CD, and the shells which his daughters later carefully labelled using scrap paper from the naturalist’s draft manuscripts. English Heritage is appealing for donations for the care and display of the box. To support the work, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/support-us/.

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 7. Southwark…

Thomas Becket spent eight years in role of Archbishop of Canterbury, including almost two based at a Cistercian abbey in Pontigny, France, while in exile following his dispute with King Henry II over the Constitutions of Clarendon.

Thomas returned to England in 1170 but his relationship with King Henry remained acrimonious, particularly after the Archbishop excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the Archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, who had crowned King Henry’s heir, Henry, the Young King, at York in June of that year without his approval.

Ruins of Winchester Palace in Southwark. PICTURE: Aaron Bradley (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s that event that led to Becket’s infamous death at the hands of four knights in late December (more about that next week). But a few weeks before that Becket was in Southwark and there he met representatives of the Priory of St Mary Overie (of which what is now Southwark Cathedral was part) and visited Winchester Palace, London residence of the Bishop of Winchester (which now stands in ruins – see picture).

In what was to be Becket’s last visit to London before his death, he paused overnight at at the palace as he travelled to seek an audience with Henry, the Young King, in Winchester, in a bid to reconcile with the 15-year-old.

It was apparently quite an occasion – crowds estimated by one probable eyewitness to number some 3,000 came out to meet him as did a procession of singing monks from St Mary’s. Becket is said to have distributed alms to the poor and it’s said that a woman named Matilda, who apparently was known for making a spectacle of herself at public occasions, kept telling the Archbishop to “Beware of the knife” (which appears a little too conveniently prescient perhaps to ring true).

While at the palace, messengers arrived to inform Becket that the Young King did not wish to see him and instead ordered him back to Canterbury. Becket didn’t immediately obey – first headed further wet to Croydon and his manor at Harrow before eventually arriving back in Canterbury on about 18th December.

LondonLife – Looking down Whitehall…

From the Trafalgar Square end. PICTURE: Johen Redman/Unsplash

A Moment in London’s History – The “execution” of Oliver Cromwell…

It was 360 years ago late last month that the body of Oliver Cromwell, one time Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was, having previously been exhumed from his grave in Westminster Abbey, hanged from a gallows at Tyburn before being beheaded.

Cromwell had died two years previously on 3rd September, 1658, at the age of 59. It’s thought he died of septicaemia brought on by a urinary infection (although the death of his favourite daughter Elizabeth a month before is also believed to have been a significant factor in his own demise).

He (and his daughter) were buried in an elaborate funeral ceremony in a newly created vault in King Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Cromwell’s son Richard had succeeded him as Lord Protector but he was forced to resign in May, 1659, and divisions among the Commonwealth’s leadership soon saw Parliament restored and the monarchy restored under King Charles II in 1660.

In late January, 1661, on Parliament’s order, Cromwell’s body as well as those of John Bradshaw, President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I, and Henry Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law and a general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, were all exhumed from their graves.

A contemporary engraving of the execution of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

The bodies of Cromwell and Ireton were taken to the Red Lion Inn in Holborn where they lay under guard overnight and were joined by that of Bradshaw the following day.

That morning – the 30th January, a date which coincided with the 12th anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649 – the shrouded bodies in various states of decomposition and laying in open coffins were dragged on a sledge to gallows at Tyburn were they were publicly hanged.

The bodies remained on the gallows until sunset when they were removed and beheaded (Cromwell’s beheading apparently took eight blows). The bodies were believed to have been subsequently thrown into a common grave at Tyburn (although there’s all sorts of speculation surrounding the fate of Cromwell’s – indeed some believe his body had already been removed from Westminster Abbey before the exhumation took place and that it was the body of someone else which was hanged and beheaded).

The decapitated heads, however, were kept. They were placed on 20 foot long spikes at Westminster Hall for public display (Samuel Pepys was among those who saw them).

In 1685, however, the spike holding Cromwell’s head broke in a storm. Cromwell’s head is said to have ended up in the possession of a soldier who took it and hid it in his chimney (a reward was offered but searches were unsuccessful). The fate of the head then remains somewhat clouded but in 1710 it was being displayed in the London museum of Swiss-French collector Claudius Du Puy.

It subsequently passed through various hands until it was eventually bought by Dr Josiah Henry Wilkinson in the early 19th century. It remained in the possession of his family until, following tests which concluded it was indeed Cromwell’s head, it was offered to Sydney Sussex College, Cromwell alma mater, where, in 1960, it was buried in a secret location.

Treasures of London – Sutton Hoo helmet…

This spectacular Anglo-Saxon helmet – perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon object in a museum today – was among the finds made at the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk in the late 1930s, the story of which is told in the current Netflix film, The Dig.

The Sutton Hoo helmet in the British Museum in 2016. PICTURE: Geni (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The ornately decorated helmet, the manufacture of which is dated to the late 6th or early 7th century, was found buried in the grave mound of an important figure whom some believe was an East Anglian king named Rædwald. The grave mound had been constructed over a ship containing the body and artefacts including the helmet. The ship itself had disintegrated but its imprint was uncovered during the excavation.

Excavated in hundreds of corroded fragments, the iron and bronze helmet, which is believed to have weighed about 2.5 kilograms, was painstakingly reassembled in the mid-1940s to reveal a helmet featuring cheek and neck guards and a mask with sculpted facial features including a nose, eyebrows and moustache as well as holes for the eyes. It features a number of other decorative elements including representations of dragons and warriors as well as geometric patterns. Gold and silver were used in the decorations.

The helmet underwent a second reconstruction in the early 1970s after issues were identified with the first.

The helmet, along with other artefacts found at the site, were deemed to be the property of Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty who subsequently donated it to the British Museum. It is on permanent display in Room 41 of the museum.

This Week in London – A 10 year ‘Larryversary’; Westminster street sign auction; and, recalling the Cichociemni…

Larry the cat outside Number 10 in 2014. PICTURE: Andy Thornley (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Larry the cat celebrated his 10th anniversary in Downing Street this week. Officially the “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office”, Larry first came to Number 10 on 15th February, 2011, from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and has since been spotted many times in and around the property going about his duties (or seeing off rivals like the now retired Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat). Larry has served three Prime Ministers during his time in the seat of power – David Cameron, Theresa May and now Boris Johnson – and met with various world leaders (famously apparently taking a liking to US President Barack Obama and being spotted sleeping under Donald Trump’s car). Larry tweeted on Tuesday – the day of his “Larryversary” – that he has no plans of retiring at this stage.

A series of auctions involving a collection of 260 London street signs started this week. Westminster City Council is selling the signs – which include Abbey Road NW8 (estimated price tag of £1,000-£2,000), Pimlico Road SW1 (£100-£200), Westbourne Park Road W2 (£100-£200) and Belgrave Place SW1 (£80-£120) – through Catherine Southon Auctioneers until 3rd March. The distinct signs were first created by Sir Misha Black in 1967. Head here for details.

Looking further afield and English Heritage has put out a call for people with connections to the Cichociemni – the name for a group of Polish Home Army parachutists, many of whom trained at Audley End House, who were dropped behind enemy lines in Poland to begin fighting for the liberation of their homeland – to share their stories. Monday marked the 80th anniversary of the operation involving the elite fighters. Some 527 of them completed their training at the Jacobean stately home in Essex where their presence is today remembered in a memorial and fragmentary remains such as a scrap of graffiti in the coal gallery candle store, remnants of a timetable in a former briefing room and insulators for telephone wires which remain in some trees. “We’d love to hear from the public who have a connection or story to share about the Cichociemni at Audley,” said Andrew Hann, an historian with English Heritage which looks after Audley End House. “We’re particularly interested in hearing from those in the local area at the time, who may remember hearing bangs in the night, or seeing troops crossing fields in the darkness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they were highly trained to be both ‘silent and unseen’ they left little obvious trace.”

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 6. Westminster Abbey…

Theobold of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose household Becket had previously served before becoming Lord Chancellor, died on 18th April, 1161. King Henry II, apparently hoping to install a friendly face in the post, ensured Becket was nominated to replace him several months later.

In keeping with tradition, the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, apparently somewhat reluctantly, were persuaded to elect Becket, who was merely an archdeacon, to the post.

And it was at Westminster Abbey, on 23rd May, 1162, that a council of clergy and noblemen was convened to ratify the decision.

Sitting under the chairmanship of Bishop Henry of Winchester, who had only recently returned from exile, the council was told by the Prior of Christ Church that Thomas had been “unanimously and canonically” elected as Archbishop. The council, despite a lonely objection from Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of Hereford, had then confirmed the decision and Bishop Henry read out the formal election result in the refectory or monk’s dining hall.

Becket, who was present, was then presented to the seven-year-old Prince Henry (later known as Henry, the Young King), the ill-fated eldest son of King Henry II who had been empowered by his father to give royal consent to the decision.

Becket headed for Canterbury soon after and there was ordained a priest on 2nd June and consecrated as Archbishop the following day. The stage was set for one of English history’s most infamous clashes of church and state.

Westminster Abbey, meanwhile, was also to play a key role in the antipathy that developed between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas over the coming years. It was here that King Henry II had his aforementioned son Henry crowned as King of England in 1170 – against the wishes of Archbishop Thomas. It was that coronation which brought the simmering tension which had grown between them to a head.

And, in an footnote, in May, 2016, a relic of St Thomas, said to be a bone fragment from his elbow, stayed overnight in the Abbey’s Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. Usually kept at the Basilica of Esztergom in Hungary, the relic’s visit was part of a week-long tour of locations in London and Canterbury – the first time it had visited the UK in more than 800 years.

LondonLife – Shoreditch High Street…

PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash.

London pub signs – The Town of Ramsgate…

This storied Thames-side pub in Wapping has a history dating back centuries although much of the current premises dates from renovation works carried out in the late 1930s.

PICTURE: Fin Fahey (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the pub’s website, the first of its predecessors was probably established in the Wars of the Roses in the 1460s and was known as The Hostel.

In the 1530s, it was known as The Red Cow, and it wasn’t until 1766 it became known as Ramsgate Old Town, finally becoming The Town of Ramsgate by 1811.

The name apparently relates to its location on Wapping Old Stairs. It was there that the fisherman of the seaside town of Ramsgate would apparently land their catch to avoid the taxes they’d have to pay if they did so at Billingsgate.

The now Grade II-listed pub is famous for its connections to the notorious “Hanging Judge” George Jeffreys who presided over the ‘Bloody Assizes’ and sent hundreds to their death following the unsuccessful attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Jeffreys is said to have been captured outside the premises while attempting to escape, disguised as a sailor, on a collier bound for Hamburg. He subsequently died in the Tower of London.

There’s also said to be a close connection with piracy – at the base of Wapping Old Stairs is what some say was the site of Execution Dock where pirates were tied up to be drowned by the rising tide.

The front area of the pub – which features an etching on a mirror of Ramsgate Harbour – is the oldest part of the building. A depiction of Ramsgate Harbour can also be seen on the pub sign.

For more on the pub, see http://townoframsgate.pub.

Correction – We accidentally dropped an I off James II’s title. Our apology!

Lost London – William Blake’s birthplace, Soho…

William Blake’s house in Soho, an illustration by  Frederick Adcock, published in ‘Famous houses and literary shrines of London’ (1912) and written by Arthur St John Adcock.

William Blake, one of the UK’s most lauded artists and poets, was born in a property at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in Carnaby Market, Soho, on 28th November, 1757.

Blake was the third of seven children (although two died in infancy) born to James and Catherine (he was baptised at nearby St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 11th December). His father ran a hosiery store and the residence was located above his father’s shop (Blake worked as a delivery boy while a child).

Behind the premises was a workhouse and Blake’s memories of this flavoured some of his later works including Nurse’s Song.

Blake lived in the property until he was 25-years-old, during which time he completed an apprenticeship to engraver James Basire located in Great Queen Street and became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House in The Strand.

He moved to Green Street with his new wife, Catherine Boucher, in 1782.

His oldest brother James took over his father’s shop following his death in 1784 and, in 1809, the first floor of the premises hosted Blake’s only – and unsuccessful – solo exhibition.

The house survived until the 1960s but despite its famous heritage, the property was razed and a block of flats – William Blake House – was erected in its place. A plaque commemorating Blake’s birth in the former property is all that remains.

This Week in London – V&A reimagines its online experience; ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’; and, most viewed works at The National Gallery…

More than 1.2 million items from the V&A’s vast collections can now be seen online in a new digital platform, Explore the Collections. The new platform, which launched in beta form this week and brings together previous online options in a single site, reimagines the online experience of the V&A in a story-led approach with users able to search for specific objects or allow the site to recommend options based on their interests. The platform will be continually developed and updated over the coming months. You can access it here –  www.vam.ac.uk/collections.

‘Bushfire’ by Robert Irwin, Australia. Winner 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

Australian photographer Robert Irwin has won the 56th Natural History Museum’s ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award’ with an image of bushfire in northern Australia. More than 55,000 people voted for one of 25 short-listed images selected from the more than 49,000 submitted works. Irwin, who used a drone to take the aerial image near the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Cape York, Queensland, said he was incredibly excited by the win. “For me, nature photography is about telling a story to make a difference for the environment and our planet,” he said. “I feel it is particularly special for this image to be awarded, not only as a profound personal honour but also as a reminder of our effect on the natural world and our responsibility to care for it.” Irwin’s and four other highly commended images will be shown at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum when the museum reopens. For more, see nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Arnolfini Portrait, has topped a list of the National Gallery’s most viewed paintings since March last year. Others in the top 10 included Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers along with works by Turner, Leonardo, Velázquez, Titian, Constable, Botticelli, Monet, Caravaggio and Vermeer. The data was collected between 19th March last year – when the gallery first closed in a lockdown – and the start of February. The gallery houses more than 2,300 works. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com