Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

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The moniker of this Soho street owes its origins to the Greek Orthodox Church – London’s first – which was built in the area following an influx of Greeks in the 17th century.

The street was laid out in the 1670-80s and along with taverns, coffee houses and tradesmen’s workshops, also had some aristocratic tenants such as the 5th Earl of Anglesey. Casanova stayed in the street when visiting in 1764 and writer Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, also lodged here temporarily.

Other tenants have included Josiah Wedgwood who had a warehouse and showrooms here from 1774 to 1797. Number 1, the House of St Barnabas, was once the home of twice Lord Mayor of London, William Beckford, and also the location where Sir Joseph Bazalgette commenced work on designing the city’s famed sewer system (it was then the offices of the Westminster Commissioners Sewers). It’s now a private members club.

The church, meanwhile, was soon taken over by the French Protestants who came into the area and eventually demolished in 1936. A remnant of the church, an inscription which was once embedded in the wall of the church, was salvaged and apparently taken to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater.

Current premises based in the street include pubs like the Pillars of Hercules (number 7) and Coach and Horses (number 29) as well as establishments such as The Gay Hussar restaurant (number 2) and French patisserie Maison Bertaux (number 28).

Works including a recently acquired portrait of Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) which was painted on the Western Front during World War I, a self-portrait in stained glass of artist and actor Pauline Boty (pictured), and three life-sized World War I portraits of military officers which have been reunited for the first time in decades, are among highlights of the National Portrait Gallery’s new early 20th century galleries. Four new rooms – split into the ‘Early 20th Century’, ‘The Great War’, ‘The Interwar Years’, and the ‘Second World War and Post-War Recovery’ – hold 121 portraits which have been hung chronologically and feature everyone from Virginia Woolf to Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Christabel Pankhurst to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Along with Frank O Salisbury’s oil sketch of Prince Edward, Boty’s stained glass portrait (the gallery’s first), and the three group portraits from World War I,  highlights of the gallery include a 1913 portrait of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace by Sir John Lavery, a 1931 portrait of Aldous Huxley by Vanessa Bell and a portrait of Roald Dahl in RAF uniform by Matthew Smith. Admission to the galleries is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

The “most comprehensive” exhibition of the work of French artist Amedeo Modigliani opens at the Tate Modern today. Modigliani features 100 works including portraits, some of his lesser known sculptures and 10 of his controversial nude paintings, the largest group of such ever shown in the UK. The exhibition re-evaluates Modigliani’s work and experimentation and includes well known and lesser known works with more than 40 of them never seen in the UK before. The works on show include Bust of a Young Woman (1908), Jean Cocteau (1916), and Boy with a Blue Jacket (1919). Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Former iconic Carnaby Street shop Lord John has been honoured with a City of Wesminster Green Plaque. Lord John, which dressed everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Beatles and The Kinks, was opened by brothers Warren, David and Harold Gold in 1964. The plaque can be seen at 43 Carnaby Street.

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It’s 40 years ago this month since the Concorde – the ultimate in luxury plane travel – set off for the first flight on what would be – for almost three decades, at least – a regular service between London and New York.

The British Airways service between London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK airports began on 22nd November, 1977 – the same date as regular services between Paris and New York – after a ban on the Concorde landing in New York was lifted by the US Supreme Court.

The flight came almost two years after the first commercial flights of the Concorde anywhere in the world had started in January, 1976, between London and Bahrain, and Paris and Rio via Dakar.

With the jets flying at a cruising speed of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), the journey from London to New York took an average of three-and-a-half hours (compared with seven to eight hours for a subsonic flight). Concorde still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a civil aircraft – a flight from New York to London on 7th February, 1996, which took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The aircraft – BA had seven in service – seated 100 passengers in two cabins – 40 in the front and 60 in the rear – and a crew of nine. The London to New York service (and the return trip) was particularly popular among celebrities.

The London to New York route hosted the last commercial flight of the Concorde on 24th October, 2003.

The decision to stop flying the Concorde followed a July, 2000, tragedy in which an Air France Concorde had crashed while taking off in Paris, killing 109 people on the plane and four on the ground. Safety concerns had seen the planes grounded for more than a year. And when they did finally take to the skies again in November, 2001, the world had witnessed the September 11 terror attacks – a fact which was said to have led a dramatic drop in passenger numbers.  In the end, it was said to be these declining passenger numbers along with the rising maintenance costs of ageing fleets which led to its demise.

One of the retired British Airways Concordes – it was used for spare parts by BA and never used commercially – and the world’s only surviving Concorde simulator, built in 1974, can be found just outside London at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.

There are apparently several supersonic jet passenger planes in development but when – or indeed if – they end up flying the New York to London route remains to be seen.

PICTURES – NOW AND THEN: Top – A Concorde in retirement (Simon Boddy, licensed under CC BY-NC SA 2.0); Below – The British Airways official handover ceremony in 1976 (Steve Fitzgerald under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2).

Soldiers of African and Caribbean descent who fought for the British Empire in the 19th century as part of the West India Regiments are the subject of a new display at the Museum of London Docklands. Fighting for Empire: From Slavery to Military Service in the West India Regiments focuses particularly on the story of Private Samuel Hodge, the first soldier of African-Caribbean descent to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honour. Central to the display in the museum’s ‘London, Sugar & Slavery’ gallery, is Louis William Desanges’ painting, The Capture of the Tubabakolong, Gambia 1866 (pictured above), which gives greater prevalence to the British commanding officer Colonel George D’Arcy than to Hodge and which was never displayed with Desanges’ other military paintings in the Victoria Cross Gallery at the Crystal Palace in the 1870s. The exhibition also includes prints, ephemera and maps. Runs until 9th September next year. Admission is free. Meanwhile, this weekend the museum is hosting a Maritime Music Festival celebrating the Docklands’ proud maritime heritage. The festival offers the opportunity to try your hand at a poetry rhyming session, learn knot tying skills and listen to sea shanty crews performing. The festival runs from noon to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled at the former South Kensington home of artist Francis Bacon. Bacon moved to the converted Victorian coach house at 7 Reece Mews in 1961. He kept a studio on the first floor and lived at the property, described as “insanely eccentric”, until his death in 1992. Among significant works he completed there was his first large-scale triptych, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, in 1962 as well as portraits including his 1966 work Portrait of George Dyer Talking. Six years after Bacon’s death in 1992, his studio and its entire contents – including the walls, doors, floor and ceiling – were removed and recreated in The Hugh Lane Gallery in the city of his birth, Dublin. The property is today in the care of  The Estate of Francis Bacon. Meanwhile, another Blue Plaque was unveiled this week, this time commemorating Sister Nivedita. She was one of the most influential female figures in India, an Indian independence campaigner and someone who helped introduce Hindu philosophies to a western audience. The plaque can be found at 21A High Street in Wimbledon, where Nivedita stayed with Swami Vivekananda in 1899. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The first UK exhibition dedicated to the works Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela has opened at The National Gallery. Lake Keitele: A Vision of Finland centres on the work titled Lake Keitele which, acquired by the gallery in 1999, is one of four versions, all of which have been reunited for the first time in the UK in this display. They are some of the dozen or so works in the exhibition which spans 30 years of Gallen-Kallela’s career. The free show, which can be seen in Room 1 until 4th February, marks the centenary of Finland’s independence. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday as the new Lord Mayor of London, Charles Bowman, takes office with the event once again culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Thames. The Lord Mayor will arrive in the City at 9am via a flotilla which includes the QRB Gloriana and other traditional Thames barges. Riding in the splendid State Coach, the Lord Mayor then joins in the world famous procession which sets off from Mansion House at 11am, pausing at the Royal Courts where he swears allegiance to the monarch before returning via Victoria Embankment at 1pm. The fireworks display will start at 5.15pm from a barge moored between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges. For more details, head to https://lordmayorsshow.london. Meanwhile, on Sunday, annual Remembrance Sunday services will be held around the country centred on the Cenotaph in Whitehall where, in a break with tradition, Prince Charles is expected to lay a wreath on behalf of the Queen who, along with Prince Philip, will be watching from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building.

More than 50 portraits by Paul Cézanne have gone on show in a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Cézanne Portraits features works previously unseen in the UK including three self-portraits – one of which is Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat (1885-86) –  and two portraits of his wife –  Madame Cézanne Sewing (1877) and Madame Cézanne (1886–7) – as well as Boy in a Red Waistcoat (1888-90) and Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair, both of which haven’t been seen in London since the 1930s. The exhibition, which includes paintings spanning the period from the 1860s until shortly before Cézanne’s death in 1906, explores the special pictorial and thematic characteristics of the artist’s portraiture work such as his use of complementary pairs and his creation of multiple versions of works featuring the same subject. The exhibition, which has already been on show at the Musée d’Orsay and will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC from late March next year, runs until 11th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat by Paul Cézanne, 1885-6, © Private Collection 

The use of venom as the ultimate natural weapon is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on Friday. Venom: Killer and Cure explores how the use and effects of venom, the different biological roles it plays and how humans have attempted to harness and neutralise its power, with the former including some remarkable medical innovations. Specimens on show include everything from snakes to spiders, wasps, scorpions and the duck-billed platypus as well as live example of a venomous creature. Highlights include a gaboon viper head – a snake species with the largest known venom fangs, an emperor scorpion which engages in unusual mating behaviour known as “sexual stingings”, a flower urchin which can inject venom that causes muscular paralysis in humans for up to six hours, a tarantula hawk wasp which has one of the most painful venomous stings, and a box jellyfish, larger specimens of which can cause death in humans in two to five minutes. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Coinciding with the centenary of the Russian Revolution comes a new exhibition at the Tate Modern which offers a visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is based around the collection of late graphic designer David King (1943-2016) and charts how seismic events such as the overthrow of the last Tsar, the revolutionary risings of 1917 and Stalin’s campaign of terror inspired a wave of art and graphic design across the country. The display includes more than 250 posters, paintings, photographs, books and other ephemera by artists such as El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Nina Vatolina. Runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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The first major exhibition in the UK to consider artists’ responses to war and conflict since 9/11 opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today. Age of Terror: Art since 9/11 features 50 works of art including film, sculpture, painting, installations, photography and prints from more than 40 British and international contemporary artists including Ai Weiwei, Grayson Perry, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Holzer, Mona Hatoum, Alfredo Jaar, Coco Fusco and Jake & Dinos Chapman. The exhibition is presented around four key themes – artists’ direct or immediate responses to 9/11, issues of state surveillance and security, our relationship with firearms, bombs and drones, and the destruction caused by conflict on landscape, architecture and people. Highlights include Iván Navarro’s The Twin Towers (2011), Ai Weiwei’s Surveillance Camera with Marble Stand (2015), and James Bridle’s site-specific installation, Drone Shadow Predator, as well as Grayson Perry’s Dolls at Dungeness September 11th 2001 (2001) and, Jamal Penjweny’s photographic series, Saddam is Here (2009-2010). Runs until 28th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/ageofterror.

The first UK retrospective of the work of famed 20th century Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery yesterday. Tove Jansson (1914-2001) celebrates the work of the artist known as the creator of the Moomin characters and books but also includes a wider looks at her graphic illustration work and paintings. It features 150 works including self-portraits, landscapes and still-lives never seen before in the UK and a series of Moomin drawings only discovered at the British Cartoon Archive this year. Organised in collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum, the exhibition can be seen until 28th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Tove Jansson, Sleeping in the Roots, 1930s, Moomin Museum, Tampere Art Museum Moominvalley Collection (Finnish National Gallery/Yehia Eweis).

Featuring 50 painted objects created over 700 years, a new exhibition at The National Gallery takes a “radical” look at what happens when artists cast aside the colour spectrum and focus on the power of black and white. Monochrome: Painting in Black and White features paintings and drawings by Old Masters like Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt van Reign alongside works by contemporary artists such as Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close and Bridget Riley. Exhibition opens on Monday and runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Located beneath the Banqueting House – a remnant of the Palace of Whitehall, the undercroft was originally designed by Inigo Jones (who designed the building as a whole) as a private drinking den for King James I.

French landscaper and architect Isaac de Caus was commissioned to decorate one end of the vaulted undercroft as a shell grotto where the king could relax with his friends. In 1623, it received a dedication from Ben Jonson:

“Since Bacchus, thou art father
Of wines, to thee the rather
We dedicate this Cellar
Where now, thou art made Dweller.”

Following the Restoration, during the reign of King Charles II, the basement was used to hold lotteries – John Evelyn describes one such event taking place in 1664 in his famed diary, although soon after this was moved into a purpose-built facility nearby.

The undercroft was subsequently used for storage including during the reign of King James II when it was apparently used to store furnishings from the Privy and Council Chambers of Whitehall Palace while they were being rebuilt.

From the late 1890s until the 1960s, it became part of the museum of the Royal United Services Institute (which also used the hall upstairs) but following a restoration in 1992, is now open to the public and also used for special events at the building.

WHERE: Undercroft, Banqueting House, Whitehall (nearest Tube is Westminster or Charing Cross); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (check if there is a private function); COST: £5.50 adults (16+)/children under 16 free/Historic Royal Palaces members free; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house/

PICTURE: alh1/Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hatters they are, but mad they most definitely are not (more on that connection later). Lock & Co Hatters, which describes itself not only as London’s oldest hat shop but the world’s oldest, has been serving the city’s hat needs since James Lock first opened the doors at number six, St James’s Street, in 1765.

Lock took over the premises after completing an apprenticeship as a hatter with Charles Davis, son of Robert Davis who had opened a hatters in St James’s Street in 1676. Lock had married Charles’ sister Mary in 1759 and, along with his new bride, had inherited his father-in-law’s business. In 1765, they and their growing family moved across the road from that premises to No 6, previously a coffee house.

The shop soon established itself with the city’s elite and its client list grew to include the likes of Lord Grenville, Prime Minister between 1806-07, and, most famously, Admiral Lord Nelson, who first visited the shop in 1800 to order his signature bicorne – a “cocked hat and cockade” – with a specially built-in eye shade (Nelson had lost his eye at the Battle of Calvi). Nelson’s final visit, incidentally, would take place in September, 1805, when he settled his bill before setting sailing to Spain where, wearing one of Lock’s hats, he would lose his life – and become part of a legend – in the Battle of Trafalgar.

But back to the Locks. James Lock died in 1806 and it was his illegitimate son, George James Lock (aka James Lock II), who inherited the business which continued to flourish (clients around this time include the Georgian dandy Beau Brummell). George’s son, James Lock III and his younger brother George took over in 1821, and in 1849, they were commissioned by Edward Coke to create a hard-domed hat for his gamekeepers – the result was the iconic Coke hat (known to some as the Bowler hat, a name which came from Southwark-based Thomas and William Bowler whom Lock had commissioned to make the hat) .

The Lock & Co hat business continued to pass down through the family and the list of the famous who purchased hats in the store continued to grow – Oscar Wilde bought a black fedora there to wear on his US lecture tour (and due to his later incarceration was unable to pay his bill which was settled more than 100 years later by one of his fans after this news was included in an article in The Times) while Sir Winston Churchill wore a Lock silk top hat on his wedding day and also purchased his trademark Cambridge and Homburg hats there.

In 1932, film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, moved in above the shop (and naturally bought some monogrammed hats which were sold in 2011 as part of his estate) while Charlie Chaplin purchased hats there in the 1950s and, impressively, in 1953, Lock worked with jewellers Garrard and Co to design the “fitments” for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation crown.

A warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, followed (in 1993, Lock & Co received its second Royal Warrant, this time from the Prince of Wales.

Others among Lock’s more high profile clientele over the years have included Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F Kennedy, and Lock’s Coke hat even made a famed appearance on the silver screen as the headwear of the Bond villain Oddjob in Goldfinger.

The firm, meanwhile, has continued to grow, acquiring Piccadilly hatters Scott & Co in the 1970s.

Lock’s association with Lord Nelson was remembered in 2012 when it designed a hat for his statue atop Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which featured a full-sized Olympic torch and which, due to popular demand, was left on the admiral for the duration of the Olympics.

Interestingly, it is also claimed that James Benning, a member of the Lock family and a servant of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) – writer of Alice in Wonderland, was the inspiration behind the ‘Mad Hatter’.

PICTURES: Top – Jeremy T. Hetzel; Right – Matt Brown – both licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

An exhibition exploring how recorded sound has shaped and influenced our lives since the invention of the phonograph in 1877 has opened at the British Library. Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound provides the opportunity to hear rare and unpublished recordings from the British Library’s sound archive as well as view some the library’s rarely seen collection of records, players and recorders. Highlights include a record of James Joyce reading Ulysses in 1924 (one of only two recordings of his voice), the smallest 78 rpm disc ever issued (made for Queen Mary’s doll’s house), playable stamps from the Kingdom of Bhutan and historic voices including those of nursing icon Florence Nightingale (recorded at her London home in 1890), aviator Amelia Earhart (recorded in 1932), and writer Jorge Luis Borges (recorded in 1971). The exhibition also features a specially commissioned sound installation by musician and former British Library composer-in-residence, Aleks Kolkowski. Free to enter, the display in the Entrance Hall Gallery can be seen until 11th March and is accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/listen-140-years-of-recorded-sound. PICTURE: Wax cylinders from the British Library sound collections © British Library Board.

Go for a swing! Tate Modern this month has unveiled a large scale interactive installation by Danish collective SUPERFLEX which features dozens of three seater swings weaving through the gallery’s Turbine Hall and out into the landscape beyond. One Two Three Swing! is aimed at encouraging audiences to combat social apathy and work together in a collaborative action to swing. The installation is the third annual Hyundai Commission, a partership between the Tate and Hyundai Motor. Until 2nd April. Admission is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

• On Now: Daily Funnies: An Exhibition of Strip Cartoons. This display at the Cartoon Museum features many examples of well-known cartoon strips from newspapers and magazines of the past century including everyone from Andy Capp to Rupert, Bristol to Peanuts. Be quick – closes on 18th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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An institution linking the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich underneath the Thames for more than a century, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was built to provide an alternative to a sometimes unreliable ferry service – thanks to weather – and was principally aimed at workers making their way from their homes in London’s south to docks and shipyards.

It was one of two tunnel crossings – the other being at Woolwich – which were lobbied for by Will Crooks, chair of the LCC’s bridges committee and later MP for Woolwich.

Designed by engineer Sir Alexander Binnie for the London County Council, the project – which reportedly cost some £127,000 – commenced in June, 1899, with the tunnel completed and opened, with very little fanfare (there was apparently no opening ceremony) on 4th August, 1902.

The design features a glass-topped dome at either end with steps spiralling downward (reported as 87 steps to the north and 100 to the south). Lifts were installed in 1904 and then upgraded in the 1990s and more recently in 2012. The tunnel itself. which is positioned at a depth of about 50 feet, is made of cast-iron and lined with 200,000 glazed white tiles. It measures 1,215 feet long with an internal diameter of nine feet.

The northern end of the tunnel was damaged by bombs during World War II and repairs include  a thick steel and concrete lining that substantially reduce the interior size of the tunnel for a short distance.

The tunnel, which has its own friends group, is classed as a public highway and so as a matter of law is kept open 24 hours a day. Its depth means it remains a cool place even on a hot day.

WHERE: Greenwich Foot Tunnel (nearest DLR (northern end) is Island Gardens and (southern end) is Cutty Sark; WHEN: Always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/info/200102/walking/693/foot_tunnels.

PICTURES: Top – James Stringer under licence CC BY-NC 2.0; and below – Neil Turner under licence CC BY-SA 2.0

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

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

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

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Jane Austen died in Winchester, Hampshire, on 18th July, 1817, at the age of just 41. She was buried in the city’s cathedral but a small tablet was unveiled in Westminster Abbey to mark her death 150 years later.

Located in Poets’ Corner in the abbey’s south transept, the small tablet was erected on 17th December, 1967, by the Jane Austen Society. Made of polished Roman stone, it simply bears her name and year of birth – 1775 – and year of death.

The tablet was placed on the lefthand side of the (much larger) memorial to William Shakespeare and below that of lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

This is the final in our series on Jane Austen’s London – we’ll be starting a new series shortly.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube station is Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Various  – check website; COST: £22 adults/£17 concessions/£9 chirldren (6-16)/five and under free (check website for more options); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURE: Carcharoth (Commons)/CC BY-SA 3.0 (image cropped)

Literary history was made in London 80 years ago this month – on 21st September, 1937 – when George Allen & Unwin Ltd published JRR Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit.

The initial print run of 1,500, which featured black and white illustrations and a dust jacket designed by Tolkien himself, had sold out by December. It was released in the US the following year and was subsequently republished in the UK was published in numerous new editions.

George Allen & Unwin, which was founded by George Allen in 1871 and became George Allen & Unwin when Stanley Unwin purchased a controlling interest in 1914, went on to publish Tolkien’s follow-up epic, The Lord of the Rings, in the 1950s after Unwin suggested a sequel based on the popularity of the first.

The publishing company, which also published the likes of everyone from Bertrand Russell to Roald Dahl, was based at Ruskin House in Museum Street in Bloomsbury at the time of the publication.

The company now lives on as an Australian company, Allen & Unwin Australia Pty Ltd.

Sir Simon Rattle, in his first season as the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, is the subject of a recently opened exhibition at the Barbican Music Library. Rattle follows the life of a man now considered one of the world’s foremost conductors, from his birth in 1955 to the present day. Featuring photos, awards, video, letters, programmes and unseen items from family collections, it’s curated by his first manager, Martin Campbell-White, and Edward Smith, former CEO of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and has been organised by the LSO in partnership with arts management company Askonas Holt. The free exhibition runs until 22nd December. For more, follow this link.

The works of Rachel Whiteread, one of the leading artists of her generation, have gone on show at Tate Britain. Spanning the three decades of her career, the show has everything from four early sculptures displayed in her first solo show in 1988 to works made this year especially for Tate Britain with scales ranging from the monumental to the intimate. Whiteread came to public notice in 1993 with the East End unveiling of her first public commission, House, a concrete cast of the interior of an entire terraced house. She won the Turner Prize the same year and represented the UK at the Venice Biennale in 1997 and has had solo exhibitions of her work in museums and galleries including The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Museums of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. Highlights of the show include Untitled (Room 101) 2003, a cast of the room at the BBC’s Broadcasting House which was thought to be the model for Room 101 in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a selection of Torsos – casts of hot water bottles, and Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) 1995, an installation of 100 resin casts of the underside of chairs (pictured). Runs until 21st January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain. PICTURE: Courtesy of Tate Britain.

An exhibition which focuses on the use of prints as an “object of trade” opens at the British Museum today. The business of prints, based in part on Antony Griffiths’ prize-winning book The Print Before Photography: An Introduction to European Printmaking 1550-1820, focuses on four major areas – the production of prints, the lettering on prints, the usage of prints and the collecting of prints and the concern for quality. Delving into the museum’s collection of more than two million prints, it features works by the likes of Durer, Rembrandt and Goya alongside those of far less famous artists. The display can be seen until 28th January in Room 90, the Prints and Drawings Gallery. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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It’s 70 years ago this November that a gorilla named Guy arrived at London Zoo and went on to become one of its most famous residents. 

A Western lowland gorilla, Guy was captured as a baby in French Cameroon on behalf of the Paris Zoo which then exchanged him for a tiger from London Zoo. He arrived in London while still a baby, clutching a tin hot water bottle, on Bonfire Night – 5th November, 1947, hence his name ‘Guy’ (after Guy Fawkes).

Guy went on to become one of the zoo’s biggest stars (on a par with a contemporary, Chi-Chi the Giant Panda, another of the zoo’s most famous residents).

The giant ape, who lived for the latter part of his life in the zoo’s Michael Sobell Pavilion ( it opened in 1971), weighed some 240 kilograms and had a nine foot armspan but was known, despite his size and occasional outbreaks of bad temper, for having been a ‘gentle giant’ – there are stories that he used to hold out his hands and carefully examine small songbirds that flew into his cage before letting them go.

He was introduced to a mate, Lomie, after 25 years in solitude but they never produced any offspring.

Guy died in 1978 of a heart attack during a tooth extraction. He continues to attract sightseers, however – Guy was stuffed and put on display at the Natural History Museum in 1982. He was later moved into storage but went back on permanent display in 2012.

A bronze statue of Guy, by William Timym, can be seen near the zoo’s main entrance (pictured).

PICTURE: Chris huh/Wikimedia Commons

 


The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south celebrates the 200th anniversary of its public opening this year. It is the oldest public picture gallery in all of England.

The origins of the gallery back owe their existence to an art dealership run by a Frenchman, Noël Desenfans, and his Swiss friend, painter Sir Francis Bourgeois. In 1790, the men were commissioned by King Stanislaus II Augustus of Poland to form a royal collection of art for him.

They spent five years doing so but in 1795, the king was forced to abdicate and the two dealers were left with the collection. They began searching for a new home for it but failed to find one and following Desenfans’ death in 1807, Sir Francis decided to leave the collection to Dulwich College (apparently on the advice of his friend, actor John Philip Kemble). The college had been founded in the early 17th century as the ‘College of God’s Gift’ by Edward Alleyn, actor and theatre entrepreneur, who had left it his estate.

Sir Francis died in 1811 and, under the terms of his will, the paintings left to Dulwich had to be made available to the public to view. There was an existing gallery at Dulwich College (the collection had originally been formed around Alleyn’s collection which included portraits or kings and queens) but, conscious that it might not be ideal for displaying the collection, Sir Francis had left £2,000 in his will to refurbish it and made it clear that should this be required, he wanted his friend, Sir John Soane to oversee the work.

Sir John, visiting the college the day after Sir Francis’ death, inspects the existing building but decides that an entirely new wing will need to be built to house the collection. He submitted numerous designs but the cost – more than £11,000 – was considerably more than the college could afford despite Sir John’s efforts to cut costs and simplify. Eventually, after Margaret Desenfans agreed to donate £4,000 of her own money, the college officials agreed to begin construction.

In 1814, the collection was moved into the building and the following year, the now completed building was opened to Royal Academicians and students.  The public opening came two years later, in 1817, and the same year the Desenfanses and Francis Bourgeois were buried in the gallery’s mausoleum as its founders.

Several additions and renovations have since followed (including works after bombing during World War II). The last major works were carried out in the 1990s after which the gallery was formally reopened on 25th May, 2000, by Queen Elizabeth II.

Those who visited the gallery, many as students, have included some big names in the art world – John Constable, JMW Turner and Vincent Van Gogh. Charles Dickens referenced the gallery in his work, The Pickwick Papers, in which he had Samuel Pickwick visit the gallery following his retirement.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is now an independent registered charity. Its more than 600 works include one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world by artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese and Murillo. Collection highlights include Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window (1645), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Flower Girl (1665-70), Thomas Gainsborough’s Elizabeth and Mary Linley (c 1772) and Sir Peter Lely’s Nymphs by a Fountain (early 1650s).

WHERE: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich (nearest rail is West Dulwich or North Dulwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults/£6 seniors/under 18s free (additional cost for special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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 world famous Notting Hill Carnival takes places in London’s west this weekend. The biggest event of its kind in Europe, the programme kicks off Saturday evening (from 6pm to 10pm) with a steel band music competition and more Caribbean-themed outdoor entertainment in Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park. Sunday features the Children’s Parade, performances at the World Music Stage in Powis Square and static sound systems and food stalls at Emslie Horniman Pleasance Park (from 9am to 8.30pm). The Grand Finale parade on Monday features dancers, performers, 60 steel bands and mobile sound systems with more music and food stalls in the parade area as well as on the World Music Stage in Powis Square. This year’s event will also feature a minute’s silence at 3pm on both Sunday and Monday to remember the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. For more, see www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com or Visit London’s special guide. PICTURE: Eddie Starck/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

Tate Modern is offering a limited number of free tickets to Soul of a Nation: Art in an Age of Black Power exhibition this Friday night (August’s Uniqlo Tate Late event) to coincide with the Notting Hill Carnival weekend. The tickets will be offered a first come, first serve basis from 6pm. The exhibition, which explores what is meant to be an African American artist during the civil rights movement and at the birth of the Black Power movement, runs until 22nd October. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

On Now: The City is Ours. This major interactive exhibition at the Museum of London explores some of the key issues that affect Londoners and city dwellers elsewhere the world – from housing affordability and urban planning to transport, green spaces and air quality. Spread across three of the museum’s temporary exhibition spaces, key exhibits include a nine metre wide film, Urban Earth, which visualises and compares data from major cities around the world, an Oculus Rift headset which delivers a virtual view from the top of a Hong Kong skyscraper illustrating the impact of building upwards instead of outwards, and an exhibit which allows visitors to control and monitor CCTV cameras as they reflect on the impacts of increased surveillance. The free exhibition – at the heart of the museum’s year long focus on City Now City Future – can be seen until 2nd January. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/thecityisours.

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