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 – 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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LondonLife – Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery empties out…

Old Masters have been removed from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the first time in almost 45 years to allow for essential maintenance works. The works, which include paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto, will be featured in a landmark new exhibition – Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – which, featuring some 65 artworks in total, opens in the palace’s Queen’s Gallery on 4th December. They have been removed from the Picture Gallery – one of the palace’s State Room where Old Master paintings have hung since the reign of King George IV in the 1820s – over a period of four weeks to allow for building improvements which will include the replacement of electrics and pipework – some of which has not been updated since the 1940s – as well as the gallery’s roof. The refurbishment is part of a £370 million, 10 year refit programme being carried out at the palace due for completion in 2027.

Where’s London’s oldest…(still-in-use) bridge?

There’s several candidates for the title (and, of course, it depends on what exactly we mean). So here we go… 

First up is the Clattern Bridge, which crosses the River Hogsmill (a small river which runs into the Thames), in Kingston upon Thames in the city’s south-west.

The earliest known reference to this three-arched bridge dates back to 1293 and the medieval name, ‘Clateryngbrugge’, is thought to refer to the sound horses’ hooves made as they clattered across.

While the bridge (pictured above and right), which had replaced an earlier wooden Saxon bridge, was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries, its Historic England Grade I listing notes that it remains a “good example of a medieval multi-span bridge which survives well” and includes some “impressive medieval masonry”.

Second is another Grade I-listed bridge that doesn’t even cross a river but rather a moat at Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east.

The stone north bridge, now the main entrance to the palace, is described by English Heritage as “London’s oldest working bridge” – although it’s not as old as the Clattern Bridge.

It was constructed in 1390 on the orders of King Richard II, replacing an earlier wooden bridge (it was apparently Geoffrey Chaucer – yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer – who supervised the building works as part of his job as Clerk of the Works to Eltham Palace).

The bridge features four arches, pointed cutwaters with chamfered tops on the outside and a red brick parapet on top.

Thirdly, is the Richmond Bridge which, although not in the same (medieval) league as the previous two, is the oldest bridge crossing the Thames.

The now Grade I-listed structure was built between 1774 and 1777 as a replacement for a ferry crossing and while it was slightly altered in 1939-40, it remains substantially original.

PICTURE: Top – Clattern Bridge (Maureen Barlin/licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Middle – The bridge at Eltham Palace (John K Thorne/Public domain); Bottom – Richmond Bridge (Marc Barrot/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A Moment in London’s History – The “Petticoat Duel”…

The “Petticoat Duel” was so-called because this late 18th century duel apparently took place between two women – Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.

An engraving of “The Petticoat Duellists” for Carlton House Magazine.

The story goes that the duel, which reportedly took place in 1792, came about after, during a social visit to Lady Braddock’s home, Mrs Elphinstone suggested the aforementioned lady was much older than her 30-odd years. It was clearly a sensitive subject and Lady Braddock demanded satisfaction via a duel.

The two women met in Hyde Park and initially exchanged pistol shots, the only casualty being Lady Braddock’s hat. Swords were then drawn and the women crossed blades until Mrs Elphinstone received a minor wound to her arm.

Following her wounding, Mrs Elphinstone wisely decided to apologise to Lady Braddock for doubting her age (she apparently wrote a lengthy apology later on) and the women put down their weapons. Crisis averted.

Despite the many times the story of the “Petticoat Duel” has been repeated, however, there’s some considerable doubt over whether it actually took place.

The key source appears to be an article in a 1792 edition of Carlton House Magazine and it has been suggested that “Lady Almeria Braddock” may be an invented character perhaps based partly on Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy.

So we apologise for any who have felt misled, for this “moment” may actually be no more than a creative writer’s story. But, whether true or not, it does make for an interesting tale.

London Pub Signs – The Hoop and Grapes, Farringdon…

This historic pub in Farringdon bears a common enough name (and it’s not to be confused with the Hoop and Grapes located in Aldgate which we’ll look at in an upcoming post).

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

The hoop in the name refers to the metal bands binding together barrels staves and the grapes are obviously a reference to wine. But the ‘hoop’ could be a corruption of hops with the sign possibly once featuring a garland of hops and a bunch of grapes.

The pub, the current sign of which depicts grapes wrapped around a hoop (pictured below), is located in a four storey building first constructed for a vintner in about 1720 as a terraced house and converted to a pub more than a century later in the early 1830s.

Located on ground which one formed part of the St Bride’s Burial Ground, the brick vaults underneath are said to pre-date the rest of the building, having been built as warehouse vaults in the 17th century.

Its location on 80 Farringdon Street means it stood near the Fleet River (now covered) and close by to the former Fleet Prison (largely used as a debtor’s prison before its demolition in 1864).

As a result, it has been claimed that it was one of a number of pubs which hosted so-called ‘Fleet Marriages’, secret ceremonies performed by dodgy clergymen – for a fee – and without an official marriage license. But, as has been pointed out to us, the timing of the passing of the Marriage Act in 1753 outlawing such activities – and this only becoming a pub, according to its Historic England listing, much later – does make this seem unlikely (we’d welcome any further information on this claim).

The location also meant it was popular with printers who worked in nearby Fleet Street (in fact, it was apparently given a special licence to serve such customers at night or in the early morning).

The pub was scheduled for demolition in the early 1990s but saved with a Grade II-listing in 1991.

A rare survivor from an earlier time among the street’s more modern buildings, it is now part of the Shepherd Neame chain and it’s during renovations held after this purchase that burials were uncovered (the remains were moved into the British Museum). This has apparently led to rumours that the pub is haunted.

For more, see www.hoopandgrapes.co.uk.

Sorry for the confusion – We’ve corrected references to grapes in the second paragraph (and amended our comments on the current sign). And we’ve also clarified comments that the pub was used for Fleet Marriages given the timing discrepancy.

Lost London – The Cocoa Tree Chocolate House…

This delightfully named establishment – one of the most well-known chocolate houses in London – was apparently opened on the back of the opening of myriad coffee houses in London. 

With a sign depicting the cocoa tree, this premises occupied several different locations in Pall Mall including number 46, occupied by an annexe of the Army and Navy Club, and number 89, the site where the Royal Automobile Club now stands.

It is said to have been first mentioned in 1698 – chocolate was first brought to England in the 1650s and the first “chocolate houses” opened soon after.

It was popular among Tories in the early 1700s serving as something as a defacto headquarters and later, apparently, a hotbed for those with Jacobite sympathies. Around the middle of the 18th century, it was converted into a private club and become notorious for the gambling conducted therein.

Among those said to have dined there during this later period was 18th century historian Edward Gibbon.

The Cocoa Tree later relocated to 64 St James’s Street, where it stood between 1799 and 1835. The property apparently finally closed in 1932.

PICTURE: Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash

 

Where’s London’s oldest…street with house numbers?

OK, so we’re not absolutely certain which street is the oldest in London to have introduced a number system. But one contender – according to The Postal Museum at least – is Prescot Street in Whitechapel.

That comes from a mention, in 1708, when topographer Edward Hatton made a special note of the street’s use of numbers instead of signs in his New View of London, in a rather clear indication that the use of numbers was still at that stage rather unusual.

The following century saw the numbering of properties become more common. Some suggest that the banning of hanging signboards (under an 1762 Act of Parliament) and the subsequent requirement that names to be fixed to all thoroughfares (under the Postage Act of 1765) both played a significant role in encouraging the use of house numbers.

Interestingly, not all numbering schemes are the same. The first schemes introduced in London involved numbering houses consecutively along one side of the street – this can still be seen in streets like Pall Mall and Downing Street, where Number 10 – official residence of the Prime Minister, is located next to number 11 – official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The system used in more modern times, typically, involves numbering one side of the road with odd numbers (usually the left with the lowest number closest to the city or town centre) and the other with even.

But it’s fair to say that the numbering of houses was, initially at least, rather haphazard and it wasn’t until the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act that the numbering of properties become more standardised with the then new Board of Works given the power to regulate street numbers.

PICTURED: Number 23 Prescot Street, said to be the street’s single 18th century survivor.

This Week in London – Windrush oral histories; Berkeley Square gets a new sculpture; and, Sir Robert Geffrye statue under review…

Hitherto unheard oral histories documenting the lived experience of the Windrush generation and the generations that followed have been released by the Museum of London. The oral histories, which were recorded in 2018 as part of the Conversation Booth project in City Hall, are part of the museum’s new online collection of Windrush-related content. Drawn from the collections of both the Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands, it includes objects, photos, videos and articles. To explore the collection, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/windrush-stories.

A hybrid sculpture depicting the body of a woman with the head of a hare has gone on show in Berkeley Square. The work of Sophie Ryder, Crawling was hand-made in 1999 from wet plaster, old machine parts and scavenged toys then cast in bronze. The work is part of City of Westminster’s City of Sculpture programme which brings sculpture to iconic outdoor locations.

The Museum of the Home is asking people for their opinion on the future of the statue of Sir Robert Geffrye which stands out the front of the almshouses housing the museum in Shoreditch. The almshouses were built by Geffrye, who was involved with the slave trade having made made his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company, in 1714. The consultation is being held in partnership with Hackney Council which is conducting a wider review of landmarks and the naming of public spaces in the borough. The consultation remains open until the 2nd July. To have your say, head to www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/geffrye-statue.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 72 and 71…

The next two entries in our countdown…

72. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London – Redux…

71. What’s in a name?…St Mary Axe