And so we come to the final in our series looking at London sites which tell part of the story of Mary Shelley, writer of Frankenstein, the book which this year marks its 200th anniversary. Of course, one of the most influential figures in her life was her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, so to finish the series, we’re taking a quick look at three sites memorialising him in London…

1.  Poland Street, Soho. Shelley lived at number 15 after he was expelled from Oxford University in 1811 for publishing a pamphlet on atheism. He wasn’t here long – in August he eloped with Harriet Westbrook, then just 16, to Scotland. The building, which stands on the corner with Noel Street, features an English Heritage Blue Plaque and there’s a massive mural on its side, Ode to the West Wind, which takes its name from a poem he wrote in 1819. It was painted by Louise Vines in 1989. PICTURE: Google Maps.

2. Broadwick Street, Soho. The impressive Spirit of Soho mural on the corner with Carnaby Street was created in 1991 and restored in 2006. It features the images of numerous famous figures from the district’s history. As well as the likes of Casanova and Marx, Shelley also features – located a couple of people to the right of Casanova (here seen in red) at the base of the mural’s central panel. PICTURE: Dun.can (image cropped; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

3. Westminster Abbey. There’s no memorial to Mary Shelley in Westminster Abbey but in Poet’s Corner – located in the South Transept – you will find a small memorial to her husband. The joint memorial (which also commemorates John Keats) was designed by sculptor Frank Dobson and unveiled in 1954 by then Poet Laureate John Masefield. It simply features two plaques – one bearing the name Shelley and the other Keats with their birth and death years – linked by a “swag of flowers” attached to a lyre at the top of each plaque.

And that brings and end to our series on Mary Shelley’s London (although, of course there are still more sites associated with Shelley to explore!) . We’ll recap the series next week before launching our next Wednesday special series…

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A new stained glass window depicting bright country scenes was unveiled in Westminster Abbey last week in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen’s Window, located in the south transept overlooking Poet’s Corner, is the work of world-renowned artist David Hockney and was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to celebrate her reign. The work is Hockney’s first in stained glass and features a Yorkshire scene with hawthorn blossom which uses his distinct colour palette of yellow, red, blue, pink, orange and greens. “The subject reflects The Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside,” the abbey said in a statement. The window was created by York-based stained glass artists Barley Studio to Hockney’s designs. Other artists who have completed stained glass works in the abbey include Sir Ninian Comper, Hugh Easton and John Piper with the last stained glass windows, by Hughie O’Donoghue, installed in the Lady Chapel in 2013. PICTURE: Alan Williams/Westminster Abbey

Erected around the turn of the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (some put the date  of its erection at about 1897; others in about 1905), the clocktower replaced an obelisk that had previously stood in the centre of St George’s Circus in  Southwark.

The rather ornate tower was designed by architect and engineer Jan F Groll and featured four oil lamps to help light the intersection, described as the first purpose-built traffic junction in England.

It survived until the late 1930s when it was demolished after being described as a nuisance to traffic.

Meanwhile, the Robert Mylne-designed obelisk had been first erected in 1771 and marked one mile from Palace Yard, one mile 40 feet from London Bridge and one mile, 350 feet from Fleet Street (Mylne, incidentally, was the architect of the original Blackfriars Bridge).

Following its removal, it was taken to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park where it stood until 1998 when it was moved back to its position in St George’s Circus where it now stands. It was Grade II*-listed in 1950.

There’s a replica of the obelisk in Brookwood Cemetery – it marks the spot where bodies taken from the crypt of the Church of St George the Martyr, located in Borough High Street, in 1899 were reinterred to ease crowding.

PICTURE: Once the site of a clocktower, the obelisk has since been returned to St George’s Circus (Martin Addison/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

And so we come to the last entry in our series on lesser known memorials to women in London. And for our final memorial, we’re heading to Westminster where a memorial actually commemorating two women – Suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her daughter Christabel (1880-1958) –  sits in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament. 

Erected in 1930, the statue, which stands atop a central pedestal set in a low wall, was, according to the plaque on the front, installed as a tribute to Emmeline’s “courageous leadership of the movement for the enfranchisement of women” and was funded through subscriptions made to the Pankhurst Memorial Fund established following her death.

Sculpted by Arthur George Walker (he also sculpted a statue of Florence Nightingale in Waterloo Place), the now Grade II-listed statue depicts Pankhurst standing with arms appealing to those before her as if addressing a crowd.

Inside the pedestal upon which the statue stands there is apparently a metal box containing some of her letters and an obituary to her published in The Times.

The statue, which was originally installed as a stand-alone monument further to the south of its current position (but still in the gardens), was unveiled on 6th March, 1930, by then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The Metropolitan Police Band, conducted by Ethel Smyth, a friend of Pankhurst’s, played during the unveiling – some of those police officers who played had previously arrested Suffragettes.

The monument was moved to its current location in 1958 and in 1959 the low wall was added to accommodate a second memorial, this one to Dame Christabel. It consists of two medallions sculpted by Peter Hill. Located at each end of the wall on either side of the statue, they depict the Women’s Social and Political Union badge, known as the “Holloway Prison brooch”, and a portrait of Christabel (right).

There are reportedly controversial plans to move the memorial to a site in The Regent’s Park. The proposed new site, which sits inside Regent’s University grounds, was apparently selected because of the historical association of the Suffragettes with Bedford College which once stood on the site.

There is also apparently a proposal for another statue of Emmeline Pankhurst to be located on Canning Green outside the Supreme Court on Parliament Square.

PICTURES: Top – Prioryman (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Right – David Adams; Lower right – Lupo (licensed under CC BY 3.0/image cropped)

Opened on 22nd January, 1876, this short-lived building at the junction of Tothill and Victoria Streets in Westminster – across the road from Westminster Abbey, was designed as an entertainment venue offering a space for art exhibitions, concerts and plays in similar fashion to that of the famous Crystal Palace then located in Sydenham.

The classically styled and highly ornamented two storey building was designed by Alfred Bedborough and built of Portland stone and red brick. Its initial board of directors included composer Arthur Sullivan (he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), retailer William Whiteley, and financier Henry Labouchére, covered an area of almost three acres.

It featured a central hall which stood 340 feet in length and 160 feet wide and was covered with a barrel-shaped iron and glass roof. The interior featured palm trees and other exotic plants, fountains, sculptures, space for a 400 member orchestra, and, 13 large tanks for sea creatures which were fed with fresh and sea water from four cisterns

These tanks, which gave the premises its name as well as its nickname, ‘The Tank’, didn’t prove all that successful. They were initially left empty, prompting author Charles Dickens to note that they become something of a “standing joke”, and even as late as 1896 were described as providing a “beggarly show of fish”.

As well as the main hall, the premises also boasted multiple smaller rooms including eating and drinking establishments, an art gallery, ice-skating rink, reading room, telegraph office, and, at its west end, the Aquarium Theatre, which in 1879 was renamed the Imperial Theatre. There was even apparently a division bell installed for MPs visiting from the nearby Houses of Parliament.

By the 1890s, the entertainments had become more low-brow and the building had become associated with illicit sexual liaisons. Its popularity declined.

In 1903, it was sold to the Methodist Church and Methodist Central Hall was built on the site in 1911. The theatre, however, wasn’t demolished until 1907 – the interior, however, was saved and apparently re-erected as the Imperial Palace of Varieties in Canning Town in 1909 (which itself was destroyed by fire in 1931).

PICTURE: A from 1896 book, The Queen’s London: a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, showing the Royal Aquarium in c1876.

Located on Paddington Green, this statue of 18th century theatrical luminary Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was unveiled by fellow thespian Sir Henry Irving on 14th June, 1897, who apparently noted that, Shakespeare aside, Siddons was the first actor to be immortalised with a statue in London.

It is also said to be the first outdoor statue erected in London of a non-royal woman.

Seated in a pose apparently inspired by Joshua Reynolds’ 1784 painting, Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (now in California), the marble statue, which sits on a Portland stone plinth, is the work of French sculptor Leon-Joseph Chavailliaud.

The location was apparently selected due to the fact Siddons lived at Westbourne Green from 1805 to 1817 and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard next to Paddington Green.

The Grade II-listed statue, which was paid for by public subscription, is sadly now need of a makeover – Mrs Siddons is missing a nose.

There is, incidentally, another, earlier, statue of Mrs Siddons in London – this larger-than-life work, is located in the chapel of St Andrew in Westminster Abbey’s north transept.

The work of sculptor Thomas Campbell, it features a standing Mrs Siddons, and dates from 1845.

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

A memorial stone commemorating Nelson Mandela was dedicated at Westminster Abbey on the centenary of his birth this week.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in South African prisons and played a key role in bringing an end to apartheid before serving as President between 1994 and 1999, died in 2013.

The stone, which is located in the floor of the abbey’s nave, was dedicated in a ceremony on 18th July attended by Nomatemba Tambo, the High Commission for South Africa, and Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela.

The stone, made of black Belgian marble, was designed and cut by Nicholas Stone. It bears an inscription reading ‘Nelson Mandela 1918-2013’ encircled by the words ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’.

Mandela is the first South African to be commemorated with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey. But a statue of South African martyr Manche Masemola stands over the church’s western entrance and Joost de Blank, former Archbishop of Cape Town, is buried outside St George’s Chapel.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Mandela was held at the Abbey on 3rd March 2014.

Other monuments to Nelson Mandela in London include a bust located in South Bank and a statue located in Parliament Square.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Dean & Chapter of Westminster

A bird bath and drinking fountain located in Victoria Embankment Gardens, this monument dedicated to Lady Henry Somerset – a key temperance campaigner – was unveiled in the late 19th century.

Lady (Isabella) Somerset (1851-1921) was president of the British Women’s Temperance Association from 1890 to 1903, president of World’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union between 1989 and 1906, and founder of a farm colony for inebriate women near Reigate in Surrey.

The monument isn’t actually a true memorial – Lady Somerset was still alive when the bronze, sculpted by GE Wade was unveiled on 29th May, 1897. It had been commissioned by the “Children of The Loyal Temperance Legion” to commemorate Lady Somerset’s “work done for the temperance cause”.

The monument – which depicts a young girl holding out a basin – was Grade II-listed in 1958.

The original statue, however, was stolen in 1971 after it was sawn off at the feet. The statue which now stands there is actually a replica – by Philomena Davidson Davis – installed in 1999.

As well as the dedication, the rough granite plinth upon which the statue stands bears the rather odd inscription (given Lady Somerset’s campaigning), “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink.”

PICTURE: Top – Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right –  Another Believer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The campaign for women to be able to vote and stand as representatives in Parliament is the subject of an exhibition opening at the Houses of Parliament. Staged in Westminster Hall, Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament features historic objects, pictures and archives from Parliamentary collections and elsewhere with the “immersive” recreation of some of the lost historical spaces in the Palace of Westminster among the highlights. These include ‘The Ventilator’ – a space above the House of Commons Chamber where women, banned from the public galleries, watched and listened to Parliamentary debates, ‘The Cage’ – a ladies gallery closed off by brass grills built as part of the House of Commons when it was reconstructed after the 1834 fire, and ‘The Tomb’ – a room for women MPs after the 1918 decision allowing them to stand for Parliament. The exhibition, which is free to attend, runs from until 6th October. Tickets have to be pre-booked via Parliament’s website. PICTURE: Michael D Beckwith/Unsplash

The final commissioned portrait of popstar Michael Jackson is among images on show in a new National Portrait Gallery exhibition exploring his influence on contemporary art. Along that work – Kehinde Wiley’s 2010 work Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson), the exhibition Michael Jackson: On the Wall features American artist and activist Faith Ringgold’s story quilt Who’s Bad?, a series of collages by Isaac Julien, and a ‘dinner jacket’ covered with forks, spoons and knives made by costume designer Michael Lee Bush as well as a pop-graffiti style portrait by Keith Haring, on show for the first time in 30 years. Among new works created specially for the exhibition are a line drawing by artist Michael Craig-Martin which is based on the image of 11-year-old Michael used for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in April, 1971, and a large-scale painting by Yan Pei Ming, In Memory of Michel Jackson. Opening today, the exhibition can be seen until 21st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

World War I artist CRW Nevinson and his father, journalist Henry Nevinson, have both been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was unveiled at a property at 4 Downside Crescent in Hampstead where the Nevinson family lived between 1903 and 1941 before bombing raids made the home uninhabitable. Richard “CRW” Nevinson (1889-1946) was one of the most famous artists of the Great War and used a variety of styles, including Futurism and Cubism, to capture the brutality of the war based on his experience while serving briefly with the  Royal Army Medical Corps in France (before he was sent home in 1915 for rheumatic pain). His father, who reported on the Boer War and World War I, was known as “the king of war correspondents” and was a champion of universal suffrage. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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OK, well, they’re not there any more but the first traffic lights erected anywhere in the world were placed on the north-east corner of Parliament Square in Westminster on 9th December, 1868.

The location at the intersection of Great George, Parliament and Bridge Streets outside the Houses of Parliament wasn’t chosen by random – there had been several traffic accidents at the congested site.

The seven metre tall lights, which were operated by a police constable, were based on railway signals – in fact they had been invented by a railway engineer, John Peake Knight of Nottingham. A City of Westminster plaque commemorates him close to the site.

The structure (pictured above in a police notice of which apparently some 10,000 copies were made) featured three semaphore arms which were lowered to an angle (signalling go or caution) or raised to horizontal (signalling stop). There was also gas-powered light for use at night – it changed from green (go or caution) and red (stop).

They didn’t last too long – many drivers didn’t recognise what the signals meant, others ignored them and there were frequent problems including a gas leak at the base which led to an explosion injuring the policeman operating them at the time. They were removed the following year.

The first electric lights, meanwhile, didn’t arrive in the capital until after their invention in the US where the first were  installed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914. In London it wasn’t until 1926 that the first electric lights were installed, this time at the intersection of Piccadilly and St James’s Street.

The first vehicle-activated lights came some seven years later and were installed at the corner of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill in the City.

PICTURE: Leonard Bentley/Creative Commons

 

The new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey open to the public on Monday. The museum galleries, located more than 50 feet above the abbey’s floor in the medieval Triforium, tell the 1,000 year history of the abbey through some of its greatest treasures. Entry to the Triforium – never before open to the public – is via the new Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745 which comes with previously unseen views of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster. The exhibition in the galleries, meanwhile, features some 300 objects and tells the abbey’s story around four major themes – building the abbey, worship and daily life, the abbey’s relationship to the monarchy and its role as a national place of commemoration and remembrance. Among the items on show are a column capital from the cloister of St Edward the Confessor’s Church (built around 1100), a scale model of the abbey commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren which features a never built massive central spire, The Westminster Retable (1259-69) – the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, the Litlyngton Missal – an illuminated 14th century service book, Queen Mary II’s Coronation Chair dating from 1689, the 2011 marriage licence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and early abbey guidebooks for visitors. The new galleries and tower were completed in a £22.9 million project funded through private donors and trusts. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries/.  PICTURES: Top – The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries; Right – The Weston Tower (Images courtesy of Westminster Abbey/Alan Williams).

The Royal Collection’s South Asian art goes on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6 centres on the historic four month visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to the subcontinent prior to his mother, Queen Victoria, being formally declared Empress of India. It brings together some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship in the Royal Collection including some of the 2,000 gifts presented to the Prince on his tour. Highlights include an enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder given by Ram Singh II, Maharajah of Jaipur, a 10 piece gold service given by the Maharaja of Mysore, and a jewelled walking stick featuring a concealed gun, thought to have been the gift of Maharao Ram Singh of Bundi. There are also enamelled peacock feather fans, a gold and emerald turban ornament, and a brooch and necklace featuring a depiction of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The display can be seen until 14th October. Admission charge applies. The exhibition is being shown alongside Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts, which features highlights from the Royal Collection’s world-class holding of paintings and manuscripts from the region. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

British-born artist Thomas Cole’s depictions of the unspoiled American wilderness form the centre of a new exhibition at The National Gallery. Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire includes 58 works, mostly on loan from North American collections, including his iconic painting cycle The Course of Empire (1834-6), and the masterpiece that secured his reputation (and which has never been seen in the UK before), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow (1836). Cole’s paintings will be shown alongside those of artists who had the greatest influence on him including JMW Turner and John Constable. Opens on 11th June and runs until 7th October. Admission charge applies. As a bonus, The National Gallery is also hosting a free exhibition of a series of 10 works created by Ed Ruscha in response to Cole’s The Course of Empire. These can be seen in Room 1. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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

Prime Minister Theresa May (below) and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently attended the unveiling of the first statue commemorating a female in Parliament Square – that of Suffragist leader Dame Millicent Fawcett. The work of Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, the statue is not only the first of a woman to grace the square outside the Houses of Parliament but also the first in the square created by a woman. Its arrival marks 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the Representation of the People Act 1918. Mrs May paid tribute to Fawcett for her role in the “long and arduous” struggle to achieve votes for women while Mr Khan pointed out that the statue would stand near that of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – “two other heroic leaders who campaigned for change and equality”. “There couldn’t be a better place to mark the achievements of Millicent Fawcett, in the heart of UK democracy in Parliament Square,” he said. The statue, which was funded through the Government’s £5 million Centenary Fund, was unveiled by three generations of women including Jennifer Loehnis, a descendant of Millicent Fawcett, and activist Caroline Criado Perez who led the campaign lobbying for the statue to be placed there.

PICTURES – Top – Garry Knight/Flickr (public domain); Below Number 10/Flicker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There’s no prizes for guessing that this Westminster road, which runs from Greycoat Place to Millbank and Lambeth Bridge, in pre-bridge days led down to a horse ferry across the Thames.

The ferry was, in fact, the only licensed horse ferry along the river and did quite a trade in conveying horses and their riders as well as carriages across the river. Mentions of the ferry date back to medieval times but it’s suggested there may have been a ford here back as far as the Roman era.

The income from the ferry went to the Archbishop of Canterbury (his official London residence lay across the river at Lambeth). So lucrative were the ferry rights that when Westminster Bridge was built in the mid 18th-century, the archbishop was paid £3,000 in compensation.

There are a number of famous figures associated with the ferry – Princess Augusta, later the mother of King George III, reportedly used it on the way to her wedding in 1736, and almost 50 years before that, the ferry pier is said to have been the starting point for King James II’s flight from England in 1689.

There are also a couple of high profile disasters associated with the horse ferry – Archbishop Laud’s belongings apparently sank to the bottom when the ferry overturned in 1633 and  Oliver Cromwell’s coach was apparently lost during a similar incident in 1656 – both events were apparently seen as bad omens (not to mention expensive).

Horseferry Road, meanwhile, is these days home to government buildings including Horseferry House and the City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and, since the mid 1990s, Channel 4’s HQ.

Horseferry Road was also the location of the Australian Imperial Force’s administrative HQ during World War I and it was in this thoroughfare that Phyllis Pearsall was living when she conceived the London A to Z.

PICTURE: Top – Lambeth Bridge, site of the horse ferry which gives Horseferry Road its name/Right – Horseferry Road (Tagishsimon, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

 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.

 

The anniversaries of the four terrorist attacks which took place in London last year – in Westminster, at London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green – are being marked from today with a 3D installation on the map area at City Hall. The public are able to pay their respects by signing a digital “book of hope” and interacting with the installation by sending messages of strength, hope and resilience using #LondonUnited on social media, with the messages then projected onto a map of London that #LondonUnited will stand on. The installation, which opens today on the anniversary of the Westminster attack, will remain open until 19th June, the anniversary of the attack in Finsbury Park. Further ‘London United’ exhibitions are also planned for later in the year. “These were not only attacks on our city and our country, but on the very heart of our democracy and the values we cherish most – freedom, justice and tolerance…” said Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. “I hope these arrangements will help people to come together and remember those who were killed and injured, to show solidarity and support for their families and friends and the people whose lives have been affected by these tragic attacks. As we enter this period of remembrance and reflection, we stand together as Londoners, united against terrorism and in hope for the future.” The installation will be open from 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday, except Bank Holidays. The Westminster attack anniversary is also being marked today with the projection of the phrase #LondonUnited on the Houses of Parliament from dusk until midnight. Further projections will take place on the anniversaries of the other attacks at the sites where they took place. Londoners who may need support, can visit victimsofterrorism.campaign.gov.uk or call 0808 168 9111.

A series of watercolour paintings depicting the interior and precincts of Westminster Abbey have gone on display in the abbey’s chapter house. The paintings, by internationally acclaimed British artist Alexander Creswell, represent, in the words of the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, “the first time ever a large suite of paintings has been commissioned to capture the stunning architecture and amazing light of the Abbey”. They can seen until 16th May. Entrance to the chapter house in the Abbey’s east cloister is free. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/events/glimpses-of-eternity. Meanwhile the abbey announced last week that there will be a special service of thanksgiving later in the year for the late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, who died on 14th March at the age of 76, during which his ashes will be interred near the grave of Sir Isaac Newton.

Numismatics – the study of coins, medals, banknotes and associated objects – is the focus of a new exhibition opening at the British Museum today. Money and Medals: mapping the UK’s numismatic collections celebrates the work of the Money and Medals Network, which provides advice to British museums, and features objects from six participating institutions. They include a framed set of replica Greek coins dating from the late 19th century, a ‘Magic Money Machine’ which can seemingly transform a roll of blank paper into banknotes, a set of medal miniatures from Henry Hook, who won the Victoria Cross for gallantry at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, and a selection of Roman coins and replica medals of Louis XIV from the collection of the Armagh Robinson Library, founded by Archbishop Richard Robinson in 1771. The exhibition, which is free, can be found in Room 69a and runs until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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There’s several candidates for this title – NatWest Tower, built in 1980, has been described as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper (we’ll deal with that in our current special) but we’re looking back to earlier times (after all, the term first started to be used in the 1880s) when candidates included 55 Broadway in Westminster.

Once the tallest office building in London, 55 Broadway was constructed in 1927-29 as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (which later became London Transport and then Transport for London). The building contains the St James’s Park Underground Station which is one of the most intact of the early underground stations.

Designed by Charles Holden (also noted for his design of the University of London’s Senate House and war cemeteries in Belgium and France) , the 14 storey Art Deco building is cruciform in plan to maximise street views and the amount of light entering each office as well as to ensure that the bulk of the building’s tower didn’t overwhelm the surrounding streetscapes (and to ensure the building complied with the then current building height restrictions).

The building, the design of which was influenced by US architecture, is made from a steel frame encased on concrete and faced in Portland stone. Based on a two storey pedestal which covers the entire site, the spur wings around the tower rise a further five storeys above the base while the tower itself rises 53.3 metres (175 foot).

Internally, the building features bronze and marble decoration and what was a state-of-the-art system known as a Cutler mailing chute to send letters around the building.

Of special note are the many sculptures which adorn the building, described as a “showcase of pre-Second World War British sculpture”.

Among them are two Jacob Epstein sculptures representing ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ and eight figurative reliefs representing the winds for each cardinal point, the work of sculptors led by Eric Gill and also including Eric Aumonier, Alfred Gerrard, Samuel Rabonovitch, Allan Wyon and Henry Moore (it was his first public commission).

The sculptures proved somewhat controversial at time particularly due to Epstein’s depiction of ‘Day’ featuring a nude male – Ezra Pound famously said Epstein was contributing to a “cult of ugliness”. And while this sculpture eventually had his manhood truncated slightly following the outcry, the sculptures were otherwise left untouched.

Holden won the RIBA London Architecture Medal for the building which received Grade I-listing in 2011 (it had earlier been Grade II listed), partly due to its being London’s first ‘skyscraper’ and a building which “heralded the epoch of tall steel-framed office buildings”.

The building was damaged during the Blitz but remains largely intact. There are now plans to convert the building to luxury apartments although at present Transport for London continue to use the building.

PICTURES: Top – Epstein’s ‘Night’ – One of the less controversial sculptures adorning the building (Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))/Right – The mass of 55 Broadway with the controversial (and altered) sculpture of ‘Day’ (David Adams).

Note: The original article said 55 Broadway was once the tallest building but should have, of course, said tallest office building. St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building until 1967. The building was also damaged during the Blitz but apparently not by a flying bomb.

The first building in London to exceed the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, the 118 metre (387 foot) high Millbank Tower opened in 1963.

Said to have been inspired by the works of Modernist German-American architect Mies van der , the 32 storey building, located on the river just south of Westminster, was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners.

It was originally built as the headquarters of the engineering firm, the Vickers Group (hence its original moniker of Vickers Tower) and the Legal and General Assurance Society.

The glass walled building, which features a 31 storey tower atop a two storey podium, only held the title of London’s tallest building briefly – in 1965 it was overtaken by the Post Office Tower.

Now Grade II-listed, it was famously the headquarters of the Labour Party between the mid-Nineties and early Noughties – it was from here that it ran its 1997 general election campaign which saw the election of Tony Blair to the office of Prime Minister.

The Conservative Party has also been a tenant (although in this case of the complex to which the building is attached) as has the United Nations and numerous government agencies. The bulding has also appeared in episodes of Dr Who.

The building was recently the subject of an application for it to be redeveloped into a hotel and luxury apartments.

PICTURES: Top – David Curran (licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right – Łukasz Czyżykowski (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Celebrations were held last week marking the 100th anniversary of the day on which the Representation of People Act was passed, giving women the vote for the first time (well, that who are aged over 30 and who occupied a house – or were married someone who did).

The bill, passed on 6th February, 1918, also extended voting rights to all men aged over 21 (previously it had been restricted to men who owned property) but it wasn’t until 10 years later than women gained the same right.

A further bill was passed in November, 1918, which gave women the right to stand in elections. So when women first cast their votes in the next general election – held in December of that year – several women stood for seats in the House of Commons.

In the end, only one – the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz – was elected but she choose to sit in the Dáil Éireann in Dublin. This meant that the first woman to sit in the House of Commons didn’t do so until December, 1919, when Nancy Astor, elected as the MP for Plymouth Sutton, did so.

PICTURE: Representation of the People Act 1918/Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives

OK, this is an unusual one – a TV show instead of a person, but given it’s 30 years this month since the last episode was broadcast on 28th January, 1988, we thought we’d pause to remember a landmark couple of TV series.

Yes Minister, which starred Paul Eddington as the hapless newly-elevated first time government minister Jim Hacker, first aired on BBC on 25th February, 1980.

The show centred on the trials and tribulations of Mr Hacker as he tried to bring about the sort of changes he had dreamed about as a candidate, opposed by an obstructionist civil service – in particular the Permanent Secretary to the Minister for Administrative Affairs, Sir Humphrey Appleby (played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne). Caught between the two – with loyalties to both – was Mr Hacker’s Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds.

While the Houses of Parliament (pictured above) are shown as a drawing on the opening credits, the action rarely moves to the House of Commons but largely takes place in Mr Hacker’s Whitehall office and other offices and private clubs in the Westminster area under the premise that it’s behind the scenes where the real work of politics does (or doesn’t) get done.

The show was famous for almost always finishing with Sir Humphrey muttering those immortal words “Yes, Minister”, even as he has thwarted another of the minister’s plans.

Three series of seven episodes were made which ran until 1984 (there were also two Christmas specials) . A follow-up series, Yes Prime Minister, first aired in 1986 and centred once again on Jim Hacker, this time following his elevation to the role of PM. Sir Humphrey continued to be a thorn in his side.

The show, which was also adapted for radio, won several BAFTAs and was said to be a favourite of British PM Margaret Thatcher. It was later made into a stage play and this in turn lead to a “revival” series being produced.

The show has been referenced numerous times in popular culture as well as real-life politics – Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was a fan and even Humphrey, a former Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, was named after Sir Humphrey.

PICTURE: Jamie Street/Unsplash