10 London hills – 8. Harrow Hill…

The Harrow School (left) and St Mary’s Church on top of Harrow Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

This hill in outer north-west London, which rises 124 metres (408 feet) above sea level, is the location of the village Harrow-on-the-Hill.

The hill’s name is said to refer to a Saxon place of worship and was later taken to mean the Christian church that stood upon it.

That church – the historic St Mary’s, the latest incarnation of a Christian church which has stood on the hill since the Norman Conquest – dominates the hill to this day. Nearby is a spot called King Charles’ Well where King Charles I is said to have stopped and taken one last look at London as he made his way from Oxford to surrender to the Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.

The other famous landmark atop the hill, opposite the church, is the world renowned Harrow School, founded under a Royal Charter by John Lyon in 1572, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The hill is also host to a Grade II-listed war memorial and a fine array of historic homes dating from the Georgian period to the early 20th century. Among this who have lived on the hill are 19th. century critic and writer Matthew Arnold and 19th century Scottish author RM Ballantyne.

Panoramic views of Central London can be seen from the top of the hill and there is a famous viewpoint in the churchyard known as Lord Byron’s View, which looks away to the north-west. It’s so-called because Byron, while a schoolboy at Harrow, was a frequent visitor to the spot by a tombstone – called the “Peachy Tomb”- where he would apparently spend time “dreaming”.

Byron’s View atop Harrow on the Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

Treasures of London – The St Katharine Cree rose window…

The Rose Window in St Katharine Cree. PICTURE: John Salmon (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Said to have been modelled on a rose window once inside Old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London), the window, also known as Catherine (Katharine) Wheel, features some beautiful examples of 17th century stained glass.

The window, which is located in the chancel of the church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street in the City not far from Leadenhall Market, was installed when the church was rebuilt in the early 1630s (replacing an earlier medieval church – the church’s tower, however, dates from 1504 and was part of the earlier church on the site). It is abstract in design but

The window, which was removed to ensure its protection during World War II, has undergone repairs and the centre of the wheel was replaced after it was blown out in 1992 when a massive truck bomb went off at the nearby Baltic Exchange.

The Catherine Wheel, incidentally, was an execution device associated with the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine had upset the Emperor Maxentius in the early 4th century by speaking out against his persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Tradition has it that after failing to break her spirit through torture (and, so say some, a marriage proposal which she refused), Maxentius ordered her to be put to death on a spiked wheel, it broke at her touch and she was later beheaded.

LondonLife – Signs of the Times (V)…

Spotted in Sloane Square Tube station. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash

This Week in London – Gold bunnies at Hampton Court; ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ on a phone; and last two trees for London Blossom Garden…

Despite the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we hope you have a happy Easter break!

A screenshot from ‘Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition’

The National Gallery’s first exhibition aimed at mobile phone users – exploring Jan Gossaert’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Kings – goes live from Friday. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition features six poems in the voice of King Balthasar, a character depicted in the painting, who interprets six scenes shown in the work while interactive sound brings them to life, all in an effort to guide people to details they may have missed in the work. Users can use their zoom function to explore the masterpiece’s minutiae and share their favourite finds on Instagram. The mobile phone offering is a pre-cursor to the planned reopening of the physical exhibition Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ – forced to close just a week after opening last December – on 17th May. To see the mobile display, head to nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours.

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its Lindt Gold Bunny hunt for Easter. Families are invited to join in the search for the famous Lindt Gold Bunnies which have been hidden around the palace, enjoying the gardens along the way. Using a trail map, children will be able to learn about various lesser known Hampton Court residents including John Dale, Henry VIII’s master cook, and John Blanke, the King’s royal trumpeter. Successful treasure hunters can then claim a chocolate reward and a pair of gold bunny ears. Included in admission, the trail is designed for children aged three to 12-years-old and takes about one-and-a-half hours to complete. Runs until 18th April. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/easter-lindt-gold-bunny-hunt/.

The final two blossom trees have been planted in the new London Blossom Garden. The public garden, which is being created as a lasting, living memorial to Londoners who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the city’s shared experience of the pandemic, is located in the northern part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham. Scheduled to open later this spring, it has been created in partnership with the National Trust and with the support of Bloomberg, and features 33 blossoming trees representing London’s boroughs and the City of London.

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LondonLife – A wall for remembrance…

The National COVID Memorial Wall. PICTURES: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash

A memorial wall for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic has been established on The Queen’s Walk outside St Thomas’ Hospital. Bereaved family and friends on Monday began to paint the first of tens of thousands of love hearts – representing those who have died of COVID-19 – on the wall which faces the Houses of Parliament across the Thames. The memorial, which is expected to stretch for hundreds of metres, is the work of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group which has called for a public inquiry into how the government has handled the pandemic. Co-founder Matt Fowler, whose 56-year-old father, Ian, died last April, was the first to paint a heart on the wall on Monday. “This is an outpouring of love,” he reportedly said. “Each heart is individually hand-painted; utterly unique, just like the loved ones we’ve lost. And, like the scale of our collective loss, this memorial is going to be enormous.”

Lost London – The Dome of Discovery…

The Skylon and the Dome of Discovery at the 1951 Festival of Britain PICTURE: Peter Benton (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

Built for the post-war Festival of Britain in 1951, the Dome of Discovery was a temporary exhibition building located in South Bank.

Designed by architect Ralph Tubbs, the dome was, with a diameter of 365 feet and a height of 93 feet, the largest in the world at the time. It was located next to the Skylon, another iconic structure built for the festival.

The prefabricated dome, which was made from aluminium and concrete, was filled with galleries which housed exhibitions around the overarching theme of discovery. The display was grouped under eight different sections including “the land”, “the sea”, “sky” and “outer space”. The dome also contained a 50 foot long mural on the theme of discovery by artist Keith Vaughan.

The dome was dismantled just 11 months after it was installed and sold for scrap metal (despite pleas from Tubbs and proposals for it to be relocated to places as diverse as Sao Paulo in Brazil and Coventry in England). Some of the metal was apparently made into souvenirs including commemorative paper knives.

LondonLife Special – Marking a year since the first national lockdown…

Remembering the more than 126,000 lost. A candle is lit outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday night to mark the first anniversary of the first national lockdown. PICTURE: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street.

LondonLife – Inspiring stories from a pandemic…

Artist Karishma Puri at one of the 18 sites in ‘Isolating Together’. PICTURES: Supplied.

A new outdoor exhibition celebrating inspiring stories of community, action and solidarity during the year of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen in Camden. Created to mark a year since the pandemic began, Isolating Together features the work of artist Karishma Puri who was inspired to capture the images after establishing Covid Mutual Aid – a WhatsApp-based community group – in Kentish Town to help neighbours support one another and overcome isolation. The images, seen at 18 locations across Camden, highlight the vital role that local businesses like Truffles Deli have played in the community during the pandemic as well as personal stories like that of Nafisa who started a support system that ensured people in the local Somali community had a steady supply of free fruit and vegetables during the pandemic. Run in collaboration with Jack Arts and No Ordinary Experience, Isolating Together uses billboards, community spaces and local shop windows to create a vast outdoor gallery with its centrepiece displayed across a 14 metre wall at Number 19, the home of community action in Camden. The exhibition can be seen on a self-guided walk until 31st March. A map and more information is available at https://isolatingtogether.co.uk/exhibition.

‘Isolating Together’ installation at Swiss Cottage.
Isolating Together’ installation at Aces & Eights.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

The final in our series on St Thomas Becket’s London is not about a static site but a pathway, one that people have been walking since the Middle Ages as pilgrims to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

A Pilgrim’s Way signpost near Chaldon in Surrey. PICTURE: G Travels (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Famous today through its association with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Pilgrim’s Way actually refers to not one path but a series of routes taken by pilgrims as they made their way from London to Canterbury, linking up along the way with another route originating in Winchester.

The pilgrimage from London typically started at the now long lost St Thomas Becket Chapel in the middle of Old London Bridge and then headed south through Southwark where the Tabard Inn – where Chaucer has his pilgrims staying at the start of his journey – was located.

These days, there’s several routes – the official Pilgrim’s Way website has a couple of different routes through London. Both start at Southwark Cathedral and one then follows the line of A2 south before heading east to the Thames through Deptford where it joins up with a second route. This route, on leaving Southwark Cathedral, follows the south bank of the Thames east.

On becoming one route at Deptford, the Pilgrim’s Way then follows the Thames through Greenwich and Woolwich before turning southward to Dartford and eventually linking up with the Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester in the village of Otford in Kent (and then on to Canterbury).

Other versions of the pilgrimage route start at Westminster Abbey and take in St Paul’s Cathedral before crossing over the Thames and heading east to Gravesend and on to the Medway towns and eventually Canterbury.

Interestingly, some believe that King Henry II took the route from London to Canterbury when performing his very public act of atonement for his role in the saint’s death (although others believe he made the pilgrimage from Winchester).

This Week in London – English Heritage sets out timetable for reopening; Westminster Abbey a vaccination clinic; and, rare meteorite arrives at Natural History Museum…

Eltham Palace grounds in south-east London. PICTURE: Gordon Joly (licensed under CC BY SA 2.0)

English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.

It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.

Meteorite recovered from Winchcombe PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.

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Where’s London’s oldest…livery company?

There are 110 livery companies in London, representing various “ancient” and modern trades. But the oldest is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers.

What was then known as the Weavers’ Guild was granted a charter by King Henry II in 1155 (although the organisation has an even older origins – there is an entry in the Pipe Rolls as far back as 1130 recording a payment of £16 made on the weaver’s behalf to the Exchequer).

Saddler’s Hall in Gutter Lane where the Worshipful Company of Weavers is based out of.

In 1490, the Weaver’s Guild obtained a Grant of Arms, in the early 16th century it claimed the status of an incorporated craft, and, in 1577 it obtained ratification of its ordinances from the City of London.

By the late 16th century, the company – its numbers swollen by foreign weavers including Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe – built a hall on land it owned in Basinghall Street. A casualty of the Great Fire of London, the hall was rebuilt by 1669 but by the mid-1850s had fallen into disrepair and was pulled down and replaced by an office block.

After the office building was destroyed during World War II (fortunately some of the company’s treasures which had been stored there had already been moved), the company considered rebuilding the hall but decided its money could be better used, including on charitable works.

For many years, the company’s business was run from various clerk’s offices outside the City of London but since 1994 it has been run from Saddlers’ House.

The company, which ranks 42nd in the order of precedence for livery companies, has the motto ‘Weave Truth With Trust’.

For more, see www.weavers.org.uk.

This Week in London – Astronomical wonders; Lambeth Mayor’s homemade chain; a gift for conservation; and, a Darwinian donation…

Winner of the People’s Choice Awards 2020 – The Cave of the Wild Horses © Bryony Richards (Winner)

A photograph of the Milky Way taken from the Cave of the Wild Horses in the southern Utah desert has won the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year: People’s Choice Awards 2020. The stunning image by Bryony Richards was captured in the cave after a long hike through the desert. It was selected from 25 images short-listed by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. ‘Reflection of the Stars’ by Linh Nguyen won second place award and Qiqige (Nina) Zhao won third for ‘Anniversary of Apollo 11 Mission’. Meanwhile, the deadline for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 13 competition run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine is looming – photographers need to have submitted their images by 12pm on 5th March. The overall winner of the competition will take home a top prize of £10,000 and see their image in the accompanying exhibition, which is scheduled to open at the National Maritime Museum on 18th September. For more details, see www.rmg.co.uk/astrocomp.

The Mayor of Lambeth’s homemade ceremonial chain has been acquired by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ initiative. The chain was made by the mayor, Councillor Philip Normal, for the virtual ceremony in which he was created mayor on 22nd April, 2020, during the first national lockdown. Made of card and plaited t-shirt fabric, it features Lambeth’s coat of arms painted within a fluorescent pink oval with the words ‘Spectemur Agendo’ meaning, ‘Let us be judged by our acts’. For more on ‘Collecting COVID’, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

An oil painting of Sir John Maitland by an unknown Anglo-Dutch artist, part of the art collection at Ham House in London’s south-west, is among artworks which are to undergo restoration thanks to a £3 million gift to the National Trust from American charity, the Royal Oak Foundation. The gift will support the Trust’s conservation work for the next five years mainly based at its specialist conservation studio in Knole, Kent. It was made in honour of the 125th anniversary of the National Trust, which cares for more than 200 historic properties containing more than a million objects – everything from artworks to furniture, textiles and ceramics. The painting of Sir John came to public attention in 2017 when X-ray analysis revealed what is believed to be an unfinished portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, hidden underneath it. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

• Looking further afield and a keepsake box containing mementos associated with Charles Darwin – including shells gathered on his famous voyage in the HMS Beagle – have been donated to English Heritage. The charity announced the gift this week to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1871 publication of his book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. The red leather box and its contents will go on display at Down House in Kent later this year following conservation work. Charles and Emma Darwin initially gave the box to their eldest daughter Annie but, following her death at the age of 10 in 1851, it passed to her sister Henrietta, known as “Etty”. Among the souvenirs placed in it were locks of hair belonging to different members of the Darwin family (including Emma and Henrietta), a silk handkerchief embroidered with Charles’ initials CD, and the shells which his daughters later carefully labelled using scrap paper from the naturalist’s draft manuscripts. English Heritage is appealing for donations for the care and display of the box. To support the work, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/support-us/.

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LondonLife – Shoreditch High Street…

PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash.

LondonLife – Signs of the Times (VI)…

Seen in Oxford Street. PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash

Where’s London’s oldest…(operational) fire station?

New Cross Fire Station in 2007. PICTURE: Danny Robinson (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)

The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.

The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.

The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.

One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.

The station is now Grade II-listed.

LondonLife – Signs of the times (V)…

COVID vaccination stickers seen in Putney. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash

This Week in London – Behind the scenes at the Tate; keep the Christmas tree up, says English Heritage; and, a new mineral found at Natural History Museum…

Take a behind the scenes look at how Tate gallery curators have been looking after their art during the coronavirus period. A new film released by the Tate just before Christmas features art handlers, conservators, archivists and registrars discussing the challenges of transporting, installing and preparing artworks during this unprecedented time.

The Tate has also released a range of online resources through which people can experience exhibitions online – check the Tate’s YouTube channel for artist interviews and exhibition guides as well as in-depth exhibition guides available on the Tate website.

English Heritage has urged people to keep their Christmas decorations up until February to “bring some cheer” into the dark winter months. The organisation says Candlemas, which falls exactly 40 days after Christmas, was observed as the official end to Christmas during the medieval period. More formally known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas was so called because the candles which would be used in churches in the coming year would be blessed on that day. Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage’s senior properties historian adds: “The tradition that it is bad luck to keep decorations up after Twelfth Night and the Epiphany is a modern invention, although it may derive from the medieval notion that decorations left up after Candlemas eve would become possessed by goblins! I’m of the opinion that, after the year we’ve all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer.”

A new mineral, named kernowite after the Cornish name for Cornwall where it was originally found, has been discovered in the collection of the Natural History Museum. The mineral, which was probably collected in the 1700s and which entered the museum’s collection in 1964, was previously believed to be a green variety of the traditionally blue liroconite. It was only when the museum’s principal curator of minerals, Mike Rumsey, decided to investigate colour variation in liroconite that it was recognised as a new species. “Although many liroconites are greenish, with this unusually dark-green ‘liroconite’ specimen in question my colleagues and I discovered a subtle difference in its chemistry,” he said. “Overall, one part of its internal structure was dominated by iron instead of aluminium, so we found it worthy of a new name, kernowite.”

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Four unusual London Christmas traditions…4. The Boy Bishop of St Paul’s…

Inside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This tradition is actually one which is no longer observed – but we thought it worth a mention to finish this short series.

The creation of temporary of ‘boy bishops’ was relatively widespread at greater churches in Middle Ages (and several other churches in London also observed the tradition apparently including Westminster Abbey).

At St Paul’s, it involved one of the choir boys being elected to be the ‘boy bishop’, usually on 6th December, for a role that would run through until Holy Innocents Day on 28th December.

Dressed in child-sized bishop’s robes, the ‘boy bishop’ performed various ceremonial duties throughout the season, culminating with them delivering a sermon and leading a procession through the city.

The tradition apparently became more raucous as time went on, so much so that eventually it was abolished during the Reformation by King Henry VIII, revived by his successor Queen Mary I, and then abolished again by Queen Elizabeth I.

Since then, the idea of a ‘boy bishop’ or ‘youth bishop’ has been revived in a somewhat updated form in certain cathedrals including those in Salisbury and Hereford.

We’ll start a new Wednesday series next week.

Merry Christmas (and the next four in our countdown!)…

Christmas tree outside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: Alex Liivet
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In what has been, and continues to be, such a hard year for so many, we at Exploring London hope you’re still able to celebrate Christmas in some form this year…

Meantime, here’s the next four in our countdown of the 100 most popular posts of all time…

22. Lost London – The Savoy Palace…

21. What’s in a name?…St Mary Overie…

20. Treasures of London – The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral

19. Treasures of London – Admiral Lord Nelson’s coat

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…3. The Peter Pan Cup…

Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Peter Pan Cup is a swimming event that usually takes place on Christmas Day in Hyde Park’s Serpentine.

The bracing 9am event, which is only open to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club, is a handicapped race across a 100 yard course.

While the tradition of a Christmas Day swimming event goes back to 1864, it became the ‘Peter Pan Cup’ in 1904 when JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and a member of the club, presented the first cup to the winner. It was the same year Peter Pan debuted on the London stage (and Barrie would continue to present the cup to the winner until 1932).

Club members have to complete a certain number of winter races to be eligible to swim on Christmas Day. These days the race, which usually starts and ends on the southern bank of the Serpentine, is usually quite a spectacle with hundreds turning out to cheer the swimmers on.