Following their sojourn at Lake Geneva where, in September, 1816, Mary Shelley (then Godwin) first started writing Frankenstein, Shelley and her lover – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – returned to England and then to London where on 30th December, 1816, they were married at St Mildred’s Church, Bread Street.

The marriage followed the suicide of Percy Shelley’s wife, Harriet, who was found drowned in the Serpentine in Hyde Park on 10th December that year. Harriet’s family had apparently resisted the poet taking custody of the couple’s two children and it has been reported that Percy was advised by lawyers that marrying Mary, pregnant to him again at this stage, would improve his chances of his winning custody of them.

Mary’s father William Godwin and step-mother Mary Jane Claremont Godwin attended the wedding and the rift which had divided the family due to the couple’s earlier elopement was apparently at least partly mended as a result. Others in attendance were the publisher and poet Leigh Hunt.

The church in which they were married once stood on the east side of the south end of Bread Street in the City of London (and is not to be confused with the Church of St Mildred, Poultry, which once stood near Mansion House).

Originally dating at least as far back as the early 13th century, it had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren in the years following.

In good condition and retaining many of Wren’s original fittings into the 20th century, the building was sadly destroyed by bombing in 1941 (and the parish subsequently united with that of St Mary le Bow). The site is now covered by the Grade II-listed Seventies office building, 30 Cannon Street.

A memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip, which now stands just off New Change, was once located in this church.

PICTURE: Interior of St Mildred, Bread Street from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839). (Via Wikipedia)

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Originally built as a dining hall for King Edward IV in the 1470s, the Great Hall is a survivor of the medieval royal palace that once stood on the site and later become incorporated into the Art Deco home created by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s.

The hall, which is comparable in size to that of Hampton Court Palace, was designed by Thomas Jordan, chief mason to the king, and Edmund Graveley, his chief carpenter.

It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide and has a magnificent oak roof described as a ‘false’ hammerbeam construction (the ‘false’ because the posts are morticed into the ends of the hammerbeams rather than resting on them).

The hall would have once had a raised dais at one end while the other end joined to the rest of the would have featured a screen behind which doors led to a buttery, pantry and kitchen. A hearth was located near the dais end of the hall.

The windows, which are set high in the walls, would have been of stained glass (the stained glass there now was added in 1936 and is the work of George Kruger Gray) and the walls below them would have been decorated with tapestries.

Eltham was a favourite residence of King Edward IV and one of the most lavish feasts ever held there was at Christmas, 1482, when some 2,000 people were fed (it was the king’s last visit to the palace before his death the following April). The hall would have also been familiar to King Henry VIII who spent much of his childhood here but later in his life rarely came to Eltham.

King Charles I was the last king to visit the palace and in 1651 it was sold off by Parliament to Colonel Nathaniel Rich who, as well as demolishing many buildings, stripped the lead off the hall’s roof. The property was later used as a farm and the hall became a barn.

In the early 19th century a campaign was launched to save the hall from demolition which saw the roof propped up and during the latter half of the 1800s it was used as an indoor tennis court.

Further repairs were made in the 1890s and again between 1911 and 1914 when the roof was dismantled and reassembled under the direction of the Office of Works.

The Courtaulds, who had their spectacular adjoining property built in the 1930s, apparently intended to use the hall as a music room and carried out a number of repairs – including to the roof – and additions including a minstrel’s gallery (there is no evidence of such a feature in the original).

After World War II, the Ministry of Works assumed responsibility for the Great Hall (and other palace remains) – opening the hall to the public for three days a week – before in 1984 English Heritage took over management of the Great Hall (and later the entire site).

PICTURE: David Adams

WHERE: The Great Hall, Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich (nearest train station is Mottingham); WHEN: 10am to 6pm Sunday to Friday; COST (without Gift Aid): £15 adults/£9 children/£13.50 concessions/£39 family (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

 

The new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey open to the public on Monday. The museum galleries, located more than 50 feet above the abbey’s floor in the medieval Triforium, tell the 1,000 year history of the abbey through some of its greatest treasures. Entry to the Triforium – never before open to the public – is via the new Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745 which comes with previously unseen views of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster. The exhibition in the galleries, meanwhile, features some 300 objects and tells the abbey’s story around four major themes – building the abbey, worship and daily life, the abbey’s relationship to the monarchy and its role as a national place of commemoration and remembrance. Among the items on show are a column capital from the cloister of St Edward the Confessor’s Church (built around 1100), a scale model of the abbey commissioned by Sir Christopher Wren which features a never built massive central spire, The Westminster Retable (1259-69) – the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, the Litlyngton Missal – an illuminated 14th century service book, Queen Mary II’s Coronation Chair dating from 1689, the 2011 marriage licence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and early abbey guidebooks for visitors. The new galleries and tower were completed in a £22.9 million project funded through private donors and trusts. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries/.  PICTURES: Top – The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries; Right – The Weston Tower (Images courtesy of Westminster Abbey/Alan Williams).

The Royal Collection’s South Asian art goes on show at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6 centres on the historic four month visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to the subcontinent prior to his mother, Queen Victoria, being formally declared Empress of India. It brings together some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship in the Royal Collection including some of the 2,000 gifts presented to the Prince on his tour. Highlights include an enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder given by Ram Singh II, Maharajah of Jaipur, a 10 piece gold service given by the Maharaja of Mysore, and a jewelled walking stick featuring a concealed gun, thought to have been the gift of Maharao Ram Singh of Bundi. There are also enamelled peacock feather fans, a gold and emerald turban ornament, and a brooch and necklace featuring a depiction of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The display can be seen until 14th October. Admission charge applies. The exhibition is being shown alongside Splendours of the Subcontinent: Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts, which features highlights from the Royal Collection’s world-class holding of paintings and manuscripts from the region. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

British-born artist Thomas Cole’s depictions of the unspoiled American wilderness form the centre of a new exhibition at The National Gallery. Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire includes 58 works, mostly on loan from North American collections, including his iconic painting cycle The Course of Empire (1834-6), and the masterpiece that secured his reputation (and which has never been seen in the UK before), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow (1836). Cole’s paintings will be shown alongside those of artists who had the greatest influence on him including JMW Turner and John Constable. Opens on 11th June and runs until 7th October. Admission charge applies. As a bonus, The National Gallery is also hosting a free exhibition of a series of 10 works created by Ed Ruscha in response to Cole’s The Course of Empire. These can be seen in Room 1. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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From coaching inns to horse markets, riverside mansions to gin palaces – the ‘lost’ buildings of London form the focus of a new exhibition which opens at the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell on Monday. Picturing Forgotten London features drawings, engravings, photographs, maps, films and contemporary recollections displayed under themes including entertainment, food, commerce and trade, and transport. Through the exhibition, visitors will discover frost fairs (pictured), ‘open-shout’ trading floors, pleasure gardens, almshouses, cabmen’s shelters, dockyards, farms and a 1960s supermarket. Among the highlights are a look at the notorious Westminster neighbourhood known as Devil’s Acre and images of such lost landmarks as Euston Arch and Crystal Palace as well as Geoffrey Fletcher’s observational drawings of 60s and 70s London and a large scale reproduction of an 1867 illustrated map of public buildings, theatres, music halls and other landmarks known as The Strangers Guide. Admission is free. Runs until 31st October. For more, follow this link. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives.

Marking 50 years since a series of significant protests took place around the world, a new display at Tate Britain in Millbank shows how artists responded to what it calls a “watershed moment in political and social history”. London: 1968 features a series of iconic agin-prop posters by the Camden Poster Workshop who moved their studio into the London School of Economics during the student occupation in October. They provide a visual record of some of the key issues of the time including industrial strikes, the Vietnam War, and civil rights movements in Ireland, America and South Africa. There’s also a Patricia Holland film looking at the occupation of the Hornsey School of Art and work by radical artists such as Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz who all participated in a landmark exhibition at London’s ICA in 1969. The display, which is free to see, coincides with another free display at Tate Modern – 1968: Protest and the Photobook – which brings together politically engaged photobooks made during this period. London: 1968 runs until 31st October. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A posthumous Victoria Cross awarded to Corporal Bryan Budd for bravery in Afghanistan has gone on display at the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth. Corporal Budd, who served in the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, was awarded the VC on 14th December, 2006, for two separate acts of gallantry in Helmand Province – the first in an incident on 27th July that year when he initiated a daring attack on the enemy in order to evacuate a wounded comrade, and the second, on 20th August, when he led a surprise attack on a Taliban position, killing several enemy but sustaining wounds from which he died. The VC, which was purchased by Lord Ashcroft, is the most recent now in his collection – prior to its acquisition the most recent he had was awarded to Sergeant Ian McKay in October, 1982, for gallantry during the Falklands War. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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Little remains of this priory which once stood on the banks of the River Wandle in Surrey (and is now encompassed in Greater London).

The priory, which was founded as an Augustinian house in the early 12th century, rose to become one of the most influential in all of southern Britain.

The institution was created thanks to Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey, Huntington and Cambridge, who was granted the village of Merton by King Henry I. Gilbert came to live in Merton and there established a priory, building a church and small huts on land thought to be located just to the west of where the priory was later located.

Gilbert had been impressed with what he’d seen of the Augustinians, also known as the Austin friars, at Huntington and so gave control of the new church to their sub-prior, Robert Bayle, along with the land and a mill.

It was based on Bayle’s advice that the site of the priory was then moved to its second location and a new, larger wooden chapel built with William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, coming to bless the cemetery. The canons – there were now 17 – moved in on 3rd May, 1117.

Among the high profile people to visit the new priory was Queen Matilda, who brought her son William with her. In the early 1100s, a certain Thomas Becket (later the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) received an education here as did Nicolas Breakspeare (later the first English Pope, Adrian IV).

The priory expanded considerably over the next century and in 1217 its chapter house was the location of a peace conference between King Henry III and Louis, the Dauphin of France. The Statutes of Merton – a series of legal codes relating to wills – were formulated here in 1236.

The connection with royalty continued – in the mid-1340s, King Edward III is thought to have passed the Feast of the Epiphany here while King Henry VI apparently had a crowning ceremony here – the first outside of Westminster Abbey for more than 300 years – in 1437.

The priory remained in use until the Dissolution of King Henry VIII. The demolition of the buildings apparently started even before the priory had been formally surrendered to the commissioners – stones from its building was used in the construction of Henry’s new palace – Nonsuch – as well as, later, in the construction of local buildings.

The site came to be referred to as ‘Merton Abbey’ and, passing through various hands, was used to garrison Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War. It later became a manufacturing facility, works for the dying and printing of textiles, one of which became the workshops of William Morris.

Some of the priory buildings survived for some years after but the only remains now left as sections of the perimeter wall (the arch which now stands over the entrance to Merton parish church is reconstructed – there’s another ornamental gateway in the outer court wall which was also replaced with a replica in the 1980s).

The foundations of the unusually large chapter house, meanwhile, have been excavated and are now preserved in a specially constructed enclosure under a roadway. Construction is now underway to build better public access to the remains.

PICTURE: A ceiling boss from Merton Priory which still bears traces of its original red paint and guilding. It was found during excavations at Nonsuch Palace in 1959-60 is now on display in the Museum of London. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0).

There’s no prizes for guessing that this Westminster road, which runs from Greycoat Place to Millbank and Lambeth Bridge, in pre-bridge days led down to a horse ferry across the Thames.

The ferry was, in fact, the only licensed horse ferry along the river and did quite a trade in conveying horses and their riders as well as carriages across the river. Mentions of the ferry date back to medieval times but it’s suggested there may have been a ford here back as far as the Roman era.

The income from the ferry went to the Archbishop of Canterbury (his official London residence lay across the river at Lambeth). So lucrative were the ferry rights that when Westminster Bridge was built in the mid 18th-century, the archbishop was paid £3,000 in compensation.

There are a number of famous figures associated with the ferry – Princess Augusta, later the mother of King George III, reportedly used it on the way to her wedding in 1736, and almost 50 years before that, the ferry pier is said to have been the starting point for King James II’s flight from England in 1689.

There are also a couple of high profile disasters associated with the horse ferry – Archbishop Laud’s belongings apparently sank to the bottom when the ferry overturned in 1633 and  Oliver Cromwell’s coach was apparently lost during a similar incident in 1656 – both events were apparently seen as bad omens (not to mention expensive).

Horseferry Road, meanwhile, is these days home to government buildings including Horseferry House and the City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and, since the mid 1990s, Channel 4’s HQ.

Horseferry Road was also the location of the Australian Imperial Force’s administrative HQ during World War I and it was in this thoroughfare that Phyllis Pearsall was living when she conceived the London A to Z.

PICTURE: Top – Lambeth Bridge, site of the horse ferry which gives Horseferry Road its name/Right – Horseferry Road (Tagishsimon, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

This medieval-era church, located on Broad Street in the City of London, survived the Great Fire of 1666 but was demolished in the early 20th century when, due to the lack of residents in the City, it was no longer needed as a church.

The church, also sometimes referred to as St Peter-le-Poor, was in existence by the end of the 12th century but it’s thought the name ‘le poer’ (generally said to refer to either the poverty of the surrounding area or its proximity to an Augustinian monastery) didn’t come to be added until the 16th century.

The church was rebuilt in 1540 and then enlarged and repaired – including the addition of a new steeple – in the first half of the 17th century.

By 1788, the church had, however, fallen into such disrepair that it had to be rebuilt and the new building, designed by Jesse Gibson and located further back from Broad Street (into which it had previously projected), was consecrated in November, 1792.

The layout of the new church was somewhat unusual – the altar was located on the north-west side of the church, opposite the entrance (altars were traditionally located in the east), and the nave was circular with a wooden gallery running around the interior.

There was a large lantern in the centre with glass walls. The entrance on the eastern side of the church, featured a facade which gave no hint of the circular nature of the building behind – it featured a square tower and columned entrance.

With the declining population living in the City of London, the church was no longer needed as a place of worship by the early 20th century and so it was demolished in 1907.

The parish was united with St Michael Cornhill and the proceeds from the sale of the site were used to build the church of St Peter-le-Poer in Friern Barnet. This church was also given the City property’s font, pulpit and panelling.

 

Among the gruesome deaths said to have taken place at the Tower of London is that of George, the Duke of Clarence, who, so the story goes, was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine on 18th February, 1478 – 540 years ago this year.

George, who was born on 21st October, 1449, was the younger brother of King Edward IV and older brother of (although he was only king after George’s death) King Richard III.

George, who was made Duke of Clarence and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland soon after the House of York’s King Edward IV’s ascendancy to the throne in 1461 during the volatile period known as the Wars of the Roses, had betrayed his brother King Edward IV at least twice before his death.

The first time came in the late 1460s when he joined with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, in helping the previously deposed Lancastrian King Henry VI back onto the throne. The second time came after his brother Edward has retaken the throne in March, 1471, and the two of them had reconciled. George had sought to wed Mary of Burgundy, but Edward had objected – one of a series of events which apparently led George, whose mental state was said to be deteriorating fast by this point, to once again scheme against the king and eventually saw King Edward IV have him thrown in prison in June, 1477.

The King brought charges – including that he had slandered the King and prepared for rebellion – against George in Parliament in January, 1478, and both houses subsequently passed a bill of attainder with the sentence of death carried out in private (thus perhaps sparing him the humiliation of a public execution?) in the Tower soon after.

The story that he had been drowned in a butt of his favourite malmsey (a sweet wine) in the Bowyer Tower apparently circulated soon after his death – among proponents of the story was William Shakespeare who in Richard III has the duke stabbed and then drowned in a butt of malmsey – and to this day it remains something of a mystery as to whether it actually occurred (although, interestingly, his body when exhumed was not beheaded which was the common means of executing members of the nobility).

It has been suggested that sawn down wine butts were used for baths at the time – which may mean George was drowned in a wine butt, but one he was using to take a bath rather than one which had wine stored in it. It has also been suggested that the reference to a butt of wine refers to a barrel used for storing his body for removal to Tewkesbury where he was buried alongside his wife rather than his actual execution.

PICTURES: Top – The Tower of London where the Duke was executed; Right – A virtual re-enactment of George’s death at the Tower.

 

Tower of London crenellations from Tower Hill.

Hare Court, part of Inner Temple – one of the four Inns of Court in London. The inns of Court are professional associations for barristers – the Inner Temple, like the Middle Temple, has provided accommodation for lawyers since at least the 14th century.

This name – now only usually used in reference to several buildings and landmarks around the Kings Cross area including churches, a road, hotel and railway stations – was originally that of a separate village.

The village was named for the church in its midst which had been dedicated to St Pancras. The church – which has been dated back to at least the Norman era – is said to have been built on one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in the UK and was dedicated to a Roman-era boy martyr, St Pancras (in Latin, St Pancratius).

Tradition holds that St Pancras was a citizen of Rome who converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his faith during the Diocletian persecution in the early 4th century when aged just 14. When Pope Gregory the Great sent St Augustine on his mission to England in the late 6th century, he sent relics of the saint with him, hence why many English churches are dedicated to St Pancras.

The village which had been based around the church was apparently largely abandoned in the Middle Ages – possibly due to flooding – and the area was only resettled in the late 18th century with the development of Camden Town and Somers Town.

While the church – now known as St Pancras Old Church – was restored in the mid-19th century, a new parish church – known as St Pancras New Church – which built about a kilometre away on Euston Road.

PICTURE: Stephen McKay/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Located beneath Guildhall’s Great Hall is the oldest surviving part of the structure, the largest of London’s medieval crypts.

Dating from the reign of King Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, the vaulted East Crypt is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England with a ceiling featuring a series of carved bosses depicting heads, shields and flowers.

It features a series of stained glass windows depicting five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys.

The pillars holding up the roof, meanwhile – once located at ground level – show signs of where horses were once tied up while their riders went about their business.

The West Crypt, which is believed to date from the 13th century, was sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the roof of the Great Hall which fell down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was reopened in 1973.

The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City of London’s livery companies (pictured above, right).

One of the most famous incidents took place in the crypts on 9th July, 1851, when Queen Victoria attended a banquet here during a state visit.

The crypts today are available to hire for atmospheric events.

WHERE: Guildhall, Guildhall Yard, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm daily (when not being used for events); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall.aspx.

Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

One of the National Gallery’s most celebrated paintings – Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait – is being exhibited for the first time alongside works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and its successors in a new exhibition exploring the influence of the 15th century masterpiece on 19th century artists. As well as van Eyck’s work, Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites features Sir John Everett Millais’ Mariana (1851), Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1848-49), William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853) and William Morris’s La Belle Iseult (1858 – pictured) along with a host of other works. The exhibition provides a particular focus on one of the most distinctive features of The Arnolfini Portrait – the convex mirror in which van Eyck himself is famously reflected – and, to that end, includes a convex mirror owned by Rossetti and another used by William Orpen. Other objects featured in the exhibition include early photographs, drawings and archival material surrounding the 1842 purchase of The Arnolfini Portrait by the National Gallery as well as a Victorian reproduction of van Eyck’s masterwork, The Ghent Altarpiece. The exhibition in the Sunley Room opens Monday and can be seen until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.co.uk/reflections. PICTURE: © Tate, London (N04999)

The history of opera from its roots in Renaissance Italy to the present day is being explored in a new exhibition opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington on Saturday. Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, a collaboration between the museum and the Royal Opera House, focuses on seven operatic premieres in seven cities – Montverdi’s L’incoronazione de Poppea (the first public opera), which premiered in Venice in 1642, Handel’s Rinaldo, which premiered in London in 1711, Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro, which premiered in Vienna in 1786, Verdi’s Nabucco, which premiered in Milan in 1842, Wagner’s Tannhauser, which premiered in Paris in 1861, Strauss’ Salome, which premiered in Dresden in 1905, and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which premiered in St Petersburg in 1934.  It features more than 300 objects including Salvador Dali’s costume design for Peter Brook’s 1949 production of Salome, Edouard Monet’s painting Music in the Tuileries Gardens, the original score of Nabucco, and one of only two surviving copies of L’incoronazione de Poppea. There will also be original material from the St Petersburg premier of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk which, including the composer’s original score, stage directions, libretto, set models and costume designs, is being reunited and displayed outside Russia for the first time. World leading performances can be heard over headphones, creating what the museum says is a “fully immersive sound experience”. The exhibition is the first to be displayed in the V&A’s purpose built Sainsbury Gallery and will be accompanied by a programme of live events. Runs until 25th February. For more see www.vam.ac.uk/opera.

Fancy yourself a potter? A ceramics factory where the public can mould or cast jugs, teapots and flowers opens at the Tate Modern today in an art installation by artist Clare Twomey. Located on level five of the gallery’s Blavatnik Building, FACTORY: the seen and the unseen will launch the second year of Tate Exchange and will comprise a 30 metre work space, eight tonnes of clay, a wall of drying racks and more than 2,000 fired objects. In the first week, visitors are invited to ‘clock in’ and learn the skills of working with clay and then exchange what they have made with other objects made in a factory setting. The production line will stop in the second week and visitors invited to enter a factory soundscape and join a factory tour to discuss how communities are built by collective labour. From now until January next year, Tate Exchange: Production will feature a range of artist’s projects at both the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool exploring the role of the museum in production from a range of viewpoints. For the full programme of events, see www.tate.org.uk/tateexchange.

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Located in Gracechurch Street in the City of London, this church was first recorded in the late 12th century (although there had apparently been a church here for some time earlier) and was named for St Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism (St Benet is apparently a short form of that name).

The church, which stood on the intersection with Fenchurch Street and is among a number of London churches dedicated to that particular saint, is sometimes called St Benet Grass Church – that name apparently relates to a nearby haymarket (see our earlier post on Gracechurch Street).

Records apparently show that during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, Biblical texts which had been added to the interior walls during the earlier reign of her brother, the Protestant King Edward VI, were removed.

The church was repaired in the early 17th century but subsequently destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It was among 51 churches rebuilt in the aftermath to the designs of the office of Sir Christopher Wren.

It continued on until 1864 when the parish was united with All Hallows, Lombard Street, which was later among a number of churches united with St Edmund the King and Martyr in Lombard Street.

The church building – its spire had come in for some criticism – was demolished just a couple of years later in 1867-68 (its removal helped to widen Fenchurch Street) and the site apparently sold for £24,000.

The pulpit is now in St Olave, Hart Street, and the plate was split between St Benet in Mile End Road – which was built with the proceeds of the sale of the church land – and St Paul’s Shadwell. (St Benet Gracechurch was apparently only one of two of Wren’s churches never to have an organ).

There’s a plaque marking the location of the church at 60 Gracechurch Street. The narrow street St Benet’s Place also references the former church.

PICTURE: St Benet Gracechurch in the 1820s from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839)/Via Wikipedia.

 

For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

We pause for a moment before our regular coverage to remember all those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in north Kensington.

• Giovanni da Rimini’s 700-year-old work, Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and Other Saints, has gone open show at The National Gallery. Acquired by the gallery in 2015 on the understanding that the panel will largely remain with New York collector and philanthropist Ronald S Lauder during his lifetime but for limited exceptions such as this, the panel forms the centrepiece of the exhibition Giovanni da Rimini: A 14th Century Masterpiece Unveiled. It brings together Giovanni da Rimini’s three easel works – also including Scenes from the Life of Christ (on loan from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini in Rome) and The Virgin and Child with Five Saints (on loan from the Pinacoteca Communal, Faenza, Italy) – for the first time in the UK. There are seven panel paintings in the display in total as well as two ivory panels and a fragment of an illuminated leaf. Alongside works by Giovanni da Rimini are those by Neri da Rimini, Francesco da Rimini/Master of Verruchio, Giovanni Baronzio and the great Florentine painter Giotto. The display can be seen in Room 1 until 8th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints (c 1300-1305), Giovanni da Rimini 1300-1305. © The National Gallery, London.

Dulwich Picture Gallery is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its public opening with a series of free late openings on Friday nights. Running until the end of July, the themed evenings feature performance, talks, and music with food and drink in the pavilion bar supplied by The Camberwell Arms. The nights include one of exploring how the memory of people, buildings, places and experiences influences and impacts architecture (16th June), tours of the gallery in which dancers are the guides (23rd June and 14th July), and a botanical themed evening with flower workshops, infused cocktails and other “green-fingered creativity” (28th July). For the full programme, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/.

An exhibition focusing on the 600 year history of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers has opened at the Guildhall Library in the City of London. The free exhibition joins the existing photographic display, Books and Publishing in the City, which features the work of artist-in-residence Simon Gregor and includes images of streets, buildings and documents with a particular focus on Stationers’ Hall. Both run until 31st August. For more, follow this link.

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

Once apparently known as Traitor’s Hill, Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath offers stunning views of the City of London and surrounds.

The summit of the hill, the view from which is protected, features a plaque, donated by the Heath and Hampstead Society and installed in 2016, which identifies various London landmarks visible from the site (it updated a similar plaque installed in 1984). Among the landmarks visible from the hill, which lies some six miles from the City in the south-east of the heath, are The Gherkin (St Mary Axe), St Paul’s Cathedral, The London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.

The hill’s name is somewhat shrouded in mystery. According to one story, it relates to the fact it was defended during the English Civil War by troops loyal to Parliament (hence first Traitor’s, then Parliament, Hill). Another named-related story, generally deemed to be somewhat dubious, has it as the site where Guy Fawkes and co-conspirator Robert Catesby planned to watch the destruction of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Once part of a manor granted by King Henry I to a local baron, the hill was added to the public open space of Hampstead Heath in the late 1880s although manorial rights to the land persisted until the mid-20th century. The City of London Corporation has managed the hill since 1989.

Parliament Hill, these days a popular place for kite flying, is also the site of a short white pillar known as the ‘Stone of Free Speech’, once believed to have been a focal point for religious and political meetings (although its origins, like the hill’s name, are somewhat sketchy).

WHERE: Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath (nearest Tube station is Hampstead/nearest Overground stations are Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath); WHEN: Always; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/visitor-information/Pages/Parliament-Hill-Viewpoint.aspx.

This prison dates from the time of King Richard II (1377-99) and stood off Borough High Street (just to the north of the Church of St George the Martyr) in Southwark until the mid 18th century when it moved to a new premises.

The prison, originally based in two houses apparently known as the Crane and the Angel (Angel Place bears witness to the latter), was first used for those convicted at the travelling court of the King’s Bench.

The prison was burned several times during periods of unrest and was upgraded during the reign of King Henry VIII. Among those imprisoned here were the reformer and martyr John Bradford who was held here before being burned at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary (when it would have been known as the Queen’s Bench).

By the 1600s, it had become a debtors’ prison and in the mid-17th century – during the Commonwealth it was known as the ‘Upper Bench’ –  it reportedly held around 400 inmates who carried a collective debt of £900,000.

As with other prisons, the comfort of prisoners depended very much on their financial circumstances – those with money were able to live quite well. Those imprisoned here during this period included the dramatist Thomas Dekker and the King of Corsica, imprisoned in 1752 for debt (he died only four years later).

A Parliamentary inquiry in the 1750s revealed a host of problems with the prison including overcrowding, the practice of extortion by prison officers, promiscuity and drunkenness among prisoners and other irregularities, all of which led, in 1758, to the prison being closed (and later demolished) and moving to a new premises in St George’s Fields, Southwark (we’ll deal more with that facility in an upcoming post).

PICTURE: St George the Martyr on Borough High Street near where the first King’s Bench stood.

Recently acquired by the British Museum, this 14th century alabaster figure of the Virgin and Child is the best preserved of its kind on display in any UK national collection. The sculpture, which was probably created in the Midlands, is a rare survivor of the Reformation when almost all religious imagery was lost or destroyed. It is speculated that it escaped destruction by being exported to the Continent, whether shortly after its creation or when imagery of its kind was no longer permitted. The work of an unknown master, the figure bears the marks where people have repeatedly touched or kissed it as an act of devotion with the face of the Virgin and the foot of Christ both worn as a result. Having suffered no major breakages, it still bears large portions of the original decoration including imitation jewels on the chest of the Virgins and traces of the original red and green painting and gilding. Kept at the Redemptorist monastery in Saint-Truiden, Belgium, for many years, it was purchased by a famous collector, Dr Albert Figdor, in the late 19th century. Sold at auction after his death, it entered a European private collection where it remained until it was sold to Sam Fogg from whom the British Museum, thanks to support from the Art Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund and private donations, acquired it. The sculpture is on display in the Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe. PICTURE: Alabaster Figure of the Virgin and Child, 14th century, England, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

WHERE: British Museum (nearest Tube stations are Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm, daily (open to 8.30pm Friday); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org