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.

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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

• An new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service opens at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich on Saturday. The free display explores the lives and experiences of the women who served and trained at Greenwich, spanning the period from World War I to the late 1970s. As well as covering the role of the WRNS during the first and second World Wars, the exhibition also looks at the post war experiences of the Wrens and features 16 new interviews and rarely seen photographs which bring to life this chapter in the history of the Old Royal Naval College. The exhibition can be seen until 3rd December. Entry is free. For more, www.ornc.org/wrns. PICTURE: Newly commissioned WRNS officers at Greenwich, 1969. Courtesy Old Royal Naval College.

An English Heritage blue plaque commemorating Stella Reading, founder of the Women’s Voluntary Services, was unveiled at the organisation’s former London headquarters this week. Lady Reading (1894-1971) founded the “army that Hitler forgot” from a single room in the building in 1938 with the so-called ‘ladies in green’ going on to serve in a range of roles – from looking after child evacuees and collecting aluminium for aircraft to serving thousands of cups of tea from static and mobile canteens. The plaque at 41 Tothill Street in Westminster was unveiled by actress and Royal Voluntary Service ambassador Dame Patricia Routledge. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A year-long season of Korean art in the UK is being launched with a free festival at Olympia London this Saturday. The family-friendly London Korean Festival features food tastings, Korean drumming, martial arts exhibitions, traditional craft workshops and a sneak peak at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang using the latest VR technology. There’s also a chance for budding K-Pop stars to audition for the K-Pop World Festival and a ticketed evening concert at 7pm featuring four K-pop sensations. The free daytime festival runs from 11am to 5.30pm. For more information, visit www.kccuk.org.uk. Tickets for the K-Pop concert can be obtained at londonkoreanfestival.co.uk.

On Now: Picturing Hetty Feather. This exhibition at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury explores the depiction of the Foundling Hospital through the life of the fictitious Victorian foundling Hetty Feather. Feather first came to life in 2008 and Dame Jacqueline Wilson has since gone on to write four more books about the spirited character, the first two of which feature the Foundling Hospital. The popularity of the books, which have sold millions of copies, has resulted in a stage show and TV series. This exhibition, the first devoted to Hetty Feather and the Foundling Hospital, explores the ways in which curators, writers, directors and designers have used historical evidence (and gaps in it) to bring the 19th century hospital to life. Objects on show include props and original costumes from the CBBC TV series as well as treasures from the Foundling Hospital Collection and the exhibition also includes immersive experiences such as the chance for visitors to try on costumes, try their hand at script writing and discover their own ‘picturing’ abilities (a reference to the imaginative story-telling Hetty employs to help her cope with life’s challenges). Runs until 3rd September. Admission charge applies. For more (including information on associated events), see foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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

Another of London’s protected views, though perhaps lesser known, is the panoramic vista from the top of Point Hill in Blackheath towards the City.

The view from a small park known as The Point (reached via Point Hill, just to the west of Blackheath) takes in modern City skyscrapers as well as Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and even the dome of the Old Bailey.

While there is a danger the growth of plants along the brow of the hill can partially block the view (which stretches as far as Essex), it remains a splendid site from which to view the city and no doubt was a vantage point for those, such as the leaders of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, who historically gathered on Blackheath before marching to London.

The park, meanwhile, is host to a memorial stone erected to mark the site where an Australian-born RAF pilot, Flight Lieutenant Richard Carew Reynell, fell to his death on 7th September, 1940, after his Hurricane fighter was shot down over Blackheath on the first day of the Blitz.

PICTURE: © Mike Mojopin/Flickr


Located in Old Palace Yard outside the Palace of Westminster, this Grade II-listed equestrian statue of 12th century crusader-monarch King Richard I, known as the “Lionheart” or Coeur de Lion, is the work of 19th century sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti. 

The nine metre high statue was originally exhibited as a clay work at the Great Exhibition of 1851 – it was located outside the west entrance of the Crystal Palace – and, despite the tail falling off soon after it was display, it was well enough received by the crowds attending the exhibition (as well as the critics) that a public subscription was raised to cast the statue in bronze. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among those who subscribed.

It was initially proposed that the statue be placed on the site of the Crystal Palace as a memorial to the exhibition (along with a statue of Prince Albert), but this plan was put aside and, after numerous other sites were considered, the current location was settled on.

The statue was erected on the site, facing south, in 1860, although it wasn’t completed with the addition of two bronze bas relief panels until 1867. These depict Richard on his death bed pardoning Bertran de Born, the archer whose arrow caused his death, and Richard fighting Saracens at Ascalon during his crusade in the Holy Land. Two other proposed panels were never made.

The statue was peppered with shrapnel when a bomb landed only a few metres away in 1940 during the Blitz, leaving Richard’s sword bent and damaging the tail and granite pedestal. The sword was fixed soon after. Further conservation works were carried out in 2009.

Italian-born Marochetti had worked in Paris as a sculptor before following King Louis-Philippe to London after the revolution of 1848 and largely remained in the city until his death in 1867. He was created a baron by the King of Sardinia.

His statue of Richard is one of few artworks created by non-British artists in the Parliamentary estate and while Marochetti had plans to create another equestrian statue, this one of Edward, the Black Prince, to face his statue of Richard across the entrance to the House of Lords, it never eventuated. Plans to install the second statue are, however, once more being talked about.

PICTURES: Above – The statue in Old Palace Yard (David Adams); Below – Detail of the panel depicting the death of the king (Prioryman/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Described by the Theatres Trust as a “key building” in music hall history, the Canterbury Music Hall was first erected in Westminster Bridge Road in 1852 on the site of an old skittles alley which had been attached to the Canterbury Tavern.

It was the tavern owner, Charles Morton, who erected the building which he apparently paid for out of the profits he made on selling drink while offering the entertainment for free.

Morton built upon the “song and supper room” tradition by employing a resident group of singers and such was its popularity that only a couple of years after the doors to the first hall opened, Morton was able to build a second, much larger music hall on the same site complete with a grand staircase, supper room and art gallery as well as seating for some 1,500 people.

Among stars to perform there was French acrobat Charles Blondin, who apparently made his way across the hall on a tightrope tied between the balconies.

In 1867 William Holland took a lease from Morton and the programmes then began to move away from the light music and ballads it was known for toward a more varied program with comedy prevailing. The art gallery was converted into a bar and a proscenium stage may have been added at this time.

RE Villiers took over management in 1876 and the building was again largely rebuilt – this time as a three tier theatre with a sliding roof. The venue hosted regular ballet performances and these proved popular with royalty – the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was said to be a regular patron. The interior was again remodelled, this time with an Indian theme, in 1890.

The decline of the popularity of music halls saw it start to show films from 1914 and eventually to become a dedicated cinema. It survived until it was destroyed during a World War II bombing raid in 1942.

PICTURE: A print showing the hall after its 1856 rebuild (via Wikipedia)

 

 

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

the-albert2This pub’s name isn’t too mysterious – it is, of course, named after Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, and given the date on which the building that now occupies the site was built – between 1862 and 1867, nor is the motivation to name it so – Prince Albert died on 14th December, 1861, leaving a bereft queen and a nation in mourning.

There had been a pub on this site at 52 Victoria Street prior to the current building – it was called The Blue Coat Boy and named after the nearby Blue Coat school – but in the mid-19th century the Artillery Brewery, which was located next door, bought the premises and renamed it.

The four storey building, which is now Grade II-listed (and dwarfed by the glass towers surrounding it), survived the Blitz and is the only building remaining from the first phase of the development of Victoria Street (and redevelopment of the area which had been a slum known as Devil’s Acre), only a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

Inside, the Victorian features include ornate ceilings and hand-etched frosted windows and wrought iron balconies. Also of note is the Prime Minister’s gallery – including some who were patrons here – as well as memorabilia including a House of Commons Division Bell and one of Queen Victoria’s napkins.

For more, see www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/albert-victoria/c6737/.

PICTURE: Patche99z/Wikimedia

A fixture of London’s Christmas festivities since 1947, the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is given annually to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo as gift thanking them for their support of Norway during World War II.

christmas-treeThis included hosting the Norwegian Government-in-exile and the Royal Family during the Nazi occupation of the country between 1940 and 1945.

The tree is harvested from forests near the Norwegian capital and the selection process for the giant, known by forestry workers as the “Queen of the Forest”, starts in May.

The tree is typically a Norway spruce aged somewhere between 50 and 60 years and stands at least 20 metres high. This year’s tree – the 70th – is said to be 116-years-old, stands 22 metres tall and weighs

In keeping with tradition, it was cut down on 16th November in a special ceremony attended by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Steve Summers, along with various local school children so it can shipped to Britain ready in time for its unveiling at the start of December.

The tree is adorned with lights – in more recent years these are energy efficient light bulbs – in Norwegian style and these are turned on at a special ceremony on the first Thursday in December. The tree remains on display until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas when it is taken down and recycled as mulch.

The tree now has its own Twitter account.

hms-belfast

The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.

V1-flying-bombNot all of the plaques in the English Heritage blue plaques scheme commemorate people, some also commemorate places and events – the saddest of which is no doubt the landing of the first deadly V1 flying bomb on London during World War II.

Located in Bow in the East End is a plaque commemorating the site where the first flying bomb fell on London on 13th June, 1944, a week after D-Day and several months since the last bombs had fallen on London in what was known as the “mini-blitz”.

Carrying some 850 kilograms of high explosive, the unmanned, fast-moving bomb dived to the ground at about 4.25am on the morning of the 13th, badly damaging the railway bridge and track, destroying houses and, sadly, killing six people.

It was to be the start of a new bombing offensive which would eventually see around 2,500 of the V1 flying bombs reach London between June, 1944, and March, 1945.

They were responsible for killing more than 6,000 people and injuring almost 18,000 and were followed by the even more advanced V2 long range rockets – the world’s first ballistic missiles – in September, 1944. These were responsible for another 2,754 deaths in London before the war’s end.

The current plaque on the railway bridge in Grove Road was erected in 1998 by English Heritage and replaced one which was erected by the Greater London Council in 1985 and subsequently stolen.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0

FirefightersIt was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).

Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.

The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.

The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).

Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).

By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.

Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.

Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.

For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.

Cavell

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.
Szabo

The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).

Blitz-memorialTaking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.

The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.

One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when  incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.

The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.

The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.

It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.

Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.

Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in  Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.

As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.

There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.

We hit the 20th century with this London ‘battle’, a confrontation in Stepney between police and a range of anti-fascist and fascist forces in the lead-up to World War II.

Battle-of-Cable-Street-red-plaqueThe ‘battle’ took place on a Sunday – 4th October, 1936 – following a summer of anti-Semitic violence and was sparked by a decision by the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley , to march through the East End, then the heartland of London’s Jewish community.

Incensed at the plans (and faced with government inaction despite calls for the march to be called off), anti-fascist protestors – which included large numbers of Jewish and Irish people as well as trade unionists, communists, socialists, anarchists and local residents – gathered initially at Gardiner’s Corner (named for a department store which once on the site at the junction of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Road) to prevent the march.

The protestors were chanting and carrying banners which read “No Parasan” (“They shall not pass”, a slogan taken from anti-fascist forces who used it during the Spanish Civil War).

Estimates as to how many people turned out in protest vary widely – from 100,000 people up to as many as 250,000 or even 500,000 – but it’s clear that whatever the actual number, the crowd was huge and vastly outnumbered the up to 3,000 fascists – known as Blackshirts – who turned up to march and the 10,000 Metropolitan Police officers, some of whom were on horseback, sent to prevent the march from being disrupted.

With the path blocked despite police charges into the crowd, Mosley and his Blackshirts were advised by authorities to head south to Cable Street but there they encountered road-blocks made from furniture, paving stones and even apparently overturned lorries which appeared at the street’s west end, around the junction with Christian Street.

Police again attempted to clear the road but were blocked by the makeshift barricades and a wall of protestors while residents in houses lining the streets threw rubbish and even the contents of chamber pots at them. Police responded by sending in squads of men to snatch the ringleaders of the protests; protestors responded by ‘kidnapping’ some police officers.

Faced with continuing violence, Mosley was forced to abandon the march and the BUF were dispersed back through the City of London. The protestors meanwhile were said to have turned the event into a giant street party in celebration of their victory.

More than 100 people were said to have been injured in the violence and some 150 of the demonstrators were arrested. Most of the charges were of a minor nature but some of the ringleaders were given up to three year terms of imprisonment.

A large mural depicting the battle was painted on the side of St George’s Town Hall in Cable Street in the 1980s and there’s also a red plaque in nearby Dock Street (pictured) commemorating the incident.

Aside from a victory in itself, the battle was the catalyst for the passing of the Public Order Act of 1936 which meant the organisers of marches would henceforth have to seek permission of the police before holding them. It also banned demonstrators from marching in uniform.

PICTURED: A plaque commemorating the ‘battle’ in Dock Street which runs off the west end of Cable Street. Via Richard Allen/Wikipedia

Star-clockThe 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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Escher_Hand-with-a-Reflecting-Sphere-1935The 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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This church, which survived until it was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II, isn’t completely lost – its tower still survives in the middle of Wood Street in the City.

St-Alban's-Wood-StreetThe church, one of a number dedicated to St Alban (Britain’s first Christian martyr) in London throughout its history, was medieval in origin although it has been argued its foundation dates back to the 8th century Saxon King Offa of Mercia who is believed to have had a palace here with the chapel on this site (Offa is also credited as the founder of St Alban’s Abbey).

The church had fallen into disrepair by the early 17th century and was demolished and rebuilt in 1630s. It proved unfortunate timing for only 32 years later it was completely destroyed again, this time in the Great Fire of London.

Following the Great Fire, the church, now combined with the parish of St Olave, Silver Street, was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and completed in the mid-1680s.

It was restored in the late 1850s under the eye of Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and the four pinnacles on the tower, which stood on the north side of the church, were replaced later that century.

It survived until World War II when the building was burnt out and partly destroyed on a single night during the Blitz in December, 1940. The remains, with the exception of Wren’s Perpendicular-style tower, were later demolished in the 1950s (by which time the church had been united with the parish of  St Vedast, Foster Lane).

The Grade II*-listed tower was converted into a rather unusual private dwelling in the 1980s.

Tipus_Tent_c_National_Trust_ImagesA spectacular tent used by the Tipu Sultan, ruler of the 18th century Kingdom of Mysore (pictured), is among highlights in an exhibition exploring the “incomparably rich world” of handmade textiles from India which opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. Part of the V&A’s India Festival marking the 25th anniversary of the opening of the museum’s Nehru Gallery, The Fabric of India has exhibits ranging from the earliest known Indian textile fragments (dating from the 3rd century) through to contemporary fashions. Among the around 200 handmade objects – which include everything from ancient ceremonial banners and sacred temple hangings to modern saris and bandanna handkerchiefs – are a Hindu narrative cloth depicting avatars of Vishnu dating from about 1570, an 18th century crucifixion scene made for an Armenian Christian church in south-east India, block-printed ceremonial textiles from Gujarat – made in the 14th century for the Indonesian market, bed-hangings originally belonging to the Austrian Prince Eugene (1663-1736), and a selection of clothing made using Khadi, a cloth which Mahatma Gandhi promoted using in the 1930s when he asked people to make the fabric as a symbol of resistance to colonial rule. Admission charges apply. Runs until 10th January. For more see, www.vam.ac.uk/fabricofindia. PICTURE: © National Trust Images.

Westbury Road in Bounds Green, Haringey, is the subject of a new photographic and art exhibit which opened at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch this week. A Street Seen: The Residents of Westbury Road is a collaborative exhibition featuring the works of photographer Andrew Buurman and artist Gabriela Schutz as they document the homes, gardens and residents of what is described as a “typical London street”. The display includes a six metre long panoramic drawing of Victorian houses by Schutz and a series of photographs depicting residents in their back gardens taken over a two year period by Buurman. Runs until 3rd April. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

One of the founding fathers of sports medicine, Nobel Prize winner AV Hill, has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque unveiled at his former home in Highgate in London’s north last month. Hill, as well as being noted for his work in the field of physiology, was also an independent MP during World War II and a humanitarian who is credited with helping more than 900 academics – including 18 Nobel laureates – escape persecution by the Nazis. He lived at the property at 16 Bishopswood Road for 44 years, between 1923 and 1967, 10 years before his death. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Marylebone2This pocket park is another of those located on the site of a former church – in this case the Marylebone Parish Church which now stands to the north.

The church – the third to serve the parish – was built here in 1740 but was replaced when the current parish church was built between 1813 and 1817.

Wesley-MonumentThe former church didn’t close until 1926, however, continuing use as a parish chapel, and even then wasn’t demolished until 1949  after it was damaged by bombing during World War II.

In 1951, the St Marylebone Society created a Memorial Garden of Rest on the site (also known as the Old Church Garden). It was opened in March, 1952, by Viscount Portman.

The foundations of the former church were marked out in the sunken portion of the garden. The predominantly paved garden also contains numerous gravestones and memorials.

These include that of Methodist movement leader Charles Wesley, erected in 1858 to commemorate his burial in 1788 (pictured right). There’s also a plaque recording notable burials at the church, including the painter George Stubbs (1806), royal apothecary John Allen (1774), architect James Gibbs and bare knuckle boxer James Figg (1734). Other plaques detail some of the church’s history.

Also of note in the garden is a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), named for being the variety upon which Judas hung himself or, alternately, because its fruit pods resemble bags of silver. The current tree replaces an earlier one.

WHERE: Garden of Rest Marylebone, Marylebone High Street (nearest tube stations are St Paul’s and Barbican); WHEN: 7am to dusk; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.myparks.westminster.gov.uk/parks/garden-of-rest-marylebone/.