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.

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…2. The Smithfield Meat Auction…

Reportedly cancelled for this year, the boisterous Christmas Eve meat auction at Smithfield usually draws a considerable crowd eager to snag a bargain.

The origins of the tradition, which apparently started at least 30 years ago, stems from the fact that most of the market butchers take at least a week off over Christmas, generally not returning to their stalls until the new year.

As a result, they would auction off their remaining stock on Christmas Eve to those keen enough to brave the cold and come out.

There has been a market at Smithfield since the 12th century – the premises was rebuilt in the mid-19th century after being formally established by the 1860 Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act.

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…1. The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses…

This tradition, the origins of which go back centuries, centres on a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which involves the blessing and cutting of a ‘Christmas Cheese’ with a sword.

The origins of the tradition go back to 1692 when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the Chelsea Pensioners – retired members of the British Army – for Christmas. Since 1959, it’s been organised by industry body Dairy UK and sees cheesemongers from across the UK donate cheeses to the hospital.

The ceremony involves the largest cheese among those donated being blessed and then cut with a sword by a selected pensioner. The cheese is then distributed to the pensioners at meal times in the run-up to Christmas.

This year a special COVID-safe ceremony was held and some 258 kilograms of cheese were donated to the hospital. The largest cheese – a 25 kilogram Montgomery Cheddar – was cut by Chelsea Pensioner George Reed who had a 25 year career in military as well as a career at the BBC.

As well as last year’s 60th anniversary ceremony aside, other milestones have taken place in 2016 – when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese – and in 2009, when two members of Territorial Army London Regiment bound for Afghanistan joined the ceremony for the first time.

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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Merry Christmas to all our readers!

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

This Week in London – Christmas at the Royal Palaces; Aldgate Lantern Parade; and, Dora Maar

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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Merry Christmas!

 

 

Wishing all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a great start to 2019!

 

 

 

PICTURE: Christmas tree in St James (KotomiCreations (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0))

LondonLife – It’s Christmas!…

Trafalgar Square bedecked for Christmas with its famous Norwegian tree. PICTURE: Ben Pipe Photography via London Partners.

This Week in London – Hampton Court kicks off Christmas festivities; ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ returns to National Gallery; and Alfred Munnings’ World War I art…

Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be transported back to 1906 from Saturday as the palace community prepares for Christmas. Christmas Present, Christmas Past features a range of activities from carol singing around the tree to telling ghost stories (and looking at the traditions behind them) as well as live culinary demonstrations in the kitchens showing the evolution of Christmas dinner as we know it today. Meanwhile, the Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre returns next weekend (7th to 9th December) with more than 90 stalls set up in the palace courtyards selling mince pies, mulled wine and a host of other festive treats. And the palace’s ice-skating rink has returned to the Tudor West Front (and will be there until 6th January). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

Sir Edwin Landseer’s dramatic work – The Monarch of the Glen – is at the centre of a new exhibition celebrating the connections between the 19th century artist and the National Gallery. “Coming home” to the Trafalgar Square-based institution for the first time in more than 160 years, the painting – arguably the most famous animal painting in the world – is one of 14 works included in a new free show opening today. Among paintings created to decorate the Palace of Westminster after fire devastated the building in 1834, Landseer’s (1802-1873) work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, then housed in what is now the National Gallery building. It’s now on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, which acquired the work in 2017. This is the first London showing since 1983. Other works in the display include Landseer’s Ecorche drawing of a dog’s leg (1821), as well as paintings and drawings connected with the famous lions Landseer designed for Trafalgar Square including a John Ballantyne portrait of the artist modelling the lions in his studio and a work by Queen Victoria, whom Landseer tutored in etching, entitled A pencil drawing of a stag after Landseer’s mural on the Dining Room wall at Ardverikie Shooting-lodge (1847). Can be seen in Room 1 until 3rd February. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edwin Landseer, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ (about 1851), © National Galleries of Scotland

More than 40 paintings created during the final year of World War I by artist Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) go on show at the National Army Museum in Chelsea tomorrow. Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918 shows his mastery of equine subjects as well as portraiture and landscapes. Munnings was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as an official war artist to capture the fighting front and logistics behind the scenes and in early 1918 was embedded with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The exhibition has been developed by the Canadian War Museum in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum and is supported but The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation. Can be seen until 3rd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

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LondonLife – Christmas comes to ZSL London Zoo…

Christmas has arrived at ZSL London Zoo with a series of light sculptures illuminating a mile long festive trail. More than a million pea lights have been used in the first show of its kind at the zoo which taking a month to build, features 200 visual displays including a pair of giant golden giraffes (above), an 11 metre tall Christmas tree made of recycled Christmas sledges (below) and two illuminated flying flamingoes (below). Historic zoo buildings have been lit up as well, including the Grade I-listed Penguin Pool and the historic Mapping Terraces. The trail, which circles the zoo’s 36 acre site so as not to wake up the sleeping animals, has been created in partnership with Raymond Gubbay Limited and designed by Culture Creative. It can seen on selected nights until 1st January. Admission charge applies. For dates and times, see  christmasatlondonzoo.co.ukPICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.


This Week in London – Kew gets all Christmassy; Thomas Gainsborough’s family; and, William Heath Robinson and home life…

Christmas at Kew kicks off tonight with the garden landscape once again transformed into a spectacular light and sound show. Highlights from this year’s display include a ‘Field of Light’ by Brighton based artists Ithaca which reaches across the landscape towards the newly restored Great Pagoda, a laser garden by Australian studio Mandylights, 300 illuminated origami boats floating on Kew’s lake in an installation by Italian artists Asther & Hemera, ‘Firework Trees’ lit up by explosions of coloured light, a seven metre tall Cathedral of Light, a fire garden and “enchanted walkway” of giant glowing peonies and papyrus by French artists TILT and, of course, the famous Palm House finale which brings the giant glasshouse to life with a show featuring criss-crossing laser beans, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen. Santa and his helpers can be found along the trail and there is a festival fairground with a Victorian carousel as well as food and drink at a range of stalls in Victoria Plaza. Runs from 5pm on select dates until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.kew.org/christmas. PICTURE – Below: The Fire Garden/Raymond Gubbay Ltd (RBG Kew).

All 12 surviving portraits of celebrated 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters have been brought together for the first time in a major new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Gainsborough’s Family Album depicts the development of the Gainsborough girls from playful young children to fashionable adults with highlights including The Artist’s Daughters chasing a Butterfly (c1756) and The Artist’s Daughters with a Cat (c1760-1) as well as the little seen double full-length of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough as young women (c1774). More than 50 works are included in the display and a number have never been seen in the UK before. The latter include an early portrait of the artist’s father John Gainsborough (c 1746-8) and a drawing of Thomas and his wife Margaret’s pet dogs, Tristram and Fox. The display traces the career of the artist (1727-88) who, despite his passion for landscapes, painted more portraits of his family members than any other artist of the time or earlier. Together they form an “unusually comprehensive” visual record of an 18th century British kinship network, with several of its key players shown more than once at different stages of their lives. The exhibition runs until 3rd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Artist William Heath Robinson and his fascination with domestic life is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner on Saturday. Heath Robinson’s Home Life centres on the fact that from about 1930 onwards, the artist’s humour was centred on domestic life including the construction of his house, ‘The Gadgets’, at the Ideal Home Exhibition of 1934 and the release, from 1936, of the first of his ‘How to’ books, How to Live in a Flat. The display features an early series of “Ideal Home” cartoons published in 1933 and rare photographs of ‘The Gadgets’ under construction at the Ideal Home Exhibition. There’s also original artwork from How to Live in a Flat and examples of a set of nursery china that he designed for a Knightsbridge department store in 1927. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

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Merry Christmas from Exploring London!

Wishing you all the best for a wonderful Christmas!

PICTURE: Rodolfo Marques/Unsplash

LondonLife – Christmas takes to central London streets…

Reflections at Trafalgar Square. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0).

 

Carnaby Street ‘Carnival’. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (image cropped).

 

Flying high in the West End. PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

Thrills at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

Outside St Paul’s at Covent Garden. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

This Week in London – Dulwich’s ‘Moomin’ weekend; new Dutch and Fleming paintings at The National Gallery; and ‘Christmas Past’ at the Geffrye…

Dulwich Picture Gallery is hosting a ‘Moomin Winter Weekend’ in a celebration of its current exhibition featuring the works of Tove Jansson. The programme, which kicks of Friday night with a late opening, features storytellers and performers reading the Moomin stories, puppets from the Polka Theatre’s 2014 production Moominsummer Madness, a live performance by the Freshwater Theatre Company exploring the life and work of Jansson, and Moomin-inspired food and drink. Admission charges apply. For more information, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Four 17th and early 18th century Dutch and Flemish paintings have gone on show at The National Gallery, thanks to a bequest from the late Dutch-born collector Willem Baron van Dedem. The works include David Teniers the Younger’s Christ crowned with Thorns  (1641), Jan van Kessel the Elder’s Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not, and Butterflies and Moths and Insects with Sprays of Creeping Thistle and Borage (both 1654, they represent the first of van Kessel the Elder’s works in the gallery’s collection), along with Still Life with a Bowl of Strawberries, a Spray of Gooseberries, Asparagus and a Plum by Adriaen Coorte (1703). They have gone on show in Room 26. For more on the gallery, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

On Now – Christmas Past at the Geffrye Museum. The Shoreditch-based ‘Museum of the Home’ is once again running its annual look at how Christmas has been celebrated in English homes over the past 400 years. There’s also a range of accompanying events including fairs, late nights, carol concerts, and decoration and greenery workshops as well as seasonal food and drink. Runs until 7th January. Meanwhile, on 6th and 7th January, the museum will host a special weekend closing party as the doors shut for two years while it undergoes a transformational redevelopment. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

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Famous Londoners – Ebenezer Scrooge…

OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.

 

This Week in London – The Royal Collection and Charles II; convicts lives explored; and, ‘Gold’ at the National Gallery…

A new exhibition celebrating the role of the court of King Charles II in promoting the arts in England has opened at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. Charles II: Art and Power highlights the key role Charles II played in developing the Royal Collection following the Restoration in 1660 as a means of decorating royal apartments and, perhaps more importantly, of glorifying the restored monarchy and helping it to take its place back on the European stage. The display features works ranging from John Michael Wright’s monumental portrait of the king in coronation robes (pictured) to Henry Greenway’s silver-gilt dish that adorned the high altar of Westminster Abbey and Wenceslaus Hollar’s The Coronation of King Charles the II in Westminster Abby the 23 of April 1661. Other paintings on show include Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1535-40), Antonio Verrio’s The Sea Triumph of Charles II (c1674), Pieter Brugel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents (c1565-67), and Sir Peter Lely’s Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (c 1665) as well as tapestries and silver-gilt furnishings. The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a major exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts in January and a series of documentaries on various BBC channels under the banner of a BBC Royal Collection Season, runs until 13th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: John Michael Wright, Charles II, c.1676 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The lives of convicts in 18th and 19th century London are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the London Metropolitan Archives. Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts includes original documents from the Old Bailey archives and items such as a policeman’s truncheon, a reproduction Millbank Prison uniform and convicts’ photographs drawn from collections in Britain and Australia to provide insights into the lives of offenders, from the time of the Gordan Riots in 1760 to the early 20th century. Among those whose lives are featured are prostitute and pickpocket Charlotte Walker, notorious receiver of stolen goods Ikey Solomons and serial thief Thomas Limpus. The exhibition, created in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council Digital Panopticon Project, opens on Monday and runs until 16th May. Admission is free. There is an accompanying programme of events. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

The National Gallery is running a season of events aimed at exploring the theme of ‘gold’ in its collection in the run-up to Christmas. Running until 1st January, the programme includes free lunchtime talks, a life drawing session this Friday, a workshop on the traditional intaglio printmaking technique of drypoint, drawing sessions and a series of films. For the full season of events, check out www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/christmas-at-the-gallery/christmas-events.

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LondonLife – Christmas at Kew…

Be dazzled by more than a million twinkling lights at the enchanted wonderland that is Kew Gardens this Christmas.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in London’s west have once again teamed up with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay Ltd to create a brand new illuminated trail. It starts with a path lit by hundreds of illuminated globes winding through trees festooned with silvery shards of light, snowflakes and stars and includes attractions such as an enormous glowing ‘Sledge Tree’ – made from more than 360 wooden Santa sledges, and a chorus of ‘Singing Trees’.

Other artistic installations along the trail include an ultraviolet walkway of thousands of continuously moving bubbles (created by Between Art and Technology (BAT) Studio), an enchanted promenade of hundreds of huge glowing peonies, giant grasses and coloured reeds (the work of French art studio TILT), and a host of giant trees, made from thousands of colourful, sparkling flowers complete with holographic petals (creative studio PITAYA) located along the Great Broad Walk Borders (included in the trail for the first time).

The fire garden has also returned – this year as a corridor of intricate pulsing fire sculptures and rotating lantern-lit Christmas trees – as has the Palm House finale in which the pond and glasshouse spring to life in an explosion of laser beams, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen.

And, of course, there’s roasted chestnuts, mulled cider and Santa and his elves as well as a festive fairground and other food and drink. Open between 5pm and 10pm (timed entries between 5pm and 7.40pm),  the after dark event runs until 1st January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

PICTURES: Above – A sea of illuminated globes by the Palm House / Below (top to bottom)  – 1. Giant glowing trees along The Great Broad Walk Borders; 2. Animated illuminations at Kew’s lake;  3. Giant peonies; 4.Palm House Grand Finale. ALL PHOTOGRAPHY © Jeff Eden/RBG Kew.