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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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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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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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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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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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…

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.

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.

ReculverThis striking ruin perched on the shore of Herne Bay in Kent is all that remains of a 12th century church which once stood here, itself constructed on the ruins of a Saxon monastery and, earlier still, a Roman era fort.

The site once faced the now swallowed up Isle of Thanet across a narrow waterway to the east and it was this location which made it a prime spot for the Romans, in the early to middle years of the 3rd century AD, to build one of what became known as Saxon Shore forts, constructed to watch over waterways and resist raiders from across the sea. The square fort – known as Regulbium – featured walls supported by earthen ramparts containing a range of military buildings including a headquarters building at the centre. It’s main entrance was located in the north wall.

Reculver-smallThe fort ceased to be garrisoned by regular troops by the end of the 4th century and archaeologists have found little sign of any activity there at the start of the next century.

Following the arrival of St Augustine in 597 AD and the conversion of local Saxon kings to Christianity, Egbert, the King of Kent, gave land which included Reculver (Raculf) to one Bassa for the foundation of a church or minster (this has been dated to 669 AD). A monastery was subsequently founded on the site which remained there until the 10th century after which the church, which stood roughly at what was the middle of the Roman fort and which had been enlarged during the Saxon period, became a parish church of Reculver.

Remodelled in the 12th century (from which period the towers date), it was visited by Leland in 1540 who wrote of a stone cross which stood at the entrance to the choir and was carved with painted images of Christ and the 12 Apostles (fragments of the cross are now in the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral).

The encroaching sea, meanwhile, continued to move closer and closer to the northern side of the church, seriously so by the end of the 18th century when the vicar persuaded parishioners to demolish the church and build a new one at nearby Hillsborough. Thankfully, while much of the stone from the church was used in the new building, the twin west towers were left standing.

Their value as a landmark was recognised in 1809 when the ruin was bought by Trinity House as a navigation marker. They subsequently strengthened the towers’ foundations to ensure they weren’t undermined any further. Further strengthening measures took place in later years. About half of the Roman fort remains. The site is now managed by English Heritage.

Reculver is a site richly evocative of England’s past with a history going back more than 1,700 years. The remains may only be fragments of what once stood there but they nonetheless tell a myriad of stories.

WHERE: At Reculver, three miles east of Herne Bay (nearest train station is Herne Bay (four miles); WHEN: Any reasonable time in daylight hours; COST:Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/reculver-towers-and-roman-fort/.

title-page-1950-cs-lewis-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-copyright-cs-lewis-pteFrom Peter Rabbit to Aesop’s Fables, animals and their appearance in some of the classics of literature are the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the British Library in St Pancras yesterday. Animal Tales explores the role animals have played in traditional tales around the world along with their importance in the development of children’s literature, and their use in allegorical stories such as CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as literary transformations between man and beast (this last in a nod to the fact it’s the centenary of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis). Highlights in the exhibition include one of the first children’s picture books – the 1659 edition of Comenius’ Orbis sensualism pictus, an 18th century woodblock edition of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, and a soundscape installation drawn from the library’s world leading collection of natural history recordings along with other animal tales from the sound archive. The exhibition, which runs until 1st November, will be accompanied by a series of events. Entry is free (and the display includes a children’s reading area and a family trail brochure). For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The title page from the 1950 London edition of CS Lewis’ The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. © CS Lewis Pte Ltd.

Gladiators will battle it out on the former site of London’s open air Roman amphitheatre in Guildhall Yard this weekend. The shows – which will recreate what gladiatorial games were like in Roman Londinium – will be presided over by an emperor with the crowd asked to pick its side. The ticketed event, being put on by the Museum of London, takes place Friday night from 7pm to 8pm and on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 1pm and between 3pm and 4pm. Admission charges apply. To book, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A new International Visitors Victim Service has been launched in London to specifically help foreign nationals affected by crime in the city. The first of its kind in the UK, the service, which has been established by the Metropolitan Police working with independent charity Victim Support and embassies, already operates across the five central London boroughs and is now available through a mobile police kiosk located in the West End’s “impact zone”, an area which spans Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus (alternatively they can contact the International Visitor Advocates by calling 0207 259 2424 or visit the West End Central Police Station at 27 Savile Row.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has celebrated the creation of 100 new pocket parks across London’s 26 boroughs in a scheme which is now being adopted by other locations across the country. The parks range from a rain garden in Vauxhall to a dinosaur playground in Hornsey and have seen more than 25 hectares of community land converted into enhanced green areas. A free exhibition is running at City Hall until 28th August which focuses on the stories of 11 people involved in the creation of the parks. For more on London’s “great outdoors”, you can see an interactive map at www.london.gov.uk/outdoors.

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Whittington-Garden

The history of this City of London garden can be immediately spotted in the garden’s name.

It’s named for Richard (Dick) Whittington, a four time medieval mayor of London whose name (and cat) has been immortalised in stories and rhymes which continue to be retold in Christmas pantomimes every year (you can read more about the real Dick Whittington in our earlier post here).

Whittington-Garden2The reason for the garden’s name is in its proximity to the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal – it stands on the other side of College Street – which he poured money into rebuilding during his lifetime and where he was buried (you can read more about the building here). You can also see a Blue Plaque on the former site of Whittington’s house further up College Hill.

The garden (pictured above looking across to the church) stands on what was the river bank during the Roman era at the bottom of College Hill. It was previously the site of buildings connected with the fur trade but these suffered bomb damage during World War II and were subsequently demolished.

The City of London Corporation acquired the site in 1955 and laid out the gardens in 1960 and the small fountain now found there dates from later that decade.

The gardens, which contain some substantial trees and lawn areas as well as hedges and flower beds, were refurbished in 2005. Features include two granite plinths upon which sit two horsemen (pictured). Sculpted by Italian sculptor Duilio Cambellotti, they were presented to the City of London by the Italian President during a state visit in 2005.

WHERE: Whittington Garden, between College Street and Upper Thames Street, City of London (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Whittington-Garden.aspx.

Canal-MuseumDescend into ice wells at the London Canal Museum; delve into the archaeological archives of the Egypt Exploration Society; discover the history of the Spitalfields Charnel House; and, tour the remains of London’s Roman military fort with experts from the Museum of London. The British Festival of Archaeology kicked off last weekend and there’s a plethora of events happening across London as part of the more than 1,000 taking place across the country. For a full programme of events – many of which are free – head to www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk. The festival runs until 26th July.

Follow Alice down the rabbit hole in a new exhibition which opened at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury yesterday. Marking the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication, Alice in Cartoonland looks at how cartoonists, caricaturists, satirists, animators and graphic artists adapted and used author Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodson) and original illustrator John Tenniel’s work in social and political commentaries as well as just to have fun. The display features posters, cartoon strips, comic and graphic novels and artwork from TV and film versions of Alice with Low, Vicky, Shepard, Steadman and Gilroy among the artists represented. Runs until 1st November (with some events held in conjunction with it). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

Exploring the National Gallery’s art collection is usually done with the eyes but thanks to an innovative project which kicked off last week, it’s now also about listening. A series of contemporary sound artists and musicians including Nico Muhly, Gabriel Yared, Susan Philipsz, Jamie xx, Chris WatsonJanet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have created sounds and musical pieces in response to works they have chosen from the gallery’s collection. Selected works include the late 14th century The Wilton Diptych (Muhly), Hans Holbein’s 1533 painting The Ambassadors (Philipsz) and Paul Cézanne’s painting Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (Yared). Soundscapes runs until 6th September in the Sainsbury Wing. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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This City of London thoroughfare runs between St Botolph and Outwich Streets and its name – first recorded in the 13th century – apparently relates to its location on the outer side of the wall, dating from the Roman era, which once encircled the city.

HoundsditchOn the outer side of the wall lay a ditch which, although filled and redug several times in its history, was eventually filled permanently in the 16th century (and became the street you can now walk upon).

Dogs were associated with this ditch – the skeletons of some dogs were found here in 1989 during an archaeological dig at the wall, possibly dating back to Roman times – although there’s a couple of theories on exactly how.

According to one version, the ditch, before it was finally filled, had become the repository of all sorts of rubbish but was particularly known as a site to deposit the corpses of dogs. An alternate theory, meantime, suggests that kennels which housed dogs used in hunting were once located here.

The name ‘houndsditch’ was apparently used for many sections of the ditch which lay outside the city wall before it came to be associated with this particular stretch of ditch.

The street (and the area in which it sits, also known as Houndsditch) has apparently been associated with several different trades over its history including bell founding, gunmaking and cannon founding and, later for the rag trade. In the 20th century, it was the site of department store, The Houndsditch Warehouse.

It was in Houndsditch that Dr Thomas Barnardo found 11 boys sleeping huddled together on the roof of the old rag market – a fact which helped push him to found the first of the Barnardo’s homes for the destitute in Stepney.

Famously, of course, it was also the scene of an attempted robbery and shoot-out in 1910 which led to the infamous Siege of Sidney Street (see our earlier post here).

For more on the Houndsditch murders, see Donald Rumbelow’s The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street.

DiscobolusThe ancient Greek “preoccupation with the human form” is the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Defining beauty: The body in ancient Greek art features about 150 objects dating from the prehistoric to the age of Alexander the Great. Highlights include a newly discovered bronze sculpture of a new athlete scraping his body with a metal tool after exercise before bathing, six Parthenon sculptures from the museum’s collection including a sculpture by Phidias of the river god Ilissos, and  copies of Greek originals including the Towny Discobolus (discus-thrower – pictured) – a Roman copy of Myron’s lost original – and Georg Romér’s reconstruction of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (spear-bearer) . Runs until 5th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/definingbeauty. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

 

London-based contemporary artist Hew Locke has transformed an entire deck of the HMS Belfast in a major new work, ironically titled work, The Tourists. The installation – which is on show until 7th September – depicts imaginative events in which the crew of the ship are preparing to arrive at Trinidad in time for Carnival in 1962 (the ship’s last international journey – to Trinidad – actually arrived three months after the celebration). Free with general admission charge. For more see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is hosting a free exhibition of Locke’s work in which he explores the idea of naval power through a series of ship sculptures. This free exhibition can be seen until 4th May. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.

Families are invited to take part in a new interactive experience on the “high seas of maritime history” which launches at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Saturday. The museum has joined with Punchdrunk Enrichment to take six to 12 year-olds and their families on an adventure, Against Captain’s Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted. Visitors don life jackets as they become part of the crew of the HMS Adventure and take on various seafaring roles as they navigate their way through the exhibition. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st August. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/againstcaptainsorders.

See a real coral reef and take a virtual dive in new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea – which opens tomorrow on World Oceans Day – also features more than 200 specimens including coral, fish and fossils. These include examples collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, giant Turbinate coral and creatures ranging from the venomous blue-ringed octopus to tiny sponge crabs. For more see www.nhm.ac.uk.

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Having previously looked at the Norman fortification (razed by King John in 1213 – see our earlier post here), this time we’re taking a look at the later (medieval) fortification known as Baynard’s Castle.

Baynard's-CastleIn the 1300s, a mansion was constructed about 100 metres east of where the castle had originally stood on a riverfront site which had been reclaimed from the Thames. This was apparently destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in the 1420s and it became the seat of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. King Edward IV was proclaimed king here in 1461 and King Richard III was offered the crown here in 1483 (a moment famously captured by William Shakespeare).

King Henry VII transformed the fortified mansion into a royal palace at the start of the 16th century – adding a series of towers – and his son, King Henry VIII, gave it to the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon when they married. The Queen subsequently took up residence (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves also resided here when queen – the latter was the last member of the royal family to use it as a permanent home).

After King Henry VIII’s death, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke (brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving Queen) who substantially extended it, adding ranges around a second courtyard. In 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary I were proclaimed queen here. Queen Elizabeth I was another royal visitor to the palace, entertained with a fireworks display when she did.

It was left untouched during the Civil War (the Pembrokes were Parliamentarians) but following the Restoration, it was occupied by the Royalist Earl of Shrewsbury (among his visitors was King Charles II). It wasn’t to be for long however – the palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, although remnants of the building, including one or two of the towers, continued to be used for various purposes until the site was finally cleared in the 1800s to make way for warehouses.

The site in Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars (the area is named for the monastery built on the site of the Norman castle) is now occupied by the Brutalist building named Baynard House. The castle is also commemorated in Castle Baynard Street and Castle Baynard Ward.

It was discovered in archaeological excavations in the 197os that the castle’s waterfront wall had been built on top of the Roman riverside city wall.

PICTURE: © Copyright Andrew Abbott

GherkinIn an unusual ‘Famous Londoners’, this week we’re looking at a former inhabitant of London who we still know relatively little about.

The remains of the teenaged girl – believed to have been aged between 13 and 17 years – were found in 1995 when the conically-shaped skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe, fondly known as the Gherkin (and then formally known as the Swiss Re Tower), was being constructed.

The girl, whose skeleton was unearthed where the foundations now stand, was buried sometime between 350 and 400 AD in what appeared to be an isolated grave which would have lain just outside the edge of early Roman Londinium.

The body lay with the girl’s head to the south and the arms folded across. Pottery was found associated with the body which provided dating information.

After being exhumed, the skeleton was housed at the Museum of London for some 12 years before in 2007 it was reburied near the new building. The burial featured a ceremony at nearby St Botolph-without-Aldgate followed by a procession to the gravesite where a dedication took place which included “music and libations”. Among those who attended was the Lady Mayoress of the City of London.

There’s an inscription in honour of the girl on a stone feature outside the building in both Latin and English while a stone set in the pavement decorated with laurel leaves marks the (re)burial spot.

Other recent Roman remains found in London include the skeleton of a young Roman woman, believed to date from the 4th century, which was found still inside its sarcophagus at a site in Spitalfields and a series of two dozen Roman-era skulls which, likely to date from the first century A, were found during excavations for the Crossrail project in 2013. It has been suggested they may have been Britons executed for their role in the famed Queen Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans in 61 AD.

Fulham-PalaceThis Thameside area in London’s west has a long and storied history and its name is a reflection of it.

Long home to the ‘country’ manor of the bishops of London (Fulham Palace, pictured above), the name Fulanham is recorded as early as the late 7th century.

While there’s been speculation in the past that the name Fulham (also recorded among other variations as Fullam) was a corruption of ‘fowl-ham’ – relating to the wild fowl that were to be found here – or of ‘foul-ham’, relating to the muddied waters, that’s now apparently generally deemed not to be the case.

Instead, its name most likely owes its origins to an Anglo-Saxon named Fulla and the Old English word ‘hamm’ – a term for a water meadow or piece of land enclosed in a bend in a river (in contrast to the more common ‘ham’ which refers to an estate or homestead) – and referred to the manor he owned here, its boundaries set by a bend in the Thames. (It should be noted there is evidence of earlier occupation of the site by the Romans and as far back as the Neolithic era).

In about 700, the manor of Fulham – which includes the area we now think of as Fulham as well as land stretching as far afield as Acton, Ealing and Finchley – was acquired by Bishop Waldhere of London from Bishop Tyrhtilus of Hereford. Since Tudor times, Fulham Palace was used as the country home of the bishops of London and in the 20th century became their principal residence. It was used as such until 1975 and now houses a museum and reception rooms.

As well as now being used for the area which once contained what became the village of Fulham itself, since 1979 the name has also been used in that of the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Interestingly, Fulham Broadway tube station was known as Walham Green when it first opened in 1880 and was only given its current name in 1952.

The bishop’s palace (and the nearby riverside Bishop’s Park) aside, other landmarks in the area include the Grade I-listed All Saints Church, which is largely late Victorian and which hosts the grave of abolitionist Granville Sharp, and the nearby Powell Almhouses which date from 1869.

It’s also linked by Putney Bridge with Putney on the other side of the Thames; the current bridge is the work of Sir Joseph Bazalgette and was built in 1882 – it replaced an earlier wooden bridge built in 1729 and overlooks where the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race begins (other bridges spanning the river from Fulham include the rather ugly Wandsworth Bridge).

Known during the 18th century as something of a mecca for gambling, prostitution and other debauched leisure activities, these days Fulham is known for its football club, Fulham FC headquartered at Craven Cottage stadium (named for a cottage owned by Baron Craven which once stood here), shopping and is a sought-after residential location.

Maiden-Castle

Located just outside the town of Dorchester in southern Dorset to the south-west of London, Maiden Castle is the largest extant Iron Age hillfort known to have been built in Britain and among the largest and most complex in all of Europe.

Featuring multiple earthen ramparts (pictured above is the ditch between two of them) – from the top of which you can see spectacular views of the surrounding countryside – and well-defended entrances, it would have once been home to several hundred people. It’s been speculated the name may come from the Celtic word “mai-dun”, meaning a great hill.

Maiden-Castle2The first archaeological excavations were carried out here in the 1930s by Mortimer Wheeler and then later in the 1980s.

Initially built between 800 and 550 BC, the first Iron Age hillfort – built on the site of an earlier Neolithic enclosure with settlement dating back some 6000 years – was enclosed by a single rampart.

In the middle Iron Age, between 550 and 300 BC, it was extended to some 19 hectares or 50 football fields and, apparently densely populated with “round houses” which over time were organised into an increasingly regimented layout, eventually become the pre-eminent settlement in southern Dorset.

In the late Iron Age, the settlement became focused on the eastern end of the fort and with the arrival of the Romans and their establishment of the town of Dorchester (Durnovaria), it was finally abandoned.

Among the features identified within the hillfort’s precincts are well-defended and complex entrances at the western and eastern ends and a large Iron Age cemetery just outside the eastern entrance.

Discovered by Sir Mortimer, the cemetery contained more than 52 burials, some of which held the remains of males with terrible injuries. While Sir Mortimer believed it was a war cemetery created following a battle between the locals and the Roman, it is now thought to have been used as a more general cemetery over a longer period of time.

The remains of a Romano-British temple (pictured above right), dating from the late 4th century AD – about 200 years after the site was abandoned, has also been found inside the hillfort’s boundaries. It consisted of a central room surrounded by a passage with a portico open to the weather. Nearby is what is believed to have been a shrine and a two roomed building thought to have been a priest’s house. A bronze plaque depicting the goddess Minerva has been found on the site, suggesting the temple have been dedicated to her.

The site is managed by English Heritage who have an MP3 audio tour you can download from the website and play on an iPod, smart phone or MP3 player to give an extra dimension to your visit!

WHERE: Maiden Castle, two miles south of Dorchester, off A354, north of bypass or train – two miles from Dorchester South/West; WHEN: Any reasonable time in daylight hours; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/maiden-castle/

For more on Iron Age Britain, check out Barry Cunliffe’s Iron Age Britain (English Heritage).

This iconic church on the edge of Trafalgar Square, known for its musical associations, is another of the works of architect James Gibbs and, as with St Mary le Strand, the current building was constructed in the first half of the 18th century to replace an earlier building.

St-Martin-in-the-fieldsThe first references to a church on the site of the present building date back to the 13th century when, constructed upon a Roman burial site, it was apparently used by monks from Westminster. It was replaced by King Henry VIII around 1542 and enlarged in 1602 before finally being demolished in 1721.

Gibbs’ apparently first suggested the design feature a round nave with a dome over the top but the proposal was rejected as too expensive and a simpler, rectangle-shaped church was subsequently agreed upon and eventually completed in 1726. Part of the design inspiration comes from Sir Christopher Wren, although Gibbs’ integration of the tower into the church was a departure from Wren’s designs (the church spire rises 192 foot into the air).

Among the features of the interior are ceiling panels in the nave which feature cherubs and shells and are the work of ceiling experts Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Other items of interest include Chaim Stephenson‘s sculpture, Victims of Injustice and Violence, remembering all victims during apartheid in South Africa (it was dedicated by Desmond Tutu in 1994), a statue of St Martin and the Beggar by James Butler, and, on the porch, Mike Chapman‘s sculpture marking the millennium, Christ Child. Paintings include one of James Gibbs himself by Andrea Soldi and dating from 1800.

Among those buried in the church are furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac and notorious robber Jack Sheppard (he’s buried in the churchyard). The crypt also contains a life-sized marble statue of Henry Croft, London’s first pearly king, which was moved there from St Pancras Cemetery in 2002.

As well as being the location of the first religious broadcast, its musical heritage includes performances by Handel and Mozart and being the location of the first performance of its namesake chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Since the early 20th century, the church has been noted for its work with the homeless (thanks in particular to the work of Vicar Dick Sheppard). Meanwhile, its connections with music – which date back to its rebuilding – continue in the concerts held in the crypt cafe. The crypt also hosts art exhibitions.

The church underwent a £36 million renewal project in the Noughties. Additions included the new east window by Shirazeh Houshiary.

WHERE: St Martin-in-the-Fields on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square (nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Embankment); WHEN: Open weekdays and weekends – times vary, see website for details; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org.

This central London thoroughfare runs through the heart of the City of London and has been a main thoroughfare since Roman times.

Gracechurch-StreetStretching from Eastcheap (near the Monument) to Leadenhall Street, the street runs over the site of what was Roman London’s forum and basilica (see our earlier post on the Roman buildings here).

The name, meanwhile, comes from the former medieval church of St Benet Gracechurch which was once located on the corner of Gracechurch and Fenchurch Streets.

The church, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren before finally being demolished in 1876, was named for St Benedict (St Benet is a short form) while Gracechurch – which was used after the Great Fire – was a corruption of Grasschurch, a reference to it being located near a hay market (in fact, the church was also known as St Benet Grass). The street was also known as Gracious Street.

Landmarks along Gracechurch Street including the Leadenhall Market (see our earlier post here) and a 30s-inspired modern building of note which stands at number 20.

PICTURE: Looking down Gracechurch Street toward the Monument.

For more on London’s Wren churches, see John Christopher’s Wren’s City of London Churches.