While recent years have seen the creation of a number of roof gardens across London, the Sky Garden – located atop the controversial ‘Walkie Talkie’ building (otherwise known as 20 Fenchurch Street) – has the honour of being the highest public garden in the city.
The three floor garden, which was designed by landscape architecture practice Gillespie’s, opened in January, 2015.
Located on the 36th to 38th floors, it was designed to provide 360 degree views across London and features landscaped gardens, observation decks, an open air terrace (named for the late architectural townscape advisor Francis Golding) and five bars and restaurants.
The gardens include flowering plants such as the African Lily (Agapanthus), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) as well as fragrant herbs such as French Lavender.
WHERE: Sky Garden (via 1 Sky Garden Walk) (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: 10am to 6pm weekdays; 11am to 9pm weekends; COST: Free (but rebooking required); WEBSITE: https://skygarden.london.
• The Museum of London is celebrating its final 100 days at London Wall on Friday with free ice creams and “goody bags” for visitors. The museum will be giving away 500 Lewis of London ice creams from 11:30am, while visitors will also enjoy a performance by Grand Union Orchestra at midday. The first 100 visitors through the doors will also receive a gift bag featuring Museum of London memorabilia, including a Museum of London guidebook, a pack of playing cards displaying iconic images from the museum’s collections, a greeting card featuring a print by artist Willkay, and a special gift of either a tea towel, a Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens mug, a sketch notebook, an A3 print of London or a soft toy. Meanwhile, from Friday, digital screens will display a countdown clock to mark the days left before the London Wall site closes to the public on 4th December, in preparation for the museum’s move to a new home at West Smithfield. Friday’s event is part of a six-month long programme of activities leading up to the closure of the site. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The tabla – twin hand drums – used by legendary Indian musician Ustad Alla Rakha during his European tours of the early 1980s is going on display at the British Museum in a world first. Ustad Alla Rakha was one of the most important and respected tabla players of his generation, working with the All India Radio in the 1930s, composing music for the film industry in the 40s, and regularly playing with world-renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar. The tabla will be on display in the Hotung Gallery until early 2023 after which they will go on loan to the Manchester Museum South Asia Gallery. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Now on: Lucian Freud: The Painter and His Family. The first exhibition of Lucian Freud’s work at the Freud Museum, the home of his grandfather, Sigmund Freud, and aunt, Anna Freud, this display explores Lucian Freud’s childhood, family and friends and celebrates some lesser known aspects of his life including his love of reading and lifelong fascination with horses as well as his relationships with the former occupants of the building. Alongside paintings and drawings, the exhibition includes illustrated childhood letters, books Freud owned and book covers he designed. His sole surviving sculpture, Three-legged Horse (1937) and early painting, Palm Tree (1944), is also being displayed. The display is being accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.freud.org.uk.
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The City of London is dotted with halls for the city’s livery companies. But ever wondered what they are?
There are 110 livery companies in the City, representing ancient and more modern trade associations and guilds, including everything from grocers to saddlers, ironmongers to musicians. The newest livery company is the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars which was created in 2014.
Many of today’s livery companies have their origins in the city’s medieval guilds which were responsible for such things as regulating wages and conditions and setting industry standards (while many of these responsibilities have since passed to other bodies, some – such as the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths – still play important roles in quality control).
These days the companies are also known for their support of the industries they represent and their philanthropic work.
Livery companies – many of which also traditionally had religious links – built halls as central meeting places – about 40 companies today still own or have a share in a hall.
Members of the livery companies (known as liverymen after the distinctive clothing or uniform they wore) – who are awarded the Freedom of the City of London – have the right to vote for senior offices in the City such as the Lord Mayor of London and sheriffs.
The livery companies of the City of London are listed in an “order of precedence” which was settled in 1515 for the 48 then in existence based on their political and economic power (the Worshipful Company of Mercers comes in at number one). All the companies created since then are ranked according to their date of creation.
The 12 highest ranked companies are known as the Twelve Great City Livery Companies. Among them in the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors which disputes its position at number seven and so once a year at Easter swaps places with the Worshipful Company of Skinners at number six.
• A series of free art trails featuring globe sculptures that aim to increase understanding of the Transatlantic slave trade and its impacts have gone on show in several parts of central London. A national art project which spans seven UK cities, The World Reimagined is designed to bring to life the reality and impact of the slave trade in a bid to help make racial justice a reality. Among the artists involved in London are the project’s founding artist British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare (who also chose the form of the sculptures), Nicola Green and Winston Branch and each has created a work responding to themes ranging from ‘Mother Africa’ and ‘The Reality of Being Enslaved’ to ‘Still We Rise’ and ‘Expanding Soul’. There are four trails in London, including in the City in London, Camden-Westminster, Hackney-Newham and Southwark-Lambeth. More than 100 artists are involved in the project overall. For more including details on where to find the trails, see www.theworldreimagined.org.
• Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian Nationalist and the first Indian to win a popular election to Parliament in the UK, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Penge. Known as the “grand old man of India” and described in his Times obituary as “the father of Indian Nationalism” following his death in 1917, Naoroji made seven trips to England and spent over three decades of his life in London, including at the red-bricked semi-detached house in Penge, south London, that was his home around the turn of the twentieth century and where the plaque is located. The plaque was unveiled last week ahead of the 75th anniversary celebrations of India’s independence. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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Think of fire in relation to London and the events of 1666 no doubt spring to mind. But London has had several other large fires in its history (with a much higher loss of life), including during the reign of King John in July, 1212.
The fire started in Southwark around 10th July and the blaze destroyed most of the buildings lining Borough High Street along with the church of St Mary Overie (also known as Our Lady of the Canons and now the site of Southwark Cathedral) before reaching London Bridge.
The wind carried embers across the river and ignited buildings on the northern end before the fire spread into the City of London itself (building on the bridge had been authorised by King John so the rents could be used to help pay for the bridge’s maintenance).
Many people died on the bridge after they – and those making their way south across the bridge to aid people in Southwark (or perhaps just to gawk) – were caught between the fires at either end, with some having apparently drowned after jumping off the bridge into the Thames (indeed, it’s said that some of the crews of boats sent to rescue them ended up drowning themselves after the vessels were overwhelmed).
Antiquarian John Stow, writing in the early 17th century, stated that more than 3,000 people died in the fire – leading some later writers to describe the disaster as “arguably the greatest tragedy London has ever seen”.
But many believe this figure is far too high for a population then estimated at some 50,000. The oldest surviving account of the fire – Liber de Antiquis Legibus (“Book of Ancient Laws”) which was written in 1274 and mentions the burning of St Mary Overie and the bridge, as well as the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket built upon it – doesn’t mention a death toll.
London Bridge itself survived the fire thanks to its recent stone construction but for some years afterward it was only partly usable. King John then raised additional taxes to help rebuild destroyed structures while the City’s first mayor, Henry Fitz Ailwyn, subsequently apparently joined with other officials in creating some regulations surrounding construction with fire safety in mind.
The cause of the fire remains unknown.
• A new entrance to a memorial dedicated to those who died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has opened at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Remember Me memorial entrance portico, which is accessed through the cathedral North Transept door, has been designed by Caroe Architecture with Connolly Wellingham and is an elliptical structure made from British Oak into which the words ‘Remember Me’ have been etched in gold. It leads through to the Middlesex Chapel where a digital book of remembrance can be accessed. The inner portico is the first project of its kind to be built inside St Paul’s for nearly 150 years and this is the first time the North Transept of the cathedral has been used as a permanent entrance since this part of the cathedral was bombed during World War II. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk/remember-me-memorial.
• A temporary 35 metre high observation wheel providing new views of London is being placed in Somerset House’s central open-air courtyard as part of a new cultural festival which kicks off Monday. This Bright Land features art installations and a programme of events featuring everything from music and dance performances through to workshops and talks. As well as the wheel, the courtyard will host a ‘Wonder Garden’, a soundscape installation telling Londoners’ stories, a futuristic custom-built ‘Clubhouses’ where complimentary make-up services will be provided, and a pop-up experimental zone which will feature immersive installations and complimentary light treatments. The month-long festival, which runs until 29th August, will also include a series of open air balls and parties at night as well as weekly family-friendly activities. There is free daytime entry on weekdays and pay-what-you-can entry on Monday to Thursday evenings and Saturday daytimes. Charges apply for special events and observation wheel rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/this-bright-land.
• Two 16th century works have gone on display in The National Gallery for the first time following their acquisition. Paolo Veronese’s ful-length Portrait of a Gentleman of the Soranzo Family (about 1585) can be seen in Room 12 while Lo Spagna’s Christ Carrying the Cross (perhaps 1500–5) can be seen in Room 61. Admission to the gallery is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
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World-renowned mathematical physicist Professor Sir Roger Penrose has received the Freedom of the City of London. Sir Roger, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics two years ago for his pioneering studies in the 1960s, was the first to prove mathematically that black holes exist. The now 90-year-old, who is currently Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College in Oxford, also jointly won the 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics with the late Stephen Hawking for their work on gravitational singularity theorems. Sir Roger said he was “hugely honoured” to be given the Freedom of the City. “London is a magnificent city in which I have spent many happy and productive years since my school and undergraduate days, and then with four separate academic appointments,” he said. Sir Roger, who is also known for discovering Penrose tiling in which a pair of rhombus-shaped tiles can be used to tile a flat service without the pattern ever repeating itself, was nominated for the Freedom by Lord Mayor of the City of London, Vincent Keaveny, and the City of London Corporation’s policy chairman, Chris Hayward. The tradition of the Freedom of the City of London is believed to have begun in 1237 and enabled recipients, who were also required to join a Livery Company, to carry out their trade.
The medieval church, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Great Fire of London only be badly damaged in the Blitz and finally demolished in 1962, was located on the corner of the laneway’s intersection with Cannon Street.
St Swithin (also known as St Swithun) was a ninth century Bishop of Winchester while the other part of the church’s moniker – London Stone – comes from the fact the ancient stone was formerly located opposite the church.
The church was the resting place of Catrin Glyndŵr, wife of the rebel Edmund Mortimer and daughter of Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr, who, after being held in the Tower of London, died in mysterious circumstances (there’s a memorial to her in a garden on the former site of the church).
Not the name of a person, Great Paul is in fact the name of the largest of four bells in south-west tower of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The bronze bell was cast in 1881 by JW Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough. With a diameter of some 11 metres, it weighs an impressive 16.8 tons (in fact, until the casting of the Olympic Bell for the 2012 London Olympics, it was the largest bell in the UK).
Brought to London from Loughborough on a train over a period of 11 days, Great Paul was hung in the tower in May, 1882.
The bell was traditionally sounded at 1pm every day but was silent for more than 40 years after its ringing apparatus broke in the 1970s.
Following a restoration, Great Paul started being rung again last year when it was rung during a festival of church bells to mark the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this year, it led a bell ringing tribute marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
Previous historic occasions on which the bell was rung included Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the cathedral in 1981.
The south-east tower of the cathedral is also home to the storied bell known as Great Tom – but we’ll deal with that in a future post.
• The Museum of London has launched a six-month programme of events celebrating its 45 year history ahead of its doors closing on 4th December in preparation for its move to West Smithfield. The programme includes a range of family activities – from Roman picnics to large LEGO builds – as well as behind the scenes access at the museum during Open House London and two festivals on the closing weekend celebrating the past 50 years of London’s history. For the full programme of events, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk. Following its closure at the London Wall site, the new site at West Smithfield, to be named The London Museum, will open in 2026.
• An outdoor exhibition on the essential role of London’s parks and open spaces – which have served as everything from playgrounds and picnics to concerts and Sunday football kickabouts – opens in Guildhall Yard on Monday. Green City: A Visual History of London’s Parks and Open Spaces, which is curated by the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives, celebrates the role open places have played in the capital since the 16th century and brings together 100 photographs and prints from the archives’ collections. The exhibition can be seen in Guildhall Yard until 1st August when it moves to Aldgate Square. On 15th August it will open at Hampstead Heath and then, from 1st September, spend two weeks at The View in Epping Forest’s Visitor Centre.
• Kenley Airfield – an integral part of London’s defence during World War II – has reopened following a £1.2 million restoration. The airfield, which sits in the Borough of Croydon, was a station for the Royal Flying Corps during World War I and the Royal Air Force during World War II. The restoration work has brought back to life eight deteriorating fighter blast pens, which protected RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes from attack. The site also includes The Kenley Tribute, a memorial to all who served there between 1917 and 1959, both on the ground and in the air. For more, including information on visiting the airfield and self-guided walks, see www.kenleyrevival.org.
• The work of 20th century American artist Milton Avery is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy of Arts on Friday. Milton Avery: American Colourist – which can be seen in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries in Piccadilly – features some 70 works including portraits and landscapes dating from 1910 until the 1960s. The exhibition is divided into four sections – ‘Early Work’, ‘Portraits’, ‘Innovation in Colour and Form’ and ‘Late Work’ – and highlights include Blossoming (1918), a portrait of Avery’s friends known as The Dessert (1939), two portraits of his daughter March – Seated Girl with Dog (1944) and March in Brown (1954), and, Black Sea (1959). Runs until 16th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
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Originally installed at the Stocks Market in the City of London, this equestrian statue shows a figure atop a horse which is trampling over a prostrate figure lying on the ground.
The marble statue, which stands on a tall plinth, is believed to have been created in Italy by an unknown sculptor. It originally depicted Polish King John III Sobieski riding down a Turkish soldier. But it was bought to London by goldsmith and banker Sir Robert Vyner in the early 1670s.
A strong supporter of King Charles II, he had the sculpture’s head remodelled by Jasper Latham to depict the King (although the figure beneath was left largely untouched, meaning if it is supposed to represent Cromwell, he’s wearing a turban).
Sir Robert, who had been responsible for making the king’s new coronation regalia to replace items lost or destroyed during the Commonwealth, offered to have the statue installed at the Royal Exchange after it was rebuilt following the Great Fire of 1666. When that was rejected, he had the statue installed at the Stocks Market – originally named for being the only location of fixed stocks in the City – near Cornhill in 1675 (Sir Robert served as Lord Mayor around the same time).
The statue was removed in 1739 to make way for the Mansion House. But all was not lost – given back to Vyner’s grandnephew, also Robert Vyner, it reappeared some years later at the Vyner family estate at Gautby Hall. In 1883, it was relocated to Newby Hall in North Yorkshire (which had come into the family via an inheritance) and still remains there today, about 150 metres east of the hall. It received a Grade II listing in 1967.
• The Royal Parks are running a series of free sessions for bird-watching novices in all eight of its London parks during June and July. The sessions, for which binoculars will be provided, last up to two hours. Pete Lawrence, The Royal Parks’ biodiversity manager, says many people growing up in a city may not have had the “opportunity, the equipment or the know-how to take up this activity” before. “These free sessions aim to make bird watching more accessible, and, if they prove popular, we hope to repeat them in future years.” Author and TV naturalist David Lindo, aka ‘The Urban Birder’, will be leading some of the free bird watching sessions along with The Royal Parks’ conservation officer, Tony Duckett – a six decade veteran birdwatcher, and local bird enthusiast Julia Holland. To book a place, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/birdingtours. The Royal Parks is also hosting a bird watching photography competition with a top prize, binoculars worth £400. Entrants need to take a photo of one of the birds included on the parks’ bird spotter sheets and send it to email@example.com or submit via The Royal Parks’ social media channels. Find out more here.
• The “music, people and places” central to the grime scene which first emerged in London in the early 2000s are the subject of a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Grime Stories: from the corner to the mainstream, which opens on Friday, is co-curated by Roony ‘Risky’ Keefe, one of grime’s early documentarians, and features a series of newly commissioned films that explore the community at the heart of grime’s success as well as a large-scale illustration from artist Willkay and personal artefacts from the MCs and producers who developed grime’s unique sound. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/grime-stories.
• The ideas of repair, care and healing are explored in a new exhibition which opened at Somerset House this week. Eternally Yours, which is being staged across three Terrace Rooms, showcases some diverse examples of creative reuse including transformed items salved in the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 earthquake, shoes worn by Syrian migrants which have stories of survival sewn into the soles and a jumper from Annemor Sundbø’s ragpile collection which has been transformed by Celia Pym. At the heart of the exhibition is ‘The Beasley Brothers’ Repair Shop’, a pop-up created by designer Carl Clerkin and modelled on traditional East End repair shops of old, which is hosting live workshops and demonstrations from artists and designers. The free exhibition and accompanying events runs until 18th September. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.
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The neo-Gothic former Public Record Office (now the Maughan Library of King’s College) in Chancery Lane is adorned with statues of several kings and queens including two kings – King Edward III and King Henry III – as well as four queens.
The queens, which can be found at the top of the tower over the main entrance, include three who are represented with more famous statues elsewhere – Queen Elizabeth I (on the facade of St Dunstan-in-the West), Queen Anne (outside of St Paul’s Cathedral) and Queen Victoria (outside Buckingham Palace among others).
But one of those statues – that of the Empress Matilda – is something of an outlier – unlike the others, the Empress Matilda, while she claimed the title of Queen of England, was never actually crowned (her attempt to be crowned at Westminster failed when opposed by the London mob which supported her opponent, King Stephen).
Instead, Matilda (sometimes known as Maud) claimed the title ‘Lady of the English’ and while she was eventually driven out of England to Normandy where she died, her eldest son did take the crown in 1154 as King Henry II.
The statue, which stands on top of the east side of the tower (and is quite difficult to spot), stands 2.4 metres high and was made of Portland stone to adorn the 1850s, now Grade II* listed building (the gatehouse leading to Chancery Lane – which features the two kings – was an extension in the 1890s). It is said to be the work of sculptor Joseph Durham.
What’s a little puzzling is why the Empress was included as one of the four, particularly given other English queens and monarchs – Queen Mary I and II – were not.
The equestrian statue of King Charles I at the top of Whitehall is one of London’s most well-known. But less well-known is the statue of the ill-fated King which can be found standing in a niche on the Temple Bar gateway, located at the entrance to Paternoster Square just outside of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Charles is not alone. Part of the gateway’s purpose was as a dynastic statement in support of the Stuarts so the grand portal also features statues of Charles’ father King James I, his mother Queen Anne of Denmark, and his son King Charles II. King James and Queen Anne can be found on the north side of the gateway (originally the east side) and the two Charles’ on the south side (originally the west side).
The design of the gateway, which originally stood at the intersection of Fleet Street and the Strand as a ceremonial entrance into the City of London, is believed to be the work of Sir Christopher Wren who was acting on the orders of King Charles II after the Great Fire of London.
The statues, which cost a third of the total £1,500 spent on the gateway, are said to have been sculpted by one John Bushnell. They are depicted in Roman attire rather than the dress they would have worn during the period.
They were removed when the gateway was dismantled in 1878 and stored in a yard of Farringdon Road and when the gateway was re-erected at Lady Meux’s Hertfordshire estate at Theobold’s Park, they were placed back in their original locations. And they also accompanied the gateway back to the city when it was positioned its current location in 2004.
• Marble Hill in London’s west reopens on Saturday following a restoration and the reinstatement of a lost pleasure garden. Once home to King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, Marble Hill is a rare example of a home built by and for a woman in Georgian England and is one of the last survivors of the many 18th century villas that once fronted the Thames in the area. Marble Hill was built as a country retreat from London’s crowds and among those entertained here were poet Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, John Gay and Jonathan Swift. English Heritage has invested £3 million into a major transformation of the house and 66 acres of riverside parkland which also used a £5 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Community Lottery Fund. This has included the reinstatement of a pleasure garden – an “Arcadian landscape” which was inspired by sketches made by Pope – with the opening up of previously inaccessible woodland areas, the reinstallation of paths and the replanting of avenues of trees that led from the house to the river. Howard’s ninepin bowling alley has been restored and an 18th-century garden grotto has been excavated and returned to its 18th-century appearance. Inside the house, English Heritage has re-instated the paint scheme that existed during Howard’s lifetime in several interior spaces, including the Great Room, conserved the fine collection of early Georgian paintings which includes portraits of Howard’s circle and re-created furniture including an intricate carved peacock motif table and luxurious crimson silk wall hangings in her dressing room. The new display has reframed Howar’s beyond being simply the King’s mistress by also exploring her abusive first marriage and the role deafness played in her life as well as her rise in Georgian society and the social circles she captivated. Entry to the house is free. For more, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/.
• England football captain Harry Kane is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Harry Kane: I want to play football features sporting memorabilia including the shirt Kane, who grew up in Chingford, East London, wore on his debut for England where he scored against Lithuania just 79 seconds after coming on the pitch, Kane’s MBE which was awarded to him in March 2019 for ‘services to sport’ and the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot (Kane being one of only two British players to receive a Golden Boot at a World Cup competition, where he was named Man of the Match three times) as well as family photos. The display also includes a changing room space where visitors can listen to Kane’s pre-match playlist and an interactive area where visitors can learn more about who has inspired Harry and share their own hopes and dreams. A programme of activities for families and children will run alongside the free display. Runs until December. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The use of gold in embellishing and enhancing the written word across cultures, faiths and through time is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library. Gold, which opens Friday, showcases some of the most luxurious illuminated manuscripts, gold-tooled books, sacred texts and scrolls from the British Library’s collection with objects on display including the Harley Golden Gospels, the Lotus Sutra and a treaty in Malayalam, beautifully inscribed on a long strip of gold itself. Admission charge applies. Runs until 2nd October. For more, see www.bl.uk.
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City of London-managed open spaces Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches and Ashtead Common have been selected to be part of a nationwide network of 70 ancient woodlands to be dedicated to The Queen in celebration of the Platinum Jubilee. At almost 6,000 acres, Epping Forest is London and Essex’s largest green space and is known as the “green lungs” of London. Burnham Beeches, located in Buckinghamshire, is only a square mile in size but is described as a “New Forest in miniature” while Ashtead Common in Surrey’s 200 hectares of open public space is home to more 1,000 living ancient oak pollards. For more on The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, see www.queensgreencanopy.org. For more on the City of London’s green spaces, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do.