This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

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Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

10 London hills – 2. Cornhill…

Looking along the street named Cornhill from its western end with the Royal Exchange on the left. PICTURE: Teseum
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.

In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.

Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.

Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.

These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).

The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.

The area became famed for its coffee houses in the 16th to 19th centuries (Pasqua Rosée opened what is claimed to be London’s first in St Michael’s Alley in 1652) and as such was a financial centre. Much of Cornhill is now occupied by offices.

What’s in a name?…London Wall…

The name of this street is self-explanatory – it follows the line of part of the wall that once surrounded the City of London, of which only fragments now remain.

The wall dates from as far back as Roman times and this street – which runs from the intersection with Aldersgate Street to the west to Old Broad Street in the east – broadly follows the course of its northern edge.

View from the west end of London Wall. PICTURE: Romazur (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The road was re-laid out – it features dual carriageways at the east and west ends – after the area was devastated by bombing during World War II.

A roundabout at the western end of London Wall – named the Rotunda – provides a link with Aldersgate Street, which runs perpendicular, and in the centre was built the Museum of London (which is now being relocated to West Smithfield).

Looking toward the eastern end of London Wall with All Hallows on the Wall to the left. PICTURE: Keith Murray (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The western end of the street, part of which is straddled by the hulking early 1990s building known as Alban Gate, has until recent years also featured a series of raised walkways which were part of the post war redevelopment of the area (and partly integrated with office buildings).

Known as ‘pedways’, some of them are now in the process of being replaced with a more modern take on the idea (such as can be seen at London Wall Place).

Part of the Roman gate, known as Bastion 14, near the western end of London Wall. PICTURE: Ethan Doyle White (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The street features a number of remnants of the actual wall along its length including the remains of a Roman gate close to the western end (on the street’s north side, it’s known as Bastion 14) and in St Alphage Gardens (St Alphage, London Wall is one of several now lost churches along the street – St Olave, Silver Street is another).

Close to the eastern end of the street is the church of All Hallows-on-the-Wall which dates from 1767 (replacing an earlier church that had survived the Great Fire of London).

Other prominent buildings on London Wall include the Brewer’s Hall, the Carpenter’s Hall and the Plaisterer’s Hall.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 96 and 95…

The next couple in our year-long countdown

96. Treasures of London – Swiss Court…

95. Lost London – The Roman basilica and forum…

LondonLife – Roman “pen” souvenir among thousands of finds on Bloomberg site…

An iron stylus bearing an inscription – described as the sort of cheap souvenir you might bring back for a friend after visiting a foreign city – is among thousands of Roman-era artefacts discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in Cannon Street. The stylus, which is about the length of a modern pen, dates from about AD70 and was used to write on wax-filled wooden writing tablets. It is inscribed in Latin text which, translated by classicist and epigrapher Dr Roger Tomlin, reads: “I have come from the city. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long [and] as my purse is empty”. It is believed the “city” referred to is Rome. The stylus is one of some 14,000 items Museum of London Archaeology archaeologists unearthed on the dig – including 200 styli (although only one bears an inscription) – which took place on what was the bank of the (now lost) Thames tributary, the Walbrook, between 2010 and 2014. It is among items on show in an exhibition now on at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford called Last Supper in Pompeii. Head here for more details. Other finds from the excavations can be seen at the recently opened London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE. PICTURE: © MOLA

This Week in London – ‘Beasts of London’; the Cold War remembered; Prince Albert and the V&A; and, ‘Power UP’ returns..

A state-of-the-art, multi-sensory experience focusing on the beasts, large and small, that have helped shaped London opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Beasts of London, being run in conjunction with the Guildhall School and Music & Drama, tells the story of the capital from before London existed through to the city today, all through the perspective of animals. Inspired by objects in the museum’s collection, the nine “episodes” of the experience encompass subjects including the arrival of the Romans, the creation of the first menageries during the medieval period, the plague years of the 1600s, the first circuses in the late 1700s, the end of the animal-baiting period in the Victorian era and the role of animals in today’s contemporary city. There’s also a special episode on the contribution horses have made to the city. Well-known identities including Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris, Nish Kumar, Stephen Mangan, Angellica Bell and Joe Pasquale provide voices for the animals alongside actors from the Guildhall School. The family-friendly experience can be enjoyed until 5th January, 2020. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/beastsoflondon. PICTURE: Lion sculpture; courtesy Museum of London.

A new exhibition about Britain’s role in the Cold War opens at the National Archives in Kew today – exactly 70 years since the formation of NATO. Protect and Survive: Britain’s Cold War Revealed features original documents including political memos, spy confessions, civil defence posters and even a letter from Winston Churchill to the Queen as it explores the complexities of government operations during a time of paranoia, secrets and infiltration. Other highlights include George Orwell’s infamous list of suspected communist sympathisers, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin’s ‘percentages agreement’, a plan of Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb’s fateful spy mission, ‘Atom spy’ Klaus Fuchs’ confession and Civil Defence posters. There’s also a recreated government bunker and a 1980s living room showing the impact of the Cold War on both government and ordinary lives as well as digital screens on which Dame Stella Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5, shares her experiences along with insights from historian Dominic Sandbrook and curator Mark Dunton. The display is being accompanied by a series of events including night openings, film screening and talks. Runs until 9th November (30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall). Admission charge applies. For more, see nationalarchives.gov.uk/coldwar.

Prince Albert’s personal contributions to the V&A’s Library collection are the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week as part of the South Kensington Institute’s celebration of the 200th anniversaries of the births of both the Prince and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert: Science & the Arts on the Page features books and photographs include one volume containing a letter written by the Prince’s librarian Ernst Becker highlighting Albert’s wish to promote knowledge and learning in science and the arts. There’s also a volume of songs written and set to music by Albert and his brother, featuring amendments in Albert’s own hand, as well as his signed season ticket to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Runs until 1st September on the Library Landing. Admission is free. Head here for more.

Forty years of computer game history is once again on show at the Science Museum from Saturday. Returning for its fourth year, Power UP features 160 consoles and hundreds of games, from retro classics like Space Invaders to the latest in VR technology. Special events include two adults-only evening sessions on 10th and 17th April. Runs until 22nd April. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/power-up.

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Treasures of London – Roman sarcophagus…


Excavated in a dig in Southwark during the summer of 2017, this Roman sarcophagus is now at the centre of a new exhibition, Roman Dead, at the Museum of London Docklands.

The site of the find, on the corner of Harper Road and Swan Street in Borough, is located in what is known as the ‘Southern Cemetery’, one of a number of distinct burial grounds located on the outskirts of the Roman city of Londinium. Some 500 Roman burials have been found in the southern site but the stone sarcophagus was the first discovery of its kind there.

The 1,600-year-old sarcophagus measures approximately 2.4 metres long, 75cm wide and 65 centimetres high. The lid of the coffin had been partly pushed to one side, indicating that it may have been disturbed by grave robbers during the 18th century. The interior was left partly filled with soil and small bones and a damaged Roman bracelet were found nearby – a possible indication that it was a child buried there.

Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark Council, told the BBC at the time of the find that the grave owner must have been “very wealthy and have had a lot of social status to be honoured with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum”.

The sarcophagus is only the third to be discovered in London – one was discovered at St Martin-in-the-Fields near Trafalgar Square in 2006 and another in Spitalfields in 1999.

Roman Dead is running at the Museum of London Docklands until 28th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands.

PICTURE: Top – The sarcophagus being prepared for display; Side – The sarcophagus as it was found (© Southwark Council).

 

 

This Week in London – Death and burials in Roman London; Edward Bawden retrospective; and, ‘Horrible Histories’ at Hampton Court…

Death and burials in Roman London are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday with a rare sarcophagus discovered in Southwark last year one of the highlights. Roman Dead will look at the cemeteries of ancient London, the discoveries made there and their context in the modern cityscape. Alongside the sarcophagus discovered in Harper Road (which had possibly been disturbed by grave robbers), the exhibition features more than 200 objects including a multi-coloured glass dish found with cremated remains, a jet pendant in the form of a Medusa’s head and four men’s skulls which showed signs of violence and were buried in pits by the city’s wall as well as a tombstone of a 10-year-old girl named Marciana, found during excavations in 1979, and a pot decorated with a human face which was used as a cremation urn. The free exhibition can be seen until 28th October. For more, see www.museumofondon.org.uk/docklands.

The work of celebrated Twentieth century British artist and designer Edward Bawden (1903-89) has gone on display in a new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Edward Bawden is described as the “most wide-ranging” exhibition of his work since his death and the first to look at every aspect of his 60 year career. It features a number of previous unseen works as well as 18 rarely seen war portraits which are being displayed together for the first time. Some 170 works – half from private collections – are arranged thematically to follow the evolution of his style with rooms dedicated to leisure, architecture, animals, fantasy and gardens. Among the highlights are early designs for the London Underground, Rain (1926) – on display for the first time, portraits of places he visited in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe while working as an official war artist during World War II, and several linocuts from Aesop’s Fables. Runs until 9th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Bawden, St Paul’s, 1958 (Colour autolithograph/Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden).

Delve into the world of the ‘Gorgeous Georgians’ and ‘Vile Victorians’ at Hampton Court Palace this May half term. The Birmingham Stage Company will be uncovering centuries of grisly history in an hour long outdoor ‘Horrible Histories’ performance featuring characters including Georgian kings, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and Dr John Snow. Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket and some food for the “ultimate historical picnic”. Admission charge applies – check website for dates. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/explore/the-gorgeous-georgians-and-vile-victorians/.

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What’s in a name?…Horseferry Road…

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)

 

What’s in a name?…Aldwych…

Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

What’s in a name?…St Pancras…

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.

This Week in London – Exploring The Forum; VC recipients commemorated; and, Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits…

Nineteenth century Scottish painter David Robert’s painting, The Forum, is at the heart of a new display at the Guildhall Art Gallery exploring the concept of the Roman forum. The display looks at why the forum played such an important role in the Roman world, how it would have looked and what happened there. It also examines the painting in the context of the Robert’s Roman series, his wider body of work and depictions of the ‘grand tour’ by other artists. Admission is free. The exhibition, which is part of Londonium, a series of events, talks and displays focusing on London’s Roman past, runs until 1st January. For more, follow this link. PICTURE: A model of Londinium’s Roman forum in the Museum of London.

Two young Londoners who were posthumously awarded Victoria Crosses after they were killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele have been honoured with commemoration stones in Victoria Embankment Gardens. Captain Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson, accompanied by a sergeant and just five men, managed to capture an enemy trench and a machine gun which he turned on his assailants. The 21-year-old attacked again, this time with just his sergeant, and captured another enemy machine gun but soon afterwards was killed by a sniper. Second Lieutenant Dennis George Wyldbore Hewitt, meanwhile, led his company under heavy machine-gun fire while seriously wounded and in pain. The 19-year-old successfully captured and consolidated his objective but he too was killed by a sniper soon after. The two men died on 31st July, 1917. The memorials were erected as part of World War I centenary commemorations which is seeing all 628 Victoria Cross recipients from the war being honoured in their birthplaces.

On Now: Samuel Fosso: Self-portraits. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery features a selection of images from 666 self-portraits taken by Cameroonian-born artist Samuel Fosso in 2015. Each of the shots were taken against the same red backdrop with Fosso adopting an identical head and shoulders pose in each. Photographed every day during October and November, 2015, each work is intended to reflect Fosso’s particular mood at that moment. The photographs, the artist’s first solo display in the UK, are displayed alongside some of the earliest self-portraits that he made while a teenager working in Bangui in the Central African Republic in the 1970s.  In these works, Fosso adopted personas which reflected popular West African culture, from musicians and the latest youth fashions to political advertising.  He employed special cloth backgrounds, in front of which he dressed up in a range of outfits from authentic European costumes and African folk costumes to navy uniforms, karate keikogis and boxer shorts. Runs until 24th September. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Londinium’s gladiators unearthed; black artists in the US; and, the future of the world’s cities…

The life of gladiators in Roman Londinium and that of those who watched them are explored in a new exhibition opening in the remains of the city’s 7000 seat amphitheatre under the Guildhall Art Gallery. Featured as part of the display will be a Roman skull uncovered during excavations in the Walbrook Stream which, dated to around 150 AD, shows evidence of substantial head trauma at the time of death and is the closest archaeologists have come to identifying a potential gladiator in Londinium. Trauma, which is free to enter, opens tomorrow and runs until 29th October. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/guildhallartgallery.

A landmark exhibition examining what it was like to be a black artist in the US during the civil rights movement and the purpose and audience of art during the emergence of ‘black power’ has opened at the Tate Modern. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power spans the era from 1963 to 1983, a time when race and identity become major issues across many spheres of society including music, sports and literature thanks to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali and Toni Morrison. The display features more than 150 works by more than 60 artists, many of which are on display in the UK for the first time. Running until 22nd October, it is accompanied by a programme of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.ukPICTURE: Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol/Tate Modern

The future of the world’s major cities – including London – is the subject of a new major exhibition which has opened at the Museum of London. The City is Ours is split into three sections: ‘Urban Earth’, centred on a 12 minute infographic film with comparative data about megacities such as London, Sydney, Tokyo, New York and Sao Paolo; ‘Cities Under Pressure’, which provides an overview of the risks, challenges and demands facing global cities through digital and physical interactive displays; and, ‘Urban Futures’, which presents solutions to the challenges increasing urbanisation poses. In addition, the exhibition takes a look at 25 innovative projects which are now taking place across London to improve life for its inhabitants. The free exhibition, part of the year-long City Now City Future season, can be viewed until 2nd January. For more, check out www.museumoflondon.org.uk/thecityisours.

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This Week in London – Roman finds from Walbrook revealed; Pablo Picasso prints; and, Highgate Cemetery’s virtual directory…

roman-gardening-toolsRoman tools and other artefacts from the era including a stamp for metal ingots and pottery are among objects found in London’s ‘lost’ Walbrook Valley which have gone on display at the Museum of London. Working the Walbrook features objects excavated during the past 170 years of digs around the watercourse which once cut the city in half, running from Finsbury Circus to Cannon Street. Created as part of a PhD project being supervised by the Museum of London and the University of Reading, the objects on show include an iron stamp dating from the Roman period inscribed with the letters MPBR (understood to be an abbreviation for ‘Metal Provinciae Britanniae’ – “the mines of the province of Britannia”) which is believed to have been used by officials to stamp metal ingots passing through London on their way to the Continent. Other items include Roman farming and gardening tools, and a pot decorated with a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs which was found at the bottom of a well in Southwark and which may have been linked to worship of the god Vulcan. The free display is on show until March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURE: Gardening tools from Roman London. A pruning hook, bailing fork and shears © Museum of London

• A series of prints by Pablo Picasso spanning the period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s form the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The prints, which include 16 lithograph prints and three aquatint prints, were recently acquired by the museum in what represents the final part of the museum’s effort to more fully represent the artist’s work as a printmaker. Six of the lithographs were inspired by the beauty of Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot while others feature Bacchanalian scenes and portraits of German-born dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. On display from Friday in Gallery 90A, they can be seen in the free exhibition until 3rd March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The details of some 160,000 people buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London have been made available online. Deceased Online has announced that all records for the period from May, 1839, to August, 2010 – a total of 159,863 people, are now available, including digital scans of original registers, details of who is buried in each grave and location maps for most graves. Notable people buried at Highgate include author Douglas Adams, philosopher Karl Marx and chemist and physicist Michael Faraday. For more, see www.deceasedonline.com

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This Week in London – Museums at Night; Roman London rediscovered; and, Pablo Picasso on show…

museums-at-night From tonight (and across this weekend), museums all over Greater London will be opening their doors after usual closing time as part of the annual Museums at Night event. Among those institutions taking part in the event, produced by Culture24, are such well-known icons as the British Museum, Tower Bridge and The National Gallery as well as lesser known establishments like Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford, Southside House on Wimbledon Common and the Grant Museum of Zoology in central London. The October event follows an earlier Museums at Night in May. For the full programme of events, see www.museumsatnight.org.uk.

Roman London is the subject of a new exhibition at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Library. Londinium AD43 features the work of photographer Eugenio Grosso who takes the visitors on a photographic journey through time from London’s foundations to its present. The display shows how much of London’s Roman settlement has been preserved and features photographs of locations once home to significant London sites. Runs until 31st March. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx

More than 75 portraits in all media by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso can be seen at the recently opened Picasso Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Including well-known masterpieces and some works never seen in Britain before, the works include a group of self-portraits as well as caricatures of Picasso’s friends, lovers, wives and children and images he created inspired by artists of the past. Runs until 5th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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This Week in London – GPO’s archaeological finds on show; Flora Japonica at Kew; and, a blue plaque for Freddie Mercury…

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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Top posts of 2015 – The site of Queen Boudicca’s defeat?; and, just what was The Great Conduit?…

2016 is fast approaching and to celebrate, we’re looking back at the 10 most popular posts we published in 2015. Today, we look at numbers four and three…

boudicca4. Number four is another in our current series on London battlefields – this time looking at the site where Queen Boudicca is believed to have been defeated by the Romans – 10 London ‘battlefields’ – 1. Queen Boudicca takes on the Romans

3. Our second top 10 entrant from the Lost London series, this post, published back in September, looked at the history of the Great Conduit – Lost London – The Great Conduit

The countdown finishes tomorrow with a look at the most and second most popular articles were posted in 2015…

LondonLife – Rediscovering Londinium’s residents…

Harper Road Woman (c) Museum of LondonA detailed picture of the inhabitants of Roman London, known as Londinium, has been created for the first time, the Museum of London announced this week. Detailed analysis of the DNA of four skeletons has revealed a culturally diverse population. The examined skeletons include that of a Roman woman (pictured left), likely to have been born in Britain with northern European ancestry, found buried with high status grave goods at Harper Road, Southwark, in 1979, and another of a man, whose DNA revealed connections to Eastern Europe and the Near East, who was found at London Wall in 1989 with injuries to his skull which suggest he may have been killed in the nearby amphitheatre before his head was dumped in a pit. The other two skeletons examined were found to be that of a blue-eyed teenaged girl found at Lant Street, Southwark, in 2003, believed to have been born in north Africa, whose ancestors lived in south-eastern Europe and west Eurasia, and that of an older man found at Mansell Street who was born in London and whose ancestry had links to Europe and north Africa. The examination – the first multi-disciplinary study of the inhabitants of a Roman city anywhere in the empire – also revealed that all four suffered from gum disease. Caroline McDonald, senior curator at the museum, said that while it has always been understood Roman London was a culturally diverse place, science was now “giving us certainty”. “People born in Londinium lived alongside people from across the Roman Empire exchanging ideas and cultures, much like the London we know today.” The four skeletons will form the basis of a new free display, Written in Bone, opening at the Museum of London on Friday. PICTURE: © Museum of London

WHERE: Museum of London, 150 London Wall (nearest Tube stations are Barbican and St Pauls); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

10 London ‘battlefields’ – 1. Queen Boudicca takes on the Romans…

boudicca

This month marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 of London’s “battlefields” (well, maybe not officially recognised battlefield sites but 10 places where fighting took place – or, as in this instance, legend says took place – at various times throughout London’s history).

First up it’s to King’s Cross, once said to have been site of a village known as ‘Battle Bridge’, so named because, according to tradition, it here in about 60AD that the rebellious hoards of Queen Boudicca (also known as Boadicea or Boudica) ran into the well-disciplined army of the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.

Paulinus had been campaigning in northern Wales when the Iceni rebellion broke out in East Anglia, apparently sparked by the Romans’ refusal to honour the will of the deceased King Prasutagus. He had left his land to the Emperor Nero and his two daughters but instead, the story goes that the Romans seized the land, flogged his wife Boudicca and raped his two daughters.

Understandably incensed at this treatment, the Iceni and members of other tribes rose in rebellion under Boudicca and laid waste to the Roman city of Camulodunum (what is now Colchester in Essex).

Boudicca then turned toward Roman Londinium, the provincial capital, and while Paulinus beat her there with a small number of troops, he quickly concluded he couldn’t defend it and ordered it evacuated. Boudicca, who is claimed to have fought from a chariot, and her army of tribesman apparently spared no-one when they arrived and burnt it to the ground. They then moved on to attack another Roman city – Verulamium (St Albans).

Paulinus, meanwhile, marshalled his forces – still apparently vastly outnumbered – and chose his battleground carefully. One legend suggests King’s Cross – then site of an ancient bridge across the River Fleet – as the battle’s location (although we should mention there are also numerous other sites which have been suggested as the location for the battle including locations in the Midlands along the Roman road of Watling Street, now the A5).

Where-ever it was, Paulinus had apparently chosen his position so that Boudicca couldn’t bring her greater numbers to bear on his flanks. Her army collapsed and, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, there was a rumour that 80,000 Britons were killed and just 400 Romans in the ensuing battle (although fair to say such numbers may be a stretch!).

The outcome was obviously devastating for Boudicca – there’s various accounts of what happened to her next with one being that she fell during the battle and another that, having survived, she committed suicide by poisoning herself. There is a legend that Boudicca was subsequently buried at a site now covered by platform nine or 10 at King’s Cross railway station. It’s also been suggested she was buried at Parliament Hill.

There’s a statue commemorating Boudicca and her daughters (pictured above) at the western end of Westminster Bridge. Designed by Thomas Thornycroft, it was made in 1850 but not erected on the site until 1902.