Christmas is looming so here’s our first look at some of London’s Christmas light displays…
• The UK’s first major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge opens at the British Museum today. The World of Stonehenge features more than 430 objects gathered from across Europe including Bronze Age grave goods unearthed near Stonehenge in the grave of a man known as the Amesbury Archer, the Nebra Sky Disc – the oldest surviving representation of the cosmos anywhere in the world, and the 4,000-year-old wooden monument, called Seahenge, that was discovered in 1998 on a Norfolk beach (and is being loaned for the exhibition for the first time). Admission charge applies. The exhibition can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 17th July. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/world-stonehenge
• The contribution people of Caribbean heritage have made to London’s transport history is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce features personal oral histories from past and present generations of people of Caribbean descent along with newly commissioned and re-edited films, archive photography, historic advertising posters, and objects such as a Syllabus of Training for Cooks manual from staff canteens. The exhibition is expected to run until summer 2024. Included in general admission. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/legacies.
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Eighteenth century English composer Thomas Arne, considered one of British greatest theatrical composers and most well known for creating the music for his patriotic song Rule Britannia, spent most of his life in London.
The son of an upholster, Arne, whose middle name was Augustine, was born in Covent Garden in 1710 and baptised in St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Arne was educated at Eton College where, such was his passion for music, he is said to have secretly practised with a spinet, a smaller type of harpsichord, in his room at night, muffling the strings to keep from being discovered.
He became a violin student of composer Michael Festing and, such was his love of music, that he is said to have disguised himself in the livery of servant to attend the opera.
Following his father’s wishes, Arne worked briefly as a solicitor after leaving school but was subsequently permitted to leave the law and pursue a life in music (there were other family connections to music and performance – his father had actually been involved in financing some operas and both his sister Susannah Maria and brother Richard would go on to have careers in the theatre and music worlds).
Over the more than 40 years between 1733 and 1776, Arne wrote music for about 80 stage works which included everything from plays and masques to pantomimes and operas.
His big break came when he became house composer at Drury Lane Theatre, writing music for various plays and pantomimes and involving both his brother and his sister in the performances (his residences at this time are said to have included properties in Great Queen Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields).
Arne was already a star when, on 15th March, 1737, he married the singer Cecilia Young (he may have already had a son prior to this).
In 1738, he – along with others including George Frideric Handel – founded the Society of Musicians (which would become the Royal Society of Music). Arne also received the patronage of Frederick, the Prince of Wales – in fact, it was at the prince’s country house, Cliveden, that he debuted Rule, Britannia, during a performances of his Masque of Alfred in 1740.
Arne and his wife spent two years in Dublin in the early 1740s and on his return to London in 1744, he was again composing music for Drury Lane. He also composed music for performances at Vauxhall Gardens.
Arne left Drury Lane for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750 after he had begun to fall out of favour with theatre manager David Garrick who was increasingly turning to other composers.
In 1755, while again in Dublin, he separated from Cecilia, alleging she was mentally ill, and began a relationship with one of his students, Charlotte Brent. Brent would perform in several of his works including in Thomas and Sally (the first English opera to be completely sung) and Artaxerxes (which became one of the most successfully and influential English operas of the era). Brent would eventually go on to eventually marry a violinist in 1766.
His career took a downturn in the mid 1760s but in 1769, Garrick appointed Arne musical director for the Shakespeare festival at Stratford upon Avon. Arne composed several pieces for the event including An Ode upon Dedicating a Building to Shakespeare, the success of which put him back into favour with the London theatres.
In late 1777, Arne was reconciled with his wife (their son, Michael, went on to become a composer). But his health deteriorated soon after and Arne died on 5th March, 1778, at a house in Bow Street, Covent Garden. He was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.
An English Heritage Blue Plaque was erected at the site of his former home at 31 King Street, Covent Garden, in 1988 (pictured above).
This term is used to describe what was traditionally the western end of London as it developed beyond the City of London boundaries and has since became a word synonymous with the city’s theatre district.
The term’s origins are lost to history although it’s said it first started being used in earnest to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The term as it’s used today covers an area which contains the commercial and entertainment heart of London.
While the eastern boundary of the West End can be easily defined as where the City of London ends (Temple Bar on the Strand marks the City of London’s boundaries), thanks to its not being a formally designated geographic area, exactly where the West End finishes is a matter of considerable debate.
While the some see the West End only including Theatreland itself – an area stretching from Aldwych across to Piccadilly Circus and north from Trafalgar Square to Oxford Circus, others have adapted a broader definition which sees include not only Aldwych, Soho and Covent Garden but also Mayfair, Fitzrovia and Marylebone with Oxford Circus at the centre (some even go further and include districts such as Bloomsbury and Knightsbridge in their definition of the West End).
The Bow Street Police Museum, located on the site of the 1881 Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, has opened its doors in Covent Garden. The museum tells the story of the early Bow Street Runners, the first official law enforcement service in the city, and the Metropolitan Police officers who came after. Visitors can explore the former cells and hear the stories of those who once worked in the building. The connections between Bow Street and the constabulary dates back to 1740 when Thomas de Veil opened a Magistrates’ Court in his family home at number four Bow Street in the 18th century and continued until the closure of the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006. Among the famous faces who passed through Bow Street’s police station and court over that time were Oscar Wilde, Suffragettes Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond, and the Kray twins. For more, head to https://bowstreetpolicemuseum.org.uk.
• Kew Gardens have unveiled a new programme of well-being events with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors after the COVID-19 lockdown. The events, all of which will be COVID-19 safe and follow government guidelines, including everything from forest bathing sessions in the Arboretum inspired by the Japanese art of Shinrin-yokuto, a rare chance to cycle through the gardens on an evening bike ride, pilates in the Nash Conservatory and yoga sessions in the Temperate House. Check the Kew website for dates and times and admission charges.
• The creator of The Triumph of Silenus (c1637), which was one of the first paintings to enter the collection of The National Gallery when it did so in 1824, has been confirmed as 17th century French painter Nicolas Poussin. The painting had long been plagued by questions of authenticity but following recent conservation work and in-depth technical analysis, it has been confirmed as a work of Poussin. The confirmation means the gallery holds 14 works by Poussin, making it one of the world’s leading collections of paintings by him. Later this year, the picture will feature in a new exhibition, Poussin and the Dance.
• People will have the chance to see parts of Euston Station usually not accessible to the public on a new virtual tour announced by the London Transport Museum. The tour is part of the next season of ‘Hidden London’ virtual events with new dates also to be announced for tours of King William Street, Brompton Road, Holborn (Kingsway) and Aldwych. Meanwhile, the museum will recommence its ‘Secrets of Central London’ walking tour in the West End on 17th May. Charges apply. For more on the virtual tours and dates, head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london/virtual-tours.
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PICTURE: Kevin Grieve/Unsplash
The origins of this narrow Covent Garden street – which runs between Southampton and Bedford Streets – go back centuries and there’s a couple of possible explanations for its name.
One is that it was named for the statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood in the thoroughfare. The other is that its name is actually a corruption of ‘Midden Lane’ which refers to the garbage heaps or ‘middens’ once located here. It’s the second which, given its location on what was a garden, seems more likely.
The one-way street, which was apparently built on the route of a more ancient track, is famous for being the site of the house in which painter JMW Turner was born in 1775 as well as the location of the White Wig inn, noted as the establishment Voltaire lodged in when exiled from Paris in 1727-28.
Maiden Lane is also the location of the famous restaurant Rules, and of the Grade II-listed Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church (this wasn’t built until the 1870s so doesn’t appear to be connected to the earlier story of the statue).
The lane was apparently a cul-de-sac at the Southampton Street end (a footpath ran through to the street) until 1857 when it was extended to join up with the street. The story goes that this was done so that Queen Victoria’s carriage didn’t have to turn around after leaving her at the Adelphi Theatre on The Strand.
• The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich opens its doors this Monday, 7th September. Those who visit in the first week will be able to see all the winning images in the ‘Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ competition.Entry is free but tickets must be booked in advance. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.
• Other reopenings include the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden which also throws back its doors on Monday. Along with displays including historic vehicles and iconic posters, the reopening includes the ‘Hidden London’ exhibition revealing London’s ‘abandoned’ Underground stations. Tickets must be booked in advance. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• Picasso’s Cannes’ studio has been recreated in an immersive experience at the BASTIAN gallery in Mayfair. Atelier Picasso is an installation-style exhibition and features furniture, sculptures, ceramics, drawings and prints. Highlights include portraits of the artist taken by his friend André Villers, ceramic works such as Wood Owl (1969) and Carreau Visage d’Homme (1965), lithograph and linocut posters and books including Gallieri Jorgen Expose Le Lithographies de L’atelier Mourlot (1984), and the masterpiece Minotaure caressing une dormeuse from the artist’s Vollard Suite. Admission is free. For more, see www.bastian-gallery.com. PICTURE: Courtesy of Luke Andrew Walker.
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• Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.
• The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.
• On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.
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This Covent Garden establishment was founded by Daniel Button, a former servant in the household of the Countess of Warwick, in about 1712.
Button was apparently set up in the Russell Street business, located close to the Covent Garden Market, by newspaper writer and publisher Joseph Addison (who would marry the countess, Charlotte, in 1716) who, setting the example by giving the new premises his personal patronage, ensured it attracted a clientele of “wits” and intellectuals.
These had apparently previously frequented Will’s Coffee House which was located across the street from it but after the death of John Dryden, who was at the centre of this cloud, in 1700, the reputation of Will’s dropped. Enter Button’s.
The coffee house was particularly famous for a white marble letterbox in the shape of a lion’s head, said to have been designed by William Hogarth, which was nailed to the wall.
The concept had been imported from Venice where stone letterboxes, often carved into the shape of grotesque heads, were used by the governing body known as the Council of Ten to gather intelligence (and which informers would use to accuse fellow citizens of misdeeds).
People were encouraged to throw letters, limericks and other witty ephemera into the lion’s mouth, the best of which were then selected and published in Addison’s Guardian newspaper each week (Addison was also, famously, co-founder of The Spectator).
Daniel Button died in 1730 and the coffee house closed in 1751 after which the lion’s head was taken to the Shakespeare Tavern before going on to grace several establishments before the Duke of Bedford apparently took it to his country house at Woburn.
PICTURE: A carved lion’s head, with a tablet on which is engraved “Servantur Magnus ifticerbicibus ungues non nisi Delectâ Parcitur !!! e Fera”; originally displayed at Button’s coffee house. c1850 Watercolour, possibly by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Did you know that 2020 marks 10 years since Exploring London first began…well…exploring London?
We’ll be celebrating our anniversary across the year in a number of ways including counting down our 100 most read stories ever…
So let’s kick off the countdown with numbers 100 and 99…
PICTURE: Adi Goldstein/Unsplash
• A major exhibition on the legendary city of Troy has opened at the British Museum. Troy: myth and reality showcases works of art inspired by the “tales of war, love and loss” connected to the Trojan cycle of myths and follows in the footsteps of archaeologists and adventurers who have sought to find evidence of the ancient city. Among the almost 300 objects on show are original finds – such as pottery, silver vessels, bronze weapons and stone sculptures – found by Heinrich Schliemann’s work at the site between 1870 and 1890, a Roman sarcophagus lid picturing a wheeled – and armed – wooden horse (on loan from Oxford’s Ashmolean), Filippo Albacini’s (1777–1858) marble sculpture, The Wounded Achilles, and a Roman silver cup from the National Museum of Denmark depicting the meeting of Priam and Achilles as described in Homer’s The Iliad (pictured). Admission charges applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/Troy. PICTURE: Priam and Achilles, Roman silver cup, 1st century AD, National Museum of Denmark Photograph: Roberta Fortuna and Kira Ursem © National Museet Denmark.
• Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, unveiled a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating the site of Europe’s earliest recording studio in Covent Garden earlier this month. The studio was opened on Maiden Lane, one street north of the Strand, in 1898 by audio pioneer Fred Gaisberg and The Gramophone Company, a precursor to EMI – the same company which opened the world-famous Abbey Road Studios 33 years later. The campaign for the plaque – located on a building now housing a pizza restaurant – was led by music journalist and author James Hall with support from the EMI Archive Trust. For more, see www.westminster.gov.uk/green-plaques.
• On Now: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain. This interactive display throughout the entire Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 100 objects which highlight the similarities and differences between theatre going in the Georgian era and now. It explores key venues in London and beyond and is divided into four sections focusing on Georgian theatres like Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the importance of the Foundling Hospital Chapel as a music venue, and the provincial music festivals held in other major cities in Britain. Runs until 5th January. Free with museum admission. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
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Born to humble origins in London, Inigo Jones rose to become the first notable architect in England and, thanks to his travels, is credited with introducing the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to the nation.
Jones came into the world on 15th July, 1573, as the son of a Welsh clothworker, also named Inigo Jones (the origins of the name are apparently obscure), in Smithfield, London. He was baptised in St Bartholomew-the-Less but little else is known of his early years (although he was probably apprenticed to a joiner).
At about the age of 30, Jones is believed to have travelled in Italy – he certainly spent enough time there to be fluid in Italian – and he is also said to have spent some time in Denmark, apparently doing some work there for King Christian IV.
Returning to London, he secured the patronage of King Christian’s sister Queen Anne, the wife of King James I, and became famous as a designer of costumes and stage settings for royal masques (in fact, he is credited with introducing movable scenery to England).
Between 1605 and 1640, he staged more than 500 performances – his first was The Masque of Blackness performed on twelfth night in 1605 – including many collaborations with playwright Ben Jonson with whom he had an, at times, acrimonious relationship.
His architectural work in England – heavily influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (his copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura is dated 1601) as well as the Roman architect Vitruvius – dates from about 1608 with his first known building design that of the New Exchange in the Strand, built for Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.
In 1611 Jones was appointed surveyor of works to Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, but, following the prince’s death on 6th November, 1612, he was, in 1615, appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works (having first accompanied Thomas Howard, the 2nd Earl of Arundel, on what would be his second visit to Italy).
Jones’ big break came in 1615 when he was made Surveyor-General of the King’s Works, a post he would hold for 27 years. He was subsequently was responsible for the design and building of the Queen’s House in Greenwich for Queen Anne (started in 1616 and eventually completed in 1635), the Banqueting House in Whitehall (built between 1619 and 1622, it’s arguably his finest work), the Queen’s Chapel in St James’s Palace (1623 to 1627) and, in 1630, Covent Garden square for the Earl of Bedford including the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.
Other projects included the repair and remodelling of parts of Old St Paul’s Cathedral prior to its destruction in 1666 and a complete redesign of the Palace of Whitehall (which never went ahead). He’s also credited with assisting other architects on numerous other jobs.
Jones’ career – both as an architect and as a producer of masques – stopped rather abruptly with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the subsequent seizing of the king’s properties. Forced to leave London, he was eventually captured by Parliamentarians following a siege at Basing House in Hampshire in October, 1645.
His property was initially confiscated and he was heavily fined but he was later pardoned and his property returned.
Never married, Jones ended up living in Somerset House in London and died on 21st June, 1652. He was buried with his parents at St Benet Paul’s Wharf. A rather elaborate monument to his memory erected inside the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and later destroyed.
Jones’ legacy can still be seen at various sites around London where his works survive and also in the works of those he influenced, including Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, designer and builder of Chiswick House, and architect and landscape designer William Kent.
A cache of papers and items found in Vincent Van Gogh’s former south London home – and dating from 1873-74, the period he lodged there – have shed new light on his time in the city. The papers, which include insurance documents, a small pamphlet of prayers and hymns, and scraps of paper painted with watercolour flowers (probably not the work of Van Gogh), were found under the floorboards and between the attic timbers of the house at 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell. They were discovered during a renovation of the early Victorian terraced house in which Van Gogh lived in while working as an assistant for an art dealer in Covent Garden. During the period he stayed at the house, it has been suggested that the Dutch artist fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord (although his love was apparently not reciprocated). He also apparently became devoutly Christian during his time there (perhaps explaining the prayer pamphlet). The home’s current owners Jian Wang, a former professional violinist who originally hails from China, and his wife Alice Childs have reportedly been renovating the property in order to use it as a base for visiting Chinese artists in collaboration with the nearby San Mei Gallery. For more on the house, see www.vangoghhouse.co.uk. A near life-size photograph of the facade of the Hackford Road house forms part of Tate Britain’s upcoming display The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain which opens later this month (more on that shortly). PICTURE: An English Heritage Blue Plaque adorning the house (Spudgun67 – licensed under CC BY 2.0).
Jane Austen was known as a patron of London’s theatre – in some cases attending shows several times a week while in the city (despite the fact that many, based on her writings – in particular Mansfield Park, believe she wasn’t really a fan).
• The Lyceum Theatre: Jane visited this Wellington Street theatre more than once and expressed her frustration on one occasion of her failure to see the incomparable Sarah Siddons perform there.
• The Covent Garden Theatre: The theatre Jane attended was a second iteration, opening in 1809 on the site of what is now the Royal Opera House adjacent to the market as a replacement for the previous theatre which, dating back to 1732, had burned down.
• The Theatre Royal Drury Lane: The oldest of London’s theatres still in use, Jane saw the great actor Edmund Kean famously perform here as Shylock in the Shakespearian play, The Merchant of Venice, in 1814.
Jane Austen is known to have patronised many shops while in London (mainly concerned with fabrics) – here’s just a few…
• Twinings – The Austen family is known to have bought their tea from the famous merchant’s 300-year-old premises which still stands in the Strand near Temple Bar; a letter survives which Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in reference to an order.
• Newton’s – A linen drapers formerly located at 14 Coventry Street just off Leicester Square. Jane is known to have visited here with her niece Fanny.
• Wilding & Kent – Upmarket drapers, located in Grafton House on the corner of New Bond and Grafton Streets. Jane, who is known to have visited frequently, complained of the queues there.
• Layton & Shear’s – A fashionable mercer’s shop located at 9 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, conveniently located next door to where Jane lived for a time with her brother Henry.
There are others – this is just a sample!
Correction: The Fanny mentioned who visited Newton’s with Jane Austen was her niece, not her sister (although she apparently thought of her like “almost another sister”).
As you may have realised (the new £10 banknote anyone?), this month marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen in Winchester on 18th July, 1817, so to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 sites of interest from Jane Austen’s London. To kick off our new Wednesday series, we’re looking at one of the locations where she is known to have resided while in London – number 10 Henrietta Street.
Number 10 in those days was the location of a bank – Austen, Maunde and Tilson – in which Jane’s older (and favourite) brother Henry was a partner. Above the bank’s offices was a flat Henry moved into after the death of his wife Eliza in 1813. It was also where Jane stayed when visiting publishers in the summer of 1813 and again in March, 1814, the latter when she was working on the proofs of Mansfield Park.
As well as a dining room at the front on the first floor, it had a sitting parlour, small drawing room and bedchambers (Jane is known to have stayed in one on the second floor). She described the property as “all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way”.
Austen is known to have visited nearby theatres including the Lyceum and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane while staying in London and during 1813 also visited the “blockbuster” exhibition of Sir Joshua Reynold’s paintings at the British Institute in Pall Mall ( a fascinating reconstruction of which can be found here).
A City of Westminster Green Plaque (erected in partnership with the Jane Austen Society) commemorates Jane’s stay here.