This Greenwich statue, which stands on King William Walk to the left of the entrance to the Pepys Building – once part of the Royal Naval College, depicts the Elizabethan adventurer and court favourite (well, at times) in a suitably heroic pose. The life-sized bronze of Raleigh (1552-1618), which stands on a stone plinth, was designed by William McMillan. It was originally unveiled by then-US Ambassador John Hay Whitney in 1959 on Raleigh Green outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall to mark the 350th anniversary of the foundation of the Commonwealth of Virginia (it was apparently originally suggested it be placed in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square but that didn’t eventuate). Grade II-listed, it stood in Whitehall until 2001 until, deemed as out of scale with other statues, was moved to its current location. PICTURE: Loco Steve (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

 

The oldest existing French patisserie in London is said to be Maison Bertaux, based in Greek Street in Soho. 

The premises, where you can still indulge in delights including eclairs, croissants and delectable fruit tarts, was founded in 1871 by one Monsieur Bertaux, apparently a French communard from Paris.

It lies at the heart of what was then the city’s French community and located at number 28, stands next door to another Soho landmark, the Coach and Horses pub.

Bertaux apparently ran the business until 1909 and it’s since passed through a number of hands with current owners, sisters Michele and Tania Wade, reported as having taken over in 1988.

Famous patrons have reportedly included writers Virginia Woolf and Karl Marx,  actors Steve McQueen and Nicole Kidman, artist Grayson Perry and musician Bob Geldof. The patisserie also famously made Lily Allen’s wedding cake and hosted the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s 25th birthday party.

Bastille Day celebrations are, of course, a highlight of the year.

For more, see www.maisonbertaux.com.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

Andrew Baker, author of the recently published From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain, talks about some of his favourite chocolate spots in London…

London is full of secret and out-out-the-way chocolate spots – some of them destined to remain out of the public eye. 

The Queen’s favourite chocolates, for example, are made by the Prestat company in a marvellous factory crammed with delicious and exotic ingredients – and almost in the shadow of the prison at Wormwood Scrubs. As well as Her Majesty, Prestat’s lovely truffles were a favourite of the author Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…but this particular chocolate factory remains off-limits to visitors.

The same goes for the premises in Bethnal Green at which Phil Landers is currently the only person in the entire metropolis making chocolate from scratch, or “from bean to bar” as the technique is properly known. Phil’s lovely bars are available from his website and might be said to be the authentic taste of London chocolate.

But one place where you can both enjoy the finished product and – from time to time – watch it being made and chat with the master behind it is Paul A Young’s eponymous shop at 143 Wardour Street (pictured).

This long-established thoroughfare has existed along its present course since at least the 16th century, and in its time has been justly celebrated as a location for the stars of the music industry (David Bowie and The Jam, among many others) and the movie industry, which still retains a hefty presence.

PICTURE: Google Maps

But Young’s lovely purple corner shop has become a celebrated place of pilgrimage for fans of all things chocolatey.

The ginger-bearded, twinkly and genial Young has become one of Britain’s best-known chocolatiers through frequent appearances in print, online and on television, most notably making the treats of yesteryear in the deliciously nostalgic series The Sweet Makers.

But there is substance behind the fluency and charm: years of training as a pastry chef, working at an early stage with the superstar chef Marco Pierre White, and years of experience in the kitchens of his shops.

There are branches in Camden and Threadneedle Street in the City, but the most substantial outpost of his empire is here in Soho. This is a must-visit location not only for fans of filled chocolates – for Young is one of the finest exponents of those of those in the world – but also for barflys, because he stocks a full range of bars made by the wonderful Cleethorpes bean-to-bar maestro Duffy Sheardown. What is more, Young serves an enormously tempting cup of hot chocolate ladled, in the winter months, from a glorious copper cauldron steaming in the shop window. What better way to lure in customers on a chilly day?

The Barnsley-born Young is often to be found exploring new flavour combinations in the kitchen in the shop’s basement. There are frequent chocolate-making classes here as well, and there is no-one better at imparting, in a kindly and witty manner, the mysteries of tempering and ganache-making.

But he is at his best inventing wonderful new combinations of fine chocolate and delicious fillings, and it would be a foolish visitor to London who departed the capital without sampling at least several of Young’s most celebrated truffles – the Marmite version, for example, which I adore, the beer and crisp version made with Camden’s Brewdog ale, or the homage to his roots in the Yorkshire tea and biscuit truffle.

These and many, many more are laid out in mouthwatering rows in the Wardour Street shop, freshly made and so to be consumed as soon as possible. That is not a difficult piece of advice to heed.

From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain:  is published by AA Publishing.

Objects relating to climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion have gone on display at the V&A. The items, which can be seen in the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting Gallery, range from the open source ‘Extinction Symbol’ created by street artist ESP in 2011 and adopted by the group, known as XR, in 2018 through to the first ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ pamphlet and flags carried during demonstrations. The objects – which also include a child’s high-vis jacket worn during a peaceful XR protest which has gone on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green – were given by the Extinction Rebellion Arts Group, a coalition of graphic designers, artists and activists responsible for XR’s design programme. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © V&A London

The City of London has launched an alternative giving campaign aimed at helping the City’s homeless and rough sleepers, establishing four contactless card points where people can donate £3 a time. The contactless devices, which donate the money to homelessness charity Beam, are located at the City of London Information Centre in St Paul’s Churchyard, the Barbican Library, the Tower Bridge’s engine room and the Guildhall West Wing reception window. The campaign will run for three months.

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News today that Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Johnson, who will take over from Theresa May – only the second woman to hold the office – as PM tomorrow after winning the Conservative Party vote over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will be the 14th Prime Minister to serve in the office during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. PICTURE: US State Department

Lunar samples collected during the Apollo 11 mission and objects that travelled to the Moon with the astronauts including Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s “Snoopy Cap” and the famous Hasselblad camera equipment are among items on display as part of a new major exhibition which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Friday. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Moon landing, The Moon explores Earth’s relationship with the Moon over time and across civilisations. Other items among the more than 180 objects from public and private collections on show include a rare lunar meteorite from the Natural History Museum’s collection (pictured), a Mesopotamian tablet from 172 BC and a series of contemporary and historical artworks including paintings by JMW Turner and John Constable. There’s also a new version of Christian Stangl’s film Lunar in which animated photographs from Apollo missions allow visitors to experience the Moon landings through the eyes of the astronauts. The Moon can be visited until 5th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/moon50. PICTURE: Lunar meteorite Found in the Sahara Desert, North West Africa, 2017 © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

London’s inaugural and free week long National Park City Festival kicks off on Saturday to celebrate the city’s green spaces, wildlife and waterways. Opening the festival – which is an initiative of the Mayor of London and National Park City Foundation as well as other partners – this weekend is a free cultural programme, run in partnership with the National Theatre, on its outdoor river stage on South Bank which features dance, theatre and music. Other highlights among the more than 300 events being held during the nine day event include the ‘National Park City Rooftops’ initiative – which sees people given free access to some of the city’s most beautiful garden rooftops and natural spaces including Crossrail Place in Canary Wharf, Barbican Conservatory and Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, the ‘National Park City Forest’ initiative which sees a unique audio installation, Living Symphonies, installed in Epping Forest, the ‘National Park City Wildlife’ – a photography competition and exhibition held in partnership with the London Wildlife Trust, and the multi-site ‘National Park City Splash’ initiative in which everybody can try their hand at activities like paddle boarding and open water swimming. The week runs to 28th July. For the complete programme of events, head to https://nationalparkcity.london.gov.uk.

The work of Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946) is being celebrated at the Royal Academy of Arts. Opening on Saturday, the first solo UK exhibition of Schjerfbeck’s works features some 65 portraits, landscapes and still lifes, and follows the development of the artist’s work from a naturalistic style, inspired by French Salon painters in the early 1880s, to what the RA describes as “a radically abstracted and modern approach from the turn of the 20th century onwards”. The exhibition is being shown in five sections with highlights including Two Profiles (1881) – the earliest work on display, The Convalescent (1888), My Mother (two paintings – one from 1902 and another from 1909), a series of self-portraits and later works like Måns Schjerfbeck (The Motorist) (1933) and Three Pears on a Plate (1945). Runs until 27th October in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Close-up of the facade of Mizuho House, London branch of the Japanese investment bank Mizuho, in the Old Bailey London. PICTURE: Valdemars  Magone/Unsplash

Millennium Bridge crossing the Thames between the City of London and South Bank. PICTURE: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash (image cropped).

London illuminated. PICTURE: Christopher Burns/Unsplash

Scenes from the ‘Put It To The People March’ attracted thousands to central London on Saturday. More than a million people hit the streets calling for a second Brexit vote. Here’s some images from the mass gathering. PICTURES: Top and first below – John Briody (licensed under CC BY 2.0); second, third and fourth below (Garry Knight (public domain).

 

 

 

 

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 wedding dress and tiara worn by Princess Eugenie at her wedding in October last year has gone on display in a new exhibition at Windsor Castle, just to the west of London. A Royal Wedding: HRH Princess Eugenie and Mr Jack Brooksbank also features groom Jack Brooksbank’s morning suit and the maid-of-honour outfit worn by Princess Beatrice of York. But the star is the wedding dress, designed by Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, which features fabric interwoven with symbols including the White Rose of York. The exhibition also includes the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara, lent by Queen Elizabeth II and on public display for the first time, Princess Eugenie’s diamond and emerald drop earrings – a wedding gift from the groom, a replica of the bridal bouquet, and the Zac Posen-designed evening gown worn by the princess for the reception. The display can be seen as part of visits to Windsor Castle until 22nd April. Admission charge applies. For more see www.rct.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust / © All Rights Reserved.

The work of pioneering artist Dorothea Manning is the subject of a new exhibition at the Tate Modern on South Bank. Opened last week, Dorothea Tanning is organised in collaboration with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and is the first large scale exhibition of her work for 25 years. It brings together some 100 works, a third of which are being shown in the UK for the first time, including ballet designs, stuffed textile sculptures, installations and large scale pieces. Highlights include the self-portrait Birthday (1942), Children’s Games (1942), Insomnias (1953), Etreinte (1969),Tango Lives (1970) and the room-sized installation Chambre 202, Hôtel du Pavot (1970-73). Runs until 9th June. Admission charge applies. For more see www.tate.org.uk.

A new exhibition on the impact photographic reproduction had on illustrative art at the end of the 19th century has opened at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner. The Beardsley Generation looks at how a new generation of artists versed in process engraving replaced the craft wood engravers of the past and how the new technology led to an expansion in the production of illustrated books and periodicals. The work of Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts, Laurence Housman and the Robinson brothers will be on display in the form of original drawings, books and periodicals drawn from public and private collections. Runs until 19th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

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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)

Looking across central London with the colourful facades of the Renzo Piano-designed Central Saint Giles mixed-use development – located east Charing Cross Road and south of New Oxford Street in the found in the district of St Giles, prominent. The £450 million project was completed in mid-2010. PICTURE: John Jackson/Unsplash.

The City of London’s largest rooftop viewing space – The Garden at 120 – has opened atop the newly opened Fen Court office building in Fenchurch Street. The viewing platform – located 15 storeys above the street – offers 360 degree views of the City and features a pergola planted with fruit trees and Italian wisteria, a water feature and coffee hut. Entry is free and access is between 10am and 6.30pm weekdays until 31st March (5pm on weekends) and between 10am and 9pm from 1st April to 30th September. For more, see www.thegardenat120.com. PICTURE: diamond geezer (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rembrandt’s drawing and prints are the subject of a new free exhibition at the British Museum. Marking 350 years since the death of Rembrandt van Rijn in 1669, Rembrandt: thinking on paper features more than 60 of the Dutch artist’s works ranging from quick sketches to fully realised compositions with subject matter including self-portraits, landscapes and Biblical scenes. Works include Young woman sleeping (Hendrickje Stoffels?) (c1654), his printing plate for Reclining female nude (1658), the pen-and-ink Sketches of an old man and child (c1639-40), Self-portrait, bareheaded, bust in frontal view (1629), Self-portrait drawing at a window (1648), the Raising of Lazarus (c1632) and his late, large drypoints the Three Crosses (1653) and Ecce Homo (1655). Runs until 4th August in Room 90. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The first posthumous retrospective of the work of Franz West (1947-2012) ever staged in the UK has opened at the Tate Modern. Franz West spans the artist’s career over four decades and includes examples from his series of early abstract small sculptures like Passstücke (Adaptives), furniture work first displayed in the artist’s pivotal 1989 exhibition at the Haus Lange Museum, as well as later, large-scale installations such as Auditorium (1992) and Epiphany on Chairs (2011). The artist’s works in papier-mâché – Legitimate Sculptures – are also featured and there’s a room devoted to Redundanz (1986), a three-part ensemble accompanied by text that stresses “the difference between language and art as ways of understanding the world”. The display finishes with an array of West’s dramatic aluminum works and a collection of maquettes for the artist’s outdoor sculptures, five of which are installed in the South Landscape. Runs until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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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.

The flowers of Colombia are at the heart of this year’s Kew Orchid Festival which kicked off in west London late last week. Featuring what’s promised to be “dazzling displays” inspired by Colombia’s fauna and flora – the country boasts some 4,270 species of orchids alone, the 24th annual festival includes music, food, crafts and, of course, coffee. More than 5,700 orchids – including the Flor de Mayo – feature in the display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory with visitors led through a series of zones that evoke the sights, smells and sounds of Colombia. The central display is a “carnival of animals’ which depicts a toucan in flight, a hanging sloth and swimming turtle – all made of orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants. There’s also a cascade of colourful hanging vandas representing the “rainbow river” – the Cano Cristales, an enchanted forest with life-sized jaguars, and, a golden floating display featuring yellow orchids depicting the legend of El Dorado. Meanwhile, the glasshouse film room features Bogota-style street art murals by Colombian multidisciplinary artist, Vanessa Moncayo González. The festival runs until 10th March. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

The works of Harald Sohlberg, one of the great masters of landscape painting in the history of Norwegian art, are on show at Dulwich Picture Gallery in the first ever exhibition of his works outside of Norway. Marking the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway boasts more than 90 works revealing the role of colour and symbolism in his art as well as his passion for Nordic landscapes. Spanning the period from 1889 when he was starting out as a 20-year-old through to 1935, the last year of his life, the works include the ‘national painting of Norway’ – Winter Night in the Mountains (1914) which took some 14 years to complete (pictured), as well as Fisherman’s Cottage (1906), Summer Night (1899), Sun Gleam (1894) and Street in Røros in Winter (1903). Runs until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. Accompanying the exhibition is a new sculptural installation in the gallery’s mausoleum by Bristol-based artist Mariele Neudecker – And Then the World Changed Colour: Breathing Yellow. For more see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE:  Harald Sohlberg, ‘Winter Night in the Mountains’, 1914, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway.

A new photographic exhibition documenting the living conditions of London’s most disadvantaged children has opened at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Being run in partnership with The Childhood Trust, Bedrooms of London features images of sleeping spaces by Katie Wilson and they are shown alongside stories collected by Isabella Walker which bring into sharp focus the consequences of London’s social housing shortage. The display builds on the history of the Foundling Hospital, providing a glimpse into what life is like for the 700,000 London children currently living below the poverty line. It can be seen until 5th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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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)