• King George IV’s public image and his taste for the theatrical and exotic as well as his passion for collecting are all the subject of a new exhibition opening at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on Friday. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of his times (which included the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as well as a period of unprecedented global exploration), George IV: Art & Spectacle shows the contrasts of his character – on the one hand “a recklessly profligate showman” and, on the other, a “connoisseur with intellectual interests whose endless acquisitions made him one of the most important figures in the formation of the Royal Collection”. The display features artworks including Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633) – at 5,000 guineas it was the most expensive artwork he ever purchased (pictured), as well as works by the likes of Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp and David Teniers. There’s also portraits the King commissioned from Sir Thomas Gainsborough,  a Louis XVI service created by Sevres (1783-92) and the great Shield of Achilles (1821) – designed by John Flaxman, it was on display at his Coronation banquet. Other items include diplomatic gifts sent to the King – such as a red and yellow feather cape (‘ahu’ula) from King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) and a Maori club brought from Hawaii by Captain Cook’s ship Resolution – and a copy of Emma sent to him by Jane Austen’s publisher. Runs until 4th May. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.rct.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV (1762-1830), 1821 (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019)

A new exhibition commemorating the release of The Clash’s third album, London Calling, 40 years ago opens at Museum of London tomorrow.  The display features items from the group’s personal archive such as Paul Simonon’s broken Fender Precision Bass, which Simonon smashed while on stage in New York City on 21st September, 1979, a handwritten album sequence by Mick Jones showing the final order for the four sides of the double album London Calling, one of Joe Strummer’s notebooks from 1979 and the typewriter he used to document his ideas, lyrics and other writing, and Topper Headon’s drumsticks. To coincide with the opening, Sony Music is releasing the London Calling Scrapbook, a hardback companion to the display which comes with the album, on CD. The free display can be seen until next spring. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The ice-skating rink, which opened this week, is being accompanied by the major exhibition 24/7 exploring the non-stop nature of modern life, as well as a programme of events including Somerset’s first skating ‘all-nighter’ on 7th December and special ‘Skate Lates’. There’s also Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade which, along with dining venue Fortnum’s Lodge has been created in Somerset House’s West Wing, as well as the rinkside Skate Lounge – home to the Bailey’s Treat Bar, and the Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City, now in its fourth year. Until 12th January. Admission charges apply. Head here for more.

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St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street was among the hundreds of historic sites removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register this year. Published last month, the register is an annual inventory of historic sites “most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development”. It shows that while some 310 items have been removed from the list over the past year, some 247 were added, meaning there were 5,073 entries on the list this year, 87 less than the previous year. The Grade I-listed St Bride’s, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, had needed repairs to both its famous steeple – said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake design – and the body of the church itself. Historic England spent almost £8.5 million on grants to help restore some of the country’s most historic sites over the past year. Among London sites still on the list are the Grade II*-listed Crystal Palace Park, the Grade I-listed St Pancras Church and sections of what remains of London’s Roman and medieval wall. For more, see www.historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/.

This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

 

 

The story of the St Paul’s Watch, the volunteers who worked to protect St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz, will be told in a digital display projected onto the cathedral’s facade this weekend. Where The Light Falls is being held in partnership with Historic England and is part of Fantastic Feats: the building of London – the City of London’s six-month cultural events season. It will see a display of poetry, visuals and photography, created by Poetry Society and Double Take Projections, projected onto the cathedral’s south side, north side and main facade in honour of those men and women who, armed with sandbags and water pumps, risked their lives to save the cathedral. The free show lasts for about 20 minutes and can be seen between 6.30pm and 10pm from tonight until Saturday night and then from 8pm to 10pm on Sunday. Meanwhile, St Paul’s is also open for a special late opening on Friday night during which poets from the Poetry Society will be bringing to life accounts of loss, bravery and sacrifice. Admission charge applies. For more on both events, head here.

The history, teachings and contemporary relevance of Buddhism are being explored in a major new exhibition opening at the British Library on Friday. Buddhism features rare and colourful scrolls, painted wall hangings and folding books and will highlight the theory, practice and art of Buddhism, examine the enduring iconography of Buddha and consider what it means to be Buddhist today. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a program of events, runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.bl.uk.

On Now: Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is the first to situate the work of contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton within the historical tradition of portraiture. In additional to the more than 40 works on display in the exhibition, Peyton has been honoured by being first artist to be given the run of the entire gallery with a series of displays within the permanent collection which juxtapose Peyton’s art with historic portraits from the Tudor period onwards. Among her portraits on show are those of Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, Yuzuru Hanyu, Frida Kahlo, Tyler the Creator, Isa Genzken, David Bowie, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, David Fray, and Louis XIV. Runs until 5th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/elizabethpeyton.

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PICTURE: Harshil Gurka/Unsplash

One of the key contenders for the oldest school in London must be St Paul’s Cathedral School, originally established in the 12th century to cater for the education of choristers attending St Paul’s Cathedral (although there had apparently been a school associated with the cathedral since the 7th century).

The school, which has been described as one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western world, dates its establishment to about 1123 and started with just eight boys who were given a home and education in exchange for singing in the cathedral.

The school gradually became two separate institutions – a choir school and a grammar school – with the choristers graduating from the choir school to finish their education at the grammar school.

But in 1511, the grammar school was refounded by Dean John Colet as Saint Paul’s School. It’s now located in Barnes.

The former choristers school, now known as the St Paul’s Cathedral School, became known more for its acting in the 16th and early 17th centuries when the children performed regularly for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Palace.

The original school building, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

In 1874, the school was re-established in Carter Lane. It moved to its present location in New Change in the 1960s.

While now independent of the cathedral, the establishment now offers a preparatory school for boys and girls aged four to 13 and a residential choir school for the boy choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral. New boarding accommodation is expected to open on the site next year.

PICTURE: The concrete buildings of St Paul’s Cathedral School on the right with the surviving tower of St Augustine’s Church, Watling Street, and St Paul’s Cathedral behind (Google Maps)

A silver trencher plate – one of only three silver pieces in the world known to have belonged to 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys (and the only one on display in the UK, the other two being in the US) – has gone on show in the Museum of London’s ‘War, Plague and Fire’ gallery following its recent acquisition. The plate, which was only recently recognised as belonging to Pepys – a naval administrator and MP, bears his coat-of-arms on the rim while the underside features London hallmarks testifying to the metal’s purity. The plate is also stamped with a “date letter” representing 1681-82 as the year it was made along with an MK in a lozenge, the maker’s mark of the workshop of Mary King in Foster Lane (the date 1681 also appears scratched on the surface but this was done at a later date). Knife and fork scratch marks are also visible on the trencher which may have been among the silver objects Pepys boasted about serving his guests with in his diary instead of the less expensive pewter. Admission to see the plate is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/samuel-pepys-silver-plate. PICTURES: © Museum of London.

Bookseller and philanthropist, Thomas Guy’s memory is still preserved in the London hospital which still bears his name (pictured above).

Guy was born the son of Thomas Guy, Sr, a lighterman, carpenter and coalmonger (and Anabaptist) in Southwark, in about 1644. But his father died when he was just eight-years-old and his mother Anne moved the family to Tamworth, her home town, where he was educated at the local free grammar school.

In 1660, he returned to London where he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. Eight years later (and having lived through the Great Plague and The Great Fire), his apprenticeship completed and now admitted as a freeman to Worshipful Company of Stationers, he opened his own bookstore on the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street  in the City of London where he found success in selling illegal fine quality printed Bibles from what is now The Netherlands.

He went on to obtain a contract from Oxford University for the printing of Bibles, prayer books and other classical works – a move which saw his fortune begin to take off, so much so he apparently renamed his shop the ‘Oxford Arms’.

But Guy also became a noted investor and it was through doing so – particularly his success in investing in and then offloading shares in the booming South Sea Company (before it collapsed) – which, alongside his success as a publisher, helped to create his fortune.

He had a somewhat notorious reputation for frugality (there is a somewhat dubious story that he broke off an engagement with a maidservant following a dispute concerning some paving works she authorised without his permission) but is also known to have been a significant philanthropist.

His giving included funding upgrades to his former school in Tamworth as well the building of almshouses there in 1678. In fact, his connections with the town were still deep – he represented the town as its MP between 1675 to 1707 – he was so angry was he at his rejection in 1608 that he threatened to pull down the town hall and, later, in his will specifically deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of use of the almshouses.

Guy had, meanwhile, refused the offer of taking up the post of Sheriff of London after he was elected, apparently because of the expense involved, and paid a fine instead.

He was appointed a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1704 which he also funded the expansion of (using the money he’d made through his investment in the South Sea Company), building three new wards. Having obtained permission to build a hospital for “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, he began building his own hospital, Guy’s, near London Bridge in 1722.

Guy never married and died at his home in the City on 27th December, 1724. He laid in state in the Mercer’s Chapel before being buried in the crypt beneath the chapel at Guy’s Hospital (a fine monument by John Bacon now stands over the site).

He left considerable bequeathments to various charitable organisations as well as to relatives but the bulk of his estate went to his hospital – which was now roofed – so that the works could be completed. The bronze statue outside the hospital, by Scheemakers, depicts guy in his livery.

PICTURE: David Adams

PICTURE: Greg Jeanneau/Unsplash.

This year marks 125 years since the opening of Tower Bridge.

The bridge, which took eight years to build and was designed by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones in collaboration with engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry, was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).

Others among the tens of thousands who turned out to mark the historic event were the Duke of York (later King George V), Lord Mayor of London Sir George Robert Tyler and members of the Bridge House Estates Committee.

A procession of carriages carrying members of the royal family had set out from Marlborough House that morning, stopping at Mansion House on its way to the bridge.

Once there, it drove back and forth across before official proceedings took place in which the Prince of Wales pulled a lever to set in motion the steam-driven machinery which raised the two enormous bascules and allowed a huge flotilla of craft of all shapes and sizes to pass under it.

The event was also marked with a gun salute fired from the Tower of London.

Plaques commemorating the opening can be found at either end of the bridge. The event was also captured in a famous painting by artist William Lionel Wyllie who had attended with his wife. The painting is now held at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Tower Bridge has been running a series of special events to mark the anniversary this year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Tower Bridge today. PICTURE: Charles Postiaux/Unsplash

 

It’s Open House London weekend and that means your chance to explore behind what are normally closed doors. More than 800 buildings are opening up to the public over the two day festival – this year’s theme is ‘social’ – and there’s an extensive programme of walks and architect-led tours with all events free to attend. While some buildings – like Number 10 Downing Street, BT Tower and the US Embassy London – are only open to those who were successful in already-held public ballots, there’s still plenty to see for those who have’t scored a place. Highlights include a chance to see inside first-time participants like Millennium Mills in Royal Docks (pictured above), the new Museum of London in West Smithfield and the new social housing estate, Kings Crescent Estate in Hackney, as well as a Tokyo Bike cycle tour, and By Beck Road 19 – a Bethnal Green terrace serving as an open-door art gallery. There’s also the chance to see inspiring residences like Open Practice Architecture’s Gin Distillery and Nimtim Architect’s Block House, family activities and the Open House ‘Elements’ photography competition to take part it. For the full programme of events, head to www.openhouselondon.org.uk.

Images of London’s street food and hawkers, spanning the 16th to the 19th centuries, have gone on show at a new open-air exhibition in Aldgate Square. Hot Peascods! explores how selling food, which could require little more investment than buying basket and the first batch of pies or eels or gingerbread, provided an income for those who couldn’t find other work and was relied upon as a source of food for those who were so poor they couldn’t afford cooking facilities at home. As well as images, it features interviews recorded in the 1850s by pioneering social reformer Henry Mayhew. The exhibition, which is curated by the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Library, can be seen in Aldgate Square until 29th September and then moves to Guildhall Yard where it can be seen between 1st and 16th October. Free.

The work of acclaimed British sculptor Antony Gormley is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday. Antony Gormley, which spans all 13 rooms in the RA’s Main Galleries, brings together both existing and specially conceived new works. They include Iron Baby (1999) located in the Annenberg Courtyard, works from the 70s and 80s like Land, Sea and Air (1977-79) and Fruits of the Earth (1978-79) in which natural and man-made objects are wrapped in lead (these evolved into Gormley’s ‘body case’ sculptures), and a series of concrete works from the 1990s including Flesh (1990). There are a series of whole-of-room installations including Lost Horizon I (2008) which features 24 cast-iron figures, and Host in which an entire gallery is filled, to a depth of 23 centimetres, with seawater and clay, while at the centre of the exhibition are two of Gormley’s early ‘expansion’ works, Body and Fruit, both from 1991-3. The exhibition also includes a selection of works on paper including Mould (1981), the Body and Light drawings, Linseed Oil Works (1985-1990), Double Moment (1987), and the Red Earth drawings (1987-1998). Runs until 3rd December. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Andrew Baker, author of the recently published From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain, talks about some of his favourite chocolate spots in London…

London is full of secret and out-out-the-way chocolate spots – some of them destined to remain out of the public eye. 

The Queen’s favourite chocolates, for example, are made by the Prestat company in a marvellous factory crammed with delicious and exotic ingredients – and almost in the shadow of the prison at Wormwood Scrubs. As well as Her Majesty, Prestat’s lovely truffles were a favourite of the author Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…but this particular chocolate factory remains off-limits to visitors.

The same goes for the premises in Bethnal Green at which Phil Landers is currently the only person in the entire metropolis making chocolate from scratch, or “from bean to bar” as the technique is properly known. Phil’s lovely bars are available from his website and might be said to be the authentic taste of London chocolate.

But one place where you can both enjoy the finished product and – from time to time – watch it being made and chat with the master behind it is Paul A Young’s eponymous shop at 143 Wardour Street (pictured).

This long-established thoroughfare has existed along its present course since at least the 16th century, and in its time has been justly celebrated as a location for the stars of the music industry (David Bowie and The Jam, among many others) and the movie industry, which still retains a hefty presence.

PICTURE: Google Maps

But Young’s lovely purple corner shop has become a celebrated place of pilgrimage for fans of all things chocolatey.

The ginger-bearded, twinkly and genial Young has become one of Britain’s best-known chocolatiers through frequent appearances in print, online and on television, most notably making the treats of yesteryear in the deliciously nostalgic series The Sweet Makers.

But there is substance behind the fluency and charm: years of training as a pastry chef, working at an early stage with the superstar chef Marco Pierre White, and years of experience in the kitchens of his shops.

There are branches in Camden and Threadneedle Street in the City, but the most substantial outpost of his empire is here in Soho. This is a must-visit location not only for fans of filled chocolates – for Young is one of the finest exponents of those of those in the world – but also for barflys, because he stocks a full range of bars made by the wonderful Cleethorpes bean-to-bar maestro Duffy Sheardown. What is more, Young serves an enormously tempting cup of hot chocolate ladled, in the winter months, from a glorious copper cauldron steaming in the shop window. What better way to lure in customers on a chilly day?

The Barnsley-born Young is often to be found exploring new flavour combinations in the kitchen in the shop’s basement. There are frequent chocolate-making classes here as well, and there is no-one better at imparting, in a kindly and witty manner, the mysteries of tempering and ganache-making.

But he is at his best inventing wonderful new combinations of fine chocolate and delicious fillings, and it would be a foolish visitor to London who departed the capital without sampling at least several of Young’s most celebrated truffles – the Marmite version, for example, which I adore, the beer and crisp version made with Camden’s Brewdog ale, or the homage to his roots in the Yorkshire tea and biscuit truffle.

These and many, many more are laid out in mouthwatering rows in the Wardour Street shop, freshly made and so to be consumed as soon as possible. That is not a difficult piece of advice to heed.

From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain:  is published by AA Publishing.

London’s annual, month-long celebration of the River Thames, Totally Thames, has kicked off and this year’s program includes everything from concerts in Tower Bridge’s bascule chamber to the largest ever exhibition on mudlarking and a mass boat regatta at the end of the month. The programme includes more than 100 events stretching over 42 miles of the river as it winds through London, covering everything from art installations to heritage-related walks and talks, family-oriented offerings and the chance to get out on the river itself. Other highlights include the Rivers of the World Retrospective art exhibition, a scented heritage exhibition –The Barking Stink, a heritage walk through riverside Rotherhithe, open days at the RNLI Tower Lifeboat Station and this weekend’s Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks. Many events are free. Runs until 30th September For the full programme, head to https://totallythames.org/. PICTURE Courtesy of Totally Thames.

London’s grand building plans that never went ahead are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery tomorrow. The London That Never Was imagines a city where the Tower Bridge is clad in glass and where a colossal burial pyramid looms over Primrose Hill. The free exhibition can be seen until 8th December. For more, head here. (To see some of the projects that were never built, see our previous series, 8 structures from the London That Never Was).

A new garden celebrating the evolution of plants has opened at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The Agius Evolution Garden is divided into eight sections to form “garden rooms” with each room containing closely related plants, revealing fascinating stories such as the connection between strawberries and nettles and why the Asteraceae family have “false flowers”. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor was a key figure in the creation of the fabric of London as we know it, working alongside Sir Christopher Wren as well as alone, and responsible for numerous works with can still be seen in London today.

Hawksmoor was born into a yeoman farming family in Nottinghamshire in around 1661-62 but little else is known of his early life. He probably received a fairly basic education but is believed to have been taken on a clerk to a justice in Yorkshire before, thanks to encountering a decorative plasterer by the name of Edward Gouge, travelling to London.

There, Hawksmoor was introduced to Wren who, agreed to take on the young man as his personal clerk at just the age of 18. He moved through a number of junior positions in Wren’s household before becoming deputy surveyor at Winchester Palace – between 1683 and 1685 – under Wren.

He went on to work with his mentor on numerous further projects; these included Chelsea Hospital, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital as well as Kensington Palace where, thanks to Wren’s support, he was named clerk of works in 1689 (as well as deputy surveyor of works at Greenwich). He remained in these posts for some 25 years before he was removed thanks to political machinations (although he later returned to the secretaryship).

Hawksmoor also worked with Sir John Vanbrugh, assisting him in building Blenheim Palace, taking over command of the job in 1705. Vanbrugh made him his deputy and Hawksmoor later succeeded him as architect at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, designing a number of monuments in the gardens, including the great mausoleum.

Hawksmoor is described as one of the masters of the English Baroque style – Easton Nelson in Northamptonshire, which he designed for Sir William Fermor, is an exemplar of his work (and the only country house for which he was sole architect, although it remain uncompleted).

Hawksmoor also worked on buildings for the university at Oxford and while All Soul’s College was among buildings he completed, many of his proposed designs were not implemented for various reasons (as were grand plans he had for the redesign of central Oxford).

From 1711, Hawksmoor was busy again in London where, following the passing of an Act of Parliament, he was appointed as one of the surveyors to a commission charged with overseeing the building of 50 new churches in London.

The commission only completed 12 churches, but half of them were designed by Hawksmoor (and he collaborated with fellow surveyor John James on two more). Hawksmoor’s completed churches include St Alfege in Greenwich, St George’s, Bloomsbury, Christ Church in Spitalfields, St George in the East in Wapping, St Mary Woolnoth, and St Anne’s Limehouse (the churches he collaborated on include James are St Luke Old Street and the now demolished St John Horsleydown).

In 1723, following Wren’s death, he was appointed Surveyor to Westminster Abbey and, as well as aspects of the interior (some of which still survive to this day) designed the landmark west towers (although they weren’t completed until after his death).

Hawksmoor died at his home in Millbank on 25th March, 1736, from what was described as “gout of the stomach”, having struggled with his health for a couple of decades previously. He was buried at the now deconsecrated church in Shenley, Hertsfordshire.

Hawksmoor was survived by his wife Hester by a year, and a daughter, Elizabeth.

PICTURES: Top – The West Towers of Westminster Abbey; Right – St Anne’s, Limehouse. (David Adams)

Objects relating to climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion have gone on display at the V&A. The items, which can be seen in the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting Gallery, range from the open source ‘Extinction Symbol’ created by street artist ESP in 2011 and adopted by the group, known as XR, in 2018 through to the first ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ pamphlet and flags carried during demonstrations. The objects – which also include a child’s high-vis jacket worn during a peaceful XR protest which has gone on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green – were given by the Extinction Rebellion Arts Group, a coalition of graphic designers, artists and activists responsible for XR’s design programme. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © V&A London

The City of London has launched an alternative giving campaign aimed at helping the City’s homeless and rough sleepers, establishing four contactless card points where people can donate £3 a time. The contactless devices, which donate the money to homelessness charity Beam, are located at the City of London Information Centre in St Paul’s Churchyard, the Barbican Library, the Tower Bridge’s engine room and the Guildhall West Wing reception window. The campaign will run for three months.

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Imogen Pasley-Tyler, program manager and guide at Context Travel, explains why she’s fascinated with the City of London’s contradictions…

Born a Londoner, I’ve been through several incarnations in this city, lived in all corners and cycled most of the bits in-between. It’s a seemingly limitless source of discoveries, surprises and contradictions. From the river to the canals, the relentless urbanity to the abundance of parks and green spaces, the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, London is somehow simultaneously disarming and a little abrupt.

However, nowhere encapsulates this contradiction with quite the intensity that the ancient City does. As with much of this island, and its inhabitants, its charm might not be immediately apparent, however, penetrate beneath the surface of the surly urban throng and you’ll be rewarded with palpable layers of history and curious, unexpected encounters.

To provide a brief historical context, the physical ‘square mile’ known as the City of London is built on the site of the original capital, the Roman Londinium. Fast forward to the late 17th century and the medieval evolution of the city was largely decimated by the Great Fire of 1666. Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild the city, as part of a flamboyant  propaganda scheme for the recently ‘revived’ monarchy. The project lacked funds and was consequently built on the existing medieval foundations, hence the bizarre and entirely illogical network of streets and alleys. The resulting Roman ruins, medieval ‘patterns’ and baroque playfulness that sit alongside the contemporary metropolis of Norman Foster’s Gherkin and Richard Roger’s ‘Bowellist’ Lloyd’s building can leave any visitor initially discombobulated.

City of London, city of contrasts. PICTURE: Jaanus Jagomagi/Unsplash

It’s in the seeking out of the city churches of Wren and his protégé, Nicholas Hawksmoor, that the beauty and mystery of this district starts to reveal itself. Each of Wren’s churches has its own unique character, spire, weathervane and architectural vocabulary, thanks to the liberated flamboyance of the baroque vernacular. St Stephen Walbrook, thus named for the stream that ran under this site in Roman times, has an unprepossessing exterior, bar a relatively intricate tower that’s the only indication of the delight within. The interior, by contrast, is a luminous domed structure that has a sense of timelessness, an almost modern quality, that feels like it could happily accommodate any and all religions and was allegedly Wren’s ‘practice run’ for St Paul’s Cathedral. The nearby St Bride’s, of Fleet Street, has a spire that is claimed to be the inspiration for the evolution of the tiered wedding cake. And then there’s the elegant symmetry of Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields, that dominates the eastern reaches of the city, the monumental scale of which is a marked contrast to the delicate playfulness of Wren’s constructions.

Every churchyard is a lush jungle, where nature seems to be overruling the interruption of modernist architecture and the sheer intensity of this financial hub. A bronze likeness of William Shakespeare is hidden amongst the foliage at St Mary Aldermanbury on Love Lane. The war-bombed remnants of St Dunstan in the East is a tragic testament to the impact of World War II but also a moving memorial to this period; an extraordinary skeleton of a Neo-gothic structure, now tangled with wisteria and general verdant abundance.

This square mile has been witness to every great event in London’s history and bears the mark of most of these, in some shape or form. It is this palpable sense of buildings that have endured  and lives lived that makes it so compelling and enigmatic. To truly explore you must either know precisely where you’re going or surrender to this haphazard maze and relish the subsequent surprises. Most importantly, and ultimately the real function of these churches, is the reminder to look up!

 

An iron stylus bearing an inscription – described as the sort of cheap souvenir you might bring back for a friend after visiting a foreign city – is among thousands of Roman-era artefacts discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in Cannon Street. The stylus, which is about the length of a modern pen, dates from about AD70 and was used to write on wax-filled wooden writing tablets. It is inscribed in Latin text which, translated by classicist and epigrapher Dr Roger Tomlin, reads: “I have come from the city. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long [and] as my purse is empty”. It is believed the “city” referred to is Rome. The stylus is one of some 14,000 items Museum of London Archaeology archaeologists unearthed on the dig – including 200 styli (although only one bears an inscription) – which took place on what was the bank of the (now lost) Thames tributary, the Walbrook, between 2010 and 2014. It is among items on show in an exhibition now on at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford called Last Supper in Pompeii. Head here for more details. Other finds from the excavations can be seen at the recently opened London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE. PICTURE: © MOLA

Close-up of the facade of Mizuho House, London branch of the Japanese investment bank Mizuho, in the Old Bailey London. PICTURE: Valdemars  Magone/Unsplash

The name of this City of London establishment relates directly to the trade that once existed in nearby environs – namely in sugar.

Located at 65 Cannon Street, the area to the south of the pub was once a centre of the city’s sugar refinement industry.

There were several small sugar refineries there – where raw sugar was taken and transformed into cone-shaped sugar loaves – but these were apparently destroyed when Southwark Bridge was built in the early 19th century.

The now Grade II-listed pub is said to date from the 1830s. More recently, it was part of the Charrington group before becoming one of the O’Neill’s Irish-themed pubs in the late 1990s. It became part of the Nicholson’s group a few years ago.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thesugarloafcannonstreet.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

London’s oldest chophouse, Simpson’s, can be found in the City of London, just off Cornhill, and dates from the mid-18th century.

Thomas Simpson had opened his first ‘Fish Ordinary Restaurant’ in Bell Alley, Billingsgate, in 1723, catering to a clientele made up largely of those working at the Billingsgate (Fish) Market.

When that was demolished, he retired briefly before purchasing the Queen’s Arms in Bird in Hand Court off Cheapside.

Located in Ball Court Alley, Simpson opened the current establishment in 1757 (although the Grade II-listed building itself dates from the late 1600s or possibly early 1700s). It was a gift from his father.

Customs at the restaurant included having meals were presided over a chairman who would ensure lunch started promptly as one (their job also included introducing notable guests and measuring the cheese – a task related to a tradition of placing bets on the height, weight and girth of the cheese).

Seating is arranged in stalls and the layout is apparently consistent with that of the 19th century (although some things, thankfully, have changed – ladies were finally admitted in 1916).

For more, see www.simpsonstavern.co.uk.

PICTURES: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)