New-River

Taken along New River Walk which follows the course of the “New River” in Islington. The New River, completed in 1613, was a man-made canal which brought water from Hertfordshire to New River Head in Clerkenwell (it now takes water to reservoirs in Stoke Newington). PICTURE: David Adams.

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The Welsh-born “merchant adventurer” Sir Hugh Myddelton (also spelt Myddleton or Middleton) is best remembered in London for the construction of the New River, a water engineering project which still provides some of city’s water.

Sir-Hugh-MyddeltonBorn about 1560, the sixth son (and one of 16 children) of Richard Myddelton, governor of Denbigh Castle in Wales, Hugh Myddelton travelled to London to seek his fortune and there became apprenticed to a goldsmith before himself becoming a member of the Goldsmith’s Company in 1592 (he later became warden of the company).

Operating out of premises in Bassishaw (now Basinghall Street), he gained a reputation among the wealthy and nobility for his work and was appointed Royal Jeweller to King James I (he had apparently also supplied jewellery to Queen Elizabeth I).

Myddelton became a wealthy merchant and banker, and, in 1603, he also succeeded his father as MP for Denbigh Borough, a post he held repeatedly until 1628.

Sir Hugh became one of the driving forces behind the New River project which aimed to address the strain on London’s water sources by bringing clean water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire via a 39 mile-long canal to New River Head in London.

After an aborted earlier attempt to build a canal from Hertfordshire to London (which had run into financial difficulties), Sir Hugh was granted authority to carry out the works for the New River in 1609 and employed mathematicians like Edward Pond and Edward Wright to direct the course with the man behind the earlier attempt, Edmund Colthurst, overseeing the works.

By 1611 it became clear to Myddelton that he wouldn’t have the necessary funds to complete the works so he obtained the financial aid of the king (in return the king was to get half of all profits).

The project was eventually completed in 1613 and a ceremony was held at the New River Head in Islington where the canal then terminated (just south of where Sadler’s Wells Theatre now stands).

Myddelton, who continued to diversify in business and made considerable sums from his ownership of lead and silver mines in Wales as well as from a land reclamation project on the Isle of Wight, became the first governor of the New River Company when it was created by royal charter in 1619 and remained a key figure in it until his death. He was created a baronet in 1622.

Myddelton, who married twice, had 15 or more children to his second wife – only about half of whom survived him. He died on 7th December, 1631, and was buried in the now demolished St Matthew Friday Street where he had been a church warden (some of his children were buried there as well). One of his brothers, Sir Thomas Myddelton, was a Lord Mayor of London.

Among memorials to Sir Hugh in London is a statue of him on Islington Green which was unveiled in 1872 by William Gladstone, later PM. There is also a statue of him on the Royal Exchange (pictured) and a number of Islington streets have been named for him.

For more on London’s historic water sources, see London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide.

Daniel-Defoe-memorial2
Located in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in City Road, this memorial to Daniel Defoe, the author of numerous books including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders as well as a journalist, pamphleteer and ‘provocateur’ or spy, wasn’t erected until 1870, almost 140 years after his death.

After he died in 1731 at the age of 70, Defoe was among the more than 120,000 people buried in Bunhill Fields, a Nonconformist cemetery which opened in 1665 and had closed by 1853. He was apparently buried under the name Dabow, thanks to a spelling mistake made by the gravedigger.

Daniel-Defoe-memorialWhen he died in relative obscurity (he was believed to have been hiding from his creditors at the time), his fame rose after his death – due in large part to the rising popularity of Robinson Crusoe, and by the mid-19th century, it was believed that the simple headstone over his grave didn’t do justice to him.

Hence an appeal was run by children’s magazine Christian World for a more suitable memorial for the writer – named as Daniel De-Foe on the memorial – and more than £150 was raised from 1,700 people, an amount which apparently exceeded expectations.

Sculptor Samuel Horner was subsequently commissioned to carve the memorial obelisk, which features projections at the base resembling a coffin lid, to the designs of CC Creeke of Bournemouth. It was unveiled on 16th September, 1870, in a ceremony attended by three of Defoe’s great grand-daughters.

There was apparently a newspaper story that the sculptor uncovered a coffin bearing Defoe’s name in preparing the site for the monument and had to get the aid of police to prevent watchers from making off with the bones from within.

The monument, which may not mark the exact location of Defoe’s grave site due to the movement of graves in the burial ground, is now Grade II*-listed (and the burial ground itself Grade I-listed). Others buried at Bunhill Fields include author John Bunyan, artist William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 7.30am to 7pm or dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx

Wishing all of our readers a very happy Easter! 

Hampton-Court

It’s party time at Hampton Court Palace this weekend as the palace celebrates its 500th anniversary with festivities including a spectacular (and historic) light show. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the palace will be open for an evening of festivities including the chance to taste-test pork cooked in the Tudor kitchens, enjoy a drink at a pop-up bar in the Cartoon Gallery, listen to live performances of period music in the state apartments and watch a 25 minute sound and light show in the Privy Garden taking viewers on a journey through the palace’s much storied past culminating in a fireworks finale. The nights run from 6.30pm to 9.15pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A luxury wartime bunker, a map room dating from the 1930s and a walk-in wardrobe complete with vintage fashion are among five new rooms at Eltham Palace in south London which are opening to the public for the first time this Easter. The rooms also include a basement billiards room and adjoining bedrooms, one of which features one of the first showers ever installed in a residential house in the UK. They have been restored as part of English Heritage’s major £1.7 million makeover of the property – the childhood home of King Henry VIII which was converted into a stunning Art Deco gem in the 1930s. Visitors will be invited to join one of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld’s legendary cocktail party’s of the 1930s while children can take part in an interactive tour exploring the story of the animals that lived at the palace including Mah-Jongg, the Courtauld’s pet lemur (who had his own heated bedroom!). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/eltham. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to donate to support the renovation of the map-room can do so at www.english-heritage.org.uk/donate-eltham.

• A new exhibition showcasing the latest scientific displays concerning the life and death of King Richard III has opened at the Science Museum. King Richard III: Life, Death and DNA, which opened last Wednesday – the day before the king’s remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, features an analysis of Richard III’s genome, a 3D printed skeleton (only one of three in existence) and a prototype coffin. It explores how CT scans were used to prove the king’s fatal injuries at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 were caused by a sword, dagger and halberd (a reproduction of the latter is on display). The exhibition will run until 25th June. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RichardIII.

Shaun-the-Sheep• Join Shaun the Sheep and friends for Kew Garden’s annual Easter Egg hunt this Sunday. The hunt will take place from 9.30am to noon (or when the eggs run out!) with participants needing to find three sheep and collect a token/chocolate dropping from each before finding the Easter bunny and claiming eggs supplied by Divine chocolate. Shaun, meanwhile, who hit the big screen for the first time this year, will be found in the Madcap Meadow until 12th April. Admission charge applies. For the full range of events taking place at the gardens this Easter season, check out www.kew.orgPICTURE: RBG Kew.

London’s Boroughs are turning 50 and to celebrate London councils – working with the London Film Archive – have released a short film telling the story of the past half century. Follow this link to see it. Councils across the city, meanwhile, are holding events throughout the year to mark the occasion – check with your local council for details; some, like Barking and Dagenham, and Camden have dedicated pages.

The first chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Mansfield Cumming, has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Westminster. Known as ‘C’ thanks to his habit of initialling papers (a tradition which has been carried on by every chief since), Cumming was chief of the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau from 1909 until his death in 1923. Flats 53 and 54 at 2 Whitehall Court – now part of Grade II*-listed The Royal Horseguards Hotel – served as Cumming’s home and office at various times between 1911 and 1922. The plaque was unveiled by current Secret Intelligence Service chief, Alex Younger. Meanwhile, Amelia Edwards, pioneering Egyptologist, writer, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, has also been honoured with a blue plaque on her former home in Islington. Edwards lived at 19, Wharton Street in Clerkenwell between 1831 and 1892. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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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

Isaac-Newton

Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1995 statue of Isaac Newton which stands on the British Library’s piazza in King’s Cross has been granted a ‘voice’ as part of a new project called Talking Statues. Visitors who swipe their smartphones on a nearby tag will receive a call from the famous scientist – voiced by Simon Beale Russell – as part of the initiative which is being spear-headed by Sing London. It is one of 35 different statues across London and Manchester which will be brought to life by a range of public identities. Among the other statues in London which have been brought to life are Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge in Gough Square (voiced by Nicholas Parsons) and Dick Whittington’s Cat in Islington (Helen Lederer), John Wilkes in Fetter Lane (Jeremy Paxman), the Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station (Patrick Stewart) and Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street Underground (Anthony Horowitz). The British Library and Sing London are also holding a competition to give William Shakespeare a voice by writing a monologue for the statue in the library’s entrance hall which will then be read by an as yet unannounced actor. Entries close 17th October. For more, visit www.talkingstatues.co.uk

PICTURE: British Library

New galleries dedicated to exploring the history of World War I will open – along with the rest of the refurbished building – at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth on Saturday. The First World War Galleries span 14 areas displaying everything from shell fragments and lucky charms carried by soldiers to weapons and uniforms, diaries and letters, photographs, art and film. Interactive displays include ‘Life at the Front’ featuring a recreated trench with a Sopwith Camel plane and Mark V tank, and ‘Feeding the Front’ featuring an interactive table of more than four metres long which looks how troops were kept fed. There are also reflective areas in which visitors are encouraged to reflect on some of the most difficult aspects of war. The museum – which features a dramatic new atrium – is also launching the largest exhibition and first major retrospective of British World War I art for almost 100 years. Truth and Memory includes works by some of the UK’s most important artists. Entry to both is free with Truth and Memory running until 8th March. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

London’s memorials to those who died in World War I are the focus of a new exhibition which opened at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner yesterday. The English Heritage exhibition, which has a particular focus on the six memorials cared for by English Heritage but also looks at other memorials, will include designs, statuettes and photographs of the memorials including the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Also featured in We Will Remember Them: London’s Great War Memorials are official documents – including a note of condolence and medals certificates – received by the family of author and broadcaster Jeremy Paxman on the death of his great uncle Private Charles Dickson, who died at Gallipoli in 1915. Runs until 30th November. Admission charge applies. For more see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/. Meanwhile, coinciding with the opening of the exhibition has been news that five of London’s key war memorials – including the Edith Cavell Memorial in St Martin’s Place and the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner – have had their heritage listing upgraded.

In case you missed it, the 24th annual Festival of Archaeology kicked off last weekend and features a range of events across London. Highlights include the chance again to go ‘mudlarking’ on the Thames river bank below the Tower of London and have your finds assessed by archaeologists (this Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm), guided 90 minute walks around Islington and Highbury this weekend with a particular focus on the 1940s, and a look behind the scenes at the London Metropolitan Archives (2pm to 5pm today). The festival continues until 27th July. Check the website for a full program of events – www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk.

Wesley's-ChapelIt’s a church with a difference for the final entry in our Georgian series. Known as the “Cathedral of Methodism”, the Grade I-listed chapel on City Road in the Borough of Islington was first opened in 1778 just over the road from Bunhill Fields graveyard and remains in use today.

Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, had already established a London base in a former cannon foundry close by known as the Foundery when the fact the lease was expiring and plans for residential development of the area led him to look elsewhere for a headquarters for the Methodism movement (which he still then considered part of the Anglican Church).

Wesley's-graveWesley approached the City of London for a new site and, following a massive fundraising effort, in April, 1777, the building’s foundation stone was laid. The architect for the new building was George Dance the Younger, then surveyor to the City of London, and the builder, a local preacher named Samuel Tooth.

The new chapel – which Wesley described as “perfectly neat, but not fine” – was opened on All Saints Day, 1778 – apparently Wesley spent the first 15 minutes of his sermon railing against the elaborate hats worn by female congregants.

The chapel last underwent a major restoration in the 1970s after it was found to be unsound and was reopened in 1978 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh exactly 200 years after Wesley first opened it.

Inside the chapel – which features seats upon a gallery as well as the ground floor – features a ceiling said to have been the widest unsupported ceiling in England at the time it was built (the present one is a replica; the original had been damaged by fire in 1879).

The original pillars used in the chapel to support the gallery were ship’s masts from the naval dockyard at Deptford given as a gift from King George III – these were replaced during the centenary commemoration of Wesley’s death with pillars of French jasper in 1891 but a couple of originals can still be seen in the vestibule.

Memorials inside the chapel include those to John and Charles Wesley and early Methodists John Fletcher and Thomas Coke.

Next to the chapel is the house Wesley lived in during the last 11 years of his life (this can be visited – and we’ll cover it in more detail in a later post) and underneath it in the crypt is the Museum of Methodism – well worth a visit in its own right.

Wesley’s tomb (pictured) is located behind the east end of the church (accessed through the chapel) and outside the entrance to the chapel is a statue of Wesley. The grave of Susanna Wesley, mother of the Wesleys, can be found across the road in Bunhill Fields.

WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Road (nearest Tube station Old Street and Moorgate);  WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday (services Sunday – check website for details); COST: free but donations welcome; WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk.

Regent Street is showcasing a number of architectural installations created by architects in an initiative being conducted in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Now in its fourth year, the Regent Street Windows project can be seen free in store windows including those of Topshop, Espirit, Jack Spade, Ferrari Store and Moss Bros until 6th May. Participating architects include Carl Turner Architects, naganJohnson architects, Gensler, Mamou-Mani, and AY Architects. Free 45 minute to one hour walking tours of the completed installations will be conducted by RIBA representatives at lunch time today, midday on Sunday and at 5.30pm next Wednesday. Prior booking is essential – email antonia.faust@riba.org for details.

The Queen’s Orchard has reopened in Greenwich Park having been restored with the addition of heritage fruit trees, new gates, pathways and ponds. The orchard dates back to the 17th century  – its name has been found on a records dating back to 1693 and now features on a new metal decorative gate which, as well as a well cover, was designed by local artist Heather Burrell along with local school students and the Friends of Greenwich Park. The heritage fruit trees, which have a provenance dating back to the 1500s, include apple, pear, cherry, plum, peach, apricot, nectarine, quince, and medlar trees. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

The first woman to qualify as a dentist in Britain has been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque at her former home in Islington. Lilian Lindsay (1871-1960) lived at the house at 3 Hungerford Road, Lower Holloway, from 1872 until 1892 when she decided to become a dentist. Refused entry to the National Dental Hospital in London, she trained at the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School (where she also met her husband Robert) before setting up a practice in Upper Holloway. Following her marriage, Lindsay relocated to Edinburgh where she and her husband ran a dental practice, only returning to London after their retirement in the 1920s. Both were actively involved in the British Dental Association. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

A 13-year-old photographer, Gideon Knight, is holding his first exhibition, ‘Wild About Photography’, at The Temple, Wanstead Park in Epping Forest. Self-taught, Knight has drawn on his passion for bird-watching in capturing a series of images of birds and other wildlife in a range of natural environments – from the forests of Essex to the countryside of southern Ireland. The exhibition is free. Open on weekends and bank holidays until the end of June, between noon and 5pm. You can follow Gideon at  http://earlywormbirder.blogspot.co.uk.

On Now: Patrick Heron: Studies for a Portrait of TS Eliot. On display for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery, the 10 paintings and drawings were completed in preparation for a 1949 modernist painting of the poet. They include two oil studies which have never before been seen in public. Heron secured permission to paint Eliot in January 1947 with the first sitting held two months later. Runs until 22nd September. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Now the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe, the connections between the site of Smithfield Market, officially known as the London Central Markets, and livestock go back to at least 800 years.

Since the 12th century animals were routinely traded here thanks to the site’s position on what was then the northern edge of the city. Smithfield was also known for being an area for jousting and tournaments and was the location of the (in)famous St Barthlomew Fair (this closed in 1855) as well as an execution ground – among those executed here were Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, and ‘Braveheart’, Sir William Wallace (1305).

Skip ahead several hundred years and, by the the mid-1800s, traffic congestion led to the livestock trade being relocated to a new site north of Islington. Plans were soon launched to locate a cut meat market on the Smithfield site.

Following the passing of an Act of Parliament, work on the new market began in 1866 with Sir Horace Jones (he of Tower Bridge fame), the City Architect, overseeing the design. Constructed of ornamental cast iron, stone, Welsh slate and glass, the initial market buildings were completed in 1868 with the result being two vast buildings, separated by a grand central avenue, but linked under a single roof. The new market was opened amid much pomp by the Lord Mayor of London on 24th November, 1868.

Four further buildings were soon added – only one, the Poultry Market, which opened in 1875, is still in use – and in the 1870s the market began to see the arrival of frozen meat imported from as far afield as Australia and South America.

Closed briefly during World War II – when the site was used for storage and an army butcher’s school – it reopened afterwards. The main poultry building was destroyed in a fire in 1958 and a replacement featuring a domed roof – the largest clear spanning dome roof in Europe at the time – was completed by 1963.

More recently, the market underwent a major upgrade in the 1990s. Queen Elizabeth II opened the refurbished East Market Building in June, 1997.

WHERE: London Central Markets, Charterhouse Street and West Smithfield (nearest Tube Stations are Barbican, St Paul’s and Moorgate); WHEN: From 3am Monday to Friday (visitors are told to arrive by 7am to see the market in full swing) (There are walking tours available – see www.cityoflondontouristguides.com for details); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.smithfieldmarket.com.

PICTURE: Rossella De Berti/www.istockphoto.com

• The Olympic Torch Relay arrives in London tomorrow night before working its way around all of the city’s 33 boroughs and reaching the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony next Friday.  The torch will arrive in the city by helicopter from Guildford tomorrow night and then be abseiled into the Tower of London where it will spend the night ensconced with the Olympic medals. The relay will travel 200 miles over the next week, carried by more than 980 torchbearers. The route is as follows:

  • Saturday, 21st July – Greenwich via Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to Waltham Forest (highlights include a visit to the Cutty Sark);
  • Sunday, 22nd July – Redbridge via Barking & Dagenham and Havering to Bexley (highlights include a ride on the London Eye and a crossing of the Thames);
  • Monday, 23rd July – Lewisham via Bromley, Croydon, Sutton and Merton to Wandsworth (highlights include a visit to a live filming of Eastenders);
  • Tuesday, 24th July – Kingston via Richmond, Hounslow, Hillingdon and Denham to Ealing (highlights include a visit to Kew Gardens);
  • Wednesday, 25th July – Harrow via Brent, Barnet and Enfield to Haringey (highlights include a visit to Wembley Arena);
  • Thursday, 26th July – Camden via Islington, the City of London, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham  to Westminster (the many landmarks to be visited include St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park);
  • Friday, 27th July – From Hampton Court Palace (where it will be taken into the maze) on board Gloriana via the Thames to Olympic Park for the Opening Ceremony.

The 70 day torch relay, which kicked off on 19th May, will have travelled a total distance of about 8,000 miles and have involved 8,000 torchbearers by the time it reaches its end. LOCOG and Transport for London have advised people to see the relay at a location closest to their home given the expected crowds. For more detailed route information, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/route/. PICTURE: LOCOG

Still talking all things Olympics and London’s largest ever ‘pop up’ shop – where you can buy Olympic merchandise – was officially opened by multiple gold medalist Sir Steve Redgrave in Hyde Park last week. The shop, located on Rotten Row, will be the site of special athlete visits during the Games and visitors can have their photo taken with the Olympic Torch.

• Meanwhile, life-sized versions of the Olympic mascot Wenlock and Paralympic mascot Mandeville are popping up at some of London’s key tourist locations. The 83 two metre tall sculptures capture various elements of life in London with incarnations including a Beefeater, a giant red phone box and a replica of Big Ben. The figures can be found on the routes of Stroll, six new discovery trails designed to help both tourists and Londoners get more out of the city. A QR code on the bottom of each of the sculptures directs smartphone users to further information about the discovery trails. The discovery trails are part of the Mayor of London Presents, a city-wide programme featuring free events, shows and activities. For more on what’s happening in your area, see www.molpresents.com. Some of these events are also being run as part of the Festival of London 2012. For more on this, see http://festival.london2012.com.

• On Now: Shakespeare: staging the world. Part of the World Shakespeare Festival taking place in London, this exhibition at the British Museum looks at the then emerging role of London as a “world city” as interpreted through Shakespeare’s plays and examines the role the playhouse performed in this. The museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce the exhibition which features more than 190 objects including paintings, jewels and rare manuscripts. These include the Ides of March coin, a Roman gold aureus commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar), the Lyte Jewel, presented to Thomas Lyte in 1610 in thanks for his work in tracing King James I’s lineage back through Banquo (Macbeth), and a 1610 bird’s-eye view of Venice (Othello and The Merchant of Venice). Runs until 25th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Image

As well as being relevant to our recent focus on author Charles Dickens (as well as featuring in his works, some suggest he worked here as a court reporter), the Old Bailey (home of the Central Criminal Court) has been in the news recently for its role in the conviction of the  infamous murderer Dr Hawley Crippen. An American, Dr Crippen was tried and found guilty at the court of poisoning his first wife Cora and then of cutting her up (he was found to have hidden the body parts in the cellar of their home in Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway). He was hanged in 1910, having been arrested while fleeing on a ship to Canada with his mistress Ethel Le Neve. Now reportedly come plans to hold a posthumous retrial of the case in front of a judge at the Islington Museum. The event, which will be held later this year, is being organised by Archway-based human rights solicitor Greg Foxsmith and will see John Cooper, QC, defending Dr Crippen. The move comes follows an earlier investigation by US scientists who concluded from DNA evidence that the victim may have in fact been male. For a great read on the case of Dr Crippen – and the important role the new invention of the wireless telegraph played in his capture – have a look at Erik Larsen’s Thunderstruck.

Originally the northern gate of the Roman fort constructed in about 120 AD, Cripplegate was rebuilt several times during the medieval period before finally being demolished in 1760 as part of road widening measures.

The origins of the gate’s name are shrouded by the mists of time but it has been suggested that it was named for the beggars or cripples that once begged there or that it could come from an Anglo-Saxon word crepel which means a covered walkway.

The name may even be associated with an event which took place there in 1100 when, fearful of marauding Danes, Bishop Alwyn ordered the body of Edmund the Martyr, a sainted former Anglo-Saxon king, to be tranferred from its usual home in Bury St Edmunds to St Gregory’s Church near St Paul’s in London so that it could be kept safe. It was said that when the body passed through the gate, many of the cripples there were miraculously healed.

The gate (pictured here in an 18th century etching as it would have looked in 1663 in an image taken from a London Wall Walk plaque), which gave access in medieval times to what was then the village of Islington, was associated with the Brewer’s Company and was used for some time as a prison.

It was defensive works, known as a barbican, built on the northern side of the gate in the Middle Ages which are apparently responsible for the post World War II adoption of the name Barbican for that area of London which once stood outside the gate’s northern facade (the gates stood at what is now the intersection of Wood Street and St Alphage Garden).

The gate’s name now adorns the street known as Cripplegate as well as the name of the church St Giles Cripplegate, which originally stood outside the city walls. It is also the name of one of the 25 wards of the City of London. The original site of the gate is marked with a blue plaque.

The State Dining Room at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s former London residence, reopened to the public last weekend after a make-over. The revitalisation works included repairing and cleaning the ceiling and chandelier as well as the Portuguese silver centre piece, which was presented to Wellington by the Portuguese Council of Regency to commemorate his victories over Napoleon in the Peninsular War. The house, which bears the landmark address of Number One London, was given to the nation in 1947 by the 7th Duke of Wellington, whose family continues to occupy private rooms in the premises. See www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

Seventy-six years after it last hosted a guest, the former Midland Grand Hotel at London’s St Pancras station reopened its doors quietly earlier this month following a 10 year, £150 million restoration project. The Grade I-listed Victorian Gothic building, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (he also designed the Albert Memorial), originally opened in 1873. It closed in 1935 but was saved from demolition in the 1960s after a campaign led by poet laureate Sir John Betjeman. Among the highlights of the recent project is the restoration of the Sir George Gilbert Scott suite to look like it did in the Victorian era. The hotel, rebranded the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel,  will be officially opened on 5th May, exactly 138 years after it first opened. See www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel/.

Architect Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976) has been honored with an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home and office in Islington. The architect, best known for his redesign of Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War II, lived and worked at 1 Canonbury Place from 1956 until the mid-1960s. He and his family then moved next door while he continued to use the property as his offices (it remained in use as architectural offices long after his death). Other commissions for which Sir Basil is known include Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, the controversial Knightsbridge Barracks and the Swiss Cottage Library. Internationally, his works included the unusual ‘beehive’ extension to the Parliament Building in Wellington, New Zealand.

• Now On: Your chance to lift the two 1,100 tonne bascules at Tower Bridge. The City of London Corporation this week launched their annual competition to find a “guest bridge driver”. Enter by going to Tower Bridge’s website (www.towerbridge.co.uk) and answering a question about the bridge or the Square Mile. The winner will be drawn next month and as well as using the controls to lift and lower the bridge, will receive a commemorative certificate in the control cabin, a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition and the chance to visit the underground bascule chamber and fifth-level turrets, neither of which are normally open to the public. They’ll also be presented with a bottle of champagne.

A squirrel spotted playing among the tombstones of Bunhill Fields Cemetery in the Borough of Islington. The Dissenters’ graveyard – burial place of the likes of writers John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe, artist and poet William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of Methodist founders John and Charles Wesley – was recently given a Grade I listing on the national Register of Parks and Gardens. For more information on the cemetery, see our previous post here.