Not the name of a person, Great Paul is in fact the name of the largest of four bells in south-west tower of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The bronze bell was cast in 1881 by JW Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough. With a diameter of some 11 metres, it weighs an impressive 16.8 tons (in fact, until the casting of the Olympic Bell for the 2012 London Olympics, it was the largest bell in the UK).
Brought to London from Loughborough on a train over a period of 11 days, Great Paul was hung in the tower in May, 1882.
The bell was traditionally sounded at 1pm every day but was silent for more than 40 years after its ringing apparatus broke in the 1970s.
Following a restoration, Great Paul started being rung again last year when it was rung during a festival of church bells to mark the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this year, it led a bell ringing tribute marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
Previous historic occasions on which the bell was rung included Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the cathedral in 1981.
The south-east tower of the cathedral is also home to the storied bell known as Great Tom – but we’ll deal with that in a future post.
Buckingham Palace is among the sites across London which will be hosting events to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee this June. The Queen’s 70th year on the throne will be marked with four days of celebrations across the June bank holiday weekend which will include the Queen’s Birthday Parade (known as Trooping the Colour), the lighting of Platinum Jubilee Beacons – including the principal beacon at Buckingham Palace, a Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, the ‘Platinum Party at the Palace’ – a celebration concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, The Big Jubilee Lunch in communities across the city, and a special Platinum Jubilee Pageant, part of which will see a moving river of flags rippling down The Mall. For more information, head to www.royal.uk/platinum-jubilee-central-weekend.
Arguably the grandest music venue in London, the Royal Albert Hall, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has been hosting musical events since it first hosted a concert in 1871.
The Grade I-listed hall, which has a seating capacity of more than 5,000 and which did suffer from acoustic problems for many years (until mushroom-shaped fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the ceiling following tests in the late 1960s), has been the setting for some of the most important – and, in some cases, poignant – music events of the past 150 years, not just in London but the world at large.
Among some of the most memorable are the Titanic Band Memorial Concert – held on 24th May, 1912, just six weeks after the sinking of the iconic ship to remember the 1514 people who died with a particular focus on the eight musicians who played on as the stricken vessal sank, the ‘Great Pop Prom’ of 15th September, 1963 – only one of a handful of occasions when The Beatles and Rolling Stones played on the same stage, and Pink Floyd’s gig of 26th June, 1969 – coming at the end of a UK tour, the on-stage antics saw the band banned (it was short-lived, however, they returned just a few years later in 1973).
Other musical figures to have taken to the stage here include everyone from composers Richard Wagner, John Philip Sousa, and Benjamin Britten to the Von Trapp family, jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bob Dylan and Elton John – a veritable musical who’s who of the past 150 years. The venue also hosted the 13th Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.
Of course, Royal Albert Hall is famous for The Proms, an annual festival of classical music which was first performed here in 1941 after the venue where it had been held since 1895 – the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place – was lost to an incendiary bomb during World War II.
Prom stands for ‘Promenade Concert’, a phrase which originally referred to the outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens during which the audience was free to walk around while the orchestra was playing (there are still standing areas during performances). The most famous night of the season is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which, broadcast by the BBC, features popular classics and ends with a series of patriotic tunes to stir the blood.
Unveiled just nine years ago, this bust in Bayswater commemorates George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, a 15th century Albanian lord who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire (and who later became a central figure of inspiration in the Albanian National Awakening of the 19th century).
Located on the corner of Inverness Terrace and Porchester Gardens, the bronze bust was created by Kreshnik Xhiku.
An inscription on the front reads “George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, 1405 – 1468, invincible Albanian national hero, defender of western civilization.”
It was unveiled on the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence on 28th November, 2012, with Westminster City Councillor Robert Davis and Albanian Charge d’affaires, Mal Berisha, in attendance.
The bust was installed as part of Westminster’s City of Sculpture initiative.
Back to Parliament Square this week where we look at a bronze statue of anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
Unveiled on 29th August, 2007, this larger-than-life statue is the work of English sculpture Ian Walters (he completed a clay sculpture of the Parliament Square statue before his death in 2006 but sadly didn’t live to see it cast in bronze in London.)
The statue was proposed by South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods but after his death in 2001, the fundraising effort, officially launched in 2003, was led by his wife Wendy and Sir Richard Attenborough.
It depicts Mandela standing on a low plinth with his arms outstretched as though making a speech. He is shown wearing a flowery shirt.
It was originally proposed the statue be located outside of the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square but after planning approval was refused, the alternative site of Parliament Square was eventually decided upon.
The unveiling in the south-west corner of the square was attended by Mandela himself along with his wife Graça Machel and then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone while then PM Gordon Brown did the official duties.
Interestingly it’s not the only work of Walters depicting Mandela – he was also the sculptor behind the bust of Mandela which stands outside Royal Festival Hall in South Bank.
It’s also not the only South African who has a statue in Parliament Square – there’s also one of Jan Smuts, twice Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in the early 20th century (in fact Mandela recalled at the unveiling that he and his friend Oliver Tambo, who went on to become president of the ANC, had once joked about seeing the statue of a Black man one day erected in the square – Tambo never lived to see it, but Mandela, at age 89, did).
Works by young Londoners depicting their COVID-19 experiences as well as their feelings in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have gone on show in an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and online. A Westminster City Council project, called Creative Collective, asked young people to produce works in any medium – audio clips, short films, poems, paintings, drawings, statements or digital works – responding to themes including lockdown, resilience and hope, community and Black Lives Matter. The results, which have previously been on display at libraries across Westminster, can now be viewed until 31st August at in the Learning Gallery at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the JR Chronicles Exhibition. The display is also available to see online here. The project is the work of the council’s cultural youth engagement programme – City Lions – in partnership with children’s services, local schools, professional artists, libraries and archives.
The Bow Street Police Museum, located on the site of the 1881 Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, has opened its doors in Covent Garden. The museum tells the story of the early Bow Street Runners, the first official law enforcement service in the city, and the Metropolitan Police officers who came after. Visitors can explore the former cells and hear the stories of those who once worked in the building. The connections between Bow Street and the constabulary dates back to 1740 when Thomas de Veil opened a Magistrates’ Court in his family home at number four Bow Street in the 18th century and continued until the closure of the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006. Among the famous faces who passed through Bow Street’s police station and court over that time were Oscar Wilde, Suffragettes Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond, and the Kray twins. For more, head to https://bowstreetpolicemuseum.org.uk.
• A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.
• The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).
• Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.
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Spotted in Sloane Square Tube station. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash
• Larry the cat celebrated his 10th anniversary in Downing Street this week. Officially the “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office”, Larry first came to Number 10 on 15th February, 2011, from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and has since been spotted many times in and around the property going about his duties (or seeing off rivals like the now retired Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat). Larry has served three Prime Ministers during his time in the seat of power – David Cameron, Theresa May and now Boris Johnson – and met with various world leaders (famously apparently taking a liking to US President Barack Obama and being spotted sleeping under Donald Trump’s car). Larry tweeted on Tuesday – the day of his “Larryversary” – that he has no plans of retiring at this stage.
• A series of auctions involving a collection of 260 London street signs started this week. Westminster City Council is selling the signs – which include Abbey Road NW8 (estimated price tag of £1,000-£2,000), Pimlico Road SW1 (£100-£200), Westbourne Park Road W2 (£100-£200) and Belgrave Place SW1 (£80-£120) – through Catherine Southon Auctioneers until 3rd March. The distinct signs were first created by Sir Misha Black in 1967. Head here for details.
• Looking further afield and English Heritage has put out a call for people with connections to the Cichociemni – the name for a group of Polish Home Army parachutists, many of whom trained at Audley End House, who were dropped behind enemy lines in Poland to begin fighting for the liberation of their homeland – to share their stories. Monday marked the 80th anniversary of the operation involving the elite fighters. Some 527 of them completed their training at the Jacobean stately home in Essex where their presence is today remembered in a memorial and fragmentary remains such as a scrap of graffiti in the coal gallery candle store, remnants of a timetable in a former briefing room and insulators for telephone wires which remain in some trees. “We’d love to hear from the public who have a connection or story to share about the Cichociemni at Audley,” said Andrew Hann, an historian with English Heritage which looks after Audley End House. “We’re particularly interested in hearing from those in the local area at the time, who may remember hearing bangs in the night, or seeing troops crossing fields in the darkness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they were highly trained to be both ‘silent and unseen’ they left little obvious trace.”
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• An in-depth exploration of the so-called ‘Raphael Cartoons’ has gone online at the V&A ahead of the reopening of the newly transformed Raphael Court later this year. Among the greatest Renaissance treasures in the UK, the cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican shortly after his election in 1513. The Pope asked artist Raphael to create a series of 10 designs illustrating the lives of St Peter and St Paul which could then be turned into tapestries to grace the walls of the chapel. Created in the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels, the 10 tapestries were each five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of Raphael’s original cartoons survive – they were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I) and remained behind closed doors in the Royal Collection until they were lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865 in memory of Prince Albert. The cartoons have been on public display in the museum ever since. The new online offering traces the story of the cartoons and using ultra- high-resolution photography, infrared imagery, and 3D scans, and is the first time people have been able to explore the cartoons in such detail. It was produced as part of the V&A’s ‘Raphael Project’, marking the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death in 2020, which includes a landmark renovation of the Raphael Court – home to the cartoons. The refurbished gallery will be unveiled when the museum reopens. To see the new online display, head to vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.
• A participatory art project exploring the relationship between the UK and France in a post-Brexit world has commenced this week. I Love You, Moi Non Plus – presented in partnership by Somerset House, Dover Street Market London, The Adonyeva Foundation, Collectif Coulanges, Eurostar and coordinated by Sabir, invites artists to share their interpretation of what the British-French relationship means to them with works to be displayed in a new online gallery alongside bespoke pieces from “project ambassadors” including Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, fashion designer Stella McCartney, English electronic musician Brian Eno, English National Ballet artistic director Tamara Rojo,and British artist Bob and Roberta Smith. The project seeks to highlight how art and creativity can “maintain connections between communities across the channels, unifying voices from across Britain and the EU”. Participants are asked to contribute either by sharing their creations on social media with hashtags #ILoveYouMoiNonPlus, #ILYMNP and #LifeAfterBrexit or submit them directly to the website here.
• Does this mean a new Tardis for Dr Who? The City of London Corporation is calling on architects, landscape architects, designers and artists to submit ideas for the design of a “21st century police box”. The competition, which is being run by the City in conjunction with the City of London Police, New London Architecture (NLA) and Bloomberg Associates, aims to provide “a modern and engaging way to provide information and safety” to the Square Mile’s residents, workers and visitors. Up to six shortlisted teams will be awarded funding to develop their idea into a design proposal and the winning design will be unveiled in the summer. For more, head to nla.london/submissions/digital-service-point-open-call-competition.
• The Museum of London has acquired 13 tweets shared by Londoners during the initial coronavirus-related lockdown as part of its ongoing ‘Collecting COVID’ project. The tweets, which were collected under the ‘Going Viral’ strand of the Collecting COVID project, now form part of the museum’s permanent collection and lay bare what people were experiencing during 2020. The Going Viral project focused on collecting text, memes, videos and images that were ‘shared’ or ‘liked’ on Twitter more than 30,000 times. Additional tweets will be considered for acquisition this year.
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Seen in Oxford Street. PICTURE: Samuel Regan-Asante/Unsplash
This fountain and statue ensemble – also known as Diana of the Treetops and the Constance Fountain (and not to be confused with the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park or the Diana Fountain in Bushy Park) – for many years stood at the centre of Green Park.
The fountain replaced an earlier one by Sidney Smirke – installed in 1860 – that had fallen into disrepair.
The Ministry of Works approached the Constance Fund – which had been established by artist Sigismund Goetze and was administered by his wife Constance following his death – to provide finances for a replacement and after they agreed, a competition for the design was held overseen by Sir William Reid.
Escourt J “Jim” Clack, a teacher from Devon, won and designed a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Diana to top the fountain. Depicting a naked Diana unleashing a hunting dog, it sits atop a stylised tree under which sit the fountain basins. The fountain was unveiled in 1954.
In 2011, the statue was removed, restored and some gilding added and then placed near the entrance to Green Park tube station in the north-east corner of the park.
• As the inauguration of US President Joe Biden took place in the US this week, the Museum of London announced it had taken possession of the larger-than-life ‘Trump Baby’ balloon. The blimp first appeared at protests in July, 2018, during then-US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the city, and has since followed the President around the world. The museum said it will now form part of its protest collection which also includes objects relating to the Suffrage movement, banners, flags, and tents that belonged to Houses of Parliament protestor Brian Haw and placards used recently by protestors against public spending cuts. Sharon Ament, director of the museum, said: “From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches, free speech and Black Lives Matter most recently – the capital has always been the place to have your say. By collecting the baby blimp we can mark the wave of feeling that washed over the city that day and capture a particular moment of resistance – a feeling still relevant today as we live through these exceptionally challenging times – that ultimately shows Londoners banding together in the face of extreme adversity.” The Trump Baby team added that it was their hope the blimp “will stand as a reminder of when London stood against Trump – but will prompt those who see it to examine how they can continue the fight against the politics of hate”. “Most of all we hope the Trump Baby serves as a reminder of the politics of resistance that took place during Trump’s time in office.”
• The V&A is seeking to contact people who have worn fashions designed by the likes of Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, and Alphadi – a group who, along with their peers, represent the first generation of African designers to gain international attention. The call out comes as the South Kensington museum announces plans to hold an exhibition, supported by GRoW @ Annenberg, which aims to celebrate the creativity, ingenuity and global impact of contemporary African fashions in June. The display will feature more than 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection (many of which are being displayed for the first time). Alongside the objects, the museum is seeking a range of items – and the stories that go with them – from the public. They include Chris Seydou’s 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini, 20th century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years in Africa, and family portraits and home movies showing African and African diasporic fashion trends. Members of the public with objects that fit the above description are asked to get in touch by email at email@example.com, and to share their pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion. For the full list of sought after items, head to www.vam.ac.uk/blog/news/va-africa-fashion-call-out.
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Taken at Bank Underground station. PICTURE: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash
• The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner. For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.
• Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.
• Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco. The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable (Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris. The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.
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This ornate Baroque archway only stands with walking distance from where it originally stood marking the entrance to the City of London. But it came to this position by a somewhat roundabout route.
The gate was originally constructed at the junction where Fleet Street becomes the Strand, it marked the boundary between the City of London and Westminster.
While the first gate on the site dates back to the 14th century (prior to that the boundary was apparently marked with a chain two posts), the gate we see today dates from 1672 when, despite having survived the Great Fire of London, the previous gate – a crumbing wooden structure – was demolished and this upmarket replacement built to the design of none other than Sir Christopher Wren (earlier designs for the gate created by Inigo Jones were never acted upon).
Made of Portland stone, the new structure featured figures of King Charles I and King Charles II on the west side and King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark on the east (it’s said that a third of the total £1,500 cost was spent on the statuary alone).
Shortly after its construction, it became a location for the display of the remains of traitors (usually heads), the first of which were the body parts of Rye House plotter Sir Thomas Armstrong and the last of which was the head of Jacobite Francis Towneley in 1746 (there’s also a story that such was the interest when the heads of the Rye House plotters – who had planned to assassinate King Charles II and crown his brother, the future King James II, in his place – were displayed, telescopes were rented out so people could get a closer look).
Among the luminaries who passed under the central arch were Anne Boleyn (the day before her coronation) and Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen did so most famously on her way to give thanks in St Paul’s Cathedral for the English victory over the Spanish Armada and since then, whenever a Sovereign has wanted to enter the City past Temple Bar, there’s been a short ceremony in which the Sovereign asks permission of the Lord Mayor of London to enter. Granting this, the Mayor then offers the Sword of State as a demonstration of loyalty and this is subsequently carried before the Sovereign as they proceed through the City as a sign of the Lord Mayor’s protection.
The Temple Bar stood in its original location until 1878 when, to help traffic flow, it was carefully removed brick-by-brick over a period of 11 days (the City of London Corporation well aware of its historical significance) . It was initially intended that the gateway would be rebuilt somewhere else in the city, but time passed and no suitable site was found.
Instead, the gate lay in pieces in a yard in Farringdon Road before, in the mid 1880s, Sir Henry Bruce Meux had all 2,500 stones transported via trolleys pulled by horses to his estate at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire and re-erected there as a gateway (the Lady Meux apparently used the small upper room for entertaining – among those said to have dined here was King Edward VII and Winston Churchill).
In 1976, the Temple Bar Trust was formed to have the archway returned to London – they eventually succeeded 30 years later in 2004 when it was re-erected on its current site between St Paul’s and Paternoster Square at a cost of some £3 million.
The original site of the Temple Bar is now marked with a Victorian era memorial – erected in 1888 – which features statues of Queen Victoria and Edward, the Prince of Wales.