Lost London – The Maharajah’s Fountain…

Former site of The Maharajah’s Fountain, looking into Hyde Park from Bayswater Road (you can see the plaque to the left of the path). PICTURE: Google Maps.

Once located in Hyde Park, this drinking fountain was a gift from Maharajah Meerza Vijiaram Gajapati Raj Manea Sooltan Bahadoor of Vijianagram (a small princely state once located in what is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).

Installed in 1867 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the towering structure in the neo-Gothic style was apparently designed by the architect Robert Keirle (also the designer of the Readymoney Fountain in The Regent’s Park).

It was installed close to the park’s north-east corner (between North Carriage Drive and Bayswater Road, not far west of Marble Arch).

The fountain was eventually removed in 1964 (apparently due to the prohibitive cost of repairing it). A plaque these days marks its location.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…3. Simón Bolívar…

PICTURE: Rept0n1x (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0/image cropped)
PICTURE: Another Believer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of a cluster of statues depicting foreign leaders around Belgravia Square (thanks to the presence of so many foreign embassies in the area), this work depicting Simón Bolívar, a towering figure in the early 19th century liberation of South America from colonial powers, was erected in 1974.

The bronze, by Hugo Daini, shows Bolívar standing as though about to make a speech

The inscription describes Bolívar as the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama and the founder of Bolivia and also mentions the details of his birth – Caracas, Venezuela, 24th July, 1783 – and death – Santa Maria, Colombia, 17th December, 1830.

It is accompanied by a quote on the side of the pedestal, featuring words attributed to Bolívar: “I am convinced that England alone is capable of protecting the world’s precious rights as she is great, glorious and wise”.

The statue was erected by the aforementioned nations (the coats-of-arms of which are on the plinth) and unveiled in by James Callaghan, then Foreign Secretary (and later PM).

Treasures of London – War posters from the National Archives…

Left to right: Abraham Gomes, Forces Recruitment ATS (girl’s head) (between 1939 and 1946); Mary Le Bon, Give yourself a happy holiday…and help our farmers. Lend a hand on the land at an agricultural camp (between 1939 and 1946); Unknown author, There’s often a listener. Silence is safety. Never talk to anyone about sailing dates, cargoes, destinations (between 1939 and 1946).

These posters are among almost 2,000 original works created by artists working for the Ministry of Information during World War II now in the collection of The National Archives based in Kew.

The posters tackle a range of issues – from saving on fuel at home to warnings about spies, posters to inspire effort on the homefront and those to recruit new men and women to the service.

Under a partnership with Wikimedia UK, in 2013 The National Archives digitised and released more than 350 images of the posters into the public domain. Here are some those released.

The originals are held at The National Archives.

Left to right: Roy Nockolds, “In Germany…someone is doing the same job as you. Beat him!” (1942); Tom Purvis, “Stand Firm!” (between 1939 and 1946); and, Frank Newbould,  “Give us the tools and-” – Winston Churchill (between 1939 and 1946).

This Week in London – New statue of Princess Diana; V&A’s new Design 1900 gallery; a Blue Plaque for Jean Muir; and, police boxes reimagined…

A new statue of the late Princess Diana is being unveiled today at Kensington Palace. The statue will be unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Diana’s former home. The garden – originally created on the orders of King Edward VII in 1908 – has been redesigned by designer Pip Morrison to provide a more reflective setting for the memorial. This included planting more than 4,000 of Diana’s favourite flowers including forget-me-nots and tulips. The statue, which is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, is expected to be unveiled by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, who commissioned it in 2017.

The V&A’s new gallery, Design 1900. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A new permanent gallery has opened at the V&A which explores the role design plays in shaping, and being shaped by, how we live, work, travel and communicate. Design 1900 is housed within the museum’s former 20th Century Gallery and, among the displays are new acquisitions including Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s iconic British road signage system, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book, Nike’s Nigeria football shirt for the 2018 World Cup and a one-of-a-kind desk designed by Future Systems for Condé Nast Chairman Jonathan Newhouse. The display also includes items from the Rapid Response Collecting programme such as 3D-printed door openers, designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the I Believe in Our City bus shelter posters that highlighted increased anti-Asian bias. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Twentieth century dressmaker and fashion designer Jean Muir has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Mayfair address she worked for 30 years. The plaque was unveiled at 22 Bruton Street, the location of the showroom and office she operated out of from 1966 to 1995, by her house model, friend and client Joanna Lumley. Others among Muir’s clientele included actress Patricia Hodge and writer Lady Antonia Fraser. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The City of London Corporation has unveiled the design for new ‘Digital Service Points’ which will reimagine the concept of the traditional police boxes. ‘The London Stones’, the work of architecture and design studio Unknown Works, will include information screens, life saving emergency equipment and serve as hubs for City of London Police officers and community events. Details from buildings, stories and images of the Square Mile will be collected and ‘digitally carved’ into the exterior of the ‘stones’ which will also be home to a vast array of lichen colonies and species expected to evolve in their colour and appearance as they grow.

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LondonLife – Museum of London marks Windrush Day…

Tihara Smith outfit PICTURE: © Tihara Smith

Marking this year’s Windrush Day, the Museum of London has made two new acquisitions – an ensemble from London fashion designer Tihara Smith’s ‘Windrush collection’ and a suit owned by her grandfather – available to explore on the Museum of London website. Tihara’s outfit, which was designed as part of Smith’s UCA Epsom graduate collection in 2018 and selected for display at Graduate Fashion Week, references the story of her grandfather, Lazare Sylvestre, who arrived in the UK from St Lucia in 1958 as part of the Windrush generation. Details including a raffia vest hand embroidered with the words ‘Black and British’ which is accompanied by a Black Power fist and the red lion symbol of England as well as a shirt made from a tablecloth purchased in Peckham Market and flared 1970s style denim culottes – all of which are representative of her grandfather’s experience and that of so many other Black British Londoners at that time. Her grandfather’s suit, meanwhile, was designed and made for him by a close friend, Winceslas ‘Winston’ Giscombe, a tailor who originally from Kingston, Jamaica, who came to the UK in 1947 on a ship called the Ormonde, a year before the Windrush arrived in 1948. Photographs of the items, along with oral histories recorded by Tihara, her mother and her grandfather, can be explored on the Museum of London website. For more on Windrush, see the Windrush Stories page on the Museum of London Docklands website

Treasures of London – Southwark Bridge…

Southwark Bridge lit up to mark its 100th birthday. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation.

Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.

The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.

Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.

Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.

Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.

The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.

The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.

The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

This Week in London – Noël Coward’s glittering world; figures from the African diaspora; and, reflections on land rights and colonialism in Australia…

The glittering world of playwright and songwriter Noël Coward is on show in a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery this Monday. The much delayed Noël Coward: Art & Style, which marks the 100th anniversary of Coward’s West End debut as a 19-year-old earlier this year, brings together never-before-seen materials from the Coward Archive and demonstrates the impact he and his creative circle had on the culture of his time – and today. Highlights include an original page of Coward’s handwritten lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the chocolate brown evening suit he wore in the film Boom!, two of his signature silk dressing gowns, his iconic ‘Hamlet’ chair, and several of his own paintings. There’s also a specially commissioned new reconstruction of the iconic white satin dress that Molyneux designed in 1930 for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives and a never-before-exhibited gold lamé theatre cape by Lucile (Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon) from 1920. The exhibition, which is free, runs until 23rd December. Tickets must be booked in advance. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/noelcoward.

A new portrait depicting Dido Belle (1761-1804) has gone on display at Kenwood House – one of six works depicting historic figures from the African diaspora now on show at English Heritage properties across the nation. Belle, who is depicted by artist Mikéla Henry-Lowe, was the illegitimate daughter of a young black woman named Maria Bell and a Royal Naval officer, Sir John Lindsay. She spent much of her life at Kenwood House with her great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice. Other portraits in the series depict the likes of African-born Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (the work of Elena Onwochei-Garcia, it’s on display at Corbridge Roman Town on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland), North African-born 7th century Abbot Hadrian (the work of Clifton Powell, it’s on display at St Augustine’s Abbey in Kent) and Queen Victoria’s god-daughter Sarah Forbes Bonetta (the work of Hannah Uzor, it’s on display at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/black-history/.

More than 25 works by Australian artists exploring debates around land rights and colonialism have gone on show in a new exhibition at the Tate Modern. A Year in Art: Australia 1992 takes as its starting point the High Court of Australia’s landmark 1992 Mabo ruling which overturned the doctrine of terra nullius. Works on show include Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1989 Untitled (Alhalkere) – an expression of her cultural life as an Anmatyerre elder, Gordon Bennett’s 1991 work Possession Island (Abstraction) which is presented in dialogue with Algernon Talmage’s 1937 work The Founding of Australia 1788, and Tracey Moffatt’s 1997 photographic series Up in the Sky, which speaks to the ‘Stolen Generations’ – the forced separation of Aboriginal families by government agencies. At the heart of the display is Vernon Ah Kee’s 2010 four-screen video installation tall man which shows footage of the protests and riots following the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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LondonLife – The Bow Street Police Museum opens its doors…

The Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006, the year of its closure. PICTURE: Edward (public domain)

The Bow Street Police Museum, located on the site of the 1881 Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and Police Station, has opened its doors in Covent Garden. The museum tells the story of the early Bow Street Runners, the first official law enforcement service in the city, and the Metropolitan Police officers who came after. Visitors can explore the former cells and hear the stories of those who once worked in the building. The connections between Bow Street and the constabulary dates back to 1740 when Thomas de Veil opened a Magistrates’ Court in his family home at number four Bow Street in the 18th century and continued until the closure of the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 2006. Among the famous faces who passed through Bow Street’s police station and court over that time were Oscar Wilde, Suffragettes Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst and Mrs Drummond, and the Kray twins. For more, head to https://bowstreetpolicemuseum.org.uk.

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

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

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

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

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

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LondonLife – A Blue Plaque for John Osborne…

Blue Plaque to John Osborne at 53 Caithness Road in Hammersmith. PICTURE: Courtesy of English Heritage.
Blue Plaque to John Osborne. PICTURE: Courtesy of English Heritage.

Post-war playwright John Osborne (1929-1994) was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque last week at his former Hammersmith home. The announcement came 65 years after his seminal play, Look Back in Anger, was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 8th May, 1956. The terraced red brick property at 53 Caithness Road was his London base when he wrote Look Back in Anger, arguably his best known work. Playwright and director Sir David Hare said Osborne “had the most sensational London debut of any playwright in the English language in the 20th century”. “It was John’s brilliance and originality which led so many to help relocate the theatre at the centre of Britain’s cultural and intellectual life. Everyone who followed owes him a debt.” For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

London Explained – The Tube…

Commonly used as a nickname to describe the London Underground, the “Tube” is an obvious reference to shape of the tunnels themselves.

Construction of the Tube at Mile End (c1946). PICTURE: The National Archives UK (London Transport Museum © Transport for London)

The word is believed to have been first popularised around 1890. Underground lines had previously been constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method – that is, digging out the trench for the Underground line, lining the tunnel with iron and them covering it.

Thanks to its depth (due to the fact it had to pass under the Thames), City and South London Railway’s line from King William Street (a now disused station) to Stockwell was the first to be created by boring a tunnel through the earth and then lining it to create a tube. The line, a forerunner of what is now the Northern Line, opened in December, 1890. It was the first true ‘tube’ of the Underground system.

The construction of the line was followed in 1900 by the opening of the Central London Railway’s line from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank (now part of the Central Line) which was given the nickname the “Twopenny Tube”.

The name stayed and was soon applied to the entire network of Underground lines (and interestingly, it wasn’t until 1908 that the word “Underground” first appeared in stations).

Treasures of London: The Diana Fountain, Green Park

The statue atop the fountain. Neil Turner (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
The fountain. David Short (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This fountain and statue ensemble – also known as Diana of the Treetops and the Constance Fountain (and not to be confused with the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park or the Diana Fountain in Bushy Park) – for many years stood at the centre of Green Park.

The fountain replaced an earlier one by Sidney Smirke – installed in 1860 – that had fallen into disrepair.

The Ministry of Works approached the Constance Fund – which had been established by artist Sigismund Goetze and was administered by his wife Constance following his death – to provide finances for a replacement and after they agreed, a competition for the design was held overseen by Sir William Reid.

Escourt J “Jim” Clack, a teacher from Devon, won and designed a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Diana to top the fountain. Depicting a naked Diana unleashing a hunting dog, it sits atop a stylised tree under which sit the fountain basins. The fountain was unveiled in 1954.

In 2011, the statue was removed, restored and some gilding added and then placed near the entrance to Green Park tube station in the north-east corner of the park.

This Week in London – Museum of London takes delivery of ‘Trump Baby’; and, a call-out for African fashions…

As the inauguration of US President Joe Biden took place in the US this week, the Museum of London announced it had taken possession of the larger-than-life ‘Trump Baby’ balloon. The blimp first appeared at protests in July, 2018, during then-US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the city, and has since followed the President around the world. The museum said it will now form part of its protest collection which also includes objects relating to the Suffrage movement, banners, flags, and tents that belonged to Houses of Parliament protestor Brian Haw and placards used recently by protestors against public spending cuts. Sharon Ament, director of the museum, said: “From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches, free speech and Black Lives Matter most recently – the capital has always been the place to have your say. By collecting the baby blimp we can mark the wave of feeling that washed over the city that day and capture a particular moment of resistance – a feeling still relevant today as we live through these exceptionally challenging times – that ultimately shows Londoners banding together in the face of extreme adversity.” The Trump Baby team added that it was their hope the blimp “will stand as a reminder of when London stood against Trump – but will prompt those who see it to examine how they can continue the fight against the politics of hate”. “Most of all we hope the Trump Baby serves as a reminder of the politics of resistance that took place during Trump’s time in office.”

Kofi Ansah ‘Indigo’ Couture 1997 – Narh & Linda – PICTURE: © 1997 Eric Don-Arthur http://www.EricDonArthur.com

The V&A is seeking to contact people who have worn fashions designed by the likes of Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, and Alphadi – a group who, along with their peers, represent the first generation of African designers to gain international attention. The call out comes as the South Kensington museum announces plans to hold an exhibition, supported by GRoW @ Annenberg, which aims to celebrate the creativity, ingenuity and global impact of contemporary African fashions in June. The display will feature more than 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection (many of which are being displayed for the first time). Alongside the objects, the museum is seeking a range of items – and the stories that go with them – from the public. They include Chris Seydou’s 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini, 20th century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years in Africa, and family portraits and home movies showing African and African diasporic fashion trends. Members of the public with objects that fit the above description are asked to get in touch by email at africafashion@vam.ac.uk, and to share their pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion. For the full list of sought after items, head to www.vam.ac.uk/blog/news/va-africa-fashion-call-out.

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

Where’s London’s oldest…(operational) fire station?

New Cross Fire Station in 2007. PICTURE: Danny Robinson (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The closure of two fire stations in 2014 – Clerkenwell (which opened in 1872) and Woolwich (which opened in 1887) – has left New Cross Fire Station in the city’s south as the oldest in London (and, according to the London Fire Brigade, the oldest in Europe as well.)

The station, which was designed in a rather grand “chateau-style” by the brigade’s chief architect Robert Pearsall, was opened at 266 Queen’s Road in New Cross in 1894. It was built to accommodate the divisional superintendent, a station foreman and 16 firefighters – eight married and eight unmarried – as well as two coachmen and stables for four horses.

The fire station initially housed a steam-powered and a manual firefighting appliance as well as a hose cart and van, a long ladder (which had its own shed in the yard) and four fire escapes.

The fire station underwent a major upgrade in 1912, improvements included the addition of more flats for married officers and self-contained houses for the superintendent and foreman as well as a sliding pole to give firefighters a quicker trip to the engine house. In 1958, a third appliance bay was added.

One of the most infamous incidents the firefighters from New Cross attended was in November, 1944, when a V2 bomb hit a Woolworths store in New Cross just after midday on a busy Saturday. Some 168 people were killed, 33 of whom were children, and a further 123 were injured in the attack.

The station is now Grade II-listed.

Lost London – The Carlton Hotel…

The Carlton Hotel (via Wikimedia Commons)

A luxury hotel built at the turn of the 20th century in the West End, the massive Carlton Hotel was part of an even larger redevelopment that included the (still standing) fourth version of Her Majesty’s Theatre (which provides a good idea of what the overall building looked like).

Located on the Crown estate on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket, the hotel was designed by CJ Phipps (who died before it was completed). Building started in 1896 and was completed by 1899.

Swiss hotelier César Ritz – who had been dismissed from his position as the manager of the Savoy Hotel in 1897 and subsequently successful opened his own establishment, the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris the following year – agreed to take a 72-year lease of the new hotel and a new company, The Carlton Hotel, Limited, was formed.

The building, which had interiors designed in the French Renaissance style, contained more than 300 guest rooms, all with telephones, including 72 suites which came with en suite bathrooms. There were also private dining and reception rooms for guests as well as reading and smoking rooms and a highly regarded Palm Court. And, of course, a restaurant in which Auguste Escoffier, who had left the Savoy under a cloud with Ritz, was employed as a head chef.

The Palm Court at The Carlton Hotel as featured in the Illustrated London News on 5th August, 1899.

The hotel, the upper floors of which contained private residences, was a hit and quickly threatened the status of the Savoy as the city’s most fashionable hotel. But in 1902, as the hotel was preparing to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the king fell ill and the festivities were postponed indefinitely. Ritz suffered a nervous breakdown – apparently from the shock – and Escoffier was left in charge.

While its reputation was never again as high as it had been in the years immediately after opening, the Carlton Hotel remained profitable until World War II when it was heavily damaged during German bombing in 1940. Residential parts of the building were closed and in 1942 the remainder of the building was requisitioned by the British Government (with the exception of the American Bar and Grill Room which remained open).

The hotel never fully reopened, however, and, in 1949, the lease was sold to the New Zealand Government. The Carlton Hotel was demolished in 1957-58 and the New Zealand High Commission subsequently built on the site.

Among the hotel’s most famous clientele was Winston Churchill who was apparently dining in the restaurant with Lloyd George when World War I was declared.

Another famous association is commemorated by an English Heritage Blue Plaque which records the fact that Ho Chi Minh, founder of modern Vietnam, worked there as a cook in 1913 (when he was then known as Nguyen That Tanh).

There’s a story that Tanh, seeing how much food was being thrown away, asked Escoffier if he could give it to the poor, to which Escoffier told him to put aside his revolutionary ideas so he could teach him “the art of cooking, which will make you a great deal of money”. Tanh clearly choose another path.

LondonLife – Vale John Le Carré (but George Smiley lives on)…

PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps

News this week that spy turned novelist John Le Carré has died at the age of 89. His family reportedly confirmed the author had died of pneumonia at the Royal Cornwall Hospital on Saturday night. Born as David Cornwall, Le Carré worked as an intelligence officer for the British Foreign Service and, drawing in his work, began writing Cold War spy thrillers under the pseudonym of Le Carré with his first, Call for the Dead, published in 1961. It was in this novel – Le Carré went on to write others – that his most famous character, George Smiley, made his first appearance. Initially a minor character, Smiley went on to become a star in three novels published in the 1970s, the most famous of which is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Smiley’s last appearance was in a later book, 2017’s A Legacy of Spies). In tribute to Le Carré and George Smiley, pictured is 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea, the fictional home of Smiley (albeit a very real property!)

Four unusual London Christmas traditions…1. The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses…

This tradition, the origins of which go back centuries, centres on a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which involves the blessing and cutting of a ‘Christmas Cheese’ with a sword.

The origins of the tradition go back to 1692 when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the Chelsea Pensioners – retired members of the British Army – for Christmas. Since 1959, it’s been organised by industry body Dairy UK and sees cheesemongers from across the UK donate cheeses to the hospital.

The ceremony involves the largest cheese among those donated being blessed and then cut with a sword by a selected pensioner. The cheese is then distributed to the pensioners at meal times in the run-up to Christmas.

This year a special COVID-safe ceremony was held and some 258 kilograms of cheese were donated to the hospital. The largest cheese – a 25 kilogram Montgomery Cheddar – was cut by Chelsea Pensioner George Reed who had a 25 year career in military as well as a career at the BBC.

As well as last year’s 60th anniversary ceremony aside, other milestones have taken place in 2016 – when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese – and in 2009, when two members of Territorial Army London Regiment bound for Afghanistan joined the ceremony for the first time.

LondonLife – New Blue Plaque for sculptors…

Sophie Bowness and Nicholas Skeaping unveil the Blue Plaque. PICTURE: © English Heritage
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© English Heritage.

Twentieth century sculptors Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and John Skeaping (1901-1980) have been recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former home in St John’s Wood. The couple lived in the basement flat at 24 St Ann’s Terrace for less than a year in 1927 but during that time held a joint exhibition (Hepworth’s first ever) in the studio, located in a former billiards room at the rear of the house. The room was also where Hepworth created one of her earliest Mother and Child sculptures as well as works including Doves and Seated Figure. Present at the unveiling last Friday were Sophie Bowness, Barbara Hepworth’s grand-daughter, and Nicholas Skeaping, John Skeaping’s son. For more, on English Heritage Blue Plaques, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

This Week in London – JMW Turner’s world at the Tate; ‘Unknown Warrior’ centenary marked at National Army Museum; and, model making from the ‘age of railways’…

JMW Turner, ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ (c 1834-35), oil paint on canvas, Tate (accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856)

A landmark exhibition on the work – and times – of JMW Turner opens at the Tate Modern in Millbank today. Turner’s Modern World features some 160 works and attempts to show how the landscape painter found “new ways to capture the momentous events of his day, from technology’s impact on the natural world to the dizzying effects of modernisation on society”. Highlights include war paintings such as The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-8) and Field of Waterloo (1818), works capturing political events like The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835) and maritime disasters like A Disaster at Sea (1835) and Wreck of a Transport Ship (c1801), as well as works related to the industrial advances taking place such as Snow Storm (1842), The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ (1839), and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th March (online booking required). For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

An exhibition at the National Army Museum in Chelsea marks the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Warrior being laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Using objects, paintings, photography and personal testimony, Buried Among Kings: The Story of the Unknown Warrior tells the story of the creation of this symbolic memorial dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who died during World War I. Highlights include a union flag on loan from the Railton family (it was Chaplain David Railton who conceived the original idea for an Unknown Warrior following an encounter in 1916 with a wooden cross on the Western Front which was inscribed ‘An Unknown British Soldier’), a Bible carried by Chaplain George Kendall during the selection of the Unknown Warrior, a fragment of the original wooden Cenotaph erected in 1919-1920, and Frank O Salisbury’s large scale painting, The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, which depicts the procession of the Unknown Warrior from Victoria Station to Westminster Abbey. In connection with the exhibition, Victoria Station is hosting a pop-up display between 9th and 16th November on the journey of the Unknown Warrior from the Western Front to Westminster Abbey (the coffin actually arrived in London on 10th November, 1920). Admission charge applies (at Chelsea). Runs until 14th February (online booking required). For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

Model steam locomotive, 1:12 scale, working, represents a standard passenger type locomotive c.1837, made by Mr. J. Dawson, District Superintendent at Southampton of the London & Southampton Railway.

Model making in the “age of the railways” is the subject of a free exhibition now on at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Brass, Steel and Fire features intricate models from the Science Museum Group Collection as well as stunning miniature locomotives and a display of almost 200 tools used by model-maker Keith Dodgson. Highlights include ‘Salamanca’, the world’s oldest model locomotive (on loan from Leeds Museums and Galleries), a model of ‘Fire King’ – made in the 1840s by apprentice Josiah Evans who used his experience to later build full size locomotives, and the world’s oldest working model steam engine, the Etherley winding engine model. The exhibition is free and runs until 3rd May. Online booking required. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/brass-steel-and-fire.

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10 London buildings that were relocated…5. The Wellington Clock Tower…

The Wellington Clock Tower (left), pictured in Swanage in 2012. PICTURE: Neil Alexander McKee (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Now situated on the seafront of the town of Swanage in Dorset, the Wellington Clock Tower was originally located at the southern end of London Bridge.

The tower was erected in 1854 as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, who had died two years earlier.

The then proposed Wellington Clock
Tower depicted in the London Illustrated
News in June, 1854

Its construction was funded through public subscription and contributions of railway companies with the support of the Commissioners for Lighting the West Division of Southwark. It was designed in the Perpendicular Gothic style by Arthur Ashpitel and, after the foundation stone was laid on 17th June, 1854, took six months to build.

The three level structure, which was topped with a tall spire, housed a clock with four faces. The clock was made by Bennett of Blackheath for the 1851 Great Exhibition but the constant rumbling of the carts passing its new location apparently meant the mechanism never kept good time.

There was also small telegraph office in the ground floor room of the tower. A statue of Wellington was intended to be placed within the open top level but funds apparently ran out before it could be commissioned and it never appeared (Wellington’s declining popularity at the time may have also been a factor).

The location of this rather splendid structure meant, however, that it was soon overshadowed by construction of nearby raised railway lines. When the Metropolitan Police condemned the tower as an obstruction to traffic, it was the final straw and having spent little more than a decade in position, the decision was made to demolish the tower.

It was taken down in 1867 but rather than simply being scrapped, Swanage-based contractor George Burt had the building shipped in pieces – they apparently served as ballast during the journey – to his hometown in Dorset where he presented it as a gift to fellow contractor Thomas Docwra. Docwra had the tower reconstructed in a seafront location on the grounds of his property, The Grove, at Peveril Point.

The rebuilt tower lacked the original clock – its faces were replaced with round windows – and in 1904 the spire was also removed and replaced with a small cupola (there’s been various reasons suggested for this, including that the spire was damaged in a storm or because it was felt to be sacrilegious by the religious family which then owned the property).

The tower, which was granted a Grade II heritage listing in 1952, can still be seen on the Swanage waterfront today.