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

The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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This Smithfield institution owes its sign to its close association with the cloth fair once held nearby.

The current Grade II-listed pub at the corner of Middle and Kinghorn Streets dates from the early 19th century but there has apparently been a succession of taverns on the site since the 12th century (the sign on the pub proclaims the date 1532).

Thanks to its location within the precincts of St Bartholomew’s Priory, it became a focal point for the cloth fair which was held nearby between the 12th century and 1855 (the street Cloth Fair is named for it).

As well as being a favoured location for those attending the fair to obtain refreshment, it was also the location of a ‘Court of Pie Powder’ (from French pied poudreux for ‘dusty feet’ ) relating to travelling traders.

The pub’s name, meanwhile, is said to be a reference to the Lord Mayor of London’s practice of officially declaring the fair open by using shears to cut a piece of cloth on the tavern’s doorstep.

The pub also has some association with executions and, legend has it, was a popular spot for people to seek refreshment as they made their way to Newgate Prison where, between 1783 and 1868, executions were held outside the walls in the thoroughfare now known as Old Bailey.

For more, see the pub’s Facebook page.

PICTURE: Google Maps

Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, a phrase first coined by playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.

The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.

The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.

Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.

Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.

A Tudor-era bowling ball, Roman iron horse shoes and late 19th century ginger jars are among hundreds of historic objects unearthed during the Crossrail construction project to go on show at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail presents highlights from among the more than 10,000 objects which have been discovered during the project, the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe, since it kicked off in 2009. The finds, which span 8,000 years of human history, also include prehistoric flints found at North Woolwich, medieval animal bone skates and human remains found in the former 17th century Bedlam cemetery. The objects, which can be seen until 3rd September, are displayed in accordance to where along the new Elizabeth line they were found. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

bolshevik This year is centenary of the Russian Revolution and to mark the occasion, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly is hosting a landmark exhibition on Russian art which takes in the period between 1917 – the year of the October Revolution – and 1932 when Josef Stalin began his violent suppression of the avant-garde. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 features the works of the likes of avant-garde artists Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich and social realists like Isaac Brodsky and Alexander Deineka. More than 200 works are on show including loans from the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Highlights include Chagall’s Promenade (1917-18), Kandinsky’s Blue Crest (1917) and Malevich’s Peasants (c. 1930). Alongside the paintings, the display features photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th April. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, ‘Bolshevik’ (1920) © State Tretyakov Gallery.

More than 100 robots are on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of robotic history. Robots, which explores how robots have been shaped by religious belief, the industrial revolution, 20th century popular culture and dreams of the future, features everything from a 16th century mechanical monk to a 2.4 metre tall robot named Cygan dating from the 1950s, and one of the first walking bipedal robots. Visitors will be able to interact with 12 working robots and go behind the scenes to see recent developments in robotic research as well as speculate on what robots of the future might be like. Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/robots.

A major exhibition celebrating the work of early 20th century UK modern artist Vanessa Bell – a central figure in the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’ – has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south this week. About 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material are featured in the exhibition with the works arranged thematically so as to reveal Bell’s “fluid movement” between the fine and applied arts and focusing particular attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation from 1910 onwards. Vanessa Bell, which runs until 4th June, is presented alongside a photography display which brings together Bell’s photographic work with that of American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith. Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith features 17 photographs by Smith – who has long found inspiration in the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group – and a selection of Bell’s photo albums. Both can be seen until 4th June. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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sewage-workersRat catchers, trapeze artists and politicians are among the subjects depicted in photographs, prints and drawings which form the heart of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of London’s history. Opening at the London Metropolitan Archives, The Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 includes portraits of unknown Londoners as well as some of such luminaries as author Charles Dickens, night-watchmanengineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. Highlights include a rare photograph of Charles Rouse, reputedly the last night watchman (pre-cursors to the Metropolitan Police) still on duty in London in the mid-19th century, an 1830 lithograph of a crossing sweeper, the ‘Old Commodore of Tottenham Court Road’, and a number of photographs shot by George WF Ellis in the mid-1920s including a portrait of feminist and social campaigner Dora Russell. The exhibition, which is part of a series of events marking 950 years of London archives, opens on Monday and runs until 5th July at the LMA in Clerkenwell. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma. PICTURES: Top – A team of sewermen, photographed outside the City Sewers department in 1875. Right – Jack Black of Battersea, noted rat catcher to Queen Victoria, pictured here from a daguerreotype photograph taken for Henry Mayhew’s ‘1851 London Labour and the London Poor’. Both images © London Met Archives.

The response of artists and photographers to London’s Blitz during World War II forms the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the Museum of London. Perspectives of Destruction: Images of London, 1940-44 explores how artists and photographers responded to the devastation caused by the massive aerial bombings. Much of the artwork was commissioned by the government’s War Artists Advisory Committee and focused on damage to buildings rather than deaths and injuries to people due to the impact it may have had on public moral. At the heart of the display is nine recently acquired drawings from official war artist Graham Sutherland depicting damage in the City of London and East End between 1940 and 1941. Also on show is a 1941 oil painting of Christchurch on Newgate Street by John Piper and David Bomberg’s Evening in the City of London, dating from 1944, which depicts St Paul’s Cathedral dominating the horizon above a devastated Cheapside. There’s also a photograph of a V-1 flying bomb narrowly missing the iconic cathedral which, along with eight others, was taken by City of London police constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs. Other artists with works featured include Henry Moore, Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy. Runs until 8th May. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• A series of installations commissioned from 12 artists – asked to imagine what Europe might look like 2,000 years from now and how our present might then be viewed – have gone on display in the V&A as part of the week long ‘Collecting Europe’ festival. The festival, which only runs until 7th February, includes a range of talks, discussions, live performances and workshops aimed at encouraging debate around Europe and European identity in the light of the Brexit vote. The installations, commissioned by the V&A and Goethe-Institut London, have been created by artists from across Europe. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/collectingeurope.

• Bronze casts of black women’s movement activists’ fists go on display at the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery from Tuesday. A Fighters’ Archive, features the work of sculptor Wijnand de Jong and pays tribute to 15 women who were members of various activist groups. The sculpture takes the form of a boxing archive – casts of boxers’ fists collected by boxing academies to commemorate prize fighters – with the fists cast from life. Subjects include Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of West London and patron of The Sickle Cell Society, Mia Morris, creator of Black History Month, and Gerlin Bean, founder of Brixton Black Women’s Centre. The fists can be seen until 19th March. Admission if free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.

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st-katharine-docksThe name for this dock, located just to the east of Tower Bridge, comes from a 12th century established to help the poor known as St Katharine’s Hospital which was once located in the vicinity.

The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.

It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.

Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.

In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).

The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.

The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.

ice-skating-in-the-tower-moatLondon’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).

• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):

  • Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
  • St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
  • Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
  • Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
  • Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.

Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.

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tower-of-londonA new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP. 

Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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catherineeddowes2Stories including that of Catherine Eddowes, one of the victims of the notorious Jack the Ripper whose tale is brought to life through a virtual hologram (pictured), that of the Houndsditch Murders which claimed the lives of three police officers, and those of the more than 70 horses which have served in the City of London Police are among those told in the new purpose-built City of London Police Museum. A collaboration between the City of London Police and the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Library, the new facility covers the 177 year history of the men and women charged with policing the Square Mile. Other stories highlighted in the museum include that of the recruitment of women into the force, the impact of the two World Wars on policing in the capital (featuring photographs taken by City of London police officers Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs), the force’s tackling of terrorism and the progress of its communications, uniforms and kit and the victory of the City of London Police as the winner of the Olympic gold medal for the tug of war in 1920 (which, given the event was dropped, leaves them as the current champions). Entry to the museum, which opened this week at Guildhall, is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.police.uk/about-us/history/museum/Pages/default.aspx. PICTURE: Courtesy City of London Police Museum.

The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday, kicking off with a river pageant followed by the grand procession through City streets and fireworks over the Thames. The 801st Lord Mayor’s Show celebrates the election of Andrew Parmley as the 689th Lord Mayor of the City of London. This year’s procession, which kicks off at 11am and runs from Mansion House down Cheapside to the Royal Courts of Justice – where the Lord Mayor swears allegiance to the Crown – and back again at 1pm via Victoria Embankment, features 6,500 participants, 180 horses and 164 vehicles including steam engines, fire engines and a tank. The Show’s Pageantmaster, Dominic Reid, is celebrating his 25th consecutive show this year (his father organised 20 shows before him). The river pageant, featuring the QRB Gloriana, sets off from Westminster at 8.30am with Tower Bridge opening in salute at 9.25am. The fireworks display, which takes place over the Thames between Blackfriars and Waterloo, starts at 5.15pm. The tradition dates back to 1215. For more, see https://lordmayorsshow.london.

A major new exhibition looking at the history of the 20th century through maps has opened at the British Library in King’s Cross. Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line features maps ranging from the first sketch of the London Underground dating from 1931, to declassified Ministry of Defence maps from the Cold War era, John Betjeman’s personal set of Ordinance Survey maps from the 1920s, a Russian moon globe from 1961 and EH Shepard’s first map of the Hundred Acre Wood (home of Winnie the Pooh). Other highlights include 3D relief models of the Western Front from 1917, a dress made of World War II escape maps printed on silk, an aerial photograph of Liverpool with targets marked used by the Luftwaffe, a map of the Atlantic Ocean floor from 1968. The exhibition, which runs to 1st March, is running in conjunction with a series of events exploring how maps continue to shape and influence our world. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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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.

fireOf course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 is only one of numerous fires which have occurred in London (although it was no doubt the greatest in terms of destruction). But among others was a fire in 1212 which has been described as London’s worst in terms of the death toll which some have put as high as 3,000 (although it’s generally believed it’s unlikely to have been that high).

The fire, which only came some 77 years after another great conflagration destroyed a stretch of the city reaching from Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1135, began in Southwark on 10th July (hence it’s also known as the Great Fire of Southwark). Crossing London Bridge, it went on to destroy a large part of the City itself.

As well as destroying buildings on London Bridge including houses and the chapel (the structure itself, having recently been rebuilt in stone, survived somewhat intact although it only remained in partial use for some time afterward), also destroyed the Southwark church known as St Mary Overie (precursor to today’s Southwark Cathedral) as well as many buildings around Borough High Street.

There were apparently numerous deaths – the story goes that many of them occurred when a mass of people poured onto London Bridge from the City as they attempted to cross to Southwark to help put out the fire (or perhaps just gawk at it).

They were trapped in the middle of the bridge when, with the south end was already ablaze, the north end caught fire from sparks. As well as suffering fatally from the effects of flames and smoke, people were apparently crushed in panic and others were pushed off the bridge to drown in the River Thames (along with some of the boat crews who tried to rescue them).

And, just as the Great Fire of 1666, the fire of 1212 did result in some building reforms including the placement of a ban on the use of thatch for rooves.

the_jesse_cope_detail_ca-_1310-25_c_victoria_and_albert_museum_londonObjects associated with some of the most notable personages of the Middle Ages – from King Edward I and his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile through to Edward, the Black Prince, and martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket – will go on show at the V&A in South Kensington as part of a display of medieval embroidery. Opening Saturday, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery features embroidered treasures such as a seal-bag which, dating from the early 12th century, was made to hold the foundation document of Westminster Abbey, the Toledo Cope which has been brought back to England from Spain for the first time since its creation in the 14th century and an embroidered vestment associated with Thomas Becket. There’s also the Hólar Vestments from Iceland, the Jesse Cope from the V&A’s own collections (pictured), the Daroca Cope from Madrid and an embroidered tunic worn by Edward, the Black Prince. As well as embroidery, the display features panel paintings, manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture. Runs until 5th February along with a season of events. Admission charges apply. See www.vam.ac.uk/opus for more. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Two works by Spanish painter Fray Juan Bautista Maino have gone on exhibition for the first time in the UK at The National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Kings, dating from 1612-14, have been loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and can be seen for free in a display being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Beyond Caravaggio. Each of the paintings measures more than three metres in height and were originally part of a retable (altarpiece) created for the altar of the Dominican church of San Pedro Martir in Toledo. The work took three years to complete and it was while he was doing so that Maino took religious vows and joined the Dominican Order (there’s also a chance he included a self portrait in the work in the form of a pilgrim on the altar’s far left). Can be seen until 29th January. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

A former disused toilet block has been converted into a new cafe overlooking the 150-year-old Italian Gardens in the Kensington Gardens. Formally opened by Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Royal Parks charity, earlier this month, the cafe has a “living roof” aimed at supporting the biodiversity and wildlife of the gardens and has been designed in sympathy with the gardens and the nearby Grade 2* listed Queen Anne’s Alcove, currently being restored. The Italian Gardens were a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. For more on the cafe, including opening times, head here.

Alderman Andrew Parmley has been elected as the 689th Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with tradition, he will take up the office after the ‘Silent Ceremony’ in Guildhall on 11th November followed by the annual Lord Mayor’s Show parade through the City the following day.

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roman-mortarium-made-by-albinus The most prized archaeological finds from a 1975 excavation of the General Post Office on Newgate Street, one of the largest archaeological sites ever excavated in London, are on show in a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Delivering the Past, the free display features objects from across a 3,000 year period and include everything from Roman era finds such as a dog skull, a rare amber die, a spoon and mortar with the makers’ names of Albinus, Sollus and Cassarius stamped on the side (pictured) to floor tiles and architectural fragments from the medieval parish church of St Nicholas Shambles. There’s also a 17th century Bellarmine beer bottle (these were widely imported from Germany in the 1600s), the only 19th century twisted clay tobacco pipe ever excavated in London, and a 19th/20th century ceramic fragment showing General Post Office branding. The exhibition runs until 8th January. The museum is also offering free 45 minute walks to notable excavation sites around Newgate Street every weekday until the end of October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• Japan’s native flora comes to Kew from this weekend with a new exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Flora Japonica features paintings from 30 of the Asian nation’s best contemporary artists as they attempt to capture the beauty of everything from camellias to cherry trees and the delicate Japanese maple. The watercolours have been produced based specimens collected from across Japan as well as, in a couple of cases, specimens found within Kew Gardens. Also on display are works never before seen outside Japan including historic drawings and paintings by revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957), Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato (both Edo period artists), artefacts from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection including traditional Japanese lacquerware collected in the 1880s and wooden panels from 1874, and  illustrations from Kew’s collections such as a 17th century illustrated manual of medicinal plants. Runs from Saturday until 5th March after which the exhibition will move to Japan. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

An English Heritage blue plaque honouring late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was unveiled at his childhood home in Feltham, in London’s west, earlier this month. Mercury’s parents bought the house in Gladstone Avenue in 1964 after the family had left Zanzibar for the UK. He was still living in the home when he met Queen band mates Brian May and Roger Taylor. The new plaque was revealed on 1st September, on what would have been the singer’s 70th birthday.  For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Knights-atop-the-columnStanding outside the Temple Church, in the west of the City of London (between Fleet Street and the River Thames), stands a pillar topped with a pair of Templar knights riding a horse in an obvious commemoration of the military order that once had its preceptory here.

But what many people don’t realise is that the column was also erected, apparently like the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, to commemorate another point where the all-consuming Great Fire of London was finally stopped.

The 10 metre high column was erected in 2000 (another of its purposes was to mark the millennium) in what was once the cloister courtyard of the headquarters of the Templars, which had originally founded to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land in 1119.

The bronze figures of the two men atop a single horse which caps the column was a representation of the image found on the order’s official. It represents the poverty of those who initially joined it – so poor they could only afford one horse for every two men, a situation which was to change dramatically in coming centuries as the order accumulated wealth, a situation which, eventually, in France, led to its downfall.

London Remembers reports that the column was designed in the gothic style, similar to the Purbeck marble columns in the church (which, incidentally, are said to be the oldest surviving free-standing examples of their kind) and deliberately made to contrast with the more florid column of Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument, which marks where the fire started and, also, according to a signboard, “the arrival of the new classical order”.

The column, designed by Ptolemy Dean, and the sculpture, designed by Nicola Hicks, were the gift of Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Treasurer of the Inner Temple in 1999. A Latin inscription around the base of the column reads: “Lest the Temple should be without a memorial of the start of the third millennium the Inner Temple caused this monument to be erected for the greater glory of God.”

For more on Temple and the Temple Church, see our earlier posts here and here and here.

Little-BritainThis central – and rather unassuming – London street owes its name to the French – not British – who apparently once lived in the area which lies just south of Smithfield.

Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.

Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).

Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.

Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.

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).

The-Legend-of-St-Mary-Overie

Now the name of a dock on Bankside (pictured below), St Mary Overie (also spelt as Overy) also forms part of the formal name of Southwark Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.

St-Mary-OverieThe simple version of the name’s origins is that it simply means St Mary “over the river” (that is, St Mary on the south side of the Thames) which was used in relation to a priory founded there in the Norman era by two knights (it’s to this foundation that what is now Southwark Cathedral owes its origins, something we’ll take a more detailed look at the nunnery in an upcoming Lost London post).

But there’s also another, more romantic version, of the name’s origins. That story, as it’s told on a plaque located at the dock (pictured above), goes back to before the Norman founding of priory, back to the days when, before the building of London Bridge, a ferry ran between the two banks of the River Thames.

The man responsible for the ferry was John Overs, a “notorious miser”, who decided to save money by feigning his death and thus plunging his household into mourning, saving that day’s provisions. As one may imagine, however, Overs was not a popular man and his servants, instead of fasting in their mourning, held a feast in celebration of his death.

In rage, the old master leapt out of his bed and a servant, terrified and imaging some sort of demonic manifestation, struck him fatally with an oar on the head.

Overs’ daughter, Mary, sent for her lover so that he may come and together with her claim her father’s inheritance but such was his haste, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. So overcome was Mary by her misfortunes that she founded a convent into which she subsequently retired (this was subsequently ‘refounded’ by the two Norman knights).

The dock, meanwhile, is today the berthing place of the Golden Hinde II, a sea-worthy replica of the flagship in which Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe (for more on the ship, see our earlier post here).

Located on the south side of the Strand, the then-named Exeter House was built in the 1300s as the London palace of the Bishops of Exeter on land which had previously been occupied by the Knights Templar.

The-DevereuxIt was Bishop Walter Stapledon who had the palace constructed – as well as being Bishop of Exeter, he was Lord High Treasurer to the unpopular King Edward II, a role which eventually led to him being dragged from his horse in the City of London and murdered.

King Henry VIII gave the property to his Secretary of State, William, Lord Paget, and, in the late 16th century, it came into the hands of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. He rebuilt it and renamed it Leicester House which it remained until, following his death in 1588, it was inherited by his stepson, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and renamed Essex House.

The house was rather large and in 1590 was reported as having as many as 42 bedrooms as well as a picture gallery, a banqueting suite and chapel.

Devereux ended up beheaded for treason on Tower Hill in 1601 but his son, also Robert Devereux, became a distinguished general for the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. He received a delegation from the House of Commons at the property to offer their congratulations after the Battle of Newbury in 1643 and was laid out in state there in 1646 (insatiable diarist Samuel Pepys, then a 13-year-old boy, was among those who saw the body).

After the Civil War, the family’s debts resulted into the property passing into the hands of other families. The main part of the house was eventually demolished in the 1670s and part of the property sold to developer Nicholas Barbon. He built Essex Street, which still stands in the area, was built on the site.

The remaining part of the house, meanwhile, was used to house the Cotton Library before, in 1777, it too was demolished.

The mansion’s chapel, meanwhile, became a dissenters meeting house, known as the Essex Street Chapel, which became the birthplace of Unitarianism in England. The denomination’s headquarters, named Essex Hall, still stands on the site.

The pub The Devereux (pictured above), named for Robert Devereux, is among the buildings which now stand on the site (for more on the pub, see our earlier post here).

GuildhallIt’s a Bank Holiday weekend and thoughts are turning to a day out, so we thought it a good time to take a look at the beautiful village of Lavenham in Suffolk, one of the finest “medieval villages” remaining in England.

While settlement of the village, which is about an hour and 45 minutes north-east of London by car, goes back to before Saxon times (indeed the village apparently takes its name from a Saxon thegn called Lafa) it was in the medieval period that it attained the charming character which is still so evident today.

Crooked-HouseThe village was awarded its market charter in 1257 and it was from this period until about 1530 that its ‘golden years’ occurred, based on its prominent role in the wool trade (in particular the production of sought-after blue broad cloth – ‘Lavenham Blue’) and its location between London and the key ports like Kings Lynn.

It was during this period that its several guildhall were constructed and it was recorded as one of the richest parts of England with some of its most prominent families becoming extremely wealthy, like the De Vere family headed by the Earl of Oxford, and the Spring and Branch families who used their wealth to raise themselves to the nobility.

Lavenham’s decline began in the later 1500s and followed a sharp downturn in the wool trade amid greater competition from Europe. Its fortunes reached a low in the late 18th century before industrialisation in the 19th century revitalised the village somewhat (although nowhere close to the prominence and affluence it once boasted).

Today Lavenham is something of a tourist mecca, boasting an amazing collection of timber-framed buildings – more than 320 of which are listed – mostly dating from between 1450 and 1500.

Central among them is the Guildhall (pictured top), located on the market place, which dates from about 1530, and as well as hosting religious guild activities (its formal name was the Guild of Corpus Christi), has also served as a prison, workhouse, almshouse, and wool store and now houses a National Trust-run museum.

One of the most famous photographed buildings in the town is the Crooked House on High Street (pictured above right), so-called because of the dramatic lean its upper story is on.

There’s also the Little Hall, which, dating from the 14th century, was the wool hall of clothier William Causation and is now home to the Suffolk Preservation Society (open to the public over the warmer months). And among other notable homes is De Vere House, a grade I-listed property (now available to stay in) which still had elements dating back to the Middle Ages (and was the last home in the village to be owned by the Earls of Oxford).

The Church of St Peter and St Paul (pictured below) is also notable – described as “one of the finest parish churches in England”. The current version (there has apparently been a church here since Saxon times) was apparently funded by the 13th Earl of Oxford and wealthy cloth merchants including Thomas Spring III (whose coat of arms appears 32 times on the parapet) to celebrate their safe return from Battle of Bosworth Field where King Henry VII was victorious in 1485.

A couple of interesting notes to finish on. Among the residents in the late 18th century was the London-born Jane Taylor who lived in Shilling Street with her family. Jane and her sister Ann published a collection of poetry which included the poem, The Star, from which the lyrics for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are taken.

There’s also a John Constable connection – the landscape painter was a student at the Grammar School which opened in Barn Street in 1647.

And, as you might expect in such a well-preserved location, Lavenham has also appeared on the big screen, notably De Vere House as the birthplace of Harry Potter and his mentor Albus Dumbledore.

A charming village to pass a few hours walking around (and, relax in, there’s plenty of pubs and cafes to refresh yourself at afterwards).

For more, check out www.discoverlavenham.co.uk and www.visit-lavenham.co.uk.

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