An autonomous flying car is among exhibits at a new exhibition focusing on the automobile at the V&A on Saturday. The flying car is one of 15 vehicles in Cars: Accelerating the Modern World which also features the first production car in existence – a 1925 Ford Model-T, a converted low-rider and a Firebird I concept car from 1953 (pictured). There’s also 250 associated objects to see – everything from a 1920s cloche hat designed for car travel to a series of hood ornaments produced by René Jules Lalique in the 1920s and a Michelin travel guide from 1900 –  in an examination of how the car changed our relationship to speed, the way we make and sell, and the landscape around us. Runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: General Motors Firebird I (XP-21) © General Motors Company, LLC

The 150th anniversary of the launch of tea clipper, Cutty Sark, is being celebrated in Greenwich this weekend. Along with family friendly events including face painting, storytelling and craft, there will be an after dark anniversary classical concert and bespoke birthday cupcakes in the cafe. Admission charge applies (except for the 150th visitor who will go free as well as residents of Greenwich and Dumbarton, where the ship was built in 1869 – provided they have ID). For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark

Artists, designers and architects from across the globe come together in a new exhibition at the Royal Academy addressing humanity’s ecological impact on the planet. Eco-Visionaries features works by 21 international practitioners in a range of media including film, sculpture, immersive installation, architectural models and full-scale prototypes. Highlights include the UK debut of the Rimini Protokol’s win > < win (2017) featuring a tank of live jellyfish, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s The Substitute (2019) in which visitors come face-to-face with a life-size digital reproduction of the now extinct northern white rhinoceros, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s The ice melting series (2002), and New York-based architecture studio WORKac’s 3.C.City: Climate, Convention, Cruise (2015). Admission charge applies. Runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Greenwich with the masts of the Cutty Sark in the background. PICTURE: Robert Likovski/Unsplash

It was 135 years ago this month that the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, DC, declared the Greenwich meridian to be the prime meridian of the world.

The conference had been held at the request US President Chester A Arthur with the aim of finding a “common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world”.

Pressure to designate such a prime meridian had been building thanks to the need for navigation purposes as well as the need to create uniform train timetables.

Twenty-six nations were represented at the 1884 conference including Great Britain and the US as well as France, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire.

The resolution, fixing Greenwich as the Prime Meridian, was passed on 22nd October. The delegations voted 22 in favour to one against. San Domingo, now called the Dominican Republic, voted against while France and Brazil abstained.

As a result of the decision, the International Date Line was drawn up and the world’s 24 time zones were created.

North America and most European nations had aligned their clocks with Greenwich with 10 years.

The official mean time clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is known as the Shepherd Gate Clock.

PICTURE: The Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Observatory (Alvesgaspar/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Greenwich statue, which stands on King William Walk to the left of the entrance to the Pepys Building – once part of the Royal Naval College, depicts the Elizabethan adventurer and court favourite (well, at times) in a suitably heroic pose. The life-sized bronze of Raleigh (1552-1618), which stands on a stone plinth, was designed by William McMillan. It was originally unveiled by then-US Ambassador John Hay Whitney in 1959 on Raleigh Green outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall to mark the 350th anniversary of the foundation of the Commonwealth of Virginia (it was apparently originally suggested it be placed in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square but that didn’t eventuate). Grade II-listed, it stood in Whitehall until 2001 until, deemed as out of scale with other statues, was moved to its current location. PICTURE: Loco Steve (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunar samples collected during the Apollo 11 mission and objects that travelled to the Moon with the astronauts including Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s “Snoopy Cap” and the famous Hasselblad camera equipment are among items on display as part of a new major exhibition which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Friday. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Moon landing, The Moon explores Earth’s relationship with the Moon over time and across civilisations. Other items among the more than 180 objects from public and private collections on show include a rare lunar meteorite from the Natural History Museum’s collection (pictured), a Mesopotamian tablet from 172 BC and a series of contemporary and historical artworks including paintings by JMW Turner and John Constable. There’s also a new version of Christian Stangl’s film Lunar in which animated photographs from Apollo missions allow visitors to experience the Moon landings through the eyes of the astronauts. The Moon can be visited until 5th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/moon50. PICTURE: Lunar meteorite Found in the Sahara Desert, North West Africa, 2017 © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

London’s inaugural and free week long National Park City Festival kicks off on Saturday to celebrate the city’s green spaces, wildlife and waterways. Opening the festival – which is an initiative of the Mayor of London and National Park City Foundation as well as other partners – this weekend is a free cultural programme, run in partnership with the National Theatre, on its outdoor river stage on South Bank which features dance, theatre and music. Other highlights among the more than 300 events being held during the nine day event include the ‘National Park City Rooftops’ initiative – which sees people given free access to some of the city’s most beautiful garden rooftops and natural spaces including Crossrail Place in Canary Wharf, Barbican Conservatory and Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, the ‘National Park City Forest’ initiative which sees a unique audio installation, Living Symphonies, installed in Epping Forest, the ‘National Park City Wildlife’ – a photography competition and exhibition held in partnership with the London Wildlife Trust, and the multi-site ‘National Park City Splash’ initiative in which everybody can try their hand at activities like paddle boarding and open water swimming. The week runs to 28th July. For the complete programme of events, head to https://nationalparkcity.london.gov.uk.

The work of Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946) is being celebrated at the Royal Academy of Arts. Opening on Saturday, the first solo UK exhibition of Schjerfbeck’s works features some 65 portraits, landscapes and still lifes, and follows the development of the artist’s work from a naturalistic style, inspired by French Salon painters in the early 1880s, to what the RA describes as “a radically abstracted and modern approach from the turn of the 20th century onwards”. The exhibition is being shown in five sections with highlights including Two Profiles (1881) – the earliest work on display, The Convalescent (1888), My Mother (two paintings – one from 1902 and another from 1909), a series of self-portraits and later works like Måns Schjerfbeck (The Motorist) (1933) and Three Pears on a Plate (1945). Runs until 27th October in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Originally installed over a staircase in the Baltic Exchange in 1922, this World War I memorial commemorates exchange members who were killed during the conflict.

Designed by John Dudley Forsyth, the memorial takes the form of a three metre high half dome depicting the winged Victory stepping from a boat into a Roman temple where she is greeted by various Roman figures. Shields and badges of colonies and dependencies of the British Empire are incorporated into the image with the Royal Coat of Arms at the centre.

Below the half dome are five two metre high ‘Virtue Windows’ with representations of the virtues – truth, hope, justice, fortitude and faith. Two panels on the sides list key battles from World War I.

The windows were originally accompanied by marble panels listing all those who had died.

The memorial was unveiled by General Sir Herbert Alexander Lawrence on 1st June 1922, and dedicated by the Bishop of Willesden, William Perrin.

It survived World War II’s Blitz intact but in 1992 was badly damaged when an IRA bomb significantly damaged the building. Of the 240 panels in the memorial, only 45 were completely intact.

The Baltic Exchange was subsequently demolished (St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin, now stands on the site). The damaged memorial, meanwhile, was taken from the building and restored. It’s been displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich since 2005.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich (nearest station is Cutty Sark DLR); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

PICTURE: Top – The half dome of the memorial (image_less_ordinary (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)); Right –  One of the Virtue Windows (john.purvis (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

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.

PICTURE: Bust of Inigo Jones by John Michael Rysbrack, (1725) (image by Stephencdickson/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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Saved for the nation following a public appeal by the Art Fund and Royal Museums Greenwich in 2016 and subsequently having undergone an extensive conservation and restoration process, the ‘Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I’ now hangs in the 400-year-old Inigo Jones-designed Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The life-sized portrait, which is unusually presented in a landscape format, commemorates the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588. It was painted in about 1590 by an unknown artist when the queen was aged in her mid-50s and may have been commissioned by Sir Francis Drake, second-in-command of the English fleet assembled to defend England from the Spanish.

Up until its £10.3 million acquisition (which was funded by various donations including a £1 million donation from the Art Fund, £400,000 from the Royal Museums of Greenwich, some 8,000 individual donations from members of the public totalling £1.5 million, and a Heritage Lottery Find grant of £7.4 million), it had been owned by Drake’s descendants – now known as the Tyrwhitt-Drakes – who have had possession since at least 1775. It spent much of its life hanging at Shardeloes, a Buckinghamshire country house built for William Drake in the late 18th century.

Designed to inspire a sense of awe in its viewers, the portrait contains numerous references which would have conveyed specific meanings to the Tudor mind. The Queen’s upright posture, open arms and clear gaze, for example, convey vitality and strength while her pearls are symbols or chastity and the Moon. The gold suns embroidered on her skirt and sleeves are said to symbolise power and enlightenment and the queen rests her hands on a globe with her fingers seeming tapping on the new world with the imperial crown sitting overhead in fairly obvious statement of her ambitions overseas.

Two maritime scenes in the background, both of which are actually early 18th century reworking over late 16th century originals, depict firstly the English fleet preparing to engage the Spanish Armada in the English Channel and, secondly, Spanish ships being wrecked on the Irish coast during their passage home.

One of the best known images from English history, the portrait has inspired countless portrayals of Elizabeth on stage and screen, including Cate Blanchett’s in two ‘Elizabeth’ films.

The Queen’s House, where the painting is being displayed, is built on the site of what was once Greenwich Palace, birthplace of Queen Elizabeth I.

WHERE: Queen’s House, Romney Road, Greenwich (nearest overground station is Greenwich/DLR is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/queens-house.

PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London

Looking across the O2 Arena towards the Docklands. PICTURE: Claus Grünstäudl/Unsplash

The Ranger’s House in Greenwich – home to a world class art collection known as the Wernher Collection – reopened to the public this week after a makeover by English Heritage. The property – a Georgian villa located on the edge of Greenwich Park – displays the collection – which includes more than 700 works gathered by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in the late 1800s – across 11 period rooms. Highlights include a gold earring in the shape of Victory (the Greek goddess of war) which dates from 2BC, a carved pendant in the shape of a skull from around 1500, a silver gilt, steel and nautilus shell cup dating from 1660 (pictured) and an enamelled jug depicting the Greek god Triton. The collection was originally displayed at Wernher’s London townhouse – Bath House in Piccadilly – and at his country estate, Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, but after Luton Hoo closed in the 1990s, English Heritage agreed to display the collection at the Ranger’s House (which it had acquired in 1986) on a 125 year loan. Photographs showing how Wernher displayed his collection in his own homes have informed how the objects are presented in the house today. The house is open from Sunday to Wednesday until the end of September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/rangershouse. PICTURE: © English Heritage

 The Great Pagoda at Kew has been reopened to visitors for the first time in years following a four year restoration project. Built in 1762, the pagoda was used by the Georgian Royal Family to entertain visitors and was for the first 20 years famously adorned with 80 brightly coloured wooden dragons (until, that is, they disappeared in the 1780s when they were rumoured to have been used as payment for the Prince Regent’s gambling debts). Thanks to a major restoration project by Historic Royal Palaces in conjunction with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, dragons have returned to the structure and for the first time in decades visitors are being allowed access to the upper floors from where they can gain a birds-eye view of the gardens. They will also be able to learn about the role the pagoda played in planning for the D-Day landings and try out the automata on the ground floor for a tour in miniature of Kew’s Georgian ‘royal route’. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

The art of Germany’s Weimar Republic goes on show at Tate Modern on South Bank from Monday. Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-1933 features about 70 paintings and works on paper drawn from The George Economou Collection – some of which have never seen in the UK before – and the Tate’s own collection. The display explores the “paradoxes” of the Weimar era, a time when liberalisation and anti-militarism flourished amid political and economic uncertainty (the title draws on the coining of the phrase ‘magic realism’ – today often associated with the literature of Latin America – by artist and critic Franz Roh in 1925 in an effort to describe the shift from the emotional art of the expressionist era, toward the unsettling imagery of this inter-war period). Works by artists like Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann will be presented alongside those of under recognised artists such as Albert Birkle, Jeanne Mammen and Rudolf Schlichter and others whose careers were curtailed thanks to the rise of Nationalist Socialism and its agenda to promote art that celebrated its political ideologies. Admission is free. Runs until 14th July, 2019. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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The Science Museum is marking the 40th anniversary of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) with a special exhibition opening today. IVF: 6 Million Babies Later tells the story of the development of IVF from the work of early pioneers like Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy through to the birth of Louise Brown on 25th July, 1978, and on to the latest research in reproductive science. Items on show include one of the ‘Oldham Notebooks’ in which the scientific data collected by Purdy and Edwards between 1969 and 1978 was recorded along with examples of the equipment they used such as the glass desiccator used by Edwards to incubate embryos. The display also includes press coverage and personal correspondence and gifts received by Louise’s parents from around the world. A special late night opening will take place on 25th July. Runs at the South Kensington museum until November. Admission is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/ivf.

The City of London Beerfest returns to Guildhall Yard today with musical performances and the chance to enjoy some of the UK’s finest ales, beers and ciders. Now in its sixth year, City Beerfest runs from 12.30pm to 9pm with proceeds going toward The Lord Mayor’s Appeal, which supports the Lord Mayor’s dedicated charities, and the City Music Foundation, which helps young musicians gain valuable entrepreneurial skills for successful careers. For more, see www.citybeerfest.org.

On Now: The Great British Seaside. This major exhibition of photography at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich features more than 100 photographs taken by some of Britain’s most popular photographers, including Tony Ray-Jones, David Hurn and Simon Roberts, as well as new works by Martin Parr. Runs until 30th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/Great-British-seaside.

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Another project to celebrate the new Millennium, the O2 – originally known as the Millennium Dome – is the largest domed structure in the world.

Occupying a prominent site at the northern tip of the Greenwich Peninsula (on the south bank of the River Thames), the building is 365 metres in diameter, 50 metres high at its highest point and features 12 100 metre high masts which hold up the Teflon-coated glass fibre dome using some 45 miles of steel cable.

It was designed by Sir Richard Rogers and his firm with construction commencing in 1997 after the project, conceived by the Conservative Government, was endorsed (and expanded) by the new Blair Labour Government.

The Dome was officially opened on 31st December, 1999, at a ‘New Millennium Spectacular’ attended by, among others, members of the Royal Family and government.

Throughout the following year the venue hosted what was known as the ‘Millennium Experience’, a celebration of the beginning of the new millennium which attracted more than six million visitors (a big figure but apparently only half of what was projected initially).

A controversial project since its very inception due to its cost and speculation about its use after the year 2000, the facility was largely devoid of life for several years after the year 2000 (apart from a few major events) but the site, which was eventually sold to consortium Meridian Delta Ltd which turned to then consortium member the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to oversee the transformation of the facility into a sports and entertainment complex.

The building, rebranded O2 following a deal with the telco company of the same name, reopened in 2007 (the first band to play there in a public show was Bon Jovi and more than 600 bands had played there as of last year) and has since been used for a range of events including music concerts and sports, the latter including some of the indoor sports played at the 2012 Olympic Games including gymnastics and basketball.

As well as a more than 20,000 seat sports arena, the O2 now features music venues, a cinema, bars, restaurants and shops as well as an exhibition space. There’s also a 90 minute climb over the top of the Dome for the adventurous.

More than 60 million people visited the O2 since it opened in 2007.

WHERE: O2, Greenwich Peninsula (nearest Tube station is North Greenwich); WHEN: 9am to 1am daily; COST: Various; WEBSITE: www.theo2.co.uk

Recapping our recent Wednesday series. We kick off a new series next week…

10 subterranean sites in London – 1. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel…

10 subterranean sites in London – 2. The London Silver Vaults…

10 subterranean sites in London – 3. The Banqueting House undercroft…

10 subterranean sites in London – 4. St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 5. Whitefriars Priory crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 6. Guildhall crypts…

10 subterranean sites in London – 7. Alexander Pope’s Grotto…

10 subterranean sites in London – 8. Priory of St John of Jerusalem church crypt…

10 subterranean sites in London – 9. The Mail Rail…

10 subterranean sites in London – 10. Chislehurst Caves…

It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.

Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.

The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.

The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.

Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.

Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.

While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).

Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).

Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events are kicking off all over the city. Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

The world famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree will be lit next Thursday – 7th December – in an event that kicks off at 6pm. The 25 metre high tree is an annual gift from the people of Norway as a thank you for Britain’s support during World War II. Christmas carols will kick off in the square on 11th December while the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service will be held in Southwark Cathedral on 18th December. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.

Sounds Like Christmas at the V&A. A month long musical celebration across the museum’s South Kensington and Museum of Childhood sites, it features choirs, candlelit concerts, pop-up performances, film screenings, decoration-making workshops, and special installations of objects relating to the music of Christmas, as well as, at the grand entrance to the South Kensington site, ‘The Singing Tree’ (pictured). A project conceived by leading stage designer Es Devlin, the tree features digital word projections that create a poem and comes with a layered polyphonic soundscape of human and machine-generated voices. The season runs until 6th January. For the full programme, see www.vam.ac.uk/Christmas. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Greenwich Winter Time Festival. The inaugural festival, set in the grounds of the World Heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, kicks off in December and features an alternative to the traditional seasonal market as well as a covered ice rink, entertainment including live music, theatre and children’s shows, and an “authentic” Father Christmas experience. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Christmas at the Historic Royal Palaces. As well as its ice rink, Hampton Court Palace is hosting the BBC Good Food’s Festive Feast and a Christmas Music Weekend while at the Tower of London, visitors can once again skate in the dry moat, join in medieval Christmas festivities and enjoy a treat for their ears with the Noel Noel concert in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Kensington Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Christmas festivities under a Victorian theme with a 25 foot tall Christmas tree, a display of illuminated Victorian scenes, live music performances and family friendly events including ‘Under the Christmas Tree’, ‘Funtastic Sunday’, and ‘Tasty Talks’. Check website for dates – admission prices apply. See www.hrp.org.uk for more.

Meanwhile, the final release of New Year’s Eve tickets goes on sale tomorrow (Friday) from noon. People can buy up to four tickets, priced at £10 each to be among the 100,000 spectators lining the banks of the River Thames. Those without a ticket can still watch it live on BBC One. Head to www.london.gov.uk/nye for tickets.

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An institution linking the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich underneath the Thames for more than a century, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was built to provide an alternative to a sometimes unreliable ferry service – thanks to weather – and was principally aimed at workers making their way from their homes in London’s south to docks and shipyards.

It was one of two tunnel crossings – the other being at Woolwich – which were lobbied for by Will Crooks, chair of the LCC’s bridges committee and later MP for Woolwich.

Designed by engineer Sir Alexander Binnie for the London County Council, the project – which reportedly cost some £127,000 – commenced in June, 1899, with the tunnel completed and opened, with very little fanfare (there was apparently no opening ceremony) on 4th August, 1902.

The design features a glass-topped dome at either end with steps spiralling downward (reported as 87 steps to the north and 100 to the south). Lifts were installed in 1904 and then upgraded in the 1990s and more recently in 2012. The tunnel itself. which is positioned at a depth of about 50 feet, is made of cast-iron and lined with 200,000 glazed white tiles. It measures 1,215 feet long with an internal diameter of nine feet.

The northern end of the tunnel was damaged by bombs during World War II and repairs include  a thick steel and concrete lining that substantially reduce the interior size of the tunnel for a short distance.

The tunnel, which has its own friends group, is classed as a public highway and so as a matter of law is kept open 24 hours a day. Its depth means it remains a cool place even on a hot day.

WHERE: Greenwich Foot Tunnel (nearest DLR (northern end) is Island Gardens and (southern end) is Cutty Sark; WHEN: Always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/info/200102/walking/693/foot_tunnels.

PICTURES: Top – James Stringer under licence CC BY-NC 2.0; and below – Neil Turner under licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Only the remains of this once mighty tree can now be seen in Greenwich Park. Thought to have been planted in the 12th century, the tree died in the late 1800s but, thanks to the support of the ivy that clung to it, remained standing until it finally collapsed in June, 1991. 

The tree, located to the east of the Royal Observatory, has several links to the Tudors – tradition says King Henry VIII danced around it with Anne Boleyn while their daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, is said to have picnicked beneath its leafy canopy. The proximity of Greenwich Palace may explain the connection.

There was apparently in Victorian times, a large seat placed around the tree and there has been a suggestion that the hollow truck was big enough to make a small prison where people who misbehaved in the park were locked up.

Planted alongside is another English Oak – it was officially dug into the soil on 3rd December, 1992, by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark 40 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

WHERE: Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park (nearest DLR is Cutty Sark Station and Greenwich Station); WHEN: 6am to 7pm (6pm from end of British Summer Time) daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park

PICTURE: Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent/www.clemrutter.net/CC BY-SA 3.0