A 16 metre long splinter of stone sticking up in the air at the southern end of London Bridge, the Southwark Needle (its official name is actually the Southwark Gateway Needle) was erected in 1999.

Made of Portland stone and sitting on an angle of 19.5 degrees, it was designed by Eric Parry Architects as part of the Southwark Gateway Project which also included the creation of a new tourist information centre.

There’s been much speculation about what the pointed obelisk actually represents with some believing that the sharp spike is a kind of memorial to those whose heads were placed on spikes above the gateway which once stood at the southern end of London Bridge.

It seems, however, that the subject remembered in the monument is rather more mundane – it’s a marker and apparently points across the Thames the Magnus the Martyr church which marked the start of where London Bridge was formerly located (several metres to the east of the current bridge’s location). And for those trying to figure out how the needle points to that, word is that is the line of the base of the marker which points to the start of the old bridge – not the sharp end of the obelisk.

The needle is now commonly used as a meeting point.

PICTURE: Donald Judge (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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The UK’s largest ever exhibition focusing on fashion designer Christian Dior and his work opens at the V&A on Saturday. Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams spans his career and legacy from 1947 – the year he hosted his first UK fashion show at the Savoy Hotel in London, to the present day. Based on an exhibition shown at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, it will also include a section on the world renowned designer’s fascination with British culture. The more than 500 objects on show – revealed in 11 sections – include more than 200 rare haute couture garments as well as accessories, photography, film, perfume and make-up, illustrations, magazines and personal possessions. Alongside gowns worn by the likes of Princess Margaret, Margot Fonteyn and Jennifer Lawrence, highlights include the iconic Bar Suit, given to the V&A by the House of Dior in 1960. Runs until 14th July in The Sainsbury Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © Adrien Dirand (V&A).

The work of Sir Don McCullin – regarded as one of Britain’s greatest living photographers and perhaps best known as a photojournalist and war correspondent – is the subject of a new show opening at Tate Britain next Tuesday. Don McCullin features more than 250 photographs dating from the 1950s – when he started documenting the community in his native Finsbury Park – to 2017, when he visited Syria to document the destruction undertaken by the so-called Islamic State. Among the iconic photographs on show are The Guvnors, a portrait of a notorious local gang in Finsbury Park which launched his career as a photojournalist in 1958, Shell-shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue (1968), Starving Twenty Four Year Old Mother with Child, Biafra (1968), Northern Ireland, The Bogside, Londonderry (1971), and The theatre on the Roman city of Palmyra, partly destroyed by Islamic State fighters (2017). Also on show are photographs depicting the changing social conditions in the UK, landscapes and still lifes as well as the photographer’s magazine spreads, contact sheets, McCullin’s helmet and the Nikon camera which took a bullet for him in Cambodia. Runs until 6th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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The rich and tapestried history of The India Club forms the heart of a new exhibition by the National Trust which opens at the Strand-based club this week. A Home Away from Home: The India Club is an audio-based exhibition – featuring interviews with everyone from former staff, freedom fighters, BBC reporters, artists and writers – and highlights the club’s history and its ongoing significance among the British South-Asian community. Borne out of the Indian League which had campaigned for India’s independence, the club was founded in 1951 under the leadership of Krishna Menon, the first High Commissioner to India, with founding members including Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and Lady Mountbatten. Originally located at 41 Craven Street, it moved to 143 Strand, the premises of the Hotel Strand Continental, in 1964. The club, site of what was one of the UK’s first Indian restaurants, remains an important hub for a range of Anglo-Indian organisations and the community of journalists, writers, artists, academics and students who regularly meet in the premises. The exhibition comes as more than 26,000 people have signed a petition to prevent the club’s redevelopment as part of plans to refurbish the building in which its located. Opening tomorrow and running until 1st March, the display is being accompanied by a programme of supper clubs, artist talks, screenings and conversations. The exhibition is free but ticketed. For more, see
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/a-home-away-from-home-the-india-club.

PICTURES: Top – Enjoying the new exhibition in The India Club (courtesy of National Trust); Below – The India Club sign (courtesy of Jake Tilson); the restaurant in The India Club (courtesy of The India Club); the Strand Continental Hotel in which the club is located (courtesy of Jake Tilson).

The Savoy Theatre, located next to the Savoy Hotel just off the Strand in the West End, was the first public building in London to feature electric lighting.

Built to the designs of CJ Phipps and decorated by Collinson and Locke, its construction was instigated and financed by Richard D’Oyly Carte with the specific intention of hosting WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s operas.

Opening on 10th October, 1881, the first show at the new premises was Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which had been previously playing at the Opera Comique. It continued to solely show Gilbert and Sullivan’s works until 1886 when a falling out led to the end of the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan.

The theatre subsequently hosted comedic operas by other composers as well as productions of Shakespeare (Henry Irving was among those who trod the boards here in the early 20th century).

It was rebuilt in just 135 days in 1929 and the new premises featured an exterior designed by Frank Tugwell and interior designed by Art Deco expert Basil Ionides.

A fire caused considerable damage in 1990 after which the theatre was again renovated, this time under the guidance of the theatre’s then chairman Sir Hugh Wontner and architect Sir William Whitfield, with the public areas returned to how they had looked under Tugwell and Ionides’ scheme from the 1920s. It reopened in July, 1993, with a Royal Gala performance by the English National Ballet (Diana, Princess of Wales, was among those in attendance).

Now owned by the The Ambassador Theatre Group, the Savoy these days it shows a range of different productions. It’s currently hosting Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical. For more, see www.thesavoytheatre.com.

PICTURES: Above – Neon sign for The Savoy Theatre advertising a previous production with the hotel and theatre entrance (Loren Javier/image cropped/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); The Savoy Theatre with a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating it being the first public building with electric lighting in London (David Adams).

A plan of the Deptford Pumping Station signed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette is going on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery on Saturday to mark 200 years since the Victorian engineer’s birth. Other items in the new display include the Shakespeare Deed – only one of six documents to bear the signature of William Shakespeare, and one of the City of London’s earliest charters – granted by King Richard I in 1197. Admission to the gallery, located in the Guildhall Art Gallery, is free. Runs until 16th May. For more, follow this link.

The first major retrospective of French painter Pierre Bonnard in 20 years has kicked off at the Tate Modern on South Bank. The CC Land Exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory, features about 100 of his most celebrated works from public and private collections spanning the period from 1912 to his death in 1947. Bonnard, like his friend Henri Matisse, had a profound impact on modern painting and went on to influence the likes of Mark Rothko and Patrick Heron. Works on show include Dining Room in the Country (1913), The Lane at Vernonnet (1912-14), Coffee (1915), Summer (1917), Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1922), Nude in an interior (c1935), and Studio with Mimosa (1939-46). Runs to 6th May; admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Coffee (Le Café), 1915,  Oil paint on canvas (via Tate Modern)

The work of pioneering video artist Bill Viola has been brought together with drawings buy Michelangelo in a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy on Saturday. Bill Viola/Michelangelo features 12 major video installations by Viola, an honorary Royal Academician, which span the period 1977 to 2013 as well as 15 works by Michelangelo including 14 highly finished drawings as well as the Academy’s Taddei Tondo. It proposes a “dialogue” between the two artists with Viola, who first encountered Michelangelo’s works in the 1970s in Florence, considered an heir to the long tradition of spiritual and affective art which uses emotion to connect viewers with the subject depicted. Runs until 31st March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This month marks 50 years since The Beatles’ final public performance – a seemingly impromptu concert which took place on a Savile Row rooftop on a freezing day in 1969 (but was actually held to record the final scenes of a film they were making).

The unannounced concert on 30th January was only 42 minutes long and featured five songs – including Get Back, I’ve Got A Feeling, One After 909, Dig A Pony and Don’t Let Me Down, some of which were played more than once (as well as various other song snippets).

As well as band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Billy Preston had been brought in as a keyboardist.

The event, described in RollingStone as the band’s first “truly live” performance in more than two years, took place on the roof of the headquarters Apple Corps, then located at 3 Savile Road, which was the corporation the group had founded as an umbrella organisation for its various business ventures including Apple Records.

The performance, which famously ended with John Lennon saying “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition”, was filmed and recorded and 21 minutes of the footage featured in the 1970 documentary, Let It Be.

The Fab Four’s concert was eventually shut down by the Metropolitan Police – located just up the street at number 27 – over noise and traffic issues but no arrests were made (Ringo later wrote about his regret at not being dragged off by them).

 

This five star Mayfair establishment owes its origins and name to William Claridge, possibly a former butler, and his wife Marianne, who took over management of a small hotel at 51 Brook Street in 1853.

In 1854, they purchased the adjoining Mivart’s Hotel, first established in 1812, and substantially expanded the premises. It apparently combined the two names – Mivart’s and Claridge’s – for a short time before the reference to Mivart’s was dropped.

The hotel, which stands on the corner with Davies Street, was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte (owner of The Savoy) in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in red brick to the designs of CW Stephens (of Harrods fame) with interiors by Sir Ernest George and the inclusion of modern amenities including en suite bathrooms and lifts. The hotel, which is now Grade II-listed, reopened in 1898, with some 203 rooms and suites.

It was extended in the late 1920s with the addition of 80 new rooms and a ballroom while the lobby was redesigned by art deco pioneer Oswald Milne (much of that decoration, including work by Basil Ionides, remains).

The hotel’s reputation as a place to stay among the well-to-do was given a significant boost when Empress Eugenie, wife of French Emperor Napoleon III stayed in 1860 and entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It was also favoured by exiled royals during World War II including King Peter II and Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia all staying here. In fact, their son, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in suite 212 in 1945 (now named the Prince Alexander Suite).

The story goes that Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared the suite Yugoslav territory for a day (although evidence supporting the story about Churchill’s involvement is apparently scarce). It’s also said that a spadeful of dirt from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed so the Crown Prince could literally be born on Yugoslav soil (but there’s no mention of this aspect of the story on Crown Prince Alexander II’s official website).

Churchill and Clementine stayed in a suite here on the sixth floor after the wartime PM’s unexpected defeat in the general election of 1945.

Other luminaries to have stayed here include American actors Cary Grant, Katharine (and Audrey) Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby (Spencer Tracey famously said he didn’t want to go to heaven when he died but to Claridge’s) as well as director Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, and, more recently, everyone from Mick Jagger and Madonna to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Kate Moss celebrated her 30th birthday here.

And, of course, royals including the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have all been regular diners.

The hotel, which underwent a major restoration from 1996 and saw 25 new suites designed by David Linley opened in 2012, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, having parted ways with the Savoy Hotel in the mid-noughties.

Current facilities include the restaurant Fera at Claridge’s (this opened in 2014 after the closure of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2013) as well as The Foyer & Reading Room (where afternoon tea is served), The Fumoir cocktail bar, Claridge’s Bar and a health club and spa.

The Claridge’s Christmas Tree is a much anticipated part of London’s festive season, with recent years seeing a different world-renowned designer taking on the task of decorating it, including the likes of John Galliano, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry.

The hotel was the subject of a three part documentary, Inside Claridges, in December, 2012.

For more, see www.claridges.co.uk.

PICTURE: Tim Westcott (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Eighty original comic strips hand-drawn by Charles M Schulz, of Peanuts fame, are on show at Somerset House on the Strand along with many of his personal effects and interactive installations in an exhibition marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of iconic character Charlie Brown. Good Grief, Charlie Brown! Celebrating Snoopy and the Enduring Power of Peanuts looks at the impact of the comics on the cultural landscape, from 1950 to now, and, alongside works by Schultz, features responses to them by 20 figures from the worlds of art, fashion and music. The comic strips are showcased in their original state and size – complete with inky thumbprints and correction marks – and sit alongside vintage Peanuts products and publications as well as correspondence between Schultz and people such as Billie Jean King and Hillary Rodham (now Clinton). Along with interactive displays including a real-life re-imagination of Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth, light boxes where people can learn to draw the Peanuts characters and a Snoopy Cinema, here are also three large-scale lights installations illuminating the entrance to the exhibition. This landmark exhibition can be seen until 3rd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.somerset.org.uk.

Newly acquired contemporary artworks by Pacific Island artists are at the centre of an exhibition re-examining the relationship between Captain James Cook and the peoples of the Pacific Ocean which is running at the British Museum. Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific Perspectives also features historic artefacts including Cook’s personal possessions and the British Museum’s oldest example of a Hawaiian shirt (pictured). Among the 14 contemporary artworks are eight specially acquired for the exhibition and all are in some way a response to Cook’s voyages to places including Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Vanuatu and Tahiti. They include Maori artist Steve Gibbs’ Name Changer – an attempt to restore awareness of the traditional Maori names for the region around Gisborne in New Zealand, and a work by the Aboriginal photographer and artist Michael Cook, Civilised #12, which reflects on the legacy of William Dampier, the first Briton to visit Australia (before Cook). The display can be seen in Room 91 until 4th August. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: ‘Hawaiian’ style vintage cotton shirt, decorated with designs from drawings done on Captain Cook’s voyages, Hawaii, 1970-1980. © Image The Trustees of the British Museum.

An exhibition marking the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport is running at the Jewish Museum London in Camden. Remembering the Kindertransport: 80 Years On tells the story of how in 1938-39, the British Government allowed 10,000 Jewish and other ‘non-Aryan’ children from Nazi-occupied Europe to come to Britain in a rescue operation which became known as the ‘Kindertransport’. It features the children, now in their 80s and 90s, telling their stories on film as well as personal objects and artefacts they brought with them from their homelands. Also on show is a photographic exhibition – Still in Our Hands: Kinder Life Portraits – featuring archival photographs and portraits of former Kindertransportees and another – My Home and Me – which, held in partnership with the British Red Cross, explores the journey of young refugees arriving in Britain today. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a series of events, runs until 10th February. Admission is free. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/kindertransport.

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The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.

This year marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, so it’s timely to have a look at the life of this famous Londoner.

Shelley was born on 30th August, 1797, in Somers Town, London, to feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher, novelist and journalist William Godwin. Her mother died soon after her birth, leaving her upbringing to Godwin (and his second wife Mary Jane Clairmont who apparently didn’t get on with Mary).

While she received little formal education, she was tutored in a range of subjects – everything from literature to art, French and Latin – by her father and visiting tutors. Godwin described her as having a great desire for knowledge.

She first met her future husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while still a teenager. Shelley, who was estranged from his wife, had struck up a friendship with her father and was subsequently a regular visitor to their house.

Mary and Percy began secretly meeting each other at Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave in St Pancras Churchyard and then on 28th June, 1814, the couple eloped to France, taking Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont with them but leaving Shelley’s pregnant wife behind.

They went on to Paris and then, through war-ravaged France, to Switzerland. At Lucerne, however, a lack of money forced them to turn back and they returned to London where Mary’s father refused to have anything to do with her.

Now pregnant, Mary and Shelley moved into lodgings with Claire in Somers Town and later in Nelson Square where they were known for entertaining his friends. Shelley’s wife, meanwhile, gave birth to his son – something that must have been hard for Mary – and it is believed that he was also a lover of Mary’s step-sister Claire.

Mary gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on 22nd February, 1815, but she died just 12 days later. That same year, the death of Shelley’s grandfather brought himself considerable wealth and with their financial situation now relieved, in August, 1815, they moved to Bishopgate, in Windsor Great Park. In January, 1816, Mary gave birth to her second child, a son, William.

In May, 1816, the couple travelled with their son William and Mary’s step-sister Claire to Geneva in Switzerland where they hoped to improve Percy’s health. It was during the time they spent there that a ghost-writing contest in June, 1818, led her to write what would be the basis of the novel Frankenstein – credited with introducing genre of science fiction into English literature.

Returning to England, the Shelley’s took up residence in Bath (Clairmont was pregnant by Lord Byron and they wanted to keep this from the Godwins). Harriet Shelley, Percy’s estranged wife, drowned herself in the Thames on 9th November and it was following that, that on 30th December, Mary and Percy married at St Mildred’s Church in London with Mary’s father and step-mother as witnesses.

In March, 1817, the Shelley’s took up residence in Marlow where Mary gave birth to second daughter, Clara Everina Shelley, on 2nd September. Then in March, 1818, the family – along with Claire Clairmont and her daughter – travelled to Italy where it was hoped the warmer climate would help Shelley, who had been diagnosed with pulmonary disease.

There they lived at various addresses and were in Venice when Clara died of dysentery on 24th September, 1818. They traveled to Rome in April the following year and there, on 7th June, William died of malaria, leaving the couple devastated.

Their fourth child and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, was born in Florence on 12th November. Their Italian sojourn continued for the next couple of years until, on 8th July, 1822, Percy Shelley and his friend Edward Williams were drowned in a squall in the Gulf of Spezia.

Determined to show she could write and look after her son, Mary Shelley returned to England in mid-1823 and lived in The Strand with her father and stepmother until in the summer of 1824 she moved to Kentish Town. Her novel, The Last Man, was published in 1826 followed by The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837) as well as working on numerous other writing projects.

Shelley never remarried although she was linked to various men romantically including American actor John Howard Payne whose offer of marriage she rejected.

After her son Percy left university in 1841, he came to live with her and between 1840 and 1842 Shelley travelled to various locations in Europe with her son. Sir Timothy Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s father, died in 1844 with the result that Shelley and her son were now financially independent.

Percy married Jane Gibson St John in 1848 and Mary lived her son and daughter-in-law, splitting their times between the ancestral Shelley home – Field Place in Sussex – and Chester Square in London as well as accompanying them on their travels overseas.

Shelley suffered considerable illness in the last years of her life – including debilitating headaches and bouts of paralysis in her body – before on 1st February, 1851, she died at the age of 53 from a suspected brain tumour at the Chester Square property.

She had asked to be buried with her mother and father, but Percy and Jane instead buried her at St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth closer to their home. In order to fulfill her wishes, they had the bodies of her parents exhumed from St Pancras graveyard and reburied with her.

Despite gaining respect as a writer in her own lifetime, Shelley’s reputation in the literary arts was overshadowed by that of Percy’s after her death. But in more recent decades her overall writing career has come to be more closely examined and applauded.

If you missed it, for more on Mary Shelley’s links with London, see our special series 10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London.

PICTURE: Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (oil on canvas, exhibited 1840/NPG 1235). © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be transported back to 1906 from Saturday as the palace community prepares for Christmas. Christmas Present, Christmas Past features a range of activities from carol singing around the tree to telling ghost stories (and looking at the traditions behind them) as well as live culinary demonstrations in the kitchens showing the evolution of Christmas dinner as we know it today. Meanwhile, the Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre returns next weekend (7th to 9th December) with more than 90 stalls set up in the palace courtyards selling mince pies, mulled wine and a host of other festive treats. And the palace’s ice-skating rink has returned to the Tudor West Front (and will be there until 6th January). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

Sir Edwin Landseer’s dramatic work – The Monarch of the Glen – is at the centre of a new exhibition celebrating the connections between the 19th century artist and the National Gallery. “Coming home” to the Trafalgar Square-based institution for the first time in more than 160 years, the painting – arguably the most famous animal painting in the world – is one of 14 works included in a new free show opening today. Among paintings created to decorate the Palace of Westminster after fire devastated the building in 1834, Landseer’s (1802-1873) work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, then housed in what is now the National Gallery building. It’s now on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, which acquired the work in 2017. This is the first London showing since 1983. Other works in the display include Landseer’s Ecorche drawing of a dog’s leg (1821), as well as paintings and drawings connected with the famous lions Landseer designed for Trafalgar Square including a John Ballantyne portrait of the artist modelling the lions in his studio and a work by Queen Victoria, whom Landseer tutored in etching, entitled A pencil drawing of a stag after Landseer’s mural on the Dining Room wall at Ardverikie Shooting-lodge (1847). Can be seen in Room 1 until 3rd February. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edwin Landseer, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ (about 1851), © National Galleries of Scotland

More than 40 paintings created during the final year of World War I by artist Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) go on show at the National Army Museum in Chelsea tomorrow. Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918 shows his mastery of equine subjects as well as portraiture and landscapes. Munnings was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as an official war artist to capture the fighting front and logistics behind the scenes and in early 1918 was embedded with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The exhibition has been developed by the Canadian War Museum in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum and is supported but The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation. Can be seen until 3rd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

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

The ice skating season is upon us so we thought it timely to take a look at where the oldest rink is located.

QUEENS: Skate, Dine, Bowl at 17 Queensway in Bayswater houses what’s generally said to be the oldest surviving ice skating rink in London, having opened its doors as QUEENS Ice Club on 3rd October, 1930.

It was the work of architect and entrepreneur Alfred Octavius Edwards who apparently had a passion for ice skating.

It was apparently the first rink used by the BBC for televised ice skating and a number of world and Olympic champions have skated here.

The establishment underwent a revamp a couple of years ago (although bowling lanes were added as far back as 1994) and now features a wide range of amenities including, as well as the ice rink, bowling lanes, a vintage games arcade and bars and a diner. For more on Queens, see https://queens.london.

Ice-skating. PICTURE: rawpixel/Unsplash

 

Christmas at Kew kicks off tonight with the garden landscape once again transformed into a spectacular light and sound show. Highlights from this year’s display include a ‘Field of Light’ by Brighton based artists Ithaca which reaches across the landscape towards the newly restored Great Pagoda, a laser garden by Australian studio Mandylights, 300 illuminated origami boats floating on Kew’s lake in an installation by Italian artists Asther & Hemera, ‘Firework Trees’ lit up by explosions of coloured light, a seven metre tall Cathedral of Light, a fire garden and “enchanted walkway” of giant glowing peonies and papyrus by French artists TILT and, of course, the famous Palm House finale which brings the giant glasshouse to life with a show featuring criss-crossing laser beans, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen. Santa and his helpers can be found along the trail and there is a festival fairground with a Victorian carousel as well as food and drink at a range of stalls in Victoria Plaza. Runs from 5pm on select dates until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.kew.org/christmas. PICTURE – Below: The Fire Garden/Raymond Gubbay Ltd (RBG Kew).

All 12 surviving portraits of celebrated 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters have been brought together for the first time in a major new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Gainsborough’s Family Album depicts the development of the Gainsborough girls from playful young children to fashionable adults with highlights including The Artist’s Daughters chasing a Butterfly (c1756) and The Artist’s Daughters with a Cat (c1760-1) as well as the little seen double full-length of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough as young women (c1774). More than 50 works are included in the display and a number have never been seen in the UK before. The latter include an early portrait of the artist’s father John Gainsborough (c 1746-8) and a drawing of Thomas and his wife Margaret’s pet dogs, Tristram and Fox. The display traces the career of the artist (1727-88) who, despite his passion for landscapes, painted more portraits of his family members than any other artist of the time or earlier. Together they form an “unusually comprehensive” visual record of an 18th century British kinship network, with several of its key players shown more than once at different stages of their lives. The exhibition runs until 3rd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Artist William Heath Robinson and his fascination with domestic life is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner on Saturday. Heath Robinson’s Home Life centres on the fact that from about 1930 onwards, the artist’s humour was centred on domestic life including the construction of his house, ‘The Gadgets’, at the Ideal Home Exhibition of 1934 and the release, from 1936, of the first of his ‘How to’ books, How to Live in a Flat. The display features an early series of “Ideal Home” cartoons published in 1933 and rare photographs of ‘The Gadgets’ under construction at the Ideal Home Exhibition. There’s also original artwork from How to Live in a Flat and examples of a set of nursery china that he designed for a Knightsbridge department store in 1927. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.

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A new permanent World War I memorial was unveiled at Brompton Cemetery earlier this month dedicated to the 24 members of the Royal Parks and Palaces staff who died in the Great War. The inscribed memorial stone, placed on one of the chapel’s colonnades (pictured above), also commemorates all the parks, gardens and grounds staff from across the UK who never returned from the war. It was unveiled at a service conducted by Reverend Canon Anthony Howe, Chaplain to the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, the gardens of which were managed by the Royal Parks during World War I. Meanwhile, the foundations for a new permanent wildflower meadow honouring the 2,625 Chelsea Pensioners buried in the cemetery were also laid near the Chelsea Pensioners’ monument (pictured below). The meadow will feature flowers which appeared in French fields after the Battle of the Somme including poppies, cornflowers, loosestrife, mallow and cranesbill. Two benches, positioned to either side of the Grade II-listed memorial, have been donated by the Royal Hospital Chelsea as a place for quite reflection. For more on the cemetery, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery. PICTURE: The Royal Parks/Paul Keene.

With World War I commemorations taking place last weekend, so we thought it fitting to take a look at one of the city’s memorials.

Located in Hyde Park, the Cavalry Memorial (also known as the Cavalry of the Empire Memorial), which commemorates the more than 4,000 members of the cavalry regiments killed during the “Great War”, depicts St George (patron saint of cavalry), shown as a knight, triumphing over the defeated dragon coiled beneath his horse’s hooves.

It’s said that St George was modelled on 1454 bronze effigy of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and that the horse was adapted from a 15th century engraving by Albrecht Dürer.

The pedestal underneath is decorated with a frieze of galloping horsemen from different countries within the Empire and the statue is accompanied by a stone backdrop, originally designed to shield the statue from Park Lane, upon which are bronze plates listing cavalry units from across the British Empire that served in World War I along with the names of the four cavalry officers who became field marshals – Haig, French, Allenby and Robertson.

Designed by army vet Captain Adrian Jones, the bronze sculpture was made from guns captured during the war (Jones also sculpted the Quadriga atop Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner). The Portland stone pedestal was designed by Sir John Burnet.

The Grade II*-listed memorial, which was proposed in 1920, was originally unveiled by Field Marshal John French, 1st Earl of Ypres and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on 21st May, 1924.

It was originally located at Stanhope Gate but was moved to its present site to the west, near the bandstand, in 1961 after Park Lane was widened.

For more on Hyde Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park.

For more World War I memorials in London, see our previous special series here.

Thousands of people, including Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, attended Whitehall on Sunday to take part in the National Service of Remembrance, this year marking 100 years since the end of World War I. The event included two minutes silence at 11am and wreaths were laid at the base of the Cenotaph to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in all conflicts from the World War I onwards. In an historic first, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during the ceremony. Following the service, a procession involving 10,000 members of the public who were selected by a ballot marched past the monument and through London. ALL PICTURES: Crown Copyright/Ministry of Defence.

Thousands of flames have filled the moat at the Tower of London as part of a moving light and sound display marking the centenary of the end of World War I. Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers evolves over four hours each night as the moat gradually fills with flames accompanied by a specially commissioned sound installation exploring the shifting political alliances, friendship, love and loss in a time of war. At the heart of the sound installation is a new choral work featuring the words of war poet Mary Borden taken from her Sonnets to a Soldier. The display, which can be seen at the Tower every night from 5pm to 9pm until Armistice Day on Sunday, 11th November, starts with a solemn procession led by the Tower’s Yeoman Warders who ceremonially light the first flame and then gains pace as volunteers slowly light up the rest of the installation. It’s free to view from Tower Hill and the Tower concourse. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/explore/the-tower-remembers/. PICTURES: © Historic Royal Palaces (click on the images to enlarge).


This Battersea pub’s name comes from its location on land which formerly belonged to the manor of Battersea.

Located at 2 St John’s Hill (on the corner with Falcon Road, close to Clapham Junction train station), the manor was, from the 17th century, in the possession of the St John family (hence the name of the street in which it’s located).

The family crest of the St Johns features a falcon, and so we have The Falcon pub (and, of course, Falcon Road).

A pub has been located at the site for centuries (at least since 1733) but the current Grade II-listed red brick building dates from the 1896 when it was constructed as a purpose-built hotel (with a billiard room added to the rear a few years later).

Interestingly, the pub, which has a 360 degree bar apparently partly designed by renowned Dutch artist MC Escher, once held the Guinness World Record for having the longest pub counter in England.

Other interior features include a stained glass window featuring a falcon from the St John family crest.

It’s not the only pub named The Falcon in the area – there’s another (this one’s bright yellow) pub at Clapham North with the same name.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thefalconclaphamjunctionlondon.

PICTURE: Google Maps/Streetview