This Week in London – Commemorating the Battle of the Somme; Transported by Design; and, Winifred Knights at Dulwich…
June 30, 2016
• The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is holding a free late night opening tonight featuring live music, film screenings, immersive theatre and poetry to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Highlights of Night Before the Somme, which runs from 8pm to midnight tonight, include slam poet Kat Francois’ critically acclaimed play Raising Lazarus, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan’s show Magic Lantern Tales, and extracts from the immersive production Dr Blighty – which tells the story of the million Indians who travelled to fight in the war. Visitors will also have the chance to watch the film, The Battle of the Somme (filmed and screened in 1916, it was the first feature-length documentary about war), listen in to a series of Q&A’s with experts on the battle, and preview the major exhibition, Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies. Real to Reel, which officially opens on Friday, explores how film-makers have found inspiration in compelling personal stories and the real events of wars from the past century. As well as audio-visual installations, the display features film clips, costumes, props, scripts, sketches and designs from films such as The Dam Busters, Where Eagles Dare, Apocalypse Now, Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Casablanca, Jarhead, Atonement and War Horse along with original archival material and artefacts from the IWM collections. The exhibition, which is divided into five sections, runs until 8th January. Admission charges apply. See www.iwm.org.uk for more. PICTURE: © IWM (Q 70164. Staged scene from The Battle of the Somme film, 1916 British troops go ‘over the top’ into ‘No Man’s Land’. This scene was staged for the camera at a training school behind the lines.
• Don’t forget tonight’s vigil at Westminster Abbey to mark the 100th anniversary (as mentioned in last week’s entry here).
• Still on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and a new exhibition opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week focusing on the innovations in medical practice and technologies developed as a result of the new kind of industrialised warfare seen in the battle. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care has at its centre a collection of historic objects from the museum’s World War I medical collections including stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches and made-to-measure artificial arms fitted to the wounded in British hospitals as well as lucky charms and personal protective items carried by frontline soldiers. There are also artworks from the period including Henry Tonk’s famous pastel drawings of facial injuries and a 1914 painting by John Lavery that depicts the arrival of the first British wounded soldiers at the London hospital. Admission is free and the exhibition can be seen until early 2018. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.
• Regent Street will be transformed on Sunday, 3rd July, with the Transported by Design Festival featuring transport designs which have shaped and will shape London. The festival, which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus Tube stations, will see the street divided into three zones – past, present and future. Among the objects on show in ‘past’ section will be a horse-drawn bus and other heritage buses, a 1927 train carriage and an exhibition of classic advertising posters and signage while the ‘present’ section will feature ‘Cycle Spin Fun’ by Santander Cycles, Moquette Land – a showcase of fabric used across the transport network, and, a ‘design a bus’ competition, and the ‘future’ section will feature a range of technologies, including virtual reality headsets, exploring what transport could look like in 2040. The free festival, part of the ‘Summer Streets’ program which sees Regent Street closed to traffic on Sundays over summer, runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.tfl.gov.uk/campaign/transported-by-design/event-calendar?intcmp=40582.
• The work of artist Winifred Knights, the first British woman to win the Prix de Rome scholarship, is the subject of a recently-opened exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The display, the first major retrospective of the work of Knights (1899-1947), brings together more than 70 preparatory studies and her most ambitious works including The Deluge (1920), The Potato Harvest (1918) and Leaving the Munitions Works (1919). Winifred Knights (1899-1947) runs until 18th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.
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This Week in London – Westminster Abbey open overnight for Somme vigil; ‘Painters’ Paintings’; and, the East End Canal Festival…
June 23, 2016
• Westminster Abbey is to remain open all night next Thursday (30th June) for a vigil in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It’s the first time the abbey has been open for an all-night vigil since the Cuban missile crisis more than 50 years ago. The vigil around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior will be mounted from 8.45pm next Thursday, 30th June, through to 7.30am on Friday, 1st July (last entry to the abbey is at 7.15am). The public are invited to attend the vigil following an evening service at 8pm on Thursday which will be attended by Queen Elizabeth II and broadcast live on BBC Two. The vigil, which will end with the firing of World War I guns in Parliament Square by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, will see a series of 15 minute watches kept by service personnel and community groups representing those involved in the battle and there will also be readings from contemporary accounts. No tickets are required and entry, which is free, is via the abbey’s visitor entrance at the North Door. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• Ever wondered what attracts artists to collect particular paintings? Answers abound at a new summer exhibition opening at The National Gallery today. Painters’ Paintings’: From Freud to Van Dyck features a series of ‘case studies’, each of which is devoted to works gathered by a particular ‘painter-collector’ including Lucien Freud, Henri Matisse, Hillaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Frederic, Lord Leighton, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Anthony van Dyck. The display was inspired by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s work Italian Woman which was left to the nation by Lucien Freud following his death in 2011. “It made us start considering questions such as which paintings do artists choose to hang on their own walls,” explains Anne Robbins, curator of the exhibition. “How do the works of art they have in their homes and studios influence their personal creative journeys? What can we learn about painters from their collection of paintings? Painters’ Paintings’: From Freud to Van Dyck is the result.” The exhibition features works from the gallery’s own collection as well as loans from public and private collections. Admission charges apply. Runs until 4th September. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Italian Woman, or Woman with Yellow Sleeve (L’Italienne) about 1870/© The National Gallery, London.
• The East End Canal Festival takes place at the Art Pavilion, Mile End Park this Sunday. The programme, being run by the Friends of Regent’s Canal, includes boat trips as well as guided canal history walks and a range of performances, films, stalls, exhibitions featuring historic photos and locally made artworks, children’s activities and food. The festivities at the Clinton Road site are free. For more, see http://friendsofregentscanal.org/events/eecf.html.
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This Week in London – Architecture on show; designing London’s transport system; and, the Battle of the Somme commemorated…
June 2, 2016
• The London Festival of Architecture kicked off this week with more than 200 events planned for the capital across the month of June. Highlights include “open studios” in which 50 architectural practices across London open their doors to the public, a series of film showing at the BFI concerning the portrayal of the built environment in documentaries and hosted tours through some of London council estate’s green spaces and private gardens. The festival, which centres around three key themes – housing renewal and regeneration, creative workspaces and community engagement, also features a range of exhibitions, installations, talks and workshops including the Archio Plantotype Workshop on 25th June in which participants are asked to help design and build model prototype planters to grow compact and hybrid plants (pictured). For the full programme, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.
• The design of London’s transport system – from posters, maps and signage to the styling of trains and stations – is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Designology – Shaping London explores the role design has played in London’s public transportation systems, spanning the period from the system’s Victorian origins to today. Among the objects on display are an 1834 Shillibeer Woolwich Omnibus timetable, original architectural drawings by Charles Holden of Arnos Grove and Sudbury art deco stations, and a 1994 magnetic ticket hall station model. There are also case studies on key design features found across the transport network such as the New Johnston typeface and the design of Moquette fabric used on the Underground and buses. Visitors are also encouraged to design their own bus stop sign (and share it on social media with the hashtag #pimpmybusstop) and visit a pop-up design studio to find out more about contemporary design innovation. There’s an accompanying programme of events. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk. PICTURE: The Passenger’s Guide to London Transport, issued by London Transport, March, 1962./The London Transport Museum.
• The “worst day” in the history of the British Army – 1st July, 1916, when almost 60,000 died during the Battle of the Somme – is being commemorated in an exhibition marking the battle’s centenary in Guildhall Yard. Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: Somme 1916, features a series of evocative photographs by Michael St Maur Sheil of the battlefields as they look today contrasted with images taken at the time. The outdoor exhibition is being accompanied by a display of Somme-related artefacts in the City of London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Admission to the display is free. Runs until 5th July.
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This Week in London – Commemorating the Battle of Jutland; ‘lost’ Egyptian cities; and, new Blue Plaques…
May 19, 2016
• The largest naval conflict of World War I – the Battle of Jutland – is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Marking the centenary of the battle, Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle explores the battle itself (which claimed the lives of more than 8,500 as the British Grand Fleet met the German High Seas Fleet in what neither side could claim as a decisive victory) as well as its lead-up, aftermath and the experience of those serving on British and German warships through paintings and newspaper clippings, photographs, ship models and plans, sailor-made craft work and medals. Among the objects on display is a 14 foot long shipbuilder’s model of the HMS Queen Mary, which, one of the largest battle cruisers involved,was destroyed with only 18 survivors of the 1,266 crew. Among the personal stories told in the exhibition, meanwhile, is that of boy bugler William Robert Walker, of Kennington, who served on the HMS Calliope and, severely wounded during the battle, was later visited by King George V
and presented with a silver bugle by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (the bugle, pictured, is on display). A series of events will accompany the exhibition which runs until November. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum. PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London
• Two ‘lost’ Egyptian cities and their watery fate are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum today. Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds is the museum’s first exhibition of underwater discoveries and focuses on the recent discoveries of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus – submerged at the mouth of the Nile for more than 1,000 years. Among the 300 objects on display are more than than 200 artefacts excavated between 1996 and 2012. Highlights include a 5.4 metre statue of Hapy, a sculpture excavated from Canopus representing Arsine II (the eldest daughter of the Ptolemaic dynasty founder Ptolemy I) who became a goddess after her death, and a stela from Thonis-Heracleion which advertises a royal decree of Pharaoh Nectanebo I concerning taxes. The exhibition runs until 27th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• New English Heritage Blue Plaques marking the homes of comedian Tommy Cooper and food writer Elizabeth David have been unveiled this month as part of the 150th anniversary of the scheme. Tommy Cooper lived at his former home at 51 Barrowgate Road in Chiswick between 1955 to 1984 and while there entertained fellow comedians such as Roy Hudd, Eric Sykes and Jimmy Tarbuck. Elizabeth David, meanwhile, is the first food writer to ever be commemorated with a Blue Plaque. She lived at the property at 24 Halsey Street in Chelsea for some 45 years until her death in 1992. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
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March 8, 2016
It’s International Women’s Day, so we’re celebrating by remembering two heroic women immortalised in statues in central London. Above is Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was trapped in Brussels by advancing German armies in 1914 and then subsequently arrested for aiding French and British soldiers to escape before being executed by firing squad on 12th October, 1915 – an event widely condemned around the world. The marble statue, located in St Martin’s Place at the intersection of Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, is by George Frampton and was erected in 1920. Below, meanwhile, is a bust of Violette Szabo which tops a memorial to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Szabo, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre after she was captured and eventually executed by the German Army in early 1945, was among 117 SOE agents who did not return from their missions to France. Located on Albert Embankment, the statue – which is the work of Karen Newman – was unveiled in 2009.
December 7, 2015
This Fleet Street pub has an intriguing history. Its name comes from the fact it is housed in what was, until 1975, the former Law Courts branch of the Bank of England.
Sold to a building society, it was transformed into a rather spectacular pub after it was purchased and refurbished by Fuller, Smith and Turner in 1994.
They were both demolished in 1888 to make room for the new bank branch, located, as the name suggests, just up the street from the Royal Courts of Justice.
While it’s been reworked to suit a pub instead of a bank, the remains of the opulent “High Victorian” interior of the bank can still be seen when you step through the doors – no more so than from the upstairs gallery which overlooks the pub.
It also plays a role in the story of legendary 18th century figure Sweeney Todd, the ‘demon barber’ of Fleet Street.
The site stands between Todd’s barber shop at number 186 Fleet Street and the pie shop on Bell Yard owned by his lover, Mrs (Margery) Lovett. As such, it’s said that it was in tunnels below the building on the site that the bodies of Todd’s victims were dismembered and used for pie filling before the pies were sold by Mrs Lovett.
The basement now contains what’s left of vaults which were formerly used to store gold bullion – they were also apparently briefly used to store the Crown Jewels during World War I.
The pub is located at 194 Fleet Street. For more on the pub – which also has an outdoor eating area, see www.oldbankofengland.co.uk.
This Week in London – World’s oldest clock and watch collection moves to the Science Museum; commemorating Agincourt; and, black experiences in war at the Imperial War Museum…
October 22, 2015
• The world’s oldest clock and watch collection can be seen at its new home at the Science Museum in South Kensington from tomorrow. The Clockmaker’s Museum, which was established in 1814 and has previously been housed at City of London Corporation’s Guildhall, has taken up permanent residence in the Science Museum. Assembled by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers – founded in 1631 – the collection features some 600 watches, 80 clocks and 25 marine timekeepers spanning the period from the 15th century to today. Highlights among the collection include: a year duration long case clock made by Daniel Quare of London (c. 1647-1724); a star-form watch (pictured) by David Ramsay, first master of the Clockmaker’s Company; the 5th marine timekeeper completed in 1770 by John Harrison (winner in 1714 of the Longitude Prize); a timekeeper used by Captain George Vancouver on his 18th century voyage around the Canadian island that bears his name; a watch used to carry accurate time from Greenwich Observatory around London; and, a wristwatch worn by Sir Edmund Hillary when he summited Mount Everest in 1953. The collection complements that already held by the Science Museum in its ‘Measuring Time’ gallery – this includes the third oldest clock in the world (dating from 1392, it’s on loan from Well’s Cathedral) and a 1,500-year-old Byzantine sundial-calendar, the second oldest geared mechanism known to have survived. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/clocks. PICTURE: The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.
• Westminster Abbey is kicking off its commemorations of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt by opening Henry V’s chantry chapel in Westminster Abbey to a selected few on Saturday night, the eve of the battle’s anniversary. The chapel, which is above the king’s tomb at the east end of the abbey, will be seen by the winners of a public ballot which opened in September. It has never before been officially opened for public tours. The chapel is one of the smallest of the abbey’s chapels. It is occasionally used for services but, measuring just seven by three metres, is not usually open to the public because of size and access issues. Meanwhile the abbey will hold a special service of commemoration on 29th October in partnership with charity Agincourt600 and on 28th October, will host a one day conference for Henry V enthusiasts entitled Beyond Agincourt: The Funerary Achievements of Henry V. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt.
• The role the black community played at home and on the fighting front during conflicts from World War I onward is the focus of a programme of free events and tours as Imperial War Museums marks Black History Month during October. IWM London in Lambeth will host a special screening of two documentary films – Burma Boy and Eddie Noble: A Charmed Life – telling the stories of African and Caribbean mean who served in World War II on 25th October. IWM London will also feature a series of interactive talks from historians revealing what it was like for black servicemen during both world wars from this Saturday until Sunday, 1st November. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
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This Week in London – MC Escher at Dulwich; West Africa’s literary history at the British Library; and, two new war-related exhibitions…
October 15, 2015
• The first major UK retrospective of the work of 20th century Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis (MC) Escher opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south yesterday following its run at the Scottish National Gallery of Art. The Amazing World of MC Escher showcases more than 100 works – including original drawings, prints, lithographs, and woodcuts – as well as previously unseen archive material from the collection of Gemeentenmuseum Den Haag in The Netherlands. Arranged chronologically, highlights include 1934’s Still Life with Mirror – perhaps the first time the artist used surreal illusion, well-known 1948 lithograph Drawing Hands, the almost four metre long 1939-40 woodcut Metamorphosis II, the 1943 lithograph Reptiles and two of his most celebrated works, Ascending and Descending (1960) and Waterfall (1961). Runs until 17th January and is accompanied by a series of special events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere (Self-Portait in Spherical Mirror), January 1935, Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands/All M.C. Escher works © 2015 The M.C. Escher Company-The Netherlands. All rights reserved. http://www.mcescher.com.
• West Africa’s literary history comes under examination in a new exhibition opening at the British Library at St Pancras on Friday. West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song features more than 200 manuscripts, books, sound and film recordings, artworks, masks and textiles taken from the library’s African collections and elsewhere. It explores how key figures – from Nobel Prize winning Nigerian author Professor Wole Soyinka through to human rights activist Fela Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat, and a generation of enslaved 18th century West Africans who agitated for the abolition of the slave trade – used words to both build society and fight injustice. Key items on show include a 1989 letter Kuti wrote to the president of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, in which he agitated for political change, a pair of atumpan ‘talking drums’ similar to those still used in Ghana, a carnival costume newly designed by Brixton-based artist Ray Mahabir, and letters, texts and life accounts written by the most famous 18th century British writer of African heritage, Olaudah Equiano, enslaved and freed scholar Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, and Phillis Wheatley, who, enslaved as a child, went on to write Romantic poetry. The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a major series of talks, events and performances, runs until 16th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/west-africa-exhibition.
• Two new war related exhibitions opened in London this week. Opened on Monday at the City of London’s Guildhall Library, Talbot House – An Oasis in a World Gone Crazy, recounts the story of army chaplains Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton and Neville Talbot and their creation of an Everyman’s Club – where countless soldiers spent time away from the fighting – in a house in the Belgian town of Poperinge, a few miles from the frontline at Ypres. The exhibition, created to celebrate the centenary of the house’s creation in 1915, features items from Talbot House, the memoirs of ‘Tubby’ and part of the hut where he wrote them after fleeing the Germans. Runs until 8th January and the exhibition also features two ticketed events. Entry to the exhibition is free. For more, follow this link. Meanwhile, Lee Miller: A Woman’s War opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today, displaying 150 photographs depicting women’ experiences during World War II. The four part exhibition looks at women before the war, in wartime Britain, in wartime Europe and after the war. Runs until 24th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
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August 14, 2015
A series of secret tunnels, built behind the famous White Cliffs of Dover on the orders of former British PM Winston Churchill, have opened to the public for the first time.
More than 50 volunteers along with archaeologists, engineers, mine consultants and a geologist, spent two years excavating and restoring the tunnels which, known as the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, were aimed at housing men manning gun batteries designed to prevent German ships from moving freely in the English Channel.
The shelter, which was personally inspected by Churchill in June, 1941, provided accommodation for four officers and up to 185 men in five bomb-proof chambers for use during bombardments as well as a hospital and a store room. It was originally dug by Royal Engineers from the 172nd Tunnelling Company in just 100 days.
The tunnels, which were decommissioned in the 1950s and then filled in during the 1970s, were discovered after the National Trust bought the land above in 2012. More than 100 tonnes of soil and rubble were removed during the excavation.
Specialist guides now take visitors on 45 minute, torch-lit, hard hat tours into the shelter – the largest of its kind in Dover, taking visitors down the original 125 steps into the tunnels 23 metres below the surface. Inside can be seen graffiti dating from the war which includes the names of men stationed there as well as ditties and drawings. Other personal mementoes include homemade wire hooks, a needle and thread and ammunition.
Back above ground, there are two World War I sound mirrors which were originally designed to give advance warning of approaching aircraft but which had become obsolete when radar technology was invented in 1935 (pictured in action below).
The tunnels complement those which are already open at Dover Castle (managed by English Heritage).
WHERE: Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, Dover (nearest train station is Dover Priory (two miles); WHEN: Guided tours only – from 9.30am daily until 6th September – tours then on weekdays only until 30th September); COST:£10 adults/£5 children (aged 12-16) (free for National Trust members); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover.
PICTURE: Top – National Trust/Barry Stewart/; Bottom – National Trust/Crown Copyright.
May 5, 2015
Guns fired a royal salute in Hyde Park on Monday to mark the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new daughter (and Prince George’s new sister), named Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana (or more formally, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge). Seventy-one horses pulling six World War I-era 13-pounder field guns from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode out in procession with the Royal Artillery Band from Wellington Barracks, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill to Wellington Arch, and into Hyde Park to fire the salute. The 41 gun salute was fired at the same time as a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. By custom, gun salutes are fired for the birth of every prince or princess, regardless of where they sit in the order of succession. A basic salute is 21 rounds with an additional 20 rounds fired because Hyde Park is a Royal Park while at the Tower of London an extra 20 rounds are fired because it is a royal palace along with a further 21 because of its City of London location. The princess, fourth in line to the throne, was born at 8:34am on Saturday at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and weighed 8lbs, 3oz (3.7kg). PICTURE: © Courtesy of Ian Wylie Photo.
April 24, 2015
Tomorrow is the 25th April – commemorated every year as Anzac Day in Australia in memory of that country’s soldiers who lost their lives. This year marks 100 years since Australian troops first landed at Gallipoli during World War I.
While attention will be focused on Anzac Cove in modern Turkey and the Australian war memorials on what was the Western Front in western Europe, in London there will be several events including a wreath laying ceremony at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, a commemoration and thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey and a dawn service held at the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park Corner.
This last memorial, dedicated to the more than 100,000 Australians who died in both world wars, was unveiled on Armistice Day, 2003, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, then-Australian PM John Howard and then British PM Tony Blair.
It records the 23,844 names of town where Australians who served in World War I and II were born.
Superimposed over the top are 47 of the major battles they fought. Principal architect Peter Tonkin said the somewhat curvaceous design of the memorial, made of grey-green granite slabs, “reflects the sweep of Australian landscape, the breadth and generosity of our people, the openness that we believe should characterise our culture”.
For more on the wall – including the ability to search for town names – see www.awmlondon.gov.au.
Nestled next to Westminster Abbey opposite the Houses of Parliament, St Margaret’s has long been known as the “parish church of the House of Commons” (although we should point out it’s not officially a parish church). As a result, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that it has a couple of significant links to former PM Winston Churchill.
Among the most momentous personal occasions was when Churchill married Clementine Hozier in the church on 12th September, 1908, after a short courtship. A headline in the Daily Mirror called it ‘The Wedding of the Year’.
After the fighting of World War II ended in 1945, on VE Day Churchill, in a move reflecting that taken by then PM David Lloyd George after World War I, led the members of the House of Commons in procession from the Houses of Parliament into the church for a thanksgiving service.
In 1947, the church was the scene of another Churchill wedding, this time that of Sir Winston’s daughter, Mary who was wedded to Captain Christopher Soames of the Coldstream Guards on 11th February.
WHERE: St Margaret’s Church, Westminster (nearest Tube stations are St James’s Park and Westminster); WHEN: 9.30am to 3.30pm weekdays/9.30am to 1.30pm Saturday/2pm to 4.30pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org/st-margarets-church.
November 18, 2014
The Tower of London is bidding farewell to the sea of poppies that has filled its dry moat while two major features of the instalment – created to mark the centenary of World War I – prepare to head off on tour. Known as Weeping Window (shown above) and Wave (shown immediately below) – the two features of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation will both tour various locations across the UK for the next few years before going on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester. So, we thought we’d take a look back at what has proved to be one of the most popular and moving memorials to appear in the capital in recent years. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins (with setting by stage designer Tom Piper), the project saw as many as 888,246 ceramic poppies – representing all British and Colonial fatalities during the war – planted by volunteers in the moat. The last one was planted on Armistice Day – 11th November – last week before the process of removal began. PICTURES: ©Richard Lea-Hair and Historic Royal Palaces.
November 17, 2014
With Remembrance Sunday having been observed earlier this month, we thought it was an appropriate time to take a quick look at the Peace Day Parade of 19th July, 1919, at which the Cenotaph – the National War Memorial – was first unveiled.
The parade, organised by a Peace Celebrations Committee appointed by the War Cabinet, was seen as the high point of a series of celebrations to mark the end of the war which had only officially ended on 28th June with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Prime Minister David Lloyd George, on hearing French troops were to salute a ‘great catafalque’ (a raised structure upon which sits a coffin) built beside the Arc de Triomphe in honour of their war dead as part of their victory march, commissioned architect Edwin Lutyens to create a similar monument for the occasion.
Lutyens had apparently already started sketching, having been sounded out earlier about the possibility of such a structure, and eventually opted for a cenotaph, an empty tomb erected in honour of people buried elsewhere, in place of the catafalque.
The Cenotaph, one of a number of temporary structures built for the day, was unveiled in Whitehall early on the morning of Saturday, 19th July. Made of plaster and wood, it had been constructed in just two weeks (and, of course, it was replaced the following year with the stone Cenotaph which now stands there). Wreaths were soon piled high around its base.
As many as five million people reportedly turned out for the parade along a seven mile route from Knightsbridge (depicted above) through to Westminster and onto Buckingham Palace on Saturday – many of them had arrived from other parts of the country the previous night – and, eager not to miss out, had secured their space by sleeping in parks or streets overnight.
Also known as the London Victory Parade, the procession included some 15,000 Allied forces representing 12 victorious nations including, of course, Britain as well as France, the US, various European and Asian nations and small contingents from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Also marching were military commanders such as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig – the British Commander-in-Chief, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch – Supreme Allied Commander during the last year of the war, and General John J Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force.
Some veterans apparently refused to take part, seeing the parade as “militaristic celebrations”.
After splitting into two columns and filing past the Cenotaph – inscribed with the words ‘The Glorious Dead”, those in the parade then marched down the Mall, which was lined with stands set aside for widows and orphans before King George V took their salute standing beneath a golden cupola erected at the base of the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.
October 15, 2014
In this, the final in our series looking at London’s World War I memorials, we’re taking a look at one of the city’s most visited monuments – the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
Located at the west end of the minster nave (pictured is the west front of the abbey inside of which lies the grave), the grave is that of a British soldier whose body was brought back from France and buried on the site on 11th November, 1920. The grave, which also contains soil brought from France, is covered by a slab of black marble from Belgium.
The slab bears an inscription written by Herbert Ryle, then dean of the abbey, which commemorates the “many multitudes” who died during World War I. “They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house”.
It is believed the idea for the memorial was that of a chaplain at the front during the war – Rev David Railton – who in 1916 saw a grave in northern France which featured a cross upon which was written, “An Unknown British Soldier”. He wrote to Ryle about what he’d seen and the idea for the new memorial slowly took shape – albeit with the initial misgivings of some including King George V.
Representing servicemen from the army, navy or air force from anywhere within Britain and its dominions who died in the war and have no other memorial or known grave, the unidentified body which lies in the grave is believed to have been selected at random from among a number bodies of soldiers who died early in the war – accounts suggest they numbered either four or six – and which were exhumed from battle areas at the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres.
Covered with Union flags, the bodies were taken to a chapel at St Pol on 7th November, 1920, and one selected by Brigadier General LJ Wyatt, commander of troops in France and Flanders.
The three remaining bodies were reburied while the selected remains were placed in two coffins, the outer one made of oak harvested from a tree which had grown at Hampton Court Palace. A 16th century crusader’s sword taken from the Tower of London’s collection was placed in the wrought iron bands of the coffin and it was then covered with a flag which Rev Railton had used as an altar cloth during the war (known as the Ypres or Padre’s Flag, it now hangs nearby in St George’s Chapel at the abbey).
The coffin was then transported on the destroyer HMS Verdun to Dover and then taken by train to Victoria Station before, on the morning of 11th November, it was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and transported through massive but silent crowds which lined the streets.
Pausing at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, King George V unveiled the monument which represent an empty tomb (see our earlier post here) and placed a wreath on the coffin and then, followed by the king, other royal family members and dignitaries, it was taken to the abbey minster and lowered into the grave at a special service attended by the king, Queen Alexandra, the queens of Spain and Norway, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister HH (later Lord) Asquith (a recording made of some of the service – apparently conducted simultaneously with one at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – became the first ever electrical recording to be sold to the public).
Thousands of mourners paid their respects at the open grave before the grave was filled in and covered with temporary stone on 18th November. The marble stone which now stands there was unveiled at a special service on 11th November the following year. A framed US Congressional Medal of Honor, conferred by General John J Pershing on the unknown warrior on 17th October, 1921, hangs from a pillar nearby.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Generally open to tourists everyday except Sunday (times vary so check the website); COST: £18 an adult/£15 concessions/£8 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£44 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org.
One of many memorials located in London’s railway stations, the Great Western Railway War Memorial is located on platform one of Paddington Station.
The memorial features a bronze figure of a soldier sculpted by Charles Sargeant Jagger standing against a granite and marble backdrop designed by Thomas S Tait. The soldier, who is dressed in battle gear with a helmet on his head and a great coat thrown about his shoulders, is depicted apparently reading a letter from home.
To either side of the soldier are reliefs depicting the emblems of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy while inscribed on the plinth beneath him is an inscription dedicated the memorial to employees of the railway who died in World War I. Inside the plinth was placed a sealed casket containing a vellum roll on which is written the names of all 2,524 men who died.
The memorial, known as the ‘GWR Memorial’, was unveiled on Armistice Day by Viscount Churchill, chairman of the Great Western Railway, in 1922 before a crowd estimated at around 6,000 people. It was later updated after World War II.
Restored in 2001, the memorial recently featured in the World War I commemorative project – “Letter to an Unknown Soldier” – in which members of the public were invited to write a letter to the soldier. The statue is also among more than 20 in London which have been brought to life as part of Sing London’s Talking Statues initiative (it has the voice of Patrick Stewart!).
Among our favourite railway memorials, others include the magnificent “Victory Arch” at Waterloo Station.
PICTURE: Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia
This Week in London – Gothic literature at the British Library; founder of War Graves Commission honoured; and, New Year’s Eve tickets on sale…
October 2, 2014
• The UK’s largest exhibition of Gothic literature opens at the British Library in Kings Cross on Saturday (4th October), marking the 250th anniversary of the publication of the breakthrough book, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will feature manuscripts and rare and personal editions of Gothic classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as well as the work of contemporary writers like Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake. There will also be Gothic-inspired artworks by the likes of Henry Fuseli and William Blake and modern art, photography, costumes and movies by the likes of Chapman Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. A range of literary, film and music events will accompany the exhibition which runs until 20th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/. PICTURE: Percival Delivering Belisane from the Enchantment of Urma, Henry Fuselli. © Tate.
• The founder of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Marylebone. Sir Fabian lived at the early 19th century Grade II-listed terraced house at 14 Wyndham Place between 1911 and 1919. It was during this period that he served with the British Red Cross in France and first began recording the graves of soldiers killed in battle. In 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was formed with the task of reburying the war dead in permanent cemeteries in France. Knighted in 1920, Sir Fabian was to be director of graves registration and enquiries at the War Office during World War II and it was at this time that he extended the war graves scheme to civilians killed in the conflict. The commission changed its name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960. Today it cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• New Year’s Eve in London will be a ticketed event for the first time this year with 100,000 tickets being made available to the public with each costing a £10 administration fee – the entire sum of which will apparently be used to pay for the ticketing system. Making the announcement last month, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, office, said the growth in numbers of those who have gathered to watch the fireworks on the Thames – from around 100,000 in 2003 to an estimated 500,000 last year – has put an enormous strain on transport and safety infrastructure and meant people have had to turn up earlier and earlier to get a good view, facing hours waiting in cold and cramped conditions, or risk being among the “hundreds of thousands” unable to get a good view or even see the display at all. Booking tickets – people may secure up to four – will guarantee “good views of the celebrations and a better visitor experience”. To book tickets, head to www.london.gov.uk/nye.
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September 24, 2014
While most of London’s World War I memorials feature sculptures depicting soldiers or weaponry, the controversial Machine Gun Corps Memorial at Hyde Park Corner takes as its centrepiece a more classical theme.
Designed by Francis Derwent Wood (known for his role in making masks for soldiers disfigured during the war), the larger than life-sized sculpture on top of this memorial is a nude statue of the Biblical character, David, who stands holding a giant sword – that of Goliath whose head he cut off. The Biblical theme is also found in an accompanying inscription from the Bible: 1 Samuel 18: 7 – “Saul hath slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands”.
To either side of the bronze figure – which has led to the memorial also being known as The Boy David – are two real bronzed Vickers guns wrapped in laurels while the Italian marble plinth carries a dedicated to the almost 14,000 of the corps who died between the raising of the corps in 1915 and its disbanding in 1922. The reverse of the memorial details the corps’ history, recording its service in “France, Flanders, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Salonica, India, Afghanistan and East Africa”.
The Grade II* listed monument, which was much criticised thanks to the juxtaposition of the naked figure and machine guns, was unveiled by the Duke of Connaught in 1925. Originally located on a traffic island to the south of the Royal Artillery Memorial it was dismantled in 1945 when roadworks were carried out and it wasn’t until 1963 that it was reassembled on its current site.
Interestingly, there is another statue of The Boy David by Edward Bainbridge Copnall standing atop a column which stands on Chelsea Embankment.
September 17, 2014
Located at Holborn Bar – one of the traditional entry points to the City of London, this memorial was erected in 1922 to the memory of the almost 22,000 solider of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) who died during the Great War.
The monument, which stands on a traffic island in the middle of busy High Holborn, was designed by sculptor Albert Toft (and hence is known affectionately as “Albert”) along with architects Cheadle and Harding at the behest of several senior officers from the regiment.
It was originally intended to be erected in one of the capital’s many parks. Hounslow Barracks was the next intended location but, after consultation with the City, the site in Holborn was eventually settled upon.
The larger-than-life bronze figure, which stands on a Portland stone pedestal holding a rifle with fixed bayonet, was apparently modelled on an actual person – a Sgt Cox, who served with the Royal Fusiliers throughout the war. The east face features a plate listing all the battalions who served in World War I; the west face features the regimental crest and dedication.
The Grade II-listed memorial, which was officially unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London (we think it was Sir Edward Cecil Moore) on 4th November, 1922, was later updated with inscriptions commemorating those who fell during World War II and in subsequent conflicts.
The original model for the monument can now be seen in the Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London. Interestingly, there is a twin monument, dedicated to the 41st Division, at Flers on the Somme, in France. It was unveiled in 1932.
PICTURE: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)