This iconic and unique Arts and Crafts home in Bexleyheath in London’s east was at the centre of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Commissioned by poet, designer and artist William Morris in 1859 – and built by his friend, architect Philip Webb (with whom Morris would co-found the The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877) – the L-shaped house was designed to be a home for Morris and his new wife Jane as well as a hub for the so-called “second wave” of Pre-Raphaelites.

Described by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as “more a poem than a house”, the two storey red brick property (hence the name ‘Red House’) is characterised by elements of romanticised Gothic medieval design – including a steep gable roof, tall chimney stacks, oriel windows and stained glass – but also contains a very practical layout.

The Morrises moved in during June, 1860, and, inspired by medieval art and literature, commenced elaborately decorating the property in bold colours. The couple hung the walls with embroideries and pictures and commissioned Webb to design furnishing while others who helped with the interior decoration included Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and Edward Burne-Jones.

It was this communal response to the home’s design that is credited as leading to the founding of the decorative arts company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co – often referred to as ‘The Firm’ – in 1861.

A plan to extend the property in the mid-1860s to add workshops as well as allow Burne-Jones and his family to live there was aborted after the then pregnant Georgiana Burne-Jones contracted scarlet fever, losing the child as a result.

Meanwhile, Morris – whose two daughters Jenny and May were born in the property – was apparently discovering the home’s short-comings – including its orientation away from the sun and its distance from London. He subsequently decided to move his family back to London and in 1866 sold the property, never returning to it again.

The house remained in private hands until it was acquired by the National Trust in 2003. Morris, meanwhile, went on to lease Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire with Rossetti and is buried in the nearby churchyard of St George’s Church.

The now Grade I-listed house, which still contains original features and furnishings, is surrounded by a garden which was designed to “clothe” the property and which, as well as being informed by Arts and Crafts principles, features a beautiful conical-roofed well-house. When open, there’s a cafe and second-hand bookshop on site.

The house has an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating Morris and Webb.

For more, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.

PICTURE: Top – The property with well house in the foreground (Steve Parkinson/ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – A mural in the drawing room designed by Edward Burne-Jones depicting the marriage feast of Sir Degrevant (Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

It’s 169 years since the Crystal Palace served as the centrepiece of the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ in Hyde Park but for the first time you now have a chance to tour the building virtually. The Royal Parks, working in partnership with educational virtual reality company, Seymour & Lerhn, have recreated the grand glass and iron structure which hosted thousands of exhibits from across the globe at the 1851 exhibition which was spear-headed by Prince Albert. The building has been regenerated digitally using The Royal Commission for the Exhibition’s archive of plans and images, as well as The Royal Parks’ historical documents including old maps. The tour overlays this historic footage over the site as it is now and visitors can switch between the two as well as learn about some of the fascinating stories connected to the Great Exhibition including that of the construction of the first ever public toilets and that of the lady who walked from Cornwall to attend the display. The virtual tour is free to access at www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/the-great-exhibition-virtual-tour.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy, National Army Museum and Royal Air Force Museum are hosting their first tri-service celebration with a ‘Virtual VE Day 75 Festival’ to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. The festival runs from today until 9th May and kicks off with ‘Vying for Victory: Britain’s Navy, Army and Air Force in Myth and Memory’ featuring representatives from the museums discussing the service’s respective roles during the closing stages of World War II. Other events include a live webinar featuring historian and broadcaster James Holland speaking to the National Army Museum’s Dr Peter Johnston about ‘Why the Allies Won’, re-enactors sharing stories from real service personnel during the World War II, and an immersive walk-through of HMS Alliance which will provide insights into the isolation experience of submariners on VE Day.  For the full programme of events, head to Virtual VE Day 75 Festival.

The National Portrait Gallery is launching a new community photography project to capture a snapshot of the nation during the coronavirus lockdown. People are being encouraged to submit pictures responding to three themes – ‘Helpers and Heroes’, ‘Your New Normal’ and ‘Acts of Kindness’ – to the project which is called Hold Still. Launched by the Duchess of Cambridge, patron of the gallery, this week, the project is open to Britons of all ages and will see 100 short-listed pictures featured in a digital exhibition. The closing date for submissions is 18th June. Head to www.npg.org.uk/hold-still/ for more.

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This Chelsea home, at 24  Cheyne Row, was that of Victorian philosopher, historian and writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane.

The couple moved to the red and brown brick Queen Anne terraced house, then known as number 5 Cheyne Row, from Scotland in 1834 – it was at the time a rather unfashionable location.

They continued to rent the property until their deaths – Janes in 1866 and Thomas, the “Chelsea Sage” in 1881 – and during their time in the home, it became a hub for writers and thinkers with Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot, and William Makepeace Thackeray all among those who visited.

The property was where Carlyle wrote his most famous book, The French Revolution, A History, which almost never made it into print – he lent the only copy to John Stuart Mill and while in his possession, one of his servants accidentally threw it on the fire meaning Carlyle had to start writing the entire book again from scratch.

The four level property’s interiors are typical of those of a 19th century townhouse and include a parlour (captured as it was in 1857 in a painting by Robert Tait which hangs on the wall), drawing room, basement kitchen (where Carlyle smoked with Tennyson) and a specially designed “sound proof” attic study (it isn’t).

Inside can be found Carlyle’s original manuscripts and possessions as well as part of his original library (his hat still hangs on a peg in the entrance hall). Outside there’s a small walled garden which featured flowers and vegetables as well as plants to remind Jane of Scotland.

The Grade II*-listed property, which dates from 1708, was first opened to the public in 1895. It was taken over the by the National Trust in 1936.

For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house/

PICTURE: Peter Reed (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Pimlico establishment consisted of a tavern and attached tea garden which were famous for their interactive wonders.

These included mechanical devices which, when triggered, would cause harlequins or monsters to pop-up in order to give patrons a thrill.

There were also floating models on an adjacent reservoir designed to give the impression of mermaids or great fish rising up out of the water. Other attractions in the garden included its many arbors, a grotto, bowling green and the chance to take part in skittles or duck hunting.

The red brick property, which was located at the end of Ebury Bridge (apparently also referred to as “Jenny’s Whim Bridge”), is said to have been named for an early proprietor or, among other alternative stories, after a famous pyrotechnician from the era of King George I.

While the gardens were popular with the middle classes during the 1700s, this popularity had waned by the turn of the 19th century and by 1804 only the tavern remained. It was demolished in 1865 to make way for an extension of Victoria Station.

PICTURE: Guy Bianco IV/Unsplash

Have an item that shows how your life has changed since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in London in January? 

The Museum of London is seeking to build a collection of objects and first-hand experiences related to the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to ensure future generations of Londoners will be able to learn about and understand this extraordinary period in the city’s history.

The museum, which already holds collections related to disease outbreaks such as the 1889 -1893 and 1918 flu pandemics, is looking for both physical and digital objects related to three main themes – how the physical spaces in the city have been transformed, the effects on key and home workers, and how children and young people are reacting to and coping with the changes now that many schools are closed.

Like those in existing pandemic-related collections – such as the dress Queen Victoria wore to mourn the loss of her grandson to influenza in 1892 (pictured – right) or an 1832 cholera notice issued for St Katharine Docks (pictured – top), the COVID-19-related objects will serve as a reminder of the suffering people are experiencing but also tell the story of the pandemic’s effect on society and culture.

“Londoners, like millions of people around the world, have to find ways of coping with the new life the epidemic has imposed,” says Beatrice Behlen, senior curator at the Museum of London.

“This is a major moment in the capital’s history and we want to collect a range of objects, from clothing to hairclippers, from diaries to memes that reflect the physical and emotional response of Londoners to COVID-19. The Museum of London always strives to tell the story of London and its people. We feel it is imperative to capture this time for future generations, to help us understand how this city dealt with an extraordinary situation.“

Individuals and organisations who would like to donate objects should get in touch via social media @MuseumofLondon or email enquiry@museumoflondon.org.uk.

PICTURES: Top – Printed cholera notice issued by the Secretary of St Katharine Dock Company; Right – Dress ensemble, 1892. Worn by Queen Victoria when in mourning for her grandson, the Duke of Clarence, who died in the flu pandemic in 1893. (© Museum of London)

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More than 60 of these shelters were built at major cab stands around London between 1875 and 1914 in order to allow cabmen to seek refreshment without leaving their vehicle.

The narrow, rectangular, green huts were constructed by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund – which was established in 1875 by a philanthropically-minded group including the newspaper publisher Sir George Armstrong and the  Earl of Shaftesbury (the group also had the support of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII).

The story goes that it was Sir George who pushed the idea forward after a servant he sent to find a cab in some inclement weather took a long time in returning thanks to the fact the cabbies were all off seeking a hot meal in nearby pubs.

The shelters, which police specified were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart given their position on a public highway, were initially very simple in design but become more ornamental as time went on (architect Maximilian Clarke, who designed a shelter for Northumberland Avenue which was built in 1882, was a key proponent of this more ornate style).

Most were staffed by attendants who sold food and drink to the cabbies (there were also kitchen facilities for them to cook their own as well as tables to sit at and a variety of reading materials). Drinking and gambling, as well as swearing, were apparently strictly forbidden.

The first of these shelters, which reportedly cost around £200 each, was erected in Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, but that shelter is long gone. Just 13 of the huts now survive and all are Grade II-listed. They have various nicknames assigned to them by London’s cabbies – one on Kensington Road, for example, is apparently known as ‘The All Nations’ thanks to its proximity to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, while another at Temple Place is simply known as ‘The Temple’.

As to which is the oldest?

Well, that’s proved a bit of a vexed question. According to listings on the Historic England website, the oldest we could find dated from 1897. They included one located in Hanover Square, another in Russell Square (this having been relocated from its previous position in Leicester Square), and a third in Thurloe Place in South Kensington, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum.

But there were three for which we could find no details of the date on which they were built. They include one on the Chelsea Embankment near the Albert Bridge, another in St George’s Square in Pimlico, and the final one in Wellington Place in St John’s Wood near Lord’s cricket ground.

Update: According to our cabbie correspondent – see comments below – the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund have said the oldest shelter is that in Kensington Park Road, which they dated to 1877. Historic England have this one listed as dating 1909 – perhaps a rebuild?

Correction: The shelter known as ‘The All Nations’ is in Kensington Road, not Kensington Park Road as originally reported.

PICTURES: Top – The Russell Square shelter (David Nicholls, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Below – the Cabmen’s Shelter in Thurloe Place opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (Amanda Slater, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

We decided to continue with our Wednesday series. While the properties are all currently closed, we hope you’ll still enjoy exploring them with us online until the day they reopen…

Hackney property Sutton House –  originally known simply as ‘the bryk place’ – was built by Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), a courtier  who started out in the service of Thomas Cromwell but rose to become Principal Secretary of State to King Henry VIII. Sadleir, who had married a cousin of Cromwell, had the property constructed in 1535 as his family home.

Sadleir – who makes an appearance in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels and who, as well as being of service to King Henry VIII, also served King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – sold the property just 15 years later. The red brick house – now said to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Hackney – subsequently passed through numerous hands with its owners apparently including merchants, a sea captain and French Huguenot refugees. In 1751, it was divided into two residences – Ivy House and Milford House.

The property housed a boy’s school in the early 1800s – novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was among those who attended – and later became a girl’s school. The rector of Hackney bought the premises in 1891 and used it as a base for the St John at Hackney Church Institute, a social and recreational centre for young men.  His modifications included turning part of the cellars into a chapel.

Mistakenly named after the founder of the Charterhouse School, Thomas Sutton (he actually lived in a now demolished adjacent property), Sutton House was bought by the National Trust in the 1930s using the proceeds of a bequest made in memory of two men killed in World War I.

Among its various roles, the building served as a centre for fire wardens during World War II and, from the 1960s, serving as the offices of a trade union. After the union left in the 1980s, the house fell into disrepair and in 1982 squatters moved in and it was renamed ‘the Blue House’. Several murals from this period – when rock concerts were held in the barn – are preserved into the house.

The squatters were evicted and in the late Eighties, a society was formed with the aim of saving the house. Following renovations, the house opened to the public in 1994. These days the Grade II*-listed home is used as a museum and art gallery. There’s also a shop and cafe.

While the facade of the house underwent some changes during the Georgian era, the property’s interior remains essentially Tudor. Highlights include the kitchen, oak panelled chambers, carved fireplaces and, of course, the cellars.

The National Trust reclaimed some adjacent land to create an award winning garden known as the Breaker’s Yard. The name comes from the fact the land was once occupied by a car breaker’s yard.

There’s said to be a couple of ghosts who reside in the house including wailing dogs and a mysterious ‘blue lady’.

The property, which stands in Homerton High Street, is temporarily closed but for more information, check the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house-and-breakers-yard.

ALL PICTURES: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Please note: Exploring London is aware that sites across London have closed temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But we’re continuing our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

Located at 5 Strand Lane in the West End, these brick-lined baths were long-reputed to be of Roman origin. But they are actually believed to be the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to supply water to fountain in the gardens of Old Somerset House.

The fountain had been built by French engineer, Salomon de Caus, after he was commissioned to do so as part of King James I’s efforts to refurbish Somerset House for Queen Anne of Denmark.

Following the demolition of the fountain, the cistern was neglected until the 1770s when the cistern was used a public cold plunge bath attached to a property at 33 Surrey Street. A second bath, called the ‘Essex Bath’ was added (it’s now under the nearby KCL Norfolk Building).

The idea that they were Roman is believed to have originated in the 1820s when the bath was so described as an advertising gimmick (Charles Dickens’ helped popularise the idea in his book David Copperfield – it is believed Dickens himself may have bathed here).

The 1.3 metre deep bath passed through a couple of different hands in the ensuing decades including Oxford Street draper Henry Glave and Rev William Pennington Bickford, the Rector of St Clement Danes, who, believing in the bath’s Roman origins, hoped to turn them into a tourist attraction.

But his plans came to nothing due to a lack of funds and following his death, in 1944, the National Trust agreed to take on ownership while London County Council agreed to see to its maintenance. They reopened the baths, following repairs, in 1951.

These days, while owned by the Trust, the baths are managed by Westminster Council.

WHERE: 5 Strand Lane (nearest Tube station is Temple); WHEN: While National Trust properties are temporarily closed, viewings are usually arranged through Westminster Council and Somerset House Old Palaces tour; COST: Free; WEBSITE:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/strand-lane-roman-baths.

PICTURE: Michael Trapp (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This unusually named Soho pub dates from the late 19th century although there is said to have been a pub here in the corner of Great Pulteney and Beak Streets since at least 1756.

The name relates to the fact that a significant Swiss population was once based in the area.

The pub was previously known as The Sun but that was destroyed by fire. When the rebuilt premises opened in 1882, ’13 Cantons’ was added to the name as a tribute to its many Swiss patrons (the Old Swiss Confederacy consisted of 13 cantons, although the number had grown past that in the early 19th century).

During the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, the now Grade II-listed pub became associated with the film and television industry which had made Soho its home – among those said to have patronised it were directors like Alan Parker and Ridley Scott as well as actors like Oliver Reed, Peter O’Toole and, more recently, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Russell Crowe and Gemma Arterton.

The pub has also hosted DJ nights in the basement bar in the late Nineties – Carl Cox and the Dust Brothers (which became the Chemical Brothers) were among those who worked their magic here.

The pub, which has recently undergone a refurbishment, is now part of the Fullers Group. For more, see www.sunand13cantons.co.uk.

PICTURES: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

World famous British photographer Cecil Beaton’s portraits from the “golden age” of the 1920s and 1930s are being celebrated in a shiny new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things features some 150 works, many rarely exhibited, which Beaton took in the 1920s and 1930s depicting the “extravagant world of the glamorous and stylish”. The subjects include the likes of artists Rex Whistler and Stephen Tennant, modernist poets Iris Tree and Nancy Cunard, the glamorous socialites Edwina Mountbatten and Diana Guinness (née Mitford), and actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Anna May Wong as well as less well-known figures like eccentric composer and aesthete Lord Berners, the artist and Irish patriot Hazel, Lady Lavery, and Lady Alexander, whose husband produced Oscar Wilde’s comedies and who became an early patron of Beaton’s. Beaton’s own life story and his relationship with the sitters is woven into the exhibition including through self-portraits and images of him  taken by contemporaries. Runs until 7th June. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE:  The Bright Young Things at Wilsford by Cecil Beaton, 1927. © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive.

The theme of female subjects depicted in ornate, enclosed interiors – one prevalent in 19th century British painting – is at the centre of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery on Friday. The Enchanted Interior, being presented in partnership with Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, showcases works in styles ranging from the high Victorian through to Art Nouveau, Aestheticism, Surrealism, and pieces by contemporary female artists which ‘speak back’ to the historic tradition. Artists whose work is represented include Edward Burne-Jones, Evelyn De Morgan, James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Emily Sandys, Jessica Woodman, Fiona Tan, John William Waterhouse and Clementina Hawarden. Admission charge applies. Runs until 14th June. For more, follow this link.

The works of iconic 20th century American artist Andy Warhol are being showcased in a new exhibition at Tate Modern. Andy Warhol, the first exhibition on the artist at the gallery in 20 years, features more than 100 works. Among them are key pieces from the pop period – Marilyn Diptych (1962), Elvis I and II (1963/1964) and Race Riot (1964) – as well as Screen Tests (1964–6), the floating Silver Clouds (1966) installation, and a recreation of the psychedelic multimedia environment of Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966) originally produced for the Velvet Underground rock shows. Also included are later works like his 1975 Ladies and Gentlemen series and Sixty Last Suppers (1986). Runs until 6th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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A Roman Catholic located in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Sardinian Embassy Chapel went through several incarnations prior to its destruction in the early 20th century.

A Franciscan chapel was founded on the site in the mid-17th century – it was sacked during the Glorious Revolution – but by the early 18th century the chapel which stood here served the Embassy of the Kingdom of Sicily.

Because embassy chapels – of which this was apparently the oldest in London – were viewed as the sovereign territory of the state they belonged to, Catholic worship was permitted there (despite being illegal elsewhere in England) and English Catholics were among those who attended services (among those said to have done so was James Boswell).

Those English subjects who attended were on occasion harassed for doing so and the chapel itself was attacked several times over its existence including in the Gordon Riots of 1780 which left it significantly damaged (but following government compensation, it was restored and reopened in 1781).

In 1798, the Sardinian Ambassador closed the chapel but thanks to a generous Catholic purchaser, it – and the embassy itself – passed into the hands of Bishop John Douglass, vicar-apostolic of the London district.

Repaired, the chapel was reopened in 1799 (although it was no longer part of the Sardinian Embassy, it continued to be under the patronage of the King of Sardinia until the 1850s). In the mid-1850s, the name of the chapel was changed to the Church of St Anselm and St Cecilia.

The chapel building was demolished in 1909 due to the creation of the Kingsway. A new site for the church was created a little further north on Kingsway where it remains today.

Inside the church are some of the fittings from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel including a marble font, an organ dating from 1857, the coat-of-arms of the House of Savoy, a large painting of the ‘Deposition’ (Christ’s descent from the cross), and the Lady Altar. The plate from the Sardinian Embassy Chapel is now in the V&A.

PICTURE: Sardinia Street, on the corner with Kingsway. The name of the street commemorates the site of the Sardinian Embassy and chapel.

Two World War II spies, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and and a leading figure in the British military’s women’s corps in World War I are among women being honoured with Blue Plaques this year. English Heritage unveiled plans this week for six female-focused plaques with the first to celebrate Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967), a botanist and leader of women in the armed forces during the ‘Great War’. Others will honour Christine Granville (1908-1952) – who served as Britain’s longest-serving female SOE agent in World War II, Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) – Britain’s first Muslim war heroine and the first female radio operator working in Nazi-occupied France, and ground-breaking 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Blue Plaques will also be unveiled at the former headquarters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Westminster and the Women’s Social and Political Union in Holborn. While only 14 per cent of the more than 950 Blue Plaques in London commemorate women, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. This year will be only the second the organisation has unveiled as many as six plaques honouring women. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The brief career of controversial artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain this week. Aubrey Beardsley features some 200 works in the largest display of his original drawings in more than 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at the Tate since 1923. Highlights include key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career – a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1893-4), Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1893) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1896) – as well as bound editions and plates of the literary quarterly The Yellow Book, of which he was art director. There’s also a collection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) The Peacock Skirt – illustration for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ (1893), lineblock print on paper, Stephen Calloway Photo: © Tate

The first major UK exhibition on the kimono – described as the “ultimate symbol of Japan” – has opened at the V&A. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk examines the sartorial and social significance of the kimono spanning the period from the 1660s to today. Highlights include a kimono created by ‘Living National Treasure’ Kunihiko Moriguchi, an Alexander McQueen-designed dress worn by Björk on the cover of the album Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. There are also designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano. The exhibition features more than 315 works including kimonos but also paintings, prints, films and dress accessories. Can be seen in Gallery 39 and the North Court until 21st June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kimono.

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A forgotten door built for festivities surrounding the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 has been rediscovered in the Houses of Parliament. 

The door, hidden behind panelling in cloister formerly used as offices by the Parliamentary Labour Party, was originally constructed to allow guests at the coronation to make their way to his celebratory banquet in Westminster Hall.

It was subsequently used by the likes of Robert Walpole, often referred to as the first Prime Minister as well as architect-led rivals Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, and diarist Samuel Pepys.

The door and passageway behind it survived the fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834 but it was thought the passage had been filled in during restoration works after the Palace of Westminster was bombed in World War II.

Liz Hallam Smith, an historical consultant from the University of York who is working with the team undertaking the renovations, said they were trawling through “10,000 uncatalogued documents relating to the palace at the Historic England Archives in Swindon, when we found plans for the doorway in the cloister behind Westminster Hall”.

“As we looked at the paneling closely, we realised there was a tiny brass key-hole that no-one had really noticed before, believing it might just be an electricity cupboard,” she said. “Once a key was made for it, the paneling opened up like a door into this secret entrance.”

In the small room behind the door, the team discovered the original hinges for two wooden doors some three-and-a-half meters high that would have opened into Westminster Hall. They also found graffiti, scribbled in pencil by bricklayers who worked on the restoration of the palace in 1851 following the 1834 fire.

One section reads “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale” and another, “These masons were employed refacing these groines…[ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats”, the latter a reference suggesting the men were part of the working class male suffrage Chartist movement.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, described the find as “part of our parliamentary history”: “To think that this walkway has been used by so many important people over the centuries is incredible.”

PICTURE: Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the door (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

 

The world of mushrooms is explored in a new exhibition opening tomorrow at Somerset House. Part of the Charles Russell Speechly’s Terrace Rooms Series, Mushrooms: The art, design and future of fungi is curated by writer Francesca Gavin and features works by more than 35 artists, designers and musicians in an exploration of “the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism, the ideas it inspires in the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic, and the powerful promise it offers to reimagine society’s relationship with the planet, inspiring new thinking around design and architecture”. Highlights include watercolours by renowned author Beatrix Potter (one of which is pictured), American artist Cy Twombly’s quasi-scientific portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974), and a spectacular floral display, featuring mushrooms grown in Somerset House’s former coalholes, by the London Flower School. The free exhibition, which runs until 26th April, is accompanied by a series of events. For more, see somersethouse.org.uk/mushrooms. PICTURE: Beatrix Potter, Hygrophorus puniceus, pencil and watercolour, 7.10.1894, collected at Smailholm Tower, Kelso, courtesy of the Armitt Trust

A newly commissioned film which reimagines Tower Bridge as a musical instrument is at the heart of a new exhibition which opened in the bridge’s Victorian Engine Rooms this week. Created by internationally acclaimed artist, inventor and filmmaker Di Mainstone to mark the bridge’s 125th anniversary, Time Bascule draws inspiration from Hannah Griggs, one of the first women to work at the bridge (in her case as a cook for the Bridge Master and his family between 1911-1915). The display also includes behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards and early sketches, as well as the opportunity for visitors to play a range of specially created musical instruments. Runs until March. Included in admission to the bridge. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, La Ghirlandata, is being unveiled at the Guildhall Art Gallery today following a year-long restoration. William Russell, Lord Mayor of the City of London, is unveiling the portrait which was painted in 1873. Conversation work undertaken included cleaning the painting to reveal a “brighter, fresher scene with a cooler tonality”, repairing and cleaning Rossetti’s original frame, and replaced the deteriorating living canvas. The restoration was made possible thanks to a grant from the Bank of America.

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Set into a wall of the V&A’s John Madejski Garden in South Kensington are two small plaques – one dedicated to “Jim” and another to “Tycho”. Both, as one of the plaques records, were dogs, at least one of which belonged to the museum’s first director, Sir Henry Cole.

Jim was a Yorkshire terrier who died at Sir Henry’s home on 30th January, 1879, at the age of (as the plaque records) 15 years.

Sir Henry wrote in his diary on that day that “Jimmy”, who died very quietly apparently of “asthma and cold”, had been portrayed in Punch with him (although it was actually in Vanity Fair in 1871) and “was a character in the Museum”.

While Jim’s story is fairly well known, there’s a little more mystery surrounding the identity of Tycho, which the plaques records as a “faithful dog” who who died in 1885.

But according to Nicholas Smith, an archivist based at the V&A Archive and his meticulously researched blog post on the matter, Tycho is also mentioned in Cole’s diary – not as his own dog but as that of his son Alan. Indeed, one diary entry records Tycho fighting with another dog (presumably Cole senior’s) named Pickle. Which as Smith points out, begs the question of why no plaque for Pickle?

Both Jim and Tycho are believed to be buried in the garden where the plaques can be seen (which may explain the lack of a plaque for Pickle).

PICTURE: Steve and Sara Emry (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

We’ve entered a new year but before we leave 2019 completely behind, here’s quick look at four sites in London that were put on the National Heritage List for England last year…

1. Sainsbury Supermarket, Camden TownListed at Grade II, it was the first purpose-built supermarket to be placed on the National Heritage List. The store was built in 1986-88 as part of Grand Union Complex designed by architectural practice Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners.

2. The Curtain Playhouse, Shoreditch. A scheduled monument, the theatre dates from about 1577 and hosted performances of Romeo and Juliet during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as well as Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour with Shakespeare himself listed as a performer. Archaeological investigations in the years from 2011-16 revealed parts of the stage as well as the wings, galleries and yards and 17th century structures which showed the later use of the site as tenement housing.

3. Nursemaid’s Tunnel, Regent’s Park. Grade II listed, this is one of the earliest surviving pedestrian subways in London. It was built under New Road (now Marylebone Road) – linking Park Crescent with gardens in Park Square – in 1821 after residents campaigned for its construction due to the dangers of navigating the busy road (especially for children being taken to the playground by their nursemaids).

4. Cabman’s Shelter, corner Northumberland Avenue and Embankment Place. Grade II-listed, this still-in-use shelter was built in 1915 on the orders of the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. It was based on Maximilian Clarke’s original design of 1882 and is one of just 13 examples to survive in London.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

This bronze statue located at Tobacco Dock in Wapping commemorates an incident in 1857 in which a newly arrived Bengal tiger escaped from its wooden crate, terrorised the local population and absconded with a boy in its mouth.

The tiger, along with various other animals, had just arrived at a premises on Betts Street, just off the Ratcliffe Highway, which was owned by exotic animal trader Charles Jamrach, the man behind Jamrach’s Animal Emporium, when it made its break for freedom.

The boy, variously said to be seven, eight or nine-years-old, had apparently approached the tiger to pet it when the tiger took the boy by his jacket and carried him off in its mouth, presumably looking for a quiet place to consume its prey.

Jamrach followed, subsequently bailing up the tiger and, thrusting his cane into the big cat’s throat, forcing it to let go of the no-doubt terrified boy.

The tiger, which was guided back to its cage after the event, was subsequently sold for £300 to George Wombwell and went on to become a popular tourist attraction in his travelling menagerie.

Despite being relatively unharmed, the boy (variously described as seven, eight or nine, however, sued Jamrach and was awarded some £300 in damages – the same amount Jamrach had sold the animal for.

The statue is located near where the event happened by Tobacco Dock’s Pennington Street entrance.

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Thanks to Guinness World Records, Pearson Cycles in Sutton, south-west London, is officially not just London’s but the world’s oldest bicycle shop.

The premises was established by blacksmith Tom Pearson in about 1860 (when Sutton was still a town in Surrey and not at that stage part of London) and he soon found his skills put to use in working on bicycles.

In 1889, Tom was succeeded by his son Harry who moved full-time into the manufacture of bicycles with the Endeavour the first model.

The shop, at 126 High Street in Sutton, is now run by a fifth generation of the family, Guy and Will Pearson. The company also has a shop in East Sheen.

PICTURE: Tony Monblat (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

Last month marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of leading English novelist George Eliot – actually the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. 

Born in Warwickshire on 22nd November, 1819, Evans was the third child of Robert Evans, an estate manager, and Christiana Evans, daughter of a local mill owner.

Described as a “voracious reader” from an early age, she was a boarder at various schools up until the age of 16 when, following the death of her mother, she returned home to act as housekeeper (she apparently continued her education in the library of Arbury Hall, the property her father managed).

In 1841, when her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, she moved with her father to Foleshill near Coventry. There, they met Charles and Cara Bray – Charles was a wealthy ribbon maker and religious free-thinker who used his wealth to establish schools and hospitals to help improve conditions of the poor.

Thanks to her friendship with the Brays, Evans came into contact at their house, Rosehill, with the likes of Welsh social reformer Robert Owen, Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, and American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as German theologian David Friedrich Strauss and German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (in fact, her first major literary work was the completion of an English translation of Strauss’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and she also later translated Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity).

Evans, who was a devout evangelical Christian in her youth, lived with her father until his death in 1849. She had questioned her faith some years before but after she’d informed her father she would no longer go to church, they had reached a compromise under which she had been free to think as she wished as long as she continued to attend church.

Following her father’s death, Evans – now 30 – had visited Switzerland and, following her return to England, moved to London to pursue a career in writing.

In London, Evans initially stayed in the Strand home of radical publisher John Chapman, whom she’d met through the Brays. She eventually went on staff at his left-wing journal, The Westminster Review – becoming, in time, Chapman’s right-hand, the editor in fact if not in title, at publication by the time she left in 1854.

At that time she moved in with journalist George Henry Lewes, who had met her several years earlier. He was still married to Agnes Jervis, despite her having born to children to another man, and the new couple’s relationship caused a great scandal, leading many to shun Evans. The couple travelled together to Germany for research and thereafter Lewes and Evans apparently considered themselves married.

While she had stories published in magazines in the years earlier, her first novel, Adam Bede, was published under the pseudonym George Eliot in 1859 (she’d first used the pseudonym on a short story, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, published in 1857). Much acclaimed, the public interest surrounding the novel led Evans – who now called herself Marian Evans Lewes – to acknowledge the work as hers – a revelation which came as a shock to many given her unconventional private life but which, despite that, failed to dent the novel’s popularity.

Encouraged by Lewes, she wrote several novels over the next 15 years including The Mill on the Floss in 1860, Silas Marner in 1861, Romola in 1863, Felix Holt, the Radical in 1866 and her most acclaimed novel (sometimes described as the greatest English novel ever written), Middlemarch in 1871-72. Her final novel, Daniel Deronda, was published in 1876.

Celebrated for the depth of her characterisations and her descriptions of English rural life, she was recognised as the greatest English novelist of her time.

The couple, meanwhile, lived in several properties in London – including one in Richmond, ‘Holly Lodge’ in Wimbledon Park Road, Wandsworth (it was the first property south of the Thames to be marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque), and ‘The Priory’ near Regent’s Park in Marylebone.

Eliot’s success as a novelist saw the couple gradually gain social acceptance – in an indication that can be seen in that Charles Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Henry James and Frederic Leighton were all among those entertained at The Priory in the couple’s latter years together.

Lewes died in 1878 and two years later, on 16th May, 1880, Lewes married John Cross – a longstanding friend who was 20 years younger and who had provided comfort following the loss of her husband.

Following their honeymoon in Venice, the couple returned to London where they lived at a property in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (an English Heritage Blue Plaque marks the property).

It was to be a short-lived marriage – soon after moving into their new home, Mary Ann (now) Cross fell ill with a throat infection and coupled with the kidney disease she had suffered for several years, she died on 22nd December of that year at age 61.

Eliot was buried in Highgate Cemetery beside Lewes. A memorial stone was erected in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner in 1980.

PICTURES: Top – George Eliot, replica by François D’Albert Durade, oil on canvas, 1850-1886, based on a work of 1850, 13 1/2 in. x 10 1/2 in. (343 mm x 267 mm), Purchased 1905, Primary Collection, NPG 1405; Below – The English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Cheyne Walk property (Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0))