ice-skating-in-the-tower-moatLondon’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).

• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):

  • Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
  • St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
  • Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
  • Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
  • Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.

Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.

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Escher_Hand-with-a-Reflecting-Sphere-1935The first major UK retrospective of the work of 20th century Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis (MC) Escher opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south yesterday following its run at the Scottish National Gallery of Art. The Amazing World of MC Escher showcases more than 100 works – including original drawings, prints, lithographs, and woodcuts – as well as previously unseen archive material from the collection of Gemeentenmuseum Den Haag in The Netherlands. Arranged chronologically, highlights include 1934’s Still Life with Mirror – perhaps the first time the artist used surreal illusion, well-known 1948 lithograph Drawing Hands, the almost four metre long 1939-40 woodcut Metamorphosis II, the 1943 lithograph Reptiles and two of his most celebrated works, Ascending and Descending (1960) and Waterfall (1961). Runs until 17th January and is accompanied by a series of special events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere (Self-Portait in Spherical Mirror), January 1935, Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands/All M.C. Escher works © 2015 The M.C. Escher Company-The Netherlands. All rights reserved. http://www.mcescher.com.

West Africa’s literary history comes under examination in a new exhibition opening at the British Library at St Pancras on Friday. West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song features more than 200 manuscripts, books, sound and film recordings, artworks, masks and textiles taken from the library’s African collections and elsewhere. It explores how key figures – from Nobel Prize winning Nigerian author Professor Wole Soyinka through to human rights activist Fela Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat, and a generation of enslaved 18th century West Africans who agitated for the abolition of the slave trade – used words to both build society and fight injustice. Key items on show include a 1989 letter Kuti wrote to the president of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, in which he agitated for political change, a pair of atumpan ‘talking drums’ similar to those still used in Ghana, a carnival costume newly designed by Brixton-based artist Ray Mahabir, and letters, texts and life accounts written by the most famous 18th century British writer of African heritage, Olaudah Equiano, enslaved and freed scholar Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, and Phillis Wheatley, who, enslaved as a child, went on to write Romantic poetry. The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a major series of talks, events and performances, runs until 16th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see  www.bl.uk/west-africa-exhibition.

Two new war related exhibitions opened in London this week. Opened on Monday at the City of London’s Guildhall Library, Talbot House – An Oasis in a World Gone Crazy, recounts the story of army chaplains Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton and Neville Talbot and their creation of an Everyman’s Club – where countless soldiers spent time away from the fighting – in a house in the Belgian town of Poperinge, a few miles from the frontline at Ypres. The exhibition, created to celebrate the centenary of the house’s creation in 1915, features items from Talbot House, the memoirs of ‘Tubby’ and part of the hut where he wrote them after fleeing the Germans. Runs until 8th January and the exhibition also features two ticketed events. Entry to the exhibition is free. For more, follow this link. Meanwhile, Lee Miller: A Woman’s War opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today, displaying 150 photographs depicting women’ experiences during World War II. The four part exhibition looks at women before the war, in wartime Britain, in wartime Europe and after the war. Runs until 24th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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title-page-1950-cs-lewis-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-copyright-cs-lewis-pteFrom Peter Rabbit to Aesop’s Fables, animals and their appearance in some of the classics of literature are the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the British Library in St Pancras yesterday. Animal Tales explores the role animals have played in traditional tales around the world along with their importance in the development of children’s literature, and their use in allegorical stories such as CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as literary transformations between man and beast (this last in a nod to the fact it’s the centenary of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis). Highlights in the exhibition include one of the first children’s picture books – the 1659 edition of Comenius’ Orbis sensualism pictus, an 18th century woodblock edition of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, and a soundscape installation drawn from the library’s world leading collection of natural history recordings along with other animal tales from the sound archive. The exhibition, which runs until 1st November, will be accompanied by a series of events. Entry is free (and the display includes a children’s reading area and a family trail brochure). For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The title page from the 1950 London edition of CS Lewis’ The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. © CS Lewis Pte Ltd.

Gladiators will battle it out on the former site of London’s open air Roman amphitheatre in Guildhall Yard this weekend. The shows – which will recreate what gladiatorial games were like in Roman Londinium – will be presided over by an emperor with the crowd asked to pick its side. The ticketed event, being put on by the Museum of London, takes place Friday night from 7pm to 8pm and on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 1pm and between 3pm and 4pm. Admission charges apply. To book, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A new International Visitors Victim Service has been launched in London to specifically help foreign nationals affected by crime in the city. The first of its kind in the UK, the service, which has been established by the Metropolitan Police working with independent charity Victim Support and embassies, already operates across the five central London boroughs and is now available through a mobile police kiosk located in the West End’s “impact zone”, an area which spans Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus (alternatively they can contact the International Visitor Advocates by calling 0207 259 2424 or visit the West End Central Police Station at 27 Savile Row.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has celebrated the creation of 100 new pocket parks across London’s 26 boroughs in a scheme which is now being adopted by other locations across the country. The parks range from a rain garden in Vauxhall to a dinosaur playground in Hornsey and have seen more than 25 hectares of community land converted into enhanced green areas. A free exhibition is running at City Hall until 28th August which focuses on the stories of 11 people involved in the creation of the parks. For more on London’s “great outdoors”, you can see an interactive map at www.london.gov.uk/outdoors.

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Get an up close and in-depth look at the Bronze Age as virtual reality comes to the British Museum this weekend. For the first time, families including children aged 13 or over will be able to wear Samsung Gear VR devices to virtually explore a Bronze Age site designed by Soluis Heritage which features objects from the museum’s collections. They will also be able to enter an “immersive fulldome” where they can explore a virtual reality world featuring a Bronze Age roundhouse and objects. The event will take place in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre on Saturday and Sunday. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

british-library-aerial-shotThe British Library at St Pancras has been given Grade I heritage status, joining the top 2.5 per cent of listed buildings in England. Designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long and completed in the late Nineties, the library is the largest public building to have been built in the UK in the 20th century. At the heart of the library is the King’s Library tower which houses the library of George III as well as the Treasures Gallery where national treasures such as the Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels and original Beatles lyrics are displayed. The library was listed along with seven other libraries in England, all of which have been given Grade II status. Meanwhile the record-breaking exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy has entered its final month before closing on 1st September. The display features two of the four surviving Magna Cartas as well as the US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights – in the UK for the first time – and more than 200 objects including medieval manuscripts, artworks, 800-year-old garments and esoterica such as King John’s teeth and thumb bone. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/magna-carta. PICTURE: Tony Antoniou/British Library.

Help build The People’s Tower in Douglas Square in Deptford, south east London, this weekend. French artist Olivier Grossetete has been invited by the Albany to build the tower – with your help – out of cardboard boxes. Tower assembly takes place between 10am and 3pm on Saturday and then between 11am and 5pm on Sunday, there will be free live music and family entertainment in the Albany Garden as the tower is finished and then knocked down. No booking is required. For more, check out www.thealbany.org.uk.

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Chromolocomotion,-Terrace-Wires-art-programme-at-St-Pancras-International-1In contrast to the colourless smog which has lain over London, Scottish artist David Batchelor’s sculpture, Chromolocomotion, brings a splash of colour to the Grand Terrace at St Pancras International. Unveiled this week, the 20 by 10 metre work consists of 44 L-shaped pieces of coloured perspex suspended from the Grade I-listed roof of the Barlow Shed. It replaces Lucy and Jorge Orta’s Cloud: Meteoros and is the second installation commissioned by St Pancras International’s owners HS1 Ltd as part of the Terrace Wires initiative. The work will remain in place until late September. For more on the initiative, see www.terracewires.co.uk. PICTURE: HS1 Ltd.

TerraceWires

Lucy and Jorge Orta’s sculpture Cloud: Meteoros is the first sculpture to be unveiled for the ‘Terrace Wires’ project at St Pancras International. The sculpture, which hangs on wires from the station’s roof, features two clouds hovering over the station floor on which figures can be seen looking down. Says artist Lucy Orta: “Our sculpture is symbol the space in between: that of the daily routines of the millions of passengers and visitors to the station and the freedom of our imagination, daydreams – looking up to the sky.” The sculpture will remain in place for the rest of the year. For more on art at St Pancras, see http://stpancras.com/art/ and www.terracewires.comPICTURE: Sam Lane/HS1 Ltd.