10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 3. Denmark Street…

A sign promoting Denmark Street in 2009. PICTURE: Ged Carroll (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Nicknamed ‘Tin Pan Alley’ after a famous New York City area associated with music publishers and songwriters, Denmark Street in Soho is famous for its 20th century music connections.

The British Plaque Trust plaque in Denmark Street. PICTURE: Andrew Davidson (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The street, which is just 100 yards long, was home to most major music publishing and management companies during the 1950s and 1960s as well as recording studios while publications Melody Maker and New Musical Express (better known to some as the NME) were also founded there.

Artists with a connection include David Bowie, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Sex Pistols (who reportedly left a considerable amount of graffiti at number six), while two members of Bananarama apparently lived there in the 1970s. Lionel Bart, writer of the musical Oliver!, also started out here and was later known as the “King of Denmark Street”.

The street was also home to the famous Gioconda Cafe – whose patrons have included Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Elton John.

These days home to many musical instrument shops, the future of the Denmark Street has been a matter of some controversy in recent years with a planned redevelopment attracting considerable protest.

Looking west down Denmark Street in May, 2021. PICTURE: Google Maps.

A plaque – put in place by the British Plaque Trust (pictured above; it’s not to be confused with the English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating dive helmet pioneer Augustus Siebe on number five) – was unveiled at number nine in 2014 commemorating the street’s musical connections between 1911 and 1992. It reads “Home of the British Publishers and Songwriters and their meeting place The Giaconda.”

Sixties pop singer Donovan, who recorded here, performed a song he’d written specifically for the occasion – appropriately named Tin Pan Alley.

Where’s London’s oldest…(continuously operating) film studio?

The White Lodge at Ealing Studios. PICTURE: P.g.champion (licensed under CC BY 2.0 UK)

The oldest continuously operating film studio in London also happens to be the oldest in the world, according to Guinness World Records.

Ealing Studios in West London has been operating at the same site – the White Lodge on Ealing Green – since 1902.

Originally founded by silent film pioneer Will Barker (and so originally known as the Will Barker Studios), the studios were further developed by Associated Talking Pictures who opened the sound stages in 1931.

In 1938, film producer Michael Balcon took over and it was he who named them Ealing Studios. Later owners included the BBC and then in 2000 the studios were bought by a consortium including independent production company Fragile Films and the Manhattan Loft Corporation.

Among the famous films made there was one of first screen versions of Hamlet in 1910, as well as classics such as The LadyKillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, and Passport to Pimlico. More recent films and TV shows have included the St Trinian’s franchise, The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), Shaun of the Dead (2005), and The Theory of Everything (2014), as well as recent TV series The Durrells and Downton Abbey.

The White Lodge bears an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating Sir Michael Balcon’s time working here between 1938 and 1956.

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 – ‘Hidden Highlights’ at Westminster Abbey; food and Black entrepreneurship; and, ride the Dodgems at Somerset House…

Westminster Abbey Library, part of of the ‘Hidden Highlights’ tour. PICTURE: Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

A lost medieval sacristy used by Westminster Abbey’s monks in the 13th-century which has been revealed in the abbey grounds has been opened to the public. A visit to the dig uncovering the former sacristy is one of the stops on new ‘Hidden Highlights’ tours which also take in other areas not usually open to the public including the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV died in 1413 and, the Library, formerly part of the monk’s dormitory which features a 15th century oak roof and 17th century bookcases (pictured above). The tour, which finishes in the Diamond Jubilee Galleries which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, is part of a summer of events at the abbey which also includes open air cinema, visits to the abbey after dark, live music performances and a chance to look behind the scenes at the abbey’s role in the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/lost-medieval-sacristy-opens-to-public-for-summer-festival-of-events.

A new exhibition looking at the central role food plays in Black entrepreneurship and identity in the city’s south east has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Feeding Black: Community, Power & Place puts four businesses in the spotlight – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Woolwich businesses African Cash & Carry and Junior’s Caribbean Stall, and Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell – and tells their stories through objects, recipes and videos as well as newly commissioned photography by Jonas Martinez and original oral histories and soundscapes by Kayode ‘Kayodeine’ Gomez. The free display can be seen until 17th July next year in the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Ride the dodgems at Somerset House. Dodge, described as a “thrilling open air experience” that takes an “inventive twist on the traditional fairground”, features dodgem cars and installations from acclaimed artists as well as food and drink and DJ sets. The event runs until 22nd August. There is free entry to the site but charges apply for the dodgem rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk. The event is part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, described as the “biggest domestic tourism the capital has ever seen”.

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This Week in London – Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and, a new sculpture trail in Greenwich…

The 18 day meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France in 1520, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is the subject of an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, which is being held to mark the 500th anniversary of the event (having been rescheduled from last year), is being held in rooms in Hampton Court Palace that were once used by the architect of the summit, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and features objects from the actual meeting as well as treasures from the courts of the two kings. They include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments – woven from cloth of gold and chosen by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais, Wolsey’s Book of Hours, and a unique tapestry which, manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, depicts a bout of wrestling at the event with a black trumpeter shown among the brace of royal musicians. The display can be seen until 5th September. Admission charge applies. For more information and tickets – prebooking is essential, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A free sculpture trail, featuring works by artist Josie Spencer, has opened on the King William Lawns at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Fragments in Time features life-sized bodies captured in dramatic positions, including fractured figures, which demonstrate the beauty and resilience of the human spirit while highlighting the fragility of life. The artist says the works have been chosen from a group of pieces that treated the figures as if they were the “archaeology of our time found in another century, in the future, when those then looking at them can see the fragility of our life now”. The trail can be seen until 6th August.

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LondonLife – On Barnes Pond…

Swans on Barnes Pond, West London. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash

This Week in London – English Heritage sets out timetable for reopening; Westminster Abbey a vaccination clinic; and, rare meteorite arrives at Natural History Museum…

Eltham Palace grounds in south-east London. PICTURE: Gordon Joly (licensed under CC BY SA 2.0)

English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.

It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.

Meteorite recovered from Winchcombe PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.

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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)

What’s in a name?…Gunnersbury…

There is a tradition which holds that this tiny district in west London was named after Gunhilda, a niece of King Canute.

While that story may be merely apocryphal, the name Gunnersbury does apparently mean the ‘manor of Gunhilda’, so it follows there was a Gunhilda who once lived here.

The manor – said to have been held by Alice Perrers, mistress to King Edward III, for a time as well as by the bishops of London – was located in what is now Gunnersbury Park.

It was rebuilt in the Palladian-style in the mid 17th century for Sir John Maynard, legal advisor to King Charles II, and a century later was used by Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George II as a summer residence (during which time William Kent is said to have improved the gardens; a ‘Temple’ built in the gardens during that time survives today).

The house was demolished in 1801 and the estate divided into two with two new properties built – Gunnersbury Park and Gunnersbury House. Both properties subsequently passed into the hands of the Rothschild banking family and, after part of the estate was sold off for housing, the houses and surviving estates were acquired by local municipalities.

These days 185 acres, the park – jointly run by the Boroughs of Houslow and Ealing – is now open to the public and since 1929, the Grade II-listed house, Gunnersbury Park, has contained a museum dedicated to local history.

The area also lends its name to the Gunnersbury Triangle, a three hectare nature reserve which was saved from development in the early 1980s.

Gunnersbury previously had its own Church of England parish church – built in 1886, St James’s was located on Chiswick High Road until it was demolished in the late 1980s (another church, Gunnersbury Baptist Church stands in Wellesley Road and a Russian Orthodox Cathedral stands on Harvard Road).

There is also a Gunnersbury Tube station which offers a link to both the Underground and Overground. Located on the District Line, it sits under the 18 story high British Standards Institution building.

PICTURE: The large mansion in Gunnersbury Park in 2006 (Lancey/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…4. The Strand Lane ‘Roman’ Baths…

Please note: Exploring London is aware that sites across London have closed temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But we’re continuing our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

Located at 5 Strand Lane in the West End, these brick-lined baths were long-reputed to be of Roman origin. But they are actually believed to be the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to supply water to fountain in the gardens of Old Somerset House.

The fountain had been built by French engineer, Salomon de Caus, after he was commissioned to do so as part of King James I’s efforts to refurbish Somerset House for Queen Anne of Denmark.

Following the demolition of the fountain, the cistern was neglected until the 1770s when the cistern was used a public cold plunge bath attached to a property at 33 Surrey Street. A second bath, called the ‘Essex Bath’ was added (it’s now under the nearby KCL Norfolk Building).

The idea that they were Roman is believed to have originated in the 1820s when the bath was so described as an advertising gimmick (Charles Dickens’ helped popularise the idea in his book David Copperfield – it is believed Dickens himself may have bathed here).

The 1.3 metre deep bath passed through a couple of different hands in the ensuing decades including Oxford Street draper Henry Glave and Rev William Pennington Bickford, the Rector of St Clement Danes, who, believing in the bath’s Roman origins, hoped to turn them into a tourist attraction.

But his plans came to nothing due to a lack of funds and following his death, in 1944, the National Trust agreed to take on ownership while London County Council agreed to see to its maintenance. They reopened the baths, following repairs, in 1951.

These days, while owned by the Trust, the baths are managed by Westminster Council.

WHERE: 5 Strand Lane (nearest Tube station is Temple); WHEN: While National Trust properties are temporarily closed, viewings are usually arranged through Westminster Council and Somerset House Old Palaces tour; COST: Free; WEBSITE:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/strand-lane-roman-baths.

PICTURE: Michael Trapp (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Picture Special – ‘Lightopia’ shines at Chiswick House…

The grounds of Chiswick House in London’s west have been illuminated in spectacular fashion over the past few weeks in a winter light trail known as ‘Lightopia’ – but don’t worry, you still have until 1st March to take it all in. The event features acrobats, musicians, a 3D projection busting from the walls of Chiswick House and 47 groups of handmade, silk light installations, including the ‘Tree of Light’ centrepiece – a stunning, 18 metre peacock which moves in synchronisation with music. These silk installations combine ancient techniques of Chinese lantern making with modern technology and were made by people from the Chinese village of Zigong. An admission charge applies. For more, head to www.lightopiafestival.com . Here’s a sample of what’s on show…

ALL PICTURES: Courtesy of Lightopia Festival

This Week in London – Saint Agatha returns to Osterley; Lucian Freud’s self-portraits; and, the collection of Sir Stamford Raffles…

A painting of early Christian martyr Saint Agatha by 17th century Italian artist Carlo Dolci is the highlight of a new exhibition opening at Osterley House in London’s west on Monday. The painting, which has been acquired by the National Trust for the house thanks to an Art Fund grant and other donations, is at the heart of Treasures of Osterley –  Rise of a Banking Family which explores the rise to fame and fortune of the Child family. Sir Robert Child had originally purchased the picture at the start of the 18th century but it was later sold with other family heirlooms in the 1930s. The painting depicts the miraculous moment with St Peter appeared to St Agatha in a vision and healed her wounds. The exhibition can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley-park-and-house.

The first exhibition to focus on the “visceral and unflinching” self-portraits of artist Lucian Freud (1922-2011) has opened at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits features about 50 works that chart his artistic development from early graphic works to the fleshy, painterly style of his later work. The display is organised into six sections, starting with first major self-portrait, Man with a Feather (1943), which is juxtaposed with his late work, Self-portrait, Reflection (2000). It ends with two self-portraits he painted in 2002 and 2003. The exhibition can be seen in The Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing of Galleries until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985 Oil on canvas, 55.9 x 55.3 cm Private collection, on loan to the Irish Museum of Modern Art © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images

• On Now: Sir Stamford Raffles: collecting in Southeast Asia 1811-1824. Controversial figure Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles spent most of his career as an official with the East India Company in South-East Asia during which he was an avid collector of objects from the region. His collection, one of the first large collections from the region, was eventually donated to the British Museum. This display at the museum showcases an important selection of 130 objects from that collection including Hindu-Buddhist antiquities, different types of theatrical puppets, masks, musical instruments and stone and metal sculpture. A collaboration with Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, the exhibition can be seen until 12th January in Room 91. It’s free to enter. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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This Week in London – A rare surviving piece of Queen Elizabeth’s dress on show?; Inside Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and, Islamic influences on art…

An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.

A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.

An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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This Week in London – The Krio people of Sierra Leone; photographer Tim Walker; blue plaques for Angela Carter and Martha Gellhorn; and, last chance to get NYE tickets…

The history and culture of the Krio people of Sierra Leone are the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. The Krios of Sierra Leone explores the dress, architecture, language, lifestyle, traditions and history of the Krio community with contemporary objects from Krio Londoners on show as well as items related to the history of British colonial rule of Sierra Leone from the museum’s collections. Highlights include a large carved wooden printing block dating from around 1800, known as a ’tillet block’, that bears the crest of the Sierra Leone Company, a silver entrée dish which was presented to Thomas Cole, acting colonial secretary of Sierra Leone and assistant superintendent of Liberated Africans, who was responsible for assisting people freed from slave ships when they arrived in the colony, and, a typical Krio dress ensemble wore by Krio women. The free exhibition can be seen until 27th September next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/krios.

Portraits of everyone from Sir David Attenborough to actor Tilda Swinton are on show as part of the largest ever exhibition of the work of photographer Tim Walker at the V&A. The display, Tim Walker: Wonderful Things (pictured above), features more than 150 new works inspired by the V&A’s collections and boasts more than 300 objects, encompassing photographs and the objects that inspired them as well as images of some of the biggest names in fashion – Lily Cole, Lindsey Wixson, Stella Tennant and Alexander McQueen among them – and portraits of such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, David Hockney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Claire Foy, Saoirse Ronan, Kate Moss, and artist Grayson Perry. Runs until 8th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Writers Angela Carter and Martha Gellhorn were both commemorated with English Heritage Blue Plaques earlier this month. Carter, an award-winning novelist, spent the last 16 years of her life at the property at 107, The Chase, in Clapham, and it was there she often tutored her then-student Kazuo Ishiguro and received fellow writers like JG Ballard, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. Meanwhile, Gellhorn, a war correspondent who reported on conflicts ranging from the Spanish Civil War to the Vietnam War, was commemorated with a blue plaque on her former top floor flat in Cadogan Square where she spent the last 28 years of her life. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The final release of tickets for this year’s New Year’s Eve fireworks go on sale from midday on Friday. Those who wish to attend the fireworks in central London must purchase a ticket priced at £10. To sign up for ticket updates and more information go to www.london.gov.uk/nye

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LondonLife – A look inside The India Club…

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).

10 historic London hotels…4. The Langham Hotel…

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!

What’s in a name?…Hanover Square…

This west London square was laid out in the early years of the reign of King George I and therein lies the clue to its name.

King George I, formerly Elector of Hanover in what is now Germany, was the first king of the British House of Hanover, and had been invited to take the Crown after the last of the Stuarts – Queen Anne – died in 1714 without leaving behind any surviving children (despite the fact that she’d had 14 pregnancies and given birth to five live children, all of whom died before her).

And so it was only logical – if not a bit sycophantic – that developer Richard Lumley, the 1st Earl of Scarborough – a keen supporter of the Hanoverian succession, named Hanover Square after the new king’s royal house. Thanks to the new king sharing his name with England’s patron saint, the nearby church was also named St George’s, Hanover Square (located just to the south – pictured below) as was the street that leads to it – St George Street.

Early residents in this Mayfair square included military figures like the generals Earl Cadogan and Sir Charles Wills. The square, which features a central park, was also home to the renowned concert venue, the Hanover Square Rooms (later the Queen’s Concert Rooms) until 1900 when they were demolished (JC Bach, Haydn, Paganini and Liszt all performed here as did Mark Twain who spoke on ‘Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands’ in 1873).

The square has been pretty comprehensively reconstructed since those days and is now home almost exclusively to offices including that of the UK offices of Vogue.

Monuments in the square include a statue of former PM, William Pitt the Younger.

PICTURES: Top – Google Maps/Below – Regency History (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

10 islands in the Thames – 10. Garrick’s Ait…

And so we come to the final entry in our Wednesday special series on River Thames islands. 

Garrick’s Ait, which was previously known as Shank’s Eyot, lies only a few hundred metres upstream from Taggs Island and is said to be the only island in Britain named after an actor – in this case, 18th century star David Garrick.

Similarly to other Thames islands, it was traditionally used to grow and harvest willow osiers but was later popular for picnics and camping. There were apparently no permanent buildings until the 1920s and 1930s when wooden cabins begin to appear on the island and it’s now home to about 20 houses (three were reportedly destroyed in a 2003 fire).

The island took on the name of Garrick’s Ait (ait, like eyot, we recall, being a name for a river island) after the actor bought a property on the Hampton bank in 1754 which he named Garrick’s Villa. In its grounds he famously built a garden folly known as the Temple to Shakespeare.

The ait, which can only be accessed by boat and which sits closer to the Molesey bank than the Hampton bank, was apparently one of three Thames islands that Garrick bought in the area (along with several properties).

PICTURE: © David Kemp (licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0)

 

10 islands in the Thames – 9. Taggs Island…


Formerly known as Walnut Tree Island (among other names), this Thames River island, which lies just upstream of Hampton Court Place, was once a playground for the wealthy and is now home to about 100 residents living in houseboats.

The island was once part of the manor of Hampton Court and by the mid-19th century was home to a number of squatter families who made a living by harvesting osiers (willow rods) used in basket weaving.

In 1850, it was purchased by a property speculator and lawyer Francis Kent (another name for the island was Kent’s Ait) who evicted the squatters and rented part of the island to Joseph Harvey, who established a pub called The Angler’s Retreat there. Another part he leased to a local boatbuilder and waterman named Thomas George Tagg who set up a boat rental and boat-building business there.

In the 1870s, Tagg – whose name became that of the island’s – took over the licence of the pub and built a larger, more imposing hotel in its place, transforming the backwater establishment into a high society favourite. Among its patrons were none other than Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The island also become a mooring site for luxurious houseboats and by the 1880s, the island was ringed with the craft – among those who rented one was none other than JM Barrie, later the author of Peter Pan.

In 1911, Tagg’s original lease of the island ran out and it was subsequently taken by Fred Karno (formerly known as Fred Westcott), a theatre impresario who is credited with having ‘discovered’ Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and who had stayed in houseboats on the island.

He subsequently built a luxurious hotel there, The Karsino, which he sold in 1926, but which went on to change hands several time over the ensuring years (and names – it became known variously as the Thames Riviera and the Casino Hotel).

Eventually, in a badly dilapidated state, the hotel once known as The Karsino was demolished in 1971 (but not before putting in an appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange).

Karno also owned a luxurious houseboat, the Astoria, which was once moored on the island but which is now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (who adapted it into a rather stylish recording studio in the Eighties – A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were apparently both recorded here) and moored upstream on the northern bank of the Thames.

A road bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland in the 1940s – when the island was being used to produce munitions – but this collapsed in the 1960s.

A new bridge was built to the island in the 1980s and a small lagoon carved out of the centre to increase the number of mooring sites for houseboats.

No homes are these days permitted to be constructed on the island but it’s still a mooring place for houseboats, some 62, in fact. These days the island owned by an association of the houseboat owners who each have their own garden on the island.

In the centre of the island is a rather unique sundial (see below). And just to the south-east of Taggs Island lies the much smaller Ash Island; the stretch of water separating the two was apparently once known as Hog’s Hole.

PICTURES: Top – Houseboats on Taggs Island ( Motmit at en.wikipedia/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) ; Right – The Karsino in 1924 (Adam37/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The sundial (stevekeiretsu/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Treasures of London – Gilbert and Sullivan memorials…

 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.