Gertrude Bell – an adventurer, archaeologist, mountaineer and diplomat (who was at least partially responsible for the creation of the nation of Iraq) – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Chelsea home that served as her London based for some 40 years. The three storey Georgian residence at 95 Sloane Street (pictured) belonged to Lady Olliffe, the mother of Bell’s step-mother Florence. Bell, who spent much of her time in the Middle East, used the home as her London base between 1884, when she graduated from Queen’s College, through to her last visit to London in 1925, including during an extended period in 1915 when she managed the Red Cross’s Wounded and Missing Enquiry Department’s office in Arlington Street. Meanwhile, jazz musician Ronnie Scott has also been honoured with a Blue Plaque which marks the site of his first club in Soho. Scott and fellow saxophonist Pete King opened jazz club in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street in Chinatown on 30th October, 1959 – 60 years ago this year. The club remained there for six years before moving to 47 Frith Street in 1965. Musicians including Zoot Sims, Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Ben Webster, and Al Cohn all performed at the club while patrons included Harold Pinter, the Beatles, Peter O’Toole, and Spike Milligan. For more on English Heritage Blue Plaques, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURE: Google Maps

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The Chelsea property where Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley lived in 1977 has been given an English heritage Blue Plaque. Marley lived at the four storey terraced house at 42 Oakley Street while he and the Wailers were finishing recording their album Exodus which features hits including Jamming, Waiting in Vain, Three Little Birds and One Love. Marley, who often played football with bandmates at pitches in Battersea Park, said he regarded London as a “second base”. Among the evidence considered in deciding to award the plaque was Marley’s arrest for possession of cannabis on 10th March, 1977, along with bassist Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett. Court records have Barrett’s address as 42 Oakley Street while Marley’s is recorded as 27 Collingham Gardens. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests he gave this address to try and prevent the police from searching Oakley Street for drugs and English Heritage says the unanimous recollection of contemporary witnesses is that Oakley Street was both the band headquarters and Marley’s primary address at the time. Other music-related identities who have been honoured with blue plaques include Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURE: 42 Oakley Street (before plaque) via Google Maps.

An exhibition exploring the changing roles of women in the British Army from 1917 to the present day has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Rise of the Lionesses, which is being held in partnership with the WRAC Association, charts the major contributions women have made to the Army’s history as well as how perceptions of “appropriate” roles for females have affected these contributions and how women have fought to redefine those roles. Highlights include the combat shirt and medical kit belonging to Sergeant Chantelle Taylor – the first female British soldier to kill in combat, the first Army-issue bra, and the vehicle chassis used to train Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) while she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II (pictured above). The free display can be seen until 20th October and is accompanied by a programme of public events. For more, head to this link. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Army Museum.

• Communications intelligence and cyber security are explored in an exhibition at the Science Museum, making the centenary of UK intelligence, security and cyber agency,  GCHQ. Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security features more than 100 objects including cipher machines used during World War II, secure telephones of the type used by British Prime Ministers, and an encryption key used by the Queen. There’s also encryption technology used by Peter and Helen Kroger who, until their arrest in the 1960s, were part of the most successful Soviet spy ring in Cold War Britain, and the remains of the crushed hard drive alleged to contain top secret information which was given by Edward Snowden to The Guardian in 2013 while the work of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre is also explored with visitors able to see a computer infected with the WannaCry ransomware which, in 2017, affected thousands of people and organisations including the NHS. Runs until 23rd February. Admission is free. For more, head to www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

The pioneering work of Hungarian avant garde artist Dóra Maurer goes on show at the Tate Modern on South Bank next Monday in the first UK exhibition celebrating her five decade career. The free display brings together 35 of her works – from conceptual photographic series and experimental films to colourful graphic works and striking geometric paintings – with highlights including Seven Foldings (1975), Triolets (1981), Timing (1973/1980) and the six-metre-long Stage II (2016). The year-long display is one of several free displays opening at the Tate Modern this month. Others include an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s graphic woodcut prints, a show featuring photograms, films, painting and drawings by Polish émigré artists Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson, and photography displays by Mitch Epstein, Naoya Hatakeyama and David Goldblatt. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Cinema is being celebrated at Somerset House this month with the launch of Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House. The event includes courtyard screenings, specially curated DJ sets and live performances, and panel discussions from industry insiders. Actor Antonio Banderas will join Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar to introduce the festival’s opening night premiere, Pain and Glory, with other special guests including the cast of Shane Meadows’ BAFTA-award winning film This is England, Francis Lee, the director and writer of God’s Own Country, and  the film’s lead actor Josh O’Connor as well as Peter Webber, director of Inna de Yard. Runs from 8th to 21st August. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opens today and once again features a series of cutting edge ‘show gardens’ boasting the best of international garden design as well as a series of smaller ‘artisan gardens’ offering thought-provoking designs that tell a story, ‘space to grow’ gardens which pack a lot into a small space and  dazzling displays in the Great Pavilion. This year’s offerings also include a special ‘RHS Back to Nature Garden’ designed by the Duchess of Cambridge with the help of Andrée Davies and Adam White of Davies White Landscape Architects, and a D-Day 75 Garden which, positioned in front of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, shows soldiers landing on a beach overlooked by a stone statue of veteran Bill Pendell. The show runs until Saturday with public entry from Thursday. For more, see rhs.org.uk/shows. PICTURES: Above – Florella’s Future, Discovery Zone, in the Great Pavilion; Below – Queen Elizabeth II smiles as views flower displays in the Great Pavilion (RHS/Luke MacGregor); The National Chrysanthemum Society’s exhibit, which is based on popular children’s television programmes of the 60’s and 70’s during prebuild (RHS/ Luke MacGregor); Paddleboarder Jo Mosely poses in ‘The Welcome to Yorkshire’ show garden (RHS/Suzanne Plunkett); The Queen and Prince William are given a tour by the Duchess of Cambridge of her ‘RHS Back to Nature Garden’ (RHS/Luke MacGregor); and, Normandy veterans pause in the ‘D-Day Revisited Garden’ designed by John Everiss Design (RHS/Suzanne Plunkett).

 

 

 

 

A sapphire and diamond coronet made for Queen Victoria goes on permanent display in the V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Gallery from today. The new display is being unveiled as part of the V&A’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the births of the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. The coronet was designed for the Queen by Prince Albert in 1840, the year they were married. Albert based the design on the Saxon Rautenkranz (circlet of rue) which runs diagonally across the coat of arms of Saxony. Victoria wore the coronet in a famous portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter completed in 1842 and again in 1866 when she wore it instead of her crown at the opening of Parliament. Entrance to the gallery is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

A major new exhibition of the work of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Edvard Munch: love and angst, a collaboration with Norway’s Munch Museum, features 83 artworks taken from the museum’s collection as well as loans from across the UK and Europe. Highlights include a black-and-white lithograph of The Scream – the first time any version of the work has been on show in the UK for a decade, Vampire II – considered to be one of his most elaborate and technically accomplished prints, the controversial erotic image Madonna, and, Head by Head, a print representing the complex relationship between human beings. All of the latter three latter prints are being displayed alongside their original matrix (the physical objects Munch used to transfer ink onto paper). Runs until 21st July in the Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. (PICTURE: The Scream (1895), Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Private Collection, Norway. Photo: Thomas Widerberg)

A retrospective of the work of Abram Games (1914-1996), a poster artist for the War Office during World War II, has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters By Abram Games features more than 100 posters he designed while working in the War Office’s Public Relations Department between 1941 and 1945. It explores how his Jewish refugee heritage, his experiences while a soldier and the turbulent politics of the time shaped his career and how his work – Games is described as a “master of reductive design” – still influences design professionals today. In conjunction with the opening of the exhibition last week, Games has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Golders Green. Runs until 24th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/artofpersuasion.

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It’s 53 years ago this month that the World Cup trophy – offiicially known as the Jules Rimet Trophy – was stolen from Methodist Central Hall in Westminster (OK, it’s not a very round figure, but it’s a fascinating story).

The trophy had arrived in the UK in January for the tournament to be held later that year and was mostly kept at FA headquarters at Wembley. But in March, it went on show at a stamp exhibition being held at the hall (pictured).

Despite being kept under (relatively) constant guard in a glass cabinet, the trophy was discovered missing just after 12pm on 20th March (the crime had apparently occurred while the guards were on a break). Scotland Yard immediately set about investigating the theft but to no avail (the FA, meanwhile, secretly commissioned a replica to be made, just in case the trophy couldn’t be recovered).

A couple of days later Joe Mears, chairman of the FA, received an anonymous package. It contained the removable top lining of the trophy and a demand for £15,000 in return for the trophy. An exchange was to be set up involving codes placed in newspaper personal ads.

The FA chairman then worked with Scotland Yard to set up a false exchange. On 24th March, Flying Squad Detective Inspector Leonard Buggy, posing as Mears, met a former soldier who turned out to be Edward Betchley in Battersea Park, showing him a briefcase filled with newspapers covered with a layer of £5 notes. Betchley then accompanied Buggy in a car, ostensibly driving to pick up the trophy, but he got spooked along the way and jumped out.

Betchley was arrested minutes later but refused to reveal the trophy’s whereabouts, claiming he was just the middleman come to collect the ransom (he was later convicted of demanding money with menaces with the intent to steal).

The trophy was actually discovered a week after it was stolen by a collie-cross named Pickles who found it lying near a neighbour’s car outside the Norwood home of his owner, Thames lighterman David Corbett. Pickles – who went on to become something of a celebrity in his own right appearing in TV shows and even a film, The Spy with a Cold Nose – has, of course, since died (his collar is on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester).

The crime has never been officially solved although there were claims last year that late London gangster Sidney Cugullere and his brother Reg were behind it.

England, meanwhile, did go on to beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final that year. Life, meanwhile, didn’t turn out so well for the trophy. It was stolen again in 1983 in Brazil and this time was not recovered.

PICTURE: David Adams

One of the first ever exhibitions devoted to the work of French Revolution-era artist Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) opens at The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square today. Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life features at its heart 18 paintings from private British collection the Ramsay Manor Foundation which have never been displayed or published before. They include early works like Two Young Women Kissing (1790-94), urban vistas like The Poor Cat (1832), The Barrel Game (c1828), and A Carnival Scene (1832), and portraiture like Portrait of the Comtesse François de Sainte-Aldegonde (c1800-05), and Portrait of a Lawyer (early 19th century). Also on display is The Meeting of Artists in Isabey’s Studio (1798, now held in the Musée du Louvre), the painting which, depicting the greatest artists of his generation, rocketed him to fame, and the National Gallery’s own Girl at a Window (Boilly was apparently the first to use the phrase “trompe l’oeil” to describe illusionistic paintings that “deceived the eye” by creating the illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions and this work gives the illusion that, though it’s oil on canvas, its a print in a mount). Though born in Lille, Boilly spent six decades in Paris from 1785 onwards and was an eyewitness to events including the French Revolution of 1789, the Terror, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the restoration of the French monarchy. The free display can be seen in Room 1 until 19th May and admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Louis-Léopold Boilly, ‘The Barrel Game’ (about 1828/oil on canvas/37.8 × 46.8 cm – The Ramsbury Manor Foundation) Photo © courtesy the Trustees.

The ‘Renaissance Nude’ and how it inspired some of the world’s most renowned masterpieces is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly on Sunday. The display features about 90 works in a variety of media from across Europe with artists including Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Jan Gossaert, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci all represented. It will look at developments that led to the nude holding a pivotal place in art between 1400 and 1530 and is organised around five main themes: ‘The Nude and Christian Art’, ‘Humanism and the Expansion of Secular Themes’, ‘Artistic Theory and Practice’, ‘Beyond the Ideal Nude’ and ‘Personalising the Nude’. Highlights include Titian’s Venus Rising from the Sea (‘Venus Anadyomene’) (c 1520), Agnolo Bronzino’s Saint Sebastian (c1533), Dürer’s engraving Adam and Eve (1504), Cranach’s A Faun and His Family with a Slain Lion (c1526) and Gossaert’s Hercules and Deianira (1517). Can be seen in the Sackler Wing of Galleries until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

How women have helped shaped the British Army will be the subject of a special day featuring theatrical performances, live music and discussion at the National Army Museum in Chelsea this Saturday (2nd March). The day, which is the first of new series of Saturday events at the museum and this month is being held in recognition of Women’s History Month, will feature a theatrical performance by Dr Kate Vigurs of History’s Maid telling the story of Mother Ross who in 1693 disguised herself as a man so she could join the army and find her husband who had gone missing while at war. There’s also a panel of five women – serving soldiers, veterans and army wives – who will share their stories as well as musical performances by the Military Wives Choirs, the chance to engage with re-enactors, gallery tours and object handling opportunities all centred around women in the army. Runs from 10am to 4.30pm and is free. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/women-and-army.

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Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be transported back to 1906 from Saturday as the palace community prepares for Christmas. Christmas Present, Christmas Past features a range of activities from carol singing around the tree to telling ghost stories (and looking at the traditions behind them) as well as live culinary demonstrations in the kitchens showing the evolution of Christmas dinner as we know it today. Meanwhile, the Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre returns next weekend (7th to 9th December) with more than 90 stalls set up in the palace courtyards selling mince pies, mulled wine and a host of other festive treats. And the palace’s ice-skating rink has returned to the Tudor West Front (and will be there until 6th January). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

Sir Edwin Landseer’s dramatic work – The Monarch of the Glen – is at the centre of a new exhibition celebrating the connections between the 19th century artist and the National Gallery. “Coming home” to the Trafalgar Square-based institution for the first time in more than 160 years, the painting – arguably the most famous animal painting in the world – is one of 14 works included in a new free show opening today. Among paintings created to decorate the Palace of Westminster after fire devastated the building in 1834, Landseer’s (1802-1873) work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, then housed in what is now the National Gallery building. It’s now on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, which acquired the work in 2017. This is the first London showing since 1983. Other works in the display include Landseer’s Ecorche drawing of a dog’s leg (1821), as well as paintings and drawings connected with the famous lions Landseer designed for Trafalgar Square including a John Ballantyne portrait of the artist modelling the lions in his studio and a work by Queen Victoria, whom Landseer tutored in etching, entitled A pencil drawing of a stag after Landseer’s mural on the Dining Room wall at Ardverikie Shooting-lodge (1847). Can be seen in Room 1 until 3rd February. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edwin Landseer, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ (about 1851), © National Galleries of Scotland

More than 40 paintings created during the final year of World War I by artist Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) go on show at the National Army Museum in Chelsea tomorrow. Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918 shows his mastery of equine subjects as well as portraiture and landscapes. Munnings was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as an official war artist to capture the fighting front and logistics behind the scenes and in early 1918 was embedded with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The exhibition has been developed by the Canadian War Museum in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum and is supported but The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation. Can be seen until 3rd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

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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.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

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