PICTURE: David Holt (licensed under CC BY 2.0)


Untold stories of suffragettes are uncovered in a new display at the Museum of London marking the centenary of women’s suffrage. Votes for Women tells the story of the likes of Emily ‘Kitty’ Willoughby Marshall – arrested six times and imprisoned three times in Holloway including once for throwing a potato at the resident of then-Home Secretary Winston Churchill, Winefride Mary Rix – sentenced to two months hard labour for smashing a window at the War Office, and Janie Terrero – a suffragist since the age of 18 who was imprisoned in Holloway for four months for window smashing during which time she twice went on a hunger strike and was force-fed. The objects on display include Emmeline Pankhurst’s iconic hunger strike medal, a pendant presented to suffragette Louise Eates on her release from prison, and a silver necklace commemorating Willoughby Marshall’s three prison terms. There’s also a newly commissioned film installation highlighting the individual commitment and courage of the lesser known suffragette women. The exhibition opens tomorrow and there’s a special family-friendly festival this weekend featuring interactive performances, workshops and special events. The exhibition Votes for Women runs until 6th January next year. For more, including the full programme of events, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The golden age of ocean liners is recreated in a new exhibition opening at the V&A this Saturday. Ocean Liners: Speed & Style showcases more than 250 objects with highlights including a Cartier tiara recovered from the doomed Lusitania in 1915, a panel fragment from the Titanic‘s first class lounge, Goyard luggage owned by the Duke of Windsor dating from the 1940s, and Stanley Spencer’s painting The Riveters from his 1941 series Shipbuilding on the Clyde. Other artists, architects and designers whose work is featured in the display include Le Corbusier, Albert Gleizes, Charles Demuth and Eileen Gary. Among the “design stories” explored in the exhibition is that of Brunel’s Great Eastern along with Kronprinz Wilhelm, Titanic and its sister ship Olympic (all known for their Beaux-Arts interiors), the Art Deco Queen MaryNormandie and the Modernist SS United States and QE2. The display also features objects related to some of the ocean liner’s most famous passengers as well as the couturiers who saw ocean travel as a means of promoting their designs. These include a Christian Dior suit worn by Marlene Dietrich as she arrived in new York aboard the Queen Mary in 1950, a Lucien Lelong gown worn for the maiden voyage of the Normandie in 1935, and Jeanne Lanvin’s Salambo dress, which, as one of the most important flapper dresses in the V&A collection, once belonged to wealthy American Emilie Grigsby who regularly travelled between the UK and New York aboard the Aquitania, Olympic and Lusitania in the 1910s and 1920s. Runs until 10th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/oceanliners.

PICTURE: Titanic in dry dock, c1911, Getty_Images (Courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum).

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

It’s Australia Day in the land Downunder so it’s an appropriate one on which to mention a memorial to Admiral Arthur Phillip.

Phillip, then a captain, was the man who led the First Fleet to found a penal settlement at what is now Sydney, the landing date of which – 26th January, 1788 – is (now somewhat controversially) commemorated on Australia Day itself.

Located near the corner of New Change and Watling Street, this memorial is centred on a bust, housed in a small temple-like structure. The bust is a copy of one created in 1932 by CL Hartwell which can be seen in St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside.

The original memorial was first installed in St Mildred’s Bread Street and was salvaged from its ruins after that was destroyed during World War II.

The memorial records that Phillip was born in Bread Street on 11th October, 1738, entered the Royal Navy in 1753 and, before died on 31st August, 1814. He had retired in 1805, having relinquished his position as first governor of the fledging colony of New South Wales and returning to England in 1792.

As well as the bust of Admiral Philip, the memorial bears two relief images – one on either side. The first depicts figures in a rowing boat – including Governor Phillip as well as Lieutenant P Gidley King and Lieutenant George Johnston – leaving the HMS Supply to plant the British flag on Australian soil.

The second shows five figures in the act of unfurling the British flag on 26th January, 1788 – they include, as well as Phillip and Lt Johnston, surgeon J White, Captain John Hunter (captain of the naval escort HMS Sirius) and Captain David Collins.

Among the inscriptions on the monument is one which reads: “To his indomitable courage, prophetic vision, forbearance, faith, inspiration and wisdom was due the success of the first settlement in Australia at Sydney on Saturday 26th January 1788.”

This is not the only memorial to Admiral Philip in London (the Mary-le-Bow bust aside) – a memorial stone to him was unveiled at Westminster Abbey in 2014 – the bicentenary of his death.

PICTURE: Lonpicman/Wikimedia Commons/licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0



Anthony van Dyck, Charles I, 1635-6, Oil on canvas, 84.4 x 99.4 cm, RCIN 404420 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

A landmark exhibition which reunites one of the most extraordinary art collections ever assembled opens in the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly this Saturday. Presented in partnership with the Royal Collection Trust, Charles I: King and Collector features about 150 of the most important of the works collected by King Charles I during his reign, spanning the period from 1600 to 1649. They are among 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures he collected  prior to his execution in 1649, after which the collection was offered for sale and dispersed across Europe. Many of the works were retrieved by King Charles II during the Restoration but others now form the core of collections at institutions such as the Musée du Louvre and the Museo Nacional del Prado. Among those on show in this exhibition, which includes more than 90 works borrowed from the Royal Collection, are several monumental portraits of the king and his family by Anthony van Dyck as well as the artist’s most celebrated portrait of the king, Charles I (‘Le Roi a la chasse’) (pictured), which returns to England for the first time since the 17th century. Other works include Peter Paul Rubens’ Minerva Protects Pax From Mars (‘Peace and War’) – this was commissioned by Charles and painted between 1629-30, Andrea Mantegna’s series, The Triumph of Caesar (c1484-92), and Titian’s Supper at Emmaus (c1530) while artists including Correggio, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein the Younger and Pieter Bruegel the Elder are also represented. The exhibition also shows off the celebrated Mortlake tapestries depicting Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles (c1631-40) and paintings, statuettes, miniatures and drawings once kept in the Cabinet at Whitehall Palace. Runs until 15th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

• John Constable’s oil sketch, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1829–31, is one of 10 works which have gone on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery as part of its Victorian Landscapes exhibition. The painting takes centre-stage in the display in the gallery’s Temple Room; other works on show include John Brett’s Echoes of a Far-Off Storm (1890); Edward William Cooke’s Triassic Cliffs, Blue Anchor, North Somerset (1866), and Benjamin Williams Leader’s The Church at Betwys-y-Coed (1863). The paintings can be seen until early May. For more, follow this link.

Eighteenth century satire portrayed on ceramics and prints is the subject of a new free display at the British Museum. Pots with Attitude: British Satire on Ceramics, 1760-1830 features some 80 objects, some of which have not been on show for decades, including mugs and jugs (which make up the bulk of the items on show) as well as items like a cotton handkerchief printed with the “Peterloo Massacre” of 1819 and a rather grisly folding fan showing hidden profiles of executed French sovereigns (1794). Other objects show off copies of prints by satirists such as James Gillray and Charles Williams, with one of the latter’s showing a colossal Napoleon about to cross the Channel into England but prevented from doing so by a pint-sized, sword-carrying John Bull, who has sliced off his toes and is telling him, ‘Paws off, Pompey’ – the comment a reference to a lap-dog known as Pompey the Little who was the hero of a popular novel at the time. The display can be seen in Room 90a, Prints and Drawings Gallery, until 13th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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


This rocket-ship shaped glass skyscraper made its mark on the City of London skyline in the early Noughties after plans to build a much taller building on the site were shelved.

The award-winning building stands on the site of what was the late Victorian-era Baltic Exchange which was extensively damaged by an IRA bomb which went off in the neighbouring street, St Mary Axe (for more on the origins of the street name, see our earlier post here), in 1992.

It was initially proposed that a 92 storey building, to be known as Millennium Tower, be built on the site – it would have been the tallest building in Europe. But the plan was shelved after both Heathrow and London City Airports objected to the interference it would have on flight paths while others pointed to the rather dramatic impact it would have on the City skyline.

The site was subsequently sold to reinsurance giant Swiss Re who then commissioned Sir Norman Foster (Foster + Partners) to design a building for its UK headquarters. The resulting 41 storey, 180 metre (591 foot) tall skyscraper – which features some 24,000 square metres of glass and was said to be the first environmentally sustainable skyscraper in London – was eventually completed in late 2003 and opened in 2004.

The glass dome which sits at the top of the building offers panoramic, 360 degree views of the surrounds and is said to be a reference to the glass dome that once sat over part of the ground floor of the Baltic Exchange.

Interestingly, the nickname for the building, The Gherkin, is actually an abbreviated form of a name first coined by some design critics  who described the building as an “erotic gherkin”, according to The Guardian. Some wags have also used the nickname ‘Towering Innuendo’ for the property.

PICTURES: Top – Samuel Zeller/Unsplash; Right – David Adams.



Two Blackfriars Bridges – a vehicle and pedestrian bridge, and a railway bridge – still span the River Thames from the City of London on the north bank to South Bank. But just beside the railway bridge stand some large red pylons – the remains of the first Blackfriars Railway Bridge. 

This bridge was built in 1864 to accommodate the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) when it was extended north across the river to what was then named St Paul’s Station (at least until 1937 when it became Blackfriars Station).

The ornate bridge was designed by Joseph Cubitt but within 20 years of its being built, the second, still existing, railway bridge was constructed alongside it to provide more space for trains (the original bridge apparently only had four tracks).

The ornately decorated first bridge was supported on three rows of pylons – the third was incorporated into the second bridge (which is why we now only see two rows).

After 1923, when train services began to terminate at Waterloo Station on the south side of the river, the bridge was rarely used but it wasn’t until many years later, in 1985, that it was declared too weak to support the current crop of trains and removed.

As well as the pylons, on the south side of the river can be seen a massive abutment of Portland stone featuring the ornate cast iron insignia of the former LCDR (above right). Grade II-listed, it was restored in about 1990.

PICTURES: Top – The wub/licensed under The wub; Right – SyndVer/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


The annual festival of illumination known as Lumiere London returns to the capital for a second time from tonight with more than 50 installations lighting up streets, buildings and public spaces. London’s largest night-time festival, installations in this year’s free event – commissioned by the Mayor of London and produced by arts charity Artichoke – are clustered around six areas: King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, the West End, Mayfair, Westminster and Victoria, and South Bank and Waterloo. The installations include Lampounette – located in King’s Cross, it features giant office desk lamps, Entre les rangs – a field of thousands of flower-like reflectors in Lewis Cubitt Park, Nightlife – a luminous secret garden in Leicester Square which plays with the relationship between wild spaces and urban city life and spills out to include illuminated flamingoes flying over Chinatown, and Northern Lights – a recreation of the aurora borealis in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. The facade of Westminster Abbey is also among the buildings to be lit up with artist Patrice Warrener commissioned to illuminate the Abbey’s West Towers and Great North Door with his work, The Light of the Spirit. There’s a free app to download and a map can be purchased online for download. For more, include a complete programme, head to www.visitlondon.com/lumiere. PICTURE: Westminster Abbey during Lumiere London last year (Paula Funnell/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

London’s future built form is up for discussion at a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London tomorrow. London Visions: Hypothetical scenarios of a future presents hypothetical concepts created by leading artists, architects and designers using video installations, architectural narratives and video games. Among the key works on display are: Flooded London – a series of images created by Squint/Opera depicting imaginary scenes of London in 2090 when rising seas have flooded the city; In the Robot Skies: A Drone Love Story – the world’s first narrative shot entirely by autonomous drones operating on autopilot, the film – directed by speculative architect Liam Young and written by Tim Maughan – looks at the possible future use of drones within London council estates; and, Endless Vertical City – a competition-winning design by SURE Architecture which envisions a skyscraper that could house the whole of London. The free display is on show until 15th April as part of City Now City Future, the year-long season of events exploring urban evolution in London and around the world. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/citynowcityfuture.

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


This iconic building – home to the venerable insurance firm Lloyd’s of London – stands on the former site of East India House on the corner of Lime and Leadenhall Streets in the City of London.

Designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership (now Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners) in conjunction with structural engineers Arup, this 12 storey building – which features galleries adjoining a series of towers located around a central, glass-topped atrium – was completed in 1986 after eight years of construction. The £75 million building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The building, which was granted grade I-listed status in 2011 (making it the youngest building to receive the honour), used more than 33,000 cubic metres of concrete, 30,000 square metres of stainless steel cladding and 12,000 square metres of glass in its creation.

Among its most famous innovations is the location of services – including lifts, toilets and tubes containing wiring and plumbing – on the exterior of the building in an effort to maximise space inside (inviting comparisons with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which Rogers was involved in the design of, along with Renzo Piano, prior to working on this building).

The building incorporates – in Leadenhall Street – part of the facade of the previous Lloyd’s building which had occupied the site since 1928 (the corporation had been founded in 1688 in Tower Street by Edward Lloyd and endured several moves before coming to its current home).

The 11th floor Committee Room incorporates the Adam Great Room, an adaptation of the original dining room from Bowood House in Wiltshire which was designed by Robert Adam for the 1st Earl of Shelbourne. It was purchased from Bowood in 1956 and incorporated into Lloyd’s former Heysham building before being moved into the current building.

Also present in the building, hanging from the Rostrum on the ground floor, is the famous Lutine Bell. It was recovered from the wreck of HMS Lutine – lost at sea with all hands and cargo in 1799 and, as a result, the subject of a claim against Lloyd’s which was paid in full – in 1859 and has since graced Lloyd’s underwriting rooms. While it was formerly rung to announce when news of an overdue ship arrived – once for a loss, twice for its safe return – these days it is only used on ceremonial occasions.

The building’s futuristic and iconic look meant it’s served as a location in numerous films including 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Mamma Mia (2008) and The Ghost Writer (2010). It has also, in recent years, attracted climbers, leading Lloyd’s to seek an injunction to prevent such actions.

PICTURE: Stephen Richards/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


Forty-three letters written by Queen Elizabeth I and her senior advisors concerning the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, have been donated to the British Library. Many of the 43 letters were written to Sir Ralph Sadler, who held the Scottish Queen in custody at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire between 1584-85 prior to her execution in 1587. Four of the letters are signed by Queen Elizabeth I and others are written in the hand of Chief Minister Lord Burghley and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The collection has been on loan to the library for a number of years but has now been gifted by the industrialist and philanthropist Mark Pigott to the American Trust for the British Library. The library plans to digitise the letters and make them available on its Digitised Manuscripts website.

The alteration of books through customisation, decoration or disguise is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Library on Monday. Books: Used and Abused shows how some books have been used as notepads or expanding files while others have become containers. A free ‘book surgery’ advice session will be held at the library on 22nd February for people to learn about their own ‘used and abused’ books and how to repair them. Runs until 9th March. Entry is free (booking required for the free advice session). For more, head here.

•  Sir Mark Rylance will bring the words of Shakespeare to life in six special performances at Westminster Abbey this April. All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits will feature a cast of 23 actors from Shakespeare’s Globe performing extracts from some of the Bard’s most famous plays and poetry. The performances will occur over 26th to 28th April. Tickets go on sale on 29th January via the  Shakespeare’s Globe box office.

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


Recapping our recent Wednesday series. We kick off a new series next week…

10 subterranean sites in London – 1. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel…

10 subterranean sites in London – 2. The London Silver Vaults…

10 subterranean sites in London – 3. The Banqueting House undercroft…

10 subterranean sites in London – 4. St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 5. Whitefriars Priory crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 6. Guildhall crypts…

10 subterranean sites in London – 7. Alexander Pope’s Grotto…

10 subterranean sites in London – 8. Priory of St John of Jerusalem church crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 9. The Mail Rail…

10 subterranean sites in London – 10. Chislehurst Caves…


It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.

Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.

The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.

The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.

Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.

Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.

While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).

Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).


The countdown continues…

4. Lost London – Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House…

3. Where’s London’s oldest…street sign?

Come back tomorrow for the two most popular posts…


The countdown continues…

6. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 8. A square in Soho?…

5. What’s in a name?…Hanging Sword Alley…

Come back tomorrow for the next two…



And so we begin our annual countdown of the 10 most popular (new) posts of the year, starting with number 10…

10. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Brett Street, Soho…

9. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 1. Fetter Lane, Old Jewry and Wapping…

Come back tomorrow for the next two!



The renovated Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia has reopened at the British Museum, bringing the displays for China and South Asia up-to-date. The gallery presents the histories of China from 5000BC to the present with objects on show including Ming dynasty dragon tiles and the earliest scroll to reach Britain (it arrived at the end of the 18th century). The South Asia exhibition, meanwhile, includes a new display covering the Mughal period, the Rajput rulers, India under British rule and the region since independence in 1947. Featured objects include the stone sculptures from the Buddhist shrine at Amaravati and newly acquired works of art including a 6th century sculpture of Lakshmi from Kashmir. Entry to the gallery in Room 33 is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: Courtesy of British Museum.

Historic letters sent between the City of London and the United States of America during the American War of Independence have gone on show at the City of London’s Heritage Gallery within the Guildhall Art Gallery. The letters include some authored by notable Americans John Hancock and Isaac Roosevelt, written at a time when, in defiance of the British Government, the City championed the cause of the colonists. Also on show are documents relating to the life and work of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – the first women to qualify as a surgeon and physician in Britain and to serve as a magistrate and mayor – and, in a nod to the approaching centenary of the Royal Air Force, a display on the career of World War II pilot Cy Grant. The documents, which are all drawn from the collection of the London Metropolitan Archives, can be seen until 18th April. For more, follow this link.

Two major new works have been opened in the Tanks at the Tate Modern. Emeka Ogboh’s, The Way Earthly Things Are Going 2017 – on display for the first time in the UK after debuting in Athens – fills the subterranean East Tank in the Blavatnik Building while Indian artist Amar Kanwar’s The Lightning Testimonies 2007 can be seen in the South Tank. Both works are on display until 4th February. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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


OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.



Located beneath Guildhall’s Great Hall is the oldest surviving part of the structure, the largest of London’s medieval crypts.

Dating from the reign of King Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, the vaulted East Crypt is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England with a ceiling featuring a series of carved bosses depicting heads, shields and flowers.

It features a series of stained glass windows depicting five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys.

The pillars holding up the roof, meanwhile – once located at ground level – show signs of where horses were once tied up while their riders went about their business.

The West Crypt, which is believed to date from the 13th century, was sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the roof of the Great Hall which fell down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was reopened in 1973.

The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City of London’s livery companies (pictured above, right).

One of the most famous incidents took place in the crypts on 9th July, 1851, when Queen Victoria attended a banquet here during a state visit.

The crypts today are available to hire for atmospheric events.

WHERE: Guildhall, Guildhall Yard, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm daily (when not being used for events); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall.aspx.


Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)


The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday as the new Lord Mayor of London, Charles Bowman, takes office with the event once again culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Thames. The Lord Mayor will arrive in the City at 9am via a flotilla which includes the QRB Gloriana and other traditional Thames barges. Riding in the splendid State Coach, the Lord Mayor then joins in the world famous procession which sets off from Mansion House at 11am, pausing at the Royal Courts where he swears allegiance to the monarch before returning via Victoria Embankment at 1pm. The fireworks display will start at 5.15pm from a barge moored between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges. For more details, head to https://lordmayorsshow.london. Meanwhile, on Sunday, annual Remembrance Sunday services will be held around the country centred on the Cenotaph in Whitehall where, in a break with tradition, Prince Charles is expected to lay a wreath on behalf of the Queen who, along with Prince Philip, will be watching from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building.

More than 50 portraits by Paul Cézanne have gone on show in a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Cézanne Portraits features works previously unseen in the UK including three self-portraits – one of which is Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat (1885-86) –  and two portraits of his wife –  Madame Cézanne Sewing (1877) and Madame Cézanne (1886–7) – as well as Boy in a Red Waistcoat (1888-90) and Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair, both of which haven’t been seen in London since the 1930s. The exhibition, which includes paintings spanning the period from the 1860s until shortly before Cézanne’s death in 1906, explores the special pictorial and thematic characteristics of the artist’s portraiture work such as his use of complementary pairs and his creation of multiple versions of works featuring the same subject. The exhibition, which has already been on show at the Musée d’Orsay and will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC from late March next year, runs until 11th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat by Paul Cézanne, 1885-6, © Private Collection 

The use of venom as the ultimate natural weapon is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on Friday. Venom: Killer and Cure explores how the use and effects of venom, the different biological roles it plays and how humans have attempted to harness and neutralise its power, with the former including some remarkable medical innovations. Specimens on show include everything from snakes to spiders, wasps, scorpions and the duck-billed platypus as well as live example of a venomous creature. Highlights include a gaboon viper head – a snake species with the largest known venom fangs, an emperor scorpion which engages in unusual mating behaviour known as “sexual stingings”, a flower urchin which can inject venom that causes muscular paralysis in humans for up to six hours, a tarantula hawk wasp which has one of the most painful venomous stings, and a box jellyfish, larger specimens of which can cause death in humans in two to five minutes. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Coinciding with the centenary of the Russian Revolution comes a new exhibition at the Tate Modern which offers a visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is based around the collection of late graphic designer David King (1943-2016) and charts how seismic events such as the overthrow of the last Tsar, the revolutionary risings of 1917 and Stalin’s campaign of terror inspired a wave of art and graphic design across the country. The display includes more than 250 posters, paintings, photographs, books and other ephemera by artists such as El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Nina Vatolina. Runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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


A highlight of any journey through subterranean London is spending some time in the St Paul’s Cathedral crypt, famously the resting place of, among others, Admiral Lord Nelson and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

Built as an integral part of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, the crypt is said to be the largest in Europe and runs the complete length of the building above. It features some 200 memorials.

Nelson’s resting place is under the centre of the dome – his remains, brought back from the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in a keg of naval brandy, are entombed inside a wooden coffin made from one of the French ships he defeated at the Battle of the Nile which is then contained in a black sarcophagus. Originally made for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s but left unused when the Cardinal fell from favour, it’s now topped with Nelson’s viscount coronet in place of where the cardinal’s hat would have stood.

The Duke of Wellington, meanwhile, lies just to the east in a tomb of Cornish porphyritic granite set atop a block of Peterhead granite carved with four sleeping lions at its four corners. The coffin was lowered through a specially created hole in the cathedral floor above Nelson’s tomb and then moved into the sarcophagus.

Other memorials – not all of which commemorate people actually buried here – include one to the architect, Sir Christopher Wren, which features the words, written in Latin, ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you’.

There’s also memorials to everyone from artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Blake to Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, Lawrence of Arabia and, more recently, one for Gordon Hamilton Fairley, killed by a terrorist bomb in 1975. There’s even a bust of the first US President, George Washington.

The crypt also contains a number of war memorials and is the location of the OBE Chapel, dedicated at a service attended by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960, honouring those who have given distinguished service to the nation.

Other features of the crypt include the Treasury where more than 200 items are on display including some of the cathedral’s plate and vestments (much of which has been lost over the years including when a major robbery took place in 1810), liturgical plate from other churches in the diocese and some Wren memorabilia including his penknife, measuring rod and death mask.

The crypt is also home to the cathedral’s gift shop and cafe where you can stop for a refreshment before heading back out into the streets above.

WHERE: The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s and Mansion House); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 adults (18+)/£8 children (aged 6 to 17)/£16 concessions/£44 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Admiral Lord Nelson’s tomb (Marcus Holland-Moritz/ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.o)