Wondering which ‘great’ Queen this street name is referring to? Perhaps Queen Victoria, our own Queen Elizabeth or even her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I?

None of the above – the West End thoroughfare which runs between Drury Lane and Kingsway, is named for Queen Anne (of Denmark), consort of King James I (and the ‘great’ in Great Queen Street, we imagine, refers to the size of the thoroughfare and not the ‘greatness’ of the Queen).

Originally a residential street dating from the first half of the 17th century (one of which apparently sported a statue of another queen, Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, on its facade), the houses were gradually replaced  over the years but some early 18th century abodes do remain.

Famous residents include everyone from Civil War Parliamentarian General Thomas Fairfax and 18th century composer Thomas Arne to late 17th and early 18th century portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and James Boswell, biographer of Samuel Johnson.

Freemason’s Hall, home of the United Grand Lodge of England, is located on the corner with Wild Street and the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms next door stand on the site of the former Freemasons Tavern where, in 1863, the Football Association was founded.

PICTURE: View down Great Queen Street with the edifice of Freemason’s Hall on the right. (Google Street View)

Advertisements

An exhibition exploring the changing roles of women in the British Army from 1917 to the present day has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Rise of the Lionesses, which is being held in partnership with the WRAC Association, charts the major contributions women have made to the Army’s history as well as how perceptions of “appropriate” roles for females have affected these contributions and how women have fought to redefine those roles. Highlights include the combat shirt and medical kit belonging to Sergeant Chantelle Taylor – the first female British soldier to kill in combat, the first Army-issue bra, and the vehicle chassis used to train Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) while she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II (pictured above). The free display can be seen until 20th October and is accompanied by a programme of public events. For more, head to this link. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Army Museum.

• Communications intelligence and cyber security are explored in an exhibition at the Science Museum, making the centenary of UK intelligence, security and cyber agency,  GCHQ. Top Secret: From ciphers to cyber security features more than 100 objects including cipher machines used during World War II, secure telephones of the type used by British Prime Ministers, and an encryption key used by the Queen. There’s also encryption technology used by Peter and Helen Kroger who, until their arrest in the 1960s, were part of the most successful Soviet spy ring in Cold War Britain, and the remains of the crushed hard drive alleged to contain top secret information which was given by Edward Snowden to The Guardian in 2013 while the work of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre is also explored with visitors able to see a computer infected with the WannaCry ransomware which, in 2017, affected thousands of people and organisations including the NHS. Runs until 23rd February. Admission is free. For more, head to www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

The pioneering work of Hungarian avant garde artist Dóra Maurer goes on show at the Tate Modern on South Bank next Monday in the first UK exhibition celebrating her five decade career. The free display brings together 35 of her works – from conceptual photographic series and experimental films to colourful graphic works and striking geometric paintings – with highlights including Seven Foldings (1975), Triolets (1981), Timing (1973/1980) and the six-metre-long Stage II (2016). The year-long display is one of several free displays opening at the Tate Modern this month. Others include an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s graphic woodcut prints, a show featuring photograms, films, painting and drawings by Polish émigré artists Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson, and photography displays by Mitch Epstein, Naoya Hatakeyama and David Goldblatt. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Cinema is being celebrated at Somerset House this month with the launch of Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House. The event includes courtyard screenings, specially curated DJ sets and live performances, and panel discussions from industry insiders. Actor Antonio Banderas will join Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar to introduce the festival’s opening night premiere, Pain and Glory, with other special guests including the cast of Shane Meadows’ BAFTA-award winning film This is England, Francis Lee, the director and writer of God’s Own Country, and  the film’s lead actor Josh O’Connor as well as Peter Webber, director of Inna de Yard. Runs from 8th to 21st August. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

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

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both had an abiding love of performance and were avid theatre-goers (the Queen first attended the theatre as monarch to watch The Siege of Rochelle and Simpson & Co at the Drury Lane Theatre just a few months after ascending the throne in 1837).

Until Prince Albert’s death in 1861, they were regularly seen at various theatres with the Queen attending both ‘in state’ (that is, formally as monarch with all the pomp and ceremony that entails) as well as in private (despite Prince Albert’s concerns over her security). The royal couple’s visits to the theatre generally took place from February to June when the Queen was principally in residence at Buckingham Palace.

As well as the Drury Lane Theatre (more formally, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – pictured above in 2018), other theatres they attended include the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

They also attended the now demolished Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, most notably to see Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers in February, 1852. Keen not only directed but played both brothers mentioned in the title. So enamoured was the Queen of it, that she would see it four times.

The royal couple were such great admirers of Kean that they even had him stage private theatrical performances at Windsor Castle and when he died, Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife.

PICTURE: Marco Verch (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

Chinese or Lunar New Year celebrations in London – the largest outside Asia – were held at various West End sites including Chinatown, on Sunday to welcome in the Year of the Pig.

PICTURES: Garry Knight (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The rich and tapestried history of The India Club forms the heart of a new exhibition by the National Trust which opens at the Strand-based club this week. A Home Away from Home: The India Club is an audio-based exhibition – featuring interviews with everyone from former staff, freedom fighters, BBC reporters, artists and writers – and highlights the club’s history and its ongoing significance among the British South-Asian community. Borne out of the Indian League which had campaigned for India’s independence, the club was founded in 1951 under the leadership of Krishna Menon, the first High Commissioner to India, with founding members including Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and Lady Mountbatten. Originally located at 41 Craven Street, it moved to 143 Strand, the premises of the Hotel Strand Continental, in 1964. The club, site of what was one of the UK’s first Indian restaurants, remains an important hub for a range of Anglo-Indian organisations and the community of journalists, writers, artists, academics and students who regularly meet in the premises. The exhibition comes as more than 26,000 people have signed a petition to prevent the club’s redevelopment as part of plans to refurbish the building in which its located. Opening tomorrow and running until 1st March, the display is being accompanied by a programme of supper clubs, artist talks, screenings and conversations. The exhibition is free but ticketed. For more, see
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/a-home-away-from-home-the-india-club.

PICTURES: Top – Enjoying the new exhibition in The India Club (courtesy of National Trust); Below – The India Club sign (courtesy of Jake Tilson); the restaurant in The India Club (courtesy of The India Club); the Strand Continental Hotel in which the club is located (courtesy of Jake Tilson).

The Savoy Theatre, located next to the Savoy Hotel just off the Strand in the West End, was the first public building in London to feature electric lighting.

Built to the designs of CJ Phipps and decorated by Collinson and Locke, its construction was instigated and financed by Richard D’Oyly Carte with the specific intention of hosting WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s operas.

Opening on 10th October, 1881, the first show at the new premises was Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which had been previously playing at the Opera Comique. It continued to solely show Gilbert and Sullivan’s works until 1886 when a falling out led to the end of the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan.

The theatre subsequently hosted comedic operas by other composers as well as productions of Shakespeare (Henry Irving was among those who trod the boards here in the early 20th century).

It was rebuilt in just 135 days in 1929 and the new premises featured an exterior designed by Frank Tugwell and interior designed by Art Deco expert Basil Ionides.

A fire caused considerable damage in 1990 after which the theatre was again renovated, this time under the guidance of the theatre’s then chairman Sir Hugh Wontner and architect Sir William Whitfield, with the public areas returned to how they had looked under Tugwell and Ionides’ scheme from the 1920s. It reopened in July, 1993, with a Royal Gala performance by the English National Ballet (Diana, Princess of Wales, was among those in attendance).

Now owned by the The Ambassador Theatre Group, the Savoy these days it shows a range of different productions. It’s currently hosting Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical. For more, see www.thesavoytheatre.com.

PICTURES: Above – Neon sign for The Savoy Theatre advertising a previous production with the hotel and theatre entrance (Loren Javier/image cropped/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); The Savoy Theatre with a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating it being the first public building with electric lighting in London (David Adams).

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This month marks 50 years since The Beatles’ final public performance – a seemingly impromptu concert which took place on a Savile Row rooftop on a freezing day in 1969 (but was actually held to record the final scenes of a film they were making).

The unannounced concert on 30th January was only 42 minutes long and featured five songs – including Get Back, I’ve Got A Feeling, One After 909, Dig A Pony and Don’t Let Me Down, some of which were played more than once (as well as various other song snippets).

As well as band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Billy Preston had been brought in as a keyboardist.

The event, described in RollingStone as the band’s first “truly live” performance in more than two years, took place on the roof of the headquarters Apple Corps, then located at 3 Savile Road, which was the corporation the group had founded as an umbrella organisation for its various business ventures including Apple Records.

The performance, which famously ended with John Lennon saying “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition”, was filmed and recorded and 21 minutes of the footage featured in the 1970 documentary, Let It Be.

The Fab Four’s concert was eventually shut down by the Metropolitan Police – located just up the street at number 27 – over noise and traffic issues but no arrests were made (Ringo later wrote about his regret at not being dragged off by them).

 

This Soho pub, located not far from Piccadilly Circus, takes its name from the blue posts which once stood out front.

A pub is believed to have stood on this site at 28 Rupert Street – now in Chinatown – since at least 1739 and is believed to have been updated substantially in about 1850. While the blue posts themselves are long gone, the building itself is now painted blue.

It has been suggested that the blue posts were simply placed out the front to mark the pub’s location before street numbering systems were introduced – as in, “it’s the place with the blue posts out the front”, but there are a number of other suggestions for the origins of the name.

One is that the blue posts were used as border markers for the royal hunting ground which once stood or Soho. Another, perhaps more likely than the aforementioned, that they marked locations where you could hire sedan chairs from in times gone by.

Whatever the reason for its name, this small, Grade II-listed pub, which is located on the corner with Rupert Close, underwent a complete transformation in early 2018 by the team behind the Israeli eatery, The Palomar.

As well as a small pub in ground floor of the building, it also boasts a cocktail lounge on the upper floor called the Mulwray (apparently named for the character, Evelyn Mulwray, played by Faye Dunaway in the movie Chinatown) and a small restaurant in the cellar called Evelyn’s Table (another Chinatown reference).

The Rupert Street establishment is one of several pubs with the same name in West End – others include one located nearby in Berwick Street, another in Newman Street, and yet another in Bennet Street in St James’s. And that’s just those in near proximity. So whatever the blue posts represented, it was clearly a relatively common feature in the area.

For more, see http://theblueposts.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eighty original comic strips hand-drawn by Charles M Schulz, of Peanuts fame, are on show at Somerset House on the Strand along with many of his personal effects and interactive installations in an exhibition marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of iconic character Charlie Brown. Good Grief, Charlie Brown! Celebrating Snoopy and the Enduring Power of Peanuts looks at the impact of the comics on the cultural landscape, from 1950 to now, and, alongside works by Schultz, features responses to them by 20 figures from the worlds of art, fashion and music. The comic strips are showcased in their original state and size – complete with inky thumbprints and correction marks – and sit alongside vintage Peanuts products and publications as well as correspondence between Schultz and people such as Billie Jean King and Hillary Rodham (now Clinton). Along with interactive displays including a real-life re-imagination of Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth, light boxes where people can learn to draw the Peanuts characters and a Snoopy Cinema, here are also three large-scale lights installations illuminating the entrance to the exhibition. This landmark exhibition can be seen until 3rd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.somerset.org.uk.

Newly acquired contemporary artworks by Pacific Island artists are at the centre of an exhibition re-examining the relationship between Captain James Cook and the peoples of the Pacific Ocean which is running at the British Museum. Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific Perspectives also features historic artefacts including Cook’s personal possessions and the British Museum’s oldest example of a Hawaiian shirt (pictured). Among the 14 contemporary artworks are eight specially acquired for the exhibition and all are in some way a response to Cook’s voyages to places including Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Vanuatu and Tahiti. They include Maori artist Steve Gibbs’ Name Changer – an attempt to restore awareness of the traditional Maori names for the region around Gisborne in New Zealand, and a work by the Aboriginal photographer and artist Michael Cook, Civilised #12, which reflects on the legacy of William Dampier, the first Briton to visit Australia (before Cook). The display can be seen in Room 91 until 4th August. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: ‘Hawaiian’ style vintage cotton shirt, decorated with designs from drawings done on Captain Cook’s voyages, Hawaii, 1970-1980. © Image The Trustees of the British Museum.

An exhibition marking the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport is running at the Jewish Museum London in Camden. Remembering the Kindertransport: 80 Years On tells the story of how in 1938-39, the British Government allowed 10,000 Jewish and other ‘non-Aryan’ children from Nazi-occupied Europe to come to Britain in a rescue operation which became known as the ‘Kindertransport’. It features the children, now in their 80s and 90s, telling their stories on film as well as personal objects and artefacts they brought with them from their homelands. Also on show is a photographic exhibition – Still in Our Hands: Kinder Life Portraits – featuring archival photographs and portraits of former Kindertransportees and another – My Home and Me – which, held in partnership with the British Red Cross, explores the journey of young refugees arriving in Britain today. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a series of events, runs until 10th February. Admission is free. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/kindertransport.

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


The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.

The largest free-to-view motor show in the UK comes to Regent Street on Saturday showcasing vehicles from the past 125 years. The Illinois Route 66 Regent Street Motor Show, the key event in the Royal Automobile Club’s London Motor Week, features more than 100 pioneering vehicles, some of which date from pre-1905, which parade in a Concours d’Elegance judged by Alan Titchmarsh. There will also be retro F1 and Le Mans racers, “celebrity” vehicles such as ‘Herbie’ and the time-travelling DeLorean from the Back to the Future film franchise while manufacturers such as Renault and Triumph will be displaying their latest designs. Iconic US street machines on show as part of the Visit Illinois display will include a Ford Thunderbird, Dodge Charger, Pontiac Trans-Am, 1957 Chevy Pick-up and a pair of Harley Davidson Sportsters. There’s also activities for children including a state-of-the-art display by Scalextric. Among the anniversaries being marked at the show are the 80th anniversary of the Volkswagen Beetle and Jaguar anniversaries including the 70th anniversary of the XK120 and Mk C Saloon and the 50th anniversary of the XJ. Held on Regent Street between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, the free show runs from 10.30am to 4pm. For more, head to http://regentstreetmotorshow.com. PICTURE: One of the vehicles on show in 2011 (Garry Knight; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A series of vibrant Japanese woodblock prints of orchids, first published in 1946, are on show at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens. One of four art exhibitions currently on display as part of the gallery’s 10th anniversary, Rankafu: Masterpieces of Japanese Woodblock Prints of Orchids is believed to be the first major exhibition of Rankafu woodblock colour prints outside Japan. Other exhibitions showing simultaneously at the gallery feature a series of 20 highly intricate graphite drawings of veteran oaks by Mark Frith, a series of works focusing on the smaller details of trees such as leaves, seeds and fruit, and a display of the work of Pandora Sellars whose complex compositions have been described as “botanical theatre”. The four exhibitions can be seen until 17th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

The first UK retrospective of Russian-born American photographer Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) has opened simultaneously at the Jewish Museum in Camden and The Photographers’ Gallery in Soho. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered spans his career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s and features his well-known images of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Other items on show include recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints and his high magnification photography known as ‘photomicroscopy’. Runs until 24th February. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk or www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

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

It was in this church in St Giles High Street in the West End that another significant event took place for Mary Shelley – her son William and daughter Clara Everina were baptised here on 9th March, 1818, just a couple of months after Frankenstein was first anonymously published.

The baptism took place just before Mary and her now husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, departed once again for the continent, apparently this time with no intention of returning.

In fact, the Shelleys attended three baptisms at the church that day – along with William (nicknamed “Willmouse”) and Clara, those undergoing baptism also included Allegra (at first called Alba), the daughter of Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont and the poet Lord Byron.

In fact, part of the group’s reason for going to Europe, along with Percy’s debts, ill-health and fears over the custody of their children, was to take Allegra to her father, Lord Byron.

The officiating churchman was said to be one Charles McCarthy.

The current font, which dates from 1810, in the church is presumably that in which they were baptised. It was installed well after the now Grade I-listed Palladian church, which is sometimes known as the “Poet’s Church”, was consecrated in 1733 (it is the third said to have been built on the site since the start of the 12th century).

PICTURE: Prioryman (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)


The last in a series of major exhibitions on World War I by celebrated photographer Mike St Maur Sheil, Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace and Reconciliation – 2018 is a free outdoor exhibition in St James’s Park reflecting on the final year of the war. The exhibition, like the others before it, features photographs of the battlefields of World War I as they appear today along with archival pictures and maps. Mike St Maur Sheil says the theme of his displays – which have reached an audience of more than 10 million and been exhibited at locations including Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg, Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green and at the junction of Broadway and 5th Avenue in New York – “has always been that time and nature have healed the wounds of war and reveal that what were once places of horror and killing have now become landscapes of beauty and tranquillity.” The free exhibition can be seen until 19th November. For more on St James’s Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/st-jamess-parkPICTURES – Two of the images on show: Top, showing the effect of artillery bombardment upon the landscape at Verdun; Below, the landscape today at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme with the shell holes and trenches still clearly visible. (Mike St Maur Sheil / Mary Evans Picture Library).

Union Jacks daub Regent Street in the West End in honour of the wedding in Windsor last weekend of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. PICTURE: Pete (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

 Located on the west bank of the Thames between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges are two separate memorials to the dramatist Sir WS Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) – a partnership better known simply as Gilbert and Sullivan.

The first to be unveiled was a now Grade II-listed bronze bust of Sullivan in 1903. Located at the northern end of Victoria Embankment Gardens, it is the work of Sir William Goscombe John and, along with the bust which sits atop a pedestal, the monument features a scantily clad female muse leaning against the pillar in apparent grief.

Sheet music, a mandolin and a Pan mask all lie in a heap beside her – the discarded props of Sullivan’s profession – and on the side of the plinth are inscribed some lines from his work, The Yeoman of the Guard: “Is life a boon? If so, it must befall that Death, whene’er he call, must call too soon” (the same lines are inscribed on the sheet music).

The bronze memorial plaque to Gilbert, meanwhile, was unveiled in 1915, four years after his death. It’s attached to Charing Cross Pier on the downstream side of Hungerford Bridge and, the work of Sir George Frampton, shows Gilbert in profile relief flanked by figures of Comedy and Tragedy.

Gilbert is accompanied by an inscription which reads: “His foe was folly & his weapon wit”. A shield underneath bears a Latin inscription which translates as “I would rather die than change”.

The location of the memorials is not coincidental – the career of Gilbert and Sullivan was closely associated with the nearby Savoy Theatre, where many of their works were premiered thanks to its owner Richard D’Oyly Carte – he’s also commemorated in a memorial opposite the entrance to the Savoy nearby.

 

Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

• London’s Chinatown will come alive this Sunday to mark the Year of the Dog. The biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia feature a parade – which kicks off at 10am with a dragon and lion dance in Charing Cross Road before making its way through Chinatown where between noon and 6pm people get up close to lion dances,  take selfies with Chinese zodiac animals and enjoy traditional Chinese food. Festivities in Trafalgar Square, meanwhile, kick off at 11am with the Lions’ Eye-Dotting Ceremony at noon while there’s entertainment including live performances, family-friendly entertainments and martial arts displays at a series of West End locations including Charing Cross Road, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue between noon and 5pm. For more, check out the Visit London guide. Meanwhile the Museum of London Docklands is also celebrating the Year of the Dog with a range of free cultural events on Friday (the actual date of the New Year) including everything from ribbon dancing classes to taekwondo taster lessons, calligraphy and a spectacular dragon dance. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: Paul (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The works of one of Canada’s greatest modernist painters, David Milne (1882-1953), have gone on show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. David Milne: Modern Painting follows Milne’s career chronologically, charting his development as an artist as he moves from New York to the war ravaged landscapes of Europe and back to the fields and open skies of North America. Highlights include Fifth Avenue, Easter Sunday (1912), the watercolour Bishop’s Pond (1916), Montreal Crater, Vimy Ridge (1919) – one of his most famous war paintings, White, the Waterfall (1921) and Summer Colours (1936). Runs until 7th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Send all inclusions to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Established back in the early nineteenth century, James Smith & Sons Umbrellas is a West End institution in London and is certainly among the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving business established to sell umbrellas.

The original shop was founded by James Smith in Foubert’s Place, off Regent Street, in 1830 with the umbrellas made in a rear workshop and then sold at the front. The shop then moved to Saville Place but when this building had to be knocked down to make way for road widening, it moved to Burlington Street near Piccadilly Circus.

Business boomed following the invention of Samuel Fox’s lightweight steel frame umbrellas in 1851 and in 1867, a second shop was opened at 53 New Oxford Street (in Hazelwood House, where it remains today). The Burlington Street branch, meanwhile, continued to be operational until it was destroyed by a bomb in World War II, leaving just the shop in New Oxford Street.

The New Oxford Street shop still sells a plethora of types of umbrellas as well as made-to-measure walking sticks. Some of the umbrellas – which include antique and more contemporary models – are reportedly assembled on site.

In the shop you’ll also find a portrait of Jonas Hanway, said to be the first man who owned an umbrella in London. Being an early adopter of this imported fashion trend from France, he apparently attracted the ridicule of London society as well as that of coach drivers who saw the threat to their trade he represented. But history was on Hanway’s side and while the umbrella has survived the past couple of centuries, the coach as a means of transportation has not.

PICTURE: Top –  Jorge Royan/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/ Right – Ewan Munro/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0