cummings-barograph1Acquired last year by the Science Museum, this rare Georgian clock records changes in air pressure and is one of only four of its type made by London clockmaker Alexander Cumming.

cummings-barograph2Dating from 1766, the clock (pictured) sits in a seven foot tall decorated case, believed to have been made by London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Inside is a barograph – comprised of two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes and the data is recorded on the clock dial which rotates once a year.

Scottish-born Cumming, who constructed his first barograph clock on the orders of King George III a year before this one in 1765, designed this clock based on ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke.

Following Cumming’s death in 1814, the clock was purchased by meteorologist Luke Howard – known as the ‘father of scientific meteorology’ – who used it to observe atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth. The data gathered was published in his book Barometrographia  in 1847.

While it has previously been loaned for display at the museum, it now forms part of the permanent collection.

WHERE: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

PICTURES: Courtesy of the Science Museum.

Lemuel Gulliver, the ‘hero’ of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 book, Gulliver’s Travels, wasn’t a native Londoner but moved to the city for work and lived in several different locations before embarking on his famous voyage to the land of Lilliput.

lemuel-gulliverAccording to the book, the Nottinghamshire-born Gulliver studied at Emanuel College (sic) in Cambridge before he was apprenticed to London surgeon known as James Bates after which he spent a couple of years studying in the Dutch town of Leiden (spelt Leydon in the book).

Returning to England briefly, he spent the next few years voyaging to the “Levant” before returning to London where he “took part of a small house in Old Jewry” (Old Jewry lies in the City of London runs between Poultry and Gresham Street) and married Mary Burton, daughter of a Newgate Street hosier.

His master Bates dying, however, a couple of years later and with a failing business, he took up the position of surgeon on two different ships and it was when he eventually returned to London that he moved to Fetter Lane – which runs north from Fleet Street – and then from there to Wapping where hoping to retire from the sea and “get business (presumably he meant medical cases) among the sailors”.

But it was not to be and so, in 1699, Mr Gulliver set off on the voyage accounted in the famous book.

The name Fetter Lane, incidentally, has nothing to do with fetters (ie chains) – see our earlier post for more. And it’s also worth noting that the author, Jonathan Swift, also visited and lived in London at various times of his career – we’ll take a more in depth look at his experiences in a later post.

PICTURE: Lemuel Gulliver, depicted in a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels/Wikipedia.

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A new exhibition celebrating the life of John Lockwood Kipling – described as an “artist, writer, museum director, teacher, 2-_lockwood_kipling_with_his_son_rudyard_kipling_1882__national_trust_charles_thomasconservationist and influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement” as well as being the father of world famous writer Rudyard Kipling – opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. The exhibition is the first exploring the life and work of Kipling (1837-1911) who campaigned for the preservation of Indian crafts as well as being a craftsman himself (his terracotta panels can still be seen on the exterior of the V&A) and an illustrator of his son’s books. Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London features paintings of the Indian section of the 1851 Great Exhibition as well as objects which were on display (the exhibition was visited by Kipling while a teenager), Kipling’s sketches of Indian craftspeople observed during his many years living in India as well as objects he selected for the V&A while there, designs and illustrations for books, and furniture he helped his former student architect Bhai Ram Singh design for royal residences Bagshot Park and Osborne. The free exhibition, a collaboration between the V&A and the Bard Graduate Centre in New York, runs until 2nd April (it will be on display at the Bard Graduate Center, New York, from 15th September this year). For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kipling. PICTURES: Top: The Great Exhibition, India no. 4, by Joseph Nash/Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016 ©; Right: Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882/© National Trust, Charles Thomas

Anyone named Emma will receive free entry into the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition on Emma Hamilton this weekend in honour of the 202nd anniversary of her death on 15th January, 1815. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity shines a light on the remarkable woman who overcame poverty to become one of the most famous international celebrities of her age. The display features more than 200 objects on loan from public and private collections as well as from the museum’s own collection including paintings, personal letters, prints and caricatures, costumes and jewellery. Simply bring proof that your name is Emma – such as a passport, driver’s licence or utility bill – and gain free entry on 14th and 15th January. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges usually apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/emmahamilton.

Members of the public will be granted a close-up look of the ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this April. The hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK” is undergoing a two year transformation which includes conservation of Sir James Thornhill’s famous painted ceiling. As part of the project, a series of ceiling tours will be launched on 1st April this year with visitors taken up close via a lift where they can see the conservators at work. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Send all items for consideration to exploringlondon@gmail.

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. 

debenhamsThe Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.

Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).

The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.

The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.

In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.

Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.

By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.

It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.

As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.

For more, see www.debenhams.com.

PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.

The Museum of London Docklands is currently running an exhibition exploring the history of the Royal African Company through the story of William Ansah Sessarakoo. But just who was this African ‘prince’ who came to London (albeit only briefly) and caused such a stir through Georgian society?

Born around 1736, William Ansah Sessarakoo was the son of John Correntee, head of Annamaboe, the largest slave-trading port on Africa’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). Correntee had earlier sent one of his sons to France to be educated and the English traders, apparently worried at the close relationship Correntee had with the French, offered Correntee the chance for another of his sons to receive an English education.

portrait-of-william-ansah-sessarakoo-1749-c-national-portrait-gallery-londonCorrentee agreed and his son Ansah subsequently spent much of his time at Fort William, the English base in the region,  learning English and their customs and culture. When offered the chance to send Ansah to England, Correntee again agreed and it was decided he would take ship aboard the Lady Carolina with Captain David Bruce Crichton.

Crichton, however, soon betrayed his trust and instead of taking Ansah to England, sold him into slavery in Bridgetown, Barbados. Back in Africa, his family were led to believe he was dead.

But, well known as he was among the Fante people, Ansah was “discovered” four years later by a Fante trader in Barbados. When news reached Correntee he petitioned the English to free him and honour the original deal to send him to England. Anxious to protect their trade, the English agreed and the Royal African Company, which traded along Africa’s west coast, liberated him and transported him to England.

Upon his arrival in early 1749, he was presented as Prince William Ansah Sessarakoo or ‘The Royal African’. Staying as a guest in the Grosvenor Square home of George Montagu Dunk, the 2nd Earl of Halifax, he made numerous appearances in London society. Most notably, on 1st February, 1749, when he attended a showing of Thomas Southerne’s play Oroonoko which tells the story of an African prince sold into slavery by Europeans who then rebels and, after being forced to kill his wife, is himself executed. Sessarakoo was apparently so disturbed by the similarities between that story and his own, that he left the performance early.

In 1750, Ansah returned home. Within a year of his return he had gained work as a writer at Cape Coast Castle, the seat of English power on the Gold Coast and, using his connections there and abroad, he helped his father in his trading with both the English and French. His relationship with the English soured, however, after a physical altercation with William Mutter, the governor of Cape Coast Castle, over a pay dispute involving watered-down whiskey.

Ansah lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity back in Annamaboe and while there are records he did work as a slave trader during this period, little else is known. While no records exist, it is generally believed he probably died around 1770.

Despite his ignoble end, one of the legacies of Ansah’s visit to London was to show the nobility of the African people – a line of thought which did contribute to the rise of the abolitionist movement in Britain.

The Royal African display, featuring the story of William Ansah Sessarakoo, can be seen at the Museum of London Docklands until 4th June, 2017. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/whats-on/exhibitions/royal-african.

PICTURE: William Ansah Sessarakoo by John Faber, Jr. c. 1749 © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

st-dunstans-clock

We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.

Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.

The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.

Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.

To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.

Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.

This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.

He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.

royal-african-company• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.

Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.

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

Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.

fortnum-masonThe entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.

The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.

The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

PICTURE: Gryffindor/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

euston-gardensThe name Euston first makes an appearance in London in the Georgian era when Euston Square was laid out north of the City.

The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.

The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.

It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).

Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.

Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.

PICTURE:  Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0

Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Horatio Nelson – hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, is the subject of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. One of the most famous figures of her time, Hamilton rose from obscure beginnings to the heights of celebrity and is best remembered for the scandalous affair she had with Lord Nelson for the six years prior to his death in 1805. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity brings together more than 200 objects, many of which have never been displayed before, including paintings, letters, costumes and jewellery. Highlights include works by artists George Romney, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, letters from Hamilton and her lovers, betrothal rings exchanged between Hamilton and Nelson, her songbooks and decorative objects. The exhibition, which runs until 17th April, is accompanied by a series of events including walking tours and late openings. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

The first-ever exhibition of portraits of artists in the Royal Collection opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. Portrait of the Artist features more than 150 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts including a self-portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1623) which was hung in Whitehall Palace, a portrait of his former assistant Anthony van Dyck (c1627-28), and Cristofano Allori’s work Head of Holofernes (1613) in which the artist appears as the decapitated Holofernes as well as self-portraits by everyone from Rembrandt to Lucien Freud and David Hockney. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.

Sir Joseph Lyons, founder of Lyons tea shops and the ‘Corner Houses’ of London – among the first chain restaurants in England, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Hammersmith. Sir Joseph, who lived at the property in the 1890s close to the now-demolished headquarters of his catering empire at Cadby Hall, opened the doors to his first teashop at 213 Piccadilly in 1894. He was knighted by King George V in 1911. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Garnitures: Vase sets from National Trust Houses. Being run in conjunction with the National Trust, the display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington explores the history of ‘garniture’ – sets of ornamental vases unified by their design and a specific context. A status symbol for a period between the 17th and 19th century, garnitures fell out of fashion and complete sets are now extremely rare. The display features garnitures loaned from 13 different National Trust houses as well as objects from the V&A’s collection. Highlights include a garniture made in miniature for a doll’s house, an extremely rate 17th century silver set of jars, a Rococo set and Wedgwood ceramics. The free exhibition runs until 30th April. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/garnitures.

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The Lord Mayor’s Show will be held on 12th November so we thought in the lead-up to it, we’d look briefly at the lives of five of the notable Lord Mayors of London during the 801 years of the institution…

William Hardel: Mayor of London (the title Lord didn’t come until a century later) in 1215, Hardel was the only commoner on the committee – known as the enforcers – appointed to see that the provisions of the Magna Carta were carried out.

john-wilkesJohn Wilkes: A radical, politician, journalist and notorious womaniser, he was Lord Mayor of Lord in 1774. He is noted for being the subject of what is reputedly the only cross-eyed statue in London (pictured), found at the intersection of Fetter Lane and New Fetter Lane in the City of London. It is said to be a true-to-life depiction.

David Salomans: The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, the banker and MP was elected in 1855. One of his tasks during his time as Lord Mayor was the removal of the inscription on The Monument which had blamed Roman Catholic conspirators for the Great Fire of London.

Robert Fowler: The last Lord Mayor of London to have served in the office more than once, Fowler held the office in 1883 and 1885. Many others had done so previously – including the famous Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington – but none since.

Dame Mary Donaldson: The first female Lord Mayor of London, she was elected in 1983, having previously held the honours of being first female alderman (1975) and first female sheriff (1981). Dame Fiona Woolf became the second female Lord Mayor in 2013.

For more on the Lord Mayors, see our earlier entries on Henry Fitz-Ailwyn, Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington, William Walworth and Thomas Bludworth.

the-mansion-houseMansion House, perhaps best known as a tautological-sounding Tube station, is actually the name of the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (a suitable subject, we felt, given the upcoming Lord Mayor’s Show in November).

mh2Designed by George Dance the Elder and built between 1739 to 1753 (many years after the idea of an official residence for the Lord Mayor was proposed in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London), the Palladian-style property – located a stone’s throw from the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England on a short stretch of street named after the property – has been the home of the Lord Mayor since the latter date.

It was built on the site of what was known as the Stocks Market (it had previously been the location of some stocks – used to punish people for various misdemeanours), the name isn’t actually as repetitive as it looks but actually means “official residence” and was previously used to designate homes which went with particular ecclesiastical jobs.

As well as accommodation for the Lord Mayor, the interior of the Grade I-listed property features two halls known as the Egyptian Hall and what was initially known as the Dancing Gallery but is now the Ballroom (we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the property at a later date).

The Tube station opened in 1871 as the eastern terminus of the Metropolitan District Railway. Interestingly, Bank station is actually closer to the property with Mansion House station located to the south-west down Queen Victoria Street.

This rather unremarkable obelisk on Putney Heath actually commemorates the invention of ‘Fireproof House’ and was erected, not coincidentally, on the 110th anniversary of the great conflagration.

hartley-obeliskThe rather eccentric David Hartley, an inventor and MP, came up with the idea of sheathing joists under floorboards with thin layers of what were initially iron and later iron and copper plating to prevent the spread of fire in homes and ships and was granted a patent for his system in 1773.

Known as ‘Hartley’s Fire Plates’, he claimed in a pamphlet that a single fireplate might have prevented the Great Fire – a claim which got other MPs excited and led them to grant him cash – £2,500 – to continue his experiments as well as an extension on his patent, from the usual 15 to 31 years.

His experiments included building homes for the express purpose of setting them alight to test his invention, one of which he built on Wimbledon Common. Known as the ‘Fireproof House’, the property was repeatedly set alight in front of prominent witnesses.

These included MPs, the Lord Mayor of London and Aldermen of the City of London – who granted Hartley the Freedom of the City and encouraged fire plates to be included in all new buildings in London – and, of course, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. One of the tests was apparently carried out while the royal family was eating breakfast in an upstairs room inside (they survived unscathed – one hates to think of Hartley’s fate should they not have).

The house is now gone but the Hartley Memorial Obelisk, erected just off Wildcroft Road in what were formerly the grounds of Wildcroft Manor, remains.

The red brick and stone Grade II-listed structure was erected by the City of London Corporation in 1776, the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, to commemorate Hartley’s invention of fire plates. The first stone in the monument – which is attributed to George Dance – was laid by the then Lord Mayor, John Sawbridge.

PICTURE: David Antis/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0

fighting-temeraireIt’s an atmospheric image – both literally and metaphorically – that will soon be sitting in wallets and purses across the UK. Painter JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 is among the most famous artworks hanging in The National Gallery and, as the Bank of England has announced earlier this year, will adorn newly produced £20 notes from 2020 onwards. It commemorates the end of the famous ship, the 98 gun HMS Temeraire, which had played a heroic role in Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and, say reports, had been dubbed the “Fighting” Temeraire ever since (although it’s also suggested the ship was actually known by the crew as the “Saucy” Temeraire) . The oil painting, which Turner created in 1839, depicts the ship being towed away to be broken up (although, while it was actually towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe in London –  a westerly trip, the painting depicts it going eastward). The Temeraire itself is drawn romantically, almost spectrally, while in front of it is a steam tug shown in hard modernity and, of course, in the backdrop is the majestic setting sun, evoking a sense of the end. The painting, which was bequeathed to the gallery by the artist in the 1850s, and which incidentally appeared in the James Bond film Skyfall in a scene in which 007 (Daniel Craig) meets Q (Ben Wishaw) in front of it, can be found in Room 34 of gallery.

WHERE: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square (nearest Tube stations are Charing Cross and Leicester Square); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (open to 9pm Saturdays); COST: free; WEBSITE: www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

PICTURE:  Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838, © National Gallery, London

commerce-and-sea-power_william-lionel-wyllie

• This year marks the 150th anniversary of the transatlantic cable connecting Europe and America and in celebration of the event, the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery is holding an exhibition looking at the impact of cable telegraphy on people’s understanding of time, space and the speed of communication. Victorians Decoded: Art and Telegraphy, a collaboration between the gallery, King’s College London, The Courtauld Institute of Art and the Institute of Making at University College London, features never-before-seen paintings from the gallery’s collection as well as rare artefacts such as code books, communication devices, samples of transatlantic telegraph sales and ‘The Great Grammatizor’, a messaging machine that will enable the public to create a coded message of their own. It took nine years, four attempts and the then largest ship in the world, the Great Eastern, to lay the cable which stretched from Valentia Island in Ireland to Newfoundland in Canada and enabled same-day messaging across the continents for the first time. Displayed over four themed rooms – ‘Distance’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Transmission’ and ‘Coding’, the exhibition features works by artists including Edward John Pointer, Edwin Landseer, James Clarke Hook, William Logsdail, William Lionel Wyllie and James Tissot. The free exhibition, which runs until 22nd January, is accompanied by a series of special curator talks. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/victoriansdecoded. PICTURE: Commerce and Sea Power, William Lionel Wyllie/Courtesy Guildhall Art Gallery.

• The life of artist Sir James Thornhill – the painter behind the remarkable Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, has opened at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich. A Great and Noble Design: Sir James Thornhill’s Painted Hall explores the story behind the commissioning of the Painted Hall, painted between 1708 and 1727, through a series of preparatory sketches made by the artist, including three newly-conserved original sketches by Thornhill. Also on show will be the results of new research undertaken into the paintings in the light of upcoming conservation work on the hall’s ceiling. The free exhibition runs at the centre at Stockwell Street until 28th October. For more, see www.ornc.org.

The food served at the Foundling Hospital comes under scrutiny in a new show at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Based on new research, Feeding the 400 looks at the impact food and eating regimes had on children at the hospital between 1740 and 1950 through an examination of art, photographs, objects including tableware and the voices of former student captured in the museum’s extensive sound archive. Guest curated by Jane Levi, the exhibition also includes a newly commissioned sound work which evokes the experience of communal eating. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition which runs until the 8th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.

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Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?

kings-roadIt was the Stuart king Charles II who first starting using the road’s course as part of his route to Hampton Court which meant it was closed to the public.

Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.

King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.

The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.

The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.

Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.

PICTURE: Secret Pilgrim/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Kensington-Palace-garden-partyJoin Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP

The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.

 Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

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PutneyThis south-west London Thames-side district (and the bridge named after it), traces the origin of its name back to Saxon times.

Putney2Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).

Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.

The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.

Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.

The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).

With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.

10_Downing_StreetSir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).

Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury  And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.

Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.

Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.

Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.

The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.

For more on 10 Downing Street (including its earlier history), check out our previous entries here and here.

PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.