An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.

A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.

An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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This Holborn square was laid out in the 1680s by property speculator Nicholas Barbon and took its name from the Red Lion Inn which once stood here.

The inn, incidentally, is said to be the place where the exhumed bodies of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law (and Parliamentarian general) Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, president of the parliamentary commission to try King Charles I, lay the night before they were taken to Tyburn where they were desecrated (there’s a story that the bodies were switched that night and the real men lay buried in a pit in a square).

The square was laid out on what had been known as Red Lion fields and there were apparently some physical scuffles between the workmen, led by Barbon, and lawyers of Gray’s Inn who objected to the loss of their rural vistas.

The square, meanwhile, soon became a fashionable part of the city – among early residents was Judge Bernard Halle – but by the mid-19th century, its reputation had slumped only to move up again in later years.

Famous residents included Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1851 and William Morris who lived in a flat on the southern side of the square with Edward Burne-Jones in the later 1850s. The art deco Summit House was built in 1925 on the former residence of John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer. Jonas Hanway, the first man to walk London’s streets with an umbrella, apparently also lived on the square.

The square today is home to the Royal College of Anaesthetists and Conway Hall, home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society (in fact, it was Conway Hall which was at the centre of one of the most famous incidents in the square – clashes between anti-fascist protestors and National Front members and subsequent police response which took place on 15th June, 1974, and left a university student, Kevin Gately, dead.

The garden in the centre of the square features a statue of anti-war activist Fenner Brockway and a bust of philosopher, essayist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell.

PICTURE: Top – View across part of the square (Google maps)/Below – Fenner Brockway statue (Matt Brown/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Located at 9 Stoney Street (on the corner with Park Street) in Borough, overlooking Borough Market, this establishment is the latest incarnation of the pubs which have occupied this site since the early part of the 17th century.

Previously called The Harrow, the current name, which dates from the 1890s, no doubt owes at least part of its story to the proximity to the market and the patronage of the porters that worked there.

It may also have something to do with being the site of the killing of market porter Alfred Howe. He was slain by Edward Lamb outside the pub on 15th February, 1890, when he plunged an umbrella into Howe’s eye during an altercation. Lamb, indicted on manslaughter charges, was subsequently acquitted.

It’s been suggested the subsequent name change might have been due to the notoriety the incident attracted but, whatever the truth of the story behind the name, the pub is now famed for its ales as well as for doubling as the location for the ‘Third Hand Book Emporium’ in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The pub is part of the Market Taverns group. For more, see www.themarketporter.co.uk.

PICTURES: Top – Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – Google Maps

This year marks 125 years since the opening of Tower Bridge.

The bridge, which took eight years to build and was designed by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones in collaboration with engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry, was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).

Others among the tens of thousands who turned out to mark the historic event were the Duke of York (later King George V), Lord Mayor of London Sir George Robert Tyler and members of the Bridge House Estates Committee.

A procession of carriages carrying members of the royal family had set out from Marlborough House that morning, stopping at Mansion House on its way to the bridge.

Once there, it drove back and forth across before official proceedings took place in which the Prince of Wales pulled a lever to set in motion the steam-driven machinery which raised the two enormous bascules and allowed a huge flotilla of craft of all shapes and sizes to pass under it.

The event was also marked with a gun salute fired from the Tower of London.

Plaques commemorating the opening can be found at either end of the bridge. The event was also captured in a famous painting by artist William Lionel Wyllie who had attended with his wife. The painting is now held at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Tower Bridge has been running a series of special events to mark the anniversary this year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Tower Bridge today. PICTURE: Charles Postiaux/Unsplash

 

The oldest existing French patisserie in London is said to be Maison Bertaux, based in Greek Street in Soho. 

The premises, where you can still indulge in delights including eclairs, croissants and delectable fruit tarts, was founded in 1871 by one Monsieur Bertaux, apparently a French communard from Paris.

It lies at the heart of what was then the city’s French community and located at number 28, stands next door to another Soho landmark, the Coach and Horses pub.

Bertaux apparently ran the business until 1909 and it’s since passed through a number of hands with current owners, sisters Michele and Tania Wade, reported as having taken over in 1988.

Famous patrons have reportedly included writers Virginia Woolf and Karl Marx,  actors Steve McQueen and Nicole Kidman, artist Grayson Perry and musician Bob Geldof. The patisserie also famously made Lily Allen’s wedding cake and hosted the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s 25th birthday party.

Bastille Day celebrations are, of course, a highlight of the year.

For more, see www.maisonbertaux.com.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

More than 17,500 photographs, prints and private and official papers relating to Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, have been published online. Launched last week, the new website Prince Albert: His Life and Legacy sheds fresh light on Albert’s role as Queen Victoria’s unofficial private secretary and as guide and mentor to some of the greatest national projects of his day as well as his various roles as a university chancellor, art historian, collector, and art and architecture patron. The website is part of the Prince Albert Digitisation Project which, by the end of 2020, will see some 23,500 items from the Royal Archives, the Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 published online. PICTURE: After Roger Fenton, Prince Albert, May, 1854, 1889 copy of the original (Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019).

Sheep have returned to Hampstead Heath for a week-long trial of an initiative aimed at replacing mowing with more natural grazing. The pilot project, which is being managed by the City of London Corporation in partnership with Heath & Hampstead Society, Heath Hands, Historic England, Mudchute Park & Farm and Rare Breeds Survival Trust, involves five sheep and will focus on The Tumulus on the Heath, an ancient Roman monument. If successful, the sheep – which include Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn – will take their grazing talents to other areas.

Staff from the Tate galleries are showcasing their own artworks in a new free exhibition at the Tate Modern. The first Tate Staff Biennale, which can be seen for free in Tate Exchange on level five of the Blavatnik Building, features the work of 133 staff members from all four Tate Galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives – and has been curated by the Inside Job Collective – a group of Tate staff dedicated to championing the work of colleagues who are also practicing artists. The biennale is inspired by ‘movement’, the theme of this year’s Tate Exchange, an experimental platform at the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool which brings together the public, artists and associate partner organisations. Can be seen until 3rd September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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There are numerous monuments commemorating Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in London, including the well-known Albert Memorial and Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace

But for this series, we’re finishing with a look at a couple of much lesser – and certainly less grand – surviving monuments which adorn a Mayfair building. But it is one of the rare memorials in London which feature both the Queen and the Prince (albeit looking in different directions).

Located at 121 Mount Street (on the corner with Mount Street Mews), is a Victoria-era building now housing the Delfino Pizzeria. The facade, on the first floor, features a bust of Queen Victoria looking down on Mount Street and a bust of Prince Albert looking down on Mount Street Mews.

The Grade II-listed building on which the busts are located is part of a development constructed in the mid-1880s by James Trant Smith. The sculptor is apparently unknown.

Obviously, Prince Albert died in late 1861, well before the building was constructed, but Queen Victoria lived until 1901.

PICTURES: Google Maps.

That’s it for the current series – we’ll be launching a new Wednesday series in a couple of weeks.

The Crystal Palace was the most famous remnant of the 1851 Great Exhibition but there is another less grand monument – and both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had a connection to it.

Originally constructed for display at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, the Prince Consort Model Lodge, also known as Prince Albert’s Model Cottage, was designed by architect Henry Roberts for the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes.

Prince Albert was president of the society which turned to him for support when it was initially refused permission to build the model home in the exhibition’s grounds and, as a result, it was eventually agreed it could be build close to them at the Knightsbridge Cavalry Barracks.

The two storey red brick cottage (the bricks were hollow, an innovation aimed at making the homes sound-proof and fire-proof as well as cheaper to build) actually contained homes for four families – each with a living room, a scullery, a parent’s bedroom and two other bedrooms as well as a water closet.

Among the estimated 250,000 people who visited the homes were Queen Victoria – who did so on 12th July, 1851, lavishing praise on her husband’s project – as well as writer Charles Dickens and philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts.

Following the closure of the exhibition, the home was dismantled and rebuilt on the edge of Kennington Park in 1853 (the park became a public recreation ground the following year and was subsequently the first public park in south London). It can still be seen on the Kennington Park Road side of the park today with improvements including the addition of a porch on the rear.

Interestingly, the cottage is decorated with mosaic tiles featuring intertwined ‘V’s’ and ‘A’s’ – the initials of the royal couple, a motif which is repeated in brickwork on the cottage’s sides. There’s also an inscription on the front which reads ‘Model houses for families • Erected by HRH Prince Albert’.

The model cottage, which has previously served as a home for the park’s superintendent, has been the headquarters of Trees for Cities since 2003. It’s also been featured on a new British stamp this year, among a series marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prince.

And, yes, the design was adopted for homes built in several other locations including Stepney and Kensington in London and Hertfordshire as well as in locations overseas including The Hague, St Petersburg and Brussels.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

This London institution, located at 16 Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, is famous for its association with Bohemians and intellectuals including artists Augustus John and Jacob Epstein, and writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell, all of whom frequented the pub.

The name of the pub, which is from where Fitzrovia gets its name, comes from the Fitzroy family, the Dukes of Grafton, who owned much of the land in the area.

More specifically it was Charles Fitzroy, 1st Baron Southampton and the great-grandson of the first duke (Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II), who first developed the northern part of the area, building Fitzroy Square (Fitzroy Street also carries the family name as does Grafton Way).

The pub apparently started life as a coffee house in the early 1880s but had been converted into an establishment where stronger drinks were served in 1897. It was originally known as The Hundred Marks but rebranded The Fitzroy Tavern in 1919.

Other luminaries associated with the pub have included Nina Hamnett, the so-called ‘Queen of Bohemia’, her friend American poet Ezra Pound, MPs Michael Foot and Barbara Castle, and, the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley.

Thanks to the man responsible for converting the establishment into a pub, proprietor Judah ‘Pop’ Kleinfeld, the establishment was also the birthplace of a charity called Pennies from Heaven which raised money for underprivileged children.

The story goes that having witnessed the loser of a darts match throw his dart into the ceiling in exasperation, Kleinfeld came up with the idea of providing customers with darts which had little paper bags attached for people to put small change in before throwing them at the ceiling (and the money then collected for the charity).

Now part of the Samuel Smith chain, the pub which sits on the corner with Windmill Street, has undergone an award-winning refurbishment in recent years with its original Victorian-era look restored including polish mahogany partitions with etched glass.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Google Maps.

Queen Victoria was a monarch known for breaking records and, thanks to her rule being in an age when technology was advancing at an incredible pace, performing royal-related “firsts”.

Among the latter is the fact that the Queen was the first British monarch to travel by train – a feat she performed with Prince Albert by her side on 13th June, 1842. It was he, who having first travelled on a train in 1839, had encouraged the rather nervous 23-year-old to make the journey (which she apparently agreed to undertake only two days before she actually did).

Travelling in a specially adapted “royal saloon” decorated with flowers, the royal couple travelled on the Great Western Railway, leaving Slough, which they had travelled to from Windsor Castle, at noon and arriving at London’s Paddington Station some 25 minutes later. Queen Victoria later wrote that there was no dust or great heat during the journey which, in fact, was “delightful and so quick”.

The train – which was pulled by the Firefly-class steam engine Phlegethon – was driven by Sir Daniel Gooch who was assisted by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the railway. The Queen’s carriage was sandwiched in between six other carriages and trucks to act as a buffer in case of an accident.

On arriving at Paddington (at a temporary building which had been opened in 1838 and which would be replaced in 1854), the Queen was greeted by railway officials and their families along with a detachment of hussars on a platform covered with a red carpet. Crowds quickly grew and the royal couple were then escorted to Buckingham Palace.

The Queen would go on to regularly use railways as she travelled about Britain and even had a special signal installed on the roof of the royal carriage so the driver could be instructed to slow down as required.

Interestingly, the current Queen – Elizabeth II – and Prince Philip re-enacted the journey in 2017 to mark its 175th anniversary. They were accompanied by Isambard Thomas, the great, great, great grandson of Brunel and Gillian White, great, great grand-daughter of Gooch.

PICTURE: Inside Paddington Station today (Jimmy Harris/licensed under CC BY 2.0)


Following the destruction of much of the Palace of Westminster in a fire which broke out on 16th October, 1834, work was launched on a new building to house both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – a building to which both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had strong connections.

Rebuilding commenced in earnest for the new building 27th August, 1840, when Sarah Barry, wife of architect Charles Barry (his plans for a new Perpendicular Gothic-style Parliament building had been selected from some 97 submissions), laid the foundation stone of the new complex.

Work, to the designs of Barry with the aid of Augustus Pugin, progressed (although a lot slower than was originally envisaged – and a lot more expensively) and the new House of Lords was opened in 1847 followed by the new House of Commons in 1852 (when Barry received a knighthood).

The Clock Tower, meanwhile, now renamed the Elizabeth Tower, was not completed until 1858, but when the Victoria Tower was roofed in 1860, the work was largely complete (although construction wasn’t officially completed until 10 years later – Barry died in 1860 and the work was continued by his son, Edward Middleton Barry).

In 1852, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to take the route since used by all sovereigns at the State Opening of Parliament – arriving in the Irish State Coach (still used by Queen Elizabeth II today) she entered the entrance at the base of the Victoria Tower (now known as the Sovereign’s Entrance) and proceeded to the Robing Room where she was dressed in the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State before processing through the Royal Gallery to the chamber of the House of Lords where she took her seat on the Throne (located opposite the door leading to the House of Commons).

Prince Albert, known for his passion for the arts, chief connection came when he was appointed chair of the Royal Fine Arts Commission in 1835. It oversaw the placement of paintings and sculptures in the building, including five vast frescoes by William Dyce depicting the Arthurian legend which can be seen in the Robing Room.

The prince tragically died on 14th December, 1861, and while the structural work had largely been completed, much of the decorative schemes the commission had envisaged for the palace hadn’t been finished. As a result, many of the decorative aspects Prince Albert had overseen the planning of were never completed.

Portrayals of the Queen and Prince in the building today include a white marble statue of Queen Victoria holding a sceptre and laurel crown in the Prince’s Chamber and portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert by Franz Xaver Winterhalter which flank the Chair of State in the Robing Room.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours are held on Saturdays until 25th January 2020 and Monday to Friday between until 30th August 2019 (except 26th August); COST: £26.50 adults/£22 concessions/£11.50 children five to 15 years (children under five are free); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

Better known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum following its renaming in 1899, the South Kensington Museum was created in the aftermath of the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Initially located in Marlborough House on the Mall, it moved to its South Kensington site in 1857, opening to the public on 22nd June that year. Recorded among the visitors in the initial couple of years was Queen Victoria – who visited twice in February, 1858, and then again open 14th April when she was accompanied by Prince Albert.

The purpose of the later visit was to open the Art Rooms on the ground floor of Sheepshanks Gallery, a building which had been specifically constructed to house paintings given by John Sheepshanks (the building, located on the eastern side of the John Madejski Garden now contains sculptures on the ground floor and silver and stained glass on the first floor).

One interesting connection between the Queen and the museum can be found in a six metre tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The cast was given to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 but she didn’t want the trouble of housing the giant figure (and she was apparently shocked by its nudity – more on that in a moment). So the Queen gave the statue to the museum where it was installed in a prominent position (and can today be seen in Room 46b).

But ah, yes, the nudity. The story goes that in response to the Queen’s shock, a proportionally accurate plaster fig leaf was commissioned to cover David‘s nether regions whenever the Queen visited (apparently by being hung on two small hooks on the cast). The fig leaf, like the statue, can still be seen – it’s housed in a small case on the back of the plinth David‘s standing on.

David is one of only a few items in the V&A’s collection today which once belonged to the Queen or Prince Albert. Others include the Raphael cartoons which she loaned to the museum in 1865 (and are still on loan from the current Queen).

As part of the redevelopment of the museum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when it was also renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum despite the Queen’s wishes it be called the Albert Museum), statues of the royal couple were installed above the museum’s main entrance in Cromwell Road with Prince Albert positioned just below the Queen who is flanked  by St George and St Michael (see above).

PICTURES: Courtesy V&A

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays to 10pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk


Given the heat, we thought it was a good idea to take a look at where London’s oldest public swimming pool can be found. There’s a couple of contenders but it’s the 
Dulwich Public Baths (now known as the Dulwich Leisure Centre) which we think take the title as the oldest public baths still in use.

Located in Dulwich in the city’s south, the baths opened on 25th June, 1892, and was the first of seven designed by Spalding & Cross. There were two pools for most of the bath’s history but one was covered in the early 1980s and now serves as the main gym area.

The baths were closed and used for as a hospital and refugee housing in World War I and the water in the pools were used to put out fires caused by air raid damage in World War II. The baths have also hosted dances and various sports events over the years.

The pools have been refurbished a couple of times, most recently having undergone a five year redevelopment ahead of its reopening in June, 2011.

The Grade II-listed baths located in Crystal Palace Road were opened just a couple of months before the Camberwell Public Baths, which were also designed by Spalding & Cross, opened on 1st October of the same year (again, one of the two original pools there has now been boarded over).

PICTURE: Top – Dr Neil Clifton (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Below –  (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

The impact of Queen Victoria on Buckingham Palace, transforming what was empty residence into “the most glittering court in Europe”, is a special focus of this year’s summer opening of Buckingham Palace. Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Queen, the exhibition Queen Victoria’s Palace recreates the music, dancing and entertaining that characterised the early part of the Queen’s reign using special effects and displays. Highlights include the Queen’s costume (pictured) for the Stuart Ball of 13th July, 1851, where attendees dressed in the style of King Charles II’s court. There’s also a recreation of a ball held in the palace’s newly completed Ballroom and Ball Supper Room on 17th June, 1856, to mark the end of the Crimean War and honour returning soldiers which uses a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost to bring to life Louis Haghe’s watercolour, The Ball of 1856. The table in the State Dining Room, meanwhile, has been dressed with items from the ‘Victoria’ pattern dessert service, purchased by the Queen at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the room also features the Alhambra table fountain, a silver-gilt and enamel centrepiece commissioned by Victoria and Albert in the same year, and silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service, commissioned by the Queen’s uncle, King George IV, on which sit replica desserts based on a design by Queen Victoria’s chief cook, Charles Elme Francatelli. The summer opening runs until 29th September. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rct.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

 The Victorian reign is also the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum where rare etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert have gone on display. At home: Royal etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert features 20 artworks that they created during the early years of their marriage and depict scenes of their domestic lives at Windsor Castle and Claremont including images of their children and pets. The display includes three works donated to the museum by King George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, in 1926, and it’s the first time they’ve gone on public display. Prince Albert introduced the Queen to the practice of etching soon after their wedding and under the guidance of Sir George Hayter they made their first works on 28th August, 1840. They would go on to collaborate on numerous works together. The display can be seen in Room 90a until mid-September. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: The Princess Royal and Prince of Wales, 1843, by Albert, Prince Consort (after Queen Victoria) © The Trustees of the British Museum.

American artist Ed Ruscha is the subject of the latest “Artist Rooms” annual free display in the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik building on South Bank. The display features works spanning Ruscha’s six-decade career, including large, text-based paintings and his iconic photographic series. There is also a display of Ruscha’s artist’s books – including Various Small Fires 1964 and Every Building on the Sunset Strip 1966 – as well as some 40 works on paper gifted to Tate by the artist. Highlights include his series of photographs of LA’s swimming pools and parking lots, paintings inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, and works such as DANCE? (1973), Pay Nothing Until April (2003) and Our Flag (2017). Runs until spring 2020. Admission is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert both had an abiding love of performance and were avid theatre-goers (the Queen first attended the theatre as monarch to watch The Siege of Rochelle and Simpson & Co at the Drury Lane Theatre just a few months after ascending the throne in 1837).

Until Prince Albert’s death in 1861, they were regularly seen at various theatres with the Queen attending both ‘in state’ (that is, formally as monarch with all the pomp and ceremony that entails) as well as in private (despite Prince Albert’s concerns over her security). The royal couple’s visits to the theatre generally took place from February to June when the Queen was principally in residence at Buckingham Palace.

As well as the Drury Lane Theatre (more formally, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – pictured above in 2018), other theatres they attended include the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

They also attended the now demolished Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street, most notably to see Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers in February, 1852. Keen not only directed but played both brothers mentioned in the title. So enamoured was the Queen of it, that she would see it four times.

The royal couple were such great admirers of Kean that they even had him stage private theatrical performances at Windsor Castle and when he died, Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife.

PICTURE: Marco Verch (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

Located outside Bow railway station in East London (and not far from the Bryant & May match factory), the Bryant & May Testimonial Fountain was built to celebrate the success of a campaign against the imposition of a tax on matches which had been proposed in 1871.

The proposed tax of half a pence per 100 matches, which had even attracted the attention of Queen Victoria who questioned its wisdom, sparked a march on Parliament by several thousand match-makers which led to clashes with police and allegations of brutality.

The Gothic fountain which featured a steeple topped by a cross and access to water on several side was erected by public subscription in 1872 and formally unveiled in October of that year.

The fountain was demolished in the early 1950s when the road was widened (the factory meanwhile closed down in 1979 when the work was moved to Liverpool). A plaque commemorating the former fountain is located close to the site near the former Poplar Town Hall.

PICTURE: A print of the Bryant & May Testimonial Fountain, printed by James Akerman (1872-1880) © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0/image cropped)

As well as being a location for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s carriage rides, Hyde Park was the scene of what the Queen described as “the greatest day in our history” – the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Designed by Joseph Paxton, the vast Crystal Palace had been constructed on the south side of the park and it was at noon on 1st May, 1851 (having already celebrated their son Arthur’s first birthday), that the Queen and Prince arrived in a closed carriage to officially open the exhibition, encountering, as they did so, the biggest crowd they’d ever seen.

They were greeted by massed choirs as they entered the Crystal Palace after which Prince Albert delivered an address to the Queen and she made a short reply before the choir then sang the Hallelujah Chorus. The Royal Family – the Queen holding the hand of Bertie, the Prince of Wales, and the Prince holding that of Princess Victoria “Vicky” – then toured the building, cheered on by thousands of onlookers.

The exhibition, with its thousands of displays from around the world, was then officially declared open by the Lord Chamberlain and 100 cannons were fired outside.

The royal couple returned to Buckingham Palace where, for the first time, they walked out onto the balcony to greet the thousands of people massed outside.

Victoria described the day as one to “live for ever” in her journal. Paul Thomas Murphy, in his book Shooting Victoria, records that she went on to write: “God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country, which has shown itself so great to-day. One felt so grateful to the great God, who seemed to pervade all and to bless all.”

Interestingly, the park was also where Queen Victoria, in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family, presented 62 men with the first Victoria Crosses on 26th June, 1857. It was also where, sadly without the Prince, the Queen made a surprise appearance on 22nd June, 1887, as thousands of school children ate a free meal given as a gift to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

PICTURE: ‘Her Majesty and the Princes passing through the Crystal Palace’, 1851 Sharles, H (artist) ; Ackermann & Co. (printer and publisher)/© Victoria and Albert Museum London.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park

It was on this road connecting the western end of The Mall outside Buckingham Palace with Hyde Park Corner that an infamous incident took place during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s early years together.

For it was from a footpath on Constitution Hill that the first of eight assassination attempts were made on the Queen as the couple – the Queen then pregnant – rode out from the palace in a low slung carriage headed for Hyde Park as was their custom.

Edward Oxford was just 18-years-old when at on 10th June, 1840, he took up a position on a footpath on Constitution Hill where he stood for a couple of hours before, at about 6pm, as the royal couple’s carriage sailed past, he fired two pistols at them.

Both shots missed (in fact, no bullets were ever found) and Queen Victoria was quick to order the carriage to drive on (she and Albert would also ride out along the same route the next day despite the scare – this time there was a sizeable crowd of well-wishers eager to convey their good sentiments to the Queen and a procession of these followed their carriage up the hill to Hyde Park).

Oxford, meanwhile, was immediately seized by onlookers and stripped of his guns. He immediately admitted his crime, was subsequently arrested, charged with treason and later acquitted on grounds of insanity before being detained in an asylum at Her Majesty’s pleasure (he was eventually discharged with the proviso that he head to one of England’s overseas colonies and ended up living out his days in Melbourne, Australia).

An interesting footnote is that future artist John Everett Millais, then aged just 11-years-old, was among those standing on Constitution Hill watching the Queen drive past on the day of the assassination attempt.

There were another seven assassination attempts on Queen Victoria over the ensuing years. For more on them, check out Paul Thomas Murray’s detailed book Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Modernisation of the Monarchy.

PICTURE: A view down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace fro, the top of Wellington Arch.

Tower Bridge marked its 125th birthday last weekend so to celebrate, here’s some different angles on London’s most photographed bridge. The Victorian Gothic bascule and suspension bridge, which spans the Thames just to the east of London Bridge (with which it’s not to be confused), took eight years to build and was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the then Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). For more on the celebrations taking place at the bridge over the coming weeks and months, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/.

 

•  Tower Bridge marks its 125th anniversary on Sunday and in honour of the event, there will be celebrations inside and outside the bridge right across the weekend. Entry to the bridge will be priced at just £1.25 and visitors will also receive a one-off souvenir bookmark as well as £5 off the official Tower Bridge book. Tickets cannot be booked in advance. Among the activities is a new photographic exhibition on the high-level walkways showcasing rare archival images and new photographs while costumed performers depicting historic figures – including the bridge’s first and only Indian engineer, divers who dug the foundations and the bridge’s first female employees – will be re-enacting scenes which (might have) happened during construction. Visitors can also join in the bridge architect Sir Horace Jones’ 200th “big birthday bash” in the Engine Rooms and view a new installation on the piers imagining some of the alternative river crossings that could have been built in place of the bridge. Special events will be continuing until the end of the year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/. PICTURE: Paul Varzar/Unsplash

Contemporary artist Cindy Sherman’s ground-breaking series, Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) has gone on public display for the first time in the UK in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work. Hosted at the National Portrait Gallery, Cindy Sherman explores the development of the artist’s work from the mid-1970s to the present day and includes all 70 images from the Untitled Film Still series as well all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed while she was a student in 1976 and being displayed together for the first time. There will also be a range of source material from the artist’s studio to give insights into her working processes. Runs until 15th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

The work of Swiss artist Félix Vallotton (1865–1925) is being exhibited in a dedicated display for the first time in the UK since 1976. Opening in the The Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing of Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts on Sunday, Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet features about 100 works from public and private collections across Europe and the US and is organised in three sections spanning his career. Highlights include Self-portrait at the Age of Twenty (1885), The Sick Girl (1892), The Visit (1899), Gabrielle Vallotton (1905), Nude Holding her Gown (1904),  This is War! (1916), Red Peppers (1915), and Sandbanks on the Loire (1923). On show until 29th September after which the exhibition will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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