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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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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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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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).

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 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)

 

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)

 


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)

 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.

 

Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see www.popesgrotto.org.uk.

PICTURE: verdurin (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).


It’s 40 years ago this month since the Concorde – the ultimate in luxury plane travel – set off for the first flight on what would be – for almost three decades, at least – a regular service between London and New York.

The British Airways service between London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK airports began on 22nd November, 1977 – the same date as regular services between Paris and New York – after a ban on the Concorde landing in New York was lifted by the US Supreme Court.

The flight came almost two years after the first commercial flights of the Concorde anywhere in the world had started in January, 1976, between London and Bahrain, and Paris and Rio via Dakar.

With the jets flying at a cruising speed of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), the journey from London to New York took an average of three-and-a-half hours (compared with seven to eight hours for a subsonic flight). Concorde still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a civil aircraft – a flight from New York to London on 7th February, 1996, which took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The aircraft – BA had seven in service – seated 100 passengers in two cabins – 40 in the front and 60 in the rear – and a crew of nine. The London to New York service (and the return trip) was particularly popular among celebrities.

The London to New York route hosted the last commercial flight of the Concorde on 24th October, 2003.

The decision to stop flying the Concorde followed a July, 2000, tragedy in which an Air France Concorde had crashed while taking off in Paris, killing 109 people on the plane and four on the ground. Safety concerns had seen the planes grounded for more than a year. And when they did finally take to the skies again in November, 2001, the world had witnessed the September 11 terror attacks – a fact which was said to have led a dramatic drop in passenger numbers.  In the end, it was said to be these declining passenger numbers along with the rising maintenance costs of ageing fleets which led to its demise.

One of the retired British Airways Concordes – it was used for spare parts by BA and never used commercially – and the world’s only surviving Concorde simulator, built in 1974, can be found just outside London at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.

There are apparently several supersonic jet passenger planes in development but when – or indeed if – they end up flying the New York to London route remains to be seen.

PICTURES – NOW AND THEN: Top – A Concorde in retirement (Simon Boddy, licensed under CC BY-NC SA 2.0); Below – The British Airways official handover ceremony in 1976 (Steve Fitzgerald under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2).

London was agog. Gathering at what is now the Theatre Royal in Haymarket on the evening of 16th January, 1749, the city’s inhabitants were ready to experience a most amazing spectacle as a man would not only play a “common walking cane” as if it were any instrument but, apparently shrinking himself, step inside a common, ordinary sized wine bottle placed upon a table.

Spurred on by newspaper advertisements promising a night of “surprising things” (which also included the promise of the performer taking on the likeness of any person, living or dead), it was with great expectation that the crowd, which included the Duke of Cumberland, settled into their seats in the theatre, having willingly paid at least two shillings (and some substantially more) for the privilege of being present.

When the time came for the curtain to rise and nothing happened, there were no doubt some who thought it merely a tactic of the performer to build suspense. But the crowd was getting restless and soon after began booing and stamping their feet in their annoyance.

One of the theatre’s staff then appeared on stage to inform them the performer had not arrived and that all entrance fees would repaid  – his comments were apparently answered by a wit who claimed they would pay double if the magician could enter a pint bottle instead of a quart bottle. Further catcalls followed and before long someone apparently threw a candle, setting the stage curtains on fire. Panic broke out among those in the theatre as people sought to escape but for some rage took over as they realised that they had been the victims of a hoax.

The theatre was destroyed as people tore up the seats and smashed the scenery, carting what they could out into Haymarket where it was burnt in a bonfire. The theatre manager called out the guards but the rioting was largely over by the time they arrived. There were apparently no casualties, apart from the theatre itself, although the Duke of Cumberland did, it was said, lose a jewelled sword.

Apparently a bizarre hoax, attention quickly turned to who was behind it. It was commonly believed that it had been the 2nd Duke of Montagu, a notorious practical joker, who had placed the advertisement in order to win a bet that he could fill a theatre by promising something impossible such as a man being able to step inside a bottle. Yet to this day, the identity of the hoaxer remains something of a mystery and the case went on to be cited in reference to the gullibility of the London populace.

PICTURE: Kbthompson at English Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

The fourth annual ‘Performance Festival’ opens at the V&A in South Kensington tomorrow. Highlights include a preview of the V&A’s exclusive virtual reality recording of David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, the museum’s first ever stand-up comedy night and a premiere screening of the film Lady Macbeth followed by a Q&A with director William Oldroyd, actress Florence Pugh and costume designer Holly Waddington. The festival, which runs until Sunday, 30th April, is being run in conjunction with the display The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres currently in the museum’s Theatre and Performance Gallery. Admission free to most events/selected events are ticketed in advance. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/performance-festival.

The secrets and hidden spaces of the London Underground will be laid bare in an open day at the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot this weekend. Activities include art and poster tours, a program of talks including discussions of the finds made during the Crossrail excavations, London’s mail rail and the Thames Tunnel, miniature railway rides and the chance to see heritage vehicles including the restored 1892 ‘Carriage 353’ . There’s also plenty of options for eating and shopping. Runs Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd April). Admission charge applies but kids are free. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends

Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing has been commissioned to create a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett for Parliament Square, it was announced last week. The statue will be the first female statue to stand in the square when it’s unveiled next year as well as the first to do so which was created by a woman.

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This sculpture by London-based Scottish artist David Mach can be found in Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It depicts 12 K6 red phone boxes falling onto one another like a row of dominoes and was commissioned from the Royal Academician by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 1988. Unveiled the following year, it was renovated in 2001. There’s been talk in the past of it being removed (and of the end phone being connected, so it works) but the iconic sculpture remains in situ near the Old London Road gateway (and unconnected). PICTURE: Jim Linwood/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)

Acclaimed biologist Rosalind Franklin’s grave in Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery has been given listed status, Historic England announced in marking International Women’s Day this week. Franklin’s tomb commemorates her life and achievements – they include X-ray observations she made of DNA which contributed to the discovery of its helical structure by Crick and Watson in 1953. Meanwhile, Historic England has teamed with The Royal Society to highlight the achievements of 28 remarkable women noted for their achievements in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics and astronomy. The women’s stories have been explored and key historic locations mapped. They include the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens (named for 19th century botanist Marianne North), the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital – founded in 1872 as the New Hospital for Women in London by Anderson, a suffragette and the first English woman to qualify as a doctor, and the Royal Academy of Arts where natural history illustrator and painter Sarah Stone was an honorary exhibitor in the 1780s.

The first major exhibition focusing on contemporary American printmaking has opened in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery of The British Museum. The American Dream: pop to the present features more than 200 works from 70 artists including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, Louise Bourgeois and Kara Walker. Including loans from institutions such as The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, as well the museum’s own collection, the works span six decades – from the moment when pop art arrived in the New York and West Coast scene of the early 1960s, to the rise of minimalism, conceptual art and photorealism in the 1970s, and through to the practices of today’s artists. Among the works on show are Warhol’s Marilyn, Willie Cole’s Stowage and Claes Oldenburg’s sculpture of the Three-Way Plug. Admission charges apply. Runs until 18th June. For more, see www.americandreamexhibition.org. PICTURE: Andy Warhol (1928–1987), ‘Vote McGovern’, Colour screenprint/© 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.

Visitors with disabilities will be offered free admission to royal residences – including the Royal Mews and The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace – this weekend to mark Disabled Access Day. Visitors to the Queen’s Gallery can join verbal descriptive tours of the Portrait of the Artist exhibition on 12th March while the Royal Mews will offer free admission to disabled visitors on 10th and 11th March.  Standard access resources, including plain English tour scripts, induction loops, large-print and list access will be available across all venues. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

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

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

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

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

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winter-wonderland

Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.

autumn-colours

Autumnal colour on display in Bushy Park, south-west London. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.

PICTURE: David Adams

heathrow-garden-gateThe UK’s first airport “garden gate” – featuring some 1,680 plants – has been planted at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 in a six month trial of the concept which could see the garden gates being implemented across the airport. Designed by urban greening specialists Biotecture, the installation at Gate 25 covers seven different sites in the gate room and features plants such as English native ivy and the Peace Lily and provides an “eco-sanctuary”, conveying a sense of calm to passengers as they embark on their journey.