This Week in London – Totally Thames turns 25; Muppeteer Jim Henson honoured; and, Beerfest-Lite…

One Night Light Show by Leo Villareall as part of Totally Thames. PICTURE: Totally Thames.

Totally Thames, the annual month-long celebration of London’s river, is celebrating its 25th iteration this month. Highlights this year include Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River which lights up the Thames every night (along with a special three-day celebration including guided tours, talks, sketching workshops and a one-off illumination event on 23rd September) as well as the chance to explore the foreshore with ‘Mudlarking’ at St Paul’s Cathedral, take a deep dive into the history of dockside communities with ‘The Islanders’ and see river-themed art from children across the globe
come together at the National Maritime Museum in Rivers of the World. More than 80 events are included in the programme which runs until the end of the night. For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/whats-on.

• Muppet creator Jim Henson was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Hampstead home this week. Henson lived in the home at 50 Downshire Hill between 1979 and 1982 and continued to use it as his base until his death in 1990. It stands opposite the former ‘Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’, where creatures from fantasy films including The Dark CrystalThe Storyteller and Labyrinth were created. Henson’s son Brian,  chairman of the board at The Jim Henson Company, said it was an honour to have the property recognised, “knowing that he so admired and respected the talent in London, and that this is the place he called home when creating some of his most memorable productions.” For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Beerfest-Lite takes place in Guildhall Yard in the City of London today. The event , which runs from noon to 9pm – features beers from the Meantime, Windsor and Eaton, Hook Norton and Shepherd Neame breweries and a street vendor menu including paella, hot dogs, souvlaki and Caribbean dishes as well as a jazz performance from the Alvar Tree Frogs and Bavarian Oompah band Würst Brass. For more, see www.citybeerfest.org.

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Famous Londoners – Sir Rowland Hill…

Famous for his reform of the postal system, Sir Rowland Hill was a national celebrity during the Victorian era.

Born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, on 3rd December, 1795, Rowland was the son of schoolmaster Thomas Wright Hill. Educated in his father’s school, Hill Top, in a Birmingham suburb, it was determined he would follow in his father’s footsteps at an early age and by the age of 12 had become a student teacher and in 1819 helped his family establish new model school, Hazelwood, in Edgbaston near Birmingham. In 1827, he was also involved with his family in establishing another new school, Bruce Castle School, in Tottenham, Middlesex.

Statue of Sir Rowland Hill in London. PICTURE: Julian Osley (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

That same year, Hill married Caroline Pearson, who originally came from Wolverhampton, and together they had four children – three daughters Eleanor, Clara and Louisa and a son Pearson.

In the following years, Hill became involved in campaigns to colonise South Australia and in 1835 he joined the South Australian Colonisation Commission as Secretary, a role which he held until 1839 (interestingly and perhaps not surprisingly given his interest, Hill’s sister Caroline would later emigrate to South Australia with her family).

Hill was in his early 40s when he became interested in reforming the postal system – what to be his life’s great work. In 1837, he published his influential pamphlet, Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, in which he argued for consistency in the system including pre-payment of standardised charges for sending mail.

Hill believed that if letters were cheap to send, more people – including the poorer classes – would send more and thus the profitability of the system would increase (a thought which proved true). It’s said, although whether it’s true or not is uncertain, that Hill became interested in reforming the postal system after he noticed a young woman who too poor to claim a letter sent to her by her fiancé (at the time it was usually the recipients who paid for the letter’s mailing).

Only three years later,  Parliament passed the Penny Postage Act which saw the world’s first official postage stamps – the penny black and the two-penny black – issued. Hill and his family had by then moved to Orme Square in Bayswater (there’s now an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the property).

After the new government of Sir Robert Peel took office in 1841, Hill was dismissed and, joining the London and Brighton Railway as a director in 1843, relocated to Brighton.

But Hill was able to resume his postal reform efforts in 1846 after another change of government saw him appointed Secretary to the Postmaster-General. In 1854, he was appointed Secretary to the Post Office, a job he held until his retirement in 1864 due to ill health.

Hill was knighted in 1860. He spent the last 30 years of his life at  Bartram House, Hampstead, and it was there he died 27th August, 1879 (a plaque now marks the house). He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

There are several public statues commemorating Hill include a bronze which, created in 1881, stands in King Edward Street in London (pictured).

LondonLife – Hampstead Heath Act turns 150…

PICTURE: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

This month marks 150 years since the passing of the Hampstead Heath Act, which confirmed the heath as a public open space, and, to celebrate, the City of London Corporation, the Heath & Hampstead Society and other partners have launched a year of commemorations. Upcoming planned highlights include an outdoor exhibition showcasing the heath’s history and the significance of the 1871 Act which will be launched on the heath (on the main path leading onto the heath from the Hampstead Heath Overground Station) on 23rd June, a community fun day (27th June), an outdoor cinema screening (8th September), a summer music event (tentatively scheduled for 5th September) and historic walks as well as an Historic Postcard Project featuring an interactive online map with historic images of the heath. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath.

This Week in London – Noël Coward’s glittering world; figures from the African diaspora; and, reflections on land rights and colonialism in Australia…

The glittering world of playwright and songwriter Noël Coward is on show in a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery this Monday. The much delayed Noël Coward: Art & Style, which marks the 100th anniversary of Coward’s West End debut as a 19-year-old earlier this year, brings together never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive and demonstrates the impact he and his creative circle had on the culture of his time – and today. Highlights include an original page of Coward’s handwritten lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the chocolate brown evening suit he wore in the film Boom!, two of his signature silk dressing gowns, his iconic ‘Hamlet’ chair, and several of his own paintings. There’s also a specially commissioned new reconstruction of the iconic white satin dress that Molyneux designed in 1930 for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives and a never-before-exhibited gold lamé theatre cape by Lucile (Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon) from 1920. The exhibition, which is free, runs until 23rd December. Tickets must be booked in advance. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/noelcoward.

A new portrait depicting Dido Belle (1761-1804) has gone on display at Kenwood House – one of six works depicting historic figures from the African diaspora now on show at English Heritage properties across the nation. Belle, who is depicted by artist Mikéla Henry-Lowe, was the illegitimate daughter of a young black woman named Maria Bell and a Royal Naval officer, Sir John Lindsay. She spent much of her life at Kenwood House with her great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice. Other portraits in the series depict the likes of African-born Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (the work of Elena Onwochei-Garcia, it’s on display at Corbridge Roman Town on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland), North African-born 7th century Abbot Hadrian (the work of Clifton Powell, it’s on display at St Augustine’s Abbey in Kent) and Queen Victoria’s god-daughter Sarah Forbes Bonetta (the work of Hannah Uzor, it’s on display at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/black-history/.

More than 25 works by Australian artists exploring debates around land rights and colonialism have gone on show in a new exhibition at the Tate Modern. A Year in Art: Australia 1992 takes as its starting point the High Court of Australia’s landmark 1992 Mabo ruling which overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. Works on show include Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1989 Untitled (Alhalkere) – an expression of her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder, Gordon Bennett’s 1991 work Possession Island (Abstraction) which is presented in dialogue with Algernon Talmage’s 1937 work The Founding of Australia 1788, and Tracey Moffatt’s 1997 photographic series Up in the Sky, which speaks to the ‘Stolen Generations’ – the forced separation of Aboriginal families by government agencies. At the heart of the display is Vernon Ah Kee’s 2010 four-screen video installation tall man which shows footage of the protests and riots following the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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10 London hills – 9. Highgate Hill…

Highgate Hill seen from Hampstead Health (with the spire of St Michael’s visible). PICTURE: Adrian Scottow (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.

The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.

Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.

Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).

Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).

This Week in London – Rodin at the Tate; life-sized Monopoly; and, a floral tribute to John Keats…

Many London institutions reopen in the coming week – while some are continuing with exhibitions which were already on before lockdowns lead to closures, there are also some new exhibitions being launched and these we’ll feature in coming weeks…

Auguste Rodin Monument to the Burghers of Calais, 1889 Musée Rodin, S.00153. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Tate Gallery.

A major new exhibition on the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin opens at the Tate Modern on Monday. The EY Exhibition: The Making of Rodin features more than 200 works including the Thinker (1881) and The Three Shades (1886) as well as a newly restored plaster made in preparation for The Burghers of Calais (1889). The exhibition is the first show to focus in-depth on Rodin’s use of plaster and takes inspiration from the artist’s landmark self-organised exhibition at the Pavillon de l’Alma in 1900. It also explores the complex dynamics with different models – including his onetime studio assistant and collaborator Camille Claudel – and looks at his use of photography and watercolours. Located in the Eyal Ofer Galleries, the exhibition runs until 21st November. Admission charges applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

The world’s first life-sized Monopoly-based attraction will be opening in Tottenham Court Road in August, it was revealed this week. Hasbro, Inc and Gamepath, a new division of international theatre producer Selladoor Worldwide, are behind the attraction which the City of London Corporation says will “bring together the best of the iconic board game, escape rooms and team challenge”. The premises at 213-215 Tottenham Court Road will house individually designed and unique main gameplay boards including Classic, The Vault, and City as well as a Junior Board. There will also be a retail outlet and a Monopoly-themed bar and restaurant. Stay tuned for more.

A new floral display featuring flowers from John Keats’ graveside in Rome and his home in London’s Hampstead form part of a new indoor art installation at the Hampstead property, Keats House, when it reopens Monday. The display, created by London artist Elaine Duigenan, is part of the Keats200 commemorations marking the bicentenary of his death. “Flowers are embedded in John Keats’s life story and are a vehicle for expressing something both transitory and lasting, and my installation seeks to honour his legacy by alluding to human frailty and resilience,” says Duigenan. “As an artist, I understand both the desire for recognition and the fear of leaving no mark, so I have crowned him laureate and wreathed him as though for oblivion.” For more (to check opening times before attending), see  www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/keats.

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10 London hills – 4. Parliament Hill…

View up Parliament Hill. PICTURE: stevekeiretsu (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Located to the north-west of the city, Parliament Hill – with its elevation of 98 metres above sea level – offers expansive views of the city skyline including The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.

The hill, which can be found in the south-east of Hampstead Heath, was once part of the manor of Hampstead. It was apparently previously known as Traitor’s Hill – some believe it was so-named because it was from here that those involved in the (as it turned out, unsuccessful) Gunpowder Plot of 1605 were to gather to watch Parliament explode.

The current name may also come from that association, or the hill’s association with Parliamentarians who saw it as a defensive strongpoint during the English Civil War.

A tumulus on the north side of the hill, which some have believed to be the grave of Queen Boadicea, was excavated in the 1890s and is thought to be a Bronze Age burial mound.

The hill – which is known to have been a favourite of Romantic poets including Shelley, Keats and Coleridge – was acquired for the public in 1889.

Traditionally used for livestock grazing (and, according to some, having an ancient association with druids), it has also been a popular site for kite-flying. There’s various sporting facilities including a lido, located on the lower slopes of the hill as well as a monument called the Stone of Free Speech which was apparently previously used as a site for public meetings in the past.

The hill is managed by the City of London Corporation.

View from Parliament Hill. PICTURE: Magnus D (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Famous Londoners – John Keats…

This month marks 200 years since the death of Romantic poet and London resident John Keats – famous for poems including Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode to the Nightingale – at the age of just 25.

Born on 31st October, 1795, Keats was the eldest of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings’ four children. The story goes that he was born in the stable – owned by his mother’s father and managed by his father, located near Finsbury Circus.

John Keats by William Hilton, after Joseph Severn (based on a work of circa 1822) National Portrait Gallery (NPG 194)

At the age of eight, Keats attended the boy’s academy at Enfield (his brothers George and Tom would also attend). He had been at the school for less than a year when, on the night of 15th April, 1804, his father was seriously injured in a horse-riding accident and died the following day.

Within a couple of months, his mother entered an ill-fated marriage and eventually left her family to live with another man. She returned to her family by 1808 but, now ill, she died of tuberculosis in March, 1809. following his mother’s death, his grandmother appointed two London merchants including tea broker Richard Abbey as Keats’ guardians.

Keats, meanwhile, built up a close friendship with headmaster John Clarke and his older son Charles Cowden Clarke at Enfield and through them really began to foster a love of literature (in particular Edmund Spenser‘s Faerie Queene is said to have helped awakened his love of poetry).

But at Abbey’s instruction he left Enfield in 1811 and began to work toward a career as a surgeon, apprenticed to surgeon Thomas Hammond, in nearby Edmonton.

In October, 1815, he left his apprenticeship with Dr Hammond, apparently after a quarrel between them. Moving into London, he registered at Guy’s Hospital for the six-month course of study which was required for him to become a licensed surgeon and apothecary. Lodging with two older students at 28 St Thomas Street, he progressed quickly and was soon promoted to “dresser”, a role which saw him involved dressing wounds daily to prevent or minimize infection, setting bones, and assisting with surgery.

Poetry, however, continued to occupy his mind and his sonnet O Solitude! became his first published poem when it appeared in The Examiner on 5th May, 1816 (editor Leigh Hunt, who was introduced to Keats by Clarke later that year, also went on to publish other works including his sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Home).

Keats, who became a certified apothecary in late 1816 (he’d holidayed in Margate with his brother Tom after passing his exams earlier that year), now faced further studies to become a surgeon. But he instead decided to give up medicine and devote himself entirely to his poetry (a move which apparently infuriated his now sole guardian Abbey). About the same time he moved into lodgings at 76 Cheapside with his two brothers, George and Tom (there was also a sister Fanny), having previously lived with that at 8 Dean Street in Southwark.

His circle of artistic acquaintances – which included fellow Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and painter Benjamin Robert Haydon – now growing, in March, 1817, Keats’ first book of poetry – Poems – was published. It was also around that time that he moved with his brothers to a property at 1 Well Walk in Hampstead, no longer needing to be near the hospitals where he had worked and studied.

In May, 1818, Keats published his 4,000 line allegorical romance, Endymion, but it received a rather scathing reception including by Blackwood’s Magazine which apparently declared the work nonsense and recommended Keats give up writing poetry.

In summer that year, Keats went on a walking tour of Scotland, Ireland and the Lake District with his friend Charles (Armitage) Brown. Following his return to Hampstead, Keats nursed his brother Tom who was ailing from tuberculosis (George having by now left for America) and who died on 1st December.

Following his brother’s death, Keats accepted Brown’s invitation to move into his property at Wentworth Place, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath (now the Keats House museum).

Keats’ House in Keats Grove, Hampstead. PICTURE: Spencer Means (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

While living at Wentworth Place, Keats developed an intimate relationship with next-door neighbour Frances (Fanny) Brawne and the couple “came to an understanding” but his literary ambitions and failing health – by early 1820 he too had tuberculosis – meant it never came to marriage.

Keats third volume of poetry – containing his famous odes including Ode to a Nightingale and Ode to a Grecian Urn – was published in mid-1820 but now increasingly suffering from tuberculosis, he was advised by his doctors to head to a warmer climate. In September that year he left for Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn (who painted a famous posthumous portrait of Keats), knowing he would probably never see Brawne again.

In Rome – having had to spend 10 days quarantine after the ship arrived in Naples due to a suspected cholera outbreak, he moved into a villa on the Spanish Steps (now home to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House museum) but, despite medical efforts, his health continued to deteriorate.

John Keats died on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery. His tombstone bears no name or date, just the words “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water” and an epitaph which speaks of a “young English poet”.

Keats, depicted in a 2007 bronze statue at Guy’s Hospital PICTURE: under_volcano (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Keats had only been a serious poet for some six years prior to his death and his three volumes of poetry had probably only amounted to some 200 copies. But his reputation continued to grow after his death with support from the likes of Shelley, Tennyson and the pre-Raphaelites, and he is now well-established in the literary canon as one of the greatest English poets.

As well as Keats’ House – which is managed by the City of London and which features an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade, Keats is memorialised with several other plaques in London and a famous statue at Guy’s Hospital which features him seated in a former alcove removed from London Bridge – see image above).

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 26, 25, 24 and 23…

The next four in our countdown…

26. 10 iconic London film locations…5. Belle at Kenwood House (but not as you know it)…

25. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 6. Wimbledon Common…

24. Where’s London’s oldest…department store?

23. LondonLife – A rare glimpse inside King Henry V’s chantry chapel…

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…7. Fenton House and Garden…


Like other National Trust properties, Fenton House is now closed – please do not travel there. But we run this article in the hope you’ll be able to visit in the future…

This Hampstead property dates from the 17th century but its current name comes instead from Philip Fenton, a merchant who bought it in 1793, some 100 years after it was constructed.

The two storey brown brick property, which had previously been known as Ostend House (perhaps a reference to its unknown first owner’s Flemish links), was considerably altered by Fenton, a merchant from Yorkshire who had based himself in Riga. But despite that – and subsequent alterations, many original features remain.

The Grade I-listed property was acquired by Katherine, Lady Binning, in 1936. In 1952 she bequeathed it to the National Trust complete with her rather large collections of porcelain, needlework, furniture and artworks.

The Trust also moved in a large collection of early musical instruments. Assembled by Major George Benton Fletcher, these had been given them to the Trust in 1937 and include a harpsichord dating from 1612 which was probably used by Handel.

Located on an acre, the house features a notable walled garden featuring formal topiary and lawn, a sunken rose garden, a 300-year-old apple and pear orchard and kitchen garden.

Fenton House is now closed – but for more information on when it might reopen, keep an eye on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fenton-house.

PICTURE: Top – A view of Fenton House (It’s No Game/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Inside the property (Kotomi_/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – English Heritage sites online; and, The Painted Hall in virtual reality…

With historic properties and cultural institutions closed across London, we’re showcasing some of the online opportunities that are available to continue your explorations of the city…

London’s Eltham Palace and Kenwood House (pictured above) are among 29 English Heritage sites around the country which are being showcased on the Google Arts & Culture platform. English Heritage, which first announced the partnership with Google Arts & Culture, was the first heritage organisation and multi-site installation to do so and the Google site now contains a plethora of information and immersive experience about the English Heritage properties. To explore the site, head to https://artsandculture.google.com/project/english-heritage. And for those looking for more online experiences, the organisation is also pointing to its Stonehenge Skyscape site which allows visitors to experience a live sunrise over Stonehenge as well as see the journey of the stars and the moon from within the stone circle and learn about the monument’s design and how its builders may have understood their place in the cosmos. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/skyscape/. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Reopened in 2019, The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich following a two year conservation project. To celebrate the reopening – and the new life given to Sir James Thornhill’s 40,000 square feet of painted walls and ceilings – a virtual, 360 degree online tour was also launched so people could visit from the comfort of their own home. You can access the tour by following this link.

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10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…3. 2 Willow Road…

Please note: Exploring London is aware that many sites have closed temporarily or considering doing so as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ll be continuing much of our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

This modernist home in Hampstead was designed by Budapest-born architect Ernö Goldfinger in 1939 for his family.

Goldfinger, who had emigrated to London in the early 1930s, decided to build the property in what was at the time something of an artistic hotspot. But his plan to build three residences in Willow Road – his home was the largest in the middle of the block of three terraced homes – was a controversial project.

Those who voiced their opposition included James Bond author Ian Fleming (who named a now famous villain after Goldfinger) and Lord Brooke of Cunmor, Secretary of the Heath and Old Hampstead Protection Society (and later MP for Hampstead as well as a Home Secretary in the 1960s), who said the proposed project was “disastrously out of keeping” with the character of the neighbourhood.

But, with the support of other local residents, Goldfinger defended his design, stating that it would respect both the surroundings and tradition of Georgian building in London.

The three storey, Grade II* property – which is built to appear as a single building along with its two neighbours – features a facade dominated by the use of red brick but also revealing exposed concrete bearing columns and a continuous strap of picture windows on the first floor.

It features a famous central spiral staircase designed by Danish engineer Ove Arup while Goldfinger himself designed much of the furniture. The house also contains a significant collection of 20th century art by artists including Bridget Riley, Man Ray and Max Ernst.

Goldfinger lived at the property along with his wife, artist and heiress Ursula (nee Blackwell, of the Crosse & Blackwell fortune), until his death in 1987 (his wife, whose money funded the project, died after him).

During their residency, the home hosted exhibitions in support of left-wing causes including one held in 1942 for the  ‘Aid to Russia’ Fund of the National Council of Labour.

Number 2 Willow Road was acquired by the National Trust in 1992 (it was the first modernist building acquired by the Trust). Numbers 1 and 3 Willow Road remain private residences.

WHERE: 2 Willow Road, Hampstead (nearest Tube station is Hampstead/nearest Overground is Hampstead Heath); WHEN: Temporarily closed – check website for times when it reopens; COST: £8.50 an adult/£4.25 a child; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road

PICTURE: Public Domain

LondonLife – Westminster Abbey marks 750th anniversary of Henry III’s rebuild; new mental health awareness tour at National Gallery; and, Rembrandt at Kenwood…

Two 13th century manuscripts from Westminster Abbey’s collection have this month gone on show in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at the abbey to mark the 750th anniversary of King Henry III’s rebuilding of the church originally constructed on the orders of Edward the Confessor. Believed to have never before been displayed to the public, the manuscripts – which feature ink script on vellum and have wax seals on silk cords attached – include a royal charter dated 1246 in which King Henry III announces his intention to be buried alongside Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey and an inventory of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine dating from 1267 which shows how much gold, precious stones and jewels were taken from it and pawned to provide the king with much-needed money. The documents can only be seen until 28th October. Admission charge applies. For more, www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries. The display is one of number of special events taking place to mark the anniversary of the third consecration of the abbey church which took place in the presence of King Henry III on 13th October, 1269. While Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a special service to mark the occasion on Tuesday, other events aimed at the public include a special family day next Wednesday (23rd October) featuring medieval re-enactors in the cloisters, the chance to meet some of the abbey staff and to take part in a family-friendly Eucharist as well as a late opening for amateur photographers to take photographs inside the abbey (23rd October), and special family tours of the abbey (22nd and 24th October). Meanwhile, this Saturday, the abbey will host the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. For more on other events at the abbey, head to www.westminster-abbey.org/events.

The National Gallery launched its first mental health awareness tour to mark World Mental Health Day last week. The tour, which is available as a smartphone app, aims to improve understanding of mental health among gallery visitors with an alternative perspective on the collection which draws on young people’s experiences of mental health – gleaned through workshops with 16 to 25-year-olds – and connects visitors with the gallery’s paintings to challenge common myths about mental health. The tour includes a focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the gallery’s architecture and figures from its portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. The tour – co-created by researchers from King’s College London, the McPin Foundation, a group of young people affected by mental health issues and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme and funded by Medical Research Council and the British Academy – is available free to visitors for six months. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

Kenwood House in Hampstead is hosting a special display commemorating 350 years since Rembrandt’s death on 4th October, 1669. The exhibition – Rembrandt #nofilter – centres on the artist’s Self-portrait with Two Circles which has been taken from its usual place in the former dining room and represented in the dining room lobby alongside a digital photo mosaic of the painting made of “selfies” taken by visitors to Kenwood. Entry is free Runs until 12th January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood/.

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What’s in a name?…Gospel Oak

Yes, the name of this inner north-west London district – which sits between Hampstead and Kentish Town – does originate with an oak.

Up until the early 19th century, the tree was apparently used as a marker between the parish boundaries of Hampstead and St Pancras. So that’s the oak part.

The gospel part comes from the use of the term to describe the medieval custom of ‘beating the bounds’ – an annual event in which residents would walk around their parish boundary and literally beat prominent boundary markers as a way of conveying to a then largely illiterate people where the borders were located. The oak, said to have stood on the corner of Southampton and Mansfield Roads, was one such marker.

As well as the beating part, the event would also involve the singing of hymns and, yes, the reading of sections of the gospels while standing under the oak. Hence Gospel Oak.

The oak was also apparently used as a site for open-air preaching at other times and it’s said that St Augustine, 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and fellow evangelist George Whitefield are among the many who preached under the oak (although many of these claims can be taken with a grain of salt).

The area was predominantly rural until the mid-1800s when local landowners  Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lismore began selling off the land for development. The houses built here were apparently at the more affordable end of the market, perhaps not surprising given the area became criss-crossed with railroad lines. Devastated by bombing during World War II, large parts of Gospel Oak were rebuilt in the mid-20th century.

The (now) London Overground station which bears the name Gospel Oak (pictured below) was opened in 1860, originally with the name Kentish Town (but quickly renamed Gospel Oak when Kentish Town was used elsewhere). Other landmarks include St Martin’s Church in Vicars Road (pictured above), which has been described as one of the “craziest” of London’s Victorian churches, and All Hallows Church in Shirlock Road.

One of the area’s more famous residents, Michael Palin, has lived in the area since the 1960s and reportedly planted a new oak in Lismore Circus in 1998 but the tree has apparently not survived.

PICTURES: Google Maps

This Week in London – Prince Albert explored; sheep at Hampstead Heath; and, the Tate’s own show their works…

More than 17,500 photographs, prints and private and official papers relating to Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, have been published online. Launched last week, the new website Prince Albert: His Life and Legacy sheds fresh light on Albert’s role as Queen Victoria’s unofficial private secretary and as guide and mentor to some of the greatest national projects of his day as well as his various roles as a university chancellor, art historian, collector, and art and architecture patron. The website is part of the Prince Albert Digitisation Project which, by the end of 2020, will see some 23,500 items from the Royal Archives, the Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 published online. PICTURE: After Roger Fenton, Prince Albert, May, 1854, 1889 copy of the original (Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019).

Sheep have returned to Hampstead Heath for a week-long trial of an initiative aimed at replacing mowing with more natural grazing. The pilot project, which is being managed by the City of London Corporation in partnership with Heath & Hampstead Society, Heath Hands, Historic England, Mudchute Park & Farm and Rare Breeds Survival Trust, involves five sheep and will focus on The Tumulus on the Heath, an ancient Roman monument. If successful, the sheep – which include Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn – will take their grazing talents to other areas.

Staff from the Tate galleries are showcasing their own artworks in a new free exhibition at the Tate Modern. The first Tate Staff Biennale, which can be seen for free in Tate Exchange on level five of the Blavatnik Building, features the work of 133 staff members from all four Tate Galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives – and has been curated by the Inside Job Collective – a group of Tate staff dedicated to championing the work of colleagues who are also practicing artists. The biennale is inspired by ‘movement’, the theme of this year’s Tate Exchange, an experimental platform at the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool which brings together the public, artists and associate partner organisations. Can be seen until 3rd September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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10 most popular (new) posts of 2018…Numbers 4 and 3…

The next two posts on our annual countdown…

4. LondonLife – Still waters at Hampstead Heath…

3. Lost London – Jacob’s Island…

 

Where’s London’s oldest…(unchanged) bus route?

London’s oldest unchanged bus route in London is commonly cited as Route 24 which runs over seven miles from Hampstead to Pimlico.

The route was first launched in 1910 but initially stopped at Victoria Station. It was extended to Pimlico just two years later in 1912 and has largely unchanged ever since (apparently with the exception of some minor adjustments due to one-way traffic schemes).

The route, which operates 24 hours a day, does take in some key landmarks of London – among them Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade and Parliament Square. In 2013, Transport for London, said some 28,000 people used the route each day.

In 1965, the double-decker buses on the route – which have always been powered by motors rather than horses – became the first to have front entry. In 1988, it became the first route through central London to be privatised when purchased by Grey-Green (the line is now operated by Metroline).

Mostly recently, in 2013, it became the first route to fully implement the curvaceous new ‘Routemasters’ (while they’ve commonly been called that, the new buses are actually just called the ‘new bus for London’).

PICTURE: One of the new buses on the route in 2014 (Aubrey Morandarte (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))

This Week in London – Celebrating Antarctica through dance and science; and, the Freuds in exile…

A free dance and science festival celebrating Antarctica opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington on Tuesday. Antarctica Live features daily dance performances – including a newly devised performance by award-winning choreographer Corey Baker, workshops and hands-on experiences with real survival equipment to shed light on how the frozen continent is responding to increasing human activity and how its fate can affect us all. Visitors will also be able to see a scale model of the recently launched polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough. A special “lates” event on 29th August in the museum’s IMAX Theatre will premiere the documentary film Dancing on Icebergs, which charts the two year making of the short film, Antarctica: The First Dance, featuring Madeleine Graham, star of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (pictured). The screening will be followed by a live Q&A with Corey Baker. Antarctica Live runs until 30th August. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/antarctica-live. PICTURE: Madeleine Graham in Antarctica The First Dance © Jacob Bryant.

On Now: Leaving Today – the Freuds in Exile 1938. This exhibition at the Freud Museum London in Hampstead focuses on the flight and exile of Sigmund Freud, his wife Marta and daughter Anna as, following Hitler’s annexation of Austria, they left Vienna on 4th June, 1938, heading to a new life in London. It features original documents, letters and objects, many of which have never been on public display before. Highlights included the documents Freud and his family required to exit Austria and enter Britain, Freud’s personal correspondence with figures like Albert Einstein and HG Wells, and the first public display of Marie-Louise von Motesiczky’s painting The Psychoanalyst. The exhibition also features a series of works created by young people attending the Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile in collaboration with Barnaby Barford. Runs until 30th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.freud.org.uk.

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This Week in London – The history of women in Parliament; Michael Jackson portraits; and, Nevinsons honoured…

The campaign for women to be able to vote and stand as representatives in Parliament is the subject of an exhibition opening at the Houses of Parliament. Staged in Westminster Hall, Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament features historic objects, pictures and archives from Parliamentary collections and elsewhere with the “immersive” recreation of some of the lost historical spaces in the Palace of Westminster among the highlights. These include ‘The Ventilator’ – a space above the House of Commons Chamber where women, banned from the public galleries, watched and listened to Parliamentary debates, ‘The Cage’ – a ladies gallery closed off by brass grills built as part of the House of Commons when it was reconstructed after the 1834 fire, and ‘The Tomb’ – a room for women MPs after the 1918 decision allowing them to stand for Parliament. The exhibition, which is free to attend, runs from until 6th October. Tickets have to be pre-booked via Parliament’s website. PICTURE: Michael D Beckwith/Unsplash

The final commissioned portrait of popstar Michael Jackson is among images on show in a new National Portrait Gallery exhibition exploring his influence on contemporary art. Along that work – Kehinde Wiley’s 2010 work Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson), the exhibition Michael Jackson: On the Wall features American artist and activist Faith Ringgold’s story quilt Who’s Bad?, a series of collages by Isaac Julien, and a ‘dinner jacket’ covered with forks, spoons and knives made by costume designer Michael Lee Bush as well as a pop-graffiti style portrait by Keith Haring, on show for the first time in 30 years. Among new works created specially for the exhibition are a line drawing by artist Michael Craig-Martin which is based on the image of 11-year-old Michael used for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in April, 1971, and a large-scale painting by Yan Pei Ming, In Memory of Michel Jackson. Opening today, the exhibition can be seen until 21st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

World War I artist CRW Nevinson and his father, journalist Henry Nevinson, have both been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was unveiled at a property at 4 Downside Crescent in Hampstead where the Nevinson family lived between 1903 and 1941 before bombing raids made the home uninhabitable. Richard “CRW” Nevinson (1889-1946) was one of the most famous artists of the Great War and used a variety of styles, including Futurism and Cubism, to capture the brutality of the war based on his experience while serving briefly with the  Royal Army Medical Corps in France (before he was sent home in 1915 for rheumatic pain). His father, who reported on the Boer War and World War I, was known as “the king of war correspondents” and was a champion of universal suffrage. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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LondonLife – Still waters at Hampstead Heath…

PICTURE: Amadeusz Misiak/Unsplash.