December 23, 2016
The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.
One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.
Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
December 2, 2016
Recently added to the National Heritage List for England (or what little remains of it at least), the Hope Playhouse was the last Elizabethan era theatre to be built in Southwark and was designed to be a joint acting venue and bear baiting arena.
The theatre, which opened in about 1614, was built by impresario Philip Henslowe, who had built the Rose Playhouse in 1587 and the Fortune in 1600, and new partners a waterman Jacob Meade and carpenter Gilbert Katherens on a site slightly to the south of the Bear Garden (demolished in 1613) which had previously housed been dog kennels.
Designed deliberately to be similar to The Swan Playhouse in Paris Garden, the stage was apparently located on the south side of the structure with the main entrance located opposite on the riverside of the building. Upper galleries provided more salubrious seating for those who could afford it.
The first play to be staged there was Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, performed by Lady Elizabeth’s Company on 31st October, 1614 – in the play Jonson famously refers to the dual use of the playhouse by likening the smell to that of the animals at Smithfield Market.
The relationship of the theatre with acting, however, was to be short-lived. Bear-baiting and other past-times gradually took over the use of the playhouse despite the fact it had originally been envisaged that animal baiting would only be held on Sundays and Thursdays.
Tensions between the actors and other groups eventually led to Lady Elizabeth’s Company departing the playhouse in 1617, although another company, the Prince Charles’s Men, continued to use it for a few more years). Henslowe, meanwhile, had died in 1616 and his share of the property had passed to his son-in-law (and actor) Edward Alleyn (who was also the founder of the Prince Charles’s Men).
Very few plays were subsequently seen at the playhouse which, by 1620, had become known by the name Bear Garden – a reference to the former property which had stood to the north. Bear and bull-baiting as well as prize-fighting and fencing contests were apparently among the activities carried out there.
The Hope was ordered closed by Parliament in 1643 but survived until 1656 when, during the Civil War, it was closed and dismantled. Industrial buildings, including glass-blowing workshops, were later constructed over the top.
PICTURE: The street known as Bear Gardens in Southwark is near the site of the former Hope Playhouse.
November 7, 2016
Said to date from 1602, the Grade II-listed pub was apparently built as an alehouse, though the facade is 19th century as is much of the interior. Its location, just to the west of Temple Bar, meant it survived the Great Fire of London – though only just.
The name apparently relates to an appeal to Dutch sailors – it is said to have been so named in reference to the Seven United Provinces of The Netherlands (it’s also been said that the pub’s location is in the midst of an area of London in which Dutch settlers lived during the period).
It was apparently formerly known as The Log and Seven Stars or The Leg and Seven Stars, although it’s been speculated these are simply a corruption of The League and Seven Stars – a story which might make sense given the origins of the pub’s name (‘league’ referring to the union of the seven provinces).
The pub these days lies in the heart of the city’s legal community – the Royal Courts of Justice lies just to the south and Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four inns of court, to the north.
For more, see www.thesevenstars1602.co.uk.
To look at it, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine the memorial marking the former site of the ‘Tyburn Tree’ near Marble Arch was part of the English Heritage Blue Plaques scheme.
But, located on the ground on a traffic island at the junction of Edgware and Bayswater Roads, this memorial commemorating the site of the former gallows at what was once London’s execution grounds (and those who died upon it) is just that.
It’s estimated by some that as many as 60,000 people may have been executed here over the 600 years until the late 1700s
While the plaque only mentions one of the names by which the various gallows erected here were known – Tyburn being the name of the village originally here, others included ‘The Elms’, the ‘The Deadly Never Green Tree’ and the ‘Triple Tree’, the latter presumably a reference to the famous three-sided gallows set up here during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The last gallows was removed in 1759 when executions were moved into Newgate Prison (for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our earlier post here).
The plaque was erected on the site in 1964 by the London County Council; it replaced an earlier triangular plaque the council had erected here in 1909.
The memorial was restored and rededicated in a ceremony in 2014 with the placement of three oak trees around it (this picture was taken before the restoration).
There is a green City of Westminster plaque nearby which commemorates 105 Roman Catholic martyrs who lost their lives on the gallows between 1535 and 1681 while the deaths of the more than 350 Roman Catholics who died across England and Wales during the Reformation, including those on the Tyburn Tree, are also recalled in a shrine at the nearby Tyburn Convent.
June 20, 2016
Now the name of a dock on Bankside (pictured below), St Mary Overie (also spelt as Overy) also forms part of the formal name of Southwark Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.
The simple version of the name’s origins is that it simply means St Mary “over the river” (that is, St Mary on the south side of the Thames) which was used in relation to a priory founded there in the Norman era by two knights (it’s to this foundation that what is now Southwark Cathedral owes its origins, something we’ll take a more detailed look at the nunnery in an upcoming Lost London post).
But there’s also another, more romantic version, of the name’s origins. That story, as it’s told on a plaque located at the dock (pictured above), goes back to before the Norman founding of priory, back to the days when, before the building of London Bridge, a ferry ran between the two banks of the River Thames.
The man responsible for the ferry was John Overs, a “notorious miser”, who decided to save money by feigning his death and thus plunging his household into mourning, saving that day’s provisions. As one may imagine, however, Overs was not a popular man and his servants, instead of fasting in their mourning, held a feast in celebration of his death.
In rage, the old master leapt out of his bed and a servant, terrified and imaging some sort of demonic manifestation, struck him fatally with an oar on the head.
Overs’ daughter, Mary, sent for her lover so that he may come and together with her claim her father’s inheritance but such was his haste, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. So overcome was Mary by her misfortunes that she founded a convent into which she subsequently retired (this was subsequently ‘refounded’ by the two Norman knights).
The dock, meanwhile, is today the berthing place of the Golden Hinde II, a sea-worthy replica of the flagship in which Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe (for more on the ship, see our earlier post here).
June 17, 2016
Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.
It was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.
King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.
The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.
Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).
After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.
The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.
The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.
The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).
This Week in London – Exploring flight and space; ‘Horrible’ Tudors at Hampton Court; BioBlitz at Brompton Cemetery; and sleeping with the lions…
May 26, 2016
• A “ground-breaking” hands-on exhibition exploring the concept and future of flight and space travel opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich this week. Above and Beyond, produced by Evergreen Exhibitions in association with Boeing (and created in collaboration with NASA), features more than 10 interactive displays, allowing visitors to learn to fly like a bird, take an elevator to space, enjoy a view of Earth from above or go on a marathon mission to Mars and see how your body would cope. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/above-and-beyond-exhibition.
• Horrible Histories is bringing the world of the ‘Terrible Tudors’ to life at Hampton Court Palace this half-term break. The Birmingham Stage Company is offering the chance for visitors to dip into 100 years of Tudor history, spanning the reigns of the “horrible” Henries to that of the crowning of King James I in 1603. Get behind the dry facts and discover what the role of the Groom of the Stool was, which queen lost her wig as she was executed and decide whether to join in punishing the ‘whipping boy’ or the monarch and which side you’ll be on as the Spanish Armada set sail. The hour long performances will take place on the palace’s historic East Front Gardens (unreserved seating on the grass). Admission charge applies. Runs from today until 2nd June. For more see, www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.
• The Royal Parks is hosting its first ever BioBlitz at Brompton Cemetery this Bank Holiday weekend. For 24 for hours from 5pm on Friday, people are invited to join in the hunt to track down as many species of plants, animals and fungi as possible with events including tree and nature walks, earthworm hunts, bee and wasp counts and lichen recording. There will also be a range of stalls for people to visit with representatives from a range of nature and wildlife organisations present. The BioBlitz is one of several projects linked to the £6.2 million National Lottery-funded facelift of the cemetery. For more, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/events/whats-on/bioblitz.
• Sleep with the lions at ZSL London Zoo next to Regent’s Park from this week. The zoo new overnight experience at the Gir Lion Lodge, in which guests can stay in one of nine cabins at the heart of the new Land of the Lions exhibit, opened on Wednesday. Guests will also be taken on exclusive evening and morning tours in which they’ll find out more about how ZSL is working with local communities and rangers in India’s Gir Forest to protect these endangered cats. The private lodges will be available six nights a week until December with designated adults-only and family nights available. For more, see www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/gir-lion-lodge.
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May 23, 2016
The subject of a current exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, Dr John Dee – mathematician, courtier, astrologist and ‘magician’ are just some of the tags he is labelled with – is one of the most enigmatic figures of Tudor England.
Born in London’s Tower ward in 1527, Dee was of Welsh descent and the son of Roland Dee, a mercer and courtier to King Henry VIII, and Johanna Wild. He attended school in Chelmsford and, at the age of 15 entered St John’s College, Cambridge, awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1545 and a master’s degree in 1548. He was also a founding fellow of Trinity College when it was founded in 1546.
Dee travelled through Europe during the late 1540s and early 1550s, studying and lecturing at places including Louvain, Paris and Brussels. It was during this trip that he met mathematicians and cartographers like Gemma Frisius and Gerardus Mercator.
Back in England, Dee was appointed rector at Upton-upon-Severn (apparently on the recommendation of King Edward VI), and in 1555 was made a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. He had, meanwhile, turned down offers of professorships at both the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Oxford, ostensibly because he had hopes of obtaining an official position at court.
It was perhaps in pursuit of this that he subsequently appeared at England’s Royal Court where he took on the role of teacher of the mathematical sciences while also serving as an astrologer to Queen Mary I and courtiers.
The latter role led to Dee’s arrest and imprisonment in 1555 on charges of being a ‘magus’ (magician) – he would go on to appear for questioning in the infamous Star Chamber – but he was eventually cleared of all charges.
In 1558, Dee became a scientific and medical advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and, by the mid-1560s, had established himself in the village of Mortlake (now in the south-west of Greater London) where he built a laboratory and gathered together what was the largest private library in the country at the time, said to have consisted of more than 4,000 books and manuscripts (and the subject of the current exhibition).
Dee was also associated with several English voyages of exploration for which he provided maps and navigational instruments, most famously Sir Martin Frobisher’s expedition to Canada in 1576-78.
He is also known for his strong views on natural philosophy and astrology and the occult, which included the idea that mathematics had a special, supernatural power to reveal divine mysteries. Some of his occult-related ideas were explored in his 1564 text Monas hieroglyphics – one of numerous works he authored – but his most influential work is said to have been a preface he wrote to an English translation of Euclid’s Elements published in 1570 in which he argued for the central role of mathematics.
Dee is said to have married three times – the first in the mid-1560s and, following the deaths of his previous two wives, the last time in 1578 when he was wedded to Jane Fromond, who was less than half his age and who had been a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Lincoln. She bore him some eight children (although there are questions over the paternity of at least one) and died in 1604 of the plaque.
By the 1580s, having failed to win the influence he hoped to have at court and wanting to further his explorations into the supernatural (in particular, communication with ‘angels’ through occult practice of crystal-gazing), he travelled to Europe with a convicted counterfeiter and medium Edward Kelley to Europe.
Returning to England, after much lobbying, Queen Elizabeth I appointed him warden of Manchester College in 1596, but despite this, he returned to London in 1605 where his final years were marked by poverty.
He is believed to have died in March, 1609, at the London home of a friend and was apparently buried in Mortlake (pictured, above, is a memorial plaque at St Mary the Virgin in Mortlake).
It’s believed that William Shakespeare modelled the figure of Prospero in the 1611 play The Tempest on Dee (it’s also claimed that he was the model for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).
Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee runs at the Royal College of Physicians at 11 St Andrews Place, Regent’s Park, until 29th July. Entry is free (check website for opening hours). For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.
May 13, 2016
Launched in 1973, this full-sized, working replica of the galleon sailed by Elizabethan seafarer and courtier Sir Francis Drake on his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 is moored at St Mary Overie Dock in Bankside.
The ship was made at the behest of two American businessmen, Albert Elledge and Art Blum, who wished to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Sir Francis Drake’s landing on the west coast of North America in 1579.
The ship was designed by Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, who spent three years researching it, drawing on original journals of the crew members and other manuscripts.
The two year job of building the vessel was given to J Hinks & Son who did so in Appledore, North Devon, using traditional methods and tools (with a few modern concessions).
The ship was officially launched from the Hinks shipyard by the Countess of Devon on 5th April, 1973. She sailed out of Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974 and arrived in San Francisco the following May to commemorate Sir Francis’ proclamation of New Albion at a site believed to have been in northern California in 1579.
Since then, the ship has sailed more than 140,000 miles around the world – like its forebear, it has circumnavigated the world – and been feared in various films including Shogun (1979), Drake’s Venture (1980) and St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (2009).
It has been moored in Southwark since 1996 – it did leave briefly for a visit to Southampton in 2003 – and as well as hosting school visits, is also open for tours and can be booked for private functions.
WHERE: Golden Hinde II, Bankside (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Self-guided tours 10am to 5.30pm daily (check website for other tour times and dates); COST: Various (depending on tour); WEBSITE: www.goldenhinde.com.
April 15, 2016
Famed for its mention in Geoffrey Chaucer’s iconic 14th century work, The Canterbury Tales, The Tabard Inn once stood on Borough High Street in Southwark.
The inn was apparently first built for the Abbot of Hyde in 1307 as a place where he and his brethren could stay when they came to London and stood on what had been the main Roman thoroughfare between London and Canterbury.
It became a popular hostelry for pilgrims making their way from the Chapel of St Thomas á Becket on London Bridge to the saint’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral and was one of a number of inns which eventually came to be built in Southwark at the London end of the pilgrim route.
It’s in this context that it earns a mention in Chaucer’s 14th century work as the pilgrims set off on their journey.
The inn passed into private hands following the Dissolution and in 1676, 1o years after the Great Fire of London, burned down in a fire which devastated much of Southwark (the back part of it had been damaged by fire a few years earlier). Earlier patrons may have, it’s been suggested, included the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
It was subsequently rebuilt as a galleried coaching inn and came to be renamed The Talbot (it’s been suggested this was due to a spelling mistake by the signwriter). Its neighbour, the George Inn, still stands in Talbot Yard (it was also apparently burnt down and rebuilt after the 1676 fire).
Business for the coaching inns dropped away, however, with the coming of the railways and the building was converted into stores before eventually being demolished in 1874.
A plaque to the inn can be seen in Talbot Yard (named for the inn’s later incarnation) – it was unveiled by Terry Jones in 2003.
April 11, 2016
A street and small district based just to the north of Holborn in the Borough of Camden, the origins of Hatton Garden’s name stem from the Elizabethan-era courtier Sir Christopher Hatton.
Sir Christopher, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and one of her favourites, acquired land here in the 1570s after the Queen forced the bishops of Ely to rent him some of the land they owned which was attached to their London residence, Ely Palace (commemorated today in nearby Ely Place, still home to London’s oldest Catholic church).
Hatton, whose annual rent was apparently fixed at £10, 10 stacks of hay and a red rose at midsummer, subsequently built a property, Hatton House, on the garden.
This survived until the mid-1600s when a series of properties were laid out on the site, centred on what is now the street known as Hatton Garden (Sir Christopher, who was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, had died in 1591). Wren House, originally apparently a chapel and later a charity school, which still stands in Hatton Garden, was built around this time.
The houses were mostly replaced in the mid 18th century with new homes built for prosperous merchants but, as the years passed, while the street itself remained home to some of the wealthy, the same could not be said of some other streets nearby, like Saffron Hill, which became notorious slums.
In the early 1800s artisans started moving into Hatton Garden – London’s Little Italy was born around this time just to the north when Italian craftsmen started moving in (the St Peter’s Italian Church opened in 1863 in Clerkenwell Road) – and the area was gradually transformed into a commercial district.
Jewellery and watch-makers, who had long been based in Clerkenwell, started moving in and the street soon became particularly noted as a centre for cutting diamonds, initially those from India. It was an association which only grew stronger following the discovery of diamonds in South Africa’s Kimberley diamond field in the 1870s.
Today, the street known as Hatton Garden – which runs between Holborn and Clerkenwell Road – still contains the most concentrated cluster of jewellery retailers in the UK (as well as apparently an extensive subterranean network of tunnels and passageways as well as many heavily guarded underground vaults) and is still the centre of London’s diamond trade.
Incidentally, the street was also home to workshops at number 57 which, from 1881, produced the rapid firing Maxim Gun following its invention by Sir Hiram Maxim (and, of course, it was also the location of last year’s safe depository robbery and another famous jewellery robbery back in 1993).
A short side note – it was the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton’s nephew, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who become associated with Bleeding Heart Yard (you can revisit that story in our earlier post here).
This Week in London – Botticelli at the V&A; Shakespeare recalled in free sound and light show; and, ‘punk’ captured on film…
March 3, 2016
• A major new exhibition opening at the V&A this Saturday will feature more than 150 works from around the world in a display exploring how artists and designers have responded to the artistic legacy of Botticelli. Italian artist Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was largely forgotten for more than 300 years after his death but is now widely recognised as one of the greatest artists of all time. Botticelli Reimagined features painting, fashion, film, drawing, photography, tapestry, sculpture and print with works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, René Magritte, Elsa Schiaparelli, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman. The exhibition is divided into three sections: ‘Global, Modern, Contemporary’, ‘Rediscovery’, and ‘Botticelli in his own Time’. Runs until 3rd July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/Botticelli. PICTURE: Venus, after Botticelli by Yin Xin (2008). Private collection, courtesy Duhamel Fine Art, Paris. (Name of artist corrected)
• The historic facade of Guildhall in the City of London will become a canvas for a free son et lumiére show on Friday and Saturday nights to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. The display, which runs on a 20 minute loop between 6.45pm and 8.45pm, will feature period images and music from the City’s extensive archives and use 3D projection mapping techniques to transform the Dance Porch of the 15th century building. The Guildhall Art Gallery will be open from 6pm to 9pm and, as well as allowing people to view a property deed for a house in Blackfriars which was signed by the Bard, will feature a pop-up bar with a Shakespeare-themed cocktail. For more on this and other events, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/shakespeare400.
• The 40th anniversary of punk is the subject of a new photographic exhibition drawn from the archives of world renowned music photographer and rockarchive.com founder Jill Furmanovsky which opened at the City of London Corporation’s Barbican Music Library this week. Chunk of Punk, which runs until 28th April, features many of Furmanovsky’s well-known punk-related images as well as hitherto unseen pictures with The Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Undertones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Blondie and Iggy Pop among the bands featured. The exhibition forms part of Punk.London: 40 Years of Subversive Culture. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
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February 26, 2016
Recently conserved by the National Archives, Shakespeare’s last will and testament is at the heart of a new exhibition on show at Somerset House.
By Me William Shakespeare: A Life In Writing, the first joint exhibition of the National Archives and King’s College London, features four of the six known signatures of Shakespeare still in existence and, along with his last will and testament, shows some of the most significant Shakespeare-related documents in the world tracking his existence as everything from a London citizen, businessman, family man, servant to possibly even a thief and subversive.
But back to the will. While not written in the Bard’s hand, the will is signed by him in three places and indicates the wealth and status he had garnered by the time of his death on 23rd April, 1616.
Evidence shows that Shakespeare revised his will as his estate changed, and just before his death, he added personal bequests including that a silver bowl be given to his second eldest daughter Judith, memorial rings to actor friends in London and his second best bed to his wife Anne. He left most of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna, although his will, according to the National Archives, indicates that he had hoped to establish a male legacy.
Other beneficiaries named in the will include his sister Joan and her sons and his grand-daughter Elizabeth Hall while Susanna and her husband John Hall were named as his executors.
The exhibition, which is being held in the Inigo Jones Rooms in Somerset House’s East Wing as part of the series of events being held to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, runs until 29th May. Admission charge applies.
Other documents featured in the display – all of which are registered with UNESCO – include accounts listing the grant of four-and-half yards of red cloth to Shakespeare by King James I for participation in his coronation procession in 1604, accounts from the Master of Revels showing when plays were performed at court (useful for helping to date when Shakespeare wrote particular plays), and a document recording testimony Shakespeare gave in court when his landlord, Christopher Mountjoy, failed to provide his son-in-law with a dowry for his daughter’s hand (Shakespeare is likely to have played a role in arranging the marriage).
For more on the exhibition, see www.bymewilliamshakespeare.org.
February 25, 2016
• John Dee (1527-1609), the enigmatic Elizabethan “mathematician, magician, astronomer, astrologer, imperialist, alchemist and spy”, is the subject of an exhibition currently running at the Royal College of Physicians Museum in Regent’s Park. Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee explores his life through remnants of his personal library and features mathematical, astronomical and alchemical texts, many of which he elaborately annotated and even illustrated. The texts are drawn from the collection of the college library which has more than 100 of the doctor’s volumes and which forms the largest collection of Dee’s books in the world. The books represent only a fraction of the more than 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts he claimed to own before his library was, so Dee claimed, sold off illicitly by his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond after he gave them into his care when he travelled to Europe in the 1580s. Many of them apparently fell into the hands of Nicholas Saunder, possibly a former student of Dee’s and later passed into the hands of book collector Henry Pierrepont, the Marquis of Dorchester, whose family gave his entire library to the Royal College of Physicians after his death in 1680. The free exhibition runs until 29th July. For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.
• Botticelli’s drawings for Dante’s epic poem, the Divine Comedy, are at the heart of a new exhibition which opened earlier this month at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, which is being run in collaboration with the Kuperferstichkabinett (Prints and Drawings Museum) in Berlin, features treasures which were sold to Berlin by the 12th Duke of Hamilton in 1882 despite efforts by Queen Victoria to prevent the transaction. They include a selection of 30 of Botticelli’s drawings – which date from about 1480-95 – as well as illuminated manuscripts including the Hamilton Bible. Said to be one of the most important illuminated manuscripts in the world, it is being returned to the UK for the first time since 1882. The exhibition, which coincides with Botticelli Reimagined opening at the V&A next month, runs until 15th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sandro Botticelli – Beatrice explains to Dante the order of the cosmos (Divine Comedy, Paradiso II), around 1481-1495/© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett/Philipp Allard.
• The stories of women in times of war form the heart of a new display on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Eleven Women Facing War features photographs and films taken by award-winning British photographer and film-maker Nick Danziger. He first photographed the 11 women, who all lived in conflict zones, in 2001 for an International Committee of the Red Cross study documenting the needs of women facing war before setting out 10 years later to find each of the women and see what had become of their lives. The exhibition features 33 photographs and 11 short films from conflict zones including Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Hebron (West Bank), Sierra Leone, Colombia and Argentina. Among the stories told are those of Mah Bibi, a 10-year-old orphan who was begging for food for herself and two brothers when first photographed in Afghanistan and who, 10 years later, had vanished and is believed to have died in 2006. Another is that of Mariatu, who was struggling to rebuild her life in Sierra Leone after her hands had been forcibly amputated by guerrilla soldiers at the age of 13 when she was photographed in 2001 and who 10 years later had moved to Canada. The exhibition runs until 24th April. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
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This Week in London – London illuminated; commemorating Shakespeare’s death; and, of bees and pollination…
January 14, 2016
• The biggest ever light festival to hit London opens tonight. Lumber London, produced by Artichoke with the support of the Mayor of London and visitlondon.com, will see a host of international artists transform a series of iconic buildings and locations in four areas across the city – Piccadilly, Regent Street and St James’s, Trafalgar Square and Westminster, Mayfair and King’s Cross. The 30 installations include French collective TILT’s Garden of Light featuring giant illuminated plants in Leicester Square, Patrice Warrener’s The Light of the Spirit which envelopes the west front of Westminster Abbey in colour and light, Deepa Mann-Kler’s Neon Dogs – a collection of 12 neon dogs inspired by the balloon dogs seen at children’s parties, this sits near Trafalgar Square, and, Pipette, a colourful installation by Miriam Gleeman (of The Cross Kings) and Tom Sloan (of Tom Sloan Design) which sits in the pedestrian subway, the King’s Cross Tunnel. Other highlights include Julian Opie’s work Shaida Walking, 2015 which will be permanently located in Broadwick Street, Soho, and Janet Echelon’s enormous net sculpture 1.8 London which is strung between buildings at Oxford Circus. The festival runs from 6.30pm to 10.30pm over the next four nights. You can download a free map on the installations or use the free London Official City Guide app to locate them. For more information – including the full programme – see www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.
• A property deed signed by playwright William Shakespeare and one of the most complete first folios of his works have gone on show in the London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Alongside the two documents which dates from 1613 and 1623, the Shakespeare and London exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – to be commemorated on 23rd April this year – will also display other documents related to the story of London’s playhouses. The property deed – which relates to a property in Blackfriars – is only one of six surviving documents to bear the playwrights authenticated signature while the first folio is one of five of the most complete copies in existence and is apparently usually only brought out for consultation by Shakespearean scholars and actors. The exhibition runs until 31st March. Admission is free. For more on it and other events being run to commemorate the Bard’s death, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/shakespeare400. For more on other events this year, check out www.shakespeare400.org.
• See your art featured in an upcoming exhibition on the importance of bees and pollination by attending a drop-in workshop at Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament next week. The workshop, which will be held from 10am to 2pm on 20th January, will see participants create their own 3D flowers based on famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Jan Van Huysum currently in The National Gallery’s collection – all as part of a focus looking at what plants bees are attracted to. The art created in the workshop will be seen in an exhibition A Right Royal Buzz which is the result of a collaboration between The Royal Parks, The National Gallery and Mall Galleries and will be seen across all three venues (Victoria Tower Gardens representing the Royal Parks) from 17th t0 20th February. For more, head to this link.
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November 16, 2015
There’s a couple of different suggestions as to how Bleeding Heart Yard – a small courtyard located in the Farringdon area of the City of London, just north of Ely Place – obtained its rather descriptive – and gory – name.
The more prosaic answer is that it was named after an inn which, from the 16th century, stood on the yard and had a sign showing the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.
The more interesting answer, on the other hand, is that the name commemorates the horrible murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton (of the famed Cecil family), second wife of Sir William Hatton (formerly known as Newport), and, after his death, wife of Sir Edward Coke.
The story goes that her corpse was found here on 27th January, 1626, with the beating heart torn from the body.
A version of the legend – albeit with a slightly different protagonist – appears in a story published in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 which told of how the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton (he was actually the uncle of Sir William Hatton), made a somewhat ill-conceived pact with the Devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. The Devil dances with her during the housewarming party at the new home and then tears out her heart, found beating in the yard the next morning.
The yard also features in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit where it is the location of the home of the Plornish family.
October 7, 2015
We’ve mentioned the Geffrye Museum gardens before but they’re well worth a more detailed mention.
There are two distinct gardens at the Geffrye – the first are the public gardens located just off Kingsland Road which were originally laid out when the almshouses in which the museum is now based were constructed while the second is the walled herb garden and series of period garden ‘rooms’ which are much more recent additions.
While origins of the former date back to when the almshouses – 14 homes of four rooms each with a central chapel – were built in 1712-14 by the Ironmonger’s Company under instructions in the will of Sir Robert Geffrye (for more on him, see our earlier Famous Londoners entry here), they weren’t opened to the public until 1912 when the London County Council took over the site (for more on the history of the almshouses, see our earlier entries here and here).
These gardens originally featured a series of lime trees and by the early 19th century, an image shows lawns surrounded by railings with some flower beds and trees. The front lawns were apparently grazed by sheep or employed for growing crops of potatoes.
By the mid-1800s, the lime trees had been replaced by London plane trees, most of which are still standing. The gardens were again laid out in 1900-01 and again after the LCC took over in 1910 when a small pool was added in front of the chapel and a bandstand and playground elsewhere in the gardens.
The grounds also include a small graveyard – that of the Ironmongers’ – and among those buried here are Geffrye and his wife, their remains brought here from the chapel of St Dionis Backchurch in Lime Street when it was demolished in 1878.
The walled herb garden and period garden ‘rooms’, meanwhile, were added in the 1990s. The herb garden opened in 1992 on a what had been a derelict site to the north of the building – it features four square beds containing more than 170 different herbs and plants.
The period garden ‘rooms’, meanwhile, were laid out in 1998 to showcase middle class town gardens from different eras. They currently include a Tudor “knot garden”, a Georgian garden, a Victorian garden and an Edwardian garden.
Each of these gardens has been carefully constructed using evidence gathered from drawings and prints, maps and garden plans along with plant lists, diaries and literature.
WHERE: Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch (nearest tube station is Old Street; nearest Overground station is Hoxton); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday (front gardens are open all year round by period and herb gardens are only open until 1st November and reopen on 28th March; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/explore-the-geffrye/explore-gardens/.
July 20, 2015
Famous for its associations with London’s theatreland, Drury Lane takes its name from the Drury family who once owned a mansion here.
Previously known as the Via de Aldwych (apparently for a stone monument the Aldwych Cross which stood at the street’s northern end), Drury Lane – which runs between High Holborn and Aldwych – was renamed after Drury House which was built at the southern end of the street.
Some accounts suggest it was Sir Robert Drury (1456-1535), an MP and lawyer, who built the property around 1500; others say it was his son, Sir William Drury, also an MP and a Privy Councillor, who did so in around 1600 – which may mean there were two versions of the one property.
The street, meanwhile, is said to have been briefly renamed Prince’s Street during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) but, following the Restoration in 1660, the name Drury once more gained supremacy.
The origins of the street’s famous theatre (London’s oldest), the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from the same year (see our earlier post here). Other theatres in the street included the Cockpit Theatre which had been designed at one stage by Inigo Jones.
The street is also famous for being the site of the worst outbreak of the plague in London – the Great Plague of 1665, burned away the following year by the Great Fire – and by the 18th century was a slum noted for its seediness, in particular for prostitution (it features in William Hogarth’s work The Harlot’s Progress).
This didn’t change until the second half of the 19th century – author Charles Dickens had been among others who had commented on the poverty he had seen there – when gentrification took hold. Among the shops opened there during this time was the first Sainsbury’s, founded at number 173 in 1869.
Alongside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (although the main entrance is in Catherine Street), other theatres in the street today include the New London Theatre and the London Theatre.
June 23, 2015
A series of bronze sculptures inspired by the characters of William Shakespeare’s plays is appearing at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on Bankside this summer. The work of Susan Bacon, the sculptures are being displayed alongside some of the clay maquettes – or “sculptural calligraphy” – Bacon created before working in bronze. She explains: “The characters start with a small sketch in clay. These maquettes are to me the beginning of an idea, the seeds that make up Shakespeare’s characters. As in the study of the spontaneous fluency in Zen Calligraphy with ink, so it can be in clay; a natural attempt to transfer these ideas and their energy into uninterrupted form. Working on images and speeches I combine in my mind many ideas and thoughts that are drawn out by the words. Only then do I execute a quick sculptural response.” The sculptures can be seen in the foyer of the Globe until 18th October (open daily, 9am to 11pm, free admission). For more, see www.shakespearesglobe.com.
PICTURE: Pete Le May