LondonLife – The Queen awards the George Cross to the NHS…

Queen Elizabeth II has awarded the George Cross – the country’s highest civilian gallantry award – to the National Health Service. In an accompanying statement, the Queen said: “It is with great pleasure, on behalf of a grateful nation, that I award the George Cross to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom. This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations. Over more than seven decades, and especially in recent times, you have supported the people of our country with courage, compassion and dedication, demonstrating the highest standards of public service. You have our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation.” Details of when the award will be presented are yet to be announced. It is only the third time, the George Cross has been awarded to a collective body, country or organisation, rather than an individual (the first time was when it was collectively awarded to the people of Malta in 1942 by Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, and the second time when it was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary by the Queen in 1999). PICTURE: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

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.”

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.

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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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

LondonLife – Signs of the times (V)…

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

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.

LondonLife – Signs of the times (IV)…

Taken at Bank Underground station. PICTURE: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash

LondonLife – Lockdown sentiment…

PICTURE: Kevin Grieve/Unsplash