The ‘Fish House’ at ZSL London Zoo in The Regent’s Park opened to the public in May, 1853, and featured large plate glass tanks through which visitors could see life under the water.

Claimed to be not just London’s but the world’s first aquarium, it owed its origins to the development of techniques which enabled sea life to be kept in a tank, including the realisation that plants could rebalance the water’s make-up by dealing with the carbolic acid produced by fish when they absorbed oxygen from the water.

The council of Zoological Society of London had agreed on 18th February, 1852, to build the facility, initially described as an ‘Aquatic Vivarium’ (the original term used to describe a fish tank). But it was soon after it was opened that renowned Victorian marine biologist Philip Henry Gosse first coined the term ‘aquarium’, a truncation of the phrase.

Some of the first specimens exhibited in the Fish House – described as “a small collection of the Zoophytes and Annelides” – were actually brought by Gosse from Ilfracombe to London and became the “nucleus” of a collection which, when it was opened, included some 300 marine species.

Increasing demand to see underwater life saw the current three-halled Aquarium built on a different site – under the Mappin Terraces – in 1921. It was opened by King George V and his wife Queen Mary in April 1924.

Water for the saltwater section was apparently originally taken from the Bay of Biscay and delivered on barges via Regent’s Canal to the zoo. The barges were later replaced with road tankers which brought the water from the North Sea.

Species in the Aquarium these days include the tomato clownfish, the red piranha, Banggai cardinal fish, seahorses and the Amazon giant river turtle.

WHERE: The Aquarium, ZSL London Zoo, Regent’s Park (nearest Tube stations are Camden Town and Regent’s Park); WHEN: (Zoo entry) 10am to 5.30pm (last entry 4.30pm) everyday until 19th October; COST: Various (check the website for details); WEBSITE: www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/exhibits/aquarium.

PICTURES: The former Fish House (Courtesy ZSL London Zoo/© ZSL London Zoo).

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The 150th anniversary of the Smithfield Market will be celebrated at a street party this weekend. The Museum of London and Smithfield Market are joining in offering the free event which, reminiscent of St Bartholomew’s Fair, will feature food, music and historical re-enactments. Performers include Nadia Rose, Stealing Sheep, Girls Rock London, Gandini Juggling and Horrible Histories. Designed by Sir Horace Jones, the redesigned market – which is owned and managed by the City of London Corporation, was officially opened on 24th November, 1868. Runs from 11am to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. For more, see www.culturemile.london/festival/smithfield-150/.

Hampton Court Palace is hosting its annual food festival over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Highlights include The Kitchen theatre featuring live cookery demonstrations from top chefs and gastronomic experts including Nadiya Hussain, Melissa Hemsley, Dr Rupy Aujla, Rhiannon Lambert, Lisa Faulkner and Michel Roux, Jr and The Classroom, which will be offering hands-on masterclasses such as sourdough workshops and ‘naked cake’ decorating with the BBC Good Food Cookery Team, gin and cocktail masterclasses and kids’ cookery. There will be stalls from more than 100 food providers offering everything from oysters to sausages, sweet treats and ales as well as a bandstand with live music and activities including vintage games, shire horses and a circus school. The festival runs from 25th to 27th August. Free entry to the palace and gardens is included with the ticket. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

• The work of largely forgotten Edwardian female illustrators Alice Bolingbroke Woodward and Edith Farmiloe is going on show in a new exhibition at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner. Peter Pan and the Other Lost Children, which opens Saturday, has been designed around 19 of Woodward’s original watercolour drawings from the first Peter Pan and also includes seven watercolours from her drawings from a 1930s edition of Alice in Wonderland. The display, which also includes works by Farmiloe, has been timed to coincide with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918. For more, see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

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

This month marks 38 years since Alexandra Palace, known to many as the ‘People’s Palace’, in north London burned down – for the second time.

The palace – named for Princess Alexandra, wife of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and subsequently nicknamed ‘Ally Pally’ – was originally opened in 1873 as an entertainment and recreation centre inspired by the success of the Crystal Palace in London’s south.

But just 16 days later – having already attracted some 120,000-plus visitors – Alexandra Palace burned down when a fire started in the dome. A second palace complex was opened on the site two years later, on 1st May, 1875, and this palace, which a 1900 Act of Parliament declared was to remain forever available for public use, stood until 1980.

It served various purposes over the years including, of course, hosting various musical and threatrical events as well as hosting shooting events during the 1908 Olympics, acting as an internment camp during World War I, and being used as the transmitting centre for BBC radio and television – a role which saw it, in 1936, become the home of the world’s first regular public television service.

On 10th July, 1980 – having been transferred into the ownership of Haringey Council from the Greater London Council six months earlier and now in the early stages of a renovation project, it caught fire during a jazz festival.

Starting behind the venue’s historic Willis Organ in the Great Exhibition Hall, the fire spread through the roof and destroyed about a third of the building including the hall, Banqueting Suite, former roller rink and theatre dressing rooms. Only the Palm Court and area occupied by the BBC – including the theatre and transmitting tower – escaped damage (interestingly, the burnt out shell of the Great Hall featured in the film 1984, representing Victory Square).

The building was subsequently redeveloped and restored and reopened again on 17th March, 1988. Offering a range of recreational facilities including performance spaces, an ice rink, boating lake and animal enclosure, it now operates as a charitable trust administered by the London Borough of Haringey.

Grade II-listed since 1996, the palace is currently undergoing a £27 million restoration and development project which will see a new public space created in the East Court and allow visitor access to a range of historical artefacts, including photographs and early film, for the first time, as well as see the Victorian-era theatre restored.

The theatre will reopen in December but before that – on 1st September – will host the Proms with the BBC Concert Orchestra performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (the event is already sold out). For more, see www.alexandrapalace.com.

PICTURE: Alexandra Palace today (Dun.can (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

Snow at Kenwood House near Hampstead Heath. PICTURE: Ashley Coates (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

ZSL London Zoo opened the gates to its new Zoorassic Park last weekend enabling families to step back in time to the Mesozoic era and experience life with the dinosaurs. Featuring life-size, moving dinosaurs ranging from a tyrannosaurus rex (above) to a triceratops (below), the exhibit, will provide insight into the lives of the extinct giants as well as the important work conservationists are doing now to help save today’s animals from the same fate Included in the price of entry into the zoo, the exhibit is only open until 3rd September. For more, see www.zsl.org. PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.

canonbury_squareOK, I know the plaque on the front says this was the actual home of author George Orwell – who moved here in 1944 with his family. But the property was also apparently partly the inspiration for Victory Mansions, the home of  Winston Smith, the protagonist of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) moved to the property at 27b Canonbury Square with his wife Eileen and their young adopted son Richard in 1944 after their flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, was hit by a V-1 flying bomb.

But Eileen sadly died unexpectedly during surgery only a few months later in early 1945 while Orwell was off working as a war correspondent.

Despite this, Orwell retained the property until 1947 – the same year his allegorical story Animal Farm was published – but had left the property when Nineteen Eighty Four, which he had largely written while on the Scottish island of Jura in 1947 and 1948, was published in June, 1949 – only a few months before he died in January, 1950.

His was apparently the basement flat – rather unlike Smith’s home which Orwell wrote was located “seven flights up” in a rather large block. The architectural differences aside, however, Orwell’s flat apparently served as something of a model for Smith’s “bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area” which was, like the rest of the flats Victory Mansions, was “falling to pieces” and filled with the smell of boiled cabbage.

A plaque erected by the London Borough of Islington has long adorned the building although last year Orwell’s son Richard attended the unveiling of a new plaque which amended the dates Orwell lived here, changing  it from 1945 to 1944-47.

Of course, London is replete with other locations mentioned in Orwell’s book – Trafalgar Square becomes Victory Square (Big Brother stands atop the column in place of Admiral Lord Nelson), the Ministry of Truth where Smith works is modelled on the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, and the cells in the Ministry of Love are apparently based on those at Bethnel Green Police Station where Orwell has been incarcerated (although only for a few hours) after being arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour in 1931.

Orwell, meanwhile, is commemorated with numerous plaques located around London, including an English Heritage Blue Plaque at a property in Lawford Road, Kentish Town.

Canonbury Square – Orwell’s former residence is in the foreground (with the old plaque). PICTURE: 14wesley/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

The-Assembly-HouseThis name of this Kentish Town establishment, which dates from the late Victorian era, apparently has nought to do with politics.

Rather it apparently takes its name from the fact that during the 18th century, this site served as a gathering – assembly – point for travellers heading further to the north – to places such as Hampstead Heath – in the belief that safety in numbers could protect them from highwaymen.

There has been a public house on the site since at least the end 18th century (it’s suggested it was at one stage named the Bull), the current capacious, Grade II listed pub, was built in 1898 and, designed in the French chateau-style, features a corner turret.

Inside there are still many original features including a circular glass dome, brilliant cut mirrors and elaborate wrought-iron screening.

The pub can also apparently be seen in the 1971 Richard Burton film, The Villain.

For more on the pub, which is located at 292-294 Kentish Town Road, see www.assemblyhouse.co.uk.

PICTURE: Jim Linwood/CC BY 2.0/Via Wikimedia

Hadley-HighstoneAn important battle during the late medieval Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Barnet was fought on 14th April, 1471, between the Yorkists, led by the deposed King Edward IV and Lancastrian forces loyal to the King Henry VI.

While we have looked briefly at the battle before as part of our A Moment in London’s History series (see here), we thought we’d take a more in-depth look.

Edward had been driven from the throne in October, 1470, after his alliance with the powerful Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, fell apart. With King Henry VI restored to the throne, Edward was exiled over the Channel.

By early 1471, Edward was ready to make his push for the throne again and in March he landed in Yorkshire in England’s north along with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy.

Heading south, Edward gathered more troops as he went, briefly pausing at Coventry where the Earl of Warwick refused to offer battle before pressing on to London, arriving unopposed on 12th April. There he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth Woodville and young son Edward (later Edward V) and the hapless King Henry VI was once again  taken into Yorkist custody.

The Earl of Warwick, who had been raising troops in the Midlands, moved with a 15,000-strong force to confront him and took up a position about a mile north of the village of Barnet, just north of the City, on 13th April.

Edward – who brought 10,000 to 12,000 troops to the fight and had his brothers, the erstwhile traitor George, Duke of Clarence, and the young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, by his side – arrived that same evening and took up a position just to the south of the Lancastrians. Unaware of the close proximity of the Yorkists (it’s not known whether this was by accident of design but Edward had instructed his men not to light fires and to keep silent), the Lancastrian artillery flew over their heads.

The battle was joined in earnest the following day – Easter Sunday – at around dawn. The Lancastrians were initially successful in driving back Edward’s forces on the right flank under the command of John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, but thick fog is said to have been responsible for sowing confusion in the Lancastrian ranks, leading to allies attacking each other and the Lancastrian army eventually fell apart amid cries of treachery.

Warwick was killed in the battle as he attempted to reach his horse. His body was allowed to be displayed at St Paul’s before being buried in the family vault.

The exact site of the battle remains something of an unknown although it is thought to be located in Monken Hadley just to the north of Barnet itself (that is the area marked on the official English Heritage Register of Historic Battlefields).

A stone monument to the battle, the Hadley Highstone, was erected in the 18th century and in the 1800s was moved to its current location at the junction of Kitts End Road with the Great North Road in Monken Hadley and was originally thought to have marked the spot on which Warwick died. The Battlefields Trust is currently developing a project to pin down the location further.

The battle was a resounding victory of King Edward IV for while some suggest the numbers killed were said to be about the same on both sides – somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000, Warwick was removed, depriving the Lancastrians of a key ally and giving the Yorkists a significant edge in the ongoing conflict which saw Edward IV back on the throne for the next 14 years.

PICTURE: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia

For more on the Wars of the Roses, see Alison’s Weir’s book Lancaster And York: The Wars of the Roses.

Designed as London’s response to the Eiffel Tower, Watkin’s Tower was the brainchild of railway entrepreneur and MP Sir Edward Watkin.

Watkin's-TowerFollowing the opening of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, Watkin wanted to go one better in London and build a tower than surpassed its 1,063 feet (324 metres) height.

He apparently first approached Gustave Eiffel himself to design the tower which was to be located as the centrepiece for a pleasure park development at Wembley Park in London’s north (which, incidentally, would be reached by one of Sir Edward’s railway lines – he opened Wembley Park station to service it). But Eiffel declined the offer and Watkin subsequently launched an architectural design competition.

Among the 68 designs received from as far afield as the US and Australia were a cone-shaped tower with a railway spiralling up its exterior, a Gothic-style tower (also with a railway), a tower topped with a 1/12 scale replica of the Great Pyramid, one modelled on the spire of Bow Church in Cheapside and one topped by a giant globe (you can see the catalogue of all entries here).

The winning entry was submitted by Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn who proposed a steel eight legged tower soaring 1,200 feet (366 metres) into the sky. To be lit with electric lighting at night, it came with two observation decks with restaurants, theatres and exhibition space as well as winter gardens, Turkish baths, shops, promenades and a 90 room hotel as well as an astronomical observatory. The top of the tower would be reached by a series of elevators.

The first stage of the project – formally known as London Tower or the Wembley Park Tower – had still not been completed when Wembley Park opened in May, 1894 – standing 154 feet (47 metres tall), it was finally finished in September the following year.

It was to never rise higher. The project become mired in problems – Watkin retired through ill health (and died in 1901), the structure started to subside and the construction company went into liquidation. Dubbed Watkin’s Folly and the London Stump, what there was of the tower was eventually demolished between 1904-1907.

While the dream of the tower never came to be, the site nonetheless became a popular vehicle for recreation and the site was later used for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition with Wembley Stadium built over the spot where the tower had once stood.

Following on from last week’s post, we look at a couple more London memorials to The Bard,  playwright William Shakespeare…

Shakespeare-Leicester-SquareLeicester Square: Returned to the West End square last year following its restoration (and the square’s redevelopment), this statue of Shakespeare – claimed to be the only outdoor one in London – was designed by architect John Knowles in 1874 when the square was constructed. Now Grade II-listed, it depicts Shakespeare leaning on a pedestal, pointing to a scroll which reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”, a quote from Twelfth Night. An inscription on the plinth upon which Shakespeare stands, refers to the laying out of the square by Albert Grant and doesn’t mention the playwright at all. The statue stands in the middle of a fountain, upgraded  as part of the recent overhaul of the site. PICTURE: Carcharoth/Wikipedia.

Primrose Hill: Shakespeare’s Tree on Primrose Hill was originally planted in April, 1864, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. An estimated 100,000 people marched to the site to watch the tree planting by poet Eliza Cooke and actor Samuel Phelps which was organised by the Workingmen’s Shakespeare Committee – apparently in response to the lacklustre efforts of a government-backed committee to mark the anniversary. The tree stood for 100 years before it died and was replaced with an oak sapling planted in 1964 actress Dame Edith Evans. A plaque which was attached to the tree detailing when it was planted has long since gone but there is talk of some sort of a permanent new memorial on the site.

There are other numerous places in London where Shakespeare – and his works – are remembered in London. One of our favourites is based in Love Lane and recalls the work of John Heminge and Henry Condell is getting Shakespeare’s works out to the world (for more on this, see our previous post here).

In our final post in this series next week, we take a look at some of the key London locations mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

It was exactly 543 years ago today that the Battle of Barnet – one of the key battles of the Wars of the Roses – was fought near what was then the small town of Barnet but is now an area on Greater London’s outer northern fringe.

Hadley-HighstoneKing Edward IV, returning from exile in Burgundy after he was ousted by the Lancastrians, led an estimated 10,000 Yorkists in an engagement with some 15,000 Lancastrians (who backed King Henry VI) under the command of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick and known as the Kingmaker, who had previously supported the Yorkists (and before that the Lancastrians).

The forces met on 14th April, 1471, at around dawn but thick fog sewed confusion in the Lancastrian ranks with allies attacking each other and the army eventually fell apart amid cries of treachery. Warwick was killed in the battle as he attempted to flee.

The exact site of the battle remains something of an unknown although it is thought to span the community of Monken Hadley just to the north of Barnet itself (that is the area marked on the official English Heritage Register of Historic Battlefields).

A stone monument to the battle, the Hadley Highstone, was erected in the 18th century and in the 1800s was moved to its current location at the junction of Kitts End Road with the Great North Road in Monken Hadley and was originally thought to have marked the spot on which Warwick died. The Battlefields Trust is currently developing a project to pin down the location further.

The battle was important because, along with the following Battle of Tewkesbury during which the Lancastrian heir Edward was killed (and the murder of King Henry VI shortly after), it secured the throne for King Edward IV for the next 14 years.

PICTURE: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia