This private garden square in Marylebone was first laid out from the 1760s to 1780s by Henry William Portman and forms part of the expansive Portman Estate.

The 2.5 acre garden square, which is for use by residents only, features London plane trees, a lawn and informal plantings as well as a children’s play area and tennis court.

The current configuration was created in the early 1900s – the railings, which were originally installed in the 1880s, were removed as part of the war effort in 1942 but restored in 1972.

Significant buildings once located on the square include the James “Athenian” Stuart-designed Montagu House, built for Elizabeth Montagu between 1777-1782. Located on the north-west corner, it was destroyed during World War II and the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel now stands on the site.

The Robert Adam-designed Home House (1773-77) can be found at number 20 (once part of the Courtauld Institute and now a private members club) and the hotel, the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, can be found at number 30.

PICTURES: Google Maps

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Located in Carlton House Terrace, not far from the Duke of York Column in St James’s, is a small headstone dedicated to “Giro”.

Giro was the pet hound – some accounts say he was a terrier but it has also been claimed he was an Alsatian – of German Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch, who took up his post in London in 1932 (initially under the Weimar Republic and then under Hitler’s regime from 1933).

Ambassador von Hoesch and his family, along with Giro, lived at the embassy at number nine Carlton House Terrace.

Until 1934, that is, when Giro apparently chewed through a cable in the back yard and was fatally electrocuted.

Giro was buried in the backyard, the grave marked with a small headstone written in German which describes Giro as “a faithful companion” and records the date of his death as February, 1934.

The headstone, which has been described as London’s only Nazi memorial (although that’s perhaps a bit unfair given the dog had little choice), was moved to its current location behind an iron fence just off the street thanks to building works in the 1960s. The protective plastic shield was added later.

Apparently much loved among his British hosts (and said to be a less than ardent supporter of the Nazis), Hoesch, meanwhile, died of heart failure in 1936 (prompting speculation he had been assassinated by the Nazis) – his body repatriated via Dover where it was shipped home aboard the HMS Scout. His replacement was Joachim von Ribbentrop.

PICTURE: Iridescenti (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Created as part of the City of London’s contribution to 1951’s Festival of Britain, these gardens are found just to the south-east of St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of a series of gardens located around the cathedral, they were created on the former site of the street known as Old Change in an area which had suffered considerable bomb damage in World War II.

Laid out by Sir Albert Richardson, the gardens feature a sunken lawn with a wall fountain at the west end which was a gift of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

The gardens, which are permanently open to the public, also contain Georg Erlich’s sculpture, The Young Lovers, which was erected on the garden’s upper terrace – above the water fountain at the west end – in 1973.

Some relandscaping took part in 2012 including the creation of a new garden to the west, called the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gardens.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0/image cropped); Right – David Adams

Designed by the architect Charles Fitzroy Doll in distinctive French Renaissance-style for the Frederick Hotels Company, the Hotel Russell opened on the east side of Russell Square in 1898.

The now Grade II*-listed building, which is said to have been based on the 16th century Château de Madrid in Paris, is clad in decorative Doulton’s thé-au-lait (“tea with milk”) terracotta.

Its facade incorporates the coats-of-arms of the world’s nations as they were in 1898 and above the entrance are life-sized statues of four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne and Victoria – which were designed by sculptor Henry Charles Fehr (pictured). The Guilford Street frontage features busts of four Prime Ministers: Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli.

The hotel’s interior features ornate fixtures and fitting including a Pyrenean marble staircase which runs off the opulent marble foyer and an interior courtyard housing a Palm Court. Each bedroom was fitted with an en-suite bathroom.

Its restaurant, now named the Neptune but originally named after Doll, was designed almost identically to the RMS Titanic‘s dining room (Doll designed both). That’s not the only Titanic connection – the hotel also features a bronze statue of a dragon on the stairs named ‘Lucky George’ and the Titanic carried an identical statue.

The hotel survived World War II largely intact – with the exception of a roof-top dome which was damaged in an air raid in 1941 and not replaced.

Fast forward to April, 2018, and the hotel reopened as the The Principal Hotel (on the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic) following an extensive £85 million, two year renovation by designer Tara Bernerd.

But the Principal Hotel Company sold its portfolio of hotels to Covivio a few months later and they, in turn, leased the management of the hotels to the InterContinental Hotels Group. The Principal was renamed the Kimpton Fitzroy London in October that year.

Alongside 330 or so rooms, amenities at the five star hotel include the glass-roofed Palm Court, cocktail bar Fitz’s (named for Charles Fitzroy Doll), and the coffee shop Burr & Co. There’s also a grand ballroom, meeting rooms and a fitness centre.

Interestingly, Doll designed another hotel, the Imperial, also on Russell Square, which opened in 1911. It was demolished in 1966.

For more, see www.kimptonfitzroylondon.co.uk/us/en/.

PICTURES: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY 3.0); Right and below – Jack1956.

This is the final in our series on historic London hotels. We’ll be launching a new special series next Wednesday.

The Connaught Hotel, another five star Mayfair establishment, was built in 1892 on the site of smaller hotel which had opened in what is now Carlos Place in the early 19th century.

Known as The Prince of Saxe-Coburg Hotel (or The Coburg for short), the first hotel on the site opened in 1815 as an offshoot of Alexander Grillon’s hotel in Albemarle Street. The Coburg was created out of two houses owned by the Duke of Westminster.

In 1892, the owners of The Coburg – Lewis Isaacs and H L Florence – embarked upon a complete rebuild of the hotel and in 1897 it reopened with a 90-year lease on the building signed by Sir John Blundell Maple, of a famous furniture making family.

The new premises was renamed The Connaught during World War I amid anti-German sentiment. The new moniker was a reference to the seventh child of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.

Frequented by the gentry between the wars thanks to its handy position between Buckingham Palace and Harley Street, during World War II the hotel served as home to French President General Charles de Gaulle.

In the post war years, the hotel soon established a reputation for fine food and drink thanks in part to the opening, in 1955, of The Grill Room. This was only enhanced with the arrival of Michel Bourdin as head chef in 1975 – a position he held for 26 years.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, opened the hotel’s new kitchens in 1992 and 10 years later Angela Harnett’s Menu at The Connaught opened, winning a Michelin star in 2004 (it closed in 2007).

In the mid 2000s, the Grade II-listed hotel underwent a major £70 million restoration and refurbishment with new additions including a new wing, the Aman Spa and a Japanese garden. In 2008, French chef Hélène Darroz opened a restaurant at the hotel and the following year, in 2009, a new art deco ballroom designed by Guy Oliver – Mayfair’s first in more than 80 years – opened its doors.

Most recently, in 2017, New York-based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened a new restaurant at the Connaught. Other newer additions include Tadao Ando’s Silence, a water feature installed outside the main entrance in 2011.

With around 120 rooms and suites (not to mention the world-famous Connaught Bar), the hotel, which had been acquired by the Savoy Group in the 1950s, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group along with Claridge’s.

Famous names which have been recently associated with the hotel include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, of course, Ralph Lauren, who was so enamoured of the hotel’s famous staircase that he had a replica made for his Madison Avenue store in New York.

For more, see www.the-connaught.co.uk.

PICTURE: Via Google Street View.

 

This five star luxury Mayfair hotel opened in 1931 and quickly established a reputation for luxuriousness.

Located at 35 Park Lane on the site of what was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Dorchester (and later a mansion built for millionaire RS Holford), the hotel was the dream of Sir Robert McAlpine who bought the site in partnership with Gordon Hotels in 1929 for £500,000 and vowed to create a luxury hotel that would “rank as the finest in Europe”.

Engineer Sir Owen Williams initially oversaw the building’s design but a falling out saw architect William Curtis Green take over the project (meaning while the structural frame was Sir Owen’s work, the elevations are largely the work of Green). A quarter of the building was constructed underground.

When the 10 storey modernistic building was opened on 18th April, 1931, by Lady Violet Astor, it featured luxurious rooms and suites (with, apparently, the deepest baths of any hotel in London), a ballroom built to accommodate 1,000, an Oriental Restaurant and, of course, the Dorchester Bar (it was here the ‘Dorchester of London’ cocktail was invented).

The Dorchester survived World War II with only minor damage (its basement served as an air-raid shelter). In fact, during World War II, such was the reputation of its reinforced concrete structure, that UK Cabinet members including Lord Halifax stayed here while US General Dwight D Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his suite – now the Eisenhower Suite – during World War II.

In the 1950s, stage set designer Oliver Messel revamped various aspects of the hotel including designing some suites in an extension in Deanery Street (the Oliver Messel Suite is named for him).

The hotel has hosted its share of the rich and famous – Prince Philip hosted his bachelor party in the hotel’s Park Suite on the eve of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (the Queen, meanwhile, had dined there the day before the engagement was announced), and actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used the hotel as something of a “second home”.

Other notable figures who have stayed at the hotel include writers Cecil Day-Lewis and Somerset Maugham, painter Sir Alfred Munnings, director Alfred Hitchcock and film stars Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye and James Mason as well as Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman.

The Dorchester was listed as a Grade II building in 1981 and, having been sold by the McAlpine family to a consortium headed by the Sultan of Brunei in the mid-1970s, it was purchased outright by the Sultan of Brunei in the Eighties (and later transferred ownership to the Brunei Investment Agency).

The hotel was completely renovated between 1988 and 1990 and was again refurbished in 2002.

Facilities today at the hotel – alongside the 250 rooms and suites – include numerous restaurants and bars such as the three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, China Tang, The Spatisserie and The Grill at the Dorchester, as well as The Bar at the Dorchester and The Promenade where afternoon tea is served. There’s also a spa.

Today The Dorchester is the flagship of the Dorchester Collection of hotels which also includes 45 Park Lane, Cowarth Park in Ascot, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hotel Bel-Air in LA, the Hotel Eden in Rome, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.

Out the front of the hotel is a London Plane tree which was named one of the “great trees of London” in 1997.

For more, see https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/.

PICTURE: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || (licensed under CC BY 2.0/image cropped)


Built on the site of what was Grosvenor House in Park Lane – London residence of the Dukes of Westminster, the Grosvenor House Hotel opened in 1929 but wasn’t completed until the 1950s.

The Mayfair hotel was conceived and constructed on the orders of commercial speculator Albert Octavius Edwards and was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie with luxury in mind (Sir Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the external elevations).

Originally designed as two apartment blocks, it was apparently only when the first block was completed that it was decided the second north block would be a hotel. It opened on 14th May, 1929, with an event described as “outstanding”.

Along with some 472 rooms – it was the first hotel in London to feature en suite bathrooms which came with running ice-cold water in each, its facilities included The Great Room, originally an ice-skating rink where then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) learned to ice skate which Edwards decided in the 1930s to convert into one of the largest banqueting spaces in Europe.

It was subsequently the scene of many awards evening and charity events including Queen Charlotte’s Ball as well as BBC broadcasts (the Beatles are among those who have performed there). The hotel was also the first in London to have a swimming pool.

The hotel, which only suffered minor damager during the Blitz, saw service during World War II. The Great Room was initially home to the Officers’ Sunday Club and later as one of the largest US officers’ mess. During the war, the premises hosted everyone from Charles de Gaulle and King Haakon of Norway as well as US generals Dwight D Eisenhower and George S Paton.

The hotel actually has strong American connections from the get go – American methods were used during construction to speed things along – and its restaurant was noted for swerving American-style food. Among other Americans who have stayed there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Orson Welles, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Madeline Albright.

The actual construction of the hotel continued into the 1950s when permission was given to demolish a house at 35 Park Street (located next door to the hotel) following the death of its owner – Bruno, Baron Schroder, and a 92 bedroom extension to the hotel was built. It was officially opened by Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1957.

The hotel, which was acquired by Trust Houses in 1963, underwent several changes of ownership in more recent years and following an extensive renovation in the Noughties, it reopened in September, 2008 as a JW Marriott hotel.

It was reportedly announced late last year that Qatari-owned Katara Hospitality was buying the hotel from Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which has owned the hotel since 2010, for an undisclosed sum.

For more, see www.LondonGrosvenorHouse.co.uk.

PICTURES: Park Lane facades and entrance in Park Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

A small air raid shelter designed for people to erect on their properties in preparation for the expected bombing campaigns of World War II, the first of London’s ‘Anderson’ shelters were rolled out 80 years ago in a backyard garden of a house in Islington on 25th February, 1939.

The shelter’s name comes from Sir John Anderson, Lord Privy Seal and the man tasked with the job of overseeing air-raid preparations across the country. As part of that job, he commissioned engineers to come up with an easy-to-construct, affordable shelter that could be used by the population at large.

The resulting arched-roofed structures, designed to be flexible and absorb the impact when bombs hit, were made from six curved sheets of corrugated steel or iron and, at six feet tall, 6.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide, could house a family of six. They were designed to be buried under four feet of earth in backyards and the roof covered with a minimum of 15 inches of soil.

The shelters were given out for free to lower income families but those with the means had to buy them for £7. Some chose to incorporate them into their gardens and grew vegetables and plants on top and some decorated them – there were even competitions held for the best looking.

By the time bombs started hitting London in the Blitz, more than 1.5 million of the shelters had been built (and a further 2.1 million were erected as the war raged).

It was expected that families would use them every night but the shelters were found to be cold and damp and often flooded which meant many people only used them when air raid sirens sounded (and some not even then – one 1940 survey apparently found only 27 per cent of Londoners used them).

After the war, most were scrapped for the metal but some of the Anderson shelters were repurposed as garden sheds. A small number of them survive across London.

PICTURE: An intact Anderson shelter sits amid devastation in Poplar caused after a land mine fell a few yards away in in 1941. The three people inside were not hurt. Via Imperial War Museum (© IWM (D 5949))

Another of the opulent Victorian hotels built at London’s railway termini, the Midland Grand Hotel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in an ornate High Gothic style.

Scott’s design for the new hotel – which was to be built adjoining the railway station and would form its southern facade on Euston Road – was selected over 10 other submissions to win an 1865 competition run by the Midland Railway Company.

Scott was apparently reluctantly involved – he only entered the competition after pressure from one of the company’s directors despite apparently previously refusing to get involved with the project prior to that.

His expensive – and expansive – design (apparently resembling his rejected plans for government offices in Whitehall) included an 82 metre high clock tower at the east end of the more than 170 metre long facade and a 76 metre high tower at the west end (it also originally had an extra floor that wasn’t included in the final building).

The luxurious property – considered from the outset one of London’s best hotels, it cost whopping £438,000 – featured some 300 bedrooms, a grand double staircase, curved dining room and mod-cons like water-driven lifts (it was the first private building to boost these and one remained in place until 1958), an electric bell calling system and flushing toilets.

Staff communicated via a system of speaking tubes and wary of fires after the Palace of Westminster burned down, a “fireproof floor”. The property also boasted the first ladies’ smoking room in London in 1873 and, in 1899, the first revolving door in Britain was installed at the entrance.

Decorative details in the best guest rooms, meanwhile, included Axminster carpets, carved marble fireplaces, 18 foot high ceilings, and vast windows. En suite bathrooms, however, were not included.

The hotel’s east wing opened on 5th May, 1873, but it wasn’t completed until spring of 1876. One Herr Etzesberger, formerly of the Victorian Hotel in Venice, was apparently appointed general manager.

Guests included music hall singer and comedian Marie Lloyd, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemists fame), railroad and shipping entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Pullman (of the Pullman sleeping car fame).

The hotel was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1922. It closed in 1935 thanks to its now outdated and expensive-to-maintain facilities and, despite innovations like a Moroccan coffee house and in-house orchestra.

Renamed St Pancras Chambers, the building was subsequently used as railway company offices. It survived the Blitz and attempts to have it demolished thanks to a high profile campaign led by poet Sir John Betjeman, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner and the Victorian Society and in 1967 the hotel and St Pancras station were given Grade I-listed status.

British Rail continued using it as offices but in the 1980s the building was deemed unsafe and closed. It was restored in the 1990s and in 2004, permission was given for it to be redeveloped into a new hotel – the same period during which the station was being redeveloped into one of the largest rail termini in Europe in order to accommodate cross-channel trains.

This project saw the main public rooms of the old Midland Grand Hotel kept and restored as well as some bedrooms while the former driveway for taxes was converted into the new lobby and a new bedroom wing constructed. The upper floors of the original building, meanwhile, were converted into 68 apartments.

The five star, 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel opened on 14th March, 2011, to guests but the formal opening took place on 5th May that year – exactly 138 days after it first opened its doors.

Facilities at the property today, part of the Marriott group, include The Chambers Club, The Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, MI + ME, The Marcus Wareing-designed Gilbert Scott Restaurant, the Hansom Lounge – where afternoon tea is served, and George’s Bar. There’s also a spa and leisure club and pool and meeting facilities.

The premises has appeared in films including the The Secret GardenRichard III, Batman Begins, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It also served as the backdrop for the Spice Girls video clip, Wannabee.

For more, see www.stpancraslondon.com.

PICTURE: Top – LepoRello (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0);  Right – David Adams; Below – Jwslubbock (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Located just to the north of the City, The Wenlock Arms takes its name from the former Wenlock Brewery (the name was also given to the nearby Wenlock Basin which runs off Regent’s Canal).

Located at 26 Wenlock Road in Hoxton, the pub is said to have opened in 1836 as a tap for the nearby brewery and went on to become a rare survivor of the Blitz (for the area in which it’s located).

The pub has an interesting recent history – it was successfully saved from demolition several years ago following a campaign from locals and is now a protected building. Having undergone a bit of a spruce up since, it is highly regarded for both its ales and its live music.

It also featured as a location in the 2013 film, The World’s End, starring Simon Pegg.

For more, see http://wenlockarms.com.

PICTURE: Marcuswenlock (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

Following their sojourn at Lake Geneva where, in September, 1816, Mary Shelley (then Godwin) first started writing Frankenstein, Shelley and her lover – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – returned to England and then to London where on 30th December, 1816, they were married at St Mildred’s Church, Bread Street.

The marriage followed the suicide of Percy Shelley’s wife, Harriet, who was found drowned in the Serpentine in Hyde Park on 10th December that year. Harriet’s family had apparently resisted the poet taking custody of the couple’s two children and it has been reported that Percy was advised by lawyers that marrying Mary, pregnant to him again at this stage, would improve his chances of his winning custody of them.

Mary’s father William Godwin and step-mother Mary Jane Claremont Godwin attended the wedding and the rift which had divided the family due to the couple’s earlier elopement was apparently at least partly mended as a result. Others in attendance were the publisher and poet Leigh Hunt.

The church in which they were married once stood on the east side of the south end of Bread Street in the City of London (and is not to be confused with the Church of St Mildred, Poultry, which once stood near Mansion House).

Originally dating at least as far back as the early 13th century, it had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren in the years following.

In good condition and retaining many of Wren’s original fittings into the 20th century, the building was sadly destroyed by bombing in 1941 (and the parish subsequently united with that of St Mary le Bow). The site is now covered by the Grade II-listed Seventies office building, 30 Cannon Street.

A memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip, which now stands just off New Change, was once located in this church.

PICTURE: Interior of St Mildred, Bread Street from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839). (Via Wikipedia)

Video games – their design and use both in terms of gaming but also in pushing boundaries – are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the V&A this Saturday. Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt will provide rare glimpses into the creative process behind games like The Last of Us, Journey and Kentucky Route Zero through original prototypes, early character designs and notebooks as well as cultural inspirational material ranging from a Magritte painting to a viral cat video. The display also features large scale, interactive and immersive multimedia installations featuring games like Minecraft and League of Legends, and explore how major technological advancements have transformed the way games are designed, discussed and played. Runs in Room 39 and North Court until 24th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see vam.ac.uk/videogames. PICTURE: V&A.

The Natural History Museum is celebrating Roald Dahl Day (13th September) with a James and the Giant Peach weekend. The South Kensington museum will this weekend offer a range of James and the Giant Peach-inspired family-friendly events and activities including the chance to see insects up close in the Darwin Centre and the Wildlife Garden as well as specimens in the Attenborough Studio. There’s also the chance to take in a ‘Whizzbanging Words’ session with a team from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, and music from the three-piece band, Roald Dahl’s Giant Bugs. Runs from 11am to 4.50pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free (but some events are ticketed – check website for details). For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/events/james-and-the-giant-weekend.html

An exhibition revealing some of the historical artefacts found by some of London’s most prolific Mudlarks along the banks of the River Thames opens on Tuesday as part of Totally Thames. Hannah Smiles has been taking the pictures over the past year and they capture everything from Tudor-era pins to World War II shells, medieval pottery, human teeth and even messages in bottles. The photographs and artefacts themselves both form part of the display. A series of talks by Mudlarks accompanies the free display. It can be viewed at the Art Hub Studios, 5-9 Creekside, in Deptford until 16th September. For more information, head to www.totallythames.org.

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

Located in Gordon Square Gardens in King’s Cross, this bust commemorates British agent Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), who was executed during World War II.

Khan, who was of Indian descent (in fact, a direct descendent of Tipu Sultan of Mysore), had escaped to England from her home in Paris after the fall of France during World War II. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November, 1940, and in 1942 was recruited to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a radio operator.

In June, 1943, she became the first female radio operator to be flown into occupied France. There she worked for the “Prosper” resistance network under the code name Madeleine but in October she was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo.

Sent to Germany the following month, she was held in prison before, in September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau concentration camp where they were shot on the 13th of that month. Her last word was said to have been “Liberte”.

Khan, dubbed the “Spy Princess” by her biographer, was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

The bust of her in Gordon Square Gardens was unveiled by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, on 8th November, 2012. A message from her brother Hidayat Inayat-Khan was read out at the unveiling.

The bust is believed to be the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the UK. The work of Karen Newman, it was commissioned by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust.

Various inscriptions on the bust plinth provide biographical details and also record that Noor lived nearby and “spent some quite time in this garden”.

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This rather large fountain once stood in Mayfair as a tribute to literary greats Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Designed by Thomas Thorneycroft (and apparently funded from wealth of a lady who died intestate but who had apparently always advocated for the location of a fountain on the site), the fountain stood on the centre of what is now a roundabout at the intersection of Old Park Lane and Hamilton Place.

Unveiled in July, 1875, it featured the three poets standing on various sides of a central pillar (Shakespeare taking pride of place looking towards Hyde Park). Below them sat three muses and above them, on top of a central column, stood a figure representing fame, blowing a trumpet.

The fountain,  and survived until World War II during which it sustained damaged. It was dismantled in 1948 and only the figure of ‘Fame’ is believed to have survived.

 

Opened in 1891 (albeit under a different name), this Soho institution was apparently founded by a German couple named Schmitt who ran it until the outbreak of World War I.

It was then sold to Belgian chef Victor Berlemont and it’s at this point that some say the name, previously said to have been the Wine House, was changed to the York Minister (although there seems to be a bit of confusion about when the name changed).

Its French associations, meanwhile. were given a big boost during World War II when General Charles de Gaulle and Free French Army officers, in London following the fall of France, made it their HQ. In fact, some say that it was in this pub that de Gaulle wrote his famous speech against the Vichy settlement.

While it was often informally called the “French pub” thereafter, the name didn’t officially change until it reopened after a fire in 1984.

M Berlemont’s son Gaston, meanwhile, had succeeded his father in running the pub many years earlier – there’s a story that when he walked into the pub after World War II, still dressed in his uniform, his father handed over the keys and left him to it. A well-loved Soho identity, the moustachioed Gaston remained at the helm until 1989 when the pub passed into the hands of some French House regulars.

Located at 49 Dean Street, The French House is known for its Bohemian links, particularly with the literary and artistic set. Dylan Thomas is said to have accidentally left his handwritten manuscript Under Milk Wood here while others associated with the pub include Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan, artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, writer John Mortimer (of Rumpole fame) and actor Tom Baker (of Dr Who fame).

For more, see www.frenchhousesoho.com.

PICTURE: Tom (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

We finish our series on subterranean London with a visit to the Chislehurst Caves in the outer south-east.

The ‘caves’, located in Chislehurst in Kent, are actually 22 miles of man-made tunnels which were dug out in the search for chalk – used in lime-burning and brick-making – as well as, in later years, flint for use in tinder boxes and flintlock guns.

There’s considerable debate over the age of the caves but it’s claimed the earliest mention of the complex apparently dates back to the 13th century and they are believed to have been last worked in the 1830s. The three main sections of the caves are named after the Druids, Romans and Saxons in a reference to who some believed helped to create them.

They were first opened to the public at the turn of the 20th century and have since been used for munitions storage (during World War I, to cater for overflow from the Woolwich Arsenal), mushroom growing, and, during World War II provided accommodations for some 15,000 people as one of the largest deep air-raid shelters in the country.

They also hosted music events in the 1960s when the likes of David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd were among those who performed there and have appeared in several episodes of Dr Who

These days the caves are visited only on lamplit, 45 minute guided tours, which take in about a mile of the tunnels.

WHERE: Chislehurst Caves, Caveside Close, Old Hill, Chislehurst, Kent (nearest railway station is at Chislehurst); WHEN: 10am to 4pm everyday during school holidays and Wednesday to Sunday outside those periods; COST: £6 an adult/£4 seniors and children aged three to 15 (children under three free); WEBSITE: chislehurst-caves.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – the entrance; Below – a reconstruction of the church, part of the air-raid shelter (both images – David Edwards, licensed under CC BY -NC-ND 2.0)

Works including a recently acquired portrait of Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) which was painted on the Western Front during World War I, a self-portrait in stained glass of artist and actor Pauline Boty (pictured), and three life-sized World War I portraits of military officers which have been reunited for the first time in decades, are among highlights of the National Portrait Gallery’s new early 20th century galleries. Four new rooms – split into the ‘Early 20th Century’, ‘The Great War’, ‘The Interwar Years’, and the ‘Second World War and Post-War Recovery’ – hold 121 portraits which have been hung chronologically and feature everyone from Virginia Woolf to Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Christabel Pankhurst to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Along with Frank O Salisbury’s oil sketch of Prince Edward, Boty’s stained glass portrait (the gallery’s first), and the three group portraits from World War I,  highlights of the gallery include a 1913 portrait of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace by Sir John Lavery, a 1931 portrait of Aldous Huxley by Vanessa Bell and a portrait of Roald Dahl in RAF uniform by Matthew Smith. Admission to the galleries is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

The “most comprehensive” exhibition of the work of French artist Amedeo Modigliani opens at the Tate Modern today. Modigliani features 100 works including portraits, some of his lesser known sculptures and 10 of his controversial nude paintings, the largest group of such ever shown in the UK. The exhibition re-evaluates Modigliani’s work and experimentation and includes well known and lesser known works with more than 40 of them never seen in the UK before. The works on show include Bust of a Young Woman (1908), Jean Cocteau (1916), and Boy with a Blue Jacket (1919). Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Former iconic Carnaby Street shop Lord John has been honoured with a City of Wesminster Green Plaque. Lord John, which dressed everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Beatles and The Kinks, was opened by brothers Warren, David and Harold Gold in 1964. The plaque can be seen at 43 Carnaby Street.

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Located on (or should that be under?) Chancery Lane in the City of London, the subterranean complex of underground chambers now known the London Silver Vaults was initially opened by the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit Co in 1876.

Originally intended to provide strong rooms for Londoners to store their valuables – things like jewellery, household silver and important documents, the vaults also proved popular with businesses, such as jewellers and diamond and silver dealers from nearby Hatton Garden, both for storage and eventually for selling directly out of.

The building above was bomb damaged during World War II and when it was rebuilt, the vaults  – at the request of the silver dealers who had previously rented space there – were reconfigured as retail units and re-opened in its current form in 1953.

Featuring 3.9 foot (1.2 metre) thick walls, the vaults proved popular among US servicemen who purchased silver to take home to their families, and film and music stars as well as royalty have all apparently shopped here.

There are just under 30 specialist shops in the complex, claimed to be home to the largest collection of antique silver in the world including everything from cutlery to jewellery and candlesticks. Many of the businesses housed within have been passed down within families.

And, according to the management, the vaults have never been burgled.

WHERE: London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane (nearest Tube is Chancery Lane); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday/0am to 1pm Saturday; COST: free; WEBSITE: silvervaultslondon.com

PICTURES: Matt Brown under license CC BY 2.0.




An institution linking the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich underneath the Thames for more than a century, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was built to provide an alternative to a sometimes unreliable ferry service – thanks to weather – and was principally aimed at workers making their way from their homes in London’s south to docks and shipyards.

It was one of two tunnel crossings – the other being at Woolwich – which were lobbied for by Will Crooks, chair of the LCC’s bridges committee and later MP for Woolwich.

Designed by engineer Sir Alexander Binnie for the London County Council, the project – which reportedly cost some £127,000 – commenced in June, 1899, with the tunnel completed and opened, with very little fanfare (there was apparently no opening ceremony) on 4th August, 1902.

The design features a glass-topped dome at either end with steps spiralling downward (reported as 87 steps to the north and 100 to the south). Lifts were installed in 1904 and then upgraded in the 1990s and more recently in 2012. The tunnel itself. which is positioned at a depth of about 50 feet, is made of cast-iron and lined with 200,000 glazed white tiles. It measures 1,215 feet long with an internal diameter of nine feet.

The northern end of the tunnel was damaged by bombs during World War II and repairs include  a thick steel and concrete lining that substantially reduce the interior size of the tunnel for a short distance.

The tunnel, which has its own friends group, is classed as a public highway and so as a matter of law is kept open 24 hours a day. Its depth means it remains a cool place even on a hot day.

WHERE: Greenwich Foot Tunnel (nearest DLR (northern end) is Island Gardens and (southern end) is Cutty Sark; WHEN: Always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/info/200102/walking/693/foot_tunnels.

PICTURES: Top – James Stringer under licence CC BY-NC 2.0; and below – Neil Turner under licence CC BY-SA 2.0