Please note: Exploring London is aware that sites across London have closed temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But we’re continuing our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

Located at 5 Strand Lane in the West End, these brick-lined baths were long-reputed to be of Roman origin. But they are actually believed to be the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to supply water to fountain in the gardens of Old Somerset House.

The fountain had been built by French engineer, Salomon de Caus, after he was commissioned to do so as part of King James I’s efforts to refurbish Somerset House for Queen Anne of Denmark.

Following the demolition of the fountain, the cistern was neglected until the 1770s when the cistern was used a public cold plunge bath attached to a property at 33 Surrey Street. A second bath, called the ‘Essex Bath’ was added (it’s now under the nearby KCL Norfolk Building).

The idea that they were Roman is believed to have originated in the 1820s when the bath was so described as an advertising gimmick (Charles Dickens’ helped popularise the idea in his book David Copperfield – it is believed Dickens himself may have bathed here).

The 1.3 metre deep bath passed through a couple of different hands in the ensuing decades including Oxford Street draper Henry Glave and Rev William Pennington Bickford, the Rector of St Clement Danes, who, believing in the bath’s Roman origins, hoped to turn them into a tourist attraction.

But his plans came to nothing due to a lack of funds and following his death, in 1944, the National Trust agreed to take on ownership while London County Council agreed to see to its maintenance. They reopened the baths, following repairs, in 1951.

These days, while owned by the Trust, the baths are managed by Westminster Council.

WHERE: 5 Strand Lane (nearest Tube station is Temple); WHEN: While National Trust properties are temporarily closed, viewings are usually arranged through Westminster Council and Somerset House Old Palaces tour; COST: Free; WEBSITE:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/strand-lane-roman-baths.

PICTURE: Michael Trapp (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Jonas Hanway is famous for being the first man in London to dare carry an umbrella publicly, but there was much more to the life of this merchant, traveller and philanthropist.

Hanway was born in mid-1712, in Portsmouth on England’s south coast, and he was still just a child when his father Thomas, whose job involved ensuring the supply of food to the Royal Navy, died in 1714.

Hanway’s family may have subsequently settled in Hampshire but in 1728 Jonas himself was in London. There, it is speculated that he stayed with his uncle Major John Hanway (after whom Hanway Street, which runs off Tottenham Court Road, is named) in Oxford Street briefly before he was packed off as an apprentice to the English ‘factory’ in Lisbon, Portugal.

Hanway is said to have spent more than a decade in Lisbon learning the job of a merchant before returning to London in 1741. He joined the Russia Company as a junior partner in 1743 and subsequently headed off to St Petersburg where he planned and then launched an expedition to Persia via Moscow and Astrakan with hopes of selling English broadcloth in exchange for Russian silk and evaluating the trade potential of the region.

But his caravan robbed by Khyars, allies of the Turkomens, before he even reached Persia and he was forced to flee in disguise along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea until he was rescued by fellow merchants.

Returning to St Petersburg, Hanway spent the next five years working there before returning to England, via Germany and the Netherlands.

Back in London, he continued working with the Russia Company (as well as penning an account of his adventures in Russia and Persia in 1753 – it was the most popular of several books he wrote).

He also started venturing into philanthropy, becoming a governor of the Foundling Hospital and founding The Marine Society – an organisation to ensure the ongoing supply of sailors for the Royal Navy – in 1756. In 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the Royal Navy, a post he held for a couple of decades.

Hanway was also an instrumental figure in the founding of Whitechapel’s Magdalen Hospital for women who had become pregnant outside of marriage which opened in 1758. Other causes among the wide variety he was vocal on included helping ensure poor children were better looked after through the keeping of better records, advocating for better working conditions for child chimney sweep apprentices, and calling for an end to tea drinking (a cause which saw him cross swords with none other than Samuel Johnson).

Hanway died on 5th September, 1786, and was buried in the crypt of St Mary’s Church in Hanwell. A monument to him, sculpted by John Francis Moore, was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1786 in commemoration of his philanthropy.

As for that umbrella carrying? While women had apparently been carrying them in public since 1705, Hanway become the first man to do so in the early 1750s following a trip to Paris. Despite the public opprobrium he attracted – particularly from the hackney coachmen, whose business his habit threatened if widely adopted – it was Hanway who, evidently, had the last laugh.

PICTURE: A portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote (1785) © National Portrait Gallery (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

A Roman Catholic located in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Sardinian Embassy Chapel went through several incarnations prior to its destruction in the early 20th century.

A Franciscan chapel was founded on the site in the mid-17th century – it was sacked during the Glorious Revolution – but by the early 18th century the chapel which stood here served the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sicily.

Because embassy chapels – of which this was apparently the oldest in London – were viewed as the sovereign territory of the state they belonged to, Catholic worship was permitted there (despite being illegal elsewhere in England) and English Catholics were among those who attended services (among those said to have done so was James Boswell).

Those English subjects who attended were on occasion harassed for doing so and the chapel itself was attacked several times over its existence including in the Gordon Riots of 1780 which left it significantly damaged (but following government compensation, it was restored and reopened in 1781).

In 1798, the Sardinian Ambassador closed the chapel but thanks to a generous Catholic purchaser, it – and the embassy itself – passed into the hands of Bishop John Douglass, vicar-apostolic of the London district.

Repaired, the chapel was reopened in 1799 (although it was no longer part of the Sardinian Embassy, it continued to be under the patronage of the King of Sardinia until the 1850s). In the mid-1850s, the name of the chapel was changed to the Church of St Anselm and St Cecilia.

The chapel building was demolished in 1909 due to the creation of the Kingsway. A new site for the church was created a little further north on Kingsway where it remains today.

Inside the church are some of the fittings from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel including a marble font, an organ dating from 1857, the coat-of-arms of the House of Savoy, a large painting of the ‘Deposition’ (Christ’s descent from the cross), and the Lady Altar. The plate from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel is now in the V&A.

PICTURE: Sardinia Street, on the corner with Kingsway. The name of the street commemorates the site of the Sardinian Embassy and chapel.


The statue of ‘Jacob’, a working dray horse, represents the horses who once worked at John Courage’s Anchor Brewhouse in Bermondsey near Tower Bridge.

The Courage horses – responsible for delivering beer from the brewery to pubs in London – were stabled beside the establishment, near where the monument now stands in Queen Elizabeth Street. Though the brewery buildings remain (and are now apartments), the stables do not.

Jacob, the statue, was installed by Jacobs Island Company and Farlane Properties in 1987 at the centre of the residential development known as ‘The Circle’ to commemorate the history of the site. The monument, which was delivered to the site by helicopter, is the work of artist Shirley Pace.

Jacob’s name apparently comes from Jacob’s Island which was formerly located in the area.

The area where the brewery stood was formerly part of the parish of Horsleydown – a moniker that is said by some to have derived from “horse-lie-down”, a description of working horses resting nearby on the south bank of the Thames before crossing London Bridge into the City of London.

PICTURES: Top – Nico Hogg (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Famously associated with Leadenhall Market, Old Tom was a gander who for several decades was a popular figure at the City of London marketplace.

Said to have been born in the late 1790s, he was brought to London among a massive contingent of birds from the Continent the aim of being fattened up for the market block.

The story goes that when the time came for the chop, however, Tom did a dash and apparently held off his pursuers for several days, avoiding becoming one of the 34,000 hapless geese which were apparently slaughtered in a two day period. His doggedness in defying the blade led to sympathy among the workers at the market who decided to let him be.

Feed on tidbits from local inns, Tom took up residence and became something of a favourite among those who worked there. He apparently lived to the the ripe old age of 37 or 38-years-old and when he died in 1835, such was the love for him, that Tom lay in state at the market to allow people to pay their respects before his burial at the market. His obituary was published in The Times, referring to him as the “chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride”.

Old Tom is mentioned on a plaque at the entrance to Leadenhall Market (pictured) which tells something of his story and there’s also a bar within Leadenhall Market itself which serves as a memorial – Old Tom’s Bar.

Some also believe that the two identical statues of a small boy grappling with a goose (pictured below) which sit atop the former Midland Bank headquarters building, located at 27 Poultry (and now hotel called The Ned) – just a few hundred paces from the market, also commemorate the gander.

The website of The Ned, however, suggests the statues, designed by Sir William Reid Dick for the architect Edwin Lutyens was actually inspired by Boethus’ famous sculpture of a boy playing with a goose which can be found in the Vatican.

Maybe it’s both?

PICTURES: Google Maps

Representations of the pregnant female body across 500 years of portraiture are the subject of a major new exhibition opening at the Foundling Museum on Friday. Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media features paintings, prints, photographs, objects and clothing from the 15th century to the present day as it explores the different ways in which pregnancy was – or wasn’t – represented as well as how shifting social attitudes have impacted on depictions of pregnant women. Highlights include Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More’s daughter Cicely Heron, the maternity dress that Princess Charlotte wore for an 1817 portrait painted by George Dawe shortly before her death and William Hogarth’s The March of the Guards to Finchley (1750), which features a heavily pregnant woman. There’s also a previously unseen work by Jenny Saville, Electra (2012-2019), Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper (8 Months) (2000) and Lucien Freud’s Girl with Roses (1947-8) which depicts his first wife Kitty. Runs until 26th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

The most comprehensive exhibition ever held focused on Pablo Picasso’s imaginative and original uses of paper opens at the Royal Academy of Arts this Saturday. Held in the Main Galleries, Picasso and Paper features more than 300 works from across the span of the artist’s career as it explores the “universe of art” he invented involving paper. Highlights include Women at Their Toilette (winter 1937-38) –  an extraordinary collage of cut and pasted papers measuring 4.5 metres in length (being exhibited in the UK for the first time in more than 50 years), outstanding Cubist papiers-collés such as Violin (1912), and studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1908) such as Bust of Woman or Sailor as well as drawings like Self-portrait (1918) and Seated Woman (Dora) (1938). His masterpiece of the Blue Period, La Vie (1903) will also be in the display as well as his Cubist bronze Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909) and monumental sculpture Man with a Sheep (1943), and the 1955 film Le Mystère Picasso, which records Picasso drawing with felt-tip pens on blank newsprint. Runs until 13th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Key 486, Pablo Picasso drawing in Antibes, summer 1946. Black-and-white photograph, Photo © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images © Succession Picasso/DACS 2019

On Now – The Cato Street Conspiracy: A Terrorist Plot in Georgian London. This exhibition at the City of London’s Guildhall Library draws on contemporary accounts and pictures to tell the story of the conspiracy and its participants. The conspiracy, which was uncovered in early 1820, involved a plot to kill the British Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. Thirteen of the conspirators were arrested and five executed while five others were transported to Australia. A policeman was killed in the operation to arrest those responsible. This free exhibition runs until 30th April. For more follow this link.

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This Covent Garden establishment was founded by Daniel Button, a former servant in the household of the Countess of Warwick, in about 1712.

Button was apparently set up in the Russell Street business, located close to the Covent Garden Market, by newspaper writer and publisher Joseph Addison (who would marry the countess, Charlotte, in 1716) who, setting the example by giving the new premises his personal patronage, ensured it attracted a clientele of “wits” and intellectuals.

These had apparently previously frequented Will’s Coffee House which was located across the street from it but after the death of John Dryden, who was at the centre of this cloud, in 1700, the reputation of Will’s dropped. Enter Button’s.

The coffee house was particularly famous for a white marble letterbox in the shape of a lion’s head, said to have been designed by William Hogarth, which was nailed to the wall.

The concept had been imported from Venice where stone letterboxes, often carved into the shape of grotesque heads, were used by the governing body known as the Council of Ten to gather intelligence (and which informers would use to accuse fellow citizens of misdeeds).

People were encouraged to throw letters, limericks and other witty ephemera into the lion’s mouth, the best of which were then selected and published in Addison’s Guardian newspaper each week (Addison was also, famously, co-founder of The Spectator).

Daniel Button died in 1730 and the coffee house closed in 1751 after which the lion’s head was taken to the Shakespeare Tavern before going on to grace several establishments before the Duke of Bedford apparently took it to his country house at Woburn.

PICTURE: A carved lion’s head, with a tablet on which is engraved “Servantur Magnus ifticerbicibus ungues non nisi Delectâ Parcitur !!! e Fera”; originally displayed at Button’s coffee house. c1850 Watercolour, possibly by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

Sitting at the foot of a statue of artist William Hogarth – described on the monument as the “father of English painting” but perhaps best known today for his satirical prints such as Gin Lane – in Chiswick High Road in London’s west is his beloved pug dog, Trump.

Trump, who famously features in Hogarth’s 1745 self-portrait, The Painter and his Pug (now at the Tate Britain), was one of several pugs owned by the artist over his career.

Trump, like the other dogs, appears in several of Hogarth’s works including the self-portrait and the 1746 work Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, now at the National Maritime Museum.

The dog was also the subject of a terracotta sculpture by Frenchman Louis-François Roubiliac, created to accompany a bust of Hogarth in 1741. It was later reproduced in porcelain versions and plaster casts of it were sold after Hogarth’s death in 1764. While the original of sculpture of the dog is lost, the bust of Hogarth can still be seen at the National Portrait Gallery.

Hogarth is often said to have compared himself to his dogs and his close connection was noted by others who used it to make fun of the artist including Paul Sandby who, in a 1753 etching, depicted Hogarth as half-pug.

The statue, which stands opposite the intersection with Turnham Green Terrace, is located not far from the country retreat where Hogarth lived – splitting his time between it and his Leicester Square townhouse – between 1749 and his death (now a museum known as Hogarth’s House; the artist is also buried nearby)

The work of Jim Matheison, it was unveiled by Ian Hislop and David Hockney in 2001.

Did you know that 2020 marks 10 years since Exploring London first began…well…exploring London?

We’ll be celebrating our anniversary across the year in a number of ways including counting down our 100 most read stories ever…

So let’s kick off the countdown with numbers 100 and 99…

100. LondonLife – A new crown for King Henry VIII…

99. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…1. 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden…

PICTURE: Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

This famous cat, belonging to lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), is memorialised outside his former home in Gough Square.

Johnson was known for his fondness of this particular cat – his biographer James Boswell, reports, for example: “I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail.”

According to Boswell, Johnson told him that while he had had finer cats, Hodge – who is believed to have been a black cat – was a “very fine cat indeed”. Such was the cat’s renown that poet Percival Stockdale wrote an Elegy on The Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat.

This statue to Hodge was erected in 1966 by then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Roger Cook. The work of Jon Bickley (who apparently modelled Hodge on his own cat Thomas Henry), it depicts Hodge sitting on top of Johnson’s famous (and massive) dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells (the latter a reference to Johnson’s habit of feeding oysters to Hodge – while this wasn’t unusual, Johnson’s going out himself to fetch them himself – lest his servants resent Hodge – was).

The monument, which has Hodge looking towards his former home, features a plaque which has Johnson’s quote about Hodge – “a very fine cat indeed” – as well as his famous quote about the city in which they lived – “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Dr Johnson’s former house and workplace at number 17 Gough Square, where he lived for 11 years, is now a museum.

 

A major exhibition on the legendary city of Troy has opened at the British Museum. Troy: myth and reality showcases works of art inspired by the “tales of war, love and loss” connected to the Trojan cycle of myths and follows in the footsteps of archaeologists and adventurers who have sought to find evidence of the ancient city. Among the almost 300 objects on show are original finds – such as pottery, silver vessels, bronze weapons and stone sculptures – found by Heinrich Schliemann’s work at the site between 1870 and 1890, a Roman sarcophagus lid picturing a wheeled – and armed – wooden horse (on loan from Oxford’s Ashmolean), Filippo Albacini’s (1777–1858) marble sculpture, The Wounded Achilles, and a Roman silver cup from the National Museum of Denmark depicting the meeting of Priam and Achilles as described in Homer’s The Iliad (pictured). Admission charges applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/Troy. PICTURE: Priam and Achilles, Roman silver cup, 1st century AD, National Museum of Denmark Photograph: Roberta Fortuna and Kira Ursem © National Museet Denmark.

Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, unveiled a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating the site of Europe’s earliest recording studio in Covent Garden earlier this month. The studio was opened on Maiden Lane, one street north of the Strand, in 1898 by audio pioneer Fred Gaisberg and The Gramophone Company, a precursor to EMI – the same company which opened the world-famous Abbey Road Studios 33 years later. The campaign for the plaque – located on a building now housing a pizza restaurant – was led by music journalist and author James Hall with support from the EMI Archive Trust. For more, see www.westminster.gov.uk/green-plaques.

• On Now: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain. This interactive display throughout the entire Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 100 objects which highlight the similarities and differences between theatre going in the Georgian era and now. It explores key venues in London and beyond and is divided into four sections focusing on Georgian theatres like Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the importance of the Foundling Hospital Chapel as a music venue, and the provincial music festivals held in other major cities in Britain. Runs until 5th January. Free with museum admission. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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• King George IV’s public image and his taste for the theatrical and exotic as well as his passion for collecting are all the subject of a new exhibition opening at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on Friday. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of his times (which included the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as well as a period of unprecedented global exploration), George IV: Art & Spectacle shows the contrasts of his character – on the one hand “a recklessly profligate showman” and, on the other, a “connoisseur with intellectual interests whose endless acquisitions made him one of the most important figures in the formation of the Royal Collection”. The display features artworks including Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633) – at 5,000 guineas it was the most expensive artwork he ever purchased (pictured), as well as works by the likes of Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp and David Teniers. There’s also portraits the King commissioned from Sir Thomas Gainsborough,  a Louis XVI service created by Sevres (1783-92) and the great Shield of Achilles (1821) – designed by John Flaxman, it was on display at his Coronation banquet. Other items include diplomatic gifts sent to the King – such as a red and yellow feather cape (‘ahu’ula) from King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) and a Maori club brought from Hawaii by Captain Cook’s ship Resolution – and a copy of Emma sent to him by Jane Austen’s publisher. Runs until 4th May. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.rct.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV (1762-1830), 1821 (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019)

A new exhibition commemorating the release of The Clash’s third album, London Calling, 40 years ago opens at Museum of London tomorrow.  The display features items from the group’s personal archive such as Paul Simonon’s broken Fender Precision Bass, which Simonon smashed while on stage in New York City on 21st September, 1979, a handwritten album sequence by Mick Jones showing the final order for the four sides of the double album London Calling, one of Joe Strummer’s notebooks from 1979 and the typewriter he used to document his ideas, lyrics and other writing, and Topper Headon’s drumsticks. To coincide with the opening, Sony Music is releasing the London Calling Scrapbook, a hardback companion to the display which comes with the album, on CD. The free display can be seen until next spring. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The ice-skating rink, which opened this week, is being accompanied by the major exhibition 24/7 exploring the non-stop nature of modern life, as well as a programme of events including Somerset’s first skating ‘all-nighter’ on 7th December and special ‘Skate Lates’. There’s also Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade which, along with dining venue Fortnum’s Lodge has been created in Somerset House’s West Wing, as well as the rinkside Skate Lounge – home to the Bailey’s Treat Bar, and the Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City, now in its fourth year. Until 12th January. Admission charges apply. Head here for more.

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This Georgian square, like the nearby (and famous) Fitzroy Tavern, Fitzroy Street and Fitzrovia itself, owes its names to the FitzRoy family who owned the land on which it was built.

It was Charles FitzRoy, 1st Baron Southampton, who had the area developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the aim of creating a desirable location for aristocratic families to live.

It was completed in stages with residences along the eastern and southern sides built first – from the 1790s – by Robert and James Adam (the southern side was destroyed in the Blitz but has been rebuilt).

The Napoleonic Wars then interrupted construction and it wasn’t until the late 1820s and early 1830s that the northern and western sides were completed.

Notable residents included painter James McNeill Whistler (number eight), Sir Charles Eastlake, first director of the National Gallery (number seven), Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (number 21 – now home to the High Commission of Mozambique), George Bernard Shaw (number 29 – later also briefly home to Virginia Woolf), and artists Ford Madox Brown (number 37) and Roger Fry (number 33)

In more recent times, the square has been home to the likes of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell (number six), and novelist Ian McEwan (number 11 – he made the square the main location for his 2005 novel, Saturday).

The garden was first laid out in about 1790, initially just for the use of residents. Monuments now include Naomi Blake’s View, erected for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The square was largely pedestrianised in the 1970s and upgraded in 2008.

PICTURES: Top – View of Fitzroy Square from the former BT Tower (Rain Rabbit/CC BY-NC 2.0/image cropped); Below – View (James Stringer/CC BY-NC 2.0/)

This Marylebone square is one of the better preserved Georgian-era squares in London. 

Located on the Portman Estate, it was laid out in the 1770s as a residential square with the north side of the square dominated by Manchester House, built in the 1770s as the home of the 4th Duke of Manchester (from whom the house and square, now derive their name).

The house, meanwhile, changed its name when the 2nd Marquess of Hertford took over the lease in 1797. It became known as Hertford House and now houses The Wallace Collection (pictured below), a collection of artworks left to the nation – along with the house – by Lady Wallace, widow of Sir Richard Wallace, illegitimate son of 4th Marquess, in 1897, and opened to the public as a museum in 1900.

The almost circular private gardens in the centre were laid out in the mid-1770s with garden beds and railings (there was apparently a church planned for the centre of the square on which the gardens were located, but it was never built).

During World War II, trenches were dug in the garden and railings removed and the gardens did receive some bomb damage but they were restored in the 1960s and then extensively replanted in the mid-Noughties. The garden (pictured above, looking south) features mature London plane and lime trees.

Famous residents in the square, which has now largely been converted to offices, have included German-born composer Sir Julius Benedict (he lived at number two), surgeon and neurologist John Hughlings Jackson (number three) and colonial administrator Alfred, Lord Milner (number 14) – all of which have English Heritage Blue Plaques on their former properties – as well as Admiral Sir Thomas Foley (number one).

The square, which, along with Portman Square is Grade II-listed, also become briefly famous in around 1815 when it was reported a “pig-faced woman” lived there.

It is also known for being the former site of record label EMI – the cover shot for the Beatles’ first LP, Please Please Me, was shot in the modernist building’s stairwell in 1963 (the building has since been demolished but EMI took part of the staircase with them when they left in 1995).

Interestingly, Manchester Square Fire Station, which was decommissioned in 2005, was actually located a few blocks away in Chiltern Street (it was also known as the Chiltern Firehouse).

PICTURES: Google Maps

This Holborn square was laid out in the 1680s by property speculator Nicholas Barbon and took its name from the Red Lion Inn which once stood here.

The inn, incidentally, is said to be the place where the exhumed bodies of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law (and Parliamentarian general) Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, president of the parliamentary commission to try King Charles I, lay the night before they were taken to Tyburn where they were desecrated (there’s a story that the bodies were switched that night and the real men lay buried in a pit in a square).

The square was laid out on what had been known as Red Lion fields and there were apparently some physical scuffles between the workmen, led by Barbon, and lawyers of Gray’s Inn who objected to the loss of their rural vistas.

The square, meanwhile, soon became a fashionable part of the city – among early residents was Judge Bernard Halle – but by the mid-19th century, its reputation had slumped only to move up again in later years.

Famous residents included Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1851 and William Morris who lived in a flat on the southern side of the square with Edward Burne-Jones in the later 1850s. The art deco Summit House was built in 1925 on the former residence of John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer. Jonas Hanway, the first man to walk London’s streets with an umbrella, apparently also lived on the square.

The square today is home to the Royal College of Anaesthetists and Conway Hall, home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society (in fact, it was Conway Hall which was at the centre of one of the most famous incidents in the square – clashes between anti-fascist protestors and National Front members and subsequent police response which took place on 15th June, 1974, and left a university student, Kevin Gately, dead.

The garden in the centre of the square features a statue of anti-war activist Fenner Brockway and a bust of philosopher, essayist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell.

PICTURE: Top – View across part of the square (Google maps)/Below – Fenner Brockway statue (Matt Brown/licensed under CC BY 2.0)


This Soho square was laid out in the late 17th century, possibly by Sir Christopher Wren, and by the early 1700s most of the buildings surrounding the square were complete.

The name of the square is said to be a corruption of ‘gelding’ – the area, once apparently known as Gelding Close, was previously used for the grazing of geldings (there’s also a story that the gelding was featured on a nearby inn sign which locals objected to, renaming it ‘golden’).

It was, at first, the place to be among the well-to-do – among early residents were Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of King Charles II, James Bridges, who became the 1st Duke of Chandos, and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, a favourite of Queen Anne.

By the mid 18th century, however, the trendy crowd had moved to developments further west and the square subsequently became noted for the high number of foreign delegations which made their base here, including those of Bavaria, Russia, Genoa and Portugal, as well as foreign artists including Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann – the first female member of the Royal Academy, and Anglo-Irish painter (and later Royal Academy president) Martin Archer Shee.

Other famous residents have included dancer Elizabeth Gamberini, singer Caterina Gabrielli and Scottish anatomist John Hunter (his former home is one of two marked with English Heritage Blue Plaques in the square). Thomas Jefferson, later a US president, stayed in Golden Square during March and April, 1786, in his only visit to London.

A couple of houses in the square – then occupied by the Bavarian minister Count Haslang – were attacked during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. These properties were bought by James Talbot, the Roman Catholic Bishop for London, in 1788, so the Roman Catholic Church in Warwick Street could be build in the gardens behind.

The square had deteriorated somewhat by the time Charles Dickens placed it in his late 1830s story Nicholas Nickleby as the home of Ralph Nickleby, and it become the location of numerous boarding houses and small hotels as well as various professionals.

By 1900 the square had become closely connected with the wool trade with as many as 70 firms connected with it located here. Several such firms are apparently still located here but the square is better known these days for companies associated with the movie business.

The middle of the square was dug up for an air raid shelter in World War II but it was paved afterwards and the statue of King George II, attributed to John Van Nost and erected here in 1753 as part of beautification project (it has been suggested the statue actually represents King Charles II but that remains a matter of conjecture), returned to its place in the middle.

None of the original houses now remain but there are a number of residences which still have at least elements dating from late 18th century rebuilds including numbers 11, 21, 23 and 24.

PICTURE: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams; Below – RozSheffield (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The largest survey of the work of visionary artist and poet William Blake to be seen in the UK in a generation has opened at the Tate Britain in Millbank. William Blake features more than 300 works with highlights including The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c1805-9) and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (c1805) which, in a bid to see them as Blake intended, have been digitally enlarged and projected onto the gallery’s wall, providing them with the sort of the scale he had envisaged for them but never realised. The actual works themselves are displayed nearby in a recreation of the artist’s only significant attempt to acquire a public reputation as a painter – his ill-fated exhibition of 1809 which took place in a room over his family’s hosiery shop. The exhibition also provides a focus on London, described as a “constant inspiration” for Blake, and highlights the vital role of his wife Catherine played in the creation of his engravings and illuminated books with illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress (1824-27) and a copy of the book The complaint, and the consolation Night Thoughts (1797) on display, both of which are thought to have been coloured by Catherine. Other highlights include what is thought to be the only self-portrait of Blake – exhibited in the UK for the first time, the work Albion Rose (c1793) depicting the mythical founding of Britain, illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) and some of his best-known paintings including Newton (1795-c1805 – pictured above) and Ghost of a Flea (c1819-20). The exhibition closes with The Ancient of Days (1827), a frontispiece for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy, which was completed only days before Blake’s death. Runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: William Blake (1757-1827) Newton 1795-c1805 (Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper, 460 x 600mm Tate).

A new gallery exploring how London’s scientists and artisans transformed our understanding of the world over 250 years spanning the period from the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington today. The 650 square metre gallery, known as ‘Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery’, features iconic objects such as Sir Isaac Newton’s famous work, Principia Mathematica, Robert Hooke’s microscope (pictured), and objects including an air pump and ‘Philosophical Table’ which were commissioned by King George III as the king conducted his own scientific investigations. There’s also a range of machine models including one of a pile driving machine used in the construction of Westminster Bridge in the 1740s. The gallery is free to visit. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.ac.uk. PICTURE: Microscope designed by Robert Hooke, 1671-1700 formerly in the George III collection, King’s College London © Science Museum Group

The Tower of London Food Festival is being held in the fortress’ dry moat this weekend. Culinary talents including Chris Bavin and Emily Roux are among those offering live cookery demonstrations while visitors can put their own skills to the test with masterclasses. There’s also wine and sherry tasting sessions, an expanded array of food and drink to sample, activities for kids including cookery classes, games and face painting, and the Bandstand is back with deckchairs to relax in. Admission is included with entry to the Tower. Closes on Sunday. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

We return to the series we mistakenly started earlier this year. Here’s a recap of the first story with a new article to come next week…


This private garden square in Marylebone was first laid out from the 1760s to 1780s by Henry William Portman and forms part of the expansive Portman Estate.

The 2.5 acre garden square, which is for use by residents only, features London plane trees, a lawn and informal plantings as well as a children’s play area and tennis court.

The current configuration was created in the early 1900s – the railings, which were originally installed in the 1880s, were removed as part of the war effort in 1942 but restored in 1972.

Significant buildings once located on the square include the James “Athenian” Stuart-designed Montagu House, built for Elizabeth Montagu between 1777-1782. Located on the north-west corner, it was destroyed during World War II and the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel now stands on the site.

The Robert Adam-designed Home House (1773-77) can be found at number 20 (once part of the Courtauld Institute and now a private members club) and the hotel, the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, can be found at number 30.

PICTURES: Google Maps

You may have noticed that last week we kicked off a new Wednesday series on 10 (more) London garden squares, only having kicked off a new series on 10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London the week before. To clarify, we are currently running the Victoria and Albert series, the garden squares entry snuck in by accident (but we’ll be returning to the garden squares down the track)! Apologies for any confusion...


Queen Victoria, the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official residence, moved her household into the palace just three weeks after ascending to the throne on 20th June, 1837.

The palace, which had been empty for seven years following the death of her uncle King George IV, had been undergoing a grand repurposing under architect John Nash, transforming it from a house into a palace.

Originally built in 1703 as a London residence for John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, in 1761 the property had been purchased by King George III as a family home for his wife Queen Charlotte (14 of the couple’s 15 children were born here).

Remodelling of the property began the following year and had been continued by King George IV following his accession to the throne in 1820. As a result of the ongoing work, George IV never lived in the palace nor did his successor, King William IV, who preferred Clarence House.

The building works still weren’t finished when Victoria moved in. Her ministers had advised her to remain at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until the works were finished but Victoria wasn’t having any of that – the move would help her escape the overbearing care of her mother Victoria, Duchess of Kent, the ambitious Sir John Conroy, and the so-called (and stifling) ‘Kensington System’ of rules under which she’d been brought up.

When Victoria married Albert (see the previous entry) on 10th February, 1840, the newly weds made the palace their London home. It was here that, over the next 17 years, Victoria would give birth to eight of their nine children (starting with Victoria ‘Vicky’, in 1840), and where the couple would work, controversially at side-by-side desks.

The couple’s growing family was soon stretching the palace accommodations and following a request from Queen Victoria, in 1846 some £20,000 was granted by Parliament on 13th August to complete and extend the grand property with an additional £50,000 for the works raised from the sale of the Royal Pavilion to the Brighton Corporation.

Under the direction of architect Edward Blore and builder Thomas Cubitt, the East Wing was added at the front of the palace, enclosing what had previously been a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and creating the famous central balcony where the Royal Family now gather on special occasions. Queen Victoria made the first public appearance on the balcony in 1851 during the Great Exhibition (pictured above are members of the Royal Family at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

A new ballroom – designed by Nash’s student James Pennethorne – was added to the State Rooms shortly after. This was inaugurated in May, 1856, with a ball held there the following month to mark the end of the Crimean War.

The ball was one of several held at the palace during those years along with official royal ceremonies and other entertainments including musical performances by the likes of Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss II.

A new exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, opens at Buckingham Palace next month. 

WHERE: State Rooms, Buckingham Palace (nearest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 20th July to 29th September (opening at 9am, closing times vary – see website for details); COST: £25 an adult/£14 a child (under 17s/under fives free)/£22.80 concession/£64 family; WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0); Lower – David Adams.