10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 9. Władysław Sikorski…

PICTURE: Chmee2 (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)
PICTURE: Ethan Doyle White (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This statue in Portland Place in Marylebone commemorates wartime Polish Prime Minister and military leader (and British ally) Władysław Sikorski (1881-1943).

Larger than lifesize, the bronze statue depicts Sikorski in military uniform standing on a white stone plinth. It is the work of late British artist Faith Winter (also the sculptor of a controversial statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris outside the RAF church on the Strand).

Funded by public subscription, this statue of Sikorski was erected on 24th September, 2000, and unveiled by the Duke of Kent. It stands near the Polish Embassy on a traffic island near the intersection with Weymouth Street.

There’s inscriptions on each face of the plinth which commemorate Sikorski as well as the “Soldiers, Seamen and Airmen of the Polish Armed Forces and the Resistance Movement” between 1939 – 1945. The east face inscription commemorates Polish involvement in World War II through a listing of battles.

Sikorski is also commemorated with a plaque adorning the Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road which served as his headquarters between 1940 until his death in an air crash in Gibraltar in 1943 (where there is another memorial to him).

A Moment in London’s History – The last execution at the Tower of London…

The Tower of London. PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the last person to be executed at the Tower of London for treason.

Injured when he was shot in the chest while serving as a conscript in the German army during World War I, Josef Jakobs worked as a dentist after the war (and was briefly imprisoned in Switzerland for selling counterfeit gold). Following the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany during the 1930s, he was arrested in 1938 by the Gestapo for selling black market passports to Jewish people fleeing the country and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

After two years, Jakobs was released after he agreed to work as a spy in England for the German military intelligence.

Having flown from Holland, Jakobs parachuted into England at a located near Ramsey in what was then Huntingdonshire, in late January, 1941. Breaking his ankle during the landing and in pain, he fired his pistol into the air early on February 1st and was subsequently apprehended by members of the Home Guard.

Among the items he was found with were a wireless transmitter, a small torch with a flashing device, a map marking positions of nearby RAF airfields and a German sausage.

Jakobs was taken to a local police station before being transferred to London where he was subsequently interrogated by MI5 during which he claimed he had escaped to England with the intent of securing passage to America. He was later taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

His court martial before a military tribunal was held at the Duke of York’s headquarters in Chelsea on 4th and 5th August. After hearing from eight witnesses in a closed court (due to intelligence sensitivities), he was convicted of spying and sentenced to death.

Jakobs’ execution was carried out at the miniature rifle range at the Tower of London – the same place where death sentences had been carried out on 11 spies executed during World War I – on 15th August.

Jakobs was blindfolded and tied to a chair (which can still be viewed in the White Tower) with a white target pinned over his heart. A firing squad of eight – all members of the Scots Guards – carried out the sentence at 7.12am (five of those in the squad had live rounds). He is said to have died instantly.

Jakobs was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.

Jakobs was the only spy executed at the Tower in World War II and the last person to suffer such a sentence there.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…4. Charles de Gaulle…

PICTURE: Metro Centric (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Unveiled in the early 1990s, this statue of the French leader Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) is located in St James’s, close to the headquarters where de Gaulle headed the government-in-exile following the fall of France in 1940.

The life-sized statue is the work of sculptor Angela Conner and architect Bernard Wiehahn and was erected in Carlton Gardens following a campaign by Lady Soames, daughter of Winston Churchill. De Gaulle is depicted standing in the uniform of a General de Brigade.

The was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in June 1993. Nearby are an English Heritage Blue Plaque as well as another plaque, both commemorating the location of the headquarters.

A commemorative ceremony takes place each year at the statue organised by the French Embassy.

De Gaulle flew to England in June, 1940, and was subsequently recognised by Britain as the leader of the Free French. He established his headquarter at 4 Carlton Gardens on 22nd July that year, initially living at the Connaught Hotel and, from 1942 to 1944, in Hampstead. He returned to France following the D-Day invasion in 1944.

Treasures of London – War posters from the National Archives…

Left to right: Abraham Gomes, Forces Recruitment ATS (girl’s head) (between 1939 and 1946); Mary Le Bon, Give yourself a happy holiday…and help our farmers. Lend a hand on the land at an agricultural camp (between 1939 and 1946); Unknown author, There’s often a listener. Silence is safety. Never talk to anyone about sailing dates, cargoes, destinations (between 1939 and 1946).

These posters are among almost 2,000 original works created by artists working for the Ministry of Information during World War II now in the collection of The National Archives based in Kew.

The posters tackle a range of issues – from saving on fuel at home to warnings about spies, posters to inspire effort on the homefront and those to recruit new men and women to the service.

Under a partnership with Wikimedia UK, in 2013 The National Archives digitised and released more than 350 images of the posters into the public domain. Here are some those released.

The originals are held at The National Archives.

Left to right: Roy Nockolds, “In Germany…someone is doing the same job as you. Beat him!” (1942); Tom Purvis, “Stand Firm!” (between 1939 and 1946); and, Frank Newbould,  “Give us the tools and-” – Winston Churchill (between 1939 and 1946).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The station is now Grade II-listed.

10 London buildings that were relocated…4. The tower of All Hallows Lombard Street…

One of the lost churches of the City of London, All Hallows Lombard Street once stood on the corner of this famous City street and Ball Alley.

Dating from medieval times, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London and, while the parishioners initially tried their own repairs, it was subsequently rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren and completed by 1679.

All Hallows Twickenham
All Hallows Twickenham on Chertsey Road. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0

The result was apparently a rather plan building but it did feature a three storey tower (in fact, so hemmed in by other buildings did it become that some called it the “invisible church”). The church also featured a porch which had come from the dissolved Priory of St John in Clerkenwell and had, from what we can gather, been part of the previous building.

Among those who preached in the rebuilt church was John Wesley in 1789 (he apparently forgot his notes and, after some heckling from the congregation, it’s said he never used notes again).

The parish of St Dionis Backchurch was merged with All Hallows when the latter was demolished in 1878 (All Hallows has already been merged with St Benet Gracechurch when that church was demolished in 1868 and St Leonard Eastcheap in 1876). Bells from St Dionis Backchurch were brought to All Hallows following the merger.

The declining residential population in the City saw the consolidation of churches and following World War I, All Hallows Lombard Street was listed for demolition. There was considerable opposition to the decision but structural defects were found in the building’s fabric and demolition eventually took place in 1937.

But there was to be a second life of sorts for the church. The square, stone tower, including the porch and fittings from the church such as the pulpit, pews, organ and stunning carved altarpiece, were all used in the construction of a new church, All Hallows Twickenham in Chertsey Road.

Designed by architect Robert Atkinson, it was one of a couple of new churches built with proceeds from the sale of the land on which All Hallows Lombard Street had stood.

Replacing an earlier chapel, the new Twickenham church was consecrated on 9th November, 1940 by the Bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher (apparently with the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background).

The 32 metre high tower houses a peal of 10 bells, including some of those from St Dionis Backchurch, as well as an oak framed gate decorated with memento mori carvings – including skulls and crossbones – which came from All Hallows Lombard Street.

10 London buildings that were relocated…3. St Mary Aldermanbury…

This church – not to be confused with the similarly named but still existing St Mary Aldermary – once stood at the corner of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City of London.

St Mary Aldermanbury, now part of the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, in the US. PICTURE: J. Stephen Conn (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Founded in the 11th or early 12th century, the church – the name of which apparently relates to an endowment it received from an Alderman Bury, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in a simple form with no spire.

It was gutted during the Blitz – one of 13 Wren churches hit on the night of 13th December, 1940 – and the ruins were not rebuilt. Instead, in the 1960s (and this is where we get to the relocation part) a plan was put into action to relocate the church so it could form part of a memorial to Winston Churchill in the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

It was only after four years of planning and fundraising (the project apparently cost some $US1.5 million with the money raised from donors including actor Richard Burton) that the relocation process finally began in 1965.

PICTURE: Jonathan Pearson
(licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It started with workers in London cleaning, removing and labelling each of the church’s 7,000 stones so they could be reconstructed correctly on the other side of the Atlantic.

They were shipped free-of-charge – the US Shipping Board moved them as ship’s ballast – and then taken by rail to Fulton.

By the time the stones reached Fulton they had been jumbled. And so began the painstaking process of reassembling what was described as the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture” (with the stones spread over an acre, it apparently took a day just to find the first two stones).

While the first shovel on the project had been turned by former US President Harry S Truman on 19th April, 1964 (his connection to the project will become clear), the foundation stone was laid in October, 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London.

The shell of the church was completed by May, 1967. Two more years of work saw the church’s interior recreated with English woodcarvers, working from pre-war photographs, to make the pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony (new glass was also manufactured and five new bronze bells cast for the tower). The finished church, which was rededicated in May, 1969, was almost an exact replica of the original but apparently for a new organ gallery and a tower window.

Why Fulton for a tribute to Churchill? The connection between Churchill and Westminster College went back to the post war period – it was in the college’s historic gymnasium building that, thanks to a connection the institution had with President Truman, Churchill was to give one of his most famous speeches – the 1946 speech known as ‘Sinews of Peace’ in which he first put forward the concept of an “Iron Curtain” descending between Eastern and Western Europe.

The church is now one part of the National Churchill Museum, which also includes a museum building and the ‘Breakthrough’ sculpture made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall. It was selected for the memorial – planned to mark the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s speech – thanks to its destruction in the Blitz, commemorating in particular the inspiring role Churchill had played in ensuring the British people remained stalwart despite the air raids.

St Mary Aldermanbury Gardens in London. PICTURE: Bogdan Tapu (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Meanwhile, back in London the site of the church has been turned into a garden. It contains a memorial to John Heminges and Henry Condell, two Shakespearean actors who published the first folio of the Bard’s works and were buried in the former church. The footings upon which the church once stood can still be seen in the garden and have been Grade II-listed since 1972.

LondonLife – The Battle of Britain remembered…

Dignitaries including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston, were among those attending a service commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in Westminster Abbey on Sunday. The service, which was witnessed by fewer people than would normally have been the case due to the coronavirus pandemic, included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour – containing the names of the 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded during the 112 days of fighting – was carried through the church and placed beside the High Altar. After the service three Spitfires and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight took part in a flypast over the Abbey. Pictured above are the standard bearers formed up on the altar at the service (all pictures via MOD © Crown copyright 2020)

Above: The Queen’s Colour Squadron lining the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson carrying out a reading during the service.

Above: FO Buckingham saluting the Battle of Britain memorial stained glass window at Westminster Abbey.

Above: The four planes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fly above the Abbey.

A Moment in London’s History…First air raid of the London Blitz…

It was on 7th September, 1940, that the German bombers raided London in what was to be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombings and the start of the air attacks on the city known as the Blitz (short for ‘Blitzkrieg’ meaning ‘lightning war’ in German).

Almost 350 German bombers, escorted by more than 600 Messerschmitt fighters, were involved in the raid on what became known as “Black Saturday”.

This first wave of bombing, which ended just after 6pm on what had been a hot day, largely targeted London’s docks in attempt to destroy the city’s infrastructure and industrial sites including the munitions factories of the Woolwich Arsenal, gasworks at Beckton, West Ham power station and oil storage tanks at Thameshaven.

A second wave, which lasted eight hours and involved another 400 bombers, arrived from 8pm striking Millwall, commercial docks at Tilbury and Thameshaven, and the heavily populated slums of the East End in localities including Silvertown, Canning Town, East Ham, Poplar, Stratford, Wapping, and Whitechapel.

Hundreds of tons of bombs were dropped in the raids during which some 448 of London’s civilians were killed and 1,600 injured. Some of the fires started in the bombing burned for five days with the flames visible for miles.

While the attack was the first day of the Blitz, it was actually the 60th day of the Battle of Britain in which the German Luftwaffe had targeted air fields, oil installations and other war-related infrastructure.

While Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had gone on radio on the day of the raid, describing it as an “historic hour, in which for the first time the German Luftwaffe has struck at the heart of the enemy”, the strategy shift – to target London instead of the air defence-related installations – proved to be what Hugh Dowding, chief of Fighter Command described as a “mistake”, giving the defences time to rebuild.

But at the time, the attack on London was believed at the time to herald the start of a full invasion. It’s known that as the Luftwaffe attacked the East End, the military chiefs of staff were meeting in Whitehall – at 8pm that night, just as the second wave of planes was starting to bomb the city, they issued the code word ‘Cromwell’ which indicated that invasion was imminent and defending troops need to prepare.

The planned invasion – Operation Sea Lion – never eventuated but the Blitz was to continue until May the following year.

PICTURE: The London docks ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September, 1940. Palls of smoke rise in the docks beyond the Tower of London with the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. PICTURE: © Port of London Authority Collection / Museum of London. For more on the ‘Docklands at War’, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/permanent-galleries/docklands-war.

Lost London – Church of St Stephen Coleman Street…

Among the buildings destroyed in the Blitz, St Stephen Coleman Street was one of the more than 50 City of London churches designed by the office of Sir Christopher Wren in the wake of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

The church was located on the corner of Coleman and Gresham Streets and replaced an earlier medieval building, the origins of which date back to at least the 13th century (the earliest mention occurs during the reign of King John) and which had also been known as St Stephen in the Jewry due to the number of Jewish people living in the vicinity.

St Stephen’s had apparently become a Puritan stronghold by the early 17th century when the vicars included John Davenport, who later went on to found a colony in Connecticut.

Five members of Parliament whom King Charles I attempted to arrest on 4th January, 1642, hid here as his troops searched for them. During the Commonwealth, the church instituted rules under which only those who were approved by a committee including the vicar and 13 parishioners – two of whom had apparently signed King Charles I’s death warrant, could receive Communion.

Following its destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt its former foundations – the new building incorporating some of the ruins of the former and featuring a bell lantern with a gilded weathervane on top – and was largely completed by 1677. In the early 1690s, additional funds gained through a coal tax provided for the construction of a burial vault and a gallery.

Notable vicars after the rebuild included Rev Josiah Pratt (1768-1844) who served for 21 years as secretary of the Church Missionary Society.

While the church suffered some minor damage during an air-raid in World War I, it was repaired. But it was finally destroyed during an air raid on 29th December, 1940, after which the church was not rebuilt but its parish joined with that of St Margaret Lothbury.

A City of London Corporation plaque at the intersection of Coleman Street and Kings Arms Yard marks the site of the former church.

PICTURE: An etching of St Stephen’s Coleman Street published in 1819.

This Week in London – VJ Day remembered; Steve McQueen; and, Windsor gardens…

• The National Army Museum in Chelsea is joining with the Royal Air Force Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, this Saturday, 15th August, with a series of free events including online talks. Among those taking part are World War II veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, recently knighted by the Queen for his efforts in helping raise funds for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, author and explorer Levison Wood (who explores the story of his grandfather’s service in Burma), and Professor Tarak Barkawi, author of Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II, as well as General Lord Richards, Grand President of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League who’s involved in a conversation about the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers during the Far East campaign. For the full programme of events, head to www.nam.ac.uk/series/vj-day-75.

Steve McQueen is back at Tate Modern. The exhibition, which reopened last Friday following the reopening of all Tate galleries, spans 20 years of McQueen’s work and features 14 major pieces spanning film, photography and sculpture. The exhibition adds to the three visitor routes already in place at the Tate Modern and coincides with McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3, an epic portrait of London’s Year 3 pupils created through a partnership between Tate, Artangel and A New Direction which can be seen at Tate Britain until 31st January. Visitors must prebook. For more, head to tate.org.uk/visit.

Beyond London (a new regular feature in which we include sites around Greater London)
• The East Terrace Garden at Windsor Castle – commissioned by King George IV in the 1820s – has opened to weekend visitors for the first time in decades. Overlooked by the castle’s famous east facade, the formal garden features clipped domes of yew and beds of 3,500 rose bushes planted in a geometric pattern around a central fountain. It was originally designed by architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville between 1824 and 1826 on the site of an old bowling green made for Charles II in the 1670s. Plants, including 34 orange trees sent by the French King Charles X, were specially imported for the garden and statues were brought from the Privy Gardens at Hampton Court, including a set of four bronze figures by Hubert Le Sueur which  were made for Charles I in the 1630s and which remain in the garden today. Prince Albert is known to have taken a particular interest in the garden and the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret grew vegetables there during World War II. As well as the opening of the East Terrace Garden on weekends, visitors with young children on Thursdays and Fridays in August are being given special access to the Castle’s Moat Garden beneath the iconic Round Tower, thought to have dated from the period of King Edward III and believed to be the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, the first story in Canterbury Tales. Pre-bookings essential. For more, see www.rct.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Lost London – St Swithin London Stone…

Once located on the north side of Cannon Street, St Swithin London Stone was first recorded in the 13th century, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and finally demolished after being damaged in World War II.

The church’s curious name comes its dedication to St Swithin, a ninth century bishop of Winchester, and the London Stone, a stone of curious origins which was originally located across the road and then moved across to eventually be placed inside an alcove in the south wall of the church in the 1820s (you can read more about it here).

The medieval church was rebuilt in 1405 thanks to the largesse of Sir John Hind, twice Lord Mayor of London, and had one of the first towers built specifically for the hanging of bells.

The church was famously also the final resting place of Catrin Glyndwr, daughter of Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr, who was taken hostage in 1409 and imprisoned in the Tower of London before dying in mysterious circumstances four years later. Other notable connections include one with John Dryden who married Lady Elizabeth Howard in the church in 1663.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Now united with St Mary Bothaw, the church was rebuilt apparently using some of the original stones, to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. Rectangular in shape, it featured a tower in the north-west corner and an octagonal dome.

The church, which also had an association with the Worshipful Company of Salters, was heavily damaged by bombing during the Blitz. United with St Stephen Walbrook in 1954, the ruined church was eventually demolished in 1962 (the pulpit is now at All Hallows by the Tower). There’s now a garden on the site which features a memorial to Catrin Glyndwr.

PICTURE: The Church of St Swithin, London Stone, as depicted in the 1839 book ‘The Churches of London’ by George Godwin. (public domain)

Special – On the VE Day’s 75th, remembering the ‘Docklands at War’…

The Museum of London Docklands has released a number of images from its ‘Docklands at War’ collection – including some rarely on display – to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe. These images of the East End show the scale of the damage and destruction caused to London’s docks during World War II when more than 25,000 German bombs were dropped on it in an attempt to impact the national economy and war production, making tens of thousands of home uninhabitable, damaging businesses and destroying docks with the West India Docks and St Katherine Docks suffering the most damage. The pictures also reveal the remarkable contribution to the war effort by the people who lived and worked in the densely populated area. For more on how the museum is marking the day online, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/ve-day.

St Katharine Dock after an air raid on 7th September, 1940, the first attack on Docklands.  PICTURE: John H Avery & Co (© PLA Collection / Museum of London)

Bomb damage to a shed, formerly Guiness’s on west side of eastern dock, looking north from the southend taken on 19th December, 1940, following an air raid on 8th December that year. PICTURE: John H Avery & Co (© PLA Collection / Museum of London)


Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Clementine Churchill, with the Flag Officer, London, and J Douglas Ritchie (on left), touring London’s dock in September, 1940, seen with a group of auxiliary firemen. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London

Damage caused by a V1 rocket which hit Royal Victoria Dock in 1944. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London

The Docklands ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September, 1940. The rising palls of smoke mark out the London Docks beyond the Tower of London, the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London


Tanks arriving in the London Docks prior to embarkation for the D Day beaches in 1944. PICTURE: © PLA Collection / Museum of London

A Moment in London’s History – London celebrates VE Day…

It was 75 years ago this month – 8th May, 1945 – that Londoners poured out onto the city’s streets in celebration of the end of World War II.

Some celebrations had already started in London on 7th May as news of the unconditional surrender of all German troops to the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in the French city of Reims on 7th May became known.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared 8th May a national holiday and, in response, vast crowds turned out on the streets to celebrate with bunting, flags and fireworks. Church bells were rung and services of thanksgiving held including at St Paul’s Cathedral where 10 consecutive services, each attended by thousands, took place.

British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the “VE Day” celebration in London. This scene took place outside the building of the US Army Pictorial Division has its offices. PICTURE: © IWM EA 65796

At 3pm, Churchill made a national radio broadcast from 10 Downing Street. He told listeners that while “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, they should “not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead” a reference to the ongoing war with Japan (the radio broadcast, incidentally, is being re-run on the BBC on 8th May this year to mark the anniversary).

Churchill then proceeded to Parliament where he formally reported the end of the war in Europe to Parliament before leading a procession of members to St Margaret’s Church for a service of thanksgiving. He later appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall to address the teeming crowds below, telling them “This is your victory” to which they roared back that it was his.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945. PICTURE: Horton W G (Major) (Photographer),
War Office official photographer/© IWM H 41849

Meanwhile, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, initially accompanied by their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace several times to wave to the cheering crowds. The King and Queen, who were at one point joined by Churchill, were still waving when their daughters secretly – and now rather famously – left the palace and joined the crowds outside in what Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, described as “one of the most memorable moments” of her life. The King also gave a radio address from the palace during which he paid tribute to all those who had died in the conflict.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day. PICTURE: © IWM MH 21835

While celebrations took place across London, hotspots included Whitehall, outside Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, where by midnight there were an estimated 50,000 people singing and dancing. Licensing hours were extended in pubs and dance halls staying open to midnight.

A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London. PICTURE: Poznak Murray, United States Army Signal Corps official photographerIWM EA 65879

One of the most iconic images of the day was a photograph of two sailors standing in one of the fountains at Trafalgar Square with two women, revealed, thanks to research by the Imperial War Museum to be Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who had travelled to join the celebrations from Surrey.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day. PICTURE: Massecar T G, United States Army Signal Corps photographer/© IWM EA 65799

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, London.

 

What’s in a name?…Mile End


This east London district was recorded as far back as the 13th century when it was a rural area. The name comes from the obvious – it was located on the old London to Colchester Road about a mile east of Aldgate.

Its location so close to London – and the fact it was common land – meant Mile End was favoured as a recreational space by Londoners eager to escape the confines of the city.

It was here in 1381 that Jack Straw camped with the men from Essex during the Peasant’s Revolt and it was here that, even as Was Tyler and his men murdered Simon of Sudbury in the Tower of London, King Richard II famously met with the leaders of the revolt.

The area, which became known as Mile End Old Town (an unconnected area to the west was known as Mile End New Town), was gradually developed from the 16th century and attracted working class housing and, thanks to its affordability, a relatively high number of immigrants. The Mile End Tube station opened in 1902.

The area suffered in the Blitz during World War II and the first V-1 flying bomb to hit the city landed next to the Grove Road railway bridge on 13th June, 1944, killing eight civilians and injuring 30.

Famous figures connected to Mile End include explorer Captain James Cook, who lived in a now demolished house on Mile End Road between 1764-76.

Landmarks include the Trinity Almshouses (built in 1695, they’re the last survivors of several almshouses built in the area) and the Frederick Arthur Walters-designed Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church which was built 1903 by Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, as a memorial to his youngest sister, Lady Margaret Howard.

The People’s Palace – a five acre entertainment and educational facility which included a library, swimming pool, gym and winter garden – was completed in 1892 on Mile End Road. Destroyed by fire in 1931, it was rebuilt but finally closed in 1954.

The two halves of the 79 acre linear Mile End Park, which bisected by Mile End Road, is joined by The Green Bridge over the road.

PICTURES: Top – Mile End Road featuring The Guardian Angels Catholic Church on the right and Mile End Park on the left (Matt Brown /licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Mile End Tube Station (Chris Jones/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – Britain’s Baroque culture; a celebration of orchids and Indonesia; and, London’s “hidden” Underground…

Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.

The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.

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Famous Londoners – Rip…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICTURE: © IWM (D 5937)

10 (more) historic London garden squares…9. Manchester Square…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICTURES: Google Maps

This Week in London – St Paul’s Watch remembered in digital projections; Buddhism at the British Library; and, Elizabeth Peyton at the National Portrait Gallery…

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

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

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

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10 (more) historic London garden squares…2. Golden Square…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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