This Week in London – Raphael Court to reopen at V&A; naming a Tower raven; and, Caroline Norton’s Blue Plaque…

The V&A has unveiled its refurbished Raphael Court – home to the world famous Raphael Cartoons – after a renovation last year to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The gallery, which reopens to the public along with the rest of the museum on 19th May, transforms the way visitors will encounter the large scale cartoons on loan to the V&A from the Royal Collection. The new gallery features state-of-the-art LED lighting, acoustic panelling and bespoke furnishings. There are also high-resolution images of the cartoons which can be explored at the gallery as well as online. The cartoons were created by Raphael in 1513 after he was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a set of 10 designs for a series of tapestries to hang in the the Sistine Chapel. Illustrating scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, each of the cartoons – which were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels to be made into tapestries – measures around five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of them survive and were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I). They were first lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865. For more, see vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.

People across the globe are invited to help name a baby female raven, one of a pair born at the Tower of London during lockdown. Until 18th May, people are invited to vote for their favourite name on the Ravenmaster’s shortlist – from Matilda (the name of a medieval queen) to Florence (named for Florence Nightingale), Brontë (named for the writing family), Winifred (named for Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale, who plotted her husband Lord Nithsdale’s escape from the Tower in 1716 disguised as a woman) and Branwen (a figure from Celtic mythology). The poll can be found at http://bit.ly/NameOurRaven and the winning name will be announced as part of the reopening of the Tower on 19th May.

Nineteenth century women’s rights campaigner Caroline Norton has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located on a townhouse at 3 Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, the home from where Norton fought for the rights to own the proceeds of her own work as a writer. Her abusive marriage and subsequent separation from George Chapple Norton was one of the most highly publicised cases in 19th-century Britain. It led to Norton successfully lobbying for legal rights for married women and, as a result of her campaigning, mothers were eventually granted custody of children under seven (and access thereafter) in cases of divorce or separation. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

Famous Londoners – Old Martin…

A grizzly bear (not Old Martin). PICTURE: Joshua J Cotten/Unsplash

A large, fully grown, grizzly bear presented to King George III by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811, Old Martin was one of the scarier residents of the Tower of London’s menagerie.

The bear, who was apparently named after a famous bear in Europe (the “old” was added because he spent so long in resident at the Tower), is said to have been the first grizzly in London.

He was not, however, the first bear to live there – King Henry III had been given a polar bear by King Haakon IV Haakonsson of Norway in 1251 (George, however, was apparently unimpressed with his gift, said to have commented in private that he would have preferred a tie or pair of socks).

Despite his many years in the menagerie, Old Martin apparently refused to be tamed and remained fierce towards both strangers and his keepers alike.

When the Duke of Wellington closed the menagerie in the early 1830s (King William IV apparently had little interest in the animals), Old Martin was moved to the London Zoo in Regent’s Park. He died there in 1838.

His skin and skull were subsequently sent to the Natural History Museum and rediscovered there in 1999 for an exhibition at the Tower.

There’s a rather odd story associated with Old Martin. It’s said that in 1816 – when Old Martin was living in the Tower’s menagerie – a Yeoman Warder saw a ghostly bear while on night duty near the Martin Tower. He apparently attempted to run it through with a bayonet but the blade went straight through and struck the door frame behind it. The somewhat dubious story goes that the poor Yeoman Warder died of shock just a few hours later.

LondonLife – Tower Bridge crossing…

Crossing the Thames on a cold winter’s day. PICTURE: Lubo Minar/Unsplash

This Week in London – Tower of London lowers drawbridge; other openings include Westminster Abbey and The Queen’s Gallery…

The Tower of London will officially lower the drawbridge in a symbolic ceremony this Friday morning to announce its reopening after a 16 week closure, the longest since World War II. A new one-way route has been introduced to allow for social distancing and while the Yeoman Warders, known as Beefeaters, won’t be restarting their tour immediately, they will be able to answer visitor questions. The Crown Jewels exhibition will also be reopening. Online bookings are essential. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

• Westminster Abbey reopens its doors to visitors on Saturday after the longest closure since it did so to prepare for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The abbey will initially be open to visitors on Saturdays and on Wednesday evenings, with a limited number of timed entry tickets available solely through advance booking online.

The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace as well as Royal Collection Trust shops reopened to the public this week. The Queen’s Gallery exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle has been extended until 1st November while Japan: Courts and Culture, which had been originally due to open in June this year, is now expected to open in spring 2022. Tickets must be booked in advance at www.rct.uk/tickets.

• Other reopenings include Kew Gardens’ famous glasshouses (from last weekend) and the Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery at Greenwich (from Monday 13th July).

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PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash.

 

LondonLife – New life at the Tower during lockdown…

The future of the Kingdom – which legend says will fall should the resident ravens leave the Tower of London – seems secure for now. Three new raven chicks have been born since the country went into lockdown, securing their presence at the Tower for years to come.

The offspring of Huginn and Muninn, who were named after the ravens of the Norse God Odin, the chicks have yet to be named. Born in secrecy, they spent the first couple of weeks with their parents but are now under the care of the Tower’s Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife.

The Tower is usually home to six ravens but with eight ravens already in residence, the new chicks will apparently be moving on from the Tower to live with raven breeders in the country, ensuring the future of the Tower ravens bloodline.

They’re not the first chicks to be hatched by Huginn and Muninn – they’re already the parents of Poppy, named for the Tower’s famous 2014 display commemorating the centenary of World War I, and George, who was born on St George’s day at the Tower last year.

The tradition surrounding the special place of the ravens at the Tower is generally attributed to King Charles II following a warning he received that the Kingdom and Crown would fall should they leave.

PICTURES: Top – One of the new chicks; Below – Ravenmaster Chris Skate attends to the birds (© Historic Royal Palaces)

A Moment in London’s History…The escape of Ranulf Flambard…

There’s been about 40 successful escapes from the Tower of London over the centuries but the first recorded one was of Ranulf Flambard. 

Flambard, the bishop of Durham, was the chief minister of King Willam Rufus (William II) (and, among other things, oversaw the construction of the inner wall around the White Tower at the Tower of London, the first stone bridge in London and Westminster Hall).

When William died in 1100, William’s younger brother Henry became king. William’s rule had been increasingly harsh and characterised by corruption and when Henry assumed the throne, Flambard was made a scapegoat for the previous administration’s failings. He was arrested on 15th August, 1100, and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement in the White Tower.

Flambard managed to escape on 3rd February, 1101. The story goes that he had lulled his guards into getting drunk by bringing in a barrel of wine for them to drink and then climbed out of a window and down a rope, which he’d had smuggled into the tower in the wine. It’s also said that the man charged with his care, William de Mandeville, allowed the escape.

Flambard subsequently escaped England to Normandy where he incited Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (and elder brother of Henry), to attempt an invasion of England.

The invasion was unsuccessful but the warring brothers reconciled and Flambard was restored to royal favour. He regained his bishopric, although he never again served as chief minister.

PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

This Week in London – British surrealism; The Prince of Wales’ coronet; and, David Hockney’s drawings…

An exhibition which traces the history of surrealist art in Britain has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Featuring more than 70 works, British Surrealism marks the official centenary of surrealism – which dates from when founder André Breton began his experiments in surrealist writing in 1920 – and features paintings, sculpture, photography, etchings and prints. Among the 40 artists represented are Leonora Carrington, Edward Burra, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Ithell Colquhoun, John Armstrong, Paul Nash and Reuben Mednikoff as well as lesser known but innovative artists like Marion Adnams, John Banting, Sam Haile, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe. Highlights include Armstrong’s Heaviness of Sleep (1938), Burra’s Dancing Skeletons (1934), Adnams’ Aftermath (1946), Nash’s We Are Making a New World (1918), Colquhoun’s The Pine Family (1940), Pailthorpe’s Abstract with Eye and Breast (1938) and Bacon’s Figures in Garden (c1935). Also featured are works and books by some of the so-called ‘ancestors of surrealism’ including a notebook containing Coleridge’s 1806 draft of poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a playscript for Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1859). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th May. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons,1934, (1905-1976). Photo © Tate

The Prince of Wales’ investiture coronet has gone on show in the Jewel House at the Tower of London for the first time. Made of 24 carat Welsh gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with a purple velvet and ermine cap of estate, the coronet – which was designed by architect and goldsmith Louis Osman – features four crosses patee, four fleurs-de-lys and an orb engraved with the Prince of Wales’ insignia. The coronet was presented to Queen Elizabeth II by the Goldsmiths’ Company for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Caernarfon Castle on 1st July, 1969. It’s being displayed alongside two other coronets made for previous Princes of Wales as well as the ceremonial rod used in the 1969 investiture which, designed by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John (1860-1952), is made of gold and is decorated with the Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto Ich Dien. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The first major exhibition devoted to David Hockney’s drawings in more than 20 years opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. David Hockney: Drawing from Life features more than 150 works with a focus on self portraits and his depictions of a small group of sitters including muse Celia Birtwell, his mother, Laura Hockney, and friends, curator Gregory Evans and master printer Maurice Payne. Previously unseen works on show include working drawings for Hockney’s pivotal A Rake’s Progress etching suite (1961-63) – inspired by the identically named series of prints by William Hogarth, and sketchbooks from Hockney’s art school days in Bradford in the 1950s. Other highlights include a series of new portraits, coloured pencil drawings created in Paris in the early 1970s, composite Polaroid portraits from the 1980s, and a selection of drawings from the 1980s when the artist created a self-portrait every day over a period of two months. Runs until 28th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Inside the world of mushrooms; Tower Bridge ‘sings’; and, ‘La Ghirlandata’ restored…

The world of mushrooms is explored in a new exhibition opening tomorrow at Somerset House. Part of the Charles Russell Speechly’s Terrace Rooms Series, Mushrooms: The art, design and future of fungi is curated by writer Francesca Gavin and features works by more than 35 artists, designers and musicians in an exploration of “the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism, the ideas it inspires in the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic, and the powerful promise it offers to reimagine society’s relationship with the planet, inspiring new thinking around design and architecture”. Highlights include watercolours by renowned author Beatrix Potter (one of which is pictured), American artist Cy Twombly’s quasi-scientific portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974), and a spectacular floral display, featuring mushrooms grown in Somerset House’s former coalholes, by the London Flower School. The free exhibition, which runs until 26th April, is accompanied by a series of events. For more, see somersethouse.org.uk/mushrooms. PICTURE: Beatrix Potter, Hygrophorus puniceus, pencil and watercolour, 7.10.1894, collected at Smailholm Tower, Kelso, courtesy of the Armitt Trust

A newly commissioned film which reimagines Tower Bridge as a musical instrument is at the heart of a new exhibition which opened in the bridge’s Victorian Engine Rooms this week. Created by internationally acclaimed artist, inventor and filmmaker Di Mainstone to mark the bridge’s 125th anniversary, Time Bascule draws inspiration from Hannah Griggs, one of the first women to work at the bridge (in her case as a cook for the Bridge Master and his family between 1911-1915). The display also includes behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards and early sketches, as well as the opportunity for visitors to play a range of specially created musical instruments. Runs until March. Included in admission to the bridge. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, La Ghirlandata, is being unveiled at the Guildhall Art Gallery today following a year-long restoration. William Russell, Lord Mayor of the City of London, is unveiling the portrait which was painted in 1873. Conversation work undertaken included cleaning the painting to reveal a “brighter, fresher scene with a cooler tonality”, repairing and cleaning Rossetti’s original frame, and replaced the deteriorating living canvas. The restoration was made possible thanks to a grant from the Bank of America.

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This Week in London – Blake at the Tate; London’s scientific contributions explored; and, dining out in the Tower moat…

The largest survey of the work of visionary artist and poet William Blake to be seen in the UK in a generation has opened at the Tate Britain in Millbank. William Blake features more than 300 works with highlights including The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c1805-9) and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (c1805) which, in a bid to see them as Blake intended, have been digitally enlarged and projected onto the gallery’s wall, providing them with the sort of the scale he had envisaged for them but never realised. The actual works themselves are displayed nearby in a recreation of the artist’s only significant attempt to acquire a public reputation as a painter – his ill-fated exhibition of 1809 which took place in a room over his family’s hosiery shop. The exhibition also provides a focus on London, described as a “constant inspiration” for Blake, and highlights the vital role of his wife Catherine played in the creation of his engravings and illuminated books with illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress (1824-27) and a copy of the book The complaint, and the consolation Night Thoughts (1797) on display, both of which are thought to have been coloured by Catherine. Other highlights include what is thought to be the only self-portrait of Blake – exhibited in the UK for the first time, the work Albion Rose (c1793) depicting the mythical founding of Britain, illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) and some of his best-known paintings including Newton (1795-c1805 – pictured above) and Ghost of a Flea (c1819-20). The exhibition closes with The Ancient of Days (1827), a frontispiece for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy, which was completed only days before Blake’s death. Runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: William Blake (1757-1827) Newton 1795-c1805 (Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper, 460 x 600mm Tate).

A new gallery exploring how London’s scientists and artisans transformed our understanding of the world over 250 years spanning the period from the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington today. The 650 square metre gallery, known as ‘Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery’, features iconic objects such as Sir Isaac Newton’s famous work, Principia Mathematica, Robert Hooke’s microscope (pictured), and objects including an air pump and ‘Philosophical Table’ which were commissioned by King George III as the king conducted his own scientific investigations. There’s also a range of machine models including one of a pile driving machine used in the construction of Westminster Bridge in the 1740s. The gallery is free to visit. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.ac.uk. PICTURE: Microscope designed by Robert Hooke, 1671-1700 formerly in the George III collection, King’s College London © Science Museum Group

The Tower of London Food Festival is being held in the fortress’ dry moat this weekend. Culinary talents including Chris Bavin and Emily Roux are among those offering live cookery demonstrations while visitors can put their own skills to the test with masterclasses. There’s also wine and sherry tasting sessions, an expanded array of food and drink to sample, activities for kids including cookery classes, games and face painting, and the Bandstand is back with deckchairs to relax in. Admission is included with entry to the Tower. Closes on Sunday. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

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LondonLife – Angles on an iconic bridge…

Tower Bridge marked its 125th birthday last weekend so to celebrate, here’s some different angles on London’s most photographed bridge. The Victorian Gothic bascule and suspension bridge, which spans the Thames just to the east of London Bridge (with which it’s not to be confused), took eight years to build and was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the then Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). For more on the celebrations taking place at the bridge over the coming weeks and months, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/.

 

This Week in London – Tower Bridge turns 125; Cindy Sherman at the National Portrait Gallery; and, Félix Vallotton at the RA…

•  Tower Bridge marks its 125th anniversary on Sunday and in honour of the event, there will be celebrations inside and outside the bridge right across the weekend. Entry to the bridge will be priced at just £1.25 and visitors will also receive a one-off souvenir bookmark as well as £5 off the official Tower Bridge book. Tickets cannot be booked in advance. Among the activities is a new photographic exhibition on the high-level walkways showcasing rare archival images and new photographs while costumed performers depicting historic figures – including the bridge’s first and only Indian engineer, divers who dug the foundations and the bridge’s first female employees – will be re-enacting scenes which (might have) happened during construction. Visitors can also join in the bridge architect Sir Horace Jones’ 200th “big birthday bash” in the Engine Rooms and view a new installation on the piers imagining some of the alternative river crossings that could have been built in place of the bridge. Special events will be continuing until the end of the year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/. PICTURE: Paul Varzar/Unsplash

Contemporary artist Cindy Sherman’s ground-breaking series, Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) has gone on public display for the first time in the UK in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work. Hosted at the National Portrait Gallery, Cindy Sherman explores the development of the artist’s work from the mid-1970s to the present day and includes all 70 images from the Untitled Film Still series as well all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed while she was a student in 1976 and being displayed together for the first time. There will also be a range of source material from the artist’s studio to give insights into her working processes. Runs until 15th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

The work of Swiss artist Félix Vallotton (1865–1925) is being exhibited in a dedicated display for the first time in the UK since 1976. Opening in the The Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing of Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts on Sunday, Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet features about 100 works from public and private collections across Europe and the US and is organised in three sections spanning his career. Highlights include Self-portrait at the Age of Twenty (1885), The Sick Girl (1892), The Visit (1899), Gabrielle Vallotton (1905), Nude Holding her Gown (1904),  This is War! (1916), Red Peppers (1915), and Sandbanks on the Loire (1923). On show until 29th September after which the exhibition will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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LondonLife – The Tower remembers…

Thousands of flames have filled the moat at the Tower of London as part of a moving light and sound display marking the centenary of the end of World War I. Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers evolves over four hours each night as the moat gradually fills with flames accompanied by a specially commissioned sound installation exploring the shifting political alliances, friendship, love and loss in a time of war. At the heart of the sound installation is a new choral work featuring the words of war poet Mary Borden taken from her Sonnets to a Soldier. The display, which can be seen at the Tower every night from 5pm to 9pm until Armistice Day on Sunday, 11th November, starts with a solemn procession led by the Tower’s Yeoman Warders who ceremonially light the first flame and then gains pace as volunteers slowly light up the rest of the installation. It’s free to view from Tower Hill and the Tower concourse. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/explore/the-tower-remembers/. PICTURES: © Historic Royal Palaces (click on the images to enlarge).

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 – Tower Bridge opening…

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

A Moment in London’s History – The execution of George, Duke of Clarence…

Among the gruesome deaths said to have taken place at the Tower of London is that of George, the Duke of Clarence, who, so the story goes, was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine on 18th February, 1478 – 540 years ago this year.

George, who was born on 21st October, 1449, was the younger brother of King Edward IV and older brother of (although he was only king after George’s death) King Richard III.

George, who was made Duke of Clarence and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland soon after the House of York’s King Edward IV’s ascendancy to the throne in 1461 during the volatile period known as the Wars of the Roses, had betrayed his brother King Edward IV at least twice before his death.

The first time came in the late 1460s when he joined with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, in helping the previously deposed Lancastrian King Henry VI back onto the throne. The second time came after his brother Edward has retaken the throne in March, 1471, and the two of them had reconciled. George had sought to wed Mary of Burgundy, but Edward had objected – one of a series of events which apparently led George, whose mental state was said to be deteriorating fast by this point, to once again scheme against the king and eventually saw King Edward IV have him thrown in prison in June, 1477.

The King brought charges – including that he had slandered the King and prepared for rebellion – against George in Parliament in January, 1478, and both houses subsequently passed a bill of attainder with the sentence of death carried out in private (thus perhaps sparing him the humiliation of a public execution?) in the Tower soon after.

The story that he had been drowned in a butt of his favourite malmsey (a sweet wine) in the Bowyer Tower apparently circulated soon after his death – among proponents of the story was William Shakespeare who in Richard III has the duke stabbed and then drowned in a butt of malmsey – and to this day it remains something of a mystery as to whether it actually occurred (although, interestingly, his body when exhumed was not beheaded which was the common means of executing members of the nobility).

It has been suggested that sawn down wine butts were used for baths at the time – which may mean George was drowned in a wine butt, but one he was using to take a bath rather than one which had wine stored in it. It has also been suggested that the reference to a butt of wine refers to a barrel used for storing his body for removal to Tewkesbury where he was buried alongside his wife rather than his actual execution.

PICTURES: Top – The Tower of London where the Duke was executed; Right – A virtual re-enactment of George’s death at the Tower.

 

LondonLife – Crenellations…

Tower of London crenellations from Tower Hill.

LondonLife – Cannons in snow…

Cannons in snow at the Tower of London.

Treasures of London – The Yeomen Warders…

Commonly known as Beefeaters (more on that in a moment), the Yeoman Warders have long been a presence at the Tower of London.

The Yeomen Warders, more properly known as the ‘Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’, are a distinct detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard.

With a history stretching back to at least the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83), they have formed the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509.

The Warders are nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, it is thought, due to the fact their privileged position meant they could eat as much beef as they liked from the King’s table.

These days, Yeoman Warders, most of whom live in the Tower with their families (part of their job has always been to guard the Tower at night), must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, have reached the rank of warrant officer, and been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (the current warders have served in Northern Ireland, during the Falklands War, in Bosnia, in the first and second Gulf conflicts and in Afghanistan).

There are usually around 40 Yeoman Warders at any one time under the command of four Yeoman Serjeants and a Chief Yeoman Warder (currently Alan Kingshott). They wear age dark blue and red undress uniform for everyday duties but also have a state dress uniform featuring the familiar heavy red coat (pictured above).

The first female to be appointed to the role of Yeoman Warder was Moira Cameron in 2007. The most recent person to join the Yeoman Warders is Gary Burridge who did so in August following 32 years in the Royal Navy.

One of the Yeoman Warders – currently Chris Skaife – serves in the role of Ravenmaster of the Tower of London and has the responsibility of caring for the tower’s famous ravens (important because, so they story goes, should the ravens ever leave the tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom). Other specialist roles include that of Yeoman Clerk.

Upon joining the Yeoman Warders, the new warders take an oath of allegiance (believed to date back to 1337) after which they drink a toast of port served in an 18th century pewter bowl.

Tradition holds that the Chief Yeoman Warder toasts all new recruits with the words “May you never die a Yeoman Warder”. The origins of this apparently lie in the fact that the positions of Yeoman Warder were in the past purchased from the Constable of the Tower for 250 guineas with most of the money returned to the warder when they retired and the Constable keeping the rest. But if the Yeoman Warder died in office, the Constable would keep all the money – hence the toast. The practice was apparently abolished by the Duke of Wellington in 1826.

Yeoman Warders, as well as participating in ceremonial duties like the daily Ceremony of the Keys and the annual Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, they also take tours of the Tower of London.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday/10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.50 adult/£9.70 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

PICTURE: Yeoman Warders at the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, 2014 (Peter Rowley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

This Week in London – Queen Margaret arrives at the Tower; 500 years of working Londoners; butlers explored at Apsley House; and, marking the Russian Revolution centenary…

The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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