tavistock_street_londonNow located on a street of another name, London’s oldest street sign is generally believed to be that of Yorke Street and dates from 1636.

The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).

Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.

PICTURE: The Yorke Street sign is the white oblong at the top right under which can be seen the blue plaque (Via Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

ice-skating-in-the-tower-moatLondon’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).

• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):

  • Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
  • St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
  • Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
  • Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
  • Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.

Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.

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This popular Covent Garden pub lies in the heart of London’s Theatreland and is noted for its popularity with actors.

SalisburyLocated at 90 St Martin’s Lane, the pub was built in the late 1800s on the site of an earlier public house which had been known under various different names including The Coach & Horses and Ben Caunt’s head (the latter after the famed bare knuckle fighter when the pub apparently hosted such bouts).

It was first named the Salisbury Stores – an ‘SS’ motif can still be seen in some of the glasswork, with the origins of the name coming from the fact that the site was leased from Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, who was thrice PM in the late 19th and early 20th century, in about 1899.

The Cecil family’s coat-of-arms can be seen above the door on the corner of St Martin’s Lane and St Martin’s Court (Cecil Court is located nearby).

The now Grade II-listed Taylor Walker pub, which dropped the ‘Stores’ off its name in the 1960s, was restored in the mid-20th century and again at the end. It features original etched glass, hand-carved mahogany woodwork and art nouveau candelabra.

The pub, which, as well as its association with actors, has also long had an association with the gay community in London, has appeared in numerous films including Dirk Bogarde vehicle Victim and Travels With My Aunt as well as, in more recent times, The Boat That Rocked.

For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/salisbury-covent-garden/c3111/.

PICTURE: Garry Knight – Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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

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

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

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

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There’s quite a few whose London residence (or otherwise) is commemorated by more than one blue plaque. So, breaking away from our usual ‘one plaque’ format, here were listing five of those who have made the grade…

William-Wilberforce-blue-plaque1. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The late 18th century and early 19th century politician and anti-slavery campaigner tops our list with three English Heritage blue plaques. The first is at 111 Brookwood Road in Battersea – the site of Brookwood House where Wilberforce resided during his anti-slavery campaign. The second is on Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common, the church where Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect with whom he is associated worshipped. And the third is on a property at 44 Cadogan Place in Chelsea where Wilberforce died.

2. Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Like Wilberforce, the 18th century lexicographer Dr Johnson has three English Heritage blue plaques to his name. The first, on his famous Gough Square property in the City of London we’ve already mentioned (see our earlier post here), while the second is on a property at 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, then occupied by bookseller Thomas Davies, which was where Dr Johnson famously first met James Boswell in 1763. The third time Dr Johnson’s name appears, more unusually, is on a plaque commemorating Essex Street – Dr Johnson is among a number of names listed on it for his role in establishing an “evening club” at the pub, the Essex Head, in the street in 1783.

3. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703): The 17th century diarist seems to pop-up everywhere in central London so it’s not surprising there are two plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme dedicated to him (although both are located in the same street – one he apparently liked very much). The plaques are located at number 12 and number 14 Buckingham Street in Covent Garden and both mark the site of a Pepys residence.

4. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): The writer, publisher and literary critic’s name appears on two properties – at 29 Fitzroy Square in Fitzrovia where Woolf lived between 1907-1911 and on Hogarth House at 34 Paradise Road in Richmond where she and Leonard Woolf lived between 1915-1924 (and also where they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917).

5. William Morris (1834-1896): The poet and artist has two English Heritage blue plaques to his credit – the first on 17 Red Lion Square in Holborn where Morris lived in a flat from 1856-1859 with Sir Edward C Burne-Jones, and the second on Red House in Bexleyheath where he and his wife Jane Burden lived from 1860-1865.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0 (image cropped)

Archio-Plantotype-Workshop-1The London Festival of Architecture kicked off this week with more than 200 events planned for the capital across the month of June. Highlights include “open studios” in which 50 architectural practices across London open their doors to the public, a series of film showing at the BFI concerning the portrayal of the built environment in documentaries and hosted tours through some of London council estate’s green spaces and private gardens. The festival, which centres around three key themes – housing renewal and regeneration, creative workspaces and community engagement, also features a range of exhibitions, installations, talks and workshops including the Archio Plantotype Workshop on 25th June in which participants are asked to help design and build model prototype planters to grow compact and hybrid plants (pictured). For the full programme, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.

1997-14154-Booklet;-The-Passenger's-Guide-to-London-Transport,-issued-by-London-Transport,-March-1962The design of London’s transport system – from posters, maps and signage to the styling of trains and stations – is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Designology – Shaping London explores the role design has played in London’s public transportation systems, spanning the period from the system’s Victorian origins to today. Among the objects on display are an 1834 Shillibeer Woolwich Omnibus timetable, original architectural drawings by Charles Holden of Arnos Grove and Sudbury art deco stations, and a 1994 magnetic ticket hall station model. There are also case studies on key design features found across the transport network such as the New Johnston typeface and the design of Moquette fabric used on the Underground and buses. Visitors are also encouraged to design their own bus stop sign (and share it on social media with the hashtag #pimpmybusstop) and visit a pop-up design studio to find out more about contemporary design innovation. There’s an accompanying programme of events. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk. PICTURE: The Passenger’s Guide to London Transport, issued by London Transport, March, 1962./The London Transport Museum.

The “worst day” in the history of the British Army – 1st July, 1916, when almost 60,000 died during the Battle of the Somme – is being commemorated in an exhibition marking the battle’s centenary in Guildhall Yard. Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: Somme 1916, features a series of evocative photographs by Michael St Maur Sheil of the battlefields as they look today contrasted with images taken at the time. The outdoor exhibition is being accompanied by a display of Somme-related artefacts in the City of London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Admission to the display is free. Runs until 5th July.

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Covent-Garden4Take your chance to ‘meet under the mistletoe’ this year at Covent Garden, thanks to the designs of renowned  production designer Michael Howells. Howells, whose previous credits include fashion shows for the likes of Alexander McQueen as well as sets for films including Nanny McPhee and theatre productions such as Chariots of Fire, has come up with a design featuring more than 40 “mistletoe chandeliers” of up to 3.5 metres in size, each of which is adorned with almost 700 glistening berries.  The chandeliers are united by more than 320 metres of garlands while about 100,000 pealights are suspended inside the historic Market Building. Outside, London’s biggest hand-picked – and richly decorated – Christmas tree once again stands in the piazza.  For more on Covent Garden, see www.coventgarden.london.  PICTURES: Courtesy of Covent Garden.

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Prince-of-WalesAnother Drury Lane pub, the origins of this one go back to 1852 when it was established by Henry Wells on the site of what was once a potato warehouse. 

The name, in this case, comes from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest son, Albert Edward.

Only about 11-years-old when this West End pub was first built, he remained Prince of Wales until succeeding his mother as King Edward VII (nonetheless, the location proved somewhat prescient – Albert Edward was to become known for his bon vivant lifestyle including his love of the theatre (along with, of course, his love of philandering.))

Located close to theatres and the Royal Opera House, the pub at 150-151 Drury Lane (on the corner of Long Acre) was rebuilt in Portland stone in the early 20th century when the street was widened.

Now part of the Taylor Walker group, it remains a popular pub for theatre goers (and even hosts its own events). For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-covent-garden/c0659/.

Agatha_ChristieToday marks 125 years since the birth of the world’s best-selling novelist, Agatha Christie, subject of this memorial which was unveiled in Covent Garden in 2012.

Standing at St Martin’s Cross – the intersection of Cranbourn and Great Newport Streets, the memorial – which also marks 60 years and 25,000 performances of her record breaking long-running London play The Mousetrap – is the work of sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies.

It takes the form of a 2.4 metre high book with a bust of Christie in profile and features a series of motifs from Christie’s works as well as a ‘bookshelf’ of her best sellers in English and other languages, the titles of which were selected in a competition involving fans.

Christie, who was born on 15th September, 1890, in Torquay, Devon, and died on 12th January, 1976, is famous for the scores of detective novels she wrote – featuring the likes of detectives Miss Marple and London’s own Hercule Poirot – which have gone on to sell more than two billion copies around the world.

The memorial was unveiled on 18th November, 2012, by Christie’s grandson, Matthew Pritchard, along with Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, chairman of Mousetrap Productions, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Angela Harvey.

For more on the memorial, see www.agathachristiememorial.co.uk. For more on events surrounding the anniversary, see www.agathachristie.com.

PICTURE: Diagram Lajard

London Tree Week kicks off on Saturday with a range of free events happening across the city. They include ‘tree walks’ in Richmond and Greenwich Royal Parks, a tour of paintings featuring trees at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, an exhibition at City Hall featuring some of the city’s great trees, and family-friendly activities at Stave Hill Ecological Park in the city’s south-east. Londoners can also download a free ‘Tree Route’ app which uses the Tube map to showcase the capital’s trees including “must see” trees located near Underground stations such as St Pauls (a swamp cypress) and Angel (a black poplar). There’s also a photo sharing challenge where you can upload photos of trees that have made a difference to your part of London to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #LondonTreeWeek. For the complete listing of what’s on, follow this link. Runs until 31st May.

One hundred illustrations capturing a variety of aspects of life in London form the heart of an exhibition, The Prize for Illustration 2015: London Places & Spaces, which has opened at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. The artworks – which range from the past to the present and the contemplative to the loud – are all on the shortlist for the prestigious Prize for Illustration and were selected from more than 1,000 entries. Each of the works is accompanied by a short description written by the artist. The works are on show until 6th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

On Now – Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint. Now entering its final days, this exhibition at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone provides a fresh perspective on a giant of the British art world, 18th century portraitist Joshua Reynolds and features such famous works as Nelly O’Brien, Mrs Abingdon as Miss Prue, and Self Portrait Shading the Eyes. Admission is free. Runs until 7th June. For more information, see www.wallacecollection.org.

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We’ve mentioned this Covent Garden pub, redolent with history as it is,  before but we thought it worth a second look.

Lamb-and-FlagThere’s not much mystery surrounding the origins of the name – the Christian symbolism of the sign is fairly obvious and the symbol, which was used by the Templars and is also that of the Middle Temple, was apparently a reasonably common one for pubs. But the Lamb & Flag hasn’t always been its name.

While there’s been a pub on the site dating as far as back as the 17th century (the building was survivor of the Great Fire of 1666), it was apparently only named the Lamb & Flag in 1833.

Prior to that it was apparently known as the Cooper’s Arms (in what we assume was a reference to barrel-makers) and at one time in its long history was nick-named the ‘Bucket of Blood’ thanks to the location being used for prizefights.

The core of the present, Grade II-listed, building at 33 Rose Street is said to date from 1772, but the brick facade is 20th century. A narrow passageway known as Lazenby Court, which dates from the late 17th century and connects Rose Street to Floral Street, runs alongside it.

Regular patrons have included author Charles Dickens (one of the many London pubs he apparently attended not infrequently) and other famous associations include the poet John Dryden – he is famously associated with Rose Street thanks to the fact he was beaten up there twice in 1679 after upsetting people with his satires (the pub’s upstairs room is named after him).

For more on the pub, see www.lambandflagcoventgarden.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Churchill-with-a-Spitfire-from-Castle-Bromwich,-credit-Philip-Insley,-CBAF-Archive-Vickers-ArchiveSyndics Marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, a new exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington looks at his passion for science and the influence that had on bringing World War II to an end. Churchill’s Scientists celebrates the individuals who flourished under Churchill’s patronage (and , as well as helping to bring about the end of World War II, also launched a post-war “science renaissance”) – from Robert Watson-Watt (inventor of radar) through to Bernard Lovell (creator of the world’s largest telescope) – and also delves into more personal stories of Churchill’s own fascination with science and tech. The display include objects from the museum’s collection as well as original archive film footage, letters and photographs. Highlights include the high speed camera built at Aldermaston to film the first microseconds of the detonation of the UK’s first home grown atomic bomb, the cigar Churchill was smoking when he heard news of his re-election as PM in 1951, and a one-piece green velvet “siren suit” designed by Churchill to wear during air raids (only one of three originals known to exist, it’s never been on public display outside of the tailors who created it). The free exhibition runs until 1st March and is part of the Churchill 2015 programme of events. Visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/churchill for more. PICTURE: Churchill with a Spitfire from Castle Bromwich (Philip Insley, CBAF Archive Vickers ArchiveSyndics).

The National Army Museum and Waterloo2oo have launched an online gallery which will eventually comprise images and information on more than 200 artefacts associated with the Battle of Waterloo ahead of the 200th anniversary in June. Among the objects featured on Waterloo200.org are the Duke of Wellington’s boots, a French eagle standard captured in battle and the saw used to amputate the Earl of Uxbridge’s leg. One hundred items – drawn from the Army Museum’s collection as well as from European museums and private collections – can already be seen on the site with a further 100 to be added before the bicentenary on 18th June.

The Talk: Death in Disguise: The Amazing True Story of the Chelsea Murders. On 12th February, the Guildhall Library in the City of London will host Gary Powell as he examines the facts of this double murder which took place in Chelsea in May, 1870, and left Victorian society reeling. For more events at the library, follow this link.

On Now: Breakthrough: Crossrail’s tunnelling story. This exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden brings a new perspective on the massive Crossrail project currently underway in the city. Visitors will experience the tunnel environment through a five metre high walk-through installation featuring a computer simulation of a giant boring machine as well as learn about how the project is shaping up, play interactive tunnelling games and hear firsthand from those who work underground. Admission charge for adults applies. Runs until August. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

Extended: Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition. This exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich features the winning images from last year’s competition. They include the Briton James Woodend’s image of a vivid green aurora in the Icelandic night sky; American Patrick Cullis’ view of earth taken from 87,000 feet above ground; and, New Zealander Chris Murphy’s image of dusty clouds dancing across the Milky Way. The exhibition can be seen for free in the Observatory’s Astronomy Centre until 19th July. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/astrophoto.

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Nell-of-Old-DruryThis Covent Garden pub in London’s West End is named after Nell Gwyn, the 17th century orange seller turned actress who became most famous for being the mistress of King Charles II (for more on Nell, see our earlier post here)

‘The Nell’, as its known, is one of the area’s oldest pubs – a sign says there has apparently been a pub on the site since before 1660 when the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – located opposite – was built.

Nell-of-Old-Drury2There’s supposedly an underground tunnel that connects the theatre and the pub which is said to have been used by the king when he was visiting Nell (we’re not sure if it was Nell or the king who was in the pub). It was also apparently used by other theatre-goers who were warned to return to the theatre when intermission was over by a bell located inside the pub.

Now located at 29 Catherine Street pub (the street was formerly known as Brydges Street – we’ll deal with its renaming in an upcoming post), was apparently originally called The Lamb and then renamed the Sir John Falstaff in the nineteenth century, during which period it hosted exhibitions featuring a tattooed man from the South Seas and a Zulu warrior woman, before assuming its current moniker.

The pub was also apparently a regular for many prominent literary and theatrical figures, not to mention market traders from nearby Covent Garden. The exterior of the pub appears in the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy.

For more on the pub, see www.nellofolddrury.com.

 

 

 

Magna-Carta• The only four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta from 1215 will go on display together for the first time ever  at the British Library in King’s Cross next February – and you have a chance to be among the 1,215 people to see them. In an event to mark the 800th year of the creation of the document, the library – which holds two copies of the document – along with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral – each of which holds one copy – are holding a ballot with winners able to attend an event in which they’ll have the unique opportunity to see the documents side-by-side as well as be treated to a special introduction on its history and legacy by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. The ballot to see the documents is open until 31st October with winners drawn at random. It’s free to enter – head to www.bl.uk/magna-carta to do so. The four documents will subsequently feature separately in displays at each of the three institutions. One not to miss! PICTURE: Salisbury Cathedral’s Magna Carta/Ash Mills.

The Silent Swoon Free Film Festival kicks off in St Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden, next week. The courtyard will be transformed into an open air movie theatre showing a different movie each night – The Talented Mr Ripley on 14th October, Crazy, Stupid, Love on 15th October and Rebel without a Cause on 16th October. Most of the free tickets will be allocated through an online draw but a small number will be allocated each night on a first come, first serve basis. For those with tickets, a range of freebies will be available on the night (including popcorn!). For more information, head to www.stmartinscourtyard.co.uk/silent-swoon-cinema-festival.

Crime writer and film noir pioneer Raymond Chandler has been remembered with the placement of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his childhood home in Upper Norwood, south east London. Chandler, who received global acclaim for his Philip Marlowe novels and his work on movies like The Blue Dahlia, lived at the home from 1901 after emigrating from the US with his mother, aunt and grandmother at the age of 12. He remained at the double-fronted red brick villa until 1908 – the same year he published his first poem, The Unknown Love. In his early Twenties, Chandler worked as a freelance reporter for London newspapers but, disillusioned with writing, returned to the US in 1912. He spent the next decade working for an oil company before the loss of his job in 1932 pushed him to restart writing. He first novel was published in 1939, and he went on to write further books and movie screenplays to ongoing renown. For more on the blue plaques scheme, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Two early works of Rembrandt have gone on display at Kenwood House this month. Anna and the Blind Tobit and Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, both of which date from around 1630, will be seen in the Hampstead landmark until May next year. The two paintings replace Rembrandt’s Portrait of the artist which usually hangs in Kenwood and is on show at the National Gallery and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (from where the two paintings now at Kenwood have come). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/kenwood. An exhibition of Rembrandt’s works opens at the National Gallery next week – more details then!

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Opening tomorrow, a major exhibition at the London Transport Museum will take an in-depth look at the role transport played in London during World War I – from how London bus drivers took their vehicles to the front lines to the advance of women into the transport workforce for the first time and, of course, how Londoners fared under the deadly aerial attack of the Luftwaffe. Key among the objects on display as part of Goodbye Piccadilly at the Covent Garden site will be ‘Ole’ Bill’ – a 1911 bus on loan from the Imperial War Museum which was requisitioned for the front and, taking its name from Bruce Bairsfather’s popular cartoon character, featured regularly in Armistice Day parades until the 1960s. Other highlights include World War I recruitment posters, a 1914 female bus conductor’s uniform and a newly acquired piece of ‘trench art’ – a decorated Daimler bus steering wheel. Runs until 8th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

The annual Museums at Night event kicks off tonight and runs until Saturday night. Among the premises participating this year is the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which is showing a selection of rarely seen materials from its archives, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, Keat’s House in Hampstead and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London which is running a murder mystery event Friday night. Some events are ticketed and some have an admission charge so check out the website before you go. For more, see www.culture24.org.uk/places-to-go/museums-at-night.

The late comedian Tony Hancock was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in South Kensington on Monday on what would have been his 90th birthday. Hancock, famous for Hancock’s Half Hour on radio and TV, lived on the fourth floor of a Grade II-listed building at 20 Queen’s Gate Place with his wife Cicely Romanis between 1952 and 1958. It was the longest time he lived at any property in London and coincided with the most creative and successful period of his career with the show first board cast on BBC radio in 1954 and also appearing on TV from 1956 onwards. Hancock died in 1968. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

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It’s a rare chance to walk the historic Thames Tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe – the first tunnel ever dug under a navigable waterway. Transport for London and London Overground are offering the chance to purchase tickets to walk the tunnel – built by Marc Brunel, it’s now used by the London Overground – over the May Bank Holiday weekend on 24th to 26th May. Tickets, which cost £18 plus booking fee, go on sale today at 10am via the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and are strictly limited (with no on the day admissions allowed). Proceeds from the day will go to the Railway Children’s Charity and the Brunel Museum. Also, worth noting is that the London Transport Museum is offering tours of its depot this Friday and Saturday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

MatisseThe paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse are the focus of a landmark exhibition which opened at Tate Modern last week. Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs features about 130 works created between 1937 and 1954 with many seen together for the first time. Highlights include maquettes featured in the 1947 book Jazz, The Snail and its sister work Memory of Oceania (both 1953) and the largest number of the Blue Nudes ever shown together. The display takes an in-depth look at the methods and materials Matisse used in the production of the cut-outs. Runs until 7th September (and keep an eye out for the accompanying film, Matisse: Live in cinemas). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Henri Matisse, Icarus 1946, Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947, Digital image: © Centre Pompidou, MNAMCCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet, Artwork: © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014.

On Now: Spitting Image. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury centres on the partnership of three dimensional artists Peter Fluck and Roger Law and their key role in the creation of what became known as Spitting Image. It features caricature drawings and photographs created for magazines in the 1970s and 1980s of the likes of Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Kate Moss, Saddam Hussein, Billy Connolly, Rupert Murdoch, Jo Brand and John Paul II as well as members of the Royal Family and politicians including Margaret Thatcher. Also present are some of the puppets used in the TV show which ran for 18 series between 1984 and 1996 – these include those of Thatcher, The Queen, Princess Diana and Mr Spock. Runs until 8th June (with selected late opening nights). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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First up, apologies that we were unable to launch our new Wednesday series yesterday due to some technical difficulties (stayed tuned for next week). And now, on with the news…

Sarah_Bernhardt_by_Lafayette_Ltd_1899_c__Victoria_and_Albert_Museum_London__William Shakespeare’s influence on successive generations of theatrical performance is the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth on 23rd April. Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright centres on the Bard’s First Folio which, published in 1623, contains 36 plays including 18 works – Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night among them – which would be unknown without it. The display includes interviews, archive footage and photography and objects from the V&A collections as well as an audio-visual presentation by Fifty Nine Productions featuring interviews with contemporary theatre practitioners such as actors, directors and designers. Objects on display include a skull used by Sarah Bernhardt when playing Hamlet in 1899, an embroidered handkerchief used by Ellen Terry when playing Desdemona in 1881 at the Lyceum Theatre, and a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in an 1887 production of Richard III. Runs in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries until 21st September. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, 1899, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A skeletal horse and a giant hand giving a thumbs up will adorn the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square during 2015-16. Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse is derived from an etching by painter George Stubbs and, while being a comment on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was intended for the plinth, also features an electronic ribbon displaying a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange on its front leg. Meanwhile David Shrigley’s Really Good is a 10 metre high hand giving a thumbs up – sending a positive message to those who see it. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/fourth-plinth.

The impact of the car on England’s landscape and the listed buildings of motoring history are the focus of a new exhibition in Wellington Arch. Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England features archive photographs, historic advertising, cartoons and motoring magazines as well as a 1930s traffic light, a petrol pump and other accessories and memorabilia. Wellington Arch, which is managed by English Heritage, is a fitting location for the exhibition – it was moved to its current position due to increasing traffic back in 1883. Admission charge apply. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.

A new exhibition exploring some of the true and not-so-true stories inspired by and produced in London opens at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tomorrow. London Stories features the best entries from The Serco Prize for Illustration 2014 with more than 50 works of art on display depicting a well-known or obscure London narrative. The short-listed illustrations tackle everything from ghost buses to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show of 1887, a Pearly King and Queen, Lenin’s ‘Love letter to London’ and an escaped monkey jazz band. There’s also a host of musical and literary references – everything from Mary Poppins to Sweeney Todd and Oranges and Lemons. Tomorrow there will be a late opening of the exhibition complete with cash bar, DJ and story-telling for adults as well as the chance to create your own London story with illustration workshops and a photo-booth. Organised by London Transport Museum in partnership with the Association of Illustrators, it runs until 6th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

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The self-styled “Thief-Taker General”, Jonathan Wild was one of the most famous figures of London’s underworld in the early 18th century, credited by some as being the city’s first organised crime boss.

Jonathan-WildBorn to a family in Wolverhampton, Wild – who had at some point undertaken an apprenticeship as a buckle-maker – was married and had a son when he first came to London as a servant in 1704 and although he returned to the city of his birth after being dismissed, he apparently abandoned his family and returned to the capital in 1708.

Little is known of the first couple of years he spent in London but records show he was arrested for debt in March 1710 and sent to Wood Street Compter where he quickly ensconced himself and was even awarded the “liberty of the gate” – meaning he could leave the prison at night to aid in the apprehension of thieves.

It was also during this period that he came under the influence of a prostitute Mary Milliner. Upon his release in 1712 – thanks to an Act of Parliament passed to help debtors – he lived with her as her husband (despite his earlier marriage – and hers) in Covent Garden.

Acting as her protector when she was on the street, Wild also branched into the business of being a fence or receiver of stolen goods and racketeering offences like extortion. In 1713, he joined Charles Hitchen to be his assistant. Hitchen, who had been suspended from his position as the City’s Under Marshal thanks to his practice of extorting thieves and their victims (it’s thought he may have taught Wild the craft), was then working as a thief-taker.

Wild apparently took to the new role with fervour for when Hitchen was reappointed to his post as Under Marshal, Wild parted from his company and continued his work as a thief-taker, opening his own office in the Blue Boar Tavern in Little Old Bailey.

Wild’s method of operation was simple enough – he would organise thieves to steal items and then, when it was announced that said items were stolen, claimed to have found them and would return them to the rightful owners for a “reward”. At the same time, he’d often also aid the police by bringing to justice thieves from rival gangs (including Hitchen’s, for they were now rivals) or those of his own gang who had crossed him – and in all his dealings manage to keep at arm’s length from the actual business of stealing and receiving.

By 1718, Wild – who wore a sword as a sign of his authority and had pretensions of being a “squire” – was calling himself the “Thief-Taker General of Great Britain and Ireland”. It’s said that more than 60 thieves were sent to the gallows on the back of his testimony including the prolific housebreaker (and jail escapee) Jack Sheppard and his associate Joseph “Blueskin” Blake (who almost succeeded in killing Wild while he was awaiting trial).

Wild’s pursuit of Sheppard was the beginning of his own downfall (although authorities had as early as 1717 passed an Act of Parliament aimed squarely at ending his criminal enterprise, it seemed to have had little effect, at least initially). Sheppard’s demise had been unpopular with the masses and the press of the day – and in February 1725, Wild himself was arrested for assisting in the jailbreak of one of his gang members. Other members of the gang turned against him and eventually, in May that same year, he was sentenced to death for the theft of lace.

Having unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself by drinking laudanum before his execution, Wild was hanged at Tyburn on 24th May before a large and raucous crowd which apparently included an 18-year-old Henry Fielding.

Wild was buried in secret in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church next to his third wife (and one of his many lovers), Elizabeth Mann (she had died in 1718 and he apparently married another woman shortly after). His body was later reported to have been dug up and eventually, following the recovery of a body with a hairy chest from the Thames which was identified as being Wild’s, a skeleton said to have been his was donated to the Royal College of Surgeons (it’s now on display in the Hunterian Museum).

The subject of numerous articles, books and ballads, Wild’s story has been since told numerous times and for varying purposes. Among them are Daniel Defoe’s True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild, published in 1725, Henry’s Fielding’s ironic The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great (1743), and John Gay and John Rich’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) which features the character Peachum, said to have been based on Wild.

PICTURE: From “Ticket to the Hanging of Jonathan Wild”/Wikimedia Commons

To read more about Jonathan Wild, see Gerald Howson’s Thief-taker General: The Rise and Fall of Jonathan Wild.

 

Covent-Garden-LEGO-snow-globe

Following on from its LEGO advent calendar and Christmas tree, Covent Garden is home to a giant LEGO snow globe this Christmas. Made of 120,000 bricks, it features 14 of London’s most iconic landmarks – from Nelson’s Column, Buckingham Palace (see below) and the London Eye to The Shard, Shakespeare’s Globe and, of course, Covent Garden. The models took Duncan Titmarsh, the UK’s only certified LEGO professional, around 75 days to build. Hidden among the models are a number of LEGO Santas – count them to win prizes and press a button to make snow fall inside the globe. For more, see www.coventgardenlondonuk.com.

Covent-Garden-LEGO-snow-globe2

Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.

Prince-Henry's-RoomsFirst sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).

The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.

Described in a handbill published soon after its initial move to Fleet Street, the exhibitions were said to include a scene of King Charles I upon the scaffold, another of the ill-fated Queen Boudicea, and more exotic tableaux including one showing Canaannite ladies offering their children in sacrifice to the god Moloch, another of a Turkish seraglio, and another of Margaret, Countess of Heningbergh with the 365 children she is said to have given birth to (all at once!). There was also a mechanised figure of the “famous English prophetess” Old Mother Shipton, who is said to have given a boot to visitors as they left.

While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.

Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.