This Week in London – Marble Hill revived; Harry Kane at the Museum of London; and, golden books at the British Library…

Marble Hill in London’s west reopens on Saturday following a restoration and the reinstatement of a lost pleasure garden. Once home to King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, Marble Hill is a rare example of a home built by and for a woman in Georgian England and is one of the last survivors of the many 18th century villas that once fronted the Thames in the area. Marble Hill was built as a country retreat from London’s crowds and among those entertained here were poet Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, John Gay and Jonathan Swift. English Heritage has invested £3 million into a major transformation of the house and 66 acres of riverside parkland which also used a £5 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Community Lottery Fund. This has included the reinstatement of a pleasure garden – an “Arcadian landscape” which was inspired by sketches made by Pope – with the opening up of previously inaccessible woodland areas, the reinstallation of paths and the replanting of avenues of trees that led from the house to the river. Howard’s ninepin bowling alley has been restored and an 18th-century garden grotto has been excavated and returned to its 18th-century appearance. Inside the house, English Heritage has re-instated the paint scheme that existed during Howard’s lifetime in several interior spaces, including the Great Room, conserved the fine collection of early Georgian paintings which includes portraits of Howard’s circle and re-created furniture including an intricate carved peacock motif table and luxurious crimson silk wall hangings in her dressing room. The new display has reframed Howar’s beyond being simply the King’s mistress by also exploring her abusive first marriage and the role deafness played in her life as well as her rise in Georgian society and the social circles she captivated. Entry to the house is free. For more, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/.

Harry Kane of England celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on 29th June, 2021 in London, England. PICTURE: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

England football captain Harry Kane is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Harry Kane: I want to play football features sporting memorabilia including the shirt Kane, who grew up in Chingford, East London, wore on his debut for England where he scored against Lithuania just 79 seconds after coming on the pitch, Kane’s MBE which was awarded to him in March 2019 for ‘services to sport’ and the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot (Kane being one of only two British players to receive a Golden Boot at a World Cup competition, where he was named Man of the Match three times) as well as family photos. The display also includes a changing room space where visitors can listen to Kane’s pre-match playlist and an interactive area where visitors can learn more about who has inspired Harry and share their own hopes and dreams. A programme of activities for families and children will run alongside the free display. Runs until December. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The use of gold in embellishing and enhancing the written word across cultures, faiths and through time is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library. Gold, which opens Friday, showcases some of the most luxurious illuminated manuscripts, gold-tooled books, sacred texts and scrolls from the British Library’s collection with objects on display including the Harley Golden Gospels, the Lotus Sutra and a treaty in Malayalam, beautifully inscribed on a long strip of gold itself. Admission charge applies. Runs until 2nd October. For more, see www.bl.uk.

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This Week in London – Charles Jennens at the Foundling Museum; Dr John Conolly’s Blue Plaque; and, Kyōsai at the Royal Academy…

The Foundling Museum. PICTURE: dvdbramhall (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Charles Jennens, who is best-known as the librettist of Handel’s Messiah but was also a patron of the arts, scholar and educator, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury on Friday. Charles Jennens: Patron & Polymath features portraits, correspondence and printed documents reflecting the varied interests and achievements of this Georgian character. Jennens was a non-juror – meaning he supported the legitimacy of the deposed Catholic Stuarts – but was also a Protestant. His art collection was one of the best in Britain and his Palladian mansion, Gopsall Hall in Leicestershire, featured a music room with an organ built to Handel’s specifications. Admission charge applies. Runs until 16th October. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/event/charles-jennens-polymath/.

• Dr John Conolly, an early advocate of human treatments for people living with mental illness and the former Hanwell Asylum have been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. The plaque has been placed on what was the left wing of the asylum and is now part of St Bernard’s Hospital. It was here that Conolly, who was appointed Resident Physician at the Middlesex County Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1839 – then one of the biggest asylums in London, advocated a system of ‘non-restraint’ which, though initially seen as controversial, drew support from reformers and which by 1846 had been embraced as ruling orthodoxy by the then-new national Lunacy Commission. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

On Now: The works of Kawanabe Kyōsai, the most popular Japanese painter of the late 19th century, are on show in the Royal Academy’s Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection focuses largely on the art of sekiga or ‘spontaneous paintings’ which were produced at ‘calligraphy and painting parties’ (shogakai), often fuelled by prodigious amounts of saké. The display – the first monographic exhibition of Kyōsai’s work in the UK since 1993 – includes around 80 words, many of which have never been exhibited. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th June. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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10 historic stairways in London – 8. The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace… 

PICTURE: Tuomo Lindfors (licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This staircase, a grand entrance to the King’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace, are famous for the paintings on the walls and ceiling which depict an 18th century court looking down on those who ascend.

The work of William Kent, the staircase paintings were complete in 1724 and replaced earlier wooden panelling.

The stairs were originally constructed as part of Sir Christopher Wren’s remodelling Nottingham House into Kensington Palace for King William III and Queen Mary II. Following a fire in 1691, they were rebuilt in marble.

There are 45 people in Kent’s painting and only about a dozen have been identified. As well as members of the Yeomen of the Guard, the images depict King George I’s Polish page Ulric, his Turkish servants Mahomet and Mustapha, Peter the ‘wild boy’, a child found in the woods in Germany, and Dr John Arbuthnot, a medical doctor and satirist who tried to teach Peter to speak.

Interestingly, Kent included a selfie on the ceiling – a depiction of himself, wearing a brown turban and carrying an artist’s palette, standing with his mistress by his side.

The trompe l’oeil (a technique which creates the optical illusion of 3D) work features architecture inspired by Rome where Kent had trained while there’s also a painted figure of Diana on the top landing which is based on an antique statue at Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

In 1734, Queen Caroline commissioned Kent to rework the stairs to the Queen’s State Apartments. His work there features a Roman-inspired scene again created as a trompe l’oeil. There is also a homage to Queen who is compared to Britannia. The staircase’s balustrade was another by Huguenot ironworker Jean Tijou.

WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm); COST: £16 adult/£12.80 concession/£8 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace.

This Week in London – ‘The Blue Boy’ returns; Heath Robinson’s children’s stories; and, architectural wonders…

‘The Blue Boy’, Thomas Gainsborough PICTURE: © Courtesy of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California

A century after it last appeared in the UK, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy returns to the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square from next Wednesday. The showing of the painting, which left for the United States in 1921 after it was purchased by rail and property businessman Henry E Huntington, marks the first (and possibly the last) time it has ever been lent out since that date. The full-length portrait, which was created in 1770 by Gainsborough during a period he spent in Bath, can usually be found at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The painting is being shown alongside four other works that, among other things, demonstrate Gainsborough’s interest in Flemish artist Sir Anthony van Dyck’s work from 100 years earlier. They include Van Dyck’s George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Lord Francis Villiers (1635) and Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart (about 1638) as Gainsborough’s works Elizabeth and Mary Linley (about 1772) and Mrs Siddons (1785). The display can be seen for free in Room 46 from 25th January until 15th May. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

An exhibition showcasing artwork from Heath Robinson’s children’s stories opened at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner last Saturday. Heath Robinson’s Children’s Stories features works from books including The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902), The Child’s Arabian Nights (1903), Bill the Minder (1912) and Peter Quip in Search of a Friend (1922). Entry is included in general admission charge. Runs until 15th May. For more, see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

Shortlisted and winning entries from The Architecture Drawing Prize 2020 and 2021 have gone on show at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The competition, run in partnership with Make Architects and the World Architecture Festival, is now in its fifth year with awards made across three categories – digital, hand-drawn and hybrid. Entry is free (pre booking required). Runs until 20th February. For more, see www.soane.org/exhibitions/architecture-drawing-prize-2021.

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A Moment in London’s History – The ‘Cock Lane Ghost’ appears…

It’s 260 years ago this month that a supposed poltergeist known as the ‘Cock Lane Ghost’ was at the centre of an infamous scandal.

There had been several reports of strange sounds and spectral appearances at the property prior to January, 1762, but it was the events which took place that month which were to elevate the hauntings to the national stage.

Cock Lane, shown in Charles Mackay’s 1852 work ‘Haunted Houses’. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia

It was in that month that Elizabeth Parsons, the 11-year-old daughter of Richard Parsons, the officiating clerk at St Sepulchre Church, reported hearing knockings and scratchings while she was lying in bed. Her father, Richard Parsons, the officiating clerk at nearby St Sepulchre, enlisted the aid of John Moore, assistant preacher at St Sepulchre and a Methodist, to find their cause and the two concluded that the spirit haunting the house was that of Fanny Lynes, who had formerly lived in the property before apparently dying of smallpox in early February, 1760.

The two men devised a system for communicating with the spirit based on knocks and based on the answers they received, concluded that Lynes had not died of smallpox but actually been poisoned with arsenic by her lover (and brother-in-law) William Kent.

Kent had been married to Fanny’s sister Elizabeth and after her death, he had lived with Lynes as man and wife despite prohibitions on them being married due to their status as in-laws. Parsons, who was their landlord at the time, had taken a loan from Kent while they were living at the property but subsequently refused to pay it back leading Kent to successfully sue him for its recovery.

It was against that backdrop – and earlier reports that the ghost of Fanny’s sister Elizabeth had haunted the property after her death – that the story of ‘Scratching Fanny’ began to spread and led to crowds gathering in Cock Lane to witness the phenomena. Writer Horace Walpole was among them – he attended along with Prince Edward, the Duke of York and Albany, and, apart from not hearing the ghost (he was told it would appear the next morning at 7am), noted that the local alehouses were doing a great trade.

Such was the case’s fame that the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Samuel Fludyer, ordered an investigation – among those who was involved was famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson. They concluded that the girl had been making the noises herself (Dr Johnson went on to write an account of it which was published in The Gentlemen’s Magazine). Further investigations were held – Fanny’s body even exhumed – and Elizabeth was later seen concealing a small piece of wood (apparently to make the sounds), subsequently confessing that her father had put her up to it.

Kent, however, was determined to clear his name and Moore, along with Parsons, Parson’s wife Elizabeth, Mary Frazer, a relative of Parsons, and a tradesman Richard James, were all subsequently charged with conspiracy to take Kent’s life by alleging he had murdered Frances. The trial, which took place at Guildhall before Lord Chief Justice William Murray, on 10th July, 1762, saw guilty verdicts returned for all five defendants. Moore and Richards agreed to pay Kent a sum of more than £500 but the others refused and so in February the following year they were sentenced – Parsons to three turns in the pillory and two years imprisonment, his wife Elizabeth to a year in prison and Frazer to six months hard labour in Bridewell.

The case, which also caused controversy between the new Methodists and Anglicans over the issue of ghosts, was widely referred to in literature of the time including by satirical poet Charles Churchill in his work The Ghost. It was also referenced by William Hogarth in his prints and Victorian author Charles Dickens even alluded to the story in A Tale of Two Cities.

Famous Londoners – Thomas Arne..

Eighteenth century English composer Thomas Arne, considered one of British greatest theatrical composers and most well known for creating the music for his patriotic song Rule Britannia, spent most of his life in London.

Thomas Augustine Arne after Robert Dunkarton line engraving, circa 1775-1800 (NPG D13867) PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery, London

The son of an upholster, Arne, whose middle name was Augustine, was born in Covent Garden in 1710 and baptised in St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Arne was educated at Eton College where, such was his passion for music, he is said to have secretly practised with a spinet, a smaller type of harpsichord, in his room at night, muffling the strings to keep from being discovered.

He became a violin student of composer Michael Festing and, such was his love of music, that he is said to have disguised himself in the livery of servant to attend the opera.

Following his father’s wishes, Arne worked briefly as a solicitor after leaving school but was subsequently permitted to leave the law and pursue a life in music (there were other family connections to music and performance – his father had actually been involved in financing some operas and both his sister Susannah Maria and brother Richard would go on to have careers in the theatre and music worlds).

Over the more than 40 years between 1733 and 1776, Arne wrote music for about 80 stage works which included everything from plays and masques to pantomimes and operas.

His big break came when he became house composer at Drury Lane Theatre, writing music for various plays and pantomimes and involving both his brother and his sister in the performances (his residences at this time are said to have included properties in Great Queen Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields).

Arne was already a star when, on 15th March, 1737, he married the singer Cecilia Young (he may have already had a son prior to this).

In 1738, he – along with others including George Frideric Handel – founded the Society of Musicians (which would become the Royal Society of Music). Arne also received the patronage of Frederick, the Prince of Wales – in fact, it was at the prince’s country house, Cliveden, that he debuted Rule, Britannia, during a performances of his Masque of Alfred in 1740.

Arne and his wife spent two years in Dublin in the early 1740s and on his return to London in 1744, he was again composing music for Drury Lane. He also composed music for performances at Vauxhall Gardens.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Arne left Drury Lane for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750 after he had begun to fall out of favour with theatre manager David Garrick who was increasingly turning to other composers.

In 1755, while again in Dublin, he separated from Cecilia, alleging she was mentally ill, and began a relationship with one of his students, Charlotte Brent. Brent would perform in several of his works including in Thomas and Sally (the first English opera to be completely sung) and Artaxerxes (which became one of the most successfully and influential English operas of the era). Brent would eventually go on to eventually marry a violinist in 1766.

His career took a downturn in the mid 1760s but in 1769, Garrick appointed Arne musical director for the Shakespeare festival at Stratford upon Avon. Arne composed several pieces for the event including An Ode upon Dedicating a Building to Shakespeare, the success of which put him back into favour with the London theatres.

In late 1777, Arne was reconciled with his wife (their son, Michael, went on to become a composer). But his health deteriorated soon after and Arne died on 5th March, 1778, at a house in Bow Street, Covent Garden. He was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque was erected at the site of his former home at 31 King Street, Covent Garden, in 1988 (pictured above).

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 8. The home where Mozart composed his first symphony…

180 Ebury Street, Belgravia. PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Think of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and chances are it isn’t London which immediately comes to mind. But it was in a home in Belgravia that the then-precocious eight-year-old composed his first symphony.

Mozart, his father Leopold, mother Anna Maria and his elder sister Maria Anna spent almost a year-and-a-half in London, between April, 1764, and July, 1765, as part of a European grand tour. Having initially taken lodgings above a barber’s shop in Cecil Court in Soho, they moved to the more rural setting of 180 Ebury Street, then known as Five Fields Row, in August so his father could recover from a serious illness which apparently developed after he caught a cold.

Philip Jackson’s statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Orange Square. PICTURE: Peter O’Connor (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mozart and his sister were both child prodigies and during their London sojourner performed in various London theatres and for King George III and Queen Charlotte at Buckingham Palace on several occasions. But, with his father now needing quiet, they were forbidden to play instruments in the house and so, according to his sister’s writings, in order to keep himself busy it was there that he composed his “first symphony for all the instruments of the orchestra, especially for trumpets and kettledrums”.

While the work she was referring to is now lost, Mozart did go on to compose the symphony that is now seen as his first at the same time. Known as K.16 in E flat major, it was first performed at the Haymarket Little Theatre in February, 1765.

Leopold did recover and so the family moved back to Soho – lodging at 20 Frith Street to be précise – in September, 1764. It was there that Mozart met the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian, who was to be a key influence on his musical style. They left the property – and brought their time in England to an end in July, 1765, amid waning public interest in their performances (they gone from performing for the Royal Family to entertaining pub patrons). The family continued with their European tour before eventually returning to their home town of Salzburg (Mozart later settled in Vienna where he died at the young age of 35).

Mozart’s time at the Ebury Street residence (and the composition he wrote there) is commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (albeit this one is brown) which was erected by the then London County Council in 1939. Following damage in the war, it was reinstated in 1951. There’s also a statue commemorating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in nearby Orange Square. Designed by Philip Jackson, it was erected in 1994.

Lost London – Prison hulks on the Thames…

Floating prisons known as ‘hulks’ were a regular site on the Thames in London between the late 18th century and mid-19th century, used to house convicts awaiting transportation to British penal colonies including in what is now Australia.

The ‘hulks’ were actually decommissioned warships, dismasted and repurposed for the purpose of housing prisoners.

The Warrior’ converted into a prison hulk off Woolwich. PICTURE: Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 21st February, 1846.

The decision to use the former warships – some of which had a storied history – for such a purpose was initially seen as a temporary measure to ease overcrowding in the jails with an Act of Parliament in 1776 only authorising their use for two years.

But, despite rising concerns over conditions on the hulks, they remained in use until 1857 when the act finally expired for good. Some 8,000 convicts were housed upon them in the first 20 years alone.

The hulks were initially moored off Woolwich – the former East Indiaman Justitia and a former French Navy frigate Censor were among the first – and the convicts aboard them put to use working to improve the river and at Woolwich Arsenal and nearby docks. The hulks were also later positioned at sites including Limehouse and Deptford (and the idea of using hulks was also exported to colonies in Australia and the Caribbean).

The hulks were initially operated by private individuals under a government contract but from 1802 they were placed under the supervision of the Inspector of Hulks. Aaron Graham was first to hold the post while his successor John Capper, who was appointed Superintendent of Prisons and the Hulk Establishment in 1814, oversaw numerous reforms of the system. During Capper’s tenure, the use of private contractors was later phased out with the government assuming direct responsibility for the hulks.

Some hulks – like positioned at Limehouse – were used as “receiving hulks” where prisoners were initially sent for several days where they were inspected and issued clothing, blankets, and a mess kit. They were then sent to “convict hulks” where they were assigned to a mess and a work gang for the long-term. Other hulks were to serve specific purposes such as being a “hospital hulk” (there was also a hulk off Kent, the Bellerophon, which was specifically designated for boys).

Conditions on board the vessels were indeed appalling and disease spread quickly with mortality rates of 30 per cent not uncommon. Prisoners were kept chained when aboard and floggings handed out as punishment for any offences. Food and clothing were of poor quality.

Despite this, the hulks continued to be seen as a convenient means of housing convicts and, in 1841, there were still more than 3,500 convicts on board hulks in England. It was said that one ship – a second vessel named Justitia – housed as many as 700 convicts alone.

Following several government inquiries into the hulks and the construction of more prisons on land, the hulks were gradually decommissioned. But altogether, between  1776 and 1884, the British Government had converted more than 150 ships into hulks in both the UK and the colonies.

This Week in London – The extraordinary story of George King; Guildhall statues survive (with explanations); and, Wildlife Photographer of the Year…

The extraordinary story of 18th century foundling and sailor George King, who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow. Fighting Talk: One Boy’s Journey from Abandonment to Trafalgar features King’s hand-written account of his life, a fragment of the flag from Nelson’s coffin, letters between the Foundling Hospital’s matron and Lady Emma Hamilton (annotated by Nelson himself) and two rare Naval General Service Medals, of which only 221 were awarded retrospectively when the medal was first issued in 1849, belonging to King and the foundling William South, who served aboard HMS Victory. There is also a display of works by contemporary artist and photographer Ingrid Pollard – Ship’s Tack – which reflects on the Foundling Hospital’s connections with Empire, trade and the Navy and which includes newly commissioned work responding directly to George’s autobiography. Runs until 27th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Two Guildhall statues portraying figures with links to the slave trade will be retained but have information added detailing those links. The City of London Corporation’s Court of Common Council voted last week to keep the statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass which will have plaques or notices placed alongside them containing contextual information about the two men’s links to slavery. William Beckford was an 18th century slave owner and two-time Lord Mayor of London, while Cass – an MP and philanthropist – was a key figure in the Royal African Company, which traded in slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School in the City and the nearby Cass Business School have already changed their names to remove the association with their founder and his links to slavery.

•  French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta has won the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year for an image showing camouflage groupers exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia. The image was selected out of 50,000 entries from 95 countries and is being displayed with 100 images in an exhibition opening at the museum on Friday. Meanwhile 10-year old Vidyun R Hebbar, who lives in Bengaluru, India, was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 for his colourful image, Dome home, showing a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by. The exhibition can be seen until 5th June next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.

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10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 1. 25 (and 23) Brook Street, Mayfair…

OK, so we all know about the Abbey Road crossing and its connection with the Beatles, but where are some other sites of historic musical significance in London?

23 and 25 Brook Street, Mayfair. PICTURE: Google Maps.

First up, it’s the Mayfair home where 18th century composer George Frideric Handel lived from 1723 until his death in 1759 – and where he composed much of his best known work including masterpieces such as Zadok the Priest (1727, it was composed for the coronation of King George II), Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah (1741), and Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749).

The German-born Handel, who settled permanently in London in 1712 (and who became a naturalised British citizen in 1727), was the first occupant of the terraced house located at what is now 25 Brook Street (but previously known as 57) which is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.

The property, which is today decorated as it would have been during early Georgian times, is thought to have been convenient for its proximity to be the theatres where his works works were performed and St James’s Palace, where he served as Composer of Music for the Chapel Royal.

A small room on the first floor is believed to be where Handel did most of his composing. He is also understood to have used the larger adjoining music room for rehearsing his works from the 1730s (possibly due to a lack of space at the venue where he mainly performed, the Covent Garden Theatre).

Handel died in the house on 14th April, 1759. The property, which subsequently was lived in by various people, became a museum dedicated to the composer in 2001.

Known for the first 15 years of its existence as the Handel House Museum, in 2016 it was expanded to include the upper floors of the adjoining home, 23 Brook Street, a flat which served as home to another musical great, Jimi Hendrix, in 1968-1969. The museum is now known as Handel & Hendrix in London.

Both properties have English Heritage Blue Plaques upon them. The first plaque were erected on Handel House in about 1870 by the Society of Arts and was replaced in 1952 and again in 2001, when his middle name was corrected to Frideric from Frederick. The plaque commemorating Hendrix’s residence in Number 23 was erected in 1997.

The museum is closed, with limited exceptions, until March, 2023, for a refurbishment project called the The Hallelujah Project. But you can head to the website to take a 3D virtual tour: https://handelhendrix.org.

A Moment in London’s History – The coronation of King George III and Queen Charlotte…

Equestrian statue of King George III in Cockspur Street. PICTURE: David Nicholls
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This month marks 260 years since King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz were crowned King and Queen of the Kingdom of Great Britain at a ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Only 23-years-old at the time, King George III had ascended to the throne before following the death of his grandfather, King George II, in October, 1760. He and his wife, then Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had married in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace just two weeks prior to the coronation on 8th September, 1761 (they had met earlier the same day).

The royal couple started the day of the coronation – 22nd September – at St James’s Palace and were carried in sedan chairs to Westminster Hall, arriving at about 11am. They then processed on foot through crowds from the hall to Westminster Abbey (the crowds were said to be such that numerous carriages had collided with each other in the bid to reach the abbey). There, they proceeded to a special platform built in the abbey for the occasion.

Commencing at about 3pm, the coronation ceremony began. In an elaborate ceremony overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Secker, the new King was then crowned (Zadok the Priest, which George Frideric Handel had written for the coronation of King George II, was the anthem at the new king’s request). A simpler ceremony followed in which Charlotte was crowned Queen Consort.

The whole affair reportedly lasted more than six hours, so long that some guests are said to have tucked into snacks while watching.

A feast was subsequently held in Westminster Hall during which the King’s Champion, wearing full armour, rode into the hall and threw down a gauntlet challenging any who questioned the King’s legitimacy to step up (none did). During the feast, spectators in the galleries above let down baskets and handkerchiefs for their better placed friends below to fill with food.

The King and Queen departed the feat at about 10pm followed by guests. After they’d vacated the premises, the doors were then opened for the public to come in and to finish off the food.

Famous Londoners – Olaudah Equiano…

Author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was, according to his own account, born in Africa, probably in southern Nigeria, in 1745.

Equiano, whose claim to have been born in Africa has recently been the subject of some dispute, wrote that he was kidnapped from his home as an 11-year-old child and sold to slave traders. He was sold again several times and eventually put on a slave ship to Barbados in the British West Indies before being sent on to the Colony of Virginia in what is now the US.

Olaudah Equiano (‘Gustavus Vassa’) by Daniel Orme, published by Olaudah Equiano (‘Gustavus Vassa’), after W Denton stipple engraving, published 1st March, 1789 (NPG D8546) © National Portrait Gallery, London

There he was purchased by Michael Henry Pascal, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who, against Equiano’s wishes, renamed him ‘Gustavus Vassa’ after 16th-century King of Sweden (he had previously been given names Michael and Jacob).

Equiano accompanied Pascal back to England then served as his valet during the Seven Years’ War with France, a role which saw present at or participating in several battles.

He learnt to read and write during this period and was baptised as a Christian in St Margaret’s Church in Westminster on 9th February, 1759.

In December, 1762, Equiano was sold to Captain James Doran of the Charming Sally at Gravesend. He was transported back to the Caribbean where in Montserrat he was sold to Robert King, an American Quaker merchant from Philadelphia.

Equiano was put to work by King as a deckhand, valet and barber. King promised him his freedom for the price of £40 and he achieved this in 1766 at about the age of 21.

Despite King’s urgings for him to continue to stay on as a business partner, Equiano, who had narrowly escaped being kidnapped and placed back into enslavement, left for England in about 1768 where he picked up work on ships, including on an Arctic expedition, and also on a project to establish an (ultimately unsuccessful) plantation in Central America’s Mosquito Coast.

Back in England in the last 1770s, he settled in London and became actively involved in the abolitionist movement, sharing his experiences with the likes of Granville Sharp including what he knew of the Zong massacre – the mass killing of more than 130 enslaved Africans aboard the British ship, Zong, during a voyage in late 1781. He was also one of eight delegates from ‘Africans in America’ to present an ‘Address of Thanks’ to the Quakers at a meeting in Gracechurch Street, London, in October, 1785.

In the 1780s, he also became involved in aiding slaves who had been freed by the British during and after the American War of Independence and was at one stage involved in the ill-fated plan for a new settlement of so-called Black Loyalists, many of whom were former slaves, at Sierra Leone (although he never went there himself).

Encouraged by his abolitionist friends, he wrote his famous autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Published in 1789, it was a hit and during his lifetime went through nine English editions and one American as well as being published in various other languages. His book and his first person accounts of slavery are seen as instrumental to the passing of an act abolishing Britain’s slave trade in 1807 (almost a decade after his death).

He married an English woman, Susannah Cullen, in April, 1792, and lived with her in Soham, Cambridgeshire, where they had two daughters, Anna Maria and Joanna.

Equiano subsequently lived at several locations in London and by the time of his death, on 31st March, 1797, he was living in Paddington Street in Westminster. Such was his fame that his death was reported in both British and American newspapers.

Equiano was buried at Whitefield’s Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road on 6th April (the exact site is lost).

He is commemorated in Martin Bond’s 1997 sculpture Wall of the Ancestors in Deptford and a memorial tablet in St Margaret’s Church (there’s also a crater named after him on Mercury).

In 2007, a first edition of Equiano’s book was carried in procession at a special service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the bicentenary of the passing of Britain’s Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

This Week in London – Royal portraits in Greenwich; Sir Roger Bannister to be honoured; and, drawing on the Tate’s Turbine Hall floor…

King Henry VII by unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505 (oil on panel) © National Portrait Gallery, London

More than 150 of the finest portraits of royal families over five dynasties are on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, which is being run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery, features famous paintings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, medals and stamps from the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Windsor dynasties. Highlights include the earliest known portrait of Henry VII (also the oldest artwork in the exhibition) which was painted in 1505 by an unknown artist, Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, portraits of Charles II and his mistresses, early 19th century domestic photographs of Queen Victoria and her family, and a selection of paintings and photographs of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/TudorsWindsors.

Westminster Abbey has announced a new memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run under a mile in four minutes. The abbey said the memorial ledger stone to Bannister, who later became a neurologist, will be placed in what is known as ‘Scientists’ Corner’ in the building’s nave, close to the graves of scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as well as the ashes of Stephen Hawking. “Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond,” said the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, in a statement. “As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.” Bannister is famous for having run a mile in three minutes, 59.4 second at Oxford on 6th May, 1954 – a record which stood for almost nine years.

Be among those transforming the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into an “ever changing work of art”. Visitors are invited to join in covering the hall’s floor with their own jottings using coloured drawing materials as part of artist Ei Arakawa’s interactive installation, Mega Please Draw Freely. The installation, which can be contributed to until 29th August, kicks off UNIQLO Tate Play – a new free programme of playful art-inspired activities for families, being in partnership with UNIQLO, at the Tate Modern. The project, which has seen the Turbine Hall floor covered with a temporary surface allowing it to be drawn upon, is inspired by the Gutai group, radical Japanese artists who wanted to change the world through painting, performance and children’s play and, in particular, the group’s ‘Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition of 1956’ in which Yoshihara Jirō created the groundbreaking work Please Draw Freely, a large board on which people were free to draw and paint. Visitors can access Mega Please Draw Freely by booking a free collection display ticket online at www.tate.org.uk.

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London Explained – The Royal Parks…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LondonLife – The Bow Street Police Museum opens its doors…

The Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006, the year of its closure. PICTURE: Edward (public domain)

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.

Famous Londoners – Napoleon?

We know, we know – Napoleon Bonaparte never visited London. But given this month marks the bicentenary of his death on 5th May, 1821, we thought we’d mention a couple of places where you can find traces of the French Emperor in the British capital…

Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker. PICTURE: Jörg Bittner Unna (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0;image cropped)

1. Napoleon As Mars The Peacemaker. This larger than life statue – it stands 11 feet tall – is the work of Italian artist Antonio Canova and depicts Napoleon as the Roman God. Napoleon didn’t like the almost naked statue – when he saw it in 1811, he declared it “too athletic” and as a result, it was never displayed in public. Following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the British Government purchased the statue and presented it to the Duke of Wellington as a gift. Recently cleaned, it is now on display in the Iron Duke’s former home, Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner (and can be seen there when it reopens to the public this week). The house also counts a recently restored bronze death mask of Napoleon among its treasures. The bronze is a copy of a plaster mask modelled on Napoleon’s corpse. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/apsley-house/.

2. Napoleon’s horse Marengo. A small grey Arab, Marengo was named after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo in Italy in 1800 and apparently served the Emperor between 1800 and 1815. Marengo was captured on the battlefield after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and transported to England. After its death, the horse’s skeleton was preserved and initially displayed at the Royal United Services Institute, moving to the National Army Museum in Chelsea in the 1960s. The skeleton is currently undergoing conservation work at the Natural History Museum before returning to the National Army Museum where it will be displayed in the Battle gallery. For more on the National Army Museum, see www.nam.ac.uk.

3. Portrait of Napoleon. A small image of a young Napoleon, this portrait – which arrived in England in 1797 – was the first many British people had seen of the Emperor (it was copied in engravings which were published across Britain). It was painted in a campaign tent on the road from Verona to Vienna in March, 1797, by Venetian artist named Francesco Cossia. Cossia had been commissioned by Francophile Maria Cosway, an artist then living in Oxford Street, London, to paint likenesses of several French Revolutionary generals including Napoleon. It is believed to have entered the collection of Sir John Soane somewhere between 1827 and 1830 and can now be seen in the Breakfast Room at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (reopening on 19th May). For more, see www.soane.org.

Famous Londoners – Old Martin…

A grizzly bear (not Old Martin). PICTURE: Joshua J Cotten/Unsplash

A large, fully grown, grizzly bear presented to King George III by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811, Old Martin was one of the scarier residents of the Tower of London’s menagerie.

The bear, who was apparently named after a famous bear in Europe (the “old” was added because he spent so long in resident at the Tower), is said to have been the first grizzly in London.

He was not, however, the first bear to live there – King Henry III had been given a polar bear by King Haakon IV Haakonsson of Norway in 1251 (George, however, was apparently unimpressed with his gift, said to have commented in private that he would have preferred a tie or pair of socks).

Despite his many years in the menagerie, Old Martin apparently refused to be tamed and remained fierce towards both strangers and his keepers alike.

When the Duke of Wellington closed the menagerie in the early 1830s (King William IV apparently had little interest in the animals), Old Martin was moved to the London Zoo in Regent’s Park. He died there in 1838.

His skin and skull were subsequently sent to the Natural History Museum and rediscovered there in 1999 for an exhibition at the Tower.

There’s a rather odd story associated with Old Martin. It’s said that in 1816 – when Old Martin was living in the Tower’s menagerie – a Yeoman Warder saw a ghostly bear while on night duty near the Martin Tower. He apparently attempted to run it through with a bayonet but the blade went straight through and struck the door frame behind it. The somewhat dubious story goes that the poor Yeoman Warder died of shock just a few hours later.

Lost London – Gunter’s Tea Shop…

Berkeley Square, one time home to Gunter’s Tea Shop, as it is in more modern times. PICTURE: Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

This origins of this Mayfair establishment go back to 1757 when it was first opened by an Italian pastry cook, Domenico Negri, who sold all sorts of English, French and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats under the sign of the ‘Pot and Pineapple’.

The name Gunter became attached after Negri formed a partnership with James Gunter, whose family came from Wales, in 1777. By 1799 Gunter was running the place alone (henceforth Gunter’s Tea Shop). His son Robert took over the business on his father’s death in 1819, having previously spent time studying the confectionary trade in Paris.

Located on the east side of Berkeley Square at numbers seven and eight, Gunter’s had, by the early 19th century, become particularly famous for its ices and sorbets which were said to be made from a secret recipe. It become popular among the beau monde and Gunter operated something of a takeaway service for well-do-ladies so they could attend without a chaperone – waiters would dodge traffic to take ices out to their open-topped carriages parked by the square. All very respectable!

Gunter’s also became noted for their multi-tiered wedding cakes among Mayfair families – in 1889, they even made the cake for the marriage of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter, Princess Louise.

Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street when the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-1930s. It finally closed 20 years later although the business’s catering arm continued for another 20 years operating out of Bryanston Square.

Lost London – William Blake’s birthplace, Soho…

William Blake’s house in Soho, an illustration by  Frederick Adcock, published in ‘Famous houses and literary shrines of London’ (1912) and written by Arthur St John Adcock.

William Blake, one of the UK’s most lauded artists and poets, was born in a property at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in Carnaby Market, Soho, on 28th November, 1757.

Blake was the third of seven children (although two died in infancy) born to James and Catherine (he was baptised at nearby St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 11th December). His father ran a hosiery store and the residence was located above his father’s shop (Blake worked as a delivery boy while a child).

Behind the premises was a workhouse and Blake’s memories of this flavoured some of his later works including Nurse’s Song.

Blake lived in the property until he was 25-years-old, during which time he completed an apprenticeship to engraver James Basire located in Great Queen Street and became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House in The Strand.

He moved to Green Street with his new wife, Catherine Boucher, in 1782.

His oldest brother James took over his father’s shop following his death in 1784 and, in 1809, the first floor of the premises hosted Blake’s only – and unsuccessful – solo exhibition.

The house survived until the 1960s but despite its famous heritage, the property was razed and a block of flats – William Blake House – was erected in its place. A plaque commemorating Blake’s birth in the former property is all that remains.

This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

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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