LondonLife – Record-breaking at Kew…

View over the Palm House at Kew Gardens. PICTURE: Oliver Needham/Unsplash

Kew Gardens was last month recognised as holding the world’s “largest collection of living plants at a single-site botanic garden” by Guinness World Records. The 320 acre site in west London, which is home to 16,900 species of plants from all over the world, is actually no stranger to Guinness World Records. Its plants include the world’s largest waterlily species – Victoria amazonica (found in the Princess of Wales Conservatory), the world’s smallest water lily species – Nymphaea thermarum (also found in the conservatory) and the plant with the world’s tallest bloom – the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) which also holds the record as the world’s smelliest plant. In 2020, Kew was also home to the world’s longest Nepenthes plant trap which measured 43 centimetres from the base to the lid. For more on Kew, head to www.kew.org.

LondonLife – 5,000 haikus take flight…

PICTURE: RBG Kew

One Thousand Springs, an artwork by internationally renowned artist Chiharu Shiota, is the centrepiece of the Japan festival taking place at Kew Gardens in west London. The work features 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public which have been suspended on red threads in the Victorian-era Temperate House. Says Shiota: “The Japanese language was formed by a culture that cherishes the natural world. Many cultural practices like ikebana, bonsai and hanami are based on the contemplation and enjoyment of nature. For One Thousand Springs I chose to focus on the haiku. The traditional haiku mentions one of the seasons and many haikus are based on observations in nature.” The installation can be seen throughout the month-long festival along with horticultural displays including a specially commissioned Chalk Garden, a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees. For more on the festival, including after hours events, see www.kew.org/kew-gardens/whats-on/festival-japan.

This Week in London – Japan at Kew; Young V&A; a Blue Plaque for Diana’s flat; and, a new Lord Mayor of London…

Visitors to Kew Gardens are being invited to immerse themselves in the art, plants and culture of Japan in a month long celebration of the Asian nation. The Japan Festival kicks off this Saturday in Kew’s Temperate House and features at its heart a large-scale artistic installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled One Thousand Springs which is constructed of 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public. There will also be a specially commissioned Chalk Garden – a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees – as well as a display showcasing six different chrysanthemums, Japan’s national flower, and an immersive soundscape by sound artist Yosi Horikawa featuring the natural sounds of the rivers and waterfalls of Kagoshima, atmospheric soundscapes from the Cedar mountains of Gifu and bird calls set across the waves of the Philippine Sea. The Temperate House will also be illuminated for Japan: After hours featuring a varied programme of dance, theatre, and live music performances as well as traditional flower arranging and sake sipping. The festival, supported by Daikin UK, runs to 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Sky Brown from Great Britain during women’s park skateboard at the Olympics at Ariake Urban Park, Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2021. PICTURE: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Thirteen-year-old Olympian Sky Brown’s skateboard, children’s garments created by sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist Bethany Williams, and Open Bionics’ 3D printed prosthetic, The Hero Arm, are among new acquisitions to be displayed at what was the former V&A Museum of Childhood. Now renamed the Young V&A, the Grade II* Bethnal Green institution is undergoing a £13m transformation ahead of reopening in 2023. The new interior fit-out, by firm AOC Architecture, will include three new galleries –  Play, Imagine and Design – as well as interactive collection displays, a suite of dedicated learning workshops, an in-gallery design studio for visitors, and a new café and shop.

• The late Princess Diana has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Kensington. Flat 60, Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, was her home between 1979 and 1981 during her courtship with Prince Charles. She shared it with three friends including Virginia Clarke who was at the unveiling ceremony this week. Diana, who died aged 36 in a Paris car crash in 1997, described her years at the property as “the happiest time of her life”, according to biographer Andrew Morton’s book Diana, In Her Own Words.

Vincent Keaveny was this week elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London. Alderman Keaveny succeeds Lord Mayor William Russell, who served a second year in office after his term was extended to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 pandemic (the last time a Lord Mayor served a second year in office was in 1861 when William Cubitt was re-elected). The annual Lord Mayor’s Show is scheduled for Saturday, 13th November, and will be followed by Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall on 15th November.

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LondonLife – Lost ‘garden snug’ recreated at Red House…

The new garden snug with the Red House in the background. PICTURE: © National Trust/Chris Davies

A lost ‘garden snug’ has been recreated at 19th century designer William Morris’ Arts & Crafts home, Red House, in Bexleyheath. Inspired by the original notes of architect Philip Webb, the design draws on an ordnance survey map from when Morris and his family were residents at the house between 1860-1865 which shows outdoor spaces separated into different ‘rooms’. Photos of the garden from the 1890s were also used to guide the project. The 100 square metre garden is enclosed with traditional hazel and hawthorn and the planting inside its bounds references some iconic Morris & Co designs like ‘Trellis’, ‘Daisy’ and ‘Fruit’. At the centre is a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula) and the garden also features traditional cottage plants like Shasta daisies, columbines, honeysuckle, irises, peonies, jasmine and mock orange. Around the central tree are specially commissioned wooden seats from Scottish craftsman Angus Ross with distinctive two-metre high arches designed to echo the house’s medieval-inspired architecture. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.

The Red House and lawn seen from the south east. PICTURE: © National Trust/Andrew Butler.

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.

Where’s London’s oldest…tree?

The Totteridge Yew in 2016. PICTURE: David Skinner
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

There are a number of ancient trees in London but the oldest is generally believed to be the so-called Totteridge Yew.

Located in the churchyard of St Andrew’s in the village of Totteridge in London’s outer north, this tree was named by the Conservation Foundation, the Ancient Yew Group, and tree officers from Barnet Council in 2008 as possibly the oldest in the city.

It’s estimated the tree – which is on the Great Trees of London list – is some 2000-years-old (some have at it at between 1,000 and 2,000 years-old). It has a 25 foot girth and was a focal point in the area long before the church was built, including for so-called “hundred courts”.

The earliest written mention of this majestic tree reportedly date back to 1677 when Sir John Cullum recorded its girth. But it’s believed that the tree may have been extant as far back as the Roman settlement of Londinium.

Another, possibly apocryphal, story associated with the tree is that of a foundling who was found abandoned under its branches and then brought up by the parish.

This Week in London – New statue of Princess Diana; V&A’s new Design 1900 gallery; a Blue Plaque for Jean Muir; and, police boxes reimagined…

A new statue of the late Princess Diana is being unveiled today at Kensington Palace. The statue will be unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Diana’s former home. The garden – originally created on the orders of King Edward VII in 1908 – has been redesigned by designer Pip Morrison to provide a more reflective setting for the memorial. This included planting more than 4,000 of Diana’s favourite flowers including forget-me-nots and tulips. The statue, which is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, is expected to be unveiled by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, who commissioned it in 2017.

The V&A’s new gallery, Design 1900. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A new permanent gallery has opened at the V&A which explores the role design plays in shaping, and being shaped by, how we live, work, travel and communicate. Design 1900 is housed within the museum’s former 20th Century Gallery and, among the displays are new acquisitions including Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s iconic British road signage system, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book, Nike’s Nigeria football shirt for the 2018 World Cup and a one-of-a-kind desk designed by Future Systems for Condé Nast Chairman Jonathan Newhouse. The display also includes items from the Rapid Response Collecting programme such as 3D-printed door openers, designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the I Believe in Our City bus shelter posters that highlighted increased anti-Asian bias. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Twentieth century dressmaker and fashion designer Jean Muir has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Mayfair address she worked for 30 years. The plaque was unveiled at 22 Bruton Street, the location of the showroom and office she operated out of from 1966 to 1995, by her house model, friend and client Joanna Lumley. Others among Muir’s clientele included actress Patricia Hodge and writer Lady Antonia Fraser. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The City of London Corporation has unveiled the design for new ‘Digital Service Points’ which will reimagine the concept of the traditional police boxes. ‘The London Stones’, the work of architecture and design studio Unknown Works, will include information screens, life saving emergency equipment and serve as hubs for City of London Police officers and community events. Details from buildings, stories and images of the Square Mile will be collected and ‘digitally carved’ into the exterior of the ‘stones’ which will also be home to a vast array of lichen colonies and species expected to evolve in their colour and appearance as they grow.

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This Week in London – Royal gowns; first ‘blossom garden’; and, the brightest colours ever created…

A view of the Royal Style in the Making exhibition. PICTURE © Historic Royal Palaces.

A stunning wedding dress worn by Diana, the Princess of Wales – including its 25 foot long sequin encrusted train – and a rare surviving ‘toile’ – a working pattern – of the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, are among star items on display in a new exhibition in Kensington Palace’s Orangery. Royal Style in the Making features some never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century as well as original sketches, fabric swatches and unseen photographs from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a treasure trove of more than 10,000 items of dress and design history cared for by Historic Royal Palaces. Admission charge applies. The display can be seen until 2nd January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

• The first in a series of ‘blossom gardens’ has been opened by the National Trust in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London’s east. The garden features 33 trees including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple which represent the city’s 32 boroughs and the City of London itself. The garden, which was opened last month by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will be followed by further gardens planted over the next five years across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The brightest colours ever created are dazzling eyes at Kew Gardens. Naturally Brilliant Colour, an exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, explores the origins of colour and vision and showcases how botanical artists have depicted the brightest and most intense colours found in nature. Works by Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) and contemporary artist Julia Trickey are on show as well as the world’s first botanical artwork to accurately reproduce natural structural colour (it features flakes of ‘Pure Structural Colour’ which artificially replicates how microscopic structures within the surface layers of plants and animals reflect sunlight in a specific way to generate bright colours). Runs until 26th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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LondonLife – A facelift for a dinosaur…

Fitting the new jaw to the Grade I-listed Megalosaurus in Crystal Palace Park. PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic England.

The Megalosaurus dinosaur at Crystal Palace Park recently underwent an emergency face-lift to ensure it’s still looking its best for visitors following the lifting of lockdowns. The 167-year-old, Grade I-listed statue is said to be a favourite among the 30 sculptures in the collection at the park. Skilled craftsmen had to make and fit 22 new teeth on the 3.5 metre high and 10 metre long sculpture as well as a new nose and light-weight ‘prosthetic’ jaw. The work – which was supported by a grant from the Culture Recovery Fund (awarded by Historic England), the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs and Bromley Council – was carried out by conservation company Taylor Pearce. It was needed after the jaw on the beast collapsed last May and comes after all 30 of the life-sized sculptures were added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register early last year. First unveiled in 1854 (just 10 years after the term ‘dinosaur’ had been coined), the sculptures were made by renowned artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. For more on the dinosaurs and the 80 hectare park in which they stand, see www.bromley.gov.uk/crystalpalacepark.

The restored Megalosaurus back to all its glory after its recent facelift. PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic England.

10 London hills – 5. Primrose Hill…

View from the top of Primrose Hill. PICTURE: Steve Cadman (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Standing in a park located just to the north of Regent’s Park in the city’s inner north-west, Primrose Hill stands 63 metres above sea level and, like Parliament Hill, provides panoramic views of the city skyline.

The hill, which features one of six protected views in London, was once part of a chase (unenclosed hunting land) owned by King Henry VIII and was Crown property until 1842 when it became part of a public park through an Act of Parliament.

The name has been in use for at least 500 years and is thought to refer to the flowers that grew here profusely (which it means it can’t have been named for Archibald Primrose, Prime Minister between 1894 and 1895).

The hill forms part of one of Mother Shipton’s “prophecies” – she apparently proclaimed that when London surrounded the hill, its streets would run with blood.

It was for a time known as Greenberry Hill after three labourers – Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill – were found guilty of the murder of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (he had heard Titus Oates’ evidence in the so-called Popish Plot). Sir Edmund was found impaled on his own sword on the hill in October, 1678 – convicted of his murder the three men were hanged on its summit in 1679 (they were later exonerated and the death of Sir Edmund remains something of a mystery).

The hill, which has also apparently been known as Battle Hill, was also the location where the poet and antiquarian Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards, on 21st June in 1792.

In 1838, a railway tunnel under the hill was completed by the North Western Railway – it was the first in London and connected Chalk Farm and Swiss Cottage. In the 1840s, a proposal to create a cemetery here was put to Parliament but never went ahead. There were also plans to develop the entire hill as a housing estate but nothing came of it.

On top of the hill is York stone edging with an inscription by William Blake: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” There’s also the remains of an anti-aircraft battery from World War II.

On the hill’s slope, meanwhile, is a tree planted in 1964 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (it replaced once planted 100 years earlier in honour of the Bard’s 300th).

Primrose Hill gives its name to part of the surrounding area, which remains a sought-after residential district.

For details on when to visit, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

This Week in London – Well-being at Kew; Poussin wins credit for ‘The Triumph of Silenus’; and, Euston explored…

Kew Gardens have unveiled a new programme of well-being events with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors after the COVID-19 lockdown. The events, all of which will be COVID-19 safe and follow government guidelines, including everything from forest bathing sessions in the Arboretum inspired by the Japanese art of Shinrin-yokuto, a rare chance to cycle through the gardens on an evening bike ride, pilates in the Nash Conservatory and yoga sessions in the Temperate House. Check the Kew website for dates and times and admission charges.

The Triumph of Silenus hanging in Room 29 at The National Gallery. PICTURE: © The National Gallery

• The creator of The Triumph of Silenus (c1637), which was one of the first paintings to enter the collection of The National Gallery when it did so in 1824, has been confirmed as 17th century French painter Nicolas Poussin. The painting had long been plagued by questions of authenticity but following recent conservation work and in-depth technical analysis, it has been confirmed as a work of Poussin. The confirmation means the gallery holds 14 works by Poussin, making it one of the world’s leading collections of paintings by him. Later this year, the picture will feature in a new exhibition, Poussin and the Dance.

• People will have the chance to see parts of Euston Station usually not accessible to the public on a new virtual tour announced by the London Transport Museum. The tour is part of the next season of ‘Hidden London’ virtual events with new dates also to be announced for tours of King William Street, Brompton Road, Holborn (Kingsway) and Aldwych. Meanwhile, the museum will recommence its ‘Secrets of Central London’ walking tour in the West End on 17th May. Charges apply. For more on the virtual tours and dates, head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london/virtual-tours.

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This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace’s Tulip Festival, National Gallery acquires ‘Portrait of a Girl’, and, art at Canary Wharf…

Hampton Court Palace is hosting its first ever Tulip Festival. Featuring more than 100,000 bulbs placed throughout the formal gardens, the festival pays homage to the estate’s long history of tulip cultivation and, thanks to partnership with the Hortus Bulborum in the Netherlands, involves some types of tulip that have not been on show at the palace since the 17th century. First introduced to the British Isles in the 1630s, tulip planting at Hampton Court dates back to the reign of Queen Mary II. Ten different heritage and modern types have been planted across the gardens for the festival including Parrot, Triumph, Rembrandt and Darwin tulips. Visitors can undertake a self-guided trail which takes in both the palace’s courtyards – filled with ornate planters and flowers specially-selected to match the historic brickwork – and the gardens. Admission charge applies (tickets must be pre-booked). Runs until 3rd May. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/tulip-festival-2021.

Isaack Luttichuys (1616–1673), Portrait of a Girl, about 1650 © The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery has acquired Portrait of a Girl (about 1650) by Isaack Luttichuys, the first work by the artist to enter a British public collection. Luttichuys, who name is pronounced ‘Lootickhouse’, was born in London to Dutch parents and spent his early life in England (where the family was known as Littlehouse, the literal English translation of the name). The artist later moved to Amsterdam where he enjoyed a highly successful career as a portrait painter until his death in 1673. The work was acquired from the estate of banker and philanthropist George Pinto under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council. 

Escape to faraway lands with a new art installation at Crossrail Place Roof Garden at Canary Wharf. Crossorelle is the work of artists Baker & Borowski, and features a design inspired by the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech which fuses the Moroccan garden’s rich palette and art deco shapes with exotic flora. Free to visit, the display can be seen until 19th June. For more, see https://canarywharf.com/whats-on/crossorelle-roof-garden-mar-jun-2021/.

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This Week in London – Gold bunnies at Hampton Court; ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ on a phone; and last two trees for London Blossom Garden…

Despite the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we hope you have a happy Easter break!

A screenshot from ‘Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition’

The National Gallery’s first exhibition aimed at mobile phone users – exploring Jan Gossaert’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Kings – goes live from Friday. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition features six poems in the voice of King Balthasar, a character depicted in the painting, who interprets six scenes shown in the work while interactive sound brings them to life, all in an effort to guide people to details they may have missed in the work. Users can use their zoom function to explore the masterpiece’s minutiae and share their favourite finds on Instagram. The mobile phone offering is a pre-cursor to the planned reopening of the physical exhibition Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ – forced to close just a week after opening last December – on 17th May. To see the mobile display, head to nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours.

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its Lindt Gold Bunny hunt for Easter. Families are invited to join in the search for the famous Lindt Gold Bunnies which have been hidden around the palace, enjoying the gardens along the way. Using a trail map, children will be able to learn about various lesser known Hampton Court residents including John Dale, Henry VIII’s master cook, and John Blanke, the King’s royal trumpeter. Successful treasure hunters can then claim a chocolate reward and a pair of gold bunny ears. Included in admission, the trail is designed for children aged three to 12-years-old and takes about one-and-a-half hours to complete. Runs until 18th April. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/easter-lindt-gold-bunny-hunt/.

The final two blossom trees have been planted in the new London Blossom Garden. The public garden, which is being created as a lasting, living memorial to Londoners who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the city’s shared experience of the pandemic, is located in the northern part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham. Scheduled to open later this spring, it has been created in partnership with the National Trust and with the support of Bloomberg, and features 33 blossoming trees representing London’s boroughs and the City of London.

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This Week in London – Dennis & Gnasher at Kew; ‘Now Play This’; and, work starts on ‘Gateway to Soho’…

A Beano Studios product © DC Thomson Ltd (2021)

Characters from the popular Beano comic and TV series, Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed! will be at Kew this Easter. Marking 70 years of Dennis, Dennis and Gnasher’s Big Bonanza at Kew will feature an exclusive giant 3D comic strip – the largest ever created by Beano – with the chance to take part in all sorts of tricks and jokes and, of course, learn about some of Kew’s plants including their slimy, sticky, smelly and deceptive powers. Runs from 31st March to 18th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

A four day “festival of experimental games”  kicks off today with a virtual programme featuring  interactive games, workshops, and conversations. Now Play This, part of the London Games Festival, explores the climate crisis through games and play, and features a discussion within games designer Hosni Auji’s Airplane Modesimulator, a live role-play simulation of UN climate change negotiations in World Climate Simulation and the new interactive design game Among Ripples whichoffers players the chance to experiment with building and maintaining their own lake ecosystem. The free online festival runs until Sunday, 28th March. It can be found at www.nowplaythis.net.

• Work has begun this week to create an open-air gallery in part of Soho as part of a £150 million project aimed at transforming Oxford Street and surrounds. The project will see Ramillies Street, Ramillies Place, Hills Place and a small section of Great Marlborough Street made into a ‘Gateway to Soho’ and the site of an annual ‘Photographers’ Gallery’ programme featuring light projections and large-scale art.

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  ​

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 30 and 29…

London’s back under restrictions meaning doors to many of the city’s institutions are once again closed. So, for the moment, here’s the next two in our countdown…

30. 10 small, ‘secret’ and historic gardens in central London…5. Seething Lane Garden…

29. Lost London – Jacob’s Island…

Treasures of London – Chiswick House Conservatory…

While the lockdown means buildings are now closed, we continue with our regular series for visits at a later time…

This 300 foot long, now Grade I-listed, conservatory was constructed on the orders of the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the grounds of the neo-Palladian Chiswick House to the west of London and completed in 1813.

Then one of the largest of its kind in the world, the conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware (he also designed the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly) and while its east and west ranges are of a conventional design, its centre features an unusual domed roof.

The conservatory, which was built on land which the duke had acquired by buying a neighbouring estate, is seen as a forerunner to Decimus Burton’s famous building at Kew Gardens as well as Joseph Paxton’s conservatory at Chatsworth and even the Crystal Palace itself.

In 1828, the Duke filled it with his exotic collection of camellias. The glasshouse now stands at the heart of Chiswick House’s annual Camellia Festival.

The collection of camellias is, of course, a treasure in its own right. It was first created by the 6th Duke and his gardener, William Lindsay, with plants acquired from Alfred Chandler’s nursery in Vauxhall.

The collection includes 33 different varieties, including some of the earliest introduced to the UK, and one of the rarest plants in the world – a deep pink camellia japonica known as ‘Middlemist’s Red’ which was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Shepherds Bush nurseryman John Middlemist, and apparently presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823.

For more, see www.chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk.

Treasures of London – The Diana Fountain…

No, it’s not a memorial to that Diana, but a bronze statue depicting a mythological figure which forms the centrepiece of the Great Basin in Bushy Park.

Commissioned by King Charles I for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, the statue (and other statuary on the monument) was the work of sculptor Hubert Le Sueur (he was also the sculptor of the famous equestrian statue of King Charles I which sits at the top of Whitehall).

While the 2.38 metre tall bronze statue, which weighs some 924 kilograms, is commonly referred to as Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting, she has none of the usual attributes of Diana, such as a bow, and is believed by some to actually represent Arethusa, a nereid or sea nymph from Greek mythology.

The statue is set on a marble and stone fountain carved with depictions of shells and sea life, and is surrounded, at a lower level, by groups of bronze statues -depicting boys holding fish or dolphins and water nymphs or mermaids astride sea monsters – through which water is discharged into four bronze basins.

The bronze figures were originally commissioned for a fountain, designed by Inigo Jones and built in the 1630s, in the Queen’s garden at Somerset House. Oliver Cromwell had the statues moved to the Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden in 1656 where they were incorporated into a fountain designed by Edward Pearce the Younger in 1689-90.

In 1713 the ensemble was moved again, this time to onto a new purpose-built podium in the middle of the Great Basin, located at the end of Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue, a grand avenue of trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While most of the statuary is believed to be from the original fountain designed by Inigo Jones, it’s thought some of the statues of the boys were recast for the new fountain.

The Grade I-listed monument was restored in 2009 and and during this process a stone which uncovered on its base which had a crown and the date AR 1712 (AR for ‘Anne Regis’) which would have been added when the statue and fountain were installed in the basin.

WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park

PICTURE: The Diana Fountain. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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 – Frieze Sculpture at The Regent’s Park…

Arne Quinze, Lupine Tower, 2020, Aluminium, Maruani Mercier Gallery. PICTURE: Stephen White.

Twelve works by leading international artists have gone on show in the English Gardens, The Regent’s Park, in this year’s Frieze Sculpture display. The works, which can be seen until 18th October and form part of an expanded Frieze Week programme, includes pieces from Patrick Goddard, Kalliopi Lemos and Arne Quinze as well as a recent commission by Lubaina Himid which is being exhibited in the UK for the first time. The works touch on a range of themes – from civil rights and ecology to the role of the artist as a disruptor. The display is accompanied by a free audio tour by curator Clare Lilley, director of programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and can also be seen virtually in the Frieze
Viewing Room. For more, see www.frieze.com/FriezeSculpture.

Sarah Lucas, Sandwich, 2011 – 2020, Concrete, Sadie Coles HQ. PICTURE: Stephen White.
Lubaina Himid, Five Conversations, 2019, Acrylic paint on five reclaimed wooden doors from traditional Georgian townhouses, Hollybush Gardens. PICTURE: Stephen White.
Gavin Turk, L’Âge d’Or (Green & Red), 2019, Painted Bronze, MARUANI MERCIER. PICTURE: Stephen White.
Kalliopi Lemos, The Plait, 2020, Mild steel, Gazelli Art House. PICTURE: Stephen White.

This Week in London – Richard Leveridge in the spotlight; ‘Paradise Lost’ at Kew; and, Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress at Windsor…

The life and work of Richard Leveridge, a leading singer of the London stage during the 18th century, is the subject of a new display opening at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow. The display, which can be seen in the Handel Gallery, charts the life of this popular theatre singer who became the lead bass singer at Drury Lane Theatre in 1695 and sang for Purcell in many of his stage works as well as, later, singing in the first performances of Handel’s early London operas. It also includes a look at Leveridge’s work as a composer and coffee shop owner and among items on show are manuscripts, early printed music, artworks, copies of drinking songs and stage works, contemporary accounts and formal portraits. Runs until 28th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk

The first solo exhibition by Dutch-born, Mexico-based visual artist Jan Hendrix to be held in the UK opens in Kew Gardens’ Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art next week. Paradise Lost features new works in a number of mediums created as a responser to the transformation of the landscape known as Kamay Botany Bay, in Sydney, Australia (which gained its English name – Botany Bay – from plants collected and recorded there in 1770 by European botanists Sir Joseph Banks – Kew Gardens’ first director – and Daniel Solander abroad the HMS Endeavour). Reflecting on how the visit of the Endeavour sparked a transformation of the region – from a pristine environment to what is now a suburban and industrial landscape, the exhibition explores themes including the destruction of the natural world in the wake of colonial industrialisation, contemporary urbanisation and climate change. New works include a vast monochrome tapestry evoking the dynamic texture and beauty of an Australian landscape threatened by wildfire – which ravaged the region in 2019 – as well as the display’s centrepiece – a huge walk-through mirrored pavilion inspired by two plant species that grow in Kamay Botany Bay – Banksia serrata or Wiriyagan (Cadigal) and Banksia solandri, and a moving image work created by Hendrix in collaboration with filmmaker Michael Leggett. A visual tour narrated by the artist will be made available online for those not able to visit in person. Runs from 3rd October until 13th March. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.kew.org. PICTURE: Mirror Pavilion III, 2020, Stainless Steel by Jan Hendrix/Kew Gardens

• FURTHER AFIELD: Princess Beatrice of York’s wedding dress, first worn by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1960s, goes on display at Windsor Castle from today. Designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, the dress was first worn by the Queen during a State Visit to Rome in 1961 and was altered for Princess Beatrice for her marriage to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi on 17th July this year. The display, which can be seen in the State Dining Room, also features Princess Beatrice’s wedding shoes, made by Valentino, and a replica of her bouquet. Can be seen until 22nd November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

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