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 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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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.

Londoners are celebrating St Patrick’s Day with events taking place across the city over this weekend. They include a series of specially commissioned walking tours focusing on London’s Irish history, Irish poets and musicians busking at Underground stations, and a series of open air gigs featuring Irish women artists at Camden Market on Saturday. Cinemas in the West End, meanwhile, are showing Irish films in connection with the weekend while exhibitions to mark the event include #IamIrish, a celebration of mixed race Irish people by artist Lorraine Maher featuring the work of photographer Tracey Anderson, which runs at London City Hall until 13th April. On Sunday, the culmination of the festive weekend, a procession featuring Irish marching bands and dance troupes kicks off at noon from Green Park while in Trafalgar Square there will be a series of stage performances – including a tribute to Dolores O’Riordan, the Cranberries frontwoman who died in London earlier this year – as well as a special zone for families and an Irish street for market. For the full programme of events, head to www.london.gov.uk/stpatricks. PICTURE: A St Patrick’s Day celebration in years past. (Garry Knight (licensed under CC BY 2.o))

The work of the UK’s Special Forces are the subject of the first major exhibition at the National Army Museum in Chelsea since it reopened in March last year. Special Forces: In the Shadows examines of the history of the Special Forces from its creation during World War II up until today and looks at the unique role each of the six units – the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), Special Forces Support Group (SFSG), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), 18 (UKSF) Signals Regiment – play in security and military operations. Among objects on show in the exhibition’s seven distinct areas are a compass that Paddy Mayne wrenched from an enemy plane cockpit and a complete SAS Counter Terrorist Kit from 2007 as well as personal testimonies, video and photography. There’s also interactive exhibits to help visitors understand the challenges soldiers in the field face. Admission charge applies. Runs until 18th November. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

Two exhibitions celebrating the work of British-European artist Tacita Dean have opened this week. Tacita Dean: PORTRAIT at the National Portrait Gallery focuses on portraiture primarily through the medium of 16mm film and, the first in the gallery’s history to be devoted to the medium of film, features works including the six screen installation from 2008, Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS…, as well as Dean’s film of Claes Oldenburg, Manhattan Mouse Museum and a film diptych of Julie Mehretu, GDGDA – all seen in the UK for the first time. Meanwhile Tacita Dean: STILL LIFE has opened at the neighbouring National Gallery and features a selection of the gallery’s works curated by Dean as well as some by the artist herself and her contemporaries. There’s also a new film, Ideas for Sculpture in a Setting, made especially for the exhibition. A third exhibition on Dean will be held at the Royal Academy of Arts. For more, see www.npg.org.ukwww.nationalgallery.org.uk and www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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The countdown continues…

8. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 6. 9 Bywater Street, Chelsea…

7. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 2. 27a Wimpole Street…

Come back tomorrow for the next two!

Still a favourite at tea rooms across the world, the Chelsea bun – a squarish, sticky spiced fruit bun – owes its origins to Richard Hand’s establishment in what was Jew’s Road and is now Pimlico Road in what is now Pimlico, on the border with Chelsea.

The single storey premises opened early in the 18th century and in the interior Mr Hand, apparently known as “Captain Bun”, kept a curious collection of clocks, models, paintings, statues and other curiosities.

The bun house, known variously as the Old Chelsea Bun House and the Original Chelsea Bun House, was a huge hit, attracting a clientele which included royalty – King George II and Queen Caroline visited with their daughters as did King George III and Queen Charlotte – and also, famously, the political figure and Jonathan Swift, who bought a stale one for a penny in 1711 and recorded that he didn’t like it.

The tradition of eating a hot cross bun on Good Friday lead to huge crowds at the bun house on that day in particular – said to number more than 50,000 some years – and such were that crowds that in 1793, Mrs Hand, following complaints from her neighbours, declared in a public notice that she would only be selling Chelsea buns, and not cross buns, on Good Friday that year.

The house did, however, return to selling hot cross buns on Good Friday – it is said to have sold an enormous 24,000 on Good Friday in 1839 (some sources have out the figure as high as 240,000 but that may have been a misprint).

Despite the success of Good Fridays, according to The London Encyclopaedia, the closure of the nearby Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in 1804 had impacted the business.

In 1839, following the death of the Hands’ two sons and with no further family member to take over the business, it was closed and the bakery reverted to the Crown. The building was subsequently demolished.

PICTURE: Chelsea buns today. Duncan Hull under licence CC BY 2.0.

This month marks 300 years since composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition (and one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world) Water Music – and it was in a rather fitting setting.

The first performance of the composition – which was deliberately created for
playing outdoors (and carrying across water) – took place at about 8pm on 17th July, 1717, aboard a City of London barge in the River Thames.

Some 50 musicians played the piece – using everything from flutes and recorders to trumpets, horns, violins and basses – with Handel himself fulfilling the role of conductor.

The barge was part of a rather grand flotilla which made its way up the river from the Palace of Whitehall to Chelsea, at the centre of which was a royal barge upon which King George I and members of the nobility, including various duchesses, rode.

Numerous other Londoners also turned out to hear the performance aboard all manner of watercraft and the king was apparently so impressed with what he heard that he requested several encores both on the trip to Chelsea and on the return journey.

The story goes that the somewhat unpopular king had apparently requested the concert on the river to upstage his son, the Prince of Wales (and future King George II), who was stealing the limelight by throwing lavish parties (the king and his son were famously at odds and it was therefore no shock when the prince didn’t attend the performance).

There’s another story, meanwhile, that suggested Handel composed the piece to regain the favour of the King which he had apparently lost when, seeking to capitalise on his growing fame, he left his employment as conductor at the court of the then Elector of Hanover (a position George held before he was king) and moved from Germany to London during the reign of Queen Anne (although some claim the future king knew he would one day follow Handel to London and actually approved of his decision to move there).

Water Music, meanwhile, has since become part of popular culture – it’s generally said that most people will recognise at least one part of it – but interestingly, no-one is said to be exactly sure how the music, which is generally broken into three separate suites, should be performed, given that the original score has been lost.

PICTURE: Edouard Hamman’s painting showing Handel (on the left) with King George I aboard a barge on 17th July, 1717. Via Wikipedia

 

Located on the north bank of the River Thames at Chelsea, these 19th century pleasure gardens were only open for about 40 years.

The origins of the gardens go back to the 1830s when a mansion and surrounding estate – previously owned by Thomas Dawson, Viscount Cremorne (hence the name) – was sold to one Charles Random who went by the name of Baron de Berenger or Baron de Beaufain, a convicted stockmarket fraudster. Random established a sports facility called the Cremorne Stadium on the site where people could indulge in swimming, rowing, fencing, boxing and shooting (the ‘baron’ himself was apparently a crack shot).

The venture was not an immediate success however and so management began to diversify and provide other entertainments more synonymous with pleasure gardens including mock tournaments and pony races as well as dances and, of course, balloon ascents. Nonetheless, the venture failed and was sold off to a City coffee house owner of the name of Thomas Bartlett Simpson.

He sublet the 12 acre site to James Ellis who reopened the house and grounds as a pleasure gardens in 1845.  Ellis, however, went bankrupt within just a few years – an interesting side note is that he then went to Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria (part of what is now Australia) where he established another Cremorne Gardens beside the city’s Yarra River  – although like his London venture that, too, didn’t have a long life.

Back in London, Simpson then took over management of the gardens himself and  within just a few years the gardens had become popular among the fashionable.

The gardens featured a dazzling array of facilities including a banqueting hall, theatre, and American-style bowling saloon and provided all manner of entertainments such as balloon ascents, firework displays, dancing, and performances. The site could be entered from the grand entrance on King’s Road or at the Cremorne Pier on the river.

Alongside its regular entertainments, the gardens also hosted numerous spectacular events including, in 1861, being the site from where Madame Genevieve Young, the ‘Female Blondin’, crossed the Thames on a tightrope and where, in 1864, Mr Godard ascended in his Montgolfier Balloon. Other acts – such as a 1855 renactment of the storming of a fort at Sebastapol during which a stage collapsed, and another in which a balloon drifted onto the spire of a nearby church – were less successful.

The garden passed through the hands of several other managers over the ensuing years and but by the 1870s has acquired something of a bad reputation. While while then-manager John Baum, who had invested considerable sums in upgrading the gardens’ facilities, won a libel case against a local minister who had published a pamphlet condemning the gardens (in principle at least – he was apparently only awarded a farthing in damages), in 1877 he decided not to reapply for his licence and closed the gardens.

During its final years of operations, the gardens were captured on canvas by artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was a resident in nearby Cheyne Walk.

The modern Cremorne Gardens – located by the Thames near the Lots Road power station – were opened in 1982. Iron gates from the original gardens (pictured), which had been taken to a brewery, were restored and installed in the new gardens.

PICTURE: Above – The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons; Right – The Cremorne Gardens gates, Tarquin Binary/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5


The RHS Chelsea Flower Show was held in London last week at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and was once again a celebration of horticultural creativity and beauty. Here’s just a sample of what was on show…

Above, animal sculptures are displayed on the Easigrass exhibit while, below, a visitor listens to an audio recording whilst viewing a floral installation on the Interflora exhibit.

ALL PICTURES: RHS/Luke MacGregor.

Above, a visitor views “Neoteric” a floral installation by Robert Hornsby.

Above, lilies are displayed on the Harts Nursery exhibit.

Above, stilt walker “Mrs Flora” poses on the Big Hedge Co. garden.

 

We finish this series on fictional London with the home of another of London’s most famous fictional spies – James Bond.

In Ian Fleming’s books about the adventures of 007, he has the spy living in a ground-floor flat in a “converted Regency house” in a “plane tree’d square” off the King’s Road.

While several possibilities have been identified over the years (including in  Markham Square), it was Fleming’s former assistant to The Sunday Times, biographer and friend, John Pearson, who is credited with having identified this terrace in Wellington Square as the property Fleming probably had in mind (Pearson apparently had a friend from his college days who lived there at some point).

The five storey terrace, which dates from the early 1830s, was actually close by the address where Fleming lived – number 24 Cheyne Walk – when he commenced writing the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952.

The property was on the market not that long ago for a reported asking price of £6.35 million.

PICTURE: The terraces where James Bond is said to have lived in Wellington Square.

 

• The National Army Museum opens today following a massive three year, almost £24 million redevelopment. Designed by architects BDP and exhibition design agency Event (with £11.5 million in funding from The National Lottery), the main site of the museum at Chelsea features five new permanent galleries and a temporary exhibition space. Laid out over four floors, the new galleries feature more than 2,500 objects arranged under the themes of ‘Soldier’, ‘Army’, ‘Battle’, ‘Society’ and ‘Insight’. Among the objects on display are Crimean Tom, a cat found during the Crimean War and brought back as a pet (‘Soldier’), a portrait of Khudadad Khan VC, the first Indian soldier to win the Victoria Cross (‘Army’), the famous ‘Siborne Model’ of the Battle of Waterloo (‘Battle’), the flak jacket, helmet, identity discs and press pass of journalist Kate Adie (‘Society’), and a cup from the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion (‘Insight’). The new 500 square metre temporary exhibition space, meanwhile, is initially hosting the exhibition War Paint: Brushes with Conflict which features more than 130 paintings and objects explores the complex relationship between war and the men and women who map, record, celebrate and document it. Other features at the museum include a new cafe, shop and play area for children known as Play Base. Entry to the museum is free. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

• Butterflies return to the Natural History Museum this week with the immersive exhibition, Sensational Butterflies. The experience, now in its ninth year, takes visitors on a trail through a tropical habitat as they encounter each aspect of the life-cycle of the butterfly with highlights including watching them hatch from delicate chrysalises and seeing them feed and engage with each other. The Butterfly House team will be on hand to answer questions and give advice and tips. Admission charge applies. Runs from Friday until 17th September. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/sensational-butterflies.

A new exhibition exploring the personal stories of those who fought in World War I as well as those back home opens at the Guildhall Art Gallery tomorrow. Echoes Across The Century, conceived and delivered by the Livery Schools Link in partnership with the gallery, takes visitors on a “multi-sensory journey” exploring craftsmanship, memory and separation. It features Jan Churchill’s installation, Degrees of Separation, and the work of 240 students who were guided and inspired by Jane as they explored the impact of the war and imagined what life was like for those 100 years ago. Admission is free. Runs until 16th July. For more follow this link.

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Fictional British spy George Smiley featured in some eight books written by acclaimed author John Le Carré (sometimes as the main protagonist, sometimes as a side character) and is about to appear in a ninth, A Legacy of Spies, which comes out in September.

And that’s not to mention his appearance on small screens and large where he’s been portrayed by everyone from James Mason and Sir Alec Guinness to Denholm Elliott and Gary Oldman.

In the books, Smiley and his wife, Lady Ann, lived at a number 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea – which is an actual address, just off King’s Road (pictured with the red door). The Georgian townhouse was appropriately used to depict his home in the 1979 BBC series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy although, interestingly, while number nine’s exterior was used, it was apparently number 10, next door – pictured here with the blue door – which provided the interiors.

Le Carré, who was living just over the Thames in Battersea at the time of Smiley’s creation, has reportedly said he chose the location because his literary agent lived nearby (although there is apparently a little fuzziness on whether this is the case) and the mother of one his pupils from Eton (Le Carré – actually David John Moore Cornwell – taught at Eton for two years before he joined MI5 in 1958) lived in the street.

But perhaps the best literary reason is the fact that Bywater Street, despite the name, is actually a cul-de-sac which adds to the difficulty of anyone trying to spy on Smiley. A wise choice for a spy’s residence, in other words.

Other locations associated with George Smiley in London include The Circus, the secret London intelligence HQ where Smiley and his fellow intelligence operatives worked, which was located in an office block in Cambridge Circus, on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

PICTURE: Google Maps

Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?

kings-roadIt was the Stuart king Charles II who first starting using the road’s course as part of his route to Hampton Court which meant it was closed to the public.

Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.

King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.

The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.

The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.

Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.

PICTURE: Secret Pilgrim/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Sydney_Opera_House_under_construction_6_April_1966__Robert_Baudin_for_Hornibrook_Ltd._Courtesy_Australian_Air_PhotosThe stories behind some of the world’s most iconic buildings – from the Sydney Opera House to the Centre Pompidou in Paris – and engineering projects like London’s Crossrail will be exposed in a new exhibition at the V&A on the work of Ove Arup – arguably the most influential engineer of the 20th century. Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design, which is being staged on conjunction with the global engineering and design company he founded – Arup, surveys the life, work and legacy of Arup (1895-1988) and features more than 150 previously unseen prototypes, models, films, drawings and photographs as well as new immersive digital displays featuring animations, simulations and virtual reality. As well as presenting information relating to a selection of Arup’s most ground-breaking projects – including collaborations with architects such as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, the display, which is divided into several distinct sections arranged chronologically, also explores the pioneering work of Arup today on projects like Crossrail, technologies for acoustics studies like SoundLab and SolarLeaf – an experimental bio-reactive facade system that uses micro algae to generate renewable energy. The first major exhibition led by the V&A’s new Design, Architecture and Digital Department, Engineering the World runs at the South Kensington museum until 6th November. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/EngineeringSeason. PICTURE (above): Sydney Opera House under construction, 1966; © Robert Baudin for Hornibrook Ltd. Courtesy Australian Air Photos.

New-Tate-ModernThe new Tate Modern opens its doors to the public tomorrow following a £260 million renovation and expansion. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron (who also designed the original conversion of the Battersea Power Station which opened in 2000), the new Switch House building increases the size of the Tate Modern by 60 per cent. As well as redisplaying the 800 works previously on show, the revamped Tate Modern – which still features the Turbine Hall at its centre – also offers a range of new experiences for visitors, from the  subterranean concrete ‘Tanks’ – the first permanent museum spaces dedicated to live art, and a panoramic public viewing terrace on level 10. The museum’s reopening will be celebrated by a free programme of live performances, new commissions and other special events and the museum will stay open until 10pm each evening this weekend when events will include a specially commissioned choral work being performed by more than 500 singers from community choirs around London at 5pm on Saturday. Entry to the Tate Modern on Bankside is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern. PICTURE: © Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron/Tate 

English Heritage blue plaques were unveiled to ballet dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton earlier this month. Dame Margot’s plaque was unveiled at her former flat at 118 Long Acre in Covent Garden (conveniently close to the nearby Royal Opera House where she performed) while Sir Frederick’s plaque was unveiled at his former property at 8 Marlborough Street in Chelsea. The pair’s 25 year relationship produced many of her most celebrated performances and his greatest ballets, including Daphnis and Chloe (1951), Sylvia (1952) and Ondine (1958). The unveiling coincided with the release of a new free Blue Plaques app which, as well as helping users to find blue plaques and uncover the stories of those they commemorate, is also intended to provide an expanding series of walking tours. The first, ‘Soho’s Creatives and Visionaries’, follows a route from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road Station, taking in the property where Karl Marx began writing Das Kapital, the house where Canaletto lived and the attic rooms where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in 1926. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The 248th ‘summer exhibition’ – featuring the work of 15 international artistic duos in a display curated by leading British sculptor Richard Wilson – opened at the Royal Academy of Arts this week. On display in the Piccadilly institution’s main galleries, the exhibition’s highlights include a new large scale, suspended kite sculpture by Heather and Ivan Morison, two hand-coloured prints from Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Human Rainbow II series, and, an atmospheric photographic installation from Jane and Louise Wilson’s seminal Chernobyl series. Turkish film-maker and artist Kutlug Ataman’s monumental multi-image video installation, THE PORTRAIT OF SAKIP SABANCI, featuring 10,000 LCD panels will also be displayed. Can be seen until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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The largest naval conflict of World War I – the Battle of Jutland – is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. BugleMarking the centenary of the battle, Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle explores the battle itself (which claimed the lives of more than 8,500 as the British Grand Fleet met the German High Seas Fleet in what neither side could claim as a decisive victory) as well as its lead-up, aftermath and the experience of those serving on British and German warships through paintings and newspaper clippings, photographs, ship models and plans, sailor-made craft work and medals. Among the objects on display is a 14 foot long shipbuilder’s model of the HMS Queen Mary, which, one of the largest battle cruisers involved,was destroyed with only 18 survivors of the 1,266 crew. Among the personal stories told in the exhibition, meanwhile, is that of boy bugler William Robert Walker, of Kennington, who served on the HMS Calliope and, severely wounded during the battle, was later visited by King George V
and presented with a silver bugle by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (the bugle, pictured, is on display). A series of events will accompany the exhibition which runs until November. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum. PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London 

• Two ‘lost’ Egyptian cities and their watery fate are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum today. Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds is the museum’s first exhibition of underwater discoveries and focuses on the recent discoveries of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus – submerged at the mouth of the Nile for more than 1,000 years. Among the 300 objects on display are more than than 200 artefacts excavated between 1996 and 2012. Highlights include a 5.4 metre statue of Hapy, a sculpture excavated from Canopus representing Arsine II (the eldest daughter of the Ptolemaic dynasty founder Ptolemy I) who became a goddess after her death, and a stela from Thonis-Heracleion which advertises a royal decree of Pharaoh Nectanebo I concerning taxes.  The exhibition runs until 27th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

New English Heritage Blue Plaques marking the homes of comedian Tommy Cooper and food writer Elizabeth David have been unveiled this month as part of the 150th anniversary of the scheme. Tommy Cooper lived at his former home at 51 Barrowgate Road in Chiswick between 1955 to 1984 and while there entertained fellow comedians such as Roy Hudd, Eric Sykes and Jimmy Tarbuck. Elizabeth David, meanwhile, is the first food writer to ever be commemorated with a Blue Plaque. She lived at the property at 24 Halsey Street in Chelsea for some 45 years until her death in 1992. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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A once forgotten collection of watercolour paintings and drawings owned by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia has gone on show at Hampton Court Palace as part of commemorations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The Empress and the Gardener exhibition features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace and its park and gardens during the time when Brown worked there as chief gardener to King George III between 1764 and 1783. The works came to be in the collection of the Empress – a renowned fan of English gardens – after Brown’s assistant, John Spyers, sold two albums of his drawings of the palace to the her for the considerable sum of 1,000 roubles. The albums disappeared into her collection at the Hermitage (now the State Hermitage Museum) and lay forgotten for more than 200 years before they were rediscovered by curator Mikhail Dedinkin in 2002. As well as the collection – on public show for the first time, the exhibition features portraits of Brown and the Empress, previously unseen drawings of her ‘English Palace’ in the grounds of the Peterhof near St Petersburg, and several pieces from the ‘Green Frog’ dinner service, created for the Empress by Wedgwood, which is decorated with some of the landscapes the prolific Brown created across England. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A house in Chelsea has become only one of 19 homes in London to bear two official blue plaques. Number 48 Paultons Square has the honour of having been home to two Nobel prize winners (albeit in different fields) – dramatist Samuel Beckett, who lived there for seven months in 1934 while writing his first novel, Murphy, and physicist Patrick Blackett, noted for his revolutionary work in U-boat detection during World War II, who lived there from 1953 to 1969. Other ‘doubles’ include 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (home to Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia (home to George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the blue plaques scheme. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The rise of the British graphic novel is the subject of a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Great British Graphic Novel features works by 18th century artist William Hogarth as well as Kate Charlesworth, Dave Gibbons (one of the creators of the ground-breaking Watchmen), Martin Row, Posy Simmonds (creator of the Tamara Drewe comic strip) and Bryan and Mary Talbot. It runs until 24th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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

 

Duke-of-Wellingtons-CloakRecently acquired by the National Army Museum (fittingly given this is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo), this cloak was worn by the Duke of Wellington during the Waterloo Campaign.

Spattered with mud, the cloak is made from blue wool and trimmed with a navy collar and facings. Purchased by the museum at auction for £38,000, it will now form part of a collection of other Waterloo and Napoleonic items in the museum’s permanent collection.

The cloak can apparently be traced back to Lady Caroline Lamb, who had an affair with Wellington in the summer of 1815 and is believed to have been given the cloak as a memento. The first documented owner was Grosvenor Charles Bedford who was given the cloak in 1823 by the surgeon and anatomist Anthony Carlisle.

On presenting Bedford with the cloak, Carlisle had commented that it had been given to him by Lady Caroline who had received it from the duke. The cloak has been passed down within Bedford’s family ever since.

The National Army Museum in Chelsea already possesses a portrait of Wellington by Edward Stroehling (1768-1826) which depicts him wearing a similar cloak.

The cloak will go on display when the museum reopens next year. For more on the museum in the meantime, see www.nam.ac.uk.

PICTURE: Courtesy National Army Museum.

East-India-HouseThe headquarters of the East India Company, the ‘New’ East India House, was built in the 1720s at the corner of Leadenhall and Lime Streets on the site of what had been a late Elizabethan mansion known as Craven House.

The company, which was founded in 1600, was housed in several different properties (including Crosby Hall – now located at Chelsea) until it moved into Craven House in 1648 – built by a former Lord Mayor, Sir Robert Lee, and named after one of its later occupants Sir William Craven. In 1661 an ornamental wooden structure featuring paintings of some of the Company’s ships and a wooden sculpture of a seaman, was added to the facade of the building.

By the 1720s, the mansion was crumbling and so construction began on a new building on the site designed by Theodore Jacobsen (the Company was relocated to a temporary premises in Fenchurch Street while it was built).

The three storey building on Leadenhall Street was designed with five bays and beyond the facade featured grand meeting rooms including the Directors’ Court Room, offices for the directors as well as a hall, courtyard, garden and warehouses. Famous art works inside included the fresco The East Offering its Riches to Britannia by then little known Greek artist Spiradone RomaThe East Offering its Riches to Britannia which once adorned the ceiling of the Revenue Committee Room (it’s now in the collection of the British Library).

The building was renovated and extended significantly in the 1790s creating what was essentially a grand new neo-classical building. Among the new additions – although it seems a matter of some debate the building was apparently designed by Henry Holland with the work was overseen by the Company’s surveyor Richard Jupp until his death in 1799 – were a museum and library. A new pediment topped by Brittania dominated the facade.

When the East India Company was wound up in 1858 after the Indian Mutiny its assets were transferred to the government and the building briefly became home to the India Office (which subsequently moved to a new purpose-built building which still stands in Whitehall).

In 1861, the building was sold for redevelopment and subsequently demolished. Many of its fittings, art collection and furnishings were transferred elsewhere including the British Library, V&A and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall where many of the fittings of the Directors’ Court Room – including a great marble chimneypiece – were reused.

The location of the property is now covered by the landmark Lloyd’s building with little to indicate such a grand premises had once stood here.

PICTURE: The extended East India House in about 1800, by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)/via Wikipedia.

For more on the history of the East India Company, see John Keay’s The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company.

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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opened in London’s west this week so we thought we’d take a look at some of the treasures on show. The show, which is in its 102nd year, has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913 (except during the two World Wars) and while its claim to be Britain’s largest flower show has been lost to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, it remains the nation’s most prestigious. The five day show runs until Saturday. From the top – Chelsea pensioners look at ‘Peter Beales Roses’ in the Great Pavilion; the Inter-flora display in the Great Pavilion; a model poses in front of the Thailand, Land of Buddhism display; and, award-winning garden sculptor David Harber hosts the Mad Hatter’s tea party. For more on the show, visit www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show PICTURES: RHS/Hannah McKay and RHS.

 

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Daffodils blooming outside the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

The final in our series on Winston Churchill will be published a day late this week on Thursday and This Week in London will be published on Friday.