Around London – Resurrection men at the MoL; Hollywood costumes at the V&A; Hanwell locks “at risk”; and, David Nash sculptures at Kew…
October 18, 2012
• A new exhibition at the Museum of London opens tomorrow (Friday) looking at the “murky world” of the early 19th century ‘resurrection men’ and the surgeon/anatomist whom they supplied with bodies. Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men will centre around the 2006 excavation of a until then forgotten burial ground at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. The excavation of the area – which was used between 1825-41 – uncovered some 262 burials and while many contained just one person, others contained a mix of bones providing ample evidence of dissections, autopsies, amputations and the wiring together of bones for teaching as well as evidence animals had been dissected for comparative studies. The excavation revealed that rather than rely on body snatchers, the hospital had used its own ‘unclaimed’ patients for dissection practice. As well as human remains from the find (displayed for the first time), exhibition highlights include various instruments used in early 19th century surgery, a plaster cast of James Legg who was hanged for murder before his body was flayed and cast in plaster for study purposes and a wooden skeleton and other detailed anatomical models made by Joseph Browne. The exhibition runs until 14th April. An admission charge applies. For more details – including the programme of talks taking place alongside the exhibition – see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• The three piece white suit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the blue and white gingham pinafore dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and costumes worn by Meryl Streep in the recent film, The Iron Lady, are all making their public appearance in London this weekend with the V&A’s major autumn exhibition. Opening on Saturday, Hollywood Costume features more than 100 iconic costumes designed for some of the big screen’s most unforgettable characters. A three gallery (or three ‘act’) journey covering the silent film era of Charlie Chaplin through to a look at motion capture costume design in Avatar, the exhibition explores the role costume design plays in cinematic storytelling and examine the changing social and technological context in which designers worked over the past century. Sourced from major motion picture studios, costume houses, museums, archives and private collections, the costumes will be displayed alongside interviews with costume designers, actors and directors. Runs until 27th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/hollywoodcostume.
• A flight of locks which raise the Grand Union Canal 53 feet over the course of a third of a mile at Hanwell in west London is among the top Grade II heritage sites at risk in England, according to English Heritage. The organisation released its Heritage At Risk Register 2012 this week and announced a new program to examine how Grade II listed buildings not already covered by the register can be assessed. Other “at risk” sites in London include Kensal Green (All Souls) Cemetery – one of London’s “magnificent seven” Victoria cemeteries, Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney, Gunnersbury Park in Houslow and 94 Piccadilly (Cambridge House) in Westminster. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.
• On Now: David Nash at Kew: A Natural Gallery. New works by renowned sculptor David Nash were officially unveiled at Kew Gardens last weekend. Mostly created using Kew trees which have come to the end of their life whether through storms, lightning or disease, the series of sculptures – created on site since April in a ‘wood quarry’ in the arboretum – has been installed in gallery spaces across the gardens including The Nash Conservatory, the Temperate House and The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. They are displayed along with a series of drawings and short films. Runs until 14th April. An admission charge applies. See www.kew.org.
July 2, 2012
London’s oldest manufacturing company is the same as Britain’s oldest and is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
The company was established in 1570 (although founders have been discovered operating in the area as far back as 1420) and, according to its website, still concentrates solely on the manufacture of bells and their fittings with large church bells accounting for 80 per cent of the company’s business. The remainder of the business is involved in manufacturing handbells and other smaller bells.
The foundry’s current buildings, apparently originally used as a coaching inn named The Artichoke, date from 1670 and are presumed to have replaced structures consumed in the Great Fire of London. The foundry had earlier been located in smaller premises on the other side of Whitechapel Road.
The foundry has typically operated under the name of the master founder and owner but since 1968 has apparently operated under its current name.
The most famous bells cast at the foundry include the Liberty Bell (1752) – the symbol of American independence which cracked when first rung and was recast in Philadelphia, the Great Bell of Montreal Cathedral, ‘Great Tom’ of Lincoln Cathedral, and, of course, Big Ben (1858) – at 13,760 kilograms, the largest bell ever cast at the foundry.
Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral also feature bells cast at the foundry and replacement bells for St Mary-le-Bow and St Clement Danes made here following their destruction in World War II and bells from the foundry have been sent as far afield as Australia and India.
Among the most recent bells to be cast at the foundry are the Royal Jubilee Bells, used in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and now housed at St James Garlickhythe in the City of London (each of the bells, which bear the Royal Arms, is named after a member of the Royal Family – Elizabeth being the largest with others named Philip, Charles, Anne, Andrew, Edward, William and Henry.)
There is a small exhibition on bell-making in the foundry shop looking at the history of the foundry and bell-making in general, and one-and-a-half-hour tours of the foundry run Saturdays (booking well in advance is usually required). Additional tours are being held every day during the Olympics.
WHERE: 32/34 Whitechapel Road; WHEN: Tours are usually held on Saturdays when no work is being undertaken – see website for dates – but special tours are being held daily from 10am to 5pm, 28th July to 12th August, 2012; COST: The exhibition/museum is free but tours are usually £12 a head for over 14s (Olympic period tours are £10 a head/£25 a family – children under 14 not admitted without adult supervision) – see website for more details on purchasing tickets; WEBSITE: www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk.
Around London – Trooping the Colour and Hampton Court celebrations; Park Lane sculptures; pathologist honored; Londoners at play; and, an exploration of gold…
June 14, 2012
• It’s another weekend of celebration in London with events including Trooping the Colour and the Hampton Court Palace Festival taking place. With Diamond Jubilee fever in the air, expect crowds for this year’s Trooping the Color – the annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday – held at Horse Guards Parade on Saturday. The procession down The Mall kicks off at 10am with the flypast back at Buckingham Palace at 1pm (organisers advice getting your place by 9am – for more, follow this link). The Hampton Court Palace Festival, meanwhile, kicks off today with a performance by Liza Minnelli and runs through next week until John Barrowman performs at the festival’s closing next Saturday (24th June). The festival, set against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace, this year celebrates its 20th year – among other performers are Van Morrison, James Morrison, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and this Saturday (16th June) sees the holding of the 20th Anniversary Classical Gala and fireworks. For more, see http://hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com/. PICTURE: Trooping the Colour 2011.
• Park Lane’s central reservation is now hosting three new large scale sculptures by artist William Turnbull, considered a pioneer of modernism. The three works – 3×1 (1966), Large Horse (1990) and Large Blade Venus (1990) – have been installed as part of Westminster City Council’s ‘City of Sculpture’ festival. The works are on loan from the artist as well as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Chatsworth House, where they have been recently displayed.
• Professor Keith Simpson, a pathologist who has conducted post-mortems as part of the investigation into some of the country’s most infamous murders, has been honored with a green plaque at his former residence at 1 Weymouth Street by Wesminster City Council. The cases he worked on include the 1949 Acid Bath Murders (John George Haigh was hanged for the murder of six people in August that year) and the murder of gangster George Cornell, shot dead by Ronnie Kray in Whitechapel’s Blind Beggar Pub in 1966. Professor Simpson, who died in 1985, worked in the field of pathology for more than 30 years, taught at Guy’s Hospital in London and was renowned as having performed more autopsies than anyone else in the world.
• Now On: Londoners at Play. This exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street explores through images how Londoners spent their leisure time – from the 19th century through to today. The display features 57 images including an image of ‘Last Night of the Proms’ from 1956 featuring conductor Sir Malcolm Sergeant, a print taken from a glass plate negative showing Londoners cycling in Royal Parks in 1895 and a crowd watching a Punch and Judy show in Covent Garden in 1900. Admission is free. Runs until 25th August. For more, see www.gettyimagesgallery.com/Exhibitions/Default.aspx.
• Now On: Gold: Power and Allure – 4,500 Years of Gold Treasures from across Britain. This exhibition at the Goldsmith’s Hall showcases more than 400 gold items, dating from 2,500 BC through to today. Admission is free. Runs until 28th July. For more information, see www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk.
January 17, 2012
Wilton’s Music Hall seems to be regularly making news these days so the revelation that it’s London’s oldest (in fact, according to the venue’s website, it’s the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world) probably comes as no surprise.
The hall, located in Graces Alley, Whitechapel, started out life as a pub which stood in the middle of a row of terrace houses. Named the Prince of Denmark, it is said to have had the first mahogany counters in London (hence the ‘Mahogany Bar’ at the front of the music hall today) and incorporated a concert room built at the rear of the ground floor.
The building was taken over by John Wilton in the 1850s. He also bought up the neighbouring terrace homes and subsequently built the grand music hall which still stands today – one of what were then a new generation of large music halls which appeared in London in the mid to latter part of the 19th century but had all but disappeared by 1900.
Wilton’s Music Hall opened on 27th March, 1859, and continued to operate under Wilton’s management for the next couple of decades. In 1877 it was badly damaged in a fire an rebuilt the following year.
Ten years later, however, the Wesleyan Mission took over the building and used it as a hall – dockers were served meals here during their first ever strike in 1889, it was used as a safe house during the so-called Battle of Cable Street of 1936 in which police clashed with protestors opposing a march by the British Union of Facists, and during World War II it was used as shelter for people bombed out of their homes.
The Methodists left in the 1950s and in 1964, the building was scheduled for demolition. Thanks to the intervention of poet John Betjeman, however (he led a campaign to prevent its destruction), the hall was saved. While it’s been undergoing restoration work ever since, more work is still required and the hall is still looking for donations to help fund it.
As well as operating once again as a music venue, it has since appeared in numerous films including Chaplin, The Krays, and the latest Sherlock Holmes film – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
January 13, 2012
Often used to describe the clock on the Houses of Parliament (or the tower in which it is located), the name Big Ben was actually first given to the bell that resides within.
Officially known as the Great Bell, it is believed the popular nickname of Big Ben came from Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works (there is an alternative theory that it was named after Ben Caunt, a popular heavyweight boxer in the 1850s but the parliamentary website describes this as “unlikely”).
The initial bell intended for the clocktower of the Houses of Parliament was cast by Warners of Norton, near Stockton-on-Tees, in August, 1856. Transported to London, it was tested in Palace Yard (where a clock tower had stood in medieval times) but a crack appeared during testing and so the bell had to be recast.
With Warners apparently asking too much for the recasting, George Mears at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was appointed instead. The new bell was cast on 10th April, 1858.
With a diameter of 2.7 metres, the bell was too big to fit up the clocktower’s shaft vertically so it was turned on its side and the 13.7 tonne bell was winched up to the belfry in October that year. Four quarter bells, which chime on the quarter hour and varying in weight from 1.1 to 4 tonnes, were already in place (interestingly, all of the bells are fixed in position and struck on the outside rather than being allowed to swing and have a hammer strike the inside).
Big Ben debuted on 11th July, 1859 (the clock had been started on 31st May), but in September that year the second bell also cracked. It took four years to find a solution (during that time, the bell was struck on the fourth quarter bell) and it was the Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, who found it.
The solution involved turning the bell a quarter turn so the hammer didn’t restrike the crack site and replacing the hammer with a lighter one (the current hammer still weighs 200 kilograms!). A small square was also cut into the bell’s crack to prevent it spreading.
Apart from occasional stoppages, the bell has struck ever since.
For more on Big Ben, visit www.parliament.uk/bigben. Tours are only available to UK residents and can be arranged via local MPs (see here for more) or there are virtual tours for those who either don’t live in the UK or can’t get there (see here for more).
IMAGE: Big Ben with a quarter bell in the fourground. PICTURE: Courtesy of UK Parliament.
Around London – Leading ladies of the 18th century at NPG; “at risk” in London; and, Antarctic images at the Queen’s Gallery…
October 20, 2011
• A new exhibition featuring some of London’s leading ladies of the eighteenth century opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is the first exhibition devoted to eighteenth century actresses and features 53 portraits depicting the likes of Gwyn and Siddons as well as Lavinia Fenton, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan. Highlights of the exhibition include a little known version of Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Siddons as the “tragic muse”, William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley. The exhibition reveals the key role these women played in the celebrity culture found in London (and elsewhere) during the period. As a counterpoint, an accompanying exhibition displays photographs and paintings of some of today’s actresses. Runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information on the exhibition or the programme of accompanying events, see www.npg.org.uk.
• Cemetery in Hackney and Kensal Green, a park in Hounslow and a Piccadilly property formerly used as the Naval and Military Club are among the “priority sites” listed on English Heritage’s annual Heritage At Risk Register. Released earlier this week, the register’s 10 London”risk priority sites” include London’s first metropolitan cemetery – Kensal Green (All Souls) – which dates from 1833, Gunnersbury Park in West London – featuring a large country home known as Gunnersbury Park House, it was built in 1801-28 and later remodelled, and a mansion at 94 Piccadilly – built in 1756-60 for Lord Egremont, it was later used at the Military and Naval Club and is now for sale. Others on the list include Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney – laid out in 1840, it is described as London’s most important Nonconformist cemetery, a medieval manor farm barn in Harmondsworth in London’s outer west, Tide Mill in Newham, East London, and the entire Whitechapel High Street and Stepney Green conservation areas. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.
• On Now: The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography. Opening at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow, the exhibition marks the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole and features a collection of photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers on Scott’s expedition of 1910-13 and Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-16 as well as unique artifacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (the widow of King Edward VII) which was taken to the Pole. Highlights include Herbert Ponting’s images The ramparts of Mount Erebus and The freezing of the sea and Frank Hurley’s stunning images of Shackleton’s ship Endurance as it was crushed by ice. Runs until 15th April, 2012 (admission charge applied). For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
July 18, 2011
An area of the East End of London which has become synonymous with the Jack the Ripper murders of the late 1880s, the origins of the name Whitechapel actually lie much further back in history.
The name dates back to the 14th century when the church of St Mary Matfelon (or Matfelun) was built on what is now the corner of Whitechapel High Street and Adler Street. The church, which was known as the “white chapel” apparently thanks to the white stone used in the walls, was apparently first constructed the mid 13th century and is said to have been named after a prominent local family. It became the parish church of Whitechapel in the 14th century.
Rebuilt and extended several times over the ensuing centuries – including in 1673 and the 1870s, it was bombed during the Blitz in 1940 and ultimately finally removed in 1952. The site where it once stood is now the Altab Ali Park, named after a young Bangladeshi man who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in Adler Street in 1978.
Whitechapel originally stood along the road, which from Roman times ran from London to Colchester. The fact it stood outside the city walls meant it to became home to some of the city’s more undesirable businesses including slaughterhouses, tanneries and breweries.
Greater numbers of poor came into the area from Middle Ages onwards and by the mid-1800s it was one of London’s most crowded, poorest and disease ridden areas, known for its immigrant population and for its rising levels of crime.
This reputation was only solidified in 1888 when the killings of the so-called murderer Jack the Ripper garnered worldwide attention for the brutal slayings of at least five women (some believe the figure should be much higher). Speculation still surrounds the Ripper’s identity.
These days, Whitechapel – along with many inner city areas – is undergoing a gentrification process and is now known as something of a hub for art and music as well as home to a street market in Brick Lane.
Ripperology aside, other notable landmarks include The Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel Road (it was here gangster Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in 1966; its sign is pictured above) and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (described in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, it was founded in 1570 and among the most famous bells cast there are the US Liberty Bell (1752) Big Ben (1858) – stay tuned for our upcoming ‘London’s Oldest’ entry).