The annual Crufts dog show has been making headlines around the world recently (sadly not all for good reasons), so we thought it was a good chance to take a look back at where it all began.

While the event is this year being held in Birmingham, the first Cruft’s Show was actually held in London in the late 1800s.

Crufts-catalogueCharles Cruft – the show’s founder – had left college in 1876 and instead of joining the family’s jewellery business, had taken up employment in Holborn with James Spratt’s business selling ‘dog cakes’ (aka dog biscuits).

While he started off as an office boy, he was soon promoted to travelling salesman and he was soon travelling across Europe. So impressed were his customers that in 1878, just two years after leaving school, he was invited to organise the promotion of the canine section of the Paris Exhibition.

Eight years later in 1886, back in England, he took up the role of managing the Allied Terrier Club Show at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster.

The first show bearing the Crufts name – known then as ‘Cruft’s Great Dog Show’ – followed five years later in 1891 (although this was actually called Cruft’s Seventh Great Dog Show thanks to his involvement with the earlier shows).

Held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington (now a Grade II-listed building) on 11th, 12th and 13th February, the show boasted 2,437 entries spanning 36 different dog breeds.

Among the entries in 1891 were six Pomeranians owned by Queen Victoria – one of them, Gena, placed equal first (apparently the judges didn’t want to mark down the monarch’s dogs!)

It’s not the only landmark Crufts event held in London. In 1948, with Charles Cruft having died 10 years earlier his widow Emma handed over control of the show to the Kennel Club. The first show under the club’s auspices was held at Olympia with 84 different breeds entered (there are now around 200 entered annually). In 1979 the show moved to Earl’s Court before eventually, in 1991, moving to Birmingham.

For more on Crufts, see www.crufts.org.uk

Built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court, this 308 foot (94 metre) high wheel opened to the public on 17th July, 1895.

Measuring 270 foot (82 metres) in diameter, the wheel – which had 40 cars each apparently carrying up to 40 passengers – had a design based on that of the famous original Ferris wheel which had been built for the Chicago Exhibition of 1893.

Weighing 1,100 tons (including its eight column supports), it had taken a year to build with much of the work carried out at Maudslay, Son and Field in Greenwich before assembly on the site at the Earls Court Exhibition Ground (located on surplus railway lands).

The wheel, which took around 20 minutes to make a full rotation and was powered by two 50 horse power steam engines, remained in service for just more than a decade (there was at least one report of it getting stuck and stranding passengers for several hours).

Having carried more than 2.5 million passengers over its life, it closed in 1906 after last being used at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition. It was demolished just a year later.

• Two versions of Vincent van Gogh’s iconic Sunflowers have been reunited for the first time in 65 years in London at the National Gallery. The two paintings – one from the National Gallery and the other from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam – come from a five-painting series the artist created in 1888 while staying in Arles. They were apparently painted while he was waiting for his friend Paul Gaugain to arrive and were to decorate the bedroom Gaugain would stay in as gift to him. The free display in Room 46 of the Trafalgar Square Gallery and will be shown until 27th April. Meanwhile, the gallery is celebrating the donation of another van Gogh – Head of a Peasant Woman, the first early work by the artist to enter its collection. It is one of a series of around 40 portraits of the peasants of the village of Nuenen, in The Netherlands, which were painted in late 1884/early 1885. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

West Indian cricketer and politician Sir Learie Constantine’s former home in Earl’s Court has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. Constantine, who played a significant role in securing the independence of Trinidad and Tobago and as an advocate for black people, was the first person of African descent to sit in the House of Lords. He lived at the property at 101 Lexham Gardens between 1949-1954. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: The Anatomy of a Suit. This free display at the Museum of London looks at  the technicalities of making a suit and the city’s influence on menswear globally. Exhibits include a double-breasted pinstripe jacket from about 1965, a morning jacket from about 1927 and a black dress suit from about 1933 – all of which was sourced by curator Timothy Long from markets including Brick Lane, Broadway and Portobello Road. Runs until June. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

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

We took a break from our Wednesday special looking at 10 historic sporting events in London but today we resume with a look at the 1948 Olympics.

The first Games held in 12 years due to outbreak of World War II, the XIV Olympiad were known as the “Austerity Games” due to the post-war rationing and economic climate. Britain had been named as host of the 1944 Games in June 1939 but following its cancellation, it was suggested as a venue for the 1948 and in 1946 was duly awarded them over other cities including a Lausanne in Switzerland and a number of US cities such as Los Angeles.

In so doing, London became the second city to host the Games twice (Paris had already done so in 1900 and 1924). Interestingly, when it hosts this year’s Games, London will become the first city to do so.

Due to the economic climate, no new venues were constructed for the Games and the athletes were accommodated in existing properties – RAF camps and London colleges – rather than a purpose-built Olympic village. The key venue was the Wembley Empire Exhibition Grounds – the opening ceremony (King George VI officially opened the Games), closing ceremony, athletics and football and hockey finals were all held in Wembley Stadium (pictured above as it is today – we’ll be looking at the “home of British football” in more detail in a later post) while fencing was held in the Palace of Engineering and swimming, diving and water polo at the Empire Pool.

Other London venues included Empress Hall at Earls Court for boxing, weightlifting and gymnastics, the Harringay Arena in north London for basketball and wrestling, the Herne Hill Velodrome for cycling and numerous football and hockey grounds including Arsenal Stadium in Highbury.

More than 4,000 athletes including 390 women took part in 136 events (Japan, Germany and the USSR were not represented while other countries such as Burma, Syria and Venezuela, were among the record-making 59 nations for the first time).

Memorable moments at the Games, which ran from late July into August, included 17-year-old Bob Mathias’ win in the decathlon only four months after taking up the sport (he remains the youngest man to win a men’s athletics event) and that of Dutch woman Fanny Blankers-Koen, the ‘flying housewife’, who won four gold medals in running events.

The Games were also notable for being the first to be shown on household televisions (although few people would have watched the Games this way), for introducing starting blocks for sprinters and for the use of the first covered pool – the Empire Pool at Wembley.

In a sign of things to come, the US won the most medals (84) followed by Sweden (44), and France (29). Great Britain came 12th with 23.

For more, check out the official Olympic website – www.olympic.org/london-1948-summer-olympics.

For more on Olympics history, check out London Olympics, 1908 and 1948.

PICTURE:  Courtesy of Wembley Stadium

A residential district in inner west London, the origins of the name Earls Court apparently go back almost to the time of the Norman Conquest when the area was granted to the de Vere family as part of the Manor of Kensington. 

The de Veres, who held a court at the manor, were named the Earls of Oxford in 1141 and hence, according to Cyril M. Harris, author of What’s in a Name?: Origins of Station Names on the London Underground, came about the name Earl’s Court. The courthouse, which was demolished in the late 1800s, apparently stood on a site by Old Manor Lane now occupied by gardens.

Originally fertile farmland, Earl’s Court’s development took place in the mid to late 1800s after the arrival of the railway line (the station was built in 1869). The area officially became part of London in 1889 when the London County Council was formed and the city’s boundaries extended.

The area became famous for the Earls Court Exhibition Grounds – established by John Robinson Whitley in 1887 –  which featured rides and an arena which hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. A giant wheel was added 10 years later.

After the Second World War, the area attracted large numbers of Polish immigrants leading to Earl’s Court Road being named ‘The Danzig Corridor’. The arrival of large numbers of Australian and New Zealander travellers in the late Sixties saw it earning a new nickname – this time ‘Kangaroo Valley’. The area is now undergoing gentrifcation.

Notable buildings include the art deco Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, former home of the Royal Tournament and site of the volleyball competition during this year’s Olympic Games, while notable residents have included the Egyptian archaeologist Howard Carter, film director Alfred Hitchcock, and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.