• It’s Open House London this weekend and, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, this programme features a host of documentary films, online events and self-led walking tours. Highlights from the festival, which runs over Saturday and Sunday with some additional events taking place until 27th September, include online tours of the HM Treasury in Whitehall (pictured) and Dorich House Museum in Kingston-upon-Thames, a self-guided walking tour of Fosters + Partners buildings in London’s centre, and the chance to visit Rochester Square in Marylebone. The programme features a series of collections of related events – such as those related to ‘colonial histories’ or ‘architecture for the climate emergency’ – to help make it easier for people to access. For the full programme of events, head to https://openhouselondon.open-city.org.uk. PICTURE: HM Treasury Building taken from the London Eye (Dave Kirkham/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0/Image cropped)

The work and lives of the more than million British Army soldiers who have served in Germany following World War II is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the National Army Museum in Chelsea next Tuesday. Foe to Friend: The British Army in Germany since 1945 charts how the Army helped to rebuild a broken nation in the aftermath of the war, provide protection during the Cold War and, later, how they used Germany as a base to deploy troops all around the world. It will include stories of family life as well as those involving espionage and massive military training exercises. The free exhibition can be seen until 1st July, 2021. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

Christine Granville, Britain’s first and longest-serving female special agent, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at the 1 Lexham Gardens hotel (previously known as the Shelbourne Hotel) in Kensington which was Granville’s base after the war. Granville, who was once described by Churchill as his “favourite spy”, was born in Warsaw as Krystyna Skarbek. She joined  British intelligence after Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and undertook missions including skiing over the snow-bound Polish border in temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius, smuggling microfilm revealing Hitler’s plans to invade the Soviet Union across Europe and rescuing French Resistance agents from the Gestapo (in fact, it’s said she was also the inspiration for Vesper Lynd, a spy in Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale). Christine Granville was one of her aliases she had been given during her time with intelligence and it was a name she decided to keep after the war. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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

Thomas Hodgkin was a physician, pathologist and reformer whose name is now associated with Hodgkin lymphoma, a malignant disease of lymph tissue.

Born in Pentonville in what is now central London, Hodgkin (1798-1866), who trained at St Thomas’s and Guy’s Medical School and the University of Edinburgh, went on to work at Guy’s – where he built up a reputation as a pathologist – and later heading teaching staff at St Thomas’s (after it had split from Guy’s).

He first described the disease that bears his name in a paper in 1832 but it wasn’t until 33 years later, thanks to the rediscovery of the disease by Samuel Wilks, that it was named for him.

A Quaker, Hodgkin was also involved in the movement to abolish slavery and also raised concerns about the impact of the West on Indigenous culture. He died while on a trip to Palestine in 1866 and is buried in Jaffa.

Hodgkin is commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on his former home at 35 Bedford Square in Bloomsbury. Interestingly the house also bears a plaque to another giant of the medical field – Thomas Wakley, the founder of The Lancet.

The plaque commemorating Hodgkin was erected by the Greater London Council in 1985.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Having been granted the honour of having an English Heritage Blue Plaque unveiled at her former Chelsea home last year, Gertrude Bell is actually famous for the time she spent elsewhere.

A traveller, archaeologist and diplomat, Bell’s legacy includes a mountain named after her in the Alps – Gertrudspitze – and the key role she played in the creation of the modern state of Iraq.

Born on 14th July, 1868, in Washington, County Durham, Bell was the daughter of affluent and progressive mill-owner Sir Hugh Bell and Mary Shield Bell, who died just three years after she was born. Her paternal grandfather was industrialist and MP Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell whose role in international policy-making undoubtedly influenced her interest in the world and politics.

Bell was educated at Queen’s College in London and then at Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University and was the first woman to graduate in modern history at Oxford with a first class honours degree. Following her graduation in 1892, he travelled to Persia to visit her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, a British ambassador based in Tehran.

It was the start of more than a decade of travels which included mountaineering in Switzerland – where she conquered peaks including La Meije and Mont Blanc and recorded 10 new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps (one previously uncharted peaks was named after her) – and visits to the Middle East including to Palestine and Syria.

During this period, Bell became fluent in Arabic along with a number of other languages and developed an interest in archaeology, working with Sir William M Ramsay on excavations in Binbirkilise in what was then the Ottoman Empire (and is now modern Turkey).

In 1909 she traveled to Mesopotamia, mapping and describing the Hittite city of Carchemish and visiting Babylon and Najaf. Her last journey across the Arabian Peninsula – a 1,800 mile trek – took place in 1913 during which she travelled from Damascus in Syria to Ha’il in Saudi Arabia.

Bell volunteered with the Red Cross in France during World War I before British intelligence put her to work using her expertise to get soldiers through the deserts, working in places including Basra, Damascus and Baghdad.

Following the war she was involved in mediating between Arab and British officials and played a significant role in the creation of the nation of Iraq, becoming an advisor to Faisal bin Hussein, the first King of Iraq, who named her director of antiquities. She was also among attendees at the 1921 Conference in Cairo.

Bell, who wrote a number of books about her travels, including Safar Nameh: Persia Pictures (1894) and Syria: The Desert and the Sown (1907), returned to Britain in 1925 where she faced family problems and ill-health before returning to Iraq where she died in Baghdad on 12th July, 1928, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills. She was buried at the British Cemetery there.

PICTURE: An image of Gertrude Bell in Iraq in 1909. (Wikimedia Commons

This English Heritage Blue Plaque marks the property in Cavendish Square, Westminster, where Sir Ronald Ross, a key figure in the battle against malaria, lived for a period.

The Indian-born Ross received the 1902 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his efforts in discovering, while working for the Indian Medical Service in 1897, how malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. The find opened the way for combatting the disease.

Having trained in London, Ross worked for the Indian Medical Service for 25 years before joining the faculty of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He went on to hold the post of professor and chair in Tropical Sanitation at Liverpool University.

He held various other posts – including consultant physician to the War Office and consultant to the Ministry of Pensions – before, in 1926, he became director-in-chief of the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases, an institution established in Putney Heath and named after him.

He held this position until his death in 1932 and was buried in the Putney Vale Cemetery nearby.

The plaque on the property at 18 Cavendish Square, where Ross lived when establishing his institute, was installed in 1985 by the Greater London Council. Ross’ name, along with 23 others (including Edward Jenner) can also be seen on a frieze on the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in honour of his contributions to public health.

While the impact of malaria has been dramatically curtailed around the world thanks to various interventions, the disease still kills hundreds of thousands. In 2018 alone, it was reported that 405,000 people, mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa, died of malaria.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

The name of this narrow throughfare in the City of London has nothing to do with anger. Rather the moniker comes from an old English word meaning ‘full of chaff’ – ‘sifethen’.

The reference relates to the presence of corn market which in medieval times was located nearby in Fenchurch street. The chaff apparently blew down from the market to the laneway. Hence ‘Sifethen’ or ‘Seething’ Lane.

The lane, which runs north-south from the junction of Hart St and Crutched Friars to Byward Street, is famous for being the former location of the Navy Office. Built here in the 1650s, it was where diarist Samuel Pepys worked when appointed Clerk of the Acts of the Navy.

Pepys, who later became Secretary of the Admiralty, was given a house in the lane. The church where he worshipped, St Olave, Hart Street, is still located at the north end of the lane.

Having survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Navy Office burnt down in 1673 and was rebuilt soon after to the designs or Sir Christopher Wren or Robert Hooke. It was eventually demolished in 1788 when the office moved to Somerset House.

There’s a now a recently redeveloped garden where the Navy Office once stood in which can be found a bust of Pepys. The work of late British sculptor Karin Jonzen, it was first placed in an earlier garden on the site by the Pepys Society in 1983.

The garden, which is now part of the Trinity Square development, also features an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating the Navy Office and a series of scenes carved into stone by Alan Lamb depicting scenes from Pepys’ life and diaries.

All Hallows-by-the-Tower stands at the south end of the partly pedestrianised street.

PICTURE: Top – Google Maps (image lightened); Right – The bust of Samuel Pepys in the Seething Lane Gardens (Dave Bonta/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Two World War II spies, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and and a leading figure in the British military’s women’s corps in World War I are among women being honoured with Blue Plaques this year. English Heritage unveiled plans this week for six female-focused plaques with the first to celebrate Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967), a botanist and leader of women in the armed forces during the ‘Great War’. Others will honour Christine Granville (1908-1952) – who served as Britain’s longest-serving female SOE agent in World War II, Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) – Britain’s first Muslim war heroine and the first female radio operator working in Nazi-occupied France, and ground-breaking 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Blue Plaques will also be unveiled at the former headquarters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Westminster and the Women’s Social and Political Union in Holborn. While only 14 per cent of the more than 950 Blue Plaques in London commemorate women, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. This year will be only the second the organisation has unveiled as many as six plaques honouring women. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The brief career of controversial artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain this week. Aubrey Beardsley features some 200 works in the largest display of his original drawings in more than 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at the Tate since 1923. Highlights include key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career – a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1893-4), Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1893) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1896) – as well as bound editions and plates of the literary quarterly The Yellow Book, of which he was art director. There’s also a collection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) The Peacock Skirt – illustration for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ (1893), lineblock print on paper, Stephen Calloway Photo: © Tate

The first major UK exhibition on the kimono – described as the “ultimate symbol of Japan” – has opened at the V&A. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk examines the sartorial and social significance of the kimono spanning the period from the 1660s to today. Highlights include a kimono created by ‘Living National Treasure’ Kunihiko Moriguchi, an Alexander McQueen-designed dress worn by Björk on the cover of the album Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. There are also designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano. The exhibition features more than 315 works including kimonos but also paintings, prints, films and dress accessories. Can be seen in Gallery 39 and the North Court until 21st June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kimono.

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

Last month marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of leading English novelist George Eliot – actually the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. 

Born in Warwickshire on 22nd November, 1819, Evans was the third child of Robert Evans, an estate manager, and Christiana Evans, daughter of a local mill owner.

Described as a “voracious reader” from an early age, she was a boarder at various schools up until the age of 16 when, following the death of her mother, she returned home to act as housekeeper (she apparently continued her education in the library of Arbury Hall, the property her father managed).

In 1841, when her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, she moved with her father to Foleshill near Coventry. There, they met Charles and Cara Bray – Charles was a wealthy ribbon maker and religious free-thinker who used his wealth to establish schools and hospitals to help improve conditions of the poor.

Thanks to her friendship with the Brays, Evans came into contact at their house, Rosehill, with the likes of Welsh social reformer Robert Owen, Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, and American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as German theologian David Friedrich Strauss and German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (in fact, her first major literary work was the completion of an English translation of Strauss’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and she also later translated Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity).

Evans, who was a devout evangelical Christian in her youth, lived with her father until his death in 1849. She had questioned her faith some years before but after she’d informed her father she would no longer go to church, they had reached a compromise under which she had been free to think as she wished as long as she continued to attend church.

Following her father’s death, Evans – now 30 – had visited Switzerland and, following her return to England, moved to London to pursue a career in writing.

In London, Evans initially stayed in the Strand home of radical publisher John Chapman, whom she’d met through the Brays. She eventually went on staff at his left-wing journal, The Westminster Review – becoming, in time, Chapman’s right-hand, the editor in fact if not in title, at publication by the time she left in 1854.

At that time she moved in with journalist George Henry Lewes, who had met her several years earlier. He was still married to Agnes Jervis, despite her having born to children to another man, and the new couple’s relationship caused a great scandal, leading many to shun Evans. The couple travelled together to Germany for research and thereafter Lewes and Evans apparently considered themselves married.

While she had stories published in magazines in the years earlier, her first novel, Adam Bede, was published under the pseudonym George Eliot in 1859 (she’d first used the pseudonym on a short story, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, published in 1857). Much acclaimed, the public interest surrounding the novel led Evans – who now called herself Marian Evans Lewes – to acknowledge the work as hers – a revelation which came as a shock to many given her unconventional private life but which, despite that, failed to dent the novel’s popularity.

Encouraged by Lewes, she wrote several novels over the next 15 years including The Mill on the Floss in 1860, Silas Marner in 1861, Romola in 1863, Felix Holt, the Radical in 1866 and her most acclaimed novel (sometimes described as the greatest English novel ever written), Middlemarch in 1871-72. Her final novel, Daniel Deronda, was published in 1876.

Celebrated for the depth of her characterisations and her descriptions of English rural life, she was recognised as the greatest English novelist of her time.

The couple, meanwhile, lived in several properties in London – including one in Richmond, ‘Holly Lodge’ in Wimbledon Park Road, Wandsworth (it was the first property south of the Thames to be marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque), and ‘The Priory’ near Regent’s Park in Marylebone.

Eliot’s success as a novelist saw the couple gradually gain social acceptance – in an indication that can be seen in that Charles Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Henry James and Frederic Leighton were all among those entertained at The Priory in the couple’s latter years together.

Lewes died in 1878 and two years later, on 16th May, 1880, Lewes married John Cross – a longstanding friend who was 20 years younger and who had provided comfort following the loss of her husband.

Following their honeymoon in Venice, the couple returned to London where they lived at a property in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (an English Heritage Blue Plaque marks the property).

It was to be a short-lived marriage – soon after moving into their new home, Mary Ann (now) Cross fell ill with a throat infection and coupled with the kidney disease she had suffered for several years, she died on 22nd December of that year at age 61.

Eliot was buried in Highgate Cemetery beside Lewes. A memorial stone was erected in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner in 1980.

PICTURES: Top – George Eliot, replica by François D’Albert Durade, oil on canvas, 1850-1886, based on a work of 1850, 13 1/2 in. x 10 1/2 in. (343 mm x 267 mm), Purchased 1905, Primary Collection, NPG 1405; Below – The English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Cheyne Walk property (Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

Gertrude Bell – an adventurer, archaeologist, mountaineer and diplomat (who was at least partially responsible for the creation of the nation of Iraq) – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Chelsea home that served as her London based for some 40 years. The three storey Georgian residence at 95 Sloane Street (pictured) belonged to Lady Olliffe, the mother of Bell’s step-mother Florence. Bell, who spent much of her time in the Middle East, used the home as her London base between 1884, when she graduated from Queen’s College, through to her last visit to London in 1925, including during an extended period in 1915 when she managed the Red Cross’s Wounded and Missing Enquiry Department’s office in Arlington Street. Meanwhile, jazz musician Ronnie Scott has also been honoured with a Blue Plaque which marks the site of his first club in Soho. Scott and fellow saxophonist Pete King opened jazz club in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street in Chinatown on 30th October, 1959 – 60 years ago this year. The club remained there for six years before moving to 47 Frith Street in 1965. Musicians including Zoot Sims, Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Ben Webster, and Al Cohn all performed at the club while patrons included Harold Pinter, the Beatles, Peter O’Toole, and Spike Milligan. For more on English Heritage Blue Plaques, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURE: Google Maps

The Chelsea property where Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley lived in 1977 has been given an English heritage Blue Plaque. Marley lived at the four storey terraced house at 42 Oakley Street while he and the Wailers were finishing recording their album Exodus which features hits including Jamming, Waiting in Vain, Three Little Birds and One Love. Marley, who often played football with bandmates at pitches in Battersea Park, said he regarded London as a “second base”. Among the evidence considered in deciding to award the plaque was Marley’s arrest for possession of cannabis on 10th March, 1977, along with bassist Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett. Court records have Barrett’s address as 42 Oakley Street while Marley’s is recorded as 27 Collingham Gardens. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests he gave this address to try and prevent the police from searching Oakley Street for drugs and English Heritage says the unanimous recollection of contemporary witnesses is that Oakley Street was both the band headquarters and Marley’s primary address at the time. Other music-related identities who have been honoured with blue plaques include Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURE: 42 Oakley Street (before plaque) via Google Maps.

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

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


This Soho square was laid out in the late 17th century, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and by the early 1700s most of the buildings surrounding the square were complete.

The name of the square is said to be a corruption of ‘gelding’ – the area, once apparently known as Gelding Close, was previously used for the grazing of geldings (there’s also a story that the gelding was featured on a nearby inn sign which locals objected to, renaming it ‘golden’).

It was, at first, the place to be among the well-to-do – among early residents were Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of King Charles II, James Bridges, who became the 1st Duke of Chandos, and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, a favourite of Queen Anne.

By the mid 18th century, however, the trendy crowd had moved to developments further west and the square subsequently became noted for the high number of foreign delegations which made their base here, including those of Bavaria, Russia, Genoa and Portugal, as well as foreign artists including Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann – the first female member of the Royal Academy, and Anglo-Irish painter (and later Royal Academy president) Martin Archer Shee.

Other famous residents have included dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, singer Caterina Gabrielli and Scottish anatomist John Hunter (his former home is one of two marked with English Heritage Blue Plaques in the square). Thomas Jefferson, later a US president, stayed in Golden Square during March and April, 1786, in his only visit to London.

A couple of houses in the square – then occupied by the Bavarian minister Count Haslang – were attacked during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. These properties were bought by James Talbot, the Roman Catholic Bishop for London, in 1788, so the Roman Catholic Church in Warwick Street could be build in the gardens behind.

The square had deteriorated somewhat by the time Charles Dickens placed it in his late 1830s story Nicholas Nickleby as the home of Ralph Nickleby, and it become the location of numerous boarding houses and small hotels as well as various professionals.

By 1900 the square had become closely connected with the wool trade with as many as 70 firms connected with it located here. Several such firms are apparently still located here but the square is better known these days for companies associated with the movie business.

The middle of the square was dug up for an air raid shelter in World War II but it was paved afterwards and the statue of King George II, attributed to John Van Nost and erected here in 1753 as part of beautification project (it has been suggested the statue actually represents King Charles II but that remains a matter of conjecture), returned to its place in the middle.

None of the original houses now remain but there are a number of residences which still have at least elements dating from late 18th century rebuilds including numbers 11, 21, 23 and 24.

PICTURE: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams; Below – RozSheffield (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Exhibitions exploring why culture and heritage are attacked during times of war and how cultural treasures in British museums and galleries were protected during World War II open at London’s Imperial War Museum on Friday. What Remains – which highlights both historic and contemporary instances in which buildings, places, art and artefacts have been deliberately targeted during times of conflict as well as examples of resistance, protection and restoration, and, Art in Exile – which looks at the role UK cultural organisations have played in wartime, are both part of Culture Under Attack, a free season of events that explore how war threatens cultural heritage. Also launching as part of Culture Under Attack this week is Rebel Sounds, an immersive exhibition that reveals how music has been used to resist and rebel against war and oppression with examples from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Northern Ireland in the 1970s, Serbia in the 1990s and present day Mali. All three displays run until 5th January. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/seasons/culture-under-attack. PICTURE: British Army poster from 1943, created to educate and inform its soldiers of the importance of respecting property, including cultural heritage (© IWM)

• Sir Arthur Pearson, newspaper publisher and founder of St Dunstan’s (Blind Veterans UK), has been remembered with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was unveiled at his now Grade II*-listed home on Portland Place in Marylebone last week, the place where he lived with his wife and some of the blinded servicemen supported by St Dunstan’s in the later years of World War I and those following. Pearson had made a fortune as a press magnate, founding the Daily Express in 1900 and later purchasing The Evening Standard but his attention turned to campaigning for the blind after he was told he would lose his sight in 1913. For more on English Heritage Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The largest ever exhibition of the work of pioneering Greek artist Takis (Panayiotis Vassilakis) has opened at the Tate Modern this week. Takis features more than 70 works by the self-taught artist – renowned as a “sculptor of magnetism, light and sound” –  including a rarely-seen Magnetic Fields installation, a series of musical devices generating resonant and random sounds, and forests of his antenna-like Signals. Can be seen until 27th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

A sapphire and diamond coronet made for Queen Victoria goes on permanent display in the V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Gallery from today. The new display is being unveiled as part of the V&A’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the births of the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. The coronet was designed for the Queen by Prince Albert in 1840, the year they were married. Albert based the design on the Saxon Rautenkranz (circlet of rue) which runs diagonally across the coat of arms of Saxony. Victoria wore the coronet in a famous portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter completed in 1842 and again in 1866 when she wore it instead of her crown at the opening of Parliament. Entrance to the gallery is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

A major new exhibition of the work of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Edvard Munch: love and angst, a collaboration with Norway’s Munch Museum, features 83 artworks taken from the museum’s collection as well as loans from across the UK and Europe. Highlights include a black-and-white lithograph of The Scream – the first time any version of the work has been on show in the UK for a decade, Vampire II – considered to be one of his most elaborate and technically accomplished prints, the controversial erotic image Madonna, and, Head by Head, a print representing the complex relationship between human beings. All of the latter three latter prints are being displayed alongside their original matrix (the physical objects Munch used to transfer ink onto paper). Runs until 21st July in the Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. (PICTURE: The Scream (1895), Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Private Collection, Norway. Photo: Thomas Widerberg)

A retrospective of the work of Abram Games (1914-1996), a poster artist for the War Office during World War II, has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters By Abram Games features more than 100 posters he designed while working in the War Office’s Public Relations Department between 1941 and 1945. It explores how his Jewish refugee heritage, his experiences while a soldier and the turbulent politics of the time shaped his career and how his work – Games is described as a “master of reductive design” – still influences design professionals today. In conjunction with the opening of the exhibition last week, Games has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Golders Green. Runs until 24th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/artofpersuasion.

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


A cache of papers and items found in Vincent Van Gogh’s former south London home – and dating from 1873-74, the period he lodged there – have shed new light on his time in the city.
The papers, which include insurance documents, a small pamphlet of prayers and hymns, and scraps of paper painted with watercolour flowers (probably not the work of Van Gogh), were found under the floorboards and between the attic timbers of the house at 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell. They were discovered during a renovation of the early Victorian terraced house in which Van Gogh lived in while working as an assistant for an art dealer in Covent Garden. During the period he stayed at the house, it has been suggested that the Dutch artist fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord (although his love was apparently not reciprocated). He also apparently became devoutly Christian during his time there (perhaps explaining the prayer pamphlet). The home’s current owners Jian Wang, a former professional violinist who originally hails from China, and his wife Alice Childs have reportedly been renovating the property in order to use it as a base for visiting Chinese artists in collaboration with the nearby San Mei Gallery. For more on the house, see www.vangoghhouse.co.uk. A near life-size photograph of the facade of the Hackford Road house forms part of Tate Britain’s upcoming display The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain which opens later this month (more on that shortly). PICTURE: An English Heritage Blue Plaque adorning the house (Spudgun67 – licensed under CC BY 2.0).

News last month that the remains of early 19th century explorer Matthew Flinders had been found beneath Euston railway station. But just who was Flinders and what, aside from being the location of his burial, were his connections to London?

Flinders was not a native Londoner by birth – he was born on 16th March, 1774, in Donington, Lincolnshire, the son of a surgeon-apothecary and educated in local schools. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15, serving first on HMS Alert as a lieutenant’s servant and several other ships including the HMS Providence, captained by William Bligh (of mutiny on the Bounty fame) on a voyage taking breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica. He also subsequently saw action while on the HMS Bellerophon in 1794, when the ship was involved in the Battle of the Glorious First of June against the French in the English Channel.

In 1795, he served as a master’s mate on the HMS Reliance which sailed to New South Wales with the mission of delivering its new governor, John Hunter.

As well as establishing a reputation as a navigator and cartographer on the voyage, he became friends with the ship’s surgeon George Bass. After arriving at Port Jackson in New South Wales, Flinders undertook two expeditions with Bass in small boats dubbed the Tom Thumb and Tom Thumb II – the first to Botany Bay and the Georges River and the second to Lake Illawarra.

In 1798, now a lieutenant and based in New South Wales, Flinders was given command of the sloop Norfolk with the aim of proving Van Diemen’s Land (now the state of Tasmania) was an island. He did so and named the strait between it and the Australian mainland after his friend Bass (the largest island in the strait would later be named Flinders Island).

In 1799, he sailed the Norfolk north to Moreton Bay before in March, 1800, returning to England on the Reliance.

Thanks to the advocacy of Sir Joseph Banks, to whom Flinders had dedicated his text Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen’s Land, on Bass’s Strait, etc, in January, 1801, Flinders was given command of HMS Investigator and, subsequently promoted to commander, given the mission of charting the coastline of the Australian continent, then known as New Holland.

Having married his longtime friend Ann Chappelle on 17th April, 1801, he set sail for New Holland on 18th July of that year (without Ann – he had intended taking her on the journey but ordered to remove her from the ship by the Admiralty).

Flinders reached and named Cape Leeuwin in what is now Western Australia on 6th December and then proceeded eastward along the continent’s southern coast. He met the French explorer Nicolas Baudin, aboard the Geographe, in what he named Encounter Bay, named Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in what is now South Australia and further to the east spent time exploring the environs of Port Philip Bay (around the modern city of Melbourne). He proceeded north to Sydney, arriving on 9th May, 1802, setting sail again on 22nd July.

Heading northward, he surveyed the coast of what is now Queensland before, having charted the Gulf of Carpentaria, discovering his ship was badly leaking. Unable to undertake repairs, he decided to return to Sydney but did so via the west coast of the continent, thus completing the first documented circumnavigation of it. Back in Sydney, the Investigator was found to be unseaworthy and condemned.

Unable to find another vessel to continue his explorations and hearing of his father’s death and wife’s illness back in England, Flinders looked return home as a passenger aboard the HMS Porpoise. But the Porpoise was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and Flinders undertook the role of navigating the ship’s cutter back across open sea to Sydney so the remainder of the ship’s crew could be rescued.

He was then given command of the HMS Cumberland to return to England but the poor condition of that ship forced him to put into the French controlled Isle de France (Mauritius) for repairs on 17th December, 1803. War had broken out between England and France and Flinders was detained (it was during his period of detainment – he was allowed to venture around the island after the first few months – that he sent back to England a map of the Australian continent, the only one in which he used the name “Australia” for the title. While he wasn’t the first to use the name Australia, he is credited with popularising it).

Flinders wasn’t released until June, 1810, after a Royal Navy blockade of the island (despite being granted his release by the French Government in 1806, authorities on Mauritius decided to keep holding him). Travelling via the Cape of Good Hope, he returned to England where he was promoted to post-captain.

On returning to home, Flinders, now in poor health, and his wife Ann lived at several rental properties in London – there’s an English Heritage Blue Plaque on one former property at 56 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia, central London – and had a daughter Anna (her son Matthew Flinders Petrie, later Sir Flinders Petrie, would go on to become a famous archaeologist and Egyptologist).

It was during this period that Flinders wrote a book about his voyages, A Voyage to Terra Australis. It was published on 18th July. Remarkably, Flinders died of kidney failure just a day later. He was buried on 23rd July in the graveyard of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, which was located up in Camden.

The location of his grave was later forgotten when the headstone was removed and the site became gardens, part of which were subsequently built over by Euston station. Famously, of course, his body was found last month during excavations conducted ahead of the construction of the Euston terminus for the high-speed rail link, HS2, between London and Bristol.

Flinders legacy lives on in the more than 100 geographical place names bearing his moniker in Australia including the iconic Flinders Street Railway Station in Victoria and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. There’s also a statue of him in his home town of Donington and in July, 2014, the 200th anniversary of his death, a large bronze statue by Mark Richards depicting Flinders and his cat Trim (we’ll deal with Trim’s story in an upcoming post) was unveiled at Australia House by Prince William. It was later installed at Euston Station near where his grave was assumed to be (pictured above).

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

This year marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, so it’s timely to have a look at the life of this famous Londoner.

Shelley was born on 30th August, 1797, in Somers Town, London, to feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher, novelist and journalist William Godwin. Her mother died soon after her birth, leaving her upbringing to Godwin (and his second wife Mary Jane Clairmont who apparently didn’t get on with Mary).

While she received little formal education, she was tutored in a range of subjects – everything from literature to art, French and Latin – by her father and visiting tutors. Godwin described her as having a great desire for knowledge.

She first met her future husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while still a teenager. Shelley, who was estranged from his wife, had struck up a friendship with her father and was subsequently a regular visitor to their house.

Mary and Percy began secretly meeting each other at Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave in St Pancras Churchyard and then on 28th June, 1814, the couple eloped to France, taking Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont with them but leaving Shelley’s pregnant wife behind.

They went on to Paris and then, through war-ravaged France, to Switzerland. At Lucerne, however, a lack of money forced them to turn back and they returned to London where Mary’s father refused to have anything to do with her.

Now pregnant, Mary and Shelley moved into lodgings with Claire in Somers Town and later in Nelson Square where they were known for entertaining his friends. Shelley’s wife, meanwhile, gave birth to his son – something that must have been hard for Mary – and it is believed that he was also a lover of Mary’s step-sister Claire.

Mary gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on 22nd February, 1815, but she died just 12 days later. That same year, the death of Shelley’s grandfather brought himself considerable wealth and with their financial situation now relieved, in August, 1815, they moved to Bishopgate, in Windsor Great Park. In January, 1816, Mary gave birth to her second child, a son, William.

In May, 1816, the couple travelled with their son William and Mary’s step-sister Claire to Geneva in Switzerland where they hoped to improve Percy’s health. It was during the time they spent there that a ghost-writing contest in June, 1818, led her to write what would be the basis of the novel Frankenstein – credited with introducing genre of science fiction into English literature.

Returning to England, the Shelley’s took up residence in Bath (Clairmont was pregnant by Lord Byron and they wanted to keep this from the Godwins). Harriet Shelley, Percy’s estranged wife, drowned herself in the Thames on 9th November and it was following that, that on 30th December, Mary and Percy married at St Mildred’s Church in London with Mary’s father and step-mother as witnesses.

In March, 1817, the Shelley’s took up residence in Marlow where Mary gave birth to second daughter, Clara Everina Shelley, on 2nd September. Then in March, 1818, the family – along with Claire Clairmont and her daughter – travelled to Italy where it was hoped the warmer climate would help Shelley, who had been diagnosed with pulmonary disease.

There they lived at various addresses and were in Venice when Clara died of dysentery on 24th September, 1818. They traveled to Rome in April the following year and there, on 7th June, William died of malaria, leaving the couple devastated.

Their fourth child and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, was born in Florence on 12th November. Their Italian sojourn continued for the next couple of years until, on 8th July, 1822, Percy Shelley and his friend Edward Williams were drowned in a squall in the Gulf of Spezia.

Determined to show she could write and look after her son, Mary Shelley returned to England in mid-1823 and lived in The Strand with her father and stepmother until in the summer of 1824 she moved to Kentish Town. Her novel, The Last Man, was published in 1826 followed by The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837) as well as working on numerous other writing projects.

Shelley never remarried although she was linked to various men romantically including American actor John Howard Payne whose offer of marriage she rejected.

After her son Percy left university in 1841, he came to live with her and between 1840 and 1842 Shelley travelled to various locations in Europe with her son. Sir Timothy Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s father, died in 1844 with the result that Shelley and her son were now financially independent.

Percy married Jane Gibson St John in 1848 and Mary lived her son and daughter-in-law, splitting their times between the ancestral Shelley home – Field Place in Sussex – and Chester Square in London as well as accompanying them on their travels overseas.

Shelley suffered considerable illness in the last years of her life – including debilitating headaches and bouts of paralysis in her body – before on 1st February, 1851, she died at the age of 53 from a suspected brain tumour at the Chester Square property.

She had asked to be buried with her mother and father, but Percy and Jane instead buried her at St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth closer to their home. In order to fulfill her wishes, they had the bodies of her parents exhumed from St Pancras graveyard and reburied with her.

Despite gaining respect as a writer in her own lifetime, Shelley’s reputation in the literary arts was overshadowed by that of Percy’s after her death. But in more recent decades her overall writing career has come to be more closely examined and applauded.

If you missed it, for more on Mary Shelley’s links with London, see our special series 10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London.

PICTURE: Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (oil on canvas, exhibited 1840/NPG 1235). © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)


Dame Judi Dench has called for the public to nominate “women you admire” for more English Heritage blue plaques in London.
Dame Judi (here pictured at the 2017 unveiling of a blue plaque commemorating actor Sir John Gielgud) call comes after news that women make up just 14 per cent of the more than 900 blue plaques in London. “So far the scheme honours some brilliant women; Florence Nightingale, Ava Gardner and the Pankhursts, but there are many, many more unsung female heroes who deserve recognition,” Dame Judi said. “So nominate the women you admire, the women who did great and remarkable things throughout history, and the women who did not go quietly. English Heritage needs your help.” The most recent woman to appear on a blue plaque is actor Margaret Lockwood. A popular actor in the 1930s and 1940s, Lockwood (1916-1990) was the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) and lived at 14 Highland Road in Upper Norwood after moving to London as a child in the 1920s. To make your nomination, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURES: English Heritage.

 

We’ve come to the end of our series on significant London sites related to Mary Shelley – in honour of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein – so it’s time for a quick recap before launching our next Wednesday series…

1. Somers Town…

2. St Pancras Old Churchyard…

3. Marchmont Street, Somers Town…

4. Church of St Mildred, Bread Street

5. The Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square…

6. St Giles-in-the-Fields…

7. Charles and Mary Lamb’s house…

8. Chester Square…

9. A lock of Mary Shelley’s hair…

10. Memorials to Percy Bysshe Shelley…

 

 

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…

One of the still standing properties most associated with Mary Shelley in London (hence the English Heritage Blue Plaque), Shelley lived in this home at 24 Chester Square, on the square’s north-west side, from 1846 until her death in 1851.

Mary moved here for the last few years of her life after her son Percy (a child she had with now deceased husband Percy Bysshe Shelley) had come into a substantial inheritance following the death of his grandfather in 1844.

During this period, she spent her time between this house which had been relatively recently built by Thomas Cubitt, and the Shelley’s ancestral home at Field Place, Sussex, where her son Percy Florence and his wife Jane lived.

Shelley was 53 when she died here on 1st February, 1851, of a suspected brain tumour. She had apparently asked to be buried with her parents in the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church but instead was buried at St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth close to her son’s new home in Boscombe. Her son had her parents exhumed and buried with her there.

The Blue Plaque was installed on this property in 2003 and unveiled by her biographer Miranda Seymour.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).