This Week in London – ‘The World Reimagined’ sculpture trails, and Indian Nationalist honoured with Blue Plaque…

A series of free art trails featuring globe sculptures that aim to increase understanding of the Transatlantic slave trade and its impacts have gone on show in several parts of central London. A national art project which spans seven UK cities, The World Reimagined is designed to bring to life the reality and impact of the slave trade in a bid to help make racial justice a reality. Among the artists involved in London are the project’s founding artist British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare (who also chose the form of the sculptures), Nicola Green and Winston Branch and each has created a work responding to themes ranging from ‘Mother Africa’ and ‘The Reality of Being Enslaved’ to ‘Still We Rise’ and ‘Expanding Soul’. There are four trails in London, including in the City in London, Camden-Westminster, Hackney-Newham and Southwark-Lambeth. More than 100 artists are involved in the project overall. For more including details on where to find the trails, see www.theworldreimagined.org.

Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian Nationalist and the first Indian to win a popular election to Parliament in the UK, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Penge. Known as the “grand old man of India” and described in his Times obituary as “the father of Indian Nationalism” following his death in 1917, Naoroji made seven trips to England and spent over three decades of his life in London, including at the red-bricked semi-detached house in Penge, south London, that was his home around the turn of the twentieth century and where the plaque is located. The plaque was unveiled last week ahead of the 75th anniversary celebrations of India’s independence. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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This Week in London – Young V&A marks 150 years; West End LIVE; and, Hackney’s Ayah’s Home commemorated…

Young V&A creative Story Telling session. PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A

The V&A is celebrating 150 years since the opening of the Bethnal Green Museum (now known as the Young V&A) with the launch of a year long celebration on Friday. The museum, which opened in 1872 as the first ever museum in east London, is currently undergoing a major redevelopment and is scheduled to reopen in summer, 2023, as a new national museum dedicated to children to the age of 14. To mark the 150th – and a year until Young V&A’s opening – the museum has launched a year-long ‘Reinvent Festival’ with the first event – an online summit called Sparking Creative Futures headlined by children’s author, Ed Vere, and live-illustrated by Beano’s youngest ever artist, Zoom Rockman – on Friday. On Sunday, Young V&A will celebrate its birthday with families at Rich Mix’s ‘Everyone a Maker’ event with free, fun activities. Further events will be held over the year including pop ups at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s Great Get Together on 23rd July featuring large-scale, creative construction and making sessions for children and families using playful building materials by Hackney-based architect Emilie Quene. For more (including the full programme of events), see www.vam.ac.uk/blog/museum-life/reinvent-festival-young-va-summer-family-events.

Europe’s biggest free musical theatre festival – West End LIVE – will transform Trafalgar Square into an open-air theatre this weekend. A joint production by Westminster City Council and the Society of London Theatre, the event will feature hundreds of performers, creatives and production staff, showcasing the best the West End has to offer. No tickets are required for the free event. For more, head to www.westendlive.co.uk.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled on a house in Hackney, commemorating the hundreds of stranded and sometimes abandoned South and East Asian nannies, known as ayahs, who sheltered there in the early 20th century. The Ayah’s Home at 26 King Edward’s Road housed around 100 women a year between 1900 and 1921 after which the home moved to another address nearby. The ayahs were women who served the British in India and other colonies as children’s nannies, nursemaids and ladies’ maids and who were sometimes required to care for babies, children and their sea-sick mothers on the long sea voyage from the colonies to England but who were generally not expected to serve the families once they arrived, instead either contracted to wait until needed for the return journey or take a passage home. The Hackney shelter, which also welcomed ‘amahs’ – nursemaids of East Asian origin, appears to have been the only one of its kind in Britain for almost the whole of its existence. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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This Week in London – Charles Jennens at the Foundling Museum; Dr John Conolly’s Blue Plaque; and, Kyōsai at the Royal Academy…

The Foundling Museum. PICTURE: dvdbramhall (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Charles Jennens, who is best-known as the librettist of Handel’s Messiah but was also a patron of the arts, scholar and educator, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury on Friday. Charles Jennens: Patron & Polymath features portraits, correspondence and printed documents reflecting the varied interests and achievements of this Georgian character. Jennens was a non-juror – meaning he supported the legitimacy of the deposed Catholic Stuarts – but was also a Protestant. His art collection was one of the best in Britain and his Palladian mansion, Gopsall Hall in Leicestershire, featured a music room with an organ built to Handel’s specifications. Admission charge applies. Runs until 16th October. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/event/charles-jennens-polymath/.

• Dr John Conolly, an early advocate of human treatments for people living with mental illness and the former Hanwell Asylum have been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. The plaque has been placed on what was the left wing of the asylum and is now part of St Bernard’s Hospital. It was here that Conolly, who was appointed Resident Physician at the Middlesex County Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1839 – then one of the biggest asylums in London, advocated a system of ‘non-restraint’ which, though initially seen as controversial, drew support from reformers and which by 1846 had been embraced as ruling orthodoxy by the then-new national Lunacy Commission. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

On Now: The works of Kawanabe Kyōsai, the most popular Japanese painter of the late 19th century, are on show in the Royal Academy’s Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection focuses largely on the art of sekiga or ‘spontaneous paintings’ which were produced at ‘calligraphy and painting parties’ (shogakai), often fuelled by prodigious amounts of saké. The display – the first monographic exhibition of Kyōsai’s work in the UK since 1993 – includes around 80 words, many of which have never been exhibited. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th June. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Disney’s French influence; Eid in the Square; and, Sir Isaiah Berlin’s Blue Plaque…

Beauty and the Beast, 1991, Peter J Hall, Concept art, gouache, marker and ink on paper © Disney

• The connection between Disney’s animated films and French 18th-century art is explored in an exhibition at the Wallace Collection. Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts, which is being held in collaboration with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, features more than 120 examples of production artwork and works on paper from the Walt Disney Animation Research Library and the Walt Disney Archives alongside approximately 30 18th-century artworks. The latter include Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s much-loved painting, The Swing (c1767), which provided inspiration for Disney films including Beauty and the Beast (1991), Tangled (2010) and Frozen (2013) and which is being showcased for the first time since its recent conservation. The exhibition, which was previously at the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, can be seen until 16th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.wallacecollection.org.

• Eid in the Square returns to Trafalgar Square this Saturday for the first time since 2019. The day, held from noon to 6pm to mark the celebration that follows the end of Ramadan, features Islamic inspired art, culture and comedy on the main stage alongside a feast of food stalls from across the world. Performers include Baha Yetkin Sufi Ensemble, Nafees Ifran & Qalandar Qawwali Band, Dur Dur Band, Star Children’s Choir, spoken word poet Hussain Manawer, comedy sketch show favourites, ‘The Halalians’, Alif New Beginnings, and award-winning music producer Naughty Boy who will present his Naughty Boy Kitchen pop-up serving signature dishes fusing his British upbringing and Pakistani heritage. Other family-friendly activities being held on the day including calligraphy, storytelling, mehndi, face painting, and drama and poetry workshops, as well as a variety of sports activities including Muslim Girls Fencing and Sisterhood FC.

World renowned philosopher and historian of ideas, Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), was commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Holland Park home. Berlin lived at 33 Upper Addison Gardens for nearly six-and-a-half years while attending St Paul’s School, then located in Hammersmith – a period he later referred to as “my golden childhood”. The house, which was purchased by his timber merchant father, was the family’s first permanent home in the UK following their arrival from Latvia. Berlin was also commemorated this week with a plaque on another of his former homes, this one in Hampstead. The Heath and Hampstead Society plaque was placed on the property at number 49 Hollycroft Avenue which was where Berlin’s family moved in October, 1928. While he left for Oxford University that same month, he spent much time there during his university vacations. Oxford was Berlin’s main base for the rest of his life. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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This Week in London – Walter Sickert at the Tate; Philips Wouwerman revisited; and, Victorian physicist commemorated…

Walter Sickert, ‘Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall’ (1888) Private collection. Photo: James Mann

Britain’s biggest retrospective on the work of artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942) in almost 30 years opens at the Tate Britain in Millbank today. The exhibition features more than 150 of his works spanning the six decades of his career. They include paintings and drawings of music halls in London and Paris such as The Old Bedford (1894-5) and Théâtre de Montmartre (c1906) and an examination of key influencers upon his work such as American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler whose A Shop (1884-90) is being shown with Sickert’s A Shop in Dieppe (1886-8) as well as Whistler’s 1895 portrait of Sickert. Other works on show include The Camden Town Murder (1908), Ennui (1914) and Off To the Pub (1911). Admission charge applies. Runs until 18th September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/walter-sickert.

A new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery explores the truth behind 18th century gossip suggesting 17th century Dutch artist Philips Wouwerman was a plagiarist. True Crime: The Case of Philips Wouwerman looks at claims the painter, who created more than 600 paintings over his career, stole the drawings of the dead artist Pieter van Laer and subsequently used them for his own works. The display features works by Wouwerman and Van Laer as well as expert testimony from the past and present. It’s the first in a series of displays – Unlocking Paintings – which have been devised by the recently appointed curator Helen Hillyard to present new perspectives on the Gallery’s collection. Can be seen until 21st August. For more, follow this link.

A self-taught Victorian physicist, Oliver Heaviside, has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Camden Street. The property is where the young Victorian scientist, who had been left almost entirely deaf after suffering scarlet fever in childhood, continued with his self-education after leaving school at 16 and where he later worked on his ground-breaking interpretation of James Clerk Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Heaviside played a key role in the development and advancement of electrical communications and was even name-checked in Cats where a line referring to “the Heaviside layer” is a reference to his discovery of a reflective layer in the upper atmosphere which allowed radio waves to be ‘bent’ around the earth. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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This Week in London – Japanese works at the Queen’s Gallery; Raphael at The National Gallery; Food Season at the British Library; and, Enid Marx’s Blue Plaque…

Itaya Hiroharu, folding screen paintings, 1860. Sent to Queen Victoria by Shōgun Tokugawa Iemochi, 1860.

A first-of-its-kind exhibition featuring the Royal Collection’s Japanese works of art opens at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. Japan: Courts and Culture, features more than 150 works including rare porcelain, samurai armour, woodcut prints, embroidered screens and a range of diplomatic gifts sent during the reigns of monarchs ranging from King James I to Queen Elizabeth II. Among the highlights are a pair of folding screens sent to Queen Victoria in 1860 from the Japanese Shōgun Tokugawa Iemochi which will go on public display for the first time since they arrived at the British court 162 years ago. The screen paintings, which depict the changing seasons, were not thought to have survived but in recent years research has revealed the two screens were the work of Itaya Hiroharu, one of the artists likely to have worked on Queen Victoria’s gifts. Also included in gift was a set of lacquer furniture, spears inlaid with glittering mother of pearl, and swords made by leading court swordsmiths – all of which will also be on display. Admission charge applies. Runs until 26 February, 2023. For more, see www.rct.uk.

Raphael, The Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas of Bari (‘The Ansidei Madonna’) (1505), © The National Gallery, London

• Marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, one of the first-ever exhibitions to explore the complete career of this giant of the Italian Renaissance opens at The National Gallery on Saturday. The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael, which was supposed to be held in 2020 and was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features more than 90 exhibits. They include a rare gathering of Raphael’s paintings of the Virgin and Child including Ansidei Madonna (The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas of Bari) (1505), two bronze roundels – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas and The Descent into Limbo – from Santa Maria della Pace which have never previously exhibited outside Italy and which are attributed to Cesarino Rossetti after designs by Raphael, and a room devoted to Raphael’s frescoes for Pope Julius II’s private apartments. There are also several of his original print designs, an survey of ancient Rome he undertook for Pope Leo X, tapestry designs including Saint Paul Preaching at Athens (workshop of, or on behalf of, Pieter van Aelst, active about 1490–1533, after design by Raphael, about 1517–19), and portraiture from his final years including Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1518) and Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1519). Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st July. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/the-credit-suisse-exhibition-raphael.

• The British Library’s Food Season kicks off today with almost two months of online and in-person events inspired by the cookbooks, recipes and culinary stories in the collection. Highlights include chef Ainsley Harriott talking about his life and career with food-writer Melissa Thompson, food-writer Maunika Gowardan celebrating India’s breadth of food cultures with chefs and food-writers including Ravinder Bhogal, Romy Gill, Kavi Thakrar and Farokh Talati, chef and broadcaster Andi Oliver discussing Jessica B Harris’ 50- year career examining the history and meaning of food for the African diaspora, and psychologist Kimberley Wilson chairing a discussion about the food prisoners are fed inside British correctional institutions and if it impacts rehabilitation. Now in its fifth year, the 2022 Food Season is supported by KitchenAid. For the full programme of events, head to www.bl.uk/events/food-season.

Textile designer Enid Marx – famous for her seat fabric designs on the London Underground – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was unveiled this week at her former home at 39 Thornhill Road where she lived and worked for more than 30 years. Marx, who shared the house with her partner, Margaret Lambert, and friends Eleanor Breuning and Grace Lambert (Breuning continues to live at the house today), had a purpose-built studio in the back garden which remains in similar condition to when she left it almost 25 years ago. Alongside her work for the London Underground, Marx also is known for her design of postage stamps marking the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in 1953. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

LondonLife – Astronomers honoured…

69 Tyrwhitt Road, Lewisham. PICTURE: Google Maps

Astronomers Walter and Annie Maunder have been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former home in Lewisham. The couple, known for their work on sunspots, solar photography and the debunking of a myth which suggested there were canals on Mars as well as their aim of making astronomy more accessible to women and amateurs, lived at 69 Tyrwhitt Road from 1907 to 1911 (having previously lived at number 86). It was during their period at the house that they published a sunspot article in 1904 containing a now-famous ‘butterfly diagram’ and wrote The Heavens and its Story, making frequent references to nearby park and favourite stargazing spot, Hilly Fields. For more, see https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 8. The home where Mozart composed his first symphony…

180 Ebury Street, Belgravia. PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Think of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and chances are it isn’t London which immediately comes to mind. But it was in a home in Belgravia that the then-precocious eight-year-old composed his first symphony.

Mozart, his father Leopold, mother Anna Maria and his elder sister Maria Anna spent almost a year-and-a-half in London, between April, 1764, and July, 1765, as part of a European grand tour. Having initially taken lodgings above a barber’s shop in Cecil Court in Soho, they moved to the more rural setting of 180 Ebury Street, then known as Five Fields Row, in August so his father could recover from a serious illness which apparently developed after he caught a cold.

Philip Jackson’s statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Orange Square. PICTURE: Peter O’Connor (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mozart and his sister were both child prodigies and during their London sojourner performed in various London theatres and for King George III and Queen Charlotte at Buckingham Palace on several occasions. But, with his father now needing quiet, they were forbidden to play instruments in the house and so, according to his sister’s writings, in order to keep himself busy it was there that he composed his “first symphony for all the instruments of the orchestra, especially for trumpets and kettledrums”.

While the work she was referring to is now lost, Mozart did go on to compose the symphony that is now seen as his first at the same time. Known as K.16 in E flat major, it was first performed at the Haymarket Little Theatre in February, 1765.

Leopold did recover and so the family moved back to Soho – lodging at 20 Frith Street to be précise – in September, 1764. It was there that Mozart met the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian, who was to be a key influence on his musical style. They left the property – and brought their time in England to an end in July, 1765, amid waning public interest in their performances (they gone from performing for the Royal Family to entertaining pub patrons). The family continued with their European tour before eventually returning to their home town of Salzburg (Mozart later settled in Vienna where he died at the young age of 35).

Mozart’s time at the Ebury Street residence (and the composition he wrote there) is commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (albeit this one is brown) which was erected by the then London County Council in 1939. Following damage in the war, it was reinstated in 1951. There’s also a statue commemorating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in nearby Orange Square. Designed by Philip Jackson, it was erected in 1994.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 7. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… 

PICTURE: Google Maps

Tenor saxophonists Ronnie Scott and Pete King opened their jazz club in Soho in 1959.

Located in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street in Chinatown, the club was initially created as a place where local jazz musicians could jam but was soon attracting a who’s who of jazz to the stage.

The 1965, the club moved to 47 Frith Street where remains today (it took over the building next door in 1968).

Over the years, the club has played host to jazz greats including Zoot Sims, Sarah Vaughn and Count Basie to Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Wynton Marsalis as well as musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits, The Who and Mark Knopfler with the Notting Hillbillies.

Patrons, meanwhile, have included everyone from Harold Pinter and the Beatles to Peter O’Toole and Spike Milligan.

Scott died on 23rd December, 1996, and King continued to run the club for another nine years before selling it to theatre impresario Sally Greene.

The club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 and was honoured that year with an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating the original site.

This Week in London – Free family festival kicks off this weekend; Beano the subject of Somerset House exhibition; and, lawyer Helena Normanton honoured…

Pop-Up London, a free festival for families, kicks off in central London on Saturday and runs throughout the half-term break until 31st October. The festival features more than 300 artists – including musicians, dancers, comedy acts and circus performers – who can be seen in more than 100 performances at locations including Trafalgar Square, King’s Cross, Spitalfields, and Canary Wharf. The diverse range of acts will include Brazilian drumming, Cantonese story-telling and Caribbean steelpans. For the full list of events. head to www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/lets-do-london/pop-up-london.

The Bash Street Kids cut outs in ‘Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules’ PICTURE: Stephen Chung for Somerset House

The world’s longest-running weekly comic, Beano, is celebrated in a new exhibition opening at Somerset House today. Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules features 100 comic artworks from the Beano archive exhibited, including original drawings never previously seen in public, and, works by contemporary artists including artist duo Gilbert & George, sculptor Phyllida Barlow and Oscar-winning animator Nick Park as well as larger-than-life recreations of Beano’s most iconic settings and interactive installations including Peter Liversidge’s patchwork of protest signs and a jukebox filled with music influenced by Beano’s rebellious streak. Beano was first released in 1938 and is still created weekly at its home in Dundee. This year marks the 70th since Dennis, Beano‘s top mischief-maker, made his debut. Runs until 6th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk/beano.

Barrister and women’s rights advocate Helena Normanton (1882-1957) has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former home. The plaque at 22 Mecklenburgh Square – where Normanton lived from 1919 to 1931 – was unveiled almost 100 years since she passed her Bar finals on 26th October, 1921. Normanton played an instrumental tole in paving the way for women to practice law, being the first female students one of London’s Inns of Court, one of the first women to be called to the Bar, the first female counsel to lead a case in the High Court, the first woman to run a trial at the Old Bailey and the first women to lead murder trials in England as well as one of the first two women to take silk as King’s Counsel. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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This Week in London – Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; Ellen and William Craft honoured; and, Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of Melissa Thompson’…

Ink and pencil drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8th February, 1587 © British Library (Additional MS 48027, f. 650r)

• The complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Highlights of Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider both women together, include Queen Elizabeth I’s 1545 handwritten translation of her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations – a gift for her father King Henry VIII, a sonnet by Mary, Queen of Scots, which was handwritten the night before she was executed in 1587 (possibly the last thing she ever wrote), the ‘Penicuik Jewels’ which she is thought to have given away on the day of her death and Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block (pictured right). Other items on show include King Henry VIII’s Great Bible (dating from 1540, it was later inherited by Elizabeth I), Elizabeth I’s mother-of-pearl locket ring (c1575) containing miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, and the warrant confining Mary, Queen of Scots, in Lochleven Castle in 1567. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. Runs until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

Nineteenth century African-American abolitionists Ellen and William Craft have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former Hammersmith home. The Crafts escaped from enslavement in Georgia in the US in December, 1848, and fled to Britain, settling in a mid-Victorian house at 26 Cambridge Grove where they raised a family and campaigned for an end to slavery. The Crafts returned to the US following the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people and settled in Boston with three of their children. In 1873, they established the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated. Ellen died in Georgia in 1891 and William in Charleston in 1900.

Melissa Thompson standing beside Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Melissa Thompson, 2020, now on display at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental Portrait of Melissa Thompson has gone on display in the V&A’s British Galleries, alongside William Morris’s Wild Tulip designs that inspired it. The massive oil painting, which was created as part of Wiley’s series The Yellow Wallpaper and was first exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow in 2020, was acquired earlier this year and is being displayed as part of a series of initiatives marking the 125th anniversary of William Morris’s death this October. The painting will be displayed in the William Morris Room (room 125) until 2024, after which it will move to its permanent home at V&A East Museum in 2025. Admission is free. For more, head to vam.ac.uk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in London – Japan at Kew; Young V&A; a Blue Plaque for Diana’s flat; and, a new Lord Mayor of London…

Visitors to Kew Gardens are being invited to immerse themselves in the art, plants and culture of Japan in a month long celebration of the Asian nation. The Japan Festival kicks off this Saturday in Kew’s Temperate House and features at its heart a large-scale artistic installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled One Thousand Springs which is constructed of 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public. There will also be a specially commissioned Chalk Garden – a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees – as well as a display showcasing six different chrysanthemums, Japan’s national flower, and an immersive soundscape by sound artist Yosi Horikawa featuring the natural sounds of the rivers and waterfalls of Kagoshima, atmospheric soundscapes from the Cedar mountains of Gifu and bird calls set across the waves of the Philippine Sea. The Temperate House will also be illuminated for Japan: After hours featuring a varied programme of dance, theatre, and live music performances as well as traditional flower arranging and sake sipping. The festival, supported by Daikin UK, runs to 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Sky Brown from Great Britain during women’s park skateboard at the Olympics at Ariake Urban Park, Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2021. PICTURE: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Thirteen-year-old Olympian Sky Brown’s skateboard, children’s garments created by sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist Bethany Williams, and Open Bionics’ 3D printed prosthetic, The Hero Arm, are among new acquisitions to be displayed at what was the former V&A Museum of Childhood. Now renamed the Young V&A, the Grade II* Bethnal Green institution is undergoing a £13m transformation ahead of reopening in 2023. The new interior fit-out, by firm AOC Architecture, will include three new galleries –  Play, Imagine and Design – as well as interactive collection displays, a suite of dedicated learning workshops, an in-gallery design studio for visitors, and a new café and shop.

• The late Princess Diana has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Kensington. Flat 60, Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, was her home between 1979 and 1981 during her courtship with Prince Charles. She shared it with three friends including Virginia Clarke who was at the unveiling ceremony this week. Diana, who died aged 36 in a Paris car crash in 1997, described her years at the property as “the happiest time of her life”, according to biographer Andrew Morton’s book Diana, In Her Own Words.

Vincent Keaveny was this week elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London. Alderman Keaveny succeeds Lord Mayor William Russell, who served a second year in office after his term was extended to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 pandemic (the last time a Lord Mayor served a second year in office was in 1861 when William Cubitt was re-elected). The annual Lord Mayor’s Show is scheduled for Saturday, 13th November, and will be followed by Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall on 15th November.

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10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 1. 25 (and 23) Brook Street, Mayfair…

OK, so we all know about the Abbey Road crossing and its connection with the Beatles, but where are some other sites of historic musical significance in London?

23 and 25 Brook Street, Mayfair. PICTURE: Google Maps.

First up, it’s the Mayfair home where 18th century composer George Frideric Handel lived from 1723 until his death in 1759 – and where he composed much of his best known work including masterpieces such as Zadok the Priest (1727, it was composed for the coronation of King George II), Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah (1741), and Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749).

The German-born Handel, who settled permanently in London in 1712 (and who became a naturalised British citizen in 1727), was the first occupant of the terraced house located at what is now 25 Brook Street (but previously known as 57) which is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.

The property, which is today decorated as it would have been during early Georgian times, is thought to have been convenient for its proximity to be the theatres where his works works were performed and St James’s Palace, where he served as Composer of Music for the Chapel Royal.

A small room on the first floor is believed to be where Handel did most of his composing. He is also understood to have used the larger adjoining music room for rehearsing his works from the 1730s (possibly due to a lack of space at the venue where he mainly performed, the Covent Garden Theatre).

Handel died in the house on 14th April, 1759. The property, which subsequently was lived in by various people, became a museum dedicated to the composer in 2001.

Known for the first 15 years of its existence as the Handel House Museum, in 2016 it was expanded to include the upper floors of the adjoining home, 23 Brook Street, a flat which served as home to another musical great, Jimi Hendrix, in 1968-1969. The museum is now known as Handel & Hendrix in London.

Both properties have English Heritage Blue Plaques upon them. The first plaque were erected on Handel House in about 1870 by the Society of Arts and was replaced in 1952 and again in 2001, when his middle name was corrected to Frideric from Frederick. The plaque commemorating Hendrix’s residence in Number 23 was erected in 1997.

The museum is closed, with limited exceptions, until March, 2023, for a refurbishment project called the The Hallelujah Project. But you can head to the website to take a 3D virtual tour: https://handelhendrix.org.

This Week in London – Totally Thames turns 25; Muppeteer Jim Henson honoured; and, Beerfest-Lite…

One Night Light Show by Leo Villareall as part of Totally Thames. PICTURE: Totally Thames.

Totally Thames, the annual month-long celebration of London’s river, is celebrating its 25th iteration this month. Highlights this year include Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River which lights up the Thames every night (along with a special three-day celebration including guided tours, talks, sketching workshops and a one-off illumination event on 23rd September) as well as the chance to explore the foreshore with ‘Mudlarking’ at St Paul’s Cathedral, take a deep dive into the history of dockside communities with ‘The Islanders’ and see river-themed art from children across the globe
come together at the National Maritime Museum in Rivers of the World. More than 80 events are included in the programme which runs until the end of the night. For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/whats-on.

• Muppet creator Jim Henson was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Hampstead home this week. Henson lived in the home at 50 Downshire Hill between 1979 and 1982 and continued to use it as his base until his death in 1990. It stands opposite the former ‘Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’, where creatures from fantasy films including The Dark CrystalThe Storyteller and Labyrinth were created. Henson’s son Brian,  chairman of the board at The Jim Henson Company, said it was an honour to have the property recognised, “knowing that he so admired and respected the talent in London, and that this is the place he called home when creating some of his most memorable productions.” For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Beerfest-Lite takes place in Guildhall Yard in the City of London today. The event , which runs from noon to 9pm – features beers from the Meantime, Windsor and Eaton, Hook Norton and Shepherd Neame breweries and a street vendor menu including paella, hot dogs, souvlaki and Caribbean dishes as well as a jazz performance from the Alvar Tree Frogs and Bavarian Oompah band Würst Brass. For more, see www.citybeerfest.org.

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This Week in London – Paddington’s story; pioneering neurologist JS Risien Russell honoured; and, Sir Quentin Blake’s gift…

Michael Bond with plush Paddington. PICTURE: © P & Co. Ltd 2021

A new family friendly exhibition celebrating Paddington Bear opens at the British Library tomorrow. The Story of a Bear features more than 50 books, documents, film clips and original artworks as it explores Michael Bond’s creation of the much loved children’s book character. Highlights include a first edition of Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington published in 1958, Barbara Ker Wilson’s original review of the book, photographs and memorabilia of Michael Bond on loan from his family as well as original illustrations of Paddington stories by artists including Peggy Fortnum, David McKee and RW Alley. There are also clips from the Paddington movies and sound recordings featuring Bond speaking about his creation. The exhibition is ticketed (booking in advance recommended). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/paddington-the-story-of-a-bear.

Pioneering neurologist James Samuel Risien Russell has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home and practice in Marylebone. Russell, born in 1863 in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), was one of the UK’s first Black consultants and played a critical role in establishing the British school of neurology in the 1890s. His contribution in furthering our understanding of many conditions of the nervous system and mental health issues has only recently come to light thanks to new research by the Windrush Foundation. Dr Risien Russell lived and worked at 44 Wimpole Street from 1902 until his death in March, 1939. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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• A display of images from Sir Quentin Blake have gone on show at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury to mark his gift of 24 drawings to the museum. Curated by children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child, Quentin Blake: Gifted features pictures form two series –  Children and Dogs and Children with Birds & Dogs – as well as a range of responses from writers including poetry collective 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE, children’s author and poet Michael Rosen and Scottish playwright, poet and novelist Jackie Kay. Admission charge applies. Runs until 26 September. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/quentin-blake-gifted/.

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This Week in London – New statue of Princess Diana; V&A’s new Design 1900 gallery; a Blue Plaque for Jean Muir; and, police boxes reimagined…

A new statue of the late Princess Diana is being unveiled today at Kensington Palace. The statue will be unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Diana’s former home. The garden – originally created on the orders of King Edward VII in 1908 – has been redesigned by designer Pip Morrison to provide a more reflective setting for the memorial. This included planting more than 4,000 of Diana’s favourite flowers including forget-me-nots and tulips. The statue, which is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, is expected to be unveiled by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, who commissioned it in 2017.

The V&A’s new gallery, Design 1900. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A new permanent gallery has opened at the V&A which explores the role design plays in shaping, and being shaped by, how we live, work, travel and communicate. Design 1900 is housed within the museum’s former 20th Century Gallery and, among the displays are new acquisitions including Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s iconic British road signage system, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book, Nike’s Nigeria football shirt for the 2018 World Cup and a one-of-a-kind desk designed by Future Systems for Condé Nast Chairman Jonathan Newhouse. The display also includes items from the Rapid Response Collecting programme such as 3D-printed door openers, designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the I Believe in Our City bus shelter posters that highlighted increased anti-Asian bias. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Twentieth century dressmaker and fashion designer Jean Muir has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Mayfair address she worked for 30 years. The plaque was unveiled at 22 Bruton Street, the location of the showroom and office she operated out of from 1966 to 1995, by her house model, friend and client Joanna Lumley. Others among Muir’s clientele included actress Patricia Hodge and writer Lady Antonia Fraser. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The City of London Corporation has unveiled the design for new ‘Digital Service Points’ which will reimagine the concept of the traditional police boxes. ‘The London Stones’, the work of architecture and design studio Unknown Works, will include information screens, life saving emergency equipment and serve as hubs for City of London Police officers and community events. Details from buildings, stories and images of the Square Mile will be collected and ‘digitally carved’ into the exterior of the ‘stones’ which will also be home to a vast array of lichen colonies and species expected to evolve in their colour and appearance as they grow.

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10 London hills – 9. Highgate Hill…

Highgate Hill seen from Hampstead Health (with the spire of St Michael’s visible). PICTURE: Adrian Scottow (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.

The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.

Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.

Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).

Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).

This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

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Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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LondonLife – A Blue Plaque for John Osborne…

Blue Plaque to John Osborne at 53 Caithness Road in Hammersmith. PICTURE: Courtesy of English Heritage.
Blue Plaque to John Osborne. PICTURE: Courtesy of English Heritage.

Post-war playwright John Osborne (1929-1994) was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque last week at his former Hammersmith home. The announcement came 65 years after his seminal play, Look Back in Anger, was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 8th May, 1956. The terraced red brick property at 53 Caithness Road was his London base when he wrote Look Back in Anger, arguably his best known work. Playwright and director Sir David Hare said Osborne “had the most sensational London debut of any playwright in the English language in the 20th century”. “It was John’s brilliance and originality which led so many to help relocate the theatre at the centre of Britain’s cultural and intellectual life. Everyone who followed owes him a debt.” For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.