LondonLife – ‘The Arks of Gimokudan’…

Arks of Gimokudan by Leeroy New, 2022 (Artist’s Rendition)

The Arks of Gimokudan, the first large-scale installation by Philippine artist-designer Leeroy New, has taken up residence in Somerset House’s central courtyard to mark Earth Day later this month. The installation features a fleet of three ships – made using reused and recycled materials and plastic waste – which appear to float some three metres above ground, inviting visitors to imagine themselves underwater and looking up at the vessals which draw on the history, culture and mythologies of his home nation of the Philippines, the country most at risk from the climate crisis according to a 2019 report. The ships represent a Spanish imperial galleon highlighting the Philippines’ long history of colonisation, a contemporary, military battleship, referencing continued territorial conflict and international tension in the region, and a futuristic spaceship, inspired by New’s fascination with sci-fi and world-making while the overall work also references Mebuyan, the Goddess of Gimokudan (Death and Fertility).  Earth Day will be celebrated on 22nd April and the work can be seen in the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court​ until 26th April. Meanwhile, the first in the series of Morgan Stanley Lates at Somerset House with The Courtauld will take place on Wednesday (13th April) with Leeroy New in which visitors are invited to take part in a free live sculpting workshop in the courtyard. There will also be food from Hackney’s Bongbong’s Manila Kanteen, dance performances from 2022 Olivier award nominee Julia Cheng, a DJ, drinks and more. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Where’s London’s oldest…embassy?

Another ‘oldest’ question that’s not as simple as it might seem.

Austrian Embassy, Belgrave Square. PICTURE: David Adams

Austria has occupied a building at 18 Belgrave Square in Belgravia since it moved there from Chandos House in Queen Anne Street in 1866.

But the embassy was vacated with the outbreak of World War I and the building entrusted, firstly to the protection of the ambassador of the United States, and following the severing of their relations in 1917, to the Royal Swedish Legation.

The Austrians returned in 1920 but following Hitler’s incorporation of Austria into the German Reich in 1938, it was used as a department of the German Embassy.

Following the outbreak of World War II, the Swiss legation room over protection of the building and following the end of the war the damaged building fell under the care of Britain’s Ministry of Works.

The Austrians returned in September, 1948, with the new ambassador arriving in 1952. It continues today to serve as the residence of the Austrian Ambassador.

Australia House. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Not to be confused with the Austrians, the Australian High Commission resides in ‘Australia House’ which claims to be “the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London”.

In 1912, the Australian Government bought the freehold of a site on the corner bounded by Strand, Aldwych and Melbourne Place. Following a design competition, Scottish architects A Marshal Mackenzie and Son were selected as the designers of the new Australia House with Commonwealth of Australia’s chief architect, Mr JS Murdoch, arriving in London to assist them.

Work began in 1913 – King George V laid the foundation stone – but was interrupted by World War I and in 1916, former Australian PM and now High Commissioner Andrew Fisher moved into temporary offices on the site even as the work continued around him. King George V officially opened Australia House on 3rd August, 1918, with then Australian Prime Minister, WM “Billy” Hughes, in attendance.

This Week in London – Beatrix Potter and nature; a tribute to Stephen Hawking; and, illuminated trails and free performances in central London…

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, Peter with handkerchief by Beatrix Potter, 1904. Watercolour and pencil on paper. © National Trust Images/ From Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 12 February 2022 – 8 January 2023.

• Artworks from some of Beatrix Potter’s most famous storybooks and sketches of the real-life animals, places, art and literature that inspired them are at the heart of a new exhibition opening at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, which is being run in partnership with the National Trust, features more than 240 personal objects which also include rarely seen personal letters, family photographs, early sketchbooks, manuscripts and scientific drawings in a family friendly display exploring Potter’s passion for animals and the natural world. The display is spread across four sections: ‘Town and Country’ which provides the backdrop to her childhood in South Kensington in London; ‘Under the Microscope’ which highlights Potter’s interest in natural science; ‘A Natural Storyteller’ which reveals her “almost accidental journey to becoming a best-selling author”; and, ‘Living Nature’ which follows Potter to the Lake District and celebrates her profound impact on the natural landscape. The exhibition can be seen until 8th January next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/beatrix-potter-drawn-to-nature.

A rare copy of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis (one of only five known copies), his Permobil F3 model wheelchair and a blackboard which hung on his office wall have gone on show at the Science Museum as part of a new exhibition on his working life. Stephen Hawking at Work also features his spectacles which were adapted to aid communication, a photograph from the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Hawking made a guest appearance, the insignia given to him on becoming a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1986, and an invitation to a time travellers’ party Hawking hosted. The blackboard, one of Hawking’s most treasured possessions, came from a 1980 conference – Superspace and Supergravity – at which delegates covered it in equations, cartoons and jokes about each other. Hawking’s subsequently had the blackboard framed and hung in his office. The free display can be seen until 12th June. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/stephen-hawking.

• Free immersive outdoor light installations and pop-up performances can be seen in the city’s centre over this half-term as part of the Mayor of London’s ongoing ‘Let’s Do London’ campaign. The events include ‘City Lights’ – an illuminated light trail in the City of London by internationally renowned artists including Colour by Light which invites people to use their smartphones to turn the city into a colourful canvas (11th to 20th February), free pop-up performances in the streets of central London including storytelling, puppetry, dance, and music (17th to 20th February) as well as discounts to West End shows and dining out. For other events and more information, head to www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/lets-do-london.

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Lost London – Arundel House…

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

One of a string of massive residences built along the Strand during the Middle Ages, Arundel House was previously the London townhouse of the Bishops of Bath and Wells (it was then known as ‘Bath Inn’ and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was among those who resided here during this period).

Following the Dissolution, in 1539 King Henry VIII granted the property to William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton (it was then known as Hampton Place). After reverting to the Crown on his death on 1542, it was subsequently given to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, a younger brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and known as ‘Seymour Place’. Then Princess Elizabeth (late Queen Elizabeth I) stayed at the property during this period (in fact, it’s said her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour took place here).

Arundel House, from the south, by Wenceslas Hollar. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Seymour significantly remodelled the property, before in 1549, he was executed for treason. The house was subsequently sold to Henry Fitz Alan, 12th Earl of Arundel, for slightly more than £40. He was succeeded by his grandson, Philip Howard, but he was tried for treason and died in the Tower of London in 1595. In 1603, the house was granted to Charles, Earl of Nottingham, but his possession was short-lived.

Just four years later it was repurchased by the Howard family – in particular Philip’s son, Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel – who had been restored to the earldom.

Howard, who was also the 4th Earl of Surrey, housed his famous collection of sculptures, known as the ‘Arundel Marbles’, here (much of his collection, described as England’s first great art collection, is now in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum).

During this period, guests included Inigo Jones (who designed a number of updates to the property) and artist Wenceslas Hollar who resided in an apartment (in fact, it’s believed he drew his famous view of London, published in 1647, while on the roof).

Howard, known as the “Collector Earl”, died in Italy in 1646. Following his death, the property was used as a garrison and later, during the Commonwealth, used as a place to receive important guests

It was restored to Thomas’ grandson, Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, following the Restoration. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, for several years the property was used as the location for Royal Society meetings.

The house was demolished in the 1678. It’s commemorated today by the streets named Surrey, Howard, Norfolk and Arundel (and a late 19th century property on the corner of Arundel Street and Temple Place now bears its name).

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 2. 23 Heddon Street…

This property (and the street, which runs in a horseshoe off Regent Street in the West End, I which it sits) is famous for its appearance on the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stadust and the Spiders from Mars.

The famous album cover.

The cover – which features Bowie (who was ill with the flu at the time) dressed as Ziggy Stardust standing outside the building under the light of a lamp – was one of several shots taken by photographer Brian Ward on a cold and wet night in January, 1972.

Originally taken in black and white, the selected image was subsequently hand-coloured by artist Terry Pastor for the album cover.

There’s been much commentary over the years about the sign which appears over Bowie’s head in the shot and reads K West. Bowie himself, lamenting the fact the sign had been removed when the furrier moved out in the early 1990s, commented later that that it had taken on “mystical overtones” for some fans who thought it was code for the word quest. But the truth is more mundane – it was apparently the name of a furrier who at the time occupied part of the building.

PICTURE: Jnicho02 (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The back cover of the album featured Ziggy inside an iconic red phone box which was located just around the corner from number 23, still in Heddon Street. One of the K2 boxes, it’s since been replaced.

While the street has been considerably gentrified since Ziggy stood there (rather than a deserted back street, it’s now a popular al fresco dining area), a plaque was unveiled commemorating the role of the building in 2012 (pictured above).

The album, meanwhile, was released on 16th June, 1972, by RCA Records to what was generally a favourable reception.

London Explained – The West End…

Piccadilly Circus lies at the heart of London’s West End. PICTURE: Sheep purple (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This term is used to describe what was traditionally the western end of London as it developed beyond the City of London boundaries and has since became a word synonymous with the city’s theatre district.

The term’s origins are lost to history although it’s said it first started being used in earnest to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The term as it’s used today covers an area which contains the commercial and entertainment heart of London.

While the eastern boundary of the West End can be easily defined as where the City of London ends (Temple Bar on the Strand marks the City of London’s boundaries), thanks to its not being a formally designated geographic area, exactly where the West End finishes is a matter of considerable debate.

While the some see the West End only including Theatreland itself – an area stretching from Aldwych across to Piccadilly Circus and north from Trafalgar Square to Oxford Circus, others have adapted a broader definition which sees include not only Aldwych, Soho and Covent Garden but also Mayfair, Fitzrovia and Marylebone with Oxford Circus at the centre (some even go further and include districts such as Bloomsbury and Knightsbridge in their definition of the West End).

This Week in London – Skateboarding explored at Somerset House; and, looking behind ‘Oliver Twist’…

One of the images in No Comply – ‘Here to win’ © Katie Edwards.jpg

A celebration of skateboarding and its impact on communities and culture of the past 45 years is underway at Somerset House. No Comply: Skate Culture and Community is a free exhibition featuring imagery from some of the world’s foremost photographers capturing skateboarding scenes from across the UK as well as early editions of skateboarding titles like Alpine Sports, Read and Destroy (R.A.D) and Skateboard!, and original film commissions including a new short film from London-based director Dan Emmerson and a new short by skate videographer Sirus f Gahan. The display also explores the influence of skateboarding on mainstream culture – everything from fashion brands to video games – and uses archival objects, photographs and personal anecdotes to share stories from skate communities in the UK and beyond as well as those of skateboarding-related non-profit initiatives including Free Movement Skateboarding and SkatePal. Runs until 19th September; pre-booking required. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

• On Now: More! Oliver Twist, Dickens and Stories of the City. This exhibition at the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, showcases a selection of letters, illustrations, postcards and photos – including a provocative artwork by artist Cold War Steve – as it explores the story of Oliver Twist and the inspiration behind it. Can be seen until 17th October; admission charge applies. For more, see https://dickensmuseum.com.

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

LondonLife – A lion in Piccadilly Circus…

PICTURE: Kevin Grieve/Unsplash

One of the 27 life-sized lion sculptures placed in central London to raise awareness and funds to support community conservation and livelihoods across Africa impacted by COVID-19. Each of the lions has been decorated by decorated by famous artists, musicians and comedians (this one by rock star Ronnie Wood and named ‘Not Lying Lion’). The Lion Trail, which is also part of the City of Westminster’s ‘Inside Out festival’, is delivered by wildlife conservation charity Tusk and supported by Art of London. The lions can be see until 26th September. For more, see www.tuskliontrail.com/london-pride/

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.

LondonLife – A forest at Somerset House…

Forest for Change – The Global Goals Pavilion at London Design Biennale. PICTURE: Ed Reeve

The courtyard at Somerset House has been transformed into a forest as part of the London Design Biennale. Forest for Change – The Global Goals Pavilion features some 400 trees with clearing in the middle containing an installation aimed at raising awareness of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The biennale also features a series of more than 30 pavilions from across all six continents – created in response to the theme ‘resonance’ – which have been placed in rooms and outdoor areas throughout the property. Among the countries represented with pavilions are Antarctica, Argentina, Austria, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Poland, Taiwan, and Venezuela. Others, including Italy, Nile Region, Norway, New York City and Pakistan, are taking part digitally. There’s also an exhibition – Design in an Age of Crisis – showcasing radical design thinking from the world’s design community, the public, and young people, as well as a series of installations by a selected group of universities and galleries in which they demonstrate their contribution to global issues through design under the banner of ‘Sustainability and Innovation’. The biennale runs all month. Admission charge applies. For more and to book tickets, head to www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/london-design-biennale-2021.

Famous Londoners – Napoleon?

We know, we know – Napoleon Bonaparte never visited London. But given this month marks the bicentenary of his death on 5th May, 1821, we thought we’d mention a couple of places where you can find traces of the French Emperor in the British capital…

Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker. PICTURE: Jörg Bittner Unna (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0;image cropped)

1. Napoleon As Mars The Peacemaker. This larger than life statue – it stands 11 feet tall – is the work of Italian artist Antonio Canova and depicts Napoleon as the Roman God. Napoleon didn’t like the almost naked statue – when he saw it in 1811, he declared it “too athletic” and as a result, it was never displayed in public. Following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the British Government purchased the statue and presented it to the Duke of Wellington as a gift. Recently cleaned, it is now on display in the Iron Duke’s former home, Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner (and can be seen there when it reopens to the public this week). The house also counts a recently restored bronze death mask of Napoleon among its treasures. The bronze is a copy of a plaster mask modelled on Napoleon’s corpse. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/apsley-house/.

2. Napoleon’s horse Marengo. A small grey Arab, Marengo was named after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo in Italy in 1800 and apparently served the Emperor between 1800 and 1815. Marengo was captured on the battlefield after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and transported to England. After its death, the horse’s skeleton was preserved and initially displayed at the Royal United Services Institute, moving to the National Army Museum in Chelsea in the 1960s. The skeleton is currently undergoing conservation work at the Natural History Museum before returning to the National Army Museum where it will be displayed in the Battle gallery. For more on the National Army Museum, see www.nam.ac.uk.

3. Portrait of Napoleon. A small image of a young Napoleon, this portrait – which arrived in England in 1797 – was the first many British people had seen of the Emperor (it was copied in engravings which were published across Britain). It was painted in a campaign tent on the road from Verona to Vienna in March, 1797, by Venetian artist named Francesco Cossia. Cossia had been commissioned by Francophile Maria Cosway, an artist then living in Oxford Street, London, to paint likenesses of several French Revolutionary generals including Napoleon. It is believed to have entered the collection of Sir John Soane somewhere between 1827 and 1830 and can now be seen in the Breakfast Room at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (reopening on 19th May). For more, see www.soane.org.

Lost London – The Carlton Hotel…

The Carlton Hotel (via Wikimedia Commons)

A luxury hotel built at the turn of the 20th century in the West End, the massive Carlton Hotel was part of an even larger redevelopment that included the (still standing) fourth version of Her Majesty’s Theatre (which provides a good idea of what the overall building looked like).

Located on the Crown estate on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket, the hotel was designed by CJ Phipps (who died before it was completed). Building started in 1896 and was completed by 1899.

Swiss hotelier César Ritz – who had been dismissed from his position as the manager of the Savoy Hotel in 1897 and subsequently successful opened his own establishment, the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris the following year – agreed to take a 72-year lease of the new hotel and a new company, The Carlton Hotel, Limited, was formed.

The building, which had interiors designed in the French Renaissance style, contained more than 300 guest rooms, all with telephones, including 72 suites which came with en suite bathrooms. There were also private dining and reception rooms for guests as well as reading and smoking rooms and a highly regarded Palm Court. And, of course, a restaurant in which Auguste Escoffier, who had left the Savoy under a cloud with Ritz, was employed as a head chef.

The Palm Court at The Carlton Hotel as featured in the Illustrated London News on 5th August, 1899.

The hotel, the upper floors of which contained private residences, was a hit and quickly threatened the status of the Savoy as the city’s most fashionable hotel. But in 1902, as the hotel was preparing to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the king fell ill and the festivities were postponed indefinitely. Ritz suffered a nervous breakdown – apparently from the shock – and Escoffier was left in charge.

While its reputation was never again as high as it had been in the years immediately after opening, the Carlton Hotel remained profitable until World War II when it was heavily damaged during German bombing in 1940. Residential parts of the building were closed and in 1942 the remainder of the building was requisitioned by the British Government (with the exception of the American Bar and Grill Room which remained open).

The hotel never fully reopened, however, and, in 1949, the lease was sold to the New Zealand Government. The Carlton Hotel was demolished in 1957-58 and the New Zealand High Commission subsequently built on the site.

Among the hotel’s most famous clientele was Winston Churchill who was apparently dining in the restaurant with Lloyd George when World War I was declared.

Another famous association is commemorated by an English Heritage Blue Plaque which records the fact that Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, worked there as a cook in 1913 (when he was then known as Nguyen That Tanh).

There’s a story that Tanh, seeing how much food was being thrown away, asked Escoffier if he could give it to the poor, to which Escoffier told him to put aside his revolutionary ideas so he could teach him “the art of cooking, which will make you a great deal of money”. Tanh clearly choose another path.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 38 and 37…

The next two in our countdown…

38. Treasures of London – Winston Churchill statue, Parliament Square…

37. Lost London – The Egyptian Hall…

This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner.  For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.

Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. ​  ​Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco.  The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable ​(Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris.  The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.

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

10 London buildings that were relocated…9. St Andrew’s Church…

Formerly a noted church in London’s West End, St Andrew’s Church now has a new life in Kingsbury.

A drawing of St Andrew’s in Wells Street.

The church’s origins go back to its construction in Wells Street, Marylebone, in the mid-19th century. Designed by Samuel Daukes, the church, the construction of which began in 1845, was completed in February, 1847.

St Andrew’s soon become one of the city’s most fashionable churches (Prime Minister, William Gladstone, was an occasional worshipper).

Rev Benjamin Webb was vicar between 1862-85 – a time when the church was known for its High Anglican services, and it was during his tenure that the church’s rather splendid interior fittings were added.

These included a reredos (featuring five sculptures by James Redfern) designed by GE Street, a high altar by Augustus Pugin, a brass reading desk by William Butterfield and a litany desk by William Burges (now in the V&A).

By the start of the 20th century, the area around the church was being transformed as residences gave way to commercial property and warehouses. The congregation dwindled and eventually the church was declared redundant, its doors closing on Easter Sunday, 1931.

The church in Kingsbury
PICTURE: Google Maps

The church was set to be demolished but there was an outcry and eventually a proposal to relocate it to Kingsbury, in London’s north-west, where there was a congregation urgently needing a new building.

The church was carefully dismantled – each stone labelled and numbered – and then transported 10 miles to Kingsbury where it reconstructed in Old Church Lane.

The rebuild – described at the time as putting together “the biggest jigsaw in the world” (yes, it’s a somewhat overused phrase when it comes to building relocations) – took three years and involved making as few changes to the former structure as possible.

The building was finally reconsecrated on 13th October, 1934, by Arthur Foley Winnington Ingram, the Bishop of London. St Andrew’s Kingsbury remains in use as a church today.

Treasures of London – The Diana Fountain…

No, it’s not a memorial to that Diana, but a bronze statue depicting a mythological figure which forms the centrepiece of the Great Basin in Bushy Park.

Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, the statue (and other statuary on the monument) was the work of sculptor Hubert Le Sueur (he was also the sculptor of the famous equestrian statue of King Charles I which sits at the top of Whitehall).

While the 2.38 metre tall bronze statue, which weighs some 924 kilograms, is commonly referred to as Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting, she has none of the usual attributes of Diana, such as a bow, and is believed by some to actually represent Arethusa, a nereid or sea nymph from Greek mythology.

The statue is set on a marble and stone fountain carved with depictions of shells and sea life, and is surrounded, at a lower level, by groups of bronze statues -depicting boys holding fish or dolphins and water nymphs or mermaids astride sea monsters – through which water is discharged into four bronze basins.

The bronze figures were originally commissioned for a fountain, designed by Inigo Jones and built in the 1630s, in the Queen’s garden at Somerset House. Oliver Cromwell had the statues moved to the Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden in 1656 where they were incorporated into a fountain designed by Edward Pearce the Younger in 1689-90.

In 1713 the ensemble was moved again, this time to onto a new purpose-built podium in the middle of the Great Basin, located at the end of Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue, a grand avenue of trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While most of the statuary is believed to be from the original fountain designed by Inigo Jones, it’s thought some of the statues of the boys were recast for the new fountain.

The Grade I-listed monument was restored in 2009 and and during this process a stone which uncovered on its base which had a crown and the date AR 1712 (AR for ‘Anne Regis’) which would have been added when the statue and fountain were installed in the basin.

WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park

PICTURE: The Diana Fountain. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

10 disease-related memorials in London – A recap…

We’ve reached the end of our series on disease-related memorials in London. But, before we jump into the next Wednesday series, here’s a recap…

1. The Broad Street pump…

2. Commemorating the monks who died in the Black Death…

3. The Lambeth cholera epidemic memorial…

4. Edward Jenner statue…

5. Sir Ronald Ross…

6. Human BSE (vCJD) memorial…

7. The Great Plague of 1665…

8. Former site of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases…

9. The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial…

10. Thomas Hodgkin…

Lost London – St Giles hospital for lepers…

Partly located on a site now occupied by the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in central London  was a leprosy hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, in 1101.

The site was located outside the City walls making it ideal for such an establishment (given lepers had to isolate from the rest of the population) and the hospital, one of the first such establishments in England, was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of outcasts.

As well as an oratory or chapel, the hospital, initially founded on eight acres of farmland, is believed to have included houses for lepers, a master’s house, and quarters for a chaplain, clerk and servant. A chapter house was added in the early 14th century.

The hospital was under the care of the crown and in 1299, King Edward I ordered that the hospital be run by and its revenues given to the military Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists).

By the 15th century leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) was on the decline in England but this hospital continued to be used for lepers until at least 1500 after which it is recorded that it had opened it doors to the poor who needed care.

In 1539, the hospital was closed under King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. While the chapel remained in use as a parish church (it was at this time that “in-the-fields” was added to the church’s name), the hospital’s other buildings were given by King Henry VIII to John Dudley, Lord Lisle (and later Duke of Northumberland and Protector of Edward VI, the king’s eventual heir).

The church, meanwhile, had fallen into a poor state of repair by the early 1600s and was demolished. Construction of a Gothic replacement started in 1623 in a project largely funded by Alice, Duchess Dudley, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. The new church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London in 1631. The current building dates from 1733 (but more about that at another time).

PICTURE: The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields as it appears now. (Prioryman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

LondonLife – Listening to London…

The first recorded soundscape of London’s busy streets was created in 1928 as part of a Daily Mail campaign calling for noise restrictions. Recordings were made at five sites – Whitechapel East, St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner, Leicester Square, Cromwell Road and Beauchamp Place in South Kensington – in a collaborative project between the Mail and the Columbia Graphophone Company. Now, more than 90 years later, the sounds at the five original locations – or rather the lack of sounds during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown – have been captured again, this time as binaural recordings, a method of recording sound that uses two microphones to create a 3D stereo sound. It’s all part of the Museum of London’s ongoing ‘Collecting COVID’ project and was created in collaboration with String and Tins, an award-winning team of sound designers, composers, sound supervisors and mix engineers. Both the 1928 recordings (now digitised) and the modern recordings have been made available to listen to in their entirety for the first time on the Museum of London’s website. There are accompanying photographs by Damien Hewetson as well as historic imagery from the museum’s archive. PICTURE: A sparsely populated Leicester Square in an image taken in May this year during the coronavirus lockdown (ACME/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 78 and 77…

The next two entries in our countdown are:

78. Lost London – The King’s Mews at Charing Cross…

77. LondonLife – A look back at Queen Elizabeth II’s reign…