February 9, 2017
• A Tudor-era bowling ball, Roman iron horse shoes and late 19th century ginger jars are among hundreds of historic objects unearthed during the Crossrail construction project to go on show at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail presents highlights from among the more than 10,000 objects which have been discovered during the project, the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe, since it kicked off in 2009. The finds, which span 8,000 years of human history, also include prehistoric flints found at North Woolwich, medieval animal bone skates and human remains found in the former 17th century Bedlam cemetery. The objects, which can be seen until 3rd September, are displayed in accordance to where along the new Elizabeth line they were found. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• This year is centenary of the Russian Revolution and to mark the occasion, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly is hosting a landmark exhibition on Russian art which takes in the period between 1917 – the year of the October Revolution – and 1932 when Josef Stalin began his violent suppression of the avant-garde. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 features the works of the likes of avant-garde artists Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich and social realists like Isaac Brodsky and Alexander Deineka. More than 200 works are on show including loans from the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Highlights include Chagall’s Promenade (1917-18), Kandinsky’s Blue Crest (1917) and Malevich’s Peasants (c. 1930). Alongside the paintings, the display features photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th April. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, ‘Bolshevik’ (1920) © State Tretyakov Gallery.
• More than 100 robots are on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of robotic history. Robots, which explores how robots have been shaped by religious belief, the industrial revolution, 20th century popular culture and dreams of the future, features everything from a 16th century mechanical monk to a 2.4 metre tall robot named Cygan dating from the 1950s, and one of the first walking bipedal robots. Visitors will be able to interact with 12 working robots and go behind the scenes to see recent developments in robotic research as well as speculate on what robots of the future might be like. Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/robots.
• A major exhibition celebrating the work of early 20th century UK modern artist Vanessa Bell – a central figure in the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’ – has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south this week. About 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material are featured in the exhibition with the works arranged thematically so as to reveal Bell’s “fluid movement” between the fine and applied arts and focusing particular attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation from 1910 onwards. Vanessa Bell, which runs until 4th June, is presented alongside a photography display which brings together Bell’s photographic work with that of American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith. Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith features 17 photographs by Smith – who has long found inspiration in the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group – and a selection of Bell’s photo albums. Both can be seen until 4th June. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
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This Week in London – London and the slave trade; a rare VC; and, Sir Elton John’s photo collection…
November 24, 2016
• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.
• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.
• Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.
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September 12, 2016
The race, which had started in China, was part of a tradition for ships carrying cargoes of tea from the east to engage in a race to be the first to dock in London – and quite a lucrative one, for it was common for the first ship to arrive to receive a premium of at least 10 per cent (although 1866 was apparently the last time this was offered).
At least 57 ships apparently sailed in the 1866-67 ‘tea season’, departing for Britain from a range of ports including Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. But it was the fastest which gathered the most attention – these chosen clippers set sail for Britain from the Min River, downriver from Foochow (now Fuzhou), in late May, 1866.
As well as the Taeping, launched in 1863 and captained by Donald MacKinnon, and the Ariel, launched only the previous year and captained by John Keay, other favourites in the 1866 race included Fiery Cross, Serica and Taitsing.
The race was followed breathlessly in the London press although details were limited – largely due to the time it took for the news to reach London – as the ships set a course which took them through Indonesia via the Sunda Strait and around the southern tip of Africa and up via the Atlantic to the UK.
The Taeping, the race winner, reached London Docks at 9.47pm on 6th September while Ariel arrived at the East India Dock at 10.15pm. The Serica, meanwhile, reached West India Docks at 11.30pm. (It wasn’t to be too unfortunate for the runner-up – Captains McKinnon and Keay had apparently agreed to split the premium of 10 shillings a ton).
Amazingly, this means the three ships – which had all left China on the same tide – had sailed more than 14,000 miles in a race of 99 days yet had managed to dock with just two hours between them.
September 10, 2016
September is the month of ‘Totally Thames’, London’s celebration of its mighty river, so we thought it only fitting that we look at one of the city’s riverside treasures.
Located to the east of the City at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames can be found London’s only lighthouse (pictured left). No longer operational, it was built between 1864-66 for what became known as the Corporation of Trinity House, an association of shipmen and mariners.
Granted its charter by King Henry VIII in 1514, in 1573 it was given the authority to erect and maintain beacons, mark and signs to help sea navigation. It’s since been the provider of buoys, lighthouses and lightships and, while headquartered at Trinity House in the City of London, established Trinity Bouy Wharf, located at the confluence of the Bow and Thames Rivers, as its Thames-side workshop in 1803.
The wharf was originally used to make and store wooden buoys and sea marks and as a mooring site for the Trinity House yacht which laid and collected buoys.
The lighthouse is the second on the site – the first was built in 1854 by the then chief engineer of Trinity House James Walker. The second, existing, lighthouse was built James Douglass – Walker’s successor – and as an “experimental lighthouse” was used for testing equipment and training lighthouse keepers.
The wharf, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the site is now leased to Urban Space Management who have developed it as a centre for art and cultural activities. The area around the wharf also now features two prototype “cities” made out of shipping containers.
September 8, 2016
• It’s September and that means Totally Thames, an annual month of events celebrating London’s great watery artery. Highlights among this year’s 150 events include this Saturday’s Great River Race in which more than 300 boats from across the UK and around the world compete on a course running from Millwall Slipway to Ham House in Richmond, Life Afloat, an exhibition looking at the evolution of the houseboat living on the Thames across the last 100 years, and the 8th annual Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks this weekend as well as walks, talks, performances, art installations and boat trips including a tour of Brunel’s London. Runs until the end of the month. For more information and the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org. PICTURE: Totally Thames/Barry Lewis.
• The changes that swept across society in the late 1960s are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A this weekend. You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70 is divided into six distinct sections, and starts with a recreation of Carnaby Street as it was before moving on to subjects like clubs and counterculture, revolution on the street, revolution in consumerism, festivals and alternative communities. Among the objects on display are costumes designed for Mick Jagger, a Cecil Beaton portrait of Twiggy, Roger Corman’s 1967 film about LSD, The Trip, a wall of protest posters, film, sound and still footage from the 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos, a kaftan worn by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, and a rare Apple 1 computer. Runs from 10th September to 26th February at the South Kensington institution. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/revolution.
• A new exhibition showcasing the British Museum’s holdings of French portrait drawings opens at the Bloomsbury establishment today. French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet offers the chance to see some well-known French portrait drawings alongside others that have never been exhibited before. Pictures on show include Francois Clouet’s portrait of Catherine de’Medici, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s chalk drawing of his infant daughter, and a ‘playful’ portrait of artist Artemisia Gentileschi by Pierre Dumonstier. The free display can be seen in Room 90 until 29th January.
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As mentioned last week, there are a number of official English Heritage blue plaques in London which commemorate events rather than people.
Alongside the blue plaque commemorating the first V1 flying bomb to hit London (the subject of last week’s entry) is a blue plaque commemorating the site where one of world’s most famous ships – the SS Great Eastern – was built.
The plaque is located at Burrells Wharf, 262 Westferry Road, on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands, and it was there that the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who had previously designed the SS Great Western and the SS Great Britain, was realised under the direction of naval architect and ship builder John Scott Russell, of J Scott Russell & Co.
The ship, which had a double hull and immense paddle wheels, took some five years to build at a site in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs (if you’re interested in the etymology of the latter, see our earlier post here).
It was supposed to be launched before a crowd of thousands on 3rd November, 1857, (the Great Eastern Ship Company had sold tickets). But the launch was unsuccessful as the equipment supposed to haul the ship to the water failed (and it was during this unsuccessful attempt that the ship was apparently initially christened SS Leviathan; her name was changed to the SS Great Eastern soon after).
A couple of further unsuccessful attempts were made before, on 31st January, 1858, the 211 metre long ship – aided by an unusually high tide – was finally sent into the Thames (unusually, it was launched sideways).
The outfitting of the ship, which started in January, 1859, took six months and on 6th September, the ship made its maiden voyage from London to Weymouth, a voyage which was marred by the tragic death of a number of stokers in a boiler explosion. Sadly, Brunel himself died soon after the maiden voyage, not in the sort of triumphant circumstances he might have hoped for.
While it was originally designed to sail to India and the Far East, it was in the Atlantic where the ship took up the passenger trade. Her first voyage to North America took place in June the following year and the SS Great Eastern continued to cross the Atlantic over the next few years (including during the American Civil War when she took British troops to Canada) but, blighted by back luck (including, in 1862, running into an uncharted rock in New York harbour) and facing the competition of faster, smaller ships, she was never really a commercial success.
Sold off, the SS Great Eastern was reinvented in the mid 1860s as a cable-laying ship and did so in various parts of the world until, after being laid-up in 1874, sailing to Liverpool where she became something of a tourist attraction and a floating billboard before eventually being scrapped in 1889.
There was legend that two skeletons were found between the two hulls when the ship was broken up – that of a riveter and his ‘bash boy’ (a young lad charged with heating and putting the rivets in the hole) – and it was believed by some that it was their deaths which had brought the ship such bad luck.
The plaque was erected in 1992.
PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia
March 15, 2016
September 29, 2015
London photographer Ian Wylie captures the “supermoon” rising over Canary Wharf in London’s east on Sunday, ahead of the lunar eclipse in the early hours of Monday. As seen from London Bridge at 6:54pm – 20 minutes after moonrise and six minutes after sunset. A supermoon occurs when the moon reaches the closest part of its orbit to Earth and hence appears larger than normal. This week’s supermoon coincided with a lunar eclipse – in which the moon passes behind the Earth through its shadow (also known as an umbra) – which later made the moon appear red (a lunar eclipse is also known as a “blood moon”). Last seen in 1982, the phenomena will apparently not be visible again until 2033. PICTURE: © Ian Wylie/Flickr
This Week in London – Data visualisation at the BL; Kenneth Williams honoured; and, celebrating ‘frost fairs’…
February 27, 2014
• An examination of the historical use of visual data has opened at the British Library. Beautiful Science, which is running in The Folio Society Gallery, features the work of scientists and statisticians down the ages and focuses on the key themes of public health, weather and evolution. Among items on display are Robert Fludd’s Great Chain of Being (1617), Florence Nightingale’s seminal ‘rose diagram’ (1858) which illustrated that more Crimean War deaths were being caused by poor hospital conditions that battlefield wounds, and a contemporary moving infographic from NASA showing ocean currents (pictured). A programme of events is running with the exhibition which closes on 26th May. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk/beautiful-science. PICTURE: NASA’s Perpetual Ocean © NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
• Comic Kenneth Williams (1926-1988) has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the London apartment he lived in during the hey day of the ‘Carry On’ series of films during the 1960s. Williams lived in flat 62 on the top floor of Farley Court, located between Madame Tussauds and Baker Street station, between 1963 and 1970 during which he starred in such films as Carry on Cleo and Carry on up the Khyber and also appeared in radio comedy programmes such as Round the Horne and Just a Minute. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• Two exhibitions celebrating London’s Frost Fairs are underway at the Museum of London and its Docklands sister. Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814 at the Museum of London in the City and Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1684 at the Museum of London Docklands both feature objects, paintings, keepsakes, engravings and etchings from the museum’s collection. Highlights at the Museum of London exhibition include the only surviving piece of gingerbread from the 1814 fair, the last fair of its kind, as well as etchings by satirical artist George Cruikshank and a print by George Thompson while among the items on display at the Docklands museum are two paintings by a Dutch artist Abraham Hondius (c. 1625-91). Both exhibitions are free and both run until 30th March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
Around London – Museums at night; Propaganda at the BL; MoL Docklands celebrates 10 years; and, Steadman at the Cartoon Museum…
May 16, 2013
• Expect people to be out and about around London at all hours this weekend with the kick-off tonight of Museums At Night, Culture24’s annual festival of after hours visits. This year’s packed program features everything from ‘Arts on Ice’ – a look at the Victorian ice trade – at the London Canal Museum to art nights at the Government Art Collection building, nocturnal tours of Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, and, for the first time, the chance for adults to sleep over at Hampton Court Palace and kids at Kensington Palace. Other London organisations taking part include the Handel House Museum, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, the National Gallery and Somerset House (and that’s just a few off the list!). For more information on the night – including a full program of events – check out the Culture24 Museums at Night website.
• Government spin comes under the spotlight in a major new exhibition which opens tomorrow at the British Library in King’s Cross. Propaganda: Power and Persuasion examines how state have used propaganda in the 20th and 21st centuries and features more than 200 exhibits including Nazi propaganda and everyday objects such as banknotes and badges. Admission charge applies. There’s a series of events running to coincide with the exhibition which runs until 17th September. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/propaganda/index.html.
• It’s 10 years since the Museum of London Docklands opened in a converted Georgian warehouse on West India Quay and to celebrate they’re holding an exhibition celebrating the Thames estuary. Titled (appropriately enough), Estuary, the exhibition features the work of 12 artists in a variety of mediums – from film and photography to painting. Entry is free. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, runs until 27 October. The museum is also holding a special day of family activities to celebrate its creation this Saturday. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.
• On Now: STEADman@77. This exhibition at The Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury looks at the work of graphic artist Ralph Steadman (who is celebrating his 77th birthday) and features more than 100 original works published in magazines ranging from Private Eye to Rolling Stone, Punch and the New Statesmen as well as his illustrated books (these include Sigmund Freud, Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking-Glass, I, Leonardo, The Bid I Am, and Animal Farm). Runs until 8th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
March 25, 2013
No, Canary Wharf is not so named because it was the centre of London’s lucrative trade in canaries.
The wharf, part of the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs, was built in 1936 by Fruit Lines Limited and a warehouse the following year.
The area where the wharf was once located was redeveloped under a massive regeneration project starting in the late 1980s and is now one of London’s key financial districts, filled with modern, multi-storey office towers and home to the second-tallest tower in the UK, One Canada Square (seen above with the pyramid-shaped roof).
February 22, 2013
Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
A bit of a harder one this week (so we thought we’d leave a bit longer before giving you the answer!). This is a sculptural figure – aptly named Figurehead for Docklands – which stands at the north-east corner of Poplar Dock in East London. Designed in 1997 by Anna Bisset, it’s made of cast iron and welded steel and was inspired by the idea of ship’s figureheads. Initially put on show at Tidal Basin, Royal Victoria Dock, over the summer of 1995 as part of an outdoor exhibition organised by the University of East London and the London Docklands Development Corporation, it was subsequently purchased by the LLDC and put on permanent display in its current location. For more of Anna Bisset’s work, visit www.annabisset.co.uk.
We’ll post our next Where is it? over the weekend…
January 21, 2013
This Docklands pub – the site of which has hosted a public house for more than 250 years – is located in an area where iron foundries were once employed to produce cannons for the Royal Navy’s many ships of the line.
But according to the pub’s website (and a plaque outside the building), the name comes from something much more specific – the cannon which was fired at celebrations surrounding the opening of the West India Import Docks in 1802.
And that’s not only historical link this Grade II-listed pub (seen here from the Thames) has with the navy. Heroic naval figure Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who lived just up the road and was a frequent visitor to the docks, was apparently a regular at the pub where he was secretly meet with his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton (the room they met in is now called The River Room).
There’s also a history of smugglers operating out of the pub and a still present spyhole is said to have been used to watch for revenue officers.
In 2001 much of the interior of the pub was destroyed in a fire. It remained closed for three years before brothers Tom and Ed Martin bought the building and undertook a painstaking restoration in consultation with English Heritage, reopening the building’s doors in 2004.
As well as its historical associations, The Gun now boasts a couple of bars and dining rooms and riverside terrace. During summer, the pub also opens a second terrace area under a Portuguese barbeque theme – A Grelha at the Gun.
For more on The Gun (located at 27 Coldharbour in the Docklands), see www.thegundocklands.com.
Around London – Christmas at the Tower and Kew Gardens; Old Flo on display; African Diaspora on show at MoL Docklands; and, Mariko Mori at the Royal Academy…
December 20, 2012
• The Tower of London is going Victorian this Christmas with visitors able to experience some of what the Yuletide celebrations in the foreboding, much storied buildings were like in the mid-to-late 1800s. Visitors will be shown how many of the Christmas customs we now participate in each year – like writing cards, pulling crackers and the setting up of family Christmas trees – owe their origins to the Victorian era. The Yeoman Warders will be receiving a Victorian makeover and writer of the age – Charles Dickens – will be reciting some of his works before joining in a “raucous” lunch party with some of his fellow writers, artists and benefactors. It’s even rumoured that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves may make an appearance (take that as a given). Bah! Humbug! A Very Merry Victorian Christmas runs from 27th until 31st December. The festivities will all be included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Nick Wilkinson/NewsTeam.
• Kew Gardens are celebrating Christmas with a host of events including a “Twelve trees of Christmas” family trail. The trail, a map of which can be picked up as you enter, includes facts about trees along the route. Volunteer guides are also leading free tours of seasonal highlights and the Kew Christmas tree can be seen at Victoria Gate. Other festive treats at Kew include the chance to see Father Christmas in his grotto (until Sunday only) and a vintage carousel on the Kew Palace Lawn. Many of the Christmas-related events end on 6th January. See www.kew.org for more.
• A display focusing on the history of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Draped Seated Woman (better known as Old Flo), has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Henry Moore and the East End provides a glimpse into 1950s East London and looks at why public art was considered important at the time. It features some of the maquettes (scale models) Moore used in creating the piece. The exhibition was opened following a decision by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to sell Old Flo (now at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park) rather than display the artwork in a public space. The move is being contested by the Museum of London Docklands who have offered to put the work on public display. An online exhibition can be seen at www.museumoflondon.org.uk/oldflo and a ‘pop-up exhibition’ on Old Flo will be launched in January. The museum is also encouraging people to tweet their views about the selling of the sculpture under the hashtag #saveoldflo.
• On Now: Take Another Look. Still at the Museum of London Docklands, this exhibition focuses on the visual representation of people from the African Diaspora who were living and working in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. The display of 17 exhibits in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery features prints by artists including Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank as well as newspaper cuttings, mostly dating from 1780-1833, which show black Britons in perhaps what were unexpected roles – soldiers, musicians and sportsmen – during what was the period in which the abolition of slavery occurred. There are a series of events planned around the exhibition which runs until 4th August. Entry is free. For more see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.
• On Now: Mariko Mori: Rebirth. The first major museum exhibition of the New York-based Japanese artist Mariko Mori in London since 1998 has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. The exhibition features some of the artist’s most acclaimed works from the last 11 years, many of which have never before been seen in the UK, as well as works created just for the exhibition. Highlights include Tom Na H-iu, a five metre high glass monolith lit by hundreds of LED lights and connected back to the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo; Transcircle, described as a “modern day Stonehenge”; and, Flatstone, an installation of “22 ceramic stones assembled to recreate an ancient shrine”. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
October 23, 2012
Sailing high over the River Thames between North Greenwich in the river’s southern bank and the Royal Docks on the river’s northern bank is the cable car formally known as the Emirates Air Line. Opened in late June and running every day, the cable car – the UK’s first in an urban area – is operated by Transport for London and links into the Underground and Docklands Light Rail network. Travelling at about 90 metres above the ground along a course of more than half a mile, passengers can take in the City, Docklands, Greenwich and as far eastward down the river as the Thames Barrier. This image, which shows the 02 Arena in the background, was taken just after the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games in August. For more, see www.emiratesairline.co.uk. PICTURE: © Transport for London
October 17, 2012
Now the UK’s largest inland fish market (and located in Poplar, east London), the history of Billingsgate Market goes back centuries.
Known originally by various spellings including Blynesgate and Byllynsgate, Billingsgate may have been named for watergate on the north bank of the Thames near where the market was originally established (an alternate theory is that it was named for a man named Biling or an mythological British king, Belin).
The right to collect tolls and customs at Billingsgate, along with Cheap and Smithfield, was granted by King Henry IV in 1400.
Billingsgate only became particularly associated with fish in the 1500s and in 1699, an Act of Parliament was passed making it “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever” (this was with the exception of eels, restricted to being sold by Dutchmen from boats in the river – a reward for the help they provided after the Great Fire of 1666).
While for much of the market’s history, fish was sold for stalls and sheds around the ‘hythe’ or dock at the site known as Billingsgate, in 1850 the first purpose-built market building was constructed in Lower Thames Street.
Deemed inadequate for the task at hand, however, it was demolished after slightly more than 20 years of service. A new building, designed by then City Architect Sir Horace Jones and constructed by John Mowlem, was opened in on the same site in 1876. In the late 19th century, it is said to have been the largest fish market in the world. The heritage listed former fish market building in Lower Thames Street (pictured above) is now used as a venue for corporate events, catwalk shows, post premiere parties and concerts (see the website for more www.oldbillingsgate.co.uk).
In 1982, the market was relocated to a 13 acre site on the Isle of Dogs, just to the north-east of Canary Wharf. The building contains a trading floor with some 98 stands and 30 shops as well as an 800 tonne freezer store. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants every year and the market has an annual turnover of around £200 million.
The role of the fish porter – who traditionally have been the only people licensed to move fish around the market – was opened up to anyone following a fiercely fought battle between the porters, traders and the City of London Corporation earlier this year.
The market is open to the general public and tours can be arranged – head to the website for details.
WHERE: Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, Poplar (nearest Tube Station is Canary Wharf); WHEN: 4am to 9.30am Tuesday to Saturday (children under 12 are not permitted on the market floor and non-slip shoes are advisable); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/business/wholesale-food-markets/billingsgate/Pages/default.aspx.
October 16, 2012
Now one of the world’s largest long distance running events, the first London Marathon was held on 29th March, 1981, and saw some 6,255 people lead across the finish line by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who finished in a dead heat. The first woman to finish was the UK’s Joyce Smith.
The idea of holding such an event in London arose after John Disley and the late Chris Brasher (a former Olympian), both members of Richmond’s Raneleigh Harriers running club, decided to enter the New York Marathon in 1979. Returning to London exhilarated by their experience, they began investigating the possibly of holding such an event here and, meeting with a positive response from authorities, pushed ahead with it.
About 20,000 people applied to enter the first London Marathon but only 7,747 people were accepted to run. The course, which is still roughly the same, starts at various locations in Blackheath and passes through Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich before crossing the Thames at Tower Bridge, looping around through the East End and Docklands before following the river into Westminster.
While the first race finished at Constitution Hill, between Green Park and Buckingham Palace, the race now finishes in The Mall (although for many years in between it finished on Westminster Bridge).
Such was the success of the first event – which was covered by the BBC – that the following year more than 90,000 people applied to run in the race from all around the world. Slightly more than 18,000 were accepted to run.
At the end of this year’s event – held on 22nd April (a runner from which is pictured) – more than 882,000 people have now completed the race. Now formally known as the Virgin London Marathon, a record high of 37,227 completed the run this year.
This year’s men’s race was won by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang who completed the race in 2:04:44 – the second fastest time over the London course – while the women’s was also won by a Kenyan – Mary Keitany – who, in taking back-to-back titles, completed the course in 2:18:37.
Since its inception, one of the key aspects of the race has been its fund-raising for a variety of charitable causes. Key among these is The London Marathon Charitable Trust which, established at the race’s outset, helps fund community sports facilities and develop recreational projects around the city.
For more on the Virgin London Marathon, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.
PICTURE: © photocritical/istockphoto.com
May 11, 2012
The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to all those who guessed this was at or near Canary Wharf (although, as with our previous Where is it? on Little Ben, there is a slight trick to this one, because it’s no longer there). This is indeed Pierre Vivant’s sculpture, Traffic Light Tree, which was formerly located on the Heron Quay roundabout at the junction of Heron Quays, Marsh Wall and Westferry Road just outside the Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs. The eight metre tall structure contains 75 lights and was installed in 1998 in place of a London plane tree which was apparently ill from pollution. In 2005, the roundabout was voted the best-looking in the UK in a poll by Saga Motor Insurance. That, however, didn’t save the structure from being removed late last year due to the remodelling of the roundabout. Tower Hamlets Council, who own the sculpture, called for suggestions for new locations following its removal and reportedly received about 200 replies. As far as Exploring London is aware, it currently remains in storage and no new site has yet been revealed (although the council has reportedly said it will remain somewhere on the Isle of Dogs). We’re checking with Tower Hamlets for further information…
Around London: A new pleasure garden for London; music hall star Dame Gracie Fields honored; mystery portraits at the NPG; and, celebrating the Olympics (from a Peruvian perspective)…
December 15, 2011
• A new pleasure garden will be built in the city’s east as part of celebrations for next year’s Diamond Jubilee. London Pleasure Gardens, announced back in March, will be built upon a 60,000 square metre site at Pontoon Dock, opposite the ExCeL Exhibition Centre, and consist of an “ever-evolving creative playground for both resident Londoners and tourists alike”. The gardens, which will feature landscaped walkways, a floating cinema, an ‘adult’s playground’ and a range of facilities such as a ‘glass cafe’ – are expected to be open for the Queen’s Jubilee Weekend on 1st June. It’s expected that more than 40,000 people a day will pass through the site during the Olympics. London has had a long association with the concept of pleasure gardens – places where people gathered to listen to music, see art, eat and drink and talk, the most famous of which was the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. But the Royal Docks also had its own pleasure gardens in the past – these existed between 1851 and 1884 and were named the Royal Victoria Gardens. For more, see www.londonpleasuregardens.com.
• Music hall star Dame Gracie Fields has been honored by English Heritage with a blue plaque on the Islington house where she lived for three years in the 1920s. It was while living at 72a Upper Street with her parents and first husband Archie Pitt, that she consolidated her reputation as one of Britain’s most popular performers and it was also during this time that she recorded for the first time (she was to become a regular on the BBC and by 1933 had cut a massive four million discs) and appeared before King George V and Queen Mary at a Royal Variety Performance. Following her success, Fields and Pitt built a mansion in The Bishop’s Avenue, Hampstead, called ‘The Tower’ in honor of the show which had made her a star – Mr Tower of London. She later separated from Pitt and married an Italian born director Monty Banks. They moved to the US in 1940 amid fears her husband would be interned and, after the war, she settled on the Italian island of Capri where, following Banks’ death in 1950, she married again. She made her final appearance on the London stage in 1978 – closing a Royal Variety Performance – and died back in Capri the following year.
• And, briefly…..A new species of dinosaur – Spinops sternbergorum – has reportedly been discovered at the Natural History Museum, identified from bones previously gathering dust on a shelf at the museum.
• On Now: Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery centres on a group of 14 portraits from the 16th and 17th centuries which depict unknown people. Originally thought to represent famous figures like Queen Elizabeth I, the identity of the sitters is now considered unknown. In response to the pictures, eight internationally renowned authors – from Alexander McCall Smith and Joanna Trollope to Julian Fellowes and Terry Pratchett – have written imaginative short stories about the portraits, bringing them to life. The exhibition was originally shown in Somerset but is now running at the NPG until 22nd July. Admission is free. For more information, see www.npg.org.uk.
• On Now: London and the Olympics. The Museum of London is hosting a new display which looks at the 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games held in London but, in twist, looks at not only the experiences of Londoners but those of the 41 man team Peru sent to the 1948 games. Pictures included in the display come from an album made by one of the athletes, Enrique Mendizabal Raig, recording the team’s visit (you can find the images on Flickr here). Entry is free. Runs until September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.