A series of new “one-off” public benches are being unveiled across London as part of the month-long London Festival of Architecture currently underway in the city. Designed by emerging artists and designers and installed in partnership with the City of London Corporation and Cheapside Business Alliance, the benches include Patrick McEvoy’s doggy design, Here Lies Geoffrey Barkington (pictured), located in Jubilee Gardens in Houndsditch, Maria Gasparian’s Ceramic City Bench in Bow Church Yard, McCloy + Muchemwa’s sinuous A Bench for Everyone inside One New Change, and Nicholas Kirk Architects’ Money Box – formed of 45,000 stacked penny coins – outside London Bridge Station. The festival runs until the end of the month and there’s still a plethora of activities to take part in. For more, see www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org. PICTURE: © Agnese Sanvito (Via LFA)

A free summer series of concerts kicks off in The Regent’s Park Bandstand this weekend in what has been described as a “new chapter” in the bandstand’s history. To be held every Sunday afternoon between 3pm and 5pm (with an extra concert to be held at the same time on the Bank Holiday of 27th August) until 2nd September, the concerts range from classic rock to big bands and jazz. Those performing include the Brixton-based South London Symphonic Winds, Regent Community Brass and the Barnes Concert Band as well as the Heroes Band – which raises funds for Help for Heroes – and Royal Academy of Music-associated acts, the Jonny Ford Jazz Quintet and Metropolitan Brass. The concerts have been organised by the Friends of Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill, working with The Royal Parks charity, the Royal Academy of Music and the Crown Estate Paving Commission, and it’s hoped they’ll become an annual fixture in the park. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park.

Romania’s role in World War I is the subject of a free, temporary display at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Romania and the Great War charts the “years of neutrality (1914-1916), the fierce battles of 1916 on the Entente side, the painful retreat to Moldavia, the striking victories of 1917 and the momentous victory of 1918, which offered a strategic foundation to the political unification of all Romanian provinces and the creation of a modern, democratic state”. Objects on show include photographs, maps, uniforms and original First World War medals. Runs until 15th July. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

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The work of internationally renowned artist Christo, The London Mastaba floats serenely on Hyde Park’s Serpentine, despite the reported ruffled feathers of some swimmers upset over its installation in their pool.

The floating sculpture, which takes up about one per cent of the lake’s surface, is Christo’s first public sculpture created for show in the UK.

Made up of 7,506 multi-coloured and stacked barrels reaching 20 metres high, the sculpture sits on a floating platform of high-density polyethylene cubes which has been anchored into place.

The artwork’s installation coincides with an exhibition of the work of Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s at the nearby Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018 features sculptures, drawings, collages and photographs spanning more than 60 years and, according to Christo will provide “important context” for The London Mastaba.

The exhibition can be seen at the gallery until 9th September. Meanwhile, the sculpture will be floating on the Serpentine, weather permitting, until 23rd September.

And finally, the Serpentine Gallery’s annual temporary pavilion – this year the work of Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, of Taller de Arquitectura – can be seen until 7th October at the Kensington Gardens’ gallery. For more information on all three projects, see www.serpentinegalleries.org.

PICTURES: Top – The London Mastaba (pinn/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND-2.0); Right – Christo, The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), Collage 2018: 43.1 x 55.9, Pencil, wax crayon, enamel paint, colour photograph by Wolfgang Volz, map, technical data, mylar and tape, Photo: André Grossmann © Christo 2018; Below – Serpentine Pavilion 2018, designed by Frida Escobedo, Serpentine Gallery, London © Frida Escobedo, Taller de Arquitectura, Photography © 2018 Iwan Baan

Part of Clerkenwell, located to the north of the City of London, the central district of Finsbury – as well as associated landmarks like Finsbury Square,  Finsbury Circus, and the more northerly district of Finsbury Park – take their name from a manor which once stood here.

Dating from at least as far back 13th century, the manor apparently took its name from a man named Finn about whom we know nothing other than his name.

The area, which was once fenland, was long a place of recreation for Londoners – there are reports of apprentices skating on the frozen fens in winter and when Moorgate was built in 1414, Lord Mayor Thomas Falconer commented that it would allow access to the fields beyond for the various recreational activities.

A late 16th century map depicts the area being used for drying sheets, for archery, cattle grazing, for windmills and for the Lord Mayor’s kennels.

In 1641, the Honourable Artillery Company moved there and for a time there was a cannon foundry there. In 1665, Bunhill Fields, a burial ground for dissenters, opened in the area. The fields of Finsbury were also where many Londoners camped temporarily after the destructive power of the Great Fire in 1666 razed much of the old City.

The parish church, St Luke Old Street, was built in the early 1730s and just a few years later, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, took over the former cannon foundry and converted it into a chapel as well as a home and school.

Around 1800, George Dance laid out a new residential development centred on Finsbury Square, fashionable among medicos until they migrated to the area around Harley Street at the end of the 19th century. Finsbury Park was created in the mid-1850s some three miles to the north as a place of recreation for Finsbury’s residents.

A parliamentary borough named Finsbury was created in 1832 (among the claims to fame of this politically progressive borough was that Dadabhai Naoroji, the “Grand Old Man of India”, became Britain’s first Asian MP when he was elected the Liberal member in 1892).

The Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury was created in 1900 (in a similar vein to the parliamentary borough, among the metropolitan borough’s claims to fame was that Dr Chuni Lal Katial become the first Asian mayor in the entire UK when he was elected in 1938). The metropolitan borough was abolished in 1965 when the area was absorbed into the Borough of Islington.

Famous residents of Finsbury have included Vladimir Lenin, who lived here in exile, and the Victorian illustrator George Cruikshank.

PICTURE: Finsbury Town Hall, officially opened on 14th June, 1895, by then Prime Minister Lord Rosebery (Lionel Allorge licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition – coordinated by Grayson Perry in this, the institution’s  250th anniversary year – opened this week. The world’s largest open submission contemporary art show, this year’s display features more than 1,300 hand-picked artworks in an array of mediums including a monumental sculpture by Anish Kapoor, large scale works by David Hockney and Joana Vasconcelos as well as others by the likes of Mona Hatoum, Tal R, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mike Nelson, Tracey Emin, Rose Wylie, Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman. The display extends across the newly extended campus off Piccadilly and can be seen until 19th August. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Grayson Perry, Selfie with Political Causes (Woodcut
200 x 300cm The artist and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd.)

Beloved children’s author, PL Travers – she of Mary Poppins fame – has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was installed at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea where the Australian-born Travers lived for 17 years and which is said to have been the inspiration for the Banks’ family home in the Disney film, Mary Poppins. Travers took up residence in the house in 1946, after returning to the UK from the US where she’d lived during World War II. It was here that she raised her adopted son, John Camillus Hone, and it was the property she was living in when she negotiated with Walt Disney for the rights to make a film about her famous book. She left the premises in 1962. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

An exploration of how symbols encapsulating Egypt’s ancient past have been appropriated in more modern times has opened at the British Museum. The Past is Present: becoming Egyptian in the 20th Century brings together 31 objects gathered through the museum’s ‘Modern Egypt Project’ as it explores how the nation has branded itself by drawing on the past. The items on show include pasta packaging and cigarette boxes depicting the pyramids, milk bottles with a Cleopatra logo, and the emblem of the Banque Misr (Bank of Egypt), the first bank owned and operated by Egyptians. This Asahi Shimbun Display is free to see and can be viewed in Room 3 until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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And so we come to the final entry in our Wednesday special series on River Thames islands. 

Garrick’s Ait, which was previously known as Shank’s Eyot, lies only a few hundred metres upstream from Taggs Island and is said to be the only island in Britain named after an actor – in this case, 18th century star David Garrick.

Similarly to other Thames islands, it was traditionally used to grow and harvest willow osiers but was later popular for picnics and camping. There were apparently no permanent buildings until the 1920s and 1930s when wooden cabins begin to appear on the island and it’s now home to about 20 houses (three were reportedly destroyed in a 2003 fire).

The island took on the name of Garrick’s Ait (ait, like eyot, we recall, being a name for a river island) after the actor bought a property on the Hampton bank in 1754 which he named Garrick’s Villa. In its grounds he famously built a garden folly known as the Temple to Shakespeare.

The ait, which can only be accessed by boat and which sits closer to the Molesey bank than the Hampton bank, was apparently one of three Thames islands that Garrick bought in the area (along with several properties).

PICTURE: © David Kemp (licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0)

 


A full-sized engineering model of the BepiColombo, the first ever spacecraft created by the European Space Agency to explore Mercury which is slated to launch in October, went on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington last month.

The more than six metre tall model – officially known as a Structural Thermal Model – was used to test the spacecraft’s resilience to launch vibrations and temperature extremes – as low as -190 degrees Celsius and as high as 400 degrees – during its seven year journey to Mercury.

The Airbus-built model consists of four main parts: Lower Handling Adaptor, the Mercury Transfer Module, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Sunshield.

The model features hand-stitched insulation blankets to protect the BepiColombo’s instruments and electronics from the Sun’s heat and a folded solar panel wing, one of three which will generate the craft’s electrical power.

The display also features an accompanying video with engineers and scientists talking about the craft.

The model is on show until after BepiColombo’s launch in October. The BepiColombo mission is a joint mission between the ESA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The display can be seen in the Tomorrow’s World gallery. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/BepiColombo.

PICTURE: Top – Artistic impression of BepiColombo at Mercury © ESA; Right – BepiColombo Structural Thermal Model 5 © Science Museum

The new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey open to the public on Monday. The museum galleries, located more than 50 feet above the abbey’s floor in the medieval Triforium, tell the 1,000 year history of the abbey through some of its greatest treasures. Entry to the Triforium – never before open to the public – is via the new Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745 which comes with previously unseen views of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster. The exhibition in the galleries, meanwhile, features some 300 objects and tells the abbey’s story around four major themes – building the abbey, worship and daily life, the abbey’s relationship to the monarchy and its role as a national place of commemoration and remembrance. Among the items on show are a column capital from the cloister of St Edward the Confessor’s Church (built around 1100), a scale model of the abbey commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren which features a never built massive central spire, The Westminster Retable (1259-69) – the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, the Litlyngton Missal – an illuminated 14th century service book, Queen Mary II’s Coronation Chair dating from 1689, the 2011 marriage licence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and early abbey guidebooks for visitors. The new galleries and tower were completed in a £22.9 million project funded through private donors and trusts. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries/.  PICTURES: Top – The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries; Right – The Weston Tower (Images courtesy of Westminster Abbey/Alan Williams).

The Royal Collection’s South Asian art goes on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6 centres on the historic four month visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to the subcontinent prior to his mother, Queen Victoria, being formally declared Empress of India. It brings together some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship in the Royal Collection including some of the 2,000 gifts presented to the Prince on his tour. Highlights include an enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder given by Ram Singh II, Maharajah of Jaipur, a 10 piece gold service given by the Maharaja of Mysore, and a jewelled walking stick featuring a concealed gun, thought to have been the gift of Maharao Ram Singh of Bundi. There are also enamelled peacock feather fans, a gold and emerald turban ornament, and a brooch and necklace featuring a depiction of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The display can be seen until 14th October. Admission charge applies. The exhibition is being shown alongside Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts, which features highlights from the Royal Collection’s world-class holding of paintings and manuscripts from the region. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

British-born artist Thomas Cole’s depictions of the unspoiled American wilderness form the centre of a new exhibition at The National Gallery. Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire includes 58 works, mostly on loan from North American collections, including his iconic painting cycle The Course of Empire (1834-6), and the masterpiece that secured his reputation (and which has never been seen in the UK before), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow (1836). Cole’s paintings will be shown alongside those of artists who had the greatest influence on him including JMW Turner and John Constable. Opens on 11th June and runs until 7th October. Admission charge applies. As a bonus, The National Gallery is also hosting a free exhibition of a series of 10 works created by Ed Ruscha in response to Cole’s The Course of Empire. These can be seen in Room 1. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Formerly known as Walnut Tree Island (among other names), this Thames River island, which lies just upstream of Hampton Court Place, was once a playground for the wealthy and is now home to about 100 residents living in houseboats.

The island was once part of the manor of Hampton Court and by the mid-19th century was home to a number of squatter families who made a living by harvesting osiers (willow rods) used in basket weaving.

In 1850, it was purchased by a property speculator and lawyer Francis Kent (another name for the island was Kent’s Ait) who evicted the squatters and rented part of the island to Joseph Harvey, who established a pub called The Angler’s Retreat there. Another part he leased to a local boatbuilder and waterman named Thomas George Tagg who set up a boat rental and boat-building business there.

In the 1870s, Tagg – whose name became that of the island’s – took over the licence of the pub and built a larger, more imposing hotel in its place, transforming the backwater establishment into a high society favourite. Among its patrons were none other than Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The island also become a mooring site for luxurious houseboats and by the 1880s, the island was ringed with the craft – among those who rented one was none other than JM Barrie, later the author of Peter Pan.

In 1911, Tagg’s original lease of the island ran out and it was subsequently taken by Fred Karno (formerly known as Fred Westcott), a theatre impresario who is credited with having ‘discovered’ Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and who had stayed in houseboats on the island.

He subsequently built a luxurious hotel there, The Karsino, which he sold in 1926, but which went on to change hands several time over the ensuring years (and names – it became known variously as the Thames Riviera and the Casino Hotel).

Eventually, in a badly dilapidated state, the hotel once known as The Karsino was demolished in 1971 (but not before putting in an appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange).

Karno also owned a luxurious houseboat, the Astoria, which was once moored on the island but which is now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (who adapted it into a rather stylish recording studio in the Eighties – A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were apparently both recorded here) and moored upstream on the northern bank of the Thames.

A road bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland in the 1940s – when the island was being used to produce munitions – but this collapsed in the 1960s.

A new bridge was built to the island in the 1980s and a small lagoon carved out of the centre to increase the number of mooring sites for houseboats.

No homes are these days permitted to be constructed on the island but it’s still a mooring place for houseboats, some 62, in fact. These days the island owned by an association of the houseboat owners who each have their own garden on the island.

In the centre of the island is a rather unique sundial (see below). And just to the south-east of Taggs Island lies the much smaller Ash Island; the stretch of water separating the two was apparently once known as Hog’s Hole.

PICTURES: Top – Houseboats on Taggs Island ( Motmit at en.wikipedia/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) ; Right – The Karsino in 1924 (Adam37/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The sundial (stevekeiretsu/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


Excavated in a dig in Southwark during the summer of 2017, this Roman sarcophagus is now at the centre of a new exhibition, Roman Dead, at the Museum of London Docklands.

The site of the find, on the corner of Harper Road and Swan Street in Borough, is located in what is known as the ‘Southern Cemetery’, one of a number of distinct burial grounds located on the outskirts of the Roman city of Londinium. Some 500 Roman burials have been found in the southern site but the stone sarcophagus was the first discovery of its kind there.

The 1,600-year-old sarcophagus measures approximately 2.4 metres long, 75cm wide and 65 centimetres high. The lid of the coffin had been partly pushed to one side, indicating that it may have been disturbed by grave robbers during the 18th century. The interior was left partly filled with soil and small bones and a damaged Roman bracelet were found nearby – a possible indication that it was a child buried there.

Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark Council, told the BBC at the time of the find that the grave owner must have been “very wealthy and have had a lot of social status to be honoured with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum”.

The sarcophagus is only the third to be discovered in London – one was discovered at St Martin-in-the-Fields near Trafalgar Square in 2006 and another in Spitalfields in 1999.

Roman Dead is running at the Museum of London Docklands until 28th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands.

PICTURE: Top – The sarcophagus being prepared for display; Side – The sarcophagus as it was found (© Southwark Council).

 

 

Marking 100 years since the end of World War I, a new exhibition opening at the Tate Britain on Tuesday explores the immediate impact of the war on British, German and French art including an examination of how artists responded to Europe’s new physical and psychological scars. Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One features more than 150 works spanning the period from 1916 to 1932 by artists including George Grosz, Fernand Léger and CRW Nevinson. They range from battlefield landscapes and images of soldiers’ graves – such as William Orpen’s A Grave in a Trench (1917) and Paul Jouve’s Tombe d’un soldat serbe a Kenali (1917) – to sculptural public memorials commemorating the conflict by the likes of Käthe Kollwitz, André Mare and Charles Sargeant Jagger and more personal memorials created using battlefield relics like shrapnel and mortar shells as well as images depicting the wounded and disabled in the post-war world such as George Grosz’s Grey Day (1921) and Otto Dix’s Prostitute and Disabled War Veteran (1923). The display also features works relating to the birth of dada and surrealism – among those featured are Hannah Höch’s data photomontages – and looks at how the rebuilding of post war society inspired artists like Georges Braque, Christian Schad and Winifred Knights to return to classicism and tradition while pushing others, like Léger, Paul Citroen and Nevinson to create visions of a technological future. Opening on 5th June, it runs until 16th September at the Millbank site. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: George Grosz (1893-1959), Grey Day (1921), Oil paint on canvas, 1150 x 800 mm, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. Acquired by the Federal State of Berlin. © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. 2018.

The story of Jamaican feminist poet Una Marson – the first black woman employed by the BBC, Trinidadian JJ Thomas’ scathing rebuttal of English colonialism, and, manuscripts of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island are among highlights of a new exhibition at the British Library. Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land marks 70 years since the MV Empire Windrush first carried hundreds of migrants to London and explores why they came, what they left behind and how they came to shape Britain. The free exhibition in the library’s Entrance Hall on Euston Road, which opens Friday, also features Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us, personal reflections from some of the first Caribbean nurses to join the NHS and sounds of the Caribbean including jazz to calypso music. Runs until 21st October. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Join in a celebration of London’s ‘grassroots music’ in June. Sounds Like London features more than 200 gigs across the capital including a series of gigs aimed at raising money for the Music Venue Trust’s Emergency Response service which supports grassroots music venues threatened by closure, 11 ‘Airbnb Concerts’ and X-pose, an event showcasing the capital’s leading deaf musicians and DJs. The full programme of events can be found at www.london.gov.uk/sounds-like-london.

The political orator, writer and elocutionist John Thelwall (1764-1834) has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque located on the site of his pioneering institution of elocution. Thelwall, described as one of the most popular and effective orators of his day and known as a champion of free speech and universal suffrage as well as being a fierce critic of the French Revolution, opened his ‘Seminary for the cultivation of the science and practice of elocution, and the cure of impediments of speech’ at 40 Bedford Place in Bloomsbury in 1806. The Grade II-listed property, now in use as a hotel, was newly built at the time. The institution remained at the site for seven years before moving to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/

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We’re skipping upstream, past a few islands this week, to take a look at Thames Ditton Island which lies in Kingston Reach, above Teddington Lock. The island is the largest of a group of three which also includes Swan Island (the smallest) and Boyle Farm Island.

Located opposite the grounds of Hampton Court Palace (built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century and then, following his fall from grace, claimed by King Henry VIII in 1525), the 320 metre long Thames Ditton Island owes its existence to King Henry who had the river widened and straightened here so that he could use the river for an uninterrupted journey up the river from Westminster to Hampton Court. In doing so, the island was created.

Used as pasture land for the local manor (and known apparently at one point as Colly’s Ait, ait being a word for a river island, before being renamed Thames Ditton after the village on the west bank) for several centuries, the island became a popular recreation spot for the wealthy interested in water sports during the Edwardian era, thanks to the arrival of the railway in the area in the late 19th century.

The island is these days connected to the Thames Ditton bank by a 1930s suspension bridge which ends near the 13th century Ye Olde Swan pub. It is now home to more than 45 rather exclusive riverside properties (almost all are in stilts to help ward off the danger of flooding, a phenomenon with which long-term residents in the area are familiar).

Swan Island, while lies just to the south of Thames Ditton Island, is tiny and the location of the home of the ferryman, who up until 1911, would take people across the river to Hampton Court.

Further to the south likes Boyle Farm Island which also has a single house open it. It stands opposite the mainland property formerly known as Boyle Farm but now a nursing home known as the Home of Compassion.

Interestingly, while Thames Ditton Island is part of Greater London, Boyle Farm Island is part of Surrey (along with Thames Ditton village).

PICTURE: Andrew Lewin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last week was the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913. Here’s some highlights…

Above, RHS letters, designed by Lucy Hunter.

The Weston Garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. 

Visitor Amande Allen views sculptures on display with allium and box at the A Place in the Garden exhibition during members day. PICTURE: RHS/Luke MacGregor

Crowds walk through concessions during members day. PICTURE: RHS/Luke MacGregor

Hillier: A Royal Celebration, designed by Sarah Eberle.

Located behind what was once Montague House (now the site of the British Museum) in Bloomsbury, this field – also referred to as the Brother’s Steps, so the story goes, was once the site of where two brothers both died after fighting a duel.

The more romantic version of the story has the two men – both soldiers in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 – fighting over a woman they were both in love with; another version said they had taken different sides in the conflict.

Either way, it was said that after the duel, no grass would ever grow on the 40 footsteps where they had trod (and, in the romantic version, no grass also grew on the tussock at the centre of the field where the woman had watched the tragedy unfold).

The field apparently became something of a tourist attraction during the 18th century – poet Robert Southey was among those known to have gone there (although he apparently counted 76 footprints). It was suggested by some wags that, rather than a supernatural explanation, no grass grew on the steps because of the number of people treading on them.

The story continued to attract public interest in the ensuing years with theatrical productions and newspaper articles and even a children’s book in the 1970s.

The exact site of the field remains a matter of conjecture – among sites suggested are a carpark behind Senate House to the west of Russell Square, Tavistock Square and Torrington Square.

PICTURE: Field posed by a model. (Elizabeth Lies/Unsplash).

Death and burials in Roman London are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday with a rare sarcophagus discovered in Southwark last year one of the highlights. Roman Dead will look at the cemeteries of ancient London, the discoveries made there and their context in the modern cityscape. Alongside the sarcophagus discovered in Harper Road (which had possibly been disturbed by grave robbers), the exhibition features more than 200 objects including a multi-coloured glass dish found with cremated remains, a jet pendant in the form of a Medusa’s head and four men’s skulls which showed signs of violence and were buried in pits by the city’s wall as well as a tombstone of a 10-year-old girl named Marciana, found during excavations in 1979, and a pot decorated with a human face which was used as a cremation urn. The free exhibition can be seen until 28th October. For more, see www.museumofondon.org.uk/docklands.

The work of celebrated Twentieth century British artist and designer Edward Bawden (1903-89) has gone on display in a new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Edward Bawden is described as the “most wide-ranging” exhibition of his work since his death and the first to look at every aspect of his 60 year career. It features a number of previous unseen works as well as 18 rarely seen war portraits which are being displayed together for the first time. Some 170 works – half from private collections – are arranged thematically to follow the evolution of his style with rooms dedicated to leisure, architecture, animals, fantasy and gardens. Among the highlights are early designs for the London Underground, Rain (1926) – on display for the first time, portraits of places he visited in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe while working as an official war artist during World War II, and several linocuts from Aesop’s Fables. Runs until 9th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Bawden, St Paul’s, 1958 (Colour autolithograph/Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden).

Delve into the world of the ‘Gorgeous Georgians’ and ‘Vile Victorians’ at Hampton Court Palace this May half term. The Birmingham Stage Company will be uncovering centuries of grisly history in an hour long outdoor ‘Horrible Histories’ performance featuring characters including Georgian kings, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and Dr John Snow. Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket and some food for the “ultimate historical picnic”. Admission charge applies – check website for dates. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/explore/the-gorgeous-georgians-and-vile-victorians/.

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And so we come to one of the most curiously named, yet perhaps most famous, of all the Thames islands in London.

First, to the name. The almost nine acre island, which was previously divided into two and perhaps even three, was previously known by other names including Twickenham Ait and Parish Ait. A place of recreation since perhaps as early as the start of the 17th century – there’s an early reference to a bowling alley being located there, since at least the mid-18th century it was also home to an inn, known variously as The Ship and The White Cross.

During the 19th century, the island became a popular destination for steamer excursions and the inn was rebuilt on a grander scale in about 1830. It became famous for the eel pies that could be bought there – so popular were they that the island’s name was apparently changed in tribute (although there’s a very dubious story that it was King Henry VIII who first made the island’s eel pies famous by stopping to sample one from a stall there – that, however, seems unlikely).

Second, to the fame. Now known as the Eel Pie Hotel, in the first half of the 20th century the inn began an association with music which would see it one day make an important contribution to the development of British pop music.

Dances were held there in the 1920s and 30s and in the mid-1950s, jazz sessions were held there. By the Sixties, the venue – under the stewardship of Arthur Chisnall – had started to attract R&B bands and among those who played here in the following years were everyone from Eric Clapton (as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and The Rolling Stones to The Who, The Moody Blues, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. In 1967, the venue was forced to close due to the cost of repairs but reopened briefly in 1969 as ‘Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden’, attracting bands including Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band.

The new venture didn’t last. Squatters moved in and in 1971, the hotel burned down in a “mysterious” fire while it was being demolished.

The island, the centre of which was again damaged by fire in 1996, now hosts about 50 homes and a few boatyards as well as other businesses and artist’s studios. It’s also home to the Twickenham Rowing Club, which was first established in 1860 and moved to the island in 1880.

While for many years it could only be accessed by ferry, the island can these days be accessed via a footbridge (the first bridge was installed in 1957 and replaced in 1998).

Notable residents on the island have included William Hartnell, the original Dr Who, and inventor Trevor Baylis (best known for the wind-up radio). The island has appeared in several books and TV shows including the 2005 series How To Start Your Own Country in which TV personality Danny Wallace attempted to “invade” the island. He was unsuccessful.

PICTURES: Above – Eel Pie Island from Twickenham. Below – A signboard tribute to the island’s musical heritage. (David Adams).

Union Jacks daub Regent Street in the West End in honour of the wedding in Windsor last weekend of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. PICTURE: Pete (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

This month marks 150 years since the last public hanging in London (and, indeed, in Britain). It took place outside Newgate Prison and involved a Fenian (Irish nationalist) bomber named Michael Barrett.

Barrett had been arrested following the bombing of the Clerkenwell House of Detention in 1867 which, in a botched effort to free another Fenian, Richard O’Sullivan Burke, a number of bystanders were killed. Barrett’s case was a controversial one (he was the only one of six people to stand trial for the crime who was convicted) and his execution apparently postponed twice because of questions over his guilt.

The crowd at the hanging on the morning of 26th May, 1868, was said to be large – a “great surging mass” (indeed, such was the interest that seats in nearby houses were said to have sold for £10) – but described in The Times as “unusually orderly”.

“With the first sound of the bells came a great hungry roar from the crowd outside, and a loud, continued shout of ‘Hats off’, till the whole dense, bareheaded mass stood white and ghastly-looking in the morning sun, and the pressure on the barriers increased so that the girls and women in the front ranks began to scream and struggle to get free,” the newspaper reported.

“Amid such a scene as this, and before such a dense crowd of white faces, Barrett was executed…To neither cheers nor hisses did the culprit make the slightest recognition. He seemed only attentive to what the priest was saying to him, and to be engaged in fervent prayer. The hangman instantly put the cap over his face and the rope round his neck. Then Barrett turning spoke through his cap and asked for the rope to be altered, which the hangman did. In another moment Barrett was a dead man…He died without a struggle. It is worthy of remark that a great cry rose from the crowd as the culprit fell – a cry which was neither an exclamation nor a scream, but it partook in its sound of both.”

The hanging was carried out by William Calcraft, the orphaned son of an Essex farmer who many years earlier had found what was to be an almost life-long calling when, apparently while selling pies at a hanging he was noticed by his predecessor in the job and became his apprentice before taking in the job himself in 1829.

Calcraft, who was known for his use of controversial ‘short drops’ which meant the condemned would slowly strangle to death rather than have their necks broken, was to preside over the last public hanging – of Barrett – as well as the first private hanging inside Newgate – of 18-year-old murderer Alexander Mackay in September, 1868 – before eventually retiring in 1874 and dying shortly after.

Barrett, meanwhile, was buried under the ‘Birdcage Walk’ (also known as ‘Dead Man’s Walk’), the stone corridor which linked the prison with the Old Bailey. His body was transferred to the City of London Cemetery in 1903 as Newgate was demolished. The grave is marked with a plaque commemorating his place in history.

Public hangings were banned just three days after Barrett died when Parliament passed the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868.

PICTURE: Image from an “execution broadside” of Barrett’s hanging in 1868. These were commonly sold at public executions in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, The Royal Academy of Arts opens its “new” expanded £56 million campus on Saturday.

Designed by Sir David Chipperfield, the new two acre Royal Academy campus features 70 per cent more public space than the RA’s original Burlington House blueprint which will enable the institution to expand its programs of exhibitions and events and create new free displays of art and architecture.

One of the key features of the redevelopment is the new Weston Bridge between the institution’s landmark property, Burlington House, and the RA’s formerly “unloved” building at 6 Burlington Gardens which unites the two-acre campus and creates a new route between Piccadilly and Mayfair.

The Grade II-listed building on Burlington Gardens, which the RA bought in 1991 and which was previously home to, among other things, the Museum of Mankind, has been refurbished and a 250 seat lecture theatre, the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, inserted along with a new architecture studio within The Dorfman Senate Rooms – restored by architect Julian Harrap – for free architectural displays.

A new public route through the campus has integrated the Royal Academy Schools into the visitor experience with the new Weston Studio, a public project space for students and alumni, and provides views of the Schools’ Corridor and the newly landscaped Lovelace Courtyard, providing visitors with a “greater insight into Britain’s longest established art school”.

It also takes visitors through the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, a suite of three day-lit galleries for temporary exhibitions (Tacita Dean’s LANDSCAPE, the inaugural display, opens Saturday) and past the new Royal Academy Collection Gallery where works by the likes of Michelangelo, Reynolds, Kauffman, Thornhill, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner can be seen. There’s also a new Clore Learning Centre.

New places to eat and drink within the complex include the Senate Room bar and restaurant, and cafes and shops located on either side of the Burlington Gardens entrance.

The Royal Academy was founded by King George III in 1768 after he was presented with a petition by architect Sir William Chambers which had been signed by 36 artists and architects seeking to “establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design”. Initially based in Pall Mall, the institution’s first official home was in the new Somerset House. In the 1830s, it moved to Trafalgar Square where it shared premises with the newly created National Gallery and in 1867, the institution has moved to Burlington House where it’s been located ever since.

To celebrate the opening of the “new” Royal Academy, there will be a weekend-long “art party” this weekend with free workshops, tours, displays, late-night performances and DJs. Highlights will include performances by The Uncollective and Rachael Plays Disco; collaborative mural drawing, party hat making, architectural model making, RA Collection gallery tours, and a family printmaking workshop in the new Clore Learning Centre. The Annenberg Courtyard will host street food and cocktail bars.

For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk/plan-your-visit.

PICTURES: Top – The Weston Bridge and The Lovelace Courtyard/Below – The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre. (Both images by Simon Menges).

From coaching inns to horse markets, riverside mansions to gin palaces – the ‘lost’ buildings of London form the focus of a new exhibition which opens at the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell on Monday. Picturing Forgotten London features drawings, engravings, photographs, maps, films and contemporary recollections displayed under themes including entertainment, food, commerce and trade, and transport. Through the exhibition, visitors will discover frost fairs (pictured), ‘open-shout’ trading floors, pleasure gardens, almshouses, cabmen’s shelters, dockyards, farms and a 1960s supermarket. Among the highlights are a look at the notorious Westminster neighbourhood known as Devil’s Acre and images of such lost landmarks as Euston Arch and Crystal Palace as well as Geoffrey Fletcher’s observational drawings of 60s and 70s London and a large scale reproduction of an 1867 illustrated map of public buildings, theatres, music halls and other landmarks known as The Strangers Guide. Admission is free. Runs until 31st October. For more, follow this link. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives.

Marking 50 years since a series of significant protests took place around the world, a new display at Tate Britain in Millbank shows how artists responded to what it calls a “watershed moment in political and social history”. London: 1968 features a series of iconic agin-prop posters by the Camden Poster Workshop who moved their studio into the London School of Economics during the student occupation in October. They provide a visual record of some of the key issues of the time including industrial strikes, the Vietnam War, and civil rights movements in Ireland, America and South Africa. There’s also a Patricia Holland film looking at the occupation of the Hornsey School of Art and work by radical artists such as Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz who all participated in a landmark exhibition at London’s ICA in 1969. The display, which is free to see, coincides with another free display at Tate Modern – 1968: Protest and the Photobook – which brings together politically engaged photobooks made during this period. London: 1968 runs until 31st October. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A posthumous Victoria Cross awarded to Corporal Bryan Budd for bravery in Afghanistan has gone on display at the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth. Corporal Budd, who served in the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, was awarded the VC on 14th December, 2006, for two separate acts of gallantry in Helmand Province – the first in an incident on 27th July that year when he initiated a daring attack on the enemy in order to evacuate a wounded comrade, and the second, on 20th August, when he led a surprise attack on a Taliban position, killing several enemy but sustaining wounds from which he died. The VC, which was purchased by Lord Ashcroft, is the most recent now in his collection – prior to its acquisition the most recent he had was awarded to Sergeant Ian McKay in October, 1982, for gallantry during the Falklands War. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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Originally known as Petersham Ait, this small island located in a stretch of river known as Horses Reach between Petersham and Twickenham was renamed Glover’s Island after it was bought by a Richmond-based waterman, Joseph Glover, in 1872. 

Having originally paid the sum of £70 for it, in 1895 Glover advertised it for sale for the rather higher sum of £5,000. The Richmond Corporation was approached but declined to pay such a high sum and so a couple of years later Glover, apparently in a move designed to put pressure on the municipal authorities, put the island up for auction with the suggestion it could be sold to Pear’s Soap Company and a massive advertising billboard erected on it.

Amid concerns over the need to preserve the view from Richmond Hill from such an atrocity, efforts were made to raise public funds to purchase the island at auction but when the auction came around – in September, 1898 – only £50 had been raised.

It didn’t matter – the highest bid at the auction only reached £200, however, so Glover didn’t sell, nor did he accommodate a local resident who apparently subsequently offered £1,000 for the island (with the intention of passing it on to the Richmond Corporation). Instead, Glover withdrew it from sale.

Temporarily, it seems. Because in 1900, Richmond Hill resident – as well as businessman, art collector and philanthropist – Max Waechter, later Sir Max, bought the island for an undisclosed price and gave it to council with the condition that it never be developed.

It remains so to this day – the uninhabited, heavily wooded half acre island, which was raised to its present height using rubble excavated from London Tube tunnels in the 19th century, still provides a pleasant feature in the landscape for those looking out from Richmond Hill and, with the view now protected by an Act of Parliament, that’s not likely to change.

PICTURE: View from Richmond Hill of the Thames and Glover’s Island (David Adams)