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 – 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.

This Week in London – Raphael Court to reopen at V&A; naming a Tower raven; and, Caroline Norton’s Blue Plaque…

The V&A has unveiled its refurbished Raphael Court – home to the world famous Raphael Cartoons – after a renovation last year to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The gallery, which reopens to the public along with the rest of the museum on 19th May, transforms the way visitors will encounter the large scale cartoons on loan to the V&A from the Royal Collection. The new gallery features state-of-the-art LED lighting, acoustic panelling and bespoke furnishings. There are also high-resolution images of the cartoons which can be explored at the gallery as well as online. The cartoons were created by Raphael in 1513 after he was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a set of 10 designs for a series of tapestries to hang in the the Sistine Chapel. Illustrating scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, each of the cartoons – which were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels to be made into tapestries – measures around five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of them survive and were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I). They were first lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865. For more, see vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.

People across the globe are invited to help name a baby female raven, one of a pair born at the Tower of London during lockdown. Until 18th May, people are invited to vote for their favourite name on the Ravenmaster’s shortlist – from Matilda (the name of a medieval queen) to Florence (named for Florence Nightingale), Brontë (named for the writing family), Winifred (named for Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale, who plotted her husband Lord Nithsdale’s escape from the Tower in 1716 disguised as a woman) and Branwen (a figure from Celtic mythology). The poll can be found at http://bit.ly/NameOurRaven and the winning name will be announced as part of the reopening of the Tower on 19th May.

Nineteenth century women’s rights campaigner Caroline Norton has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located on a townhouse at 3 Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, the home from where Norton fought for the rights to own the proceeds of her own work as a writer. Her abusive marriage and subsequent separation from George Chapple Norton was one of the most highly publicised cases in 19th-century Britain. It led to Norton successfully lobbying for legal rights for married women and, as a result of her campaigning, mothers were eventually granted custody of children under seven (and access thereafter) in cases of divorce or separation. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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This Week in London – Women commemorated in new Blue Plaques, and, Buckingham Palace gardens explored…

A social reformer, a former slave turned campaigner and the “people’s princess” are among six women who will be commemorated with new English Heritage Blue Plaques this year. The first of the new plaques – dedicated to crystallographer and peace campaigner Kathleen Lonsdale – was unveiled last week at the home in Seven Kings, Redbridge, where she lived from 1911 to 1927 during her early days at UCL and the Royal Institute. Lonsdale went on to carry out ground-breaking work on crystal structures and played what’s described as a “fundamental role” in progressing x-ray crystallography. Other plaques will commemorate social reformer Caroline Norton, designer Jean Muir, former slave and campaigner Ellen Craft, barrister Helena Normanton, and, Diana, Princess of Wales. For more on English Heritage’s Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The lake in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Bob Jones (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The garden at Buckingham Palace will open to the public this summer, allowing visitors to explore the 39 acre grounds on a self-guided tour for the first time. The route will encompass the 156-metre herbaceous border, plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and take in views of the garden’s 3.5 acre lake and island with its beehives. Visitors will also have the chance to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and explore the south-west of the garden – which includes the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow – on guided tours. Meantime, during April and May enthusiasts are able to enjoy the garden in springtime on guided tours. And for those unable to make it in person, a series of digital talks, A Warden’s Welcome, which explore Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse kick off online next Wednesday. Charges apply for all – for more information and tickets, see www.rct.uk.

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Lost London – The Carlton Hotel…

The Carlton Hotel (via Wikimedia Commons)

A luxury hotel built at the turn of the 20th century in the West End, the massive Carlton Hotel was part of an even larger redevelopment that included the (still standing) fourth version of Her Majesty’s Theatre (which provides a good idea of what the overall building looked like).

Located on the Crown estate on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket, the hotel was designed by CJ Phipps (who died before it was completed). Building started in 1896 and was completed by 1899.

Swiss hotelier César Ritz – who had been dismissed from his position as the manager of the Savoy Hotel in 1897 and subsequently successful opened his own establishment, the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris the following year – agreed to take a 72-year lease of the new hotel and a new company, The Carlton Hotel, Limited, was formed.

The building, which had interiors designed in the French Renaissance style, contained more than 300 guest rooms, all with telephones, including 72 suites which came with en suite bathrooms. There were also private dining and reception rooms for guests as well as reading and smoking rooms and a highly regarded Palm Court. And, of course, a restaurant in which Auguste Escoffier, who had left the Savoy under a cloud with Ritz, was employed as a head chef.

The Palm Court at The Carlton Hotel as featured in the Illustrated London News on 5th August, 1899.

The hotel, the upper floors of which contained private residences, was a hit and quickly threatened the status of the Savoy as the city’s most fashionable hotel. But in 1902, as the hotel was preparing to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the king fell ill and the festivities were postponed indefinitely. Ritz suffered a nervous breakdown – apparently from the shock – and Escoffier was left in charge.

While its reputation was never again as high as it had been in the years immediately after opening, the Carlton Hotel remained profitable until World War II when it was heavily damaged during German bombing in 1940. Residential parts of the building were closed and in 1942 the remainder of the building was requisitioned by the British Government (with the exception of the American Bar and Grill Room which remained open).

The hotel never fully reopened, however, and, in 1949, the lease was sold to the New Zealand Government. The Carlton Hotel was demolished in 1957-58 and the New Zealand High Commission subsequently built on the site.

Among the hotel’s most famous clientele was Winston Churchill who was apparently dining in the restaurant with Lloyd George when World War I was declared.

Another famous association is commemorated by an English Heritage Blue Plaque which records the fact that Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, worked there as a cook in 1913 (when he was then known as Nguyen That Tanh).

There’s a story that Tanh, seeing how much food was being thrown away, asked Escoffier if he could give it to the poor, to which Escoffier told him to put aside his revolutionary ideas so he could teach him “the art of cooking, which will make you a great deal of money”. Tanh clearly choose another path.

This Week in London – Buckingham Palace masterpieces; the Museum of London wants your dreams; theoretical physicist honoured; and, Khadija Saye’s self-portraits…

Gerrit Dou The Grocer’s Shop (1672) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

World renowned artworks from Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery go on show at the Queen’s Gallery from tomorrow. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace features 65 works by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto and, unlike in the tours of the State Rooms, visitors to the Queen’s Gallery will face the chance to enjoy the works close-up. The paintings on show include Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (early 1660s), Sir Peter Paul Rubens Milkmaids with Cattle in a Landscape, (c1617–18), Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633), Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day (c1733–4), Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1537) and Gerrit Dou’s The Grocer’s Shop (1672). The exhibition runs until January 2022. Advance booking is essential and admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

The Museum of London is seeking to record the dreams of Londoners during the coronavirus pandemic in a new project with the Museum of Dreams at Western University in Canada. Guardians of Sleep represents the first time dreams as raw encounters and personal testimonies will be collected by a museum. Londoners are being asked to register their interest to take part by 15th January with conversations with members of the Dreams network – an international team of trained scholars from the psychosocial community, slated to be held over Zoom in February. Contributions will be considered for acquisition by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ project. To volunteer to participate in the study, or to find out more details, members of the public should contact info@museumofdreams.org.

Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, has been honoured with a Blue Plaque at his former property in Putney. The red brick Edwardian house was the Pakistani scientist’s London base from 1957 until his death in 1996. It features a study where Salam would write while listening to long-playing records of Quranic verses and music by composers ranging from Strauss to Gilbert and Sullivan. Salam’s work on electroweak theory contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle – the ‘God particle’ which gives everything mass, and he was also involved in improving the status of science in developing countries.The unveiling comes as English Heritage issues a call for the public to nominate more notable scientists from history for its Blue Plaque scheme in London with only around 15 per cent of the 950 plus blue plaques across the capital dedicated to scientists. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A self-portrait series by late Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye can be seen at the British Library’s entrance hall from today.  Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe features nine silk-screen prints and demonstrates Saye’s deep concern with “how trauma is embodied in the black experience” as well as her Gambian heritage and mixed-faith background. Saye, who died in 2017, photographed herself with cultural, religious and spiritual objects of significance both to her Christian mother and Muslim father and in African traditions of spirituality. The free display is on show until 2nd May. For more, see www.bl.uk.

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This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner.  For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.

Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. ​  ​Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco.  The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable ​(Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris.  The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.

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LondonLife – New Blue Plaque for sculptors…

Sophie Bowness and Nicholas Skeaping unveil the Blue Plaque. PICTURE: © English Heritage
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© English Heritage.

Twentieth century sculptors Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and John Skeaping (1901-1980) have been recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former home in St John’s Wood. The couple lived in the basement flat at 24 St Ann’s Terrace for less than a year in 1927 but during that time held a joint exhibition (Hepworth’s first ever) in the studio, located in a former billiards room at the rear of the house. The room was also where Hepworth created one of her earliest Mother and Child sculptures as well as works including Doves and Seated Figure. Present at the unveiling last Friday were Sophie Bowness, Barbara Hepworth’s grand-daughter, and Nicholas Skeaping, John Skeaping’s son. For more, on English Heritage Blue Plaques, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

This Week in London – Open House London; The British Army in Germany; and, Christine Granville’s Blue Plaque…

• 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/.

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10 disease-related memorials in London…10. Thomas Hodgkin…

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)

Famous Londoners – Gertrude Bell…

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

10 disease-related memorials in London…5. Sir Ronald Ross…

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).