This Week in London – The ‘Fight for Women’s Rights’ at the British Library; ghosts at Hampton Court Palace; and, Arctic culture at the British Museum…

Banners loaned from Southall Black Sisters, Bishopsgate Institute, People’s History Museum, Sisters Uncut, Feminist Archive South (Courtesy of the British Library)

The history of the women’s rights movement and the work of contemporary feminist activists is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, the opening of which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features everything from personal diaries and banners to subversive literature, film, music and art. Highlights include protest poems written by Sylvia Pankhurst on toilet paper in Holloway Prison following her imprisonment for seditious activity in January 1921, a first edition of Jane Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, published anonymously ‘By a Lady’ in 1811, and, football boots belonging to Hope Powell, a veteran player who became the first woman to manage England Women in 1998. There’s also records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s god-daughters and a supporter of campaigns for women’s suffrage, and a piece of fence wire cut by writer Angela Carter’s friends and sent to her as a present from RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire where they were protesting against nuclear missiles. Runs until 21st February next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Like a good ghost story? Hampton Court Palace is launched a new self-guided ‘Creepy Stories and Ghostly Encounters’ trail on Saturday. The trail takes in sites including those where the ‘Grey Lady’ – said to be the ghost of Tudor nursemaid – has appeared since Victorian times, the locations said to be haunted by two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, and the site where a spectral figure was captured on film slamming shut a door in 2003. The palace is also unveiling a new display of carved pumpkins in the Royal Kitchen Garden. Entry charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its Indigenous people, through the lens of climate change and weather, has opened at the British Museum. The Citi exhibition, Arctic: culture and climate, reveals how Arctic people have adapted to climate variability in the past and are facing today’s weather challenges. It features everything from rare archaeological finds, unique tools and clothing as well as artworks and contemporary photography with highlights including an eight-piece Igloolik winter costume made of caribou fur and an Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood which was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition as well as artworks commissioned specifically for the exhibition. These include an Arctic monument of stacked stones, known as an Inuksuk – used to mark productive harvesting locations or to assist in navigation – which was built by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada. Can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 21st February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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This Week in London – King’s maps go online; life at Tower Bridge; Wildlife Photographer of the Year; and, the Gruffalo at Kew…

• Treasures including a hand-drawn map of New York City presented to the future King James II in 1664, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural drawings for Castle Howard and some London churches, and Italian Jesuit Matteo Ripa’s massive 1719 Kangxi Map of China are among thousands of maps and views The British Library have placed online. The library is now nearing the end of the project to put 40,000 early maps and views online and most can now be accessed via the library’s Flickr Commons collection website. The documents are all part of the Topographical Collection of King George III, itself a distinct segment of the King’s Library which was donated to the Nation by King George IV in 1823. Other highlights to go online include Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s drawings of the town of Lucca, dating from about 1742, James Cook’s 1763 large manuscript map of the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, and watercolours by noted 18th century artists including Paul Sandby and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. PICTURED: Nicholas Hawksmoor, [An elevation and plan for St George, Bloomsbury]. London, between 1712 and 1730. Maps K.Top 23.16.2.a.

• A new exhibition celebrating the lives of those who work behind the scenes at Tower Bridge and the visitors who walk its floors opens in the iconic bridge’s Engine Rooms on Friday. Lives of a Landmark features images commissioned in 2019 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the bridge. Photographer Lucy Hunter spent several months at the bridge, recording daily life there and this display is the result. Admission charge applies. For more, head here.

Winning images from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year – including Sergey Gorshkov’s Grand Title winner, a rare glimpse of Siberian tigress – go on show at the South Kensington-based museum from Friday. The exhibition features the 100 images, selected from more than 49,000 entries, that were short-listed for the 56th annual competition, the results of which were announced in a virtual ceremony earlier this week. Runs until 6th June. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

The Gruffalo is the subject of a new “curated journey” taking place over the half-term break in Kew Gardens’ Arboretum. Visitors are encouraged to play the role of the “little brown mouse” and follow a trail to track down the Gruffalo, along the way encountering some of the other characters from Julia Donaldson’s famous book including Fox, Owl and Snake. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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This Week in London – Rare Hebrew manuscripts at British Library; British Museum to reopen; and art at the Old Royal Naval College…

The launch of a new exhibition looking at Hebrew manuscripts marks the next phase of the British Library reopening. Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word explores the history, culture and traditions of the Jewish people around the world and features rarely seen treasures including a letter to King Henry VIII written by an Italian rabbi in 1530 regarding Biblical laws that could support Henry VIII’s claim to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as well as the earliest dated copy – 1380 – of Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, a rare uncensored copy of the Babylonian Talmud dating from the 13th century, and a 15th century illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s Shape of the Earth, one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language. Also reopening is the library’s free permanent gallery – the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library – with a new one-way route taking in treasures including Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks and handwritten manuscripts by the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. For more on the exhibition and the library’s reopening, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: David Jensen.

The British Museum reopens to visitors from today after the longest closure in its 261 year history. Tickets must be pre-booked online or over the phone and visitors will be able to access the ground floor galleries through a new one-way route. The museum has also announced that Grayson Perry’s work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – an elaborate, cast-iron coffin-ship originally created for his British Museum exhibition of the same name in 2011 – is returning to the museum. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

A “celestial choir of spinning sound machines” can be seen at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this weekend. Positioned in Lower Grand Square, Chorus is the monumental work of award-winning artist and British Composer of the Year Ray Lee. It features a series of giant metal tripods supporting rotating arms, at the end of which are loudspeakers which emit finely turned musical pitches. It can be viewed from Friday through to Monday. Meanwhile, the Painted Hall is hosting Luke Jerram’s artwork Gaia which features NASA imagery in creating a virtual, 3D small scale Earth. Gaia can be seen from tomorrow until 6th September (admission charge applies).  For more, see www.ornc.org.

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This (Year) in London – Five exhibitions you won’t want to miss in 2020…

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

This Week in London – Children’s literary rebels; immerse yourself in Leonardo; and, a rare Jubilee Line journey…

Pippi Longstocking, Matilda and the Zog are among a pantheon of beloved children’s literary characters at the heart of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels features about 40 books, manuscripts and original artworks spanning a period of 300 years and puts a spotlight on the “rebels, outsiders and spirited survivors” within the library’s collection of children’s literature. Highlights include a UK first edition of Anne of Green Gables, the first version of Cruikshank’s coloured illustrations of Oliver Twist as well as original artworks for books including Tracy Beaker, What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean?, Zog (pictured above), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Azzi in Between. The free exhibition, which can be seen until 1st March, is accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © Zog by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler 2010 (Alison Green Books).

A new immersive exploration of the work of Leonardo da Vinci, centred on The Virgin of the Rocks, opens at the National Gallery on Saturday. Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece encompasses a range of multi-sensory experiences presented across four rooms, allowing visitors to step into the painting’s setting, explore Leonardo’s own research and how he employed science in his effects of light and shadow in the painting and even visit a modern conservation studio and see how recent search revealed the previously hidden drawings behind the masterpiece. The experience, which is the work of 59 Productions, can be enjoyed until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Virgin of the Rocks (about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8) – tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition, incorporating information from all technical images. © The National Gallery, London

The Jubilee Line has turned 40 and to mark the occasion, the Jubilee Line in conjunction with London Transport Museum’s Hidden London programme are offering the chance to travel on the original route of the train. The trip includes a section of the track now not open to the public. The 96 stock train leaves from Stanmore station at 9am Sunday, terminating at Charing Cross, or from Charing Cross at 1pm, terminating at Stanmore. When Exploring London looked this week, only tickets for the 9am trip were still available. To buy tickets (which must be purchased in advance), head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/heritage-vehicles-outings.

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This Week in London – St Paul’s Watch remembered in digital projections; Buddhism at the British Library; and, Elizabeth Peyton at the National Portrait Gallery…

The story of the St Paul’s Watch, the volunteers who worked to protect St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz, will be told in a digital display projected onto the cathedral’s facade this weekend. Where The Light Falls is being held in partnership with Historic England and is part of Fantastic Feats: the building of London – the City of London’s six-month cultural events season. It will see a display of poetry, visuals and photography, created by Poetry Society and Double Take Projections, projected onto the cathedral’s south side, north side and main facade in honour of those men and women who, armed with sandbags and water pumps, risked their lives to save the cathedral. The free show lasts for about 20 minutes and can be seen between 6.30pm and 10pm from tonight until Saturday night and then from 8pm to 10pm on Sunday. Meanwhile, St Paul’s is also open for a special late opening on Friday night during which poets from the Poetry Society will be bringing to life accounts of loss, bravery and sacrifice. Admission charge applies. For more on both events, head here.

The history, teachings and contemporary relevance of Buddhism are being explored in a major new exhibition opening at the British Library on Friday. Buddhism features rare and colourful scrolls, painted wall hangings and folding books and will highlight the theory, practice and art of Buddhism, examine the enduring iconography of Buddha and consider what it means to be Buddhist today. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a program of events, runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.bl.uk.

On Now: Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is the first to situate the work of contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton within the historical tradition of portraiture. In additional to the more than 40 works on display in the exhibition, Peyton has been honoured by being first artist to be given the run of the entire gallery with a series of displays within the permanent collection which juxtapose Peyton’s art with historic portraits from the Tudor period onwards. Among her portraits on show are those of Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, Yuzuru Hanyu, Frida Kahlo, Tyler the Creator, Isa Genzken, David Bowie, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, David Fray, and Louis XIV. Runs until 5th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/elizabethpeyton.

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LondonLife – Album hunt…

Taken in Lewis Cubitt Square, King’s Cross. PICTURE: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

This Week in London – Leonardo’s notebooks; London’s “lost” rivers; Africa celebrated; and, Natalia Goncharova…

Three of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are being displayed together in the UK for the first time as part of a new exhibition at the British Library marking 500 years since the artist’s death. Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion, which opens Friday and is being held in partnership with Automobili Pininfarina, will feature a selection of notes and drawings from the Codex Arundel, owned by the British Library, the Codex Forster, owned by the V&A, and the Codex Leicester, owned by US billionaire Bill Gates (and being displayed in the UK for the first time since Gates purchased it in 1994). They reveal Da Vinci’s close observations of natural phenomena and how these explorations of nature and motion directly informed his work as an inventor and artist. The exhibition, which runs to the 8th September, is being accompanied by a series of events and until Sunday, Automobili Pininfarina will be exhibiting a 1,900 hp, zero-emissions Battista hypercar on the British Library Piazza. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/leonardo-da-vinci-a-mind-in-motion. PICTURE: Part of the exhibition/courtesy British Library.

The mysteries of London’s hidden rivers are revealed in an exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. Secret Rivers brings together art and archaeology along with photography, film, and mudlarking finds to show how the city has been shaped by the Thames and its tributaries – and how they in turn have been shaped by Londoners. It explores how rivers including the Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Tyburn, Walbrook, Wandle and Westbourne have all been “exploited for transport and industry, enjoyed and revered, and have influenced artists and writers”. Among items on display are rare surviving fragments of the 13th century Blackfriars Monastery which were used to line a well, a medieval fish trap, and drawings and prints depicting rivers – including James Lawson Stewart’s watercolour Jacob’s Island (1887) which depicts an artificial island located in the Neckinger at Bermondsey. The free exhibition runs until 27th October. A series of talks is accompanying the display. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands.

All things African will be celebrated at the Open the Gate Festival in Shoreditch this weekend. The festival, one of a number of monthly key partner events being held in conjunction with the city’s new Africa in London festival – a summer long celebration of African culture and creativity, will be held at Rich Mix on Saturday and features live music, an African Market, family workshops and African street food. For more on the event and the Africa in London initiative, head to www.london.gov.uk/AfricaLDN.

The UK’s first ever retrospective of Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova has opened in the Tate Modern’s Eyal Ofer Galleries this week. The exhibition brings together more than 160 international loans – including from Russia’s State Tretyakov Gallery, home of the largest collection of Goncharova works in the world – and features, at its heart, a room designed to evoke Goncharova’s remarkable 1913 retrospective at the Mikhailova Art Salon in Moscow which featured more than 800 works. Highlights of this show include Peasants Gathering Apples (1911), the monumental seven-part work The Harvest (1911) and nude paintings which led to her trial for obscenity as well as the four panel religious work Evangelists (1911), examples of her forays into fashion and interior design including Spring (1928) and Bathers (1922), a reunion of her ground-breaking works Linen, Loom + Woman (The Weaver) and The Forest (1911), and her collaborations with Ballets Russes including her costume designs for Le Coq d’or (The Golden Cockerel) and Les Noces (The Wedding) – performed on London stages in the 1920s and 1930s. Runs until 8th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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This Week in London – The written word at the British Library; London below ground; and, women artists at Tate Britain…

Carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works are among items on display in a new exhibition looking at the act of writing and its impact on human civilisation at the British Library. Writing: Making Your Mark spans five millennia and five continents and includes writing examples from more than 30 writing systems including Greek, Chinese and Arabic. Highlights include an 1,800-year-old ancient wax tablet, early 19th century Burmese tattooing instruments, the final diary entry of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, James Joyce’s notes for Ulysses, Caxton’s 1476-7 printing of The Canterbury Tales – the first book printed in England, and the personal notebooks of Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (pictured). There’s also a 60,000 signature petition from 1905 protesting the first partition of Bengal, Mozart’s catalogue of his complete works from 1784-1791 featuring his handwriting and musical notation, and Alexander Fleming’s notebook in which he recorded his discovery of penicillin in 1928. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition which runs until 27th August. Admission charge applies. For more see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © British Library.

London’s forgotten rivers, tunnels, sewers, deep shelters, and the world’s first subterranean railway are all explored in a new free exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Under Ground London in part celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Victorian engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette – who designed the scheme to overhaul the city’s sewers in the 19th century. As well as Bazalgette’s landmark work, the exhibition explores the legend of a cobbled street buried beneath today’s Oxford Street and tells the story of the Thames Tunnel which, when it opened in 1843, was the world’s first tunnel under a river. There’s also information on London’s ‘ghost stations’, including Strand and King William Street; and the Metropolitan Railway – the world’s first underground railway as well as images of the River Fleet, displayed for the first time. The display can be seen until 31st October. For more, follow this link.

Women artists working in Britain in the past 60 years are being celebrated in a new display at the Tate Britain in Millbank. Sixty Years features about 60 works spanning painting, photography, sculpture, drawing and film and includes many recent acquisitions. Artists whose works are on show include Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas, Bridget Riley, Mary Martin and Anthea Hamilton. Highlights include Gillian Wearing’s film Sacha and Mum (1996), Susan Hiller’s large scale multimedia installation Belshazzar’s Feast, the Writing on Your Wall (1983-84), and two new mixed media works by Monster Chetwynd – Crazy Bat Lady (2018) and Jesus and Barabbas (Odd Man Out 2011) (2018). For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain.

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Lost London – St Chad’s Well…

Located in Gray’s Inn Road at the corner with St Chad’s Place near King’s Cross this was a medicinal well dedicated to St Chad (he was the first Bishop of Lichfield and was said to have been cured of disease by drinking healing waters in the area).

The well – which was one of a number of such healing wells previously in London and which had waters said to resemble those at Lichfield – become popular in the 18th century and at one point was said to have some 1,000 visitors coming every week to sample the healing waters.

Its popularity had declined by the 19th century and it subsequently became a pleasure garden but part of them were built over by St Chad’s Place the following year. A new pump room – where the waters could be sampled – was apparently built in 1830 but just a decade later it was reported as having already fallen into decline.

The last part of the gardens was removed in 1860 thanks to the construction of the Metropolitan Railway Line.

PICTURE: Where St Chad’s Place meets with Gray’s Inn Roadl; St Chad’s Place is said to be the site of St Chad’s Well (courtesy Google Maps).

10 historic London hotels…6. The Midland Grand Hotel (The St Pancras Renaissance London)

Another of the opulent Victorian hotels built at London’s railway termini, the Midland Grand Hotel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in an ornate High Gothic style.

Scott’s design for the new hotel – which was to be built adjoining the railway station and would form its southern facade on Euston Road – was selected over 10 other submissions to win an 1865 competition run by the Midland Railway Company.

Scott was apparently reluctantly involved – he only entered the competition after pressure from one of the company’s directors despite apparently previously refusing to get involved with the project prior to that.

His expensive – and expansive – design (apparently resembling his rejected plans for government offices in Whitehall) included an 82 metre high clock tower at the east end of the more than 170 metre long facade and a 76 metre high tower at the west end (it also originally had an extra floor that wasn’t included in the final building).

The luxurious property – considered from the outset one of London’s best hotels, it cost whopping £438,000 – featured some 300 bedrooms, a grand double staircase, curved dining room and mod-cons like water-driven lifts (it was the first private building to boost these and one remained in place until 1958), an electric bell calling system and flushing toilets.

Staff communicated via a system of speaking tubes and wary of fires after the Palace of Westminster burned down, a “fireproof floor”. The property also boasted the first ladies’ smoking room in London in 1873 and, in 1899, the first revolving door in Britain was installed at the entrance.

Decorative details in the best guest rooms, meanwhile, included Axminster carpets, carved marble fireplaces, 18 foot high ceilings, and vast windows. En suite bathrooms, however, were not included.

The hotel’s east wing opened on 5th May, 1873, but it wasn’t completed until spring of 1876. One Herr Etzesberger, formerly of the Victorian Hotel in Venice, was apparently appointed general manager.

Guests included music hall singer and comedian Marie Lloyd, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemists fame), railroad and shipping entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Pullman (of the Pullman sleeping car fame).

The hotel was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1922. It closed in 1935 thanks to its now outdated and expensive-to-maintain facilities and, despite innovations like a Moroccan coffee house and in-house orchestra.

Renamed St Pancras Chambers, the building was subsequently used as railway company offices. It survived the Blitz and attempts to have it demolished thanks to a high profile campaign led by poet Sir John Betjeman, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner and the Victorian Society and in 1967 the hotel and St Pancras station were given Grade I-listed status.

British Rail continued using it as offices but in the 1980s the building was deemed unsafe and closed. It was restored in the 1990s and in 2004, permission was given for it to be redeveloped into a new hotel – the same period during which the station was being redeveloped into one of the largest rail termini in Europe in order to accommodate cross-channel trains.

This project saw the main public rooms of the old Midland Grand Hotel kept and restored as well as some bedrooms while the former driveway for taxes was converted into the new lobby and a new bedroom wing constructed. The upper floors of the original building, meanwhile, were converted into 68 apartments.

The five star, 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel opened on 14th March, 2011, to guests but the formal opening took place on 5th May that year – exactly 138 days after it first opened its doors.

Facilities at the property today, part of the Marriott group, include The Chambers Club, The Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, MI + ME, The Marcus Wareing-designed Gilbert Scott Restaurant, the Hansom Lounge – where afternoon tea is served, and George’s Bar. There’s also a spa and leisure club and pool and meeting facilities.

The premises has appeared in films including the The Secret GardenRichard III, Batman Begins, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It also served as the backdrop for the Spice Girls video clip, Wannabee.

For more, see www.stpancraslondon.com.

PICTURE: Top – LepoRello (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0);  Right – David Adams; Below – Jwslubbock (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Treasures of London – The Hardy Tree…

Located in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, the Hardy Tree takes its name from its association with novelist Thomas Hardy.

Before Hardy found fame as the author of such novels as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far from the Madding Crowd, in the 1860s he worked as an assistant to a West End-based architect, Arthur Blomfield.

Blomfield’s firm, in order to make way for a new line for the Midland Railway, was commissioned by the Bishop of London to exhume bodies from their graves in the churchyard and relocate them.

Hardy was given the job of supervising the removal of the corpses – apparently among those exhumed was a coffin containing a man with two heads!

It’s said that after he had removed the bodies, Hardy had to decide what to do with the headstones which remained and came up with the idea of placing them in a rather lovely fanned collar around an ash tree growing in a part of the churchyard unaffected by the railway line.

Whether Hardy was actually responsible for the placement of the gravestones remains somewhat uncertain (although it’s a nice story). But his work in the graveyard is believed to have at least partly inspired his poem, The Levelled Churchyard.

The moss-covered gravestones and tree have since merged and now make a fascinating monument to the churchyard’s past life, attracting Hardy pilgrims from across the world. And, of course, the churchyard is also famous as the site where Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, planned her elopement with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while she was visiting the grave of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft not to mention Charles Dickens’ famous reference to it in A Tale of Two Cities and its association with so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘bodysnatchers’ in the 19th century.

PICTURE: Stef (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

This Week in London – Cast Court reopens at V&A; ‘Visionaries’ at Guildhall; and ‘Cats on the Page’…

The V&A has reopened the second of its two Cast Courts following a redevelopment which has seen the addition of a new interpretation gallery, new exhibits and the restoration of historic original features. The West Court, now renamed the Ruddock Family Cast Court, has been returned to its historic past with original 19th century floors and wall colours and the Central Gallery, now renamed the Chitra Normal Sethia Gallery, features a new exhibition exploring the history, significance and contemporary relevance of the casts on display. Among the new exhibits are a scaled down digital reproduction of the arch of Palmyra destroyed by the so-called Islamic State in 2015 while one of the key existing exhibits, a 35 metre high cast of Trajan’s Column (displayed in two parts – see picture) has had its base permanently opened so visitors can gain an internal perspective. The reopening follows that of the Weston Cast Court in 2014 and completes a project which was begun in 2011. The Cast Courts were first opened in 1873, then known as the Architecture Courts, and house a collection of casts of some of the world’s most inspiring objects including everything from Michelangelo’s David to 16th-century tombs by Peter Vischer in Nuremberg and the Pórtico de la Gloria from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. They are the only public galleries in the South Kensington institution to display the same collection of objects as when they first opened. Entry to the Cast Courts is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Works by Edward Burns-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and Grayson Perry are among those on show as part of a new exhibition at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery. Visions and Visionaries – a collaboration between the Guildhall Art Gallery, The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust, Flat Time House, and the Bologna-based Association Age of Future, highlights some of the key figures who defined the ‘Visionary’ idea of art and laid the foundations for a later generation of avant-garde artists. Among the works on show are Sir John Gilbert’s depiction of two knights ambushed by fairies in a moon-lit forest, Marcello Pecchioli’s Alien Priest, and John Latham’s experimental screen print, NO IT, 1967 as well as Sir John Gilbert’s The Enchanted Forest, Burne-Jones’ St Agnes and St Dorothy; and a series of 25 drawings by Blake to illustrate two poems by Thomas Gray, The Bard and The Fatal Sisters. Admission is free. Runs until 28th April. For more, follow this link.

On Now: Cats on the Page. Featuring original illustrations of Mog by Judith Kerr, Beatrix Potter’s Kitty-in-Boots as imagined by Quentin Blake and two illustrations by Axel Scheffler for TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, this exhibition at the British Library is a celebration of literary felines and their creators. Objects on show include Lewis Carroll’s own copy of the exceptionally rare 1893 (third) edition of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (in which the author expresses frustration with the printing including a comment on an illustration of Alice’s kitten), an 1879 letter by Edward Lear in which he included doodles of himself and his cat Foss, a 16th century pamphlet on witchcraft with a woodcut image accompanying the description of a black cat or familiar belonging to ‘Mother Devell’, and a letter written by TS Eliot to Alison, daughter of his friend Geoffrey Tandy, which contains a draft of his poem Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer as well as Alison’s reply which includes drawings of the two cats. Coinciding with the 80th anniversary year of the original publication of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the free exhibition is being accompanied by a programme of events and can be seen until 17th March. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/cats-on-the-page.

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10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London…9. A lock of Mary Shelley’s hair…

One of the more curious items related to Mary Shelley in London is a lock of her hair which is in the collection of the British Library. 

The lock of hair is contained in the decorative lining of a book of letters and other material along with a lock of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hair which once belonged to Claire Clairmont, Shelley’s step-sister.

Percy’s hair was originally enclosed within a wrapper upon which Clairmont had written “The Poet Shelley’s Hair” – it is presumed to have been cut off following his death by drowning in 1822.

The rear lining of the same book contains material said to be from the ashes of Percy collected by Edward Trelawny from the beach near Viareggio where Percy was cremated.

Other Mary Shelley-related items in the British Library include a letter written by Percy to Mary (then Godwin) on 16th December, 1816, following the death of his first wife, Harriet, and a frontispeace from an 1831 edition of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

For more on Mary Shelley and the British Library, see www.bl.uk/people/mary-shelley.

PICTURE: Public domain (via British Library).

This Week in London – Sir Walter Raleigh’s “lost garden”; Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms; artworks celebrate women’s stories; and, Beast Quest at Hampton Court…

The “lost garden” of Sir Walter Raleigh opens at the Tower of London on Saturday, marking the 400th anniversary of the famous explorer’s death. Sir Walter, an adventurer who was a court favourite in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and enemy of King James I, was imprisoned in the tower on three occasions, at times living there with his wife and family, before he was eventually executed  on 29th October, 1618. Held in the Bloody Tower, he used the courtyard outside to grow plants from the New World and experiment with ingredients from an “elixir of life”. The gardens, which occupy the spot where the original apothecary garden once stood and are now a new permanent display at the tower, features a range of fragrant herbs, fruit and flowers. There’s also information on how they were used by Raleigh and his wife, Bess Throckmorton, to create herbal remedies and the chance for green-fingered families to concoct their own elixir. Meanwhile, the Bloody Tower has been revamped with a combination of film, sound, graphics and tactile objects to provide an insight into Raleigh’s times of imprisonment at the tower. Sir Walter and his wife Bess will also be present, entertaining crowds on Tower Green with stories of his adventures. Included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon.

The Domesday book, the earliest surviving public record in the UK, forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition looking at the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England which opens at the British Library tomorrow. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War spans the six centuries from the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest. As well as the Domesday documents – last displayed in London seven years ago and on loan from The National Archives, among the 180 treasures are the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History as well as finds from Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard. The Codex Amiatinus, a giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716, returns to England for the first time in 1,300 years. The exhibition, which runs until 19th February, is being accompanied by a series of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © The National Archives.

A series of 20 new works by London women artists go on display in public spaces across the city from today. The free exhibition, LDN WMN, is being curated by the Tate Collective as part of the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign marking the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK. It features large installations, paintings and digital graphics in bringing the hidden stories of some of London’s pioneering and campaigning women to life. They include that of reporter and activist Jackie Foster, suffragist Lolita Roy, SOE operative Noor Inayat Khan and the women who built Waterloo Bridge. The artworks, by artists including Soofiya, Manjit That and Joey Yu, will be displayed in locations from Canning Town to Alexandra Palace, Brick Lane to Kings Cross. For locations, head to www.london.gov.uk/about-us/mayor-london/behindeverygreatcity/visit-ldn-wmn-series-free-public-artworks.

Phoenixes, dragons, griffins and other fantastic beasts take over Hampton Court Palace this half-term, bringing the fantasy children’s book series and gaming brand Beast Quest to life. The interactive experience will see families pitted against strange and magical beasts in a quest which will require bravery, quick-thinking and new found skills. The Beast Quest experience is suitable for all the family and takes about one hour, 15 minutes to complete. Runs from Saturday to 28th October and is included in the usual palace admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

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LondonLife – The life within revealed…

Looking at Two St Pancras Square. PICTURE: Dylan Nolte/Unsplash

This Week in London – Courtauld’s Impressionists visit the National Gallery; the British Library’s ‘Season of Sound’; and, Renzo Piano at the Royal Academy…

For the first time in 70 years, key Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from the Courtauld Gallery are going on display at The National Gallery. The 26 works, which include pieces by Daumier, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat and Bonnard, were all purchased by Samuel Courtauld in the 1920s and are being displayed alongside paintings from the National Gallery’s own collection which he helped acquire. The works are being loaned as the Courtauld Gallery closes this month for a major transformation project, dubbed Courtauld Connect. The exhibition, Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne, traces the development of modern French painting from the 1860s to the turn of the 20th century and reveals the vision, taste and motivation of Courtauld as he acquired the pieces. Highlights from the Courtauld Gallery’s collection include Renoir’s La Loge (Theatre Box) (1874), Cézanne’s The Card Players (about 1892–6) and Lac d’Annecy (1896 – pictured), Toulouse-Lautrec’s Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge (about 1892), Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), and Seurat’s Young Woman Powdering Herself (about 1888–90). Among the works from The National Gallery’s collection being displayed alongside them are Renoir’s At the Theatre (La Première Sortie) (1876–7); as well as Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884), Cézanne’s Self Portrait (about 1880–1) and Van Gogh’s A WheatKeld with Cypresses (1889) – the first paintings by the latter three artists to enter a British public collection. The display can be seen in The Wohl Galleries from next Monday until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

The British Library’s second ‘Season of Sound’ kicks off this month with a series of events celebrating the library’s vast Sound Archive. Among highlights are the pop group Saint Etienne’s only UK performance this year, a live orchestra celebration of ‘library music’ by KPM All Stars and a silent disco. The programme of events at the King’s Cross venue kicks off next Monday. Admission charges apply. For the full programme, see www.bl.uk/events/season-of-sound.

The work of internationally-renowned architect and honorary Royal Academician, Renzo Piano, goes on show at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly from Saturday. Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings is the first comprehensive survey of Piano’s career to be held in London since 1989 and presents 16 of his most important projects. They include the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1971), the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa (1998), The New York Times Building in New York City (2007), The Shard in London (2012), the Jérôme Seydoux Pathé Foundation in Paris (2014) and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (2015). Among events being held to mark the RA’s 250th anniversary, the display in the Gabrielle Jungles-Winkler Galleries can be seen until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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This Week in London – ‘Prince and Patron’ opening at Buckingham Palace; International Busking Day; and Pacific portraits at the British Library…

Buckingham Palace’s annual Summer Opening of the State Rooms kicks off this Saturday and this year, to mark the 70th birthday of Prince Charles, it features a special exhibition of more than 100 works of art – all personally selected by His Royal Highness. Prince and Patron features some of the Prince of Wales’ favourite works of art from the Royal Collection as well as works created by young artists supported by three of charities he’s founded to encourage the revival of dying arts and the maintenance of traditional skills – The Royal Drawing School, The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts and Turquoise Mountain. Among items featured from the Royal Collection are Johan Joseph Zoffany’s painting The Tribuna of the Uffizi (1772–77), and a cloak of Napoleon Bonaparte which, made of felt and embroidered in silk, was removed from the Emperor’s baggage train in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and presented to the future George IV by Field Marshal Blücher. There are also works from his personal collection including Michael Noakes’ oil sketches HM The Queen (1972-73) and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1973) as well as two preparatory oil sketches of the first official double portrait of Prince William and Prince Harry (the work of Nicky Philipps, they’re on show for the first time) and a previously unseen sketch in pencil on paper by Bryan Organ for the portrait HRH The Duke of EdinburghPrince and Patron can be seen as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms until 30th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Michael Noakes, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1973), © Anya and Jonathan Noakes/Royal Collection Trust.

Buskers will be descending on Wembley Park this Saturday as London becomes one of numerous cities around the world marking the third International Busking Day. Multiple Grammy Award-winning composer, producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers will launch the day at 11.30am before performances – including by internationally renowned singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner, Nina Nesbitt and folk/rock band Keywest – kick off 12.30pm. The day, which runs until 7.30pm, will include music, magic, comedy, physical theatre and dance. For more, see http://wembleypark.com/international-busking-day-2018/.

A free display of Pacific portraits has gone on show at the British Library in what’s described as a “creative response” to its exhibition James Cook: The Voyages. Created by New Zealand Māori photographer Crystal Te Moananui-Squares and New Zealand Māori producer Jo Walsh, Tūhuratanga: Voyage of Discovery features 20 portraits documenting the people of Te-Moananui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) who are living in the United Kingdom today. The display can be seen in the Second Floor Gallery until 23rd September. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/tuhuratanga-voyages-of-discovery-photographs-by-crystal-te-moananui-squares.

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10 (lesser known) memorials to women in London – 4. Noor Inayat Khan…

Located in Gordon Square Gardens in King’s Cross, this bust commemorates British agent Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), who was executed during World War II.

Khan, who was of Indian descent (in fact, a direct descendent of Tipu Sultan of Mysore), had escaped to England from her home in Paris after the fall of France during World War II. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November, 1940, and in 1942 was recruited to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a radio operator.

In June, 1943, she became the first female radio operator to be flown into occupied France. There she worked for the “Prosper” resistance network under the code name Madeleine but in October she was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo.

Sent to Germany the following month, she was held in prison before, in September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau concentration camp where they were shot on the 13th of that month. Her last word was said to have been “Liberte”.

Khan, dubbed the “Spy Princess” by her biographer, was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

The bust of her in Gordon Square Gardens was unveiled by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, on 8th November, 2012. A message from her brother Hidayat Inayat-Khan was read out at the unveiling.

The bust is believed to be the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the UK. The work of Karen Newman, it was commissioned by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust.

Various inscriptions on the bust plinth provide biographical details and also record that Noor lived nearby and “spent some quite time in this garden”.

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Treasures of London – The British Library’s St Pancras building…

This week marked 20 years since the British Library’s St Pancras building was officially opened, so we thought it timely to take a look at this London ‘treasure’.

Located on Euston Road, the building, complete with rather grand piazza, was designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long.

The largest public building to be constructed in the 20th century in the UK, it was designed specifically to house the British Library collections – which itself had only been created in 1972 when an act was passed by Parliament.

The building – which did draw some criticism over its design when it was completed but has been embraced by the public – was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 25th June, 1998.

Grade II-listed since 2015, it’s comprised of 112,000 square metres spread over 14 floors – including five below ground – and features 11 reading rooms specialising in various subject areas including one for ‘manuscripts’, another for ‘maps’ and another for ‘rare books and music’.

The centrepiece of the building is the King’s Tower which is home to the library of King George III and the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The collection housed at the library includes more than 150 million items. Highlights – many of which are housed in the Treasures Gallery – include a copy of the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook as well as a first edition of The Times (18th March, 1788), manuscripts by everyone from Jane Austen and James Joyce to Handel and the Beatles, and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book.

The library, which also hosts temporary exhibitions, is also home to a restaurant, cafe and several coffee shops as well as its own retail shop.

There are now plans to further develop the campus by expanding onto a 2.8 hectare site at its northern end with the aim, among other things, of creating more exhibition spaces, new learning facilities and a permanent home for the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. A joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), won a competitive process to undertake the development last year.

WHERE: British Library, 96 Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm (includes Treasures Gallery – exhibition times can vary); COST: Free (but admission fees may be charged for exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.bl.uk.

PICTURE: Top – Aerial view of the St Pancras building (Tony Antoniou); Below – One of the reading rooms (Paul Grundy).