This Week in London – Young V&A marks 150 years; West End LIVE; and, Hackney’s Ayah’s Home commemorated…

Young V&A creative Story Telling session. PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A

The V&A is celebrating 150 years since the opening of the Bethnal Green Museum (now known as the Young V&A) with the launch of a year long celebration on Friday. The museum, which opened in 1872 as the first ever museum in east London, is currently undergoing a major redevelopment and is scheduled to reopen in summer, 2023, as a new national museum dedicated to children to the age of 14. To mark the 150th – and a year until Young V&A’s opening – the museum has launched a year-long ‘Reinvent Festival’ with the first event – an online summit called Sparking Creative Futures headlined by children’s author, Ed Vere, and live-illustrated by Beano’s youngest ever artist, Zoom Rockman – on Friday. On Sunday, Young V&A will celebrate its birthday with families at Rich Mix’s ‘Everyone a Maker’ event with free, fun activities. Further events will be held over the year including pop ups at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s Great Get Together on 23rd July featuring large-scale, creative construction and making sessions for children and families using playful building materials by Hackney-based architect Emilie Quene. For more (including the full programme of events), see www.vam.ac.uk/blog/museum-life/reinvent-festival-young-va-summer-family-events.

Europe’s biggest free musical theatre festival – West End LIVE – will transform Trafalgar Square into an open-air theatre this weekend. A joint production by Westminster City Council and the Society of London Theatre, the event will feature hundreds of performers, creatives and production staff, showcasing the best the West End has to offer. No tickets are required for the free event. For more, head to www.westendlive.co.uk.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled on a house in Hackney, commemorating the hundreds of stranded and sometimes abandoned South and East Asian nannies, known as ayahs, who sheltered there in the early 20th century. The Ayah’s Home at 26 King Edward’s Road housed around 100 women a year between 1900 and 1921 after which the home moved to another address nearby. The ayahs were women who served the British in India and other colonies as children’s nannies, nursemaids and ladies’ maids and who were sometimes required to care for babies, children and their sea-sick mothers on the long sea voyage from the colonies to England but who were generally not expected to serve the families once they arrived, instead either contracted to wait until needed for the return journey or take a passage home. The Hackney shelter, which also welcomed ‘amahs’ – nursemaids of East Asian origin, appears to have been the only one of its kind in Britain for almost the whole of its existence. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Lost London – Columbia Market…

An image of the market in The Illustrated London News.

No, this is not the Columbia Road flower market we know today. This was a short-lived vast gothic market place built in the Bethnal Green in the mid-19th century to serve the East End.

The project was financed by philanthropist (and for a time Britain’s richest woman) Angela Burdett-Coutts and represented an attempt to get the costermongers off the streets.

The building, designed by Henry Darbyshire, was built in 1869, constructed of yellow brick with Portland stone cornices and a green slate roof.

It consisted of four blocks of buildings with arcades built around a central quadrangle which was open to the sky and featured some 400 stalls located under cover. There were also a series of shops with residences located above and a clock-tower which sounded every quarter hour.

The market, which sold fresh produce, was run by Burdett-Coutts’ secretary and future husband (they married in 1881) William Burdett-Coutts who built connections with a fishing fleet to supply its vendors.

He had planned a rail link with Bishopsgate to serve the market but that never happed and competition from Billingsgate and other markets – and the fact the costermongers preferred the streets – eventually saw it go out of business. It closed only a relatively few years later in 1886.

Taken over for a short time by the City of London Corporation, it was returned to the Baroness in 1874, briefly reopened 10 years later, then, according to The London Encyclopaedia, let out as workshops before finally being demolished in 1958.

A few remnants, including some rather grand iron railings and lion statues, remain.

This Week in London – Japan at Kew; Young V&A; a Blue Plaque for Diana’s flat; and, a new Lord Mayor of London…

Visitors to Kew Gardens are being invited to immerse themselves in the art, plants and culture of Japan in a month long celebration of the Asian nation. The Japan Festival kicks off this Saturday in Kew’s Temperate House and features at its heart a large-scale artistic installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled One Thousand Springs which is constructed of 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public. There will also be a specially commissioned Chalk Garden – a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees – as well as a display showcasing six different chrysanthemums, Japan’s national flower, and an immersive soundscape by sound artist Yosi Horikawa featuring the natural sounds of the rivers and waterfalls of Kagoshima, atmospheric soundscapes from the Cedar mountains of Gifu and bird calls set across the waves of the Philippine Sea. The Temperate House will also be illuminated for Japan: After hours featuring a varied programme of dance, theatre, and live music performances as well as traditional flower arranging and sake sipping. The festival, supported by Daikin UK, runs to 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Sky Brown from Great Britain during women’s park skateboard at the Olympics at Ariake Urban Park, Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2021. PICTURE: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Thirteen-year-old Olympian Sky Brown’s skateboard, children’s garments created by sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist Bethany Williams, and Open Bionics’ 3D printed prosthetic, The Hero Arm, are among new acquisitions to be displayed at what was the former V&A Museum of Childhood. Now renamed the Young V&A, the Grade II* Bethnal Green institution is undergoing a £13m transformation ahead of reopening in 2023. The new interior fit-out, by firm AOC Architecture, will include three new galleries –  Play, Imagine and Design – as well as interactive collection displays, a suite of dedicated learning workshops, an in-gallery design studio for visitors, and a new café and shop.

• The late Princess Diana has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Kensington. Flat 60, Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, was her home between 1979 and 1981 during her courtship with Prince Charles. She shared it with three friends including Virginia Clarke who was at the unveiling ceremony this week. Diana, who died aged 36 in a Paris car crash in 1997, described her years at the property as “the happiest time of her life”, according to biographer Andrew Morton’s book Diana, In Her Own Words.

Vincent Keaveny was this week elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London. Alderman Keaveny succeeds Lord Mayor William Russell, who served a second year in office after his term was extended to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 pandemic (the last time a Lord Mayor served a second year in office was in 1861 when William Cubitt was re-elected). The annual Lord Mayor’s Show is scheduled for Saturday, 13th November, and will be followed by Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall on 15th November.

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This Week in London – Edward Burne-Jones at Tate Britain; Fictional pirates at V&A Museum of Childhood; and, British Museum’s new Islamic gallery…

Two celebrated series of paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones have been brought together for the first time in their entirety in a new exhibition at Tate Britain. The large scale works known as The Briar Rose (c1890) and the unfinished Perseus series (started in 1875) – the artist’s most famous narrative cycles – are at the centre of a new exhibition, Edward Burne-Jones: Pre-Raphaelite Visionary, which opened at the gallery yesterday. The Briar Rose features four canvasses – shown in a museum setting together for the first time – which illustrate the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty while the Perseus cycle, commissioned by then-MP and future PM Arthur Balfour, was intended to be 10 large scale oil paintings retelling the ancient myth of Perseus but was only partly realised (the display includes four finished paintings and six full scale preparatory drawings). The other 150 works on show in this display – the first major Burne-Jones retrospective to be held in London in more than 40 years – include paintings, tapestries and stained glass panels. Among other highlights are the large scale paintings Love among the Ruins (1870-73) and The Wheel of Fortune (1883), the stained glass work, The Good Shepherd (1857-61), and altar piece The Adoration of the Magi (1861), drawings including Desiderium (1873), portraits such as those of Amy Gaskell (1893) and Lady Windsor (1893-95) and embroideries, illustrated books and large scale tapestries including The Arming and Departure of the Knights of the Round Table on the Quest for the Holy Grail (1890-1894) and the Adoration of the Magi (1894). Runs until 24th February. Admission charge applies. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of talks and events. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: The Briar Wood 1874-84, oil paint on canvas, The Faringdon Collection Trust.

Fictional pirates in popular culture are the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. A Pirate’s Life For Me explores the origins and characters of fictional pirates through more than 80 objects including David Munrow’s unpublished play Barnacle Bill, toys designed by Playmobil (exhibition sponsor) and Lego, the first ever painting of Captain Pugwash (pictured), six 18th century Spanish doubloons and the original illustration of the costume design for Captain Hook for the first ever theatrical production of Peter Pan in 1904. Young visitors to the exhibition are invited to take a journey starting at a seaside tavern where they will find a mysterious map which leads on to a pirate boutique, large scale pirate ship and tropical “treasure island”. The exhibition runs until 22nd April. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/moc/whats-on. PICTURE: Framed painting of Captain Pugwash, painted by John Ryan, 1950, oil on board, © John Ryan Estate.

The British Museum’s new Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World opened to the public last week with a display featuring a “comprehensive presentation of the Islamic world through art and material culture” including everything from architectural fragments of a Persian port city and courtly treasures of intricate craftsmanship to rich textiles from the Ottoman Empire and contemporary art. Among the objects on show, which cover the period from the 7th century to the present day, are the 14th century illustrated Persian epic, Shahnama (Book of Kings), and the 16th-century Indian Mughal emperor Akbar’s Hamzanama (Adventures of Hamza), elaborate 19th-century mother-of-pearl inlaid wooden Turkish bath clogs, a brightly decorated Uzbek woman’s robe with Russian lining and 21 stones, an installation of 21 paintings by Idris Khan created in response to the new gallery. A series of free public events is being held to mark the opening. Located in Rooms 42-43. The opening follows the reopening late last month of the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries showing off some 430 artworks and artefacts from the museum’s Japanese collection. They included several newly acquired objects, such as a Edo period complete set of Samurai armour bearing the crest of the More clan and Time Waterfall – panel #8 (Blue), a contemporary digital artwork by Miyajima Tatsuo which will greet people as they enter. Found in Rooms 92-94. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
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10 Historic London Markets – 8. Columbia Road Flower Market…

Originally founded in the early 1800s, the Columbia Road market in East London has since evolved into a specialist flower market on Sundays.

First emerging as a general street market in the early 1800s, the market was formalised in the mid 1800s when banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts financed the construction of the now demolished – and somewhat architecturally fanciful – Columbia Market. This opened in 1869 at the northern end of the road but didn’t prove a great success. Despite efforts to save it – including apparently relaunching it as a fish market – it closed in 1885.

The market building – which is said to have resembled the sort of market hall that might be found in rural areas – was later used as a warehouse but after suffering bomb damage in World War II were demolished.

The market, meanwhile, reappeared on the street and as the area’s Jewish population grew, moved to a Sunday, a decision which allowed traders from Covent Garden and Spitalfields to trade their leftover goods from the previous day.

The introduction of new regulations – including those introduced in the 1960s requiring traders to attend regularly – saw the market gradually transform itself into the colorful market selling cut flowers, plants and bulbs you can find there today. Popular with film makers and photographers thanks to the colourful backdrop it provides, the surrounding streets also feature a range of interesting independent shops and cafes.

WHERE: Columbia Road, Bethnal Green (nearest Tube stations are Shoreditch, Liverpool Street, Aldgate East and Bethnal Green); WHEN: 8am to 2pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE(S): www.columbiaroad.info/www.columbia-flower-market.freewebspace.com/index.html.

PICTURE: Dynasoar/www.istockphoto.com