It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2019

Wishing you a great start to 2020 from Exploring London! PICTURE: Alexander London/Unsplash

Hoping you have a wonderful Christmas! PICTURE: johnc001 (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This City of London street is named for a church which once stood to the east of the thoroughfare.

The church was founded as part of a monastery the 11th century by brothers Ingelric and Girard – the former was apparently a man of some influence in the courts of King Edward the Confessor and King William the Conqueror (although there is apparently a tradition that the church was founded earlier, by the Saxon King Wihtred of Kent, in the 7th or 8th century).

The collegiate church, which had the job of sounding the curfew bell in the evenings to announce the closing of the city gates during the reign of King Edward I (the right later moved to another church), gave special rights to the precinct in which it stood including that of sanctuary for certain types of criminals. Indeed, by the 14th century, it was the largest area of sanctuary in England.

This was particularly useful for those making what was supposed to be their final journey from Newgate to their execution at Tower Hill – the precinct lay along the route and, yes, some were said to have escaped into the district as they passed by. But perhaps the most famous said to have sought sanctuary in the precinct were Miles Forrest, one of those accused of murdering the so called “Princes in the Tower” – King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.

The institution was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII and demolished in the mid-16th century but the name lived on in the precinct where it once stood – during the Elizabethan era it was apparently famous for its lace.

The site of the church was later the site of the General Post Office, built in 1829, which was eventually demolished in 1911 and replaced by a premises located to the west.

The street, which becomes Aldersgate Street in the north and runs into Cheapside in the south, was also once home to the The Bull and Mouth Inn, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and a French Protestant Church. The latter was built in 1842 but demolished in 1888 to make way for more Post Office buildings.

PICTURES: Looking south (top) and north (below) from St Martin-le-Grand (Google Maps).

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its ‘Festive Fayre’ this weekend. More than 80 stalls will fill the palace’s historic courtyards serving Christmas-related treats like mince pies and mulled wine. Included in entry price. Hampton Court will also host carol singing in the courtyards between 6pm and 7pm, 8pm and 9pm on 16th, 22nd and 23rd of December. Meanwhile, Kensington Palace is offering the visitors on select dates between 7th December and 5th January to take part in Princess Victoria’s Christmas by assisting her in staging a Christmas panto, joining in the type of seasonal crafts she enjoyed as a child and discovering the history of the festive food Victoria would have enjoyed growing up at Kensington. Included in palace admission. And, of course, the ice rinks at Hampton Court Palace and in the Tower of London’s moat are now open. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

More than 500 lanterns made by local children and adults will feature in this year’s Aldgate Lantern Parade tomorrow afternoon. The parade will launch from Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School at about 4.45pm and through streets north of Aldgate High Street to the beat of the Barbican’s Drum Works ending in a festive fete in the new Aldgate Square. A Winter Fair will simultaneously take place between Aldgate Square and St Botolph without Aldgate, complete with an array of performances, art, food, drink and festive activities.

On Now: Dora Maar. The first UK retrospective of the artist Dora Maar (1907-97) whose provocative photographs and photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism is on at the Tate Modern. It features more than 200 works spanning the six decades of her career. Among highlights are The years lie in wait for you (c1935), Portrait of Ubu (1936), photomontages 29, rue d’Astorg (c1936) and The Pretender (1935), rarely seen works like The Conversation (1937) and The Cage (1943), and a substantial group of camera-less photographs that she made in the 1980s. Runs until 15th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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The remains of an adult female and a young child have been discovered beneath the floor of one of the entrances to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Discovered as part of early investigations aimed at enabling better disabled access to the chapel, the two skeletons – the first complete skeletons found at the Tower since the 1970s – were found lying face up with their feet facing east, typical of a Christian burial. The adult, believed to be aged 35 to 45, is believed to have been buried within a coffin (coffin nails were present) while the child, believed to be aged about seven, was simply wrapped in a blanket – typical of later medieval and early Tudor burials – and due to that and further materials and artefacts uncovers, it is believed the two people were laid to rest between 1450 and 1550, a period between the Wars of the Roses and the reign of King Edward VI. The remains were reinterred in the chapel in a special ceremony conducted by the Tower of London’s chaplain, Rev Canon Roger Hall. The Chapel Royal was completed in 1520 and is perhaps most famed for being the burial place of two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The discovery was explored in the the final episode of Inside the Tower of London which aired on Channel 5 in October.

The world’s largest museum galleries devoted to the history of medicine have opened at the Science Museum. The £24 million ‘Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries’ cover more than 3000 square metres across five galleries with exhibits all aimed at better understanding how the human body has transformed medicine. More than 3,000 artefacts from the collections of Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group are on display including 200-year-old wax anatomical models, the first stethoscope, lancets used by Edward Jenner in his smallpox vaccinations and medicine chests used on expeditions to Mount Everest and Antarctica. There’s also an intricate model of a 1930s hospital, a rare iron lung used by patients with polio and the world’s first MRI scanner, protein model and paramedic bicycle. Visitors also have the chance to step inside a Victorian-era pharmacy, discover what it takes to heart transplant surgery and treat a critically ill patient. There are also four specially commissioned artworks including life-sized portraits by Siân Davey presented along with the stories of individuals impacted by how medicine defines ‘normal’, Marc Quinn’s monumental bronze Self-Conscious Gene – inspired by inspired the tattooed body of model Rick Genest, Bloom – Studio Roso’s aerial sculpture representing the spread of diseases through populations and Santa Medicina, Eleanor Crook’s bronze sculpture of a figure that is both surgeon and saint and which encourages visitors to contemplate their relationship with mortality.  Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk. PICTURE: The Medicine and Bodies gallery in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries © Science Museum Group.  

Nine of British modernist artist David Bomberg’s key works are being shown alongside images that influenced him in a new exhibition at the National Gallery. Young Bomberg and the Old Masters showcases Bomberg’s works including The Mud Bath (1914), Vision of Ezekiel (1912) and the first version of his war painting Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, Hill 60, St Eloi (c1918-19) alongside the likes of Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man and the studio of El Greco’s The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The display can be seen in Room 1 until 1st March. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

The final 20,000 tickets for London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks are being released from noon today. This year’s display features more than 12,000 fireworks and 2,000 lighting cues choreographed to music and will start with the sound of Big Ben’s chimes (despite them  being silent due to renovation works this year). Tickets, priced at £10, must be purchased in advance to attend the event and those who aren’t lucky enough to get one can watch live on BBC One. To purchase tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.

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This Georgian square, like the nearby (and famous) Fitzroy Tavern, Fitzroy Street and Fitzrovia itself, owes its names to the FitzRoy family who owned the land on which it was built.

It was Charles FitzRoy, 1st Baron Southampton, who had the area developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the aim of creating a desirable location for aristocratic families to live.

It was completed in stages with residences along the eastern and southern sides built first – from the 1790s – by Robert and James Adam (the southern side was destroyed in the Blitz but has been rebuilt).

The Napoleonic Wars then interrupted construction and it wasn’t until the late 1820s and early 1830s that the northern and western sides were completed.

Notable residents included painter James McNeill Whistler (number eight), Sir Charles Eastlake, first director of the National Gallery (number seven), Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (number 21 – now home to the High Commission of Mozambique), George Bernard Shaw (number 29 – later also briefly home to Virginia Woolf), and artists Ford Madox Brown (number 37) and Roger Fry (number 33)

In more recent times, the square has been home to the likes of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell (number six), and novelist Ian McEwan (number 11 – he made the square the main location for his 2005 novel, Saturday).

The garden was first laid out in about 1790, initially just for the use of residents. Monuments now include Naomi Blake’s View, erected for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The square was largely pedestrianised in the 1970s and upgraded in 2008.

PICTURES: Top – View of Fitzroy Square from the former BT Tower (Rain Rabbit/CC BY-NC 2.0/image cropped); Below – View (James Stringer/CC BY-NC 2.0/)

Famous Londoners – Rip…

November 11, 2019


A hero of the Blitz during World War II, Rip was a stray dog who was
adopted by the Southill Street Air Raid Patrol in Poplar, east London. 

Found in the aftermath of a bombing by Air Raid Warden E King, he became the mascot of the air raid patrol and an unofficial rescue dog.

The mongrel terrier’s task was to help locate people and animals buried in rubble after an air raid and despite his lack of formal training, he is reported to have saved more than 100 lives as well as recovered many bodies.

In fact, such was his success that it was partially responsible for prompting authorities to start officially training dogs to find casualties in debris towards the end of the war.

Rip survived the war and was awarded a PDSA Dickin Medal in July, 1945. Created in 1943, the award is described as Victoria Cross for animals.

Rip apparently wore on his collar until his death 1946 and was buried in the PDSA cemetery in Ilford, Essex.

In 2009 his medal was sold at auction for £24,250, well above expectations of £10,000.

PICTURE: © IWM (D 5937)

This Marylebone square is one of the better preserved Georgian-era squares in London. 

Located on the Portman Estate, it was laid out in the 1770s as a residential square with the north side of the square dominated by Manchester House, built in the 1770s as the home of the 4th Duke of Manchester (from whom the house and square, now derive their name).

The house, meanwhile, changed its name when the 2nd Marquess of Hertford took over the lease in 1797. It became known as Hertford House and now houses The Wallace Collection (pictured below), a collection of artworks left to the nation – along with the house – by Lady Wallace, widow of Sir Richard Wallace, illegitimate son of 4th Marquess, in 1897, and opened to the public as a museum in 1900.

The almost circular private gardens in the centre were laid out in the mid-1770s with garden beds and railings (there was apparently a church planned for the centre of the square on which the gardens were located, but it was never built).

During World War II, trenches were dug in the garden and railings removed and the gardens did receive some bomb damage but they were restored in the 1960s and then extensively replanted in the mid-Noughties. The garden (pictured above, looking south) features mature London plane and lime trees.

Famous residents in the square, which has now largely been converted to offices, have included German-born composer Sir Julius Benedict (he lived at number two), surgeon and neurologist John Hughlings Jackson (number three) and colonial administrator Alfred, Lord Milner (number 14) – all of which have English Heritage Blue Plaques on their former properties – as well as Admiral Sir Thomas Foley (number one).

The square, which, along with Portman Square is Grade II-listed, also become briefly famous in around 1815 when it was reported a “pig-faced woman” lived there.

It is also known for being the former site of record label EMI – the cover shot for the Beatles’ first LP, Please Please Me, was shot in the modernist building’s stairwell in 1963 (the building has since been demolished but EMI took part of the staircase with them when they left in 1995).

Interestingly, Manchester Square Fire Station, which was decommissioned in 2005, was actually located a few blocks away in Chiltern Street (it was also known as the Chiltern Firehouse).

PICTURES: Google Maps

St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street was among the hundreds of historic sites removed from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register this year. Published last month, the register is an annual inventory of historic sites “most at risk of being lost forever as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development”. It shows that while some 310 items have been removed from the list over the past year, some 247 were added, meaning there were 5,073 entries on the list this year, 87 less than the previous year. The Grade I-listed St Bride’s, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, had needed repairs to both its famous steeple – said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake design – and the body of the church itself. Historic England spent almost £8.5 million on grants to help restore some of the country’s most historic sites over the past year. Among London sites still on the list are the Grade II*-listed Crystal Palace Park, the Grade I-listed St Pancras Church and sections of what remains of London’s Roman and medieval wall. For more, see www.historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/.

The story of the St Paul’s Watch, the volunteers who worked to protect St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz, will be told in a digital display projected onto the cathedral’s facade this weekend. Where The Light Falls is being held in partnership with Historic England and is part of Fantastic Feats: the building of London – the City of London’s six-month cultural events season. It will see a display of poetry, visuals and photography, created by Poetry Society and Double Take Projections, projected onto the cathedral’s south side, north side and main facade in honour of those men and women who, armed with sandbags and water pumps, risked their lives to save the cathedral. The free show lasts for about 20 minutes and can be seen between 6.30pm and 10pm from tonight until Saturday night and then from 8pm to 10pm on Sunday. Meanwhile, St Paul’s is also open for a special late opening on Friday night during which poets from the Poetry Society will be bringing to life accounts of loss, bravery and sacrifice. Admission charge applies. For more on both events, head here.

The history, teachings and contemporary relevance of Buddhism are being explored in a major new exhibition opening at the British Library on Friday. Buddhism features rare and colourful scrolls, painted wall hangings and folding books and will highlight the theory, practice and art of Buddhism, examine the enduring iconography of Buddha and consider what it means to be Buddhist today. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a program of events, runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.bl.uk.

On Now: Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is the first to situate the work of contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton within the historical tradition of portraiture. In additional to the more than 40 works on display in the exhibition, Peyton has been honoured by being first artist to be given the run of the entire gallery with a series of displays within the permanent collection which juxtapose Peyton’s art with historic portraits from the Tudor period onwards. Among her portraits on show are those of Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, Yuzuru Hanyu, Frida Kahlo, Tyler the Creator, Isa Genzken, David Bowie, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, David Fray, and Louis XIV. Runs until 5th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/elizabethpeyton.

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One of the key contenders for the oldest school in London must be St Paul’s Cathedral School, originally established in the 12th century to cater for the education of choristers attending St Paul’s Cathedral (although there had apparently been a school associated with the cathedral since the 7th century).

The school, which has been described as one of the oldest educational institutions in the Western world, dates its establishment to about 1123 and started with just eight boys who were given a home and education in exchange for singing in the cathedral.

The school gradually became two separate institutions – a choir school and a grammar school – with the choristers graduating from the choir school to finish their education at the grammar school.

But in 1511, the grammar school was refounded by Dean John Colet as Saint Paul’s School. It’s now located in Barnes.

The former choristers school, now known as the St Paul’s Cathedral School, became known more for its acting in the 16th and early 17th centuries when the children performed regularly for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich Palace.

The original school building, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

In 1874, the school was re-established in Carter Lane. It moved to its present location in New Change in the 1960s.

While now independent of the cathedral, the establishment now offers a preparatory school for boys and girls aged four to 13 and a residential choir school for the boy choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral. New boarding accommodation is expected to open on the site next year.

PICTURE: The concrete buildings of St Paul’s Cathedral School on the right with the surviving tower of St Augustine’s Church, Watling Street, and St Paul’s Cathedral behind (Google Maps)

An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.

A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.

An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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The history and culture of the Krio people of Sierra Leone are the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. The Krios of Sierra Leone explores the dress, architecture, language, lifestyle, traditions and history of the Krio community with contemporary objects from Krio Londoners on show as well as items related to the history of British colonial rule of Sierra Leone from the museum’s collections. Highlights include a large carved wooden printing block dating from around 1800, known as a ’tillet block’, that bears the crest of the Sierra Leone Company, a silver entrée dish which was presented to Thomas Cole, acting colonial secretary of Sierra Leone and assistant superintendent of Liberated Africans, who was responsible for assisting people freed from slave ships when they arrived in the colony, and, a typical Krio dress ensemble wore by Krio women. The free exhibition can be seen until 27th September next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/krios.

Portraits of everyone from Sir David Attenborough to actor Tilda Swinton are on show as part of the largest ever exhibition of the work of photographer Tim Walker at the V&A. The display, Tim Walker: Wonderful Things (pictured above), features more than 150 new works inspired by the V&A’s collections and boasts more than 300 objects, encompassing photographs and the objects that inspired them as well as images of some of the biggest names in fashion – Lily Cole, Lindsey Wixson, Stella Tennant and Alexander McQueen among them – and portraits of such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, David Hockney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Claire Foy, Saoirse Ronan, Kate Moss, and artist Grayson Perry. Runs until 8th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Writers Angela Carter and Martha Gellhorn were both commemorated with English Heritage Blue Plaques earlier this month. Carter, an award-winning novelist, spent the last 16 years of her life at the property at 107, The Chase, in Clapham, and it was there she often tutored her then-student Kazuo Ishiguro and received fellow writers like JG Ballard, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. Meanwhile, Gellhorn, a war correspondent who reported on conflicts ranging from the Spanish Civil War to the Vietnam War, was commemorated with a blue plaque on her former top floor flat in Cadogan Square where she spent the last 28 years of her life. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The final release of tickets for this year’s New Year’s Eve fireworks go on sale from midday on Friday. Those who wish to attend the fireworks in central London must purchase a ticket priced at £10. To sign up for ticket updates and more information go to www.london.gov.uk/nye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, the name of this inner north-west London district – which sits between Hampstead and Kentish Town – does originate with an oak.

Up until the early 19th century, the tree was apparently used as a marker between the parish boundaries of Hampstead and St Pancras. So that’s the oak part.

The gospel part comes from the use of the term to describe the medieval custom of ‘beating the bounds’ – an annual event in which residents would walk around their parish boundary and literally beat prominent boundary markers as a way of conveying to a then largely illiterate people where the borders were located. The oak, said to have stood on the corner of Southampton and Mansfield Roads, was one such marker.

As well as the beating part, the event would also involve the singing of hymns and, yes, the reading of sections of the gospels while standing under the oak. Hence Gospel Oak.

The oak was also apparently used as a site for open-air preaching at other times and it’s said that St Augustine, 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and fellow evangelist George Whitefield are among the many who preached under the oak (although many of these claims can be taken with a grain of salt).

The area was predominantly rural until the mid-1800s when local landowners  Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lismore began selling off the land for development. The houses built here were apparently at the more affordable end of the market, perhaps not surprising given the area became criss-crossed with railroad lines. Devastated by bombing during World War II, large parts of Gospel Oak were rebuilt in the mid-20th century.

The (now) London Overground station which bears the name Gospel Oak (pictured below) was opened in 1860, originally with the name Kentish Town (but quickly renamed Gospel Oak when Kentish Town was used elsewhere). Other landmarks include St Martin’s Church in Vicars Road (pictured above), which has been described as one of the “craziest” of London’s Victorian churches, and All Hallows Church in Shirlock Road.

One of the area’s more famous residents, Michael Palin, has lived in the area since the 1960s and reportedly planted a new oak in Lismore Circus in 1998 but the tree has apparently not survived.

PICTURES: Google Maps

We return to the series we mistakenly started earlier this year. Here’s a recap of the first story with a new article to come next week…


This private garden square in Marylebone was first laid out from the 1760s to 1780s by Henry William Portman and forms part of the expansive Portman Estate.

The 2.5 acre garden square, which is for use by residents only, features London plane trees, a lawn and informal plantings as well as a children’s play area and tennis court.

The current configuration was created in the early 1900s – the railings, which were originally installed in the 1880s, were removed as part of the war effort in 1942 but restored in 1972.

Significant buildings once located on the square include the James “Athenian” Stuart-designed Montagu House, built for Elizabeth Montagu between 1777-1782. Located on the north-west corner, it was destroyed during World War II and the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel now stands on the site.

The Robert Adam-designed Home House (1773-77) can be found at number 20 (once part of the Courtauld Institute and now a private members club) and the hotel, the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, can be found at number 30.

PICTURES: Google Maps

The Crystal Palace was the most famous remnant of the 1851 Great Exhibition but there is another less grand monument – and both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had a connection to it.

Originally constructed for display at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, the Prince Consort Model Lodge, also known as Prince Albert’s Model Cottage, was designed by architect Henry Roberts for the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes.

Prince Albert was president of the society which turned to him for support when it was initially refused permission to build the model home in the exhibition’s grounds and, as a result, it was eventually agreed it could be build close to them at the Knightsbridge Cavalry Barracks.

The two storey red brick cottage (the bricks were hollow, an innovation aimed at making the homes sound-proof and fire-proof as well as cheaper to build) actually contained homes for four families – each with a living room, a scullery, a parent’s bedroom and two other bedrooms as well as a water closet.

Among the estimated 250,000 people who visited the homes were Queen Victoria – who did so on 12th July, 1851, lavishing praise on her husband’s project – as well as writer Charles Dickens and philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts.

Following the closure of the exhibition, the home was dismantled and rebuilt on the edge of Kennington Park in 1853 (the park became a public recreation ground the following year and was subsequently the first public park in south London). It can still be seen on the Kennington Park Road side of the park today with improvements including the addition of a porch on the rear.

Interestingly, the cottage is decorated with mosaic tiles featuring intertwined ‘V’s’ and ‘A’s’ – the initials of the royal couple, a motif which is repeated in brickwork on the cottage’s sides. There’s also an inscription on the front which reads ‘Model houses for families • Erected by HRH Prince Albert’.

The model cottage, which has previously served as a home for the park’s superintendent, has been the headquarters of Trees for Cities since 2003. It’s also been featured on a new British stamp this year, among a series marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prince.

And, yes, the design was adopted for homes built in several other locations including Stepney and Kensington in London and Hertfordshire as well as in locations overseas including The Hague, St Petersburg and Brussels.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

Better known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum following its renaming in 1899, the South Kensington Museum was created in the aftermath of the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Initially located in Marlborough House on the Mall, it moved to its South Kensington site in 1857, opening to the public on 22nd June that year. Recorded among the visitors in the initial couple of years was Queen Victoria – who visited twice in February, 1858, and then again open 14th April when she was accompanied by Prince Albert.

The purpose of the later visit was to open the Art Rooms on the ground floor of Sheepshanks Gallery, a building which had been specifically constructed to house paintings given by John Sheepshanks (the building, located on the eastern side of the John Madejski Garden now contains sculptures on the ground floor and silver and stained glass on the first floor).

One interesting connection between the Queen and the museum can be found in a six metre tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The cast was given to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 but she didn’t want the trouble of housing the giant figure (and she was apparently shocked by its nudity – more on that in a moment). So the Queen gave the statue to the museum where it was installed in a prominent position (and can today be seen in Room 46b).

But ah, yes, the nudity. The story goes that in response to the Queen’s shock, a proportionally accurate plaster fig leaf was commissioned to cover David‘s nether regions whenever the Queen visited (apparently by being hung on two small hooks on the cast). The fig leaf, like the statue, can still be seen – it’s housed in a small case on the back of the plinth David‘s standing on.

David is one of only a few items in the V&A’s collection today which once belonged to the Queen or Prince Albert. Others include the Raphael cartoons which she loaned to the museum in 1865 (and are still on loan from the current Queen).

As part of the redevelopment of the museum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when it was also renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum despite the Queen’s wishes it be called the Albert Museum), statues of the royal couple were installed above the museum’s main entrance in Cromwell Road with Prince Albert positioned just below the Queen who is flanked  by St George and St Michael (see above).

PICTURES: Courtesy V&A

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays to 10pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk