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))

From a cat to a dog – this week we’re looking at the grave of Victorian-era bare knuckle prize fighter Tom Sayers which features a statue of his faithful hound, Lion.

Sayers – widely considered the first boxer to hold the World Heavyweight Champion after he defeated American John Camel Heenan in 1860 – had a career spanning more than a decade in the the mid-19th century and was able to retire in 1860 thanks to a generous public. But he died only five years later at the age of 39 in 1865.

His burial at Highgate Cemetery – where this tomb is located – is said to have been attended by 10,000 people, such was his fame. Lion, a mastiff, was described as the “chief mourner” at his funeral.

Lion had been Sayers’ dog since at least early 1861 when mentions of the brown dog accompanying the pugilist started to appear in the press. The newspapers noted the apparent bond between the two but when Sayers failed bid to create a circus saw him auction off various associated animals and paraphernalia, that didn’t stop Lion being on the auction list.

Sayers apparently had a change of heart, however, as Lion’s turn to go under the hammer came up and stepped in to buy back the dog – but not before the price had apparently run up to 20 guineas.

Following Sayers’ death, Lion again went to auction and this time was sold to a close friend of Sayers, a former soldier who was the landlord of the Welsh Harp pub where the boxer had held his circus auction.

Following a public subscription, the stone monument – including the statue of Lion – was installed over Sayers’ grave in 1866.

Lion, however, was again sold and apparently ended his life on a country estate.

With thanks to an article by Gary Lucken, ‘A tale of ‘Lion’ hunting: Boxing Monthly turns pet detective’ published in Boxing Monthly.

WHERE: Western Cemetery, Swain’s Lane (nearest Tube is Archway); WHEN: Guided tour only – bookings essential for weekdays/no bookings on weekends (tours run every half hour from 10.30am to 3pm); COST: £12 adults/£6 children eight 17/no children under 8; WEBSITE: www.highgate-cemetery.org

PICTURE: Nick Garrod (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The chapel, which served as the House of Commons from the mid-16th century until it was destroyed in the fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834, was first recorded as part of the palace in the reign of King John (1199-1216).

It was rebuilt  in the late 13th century, on the orders of King Edward I. The king, apparently impressed by the Sainte Chapelle, built as a royal chapel by King Louis IX in Paris, ordered the chapel rebuilt to rival it.

The two storey, richly decorated stone chapel featured two levels, the upper floor for use of the Royal Family (it could only be entered from the Royal Apartments), the lower for courtiers and the Royal Household – was largely complete by 1348.

The then 15-year-old King Richard II married Anne of Bohemia in the chapel in 1382 and the ill-fated Richard, Duke of York (the younger of the two so-called Princes in the Tower) married Anne Mowbray here while still young children. Richard’s father, King Edward IV, had laid in state here for eight days after his death in 1483. Thomas Cranmer was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury here in 1533.

The Palace of Westminster was no longer used as a royal residence following the death of King Henry VIII in   and in 1547 it was deconsecrated under the Abolition of Chantries Act instituted by King Henry’s son, King Edward VI, after which it was used as a debating chamber for the House of Commons (which had hitherto been meeting in xxx).

During the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell had the chapel’s crypt white-washed and, so the story goes, used it for stabling his horses.

The chapel’s architecture was amended several times over the ensuing centuries to better accomodate MPs – it included the addition of extra seats and among the architects who worked on it was Sir Christopher Wren – before the fire of 1834 while completely destroyed the main chapel, leaving just the crypt below and adjoining cloisters.

The crypt, now known as the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, was subsequently restored to its original use as a place of worship (it had been used for various purposes over its life). Interestingly, women’s suffragist Emily Davison had spent the night in a broom cupboard in the crypt in 1911 so, as woman banned from the premises, she could address the House of Commons the next day.

The site of the chapel is now covered by St Stephen’s Hall and its porch, constructed as part of the rebuild after the fire.

To see modern revisualisations of what the chapel may once have looked like, head to www.virtualststephens.org.uk.

 

 

An autonomous flying car is among exhibits at a new exhibition focusing on the automobile at the V&A on Saturday. The flying car is one of 15 vehicles in Cars: Accelerating the Modern World which also features the first production car in existence – a 1925 Ford Model-T, a converted low-rider and a Firebird I concept car from 1953 (pictured). There’s also 250 associated objects to see – everything from a 1920s cloche hat designed for car travel to a series of hood ornaments produced by René Jules Lalique in the 1920s and a Michelin travel guide from 1900 –  in an examination of how the car changed our relationship to speed, the way we make and sell, and the landscape around us. Runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: General Motors Firebird I (XP-21) © General Motors Company, LLC

The 150th anniversary of the launch of tea clipper, Cutty Sark, is being celebrated in Greenwich this weekend. Along with family friendly events including face painting, storytelling and craft, there will be an after dark anniversary classical concert and bespoke birthday cupcakes in the cafe. Admission charge applies (except for the 150th visitor who will go free as well as residents of Greenwich and Dumbarton, where the ship was built in 1869 – provided they have ID). For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark

Artists, designers and architects from across the globe come together in a new exhibition at the Royal Academy addressing humanity’s ecological impact on the planet. Eco-Visionaries features works by 21 international practitioners in a range of media including film, sculpture, immersive installation, architectural models and full-scale prototypes. Highlights include the UK debut of the Rimini Protokol’s win > < win (2017) featuring a tank of live jellyfish, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s The Substitute (2019) in which visitors come face-to-face with a life-size digital reproduction of the now extinct northern white rhinoceros, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s The ice melting series (2002), and New York-based architecture studio WORKac’s 3.C.City: Climate, Convention, Cruise (2015). Admission charge applies. Runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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

This Georgian square, like the nearby (and famous) Fitzroy Tavern, Fitzroy Street and Fitzrovia itself, owes its names to the FitzRoy family who owned the land on which it was built.

It was Charles FitzRoy, 1st Baron Southampton, who had the area developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the aim of creating a desirable location for aristocratic families to live.

It was completed in stages with residences along the eastern and southern sides built first – from the 1790s – by Robert and James Adam (the southern side was destroyed in the Blitz but has been rebuilt).

The Napoleonic Wars then interrupted construction and it wasn’t until the late 1820s and early 1830s that the northern and western sides were completed.

Notable residents included painter James McNeill Whistler (number eight), Sir Charles Eastlake, first director of the National Gallery (number seven), Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (number 21 – now home to the High Commission of Mozambique), George Bernard Shaw (number 29 – later also briefly home to Virginia Woolf), and artists Ford Madox Brown (number 37) and Roger Fry (number 33)

In more recent times, the square has been home to the likes of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell (number six), and novelist Ian McEwan (number 11 – he made the square the main location for his 2005 novel, Saturday).

The garden was first laid out in about 1790, initially just for the use of residents. Monuments now include Naomi Blake’s View, erected for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The square was largely pedestrianised in the 1970s and upgraded in 2008.

PICTURES: Top – View of Fitzroy Square from the former BT Tower (Rain Rabbit/CC BY-NC 2.0/image cropped); Below – View (James Stringer/CC BY-NC 2.0/)

This Marylebone square is one of the better preserved Georgian-era squares in London. 

Located on the Portman Estate, it was laid out in the 1770s as a residential square with the north side of the square dominated by Manchester House, built in the 1770s as the home of the 4th Duke of Manchester (from whom the house and square, now derive their name).

The house, meanwhile, changed its name when the 2nd Marquess of Hertford took over the lease in 1797. It became known as Hertford House and now houses The Wallace Collection (pictured below), a collection of artworks left to the nation – along with the house – by Lady Wallace, widow of Sir Richard Wallace, illegitimate son of 4th Marquess, in 1897, and opened to the public as a museum in 1900.

The almost circular private gardens in the centre were laid out in the mid-1770s with garden beds and railings (there was apparently a church planned for the centre of the square on which the gardens were located, but it was never built).

During World War II, trenches were dug in the garden and railings removed and the gardens did receive some bomb damage but they were restored in the 1960s and then extensively replanted in the mid-Noughties. The garden (pictured above, looking south) features mature London plane and lime trees.

Famous residents in the square, which has now largely been converted to offices, have included German-born composer Sir Julius Benedict (he lived at number two), surgeon and neurologist John Hughlings Jackson (number three) and colonial administrator Alfred, Lord Milner (number 14) – all of which have English Heritage Blue Plaques on their former properties – as well as Admiral Sir Thomas Foley (number one).

The square, which, along with Portman Square is Grade II-listed, also become briefly famous in around 1815 when it was reported a “pig-faced woman” lived there.

It is also known for being the former site of record label EMI – the cover shot for the Beatles’ first LP, Please Please Me, was shot in the modernist building’s stairwell in 1963 (the building has since been demolished but EMI took part of the staircase with them when they left in 1995).

Interestingly, Manchester Square Fire Station, which was decommissioned in 2005, was actually located a few blocks away in Chiltern Street (it was also known as the Chiltern Firehouse).

PICTURES: Google Maps

This City of London square sits on the part of the site of what had been Salisbury House, the town house of the bishops of Salisbury.

The house, which later became known as Dorset House, burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the square, now at the southern end of Salisbury Court, developed in its aftermath.

Lying just to the south of Fleet Street, the square was once home to the Salisbury Court Theatre in the mid-17th century and John Dryden lived here from 1673 to 1682, a period during which he wrote works including Amboyna (1673), All for Love (1678) and The Spanish Fryar (1681). It was also a popular place for actors to reside given its proximity to the Dorset Garden Theatre which was also built on part of the site of Salisbury House.

There was an alehouse here when King George I acceded to the throne – known as a locale frequented by his supporters, it was famous for an incident in 1716 in which it was stormed by a Jacobite mob during which the landlord shot a weaver (he was acquitted but five rioters were hanged at the end of the court.

Samuel Richardson ran a printing shop lived here from 1723 – Pamela was among the works he wrote here. He later pulled down some old residences to expand his printing operations (and it was in his house that Dr Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth first met).

In 1863, all the houses on the south side were replaced by the Salisbury Hotel and this was replaced in  the 1960s by Salisbury Square House when the square was remodelled and the central area laid out. Only number one remains of the early 18th century houses which once stood here.

The now largely paved square features garden boxes in the middle along with an obelisk commemorating Robert Waithman, Lord Mayor of London between 1823-24. It had apparently originally been erected in Farringdon Street but was moved here in the 1970s.

PICTURE: Google Maps.

 

 

This expansive square in the centre of Belgravia is one of the largest 19th century squares in London.

The square, which along with nearby Chester Square, Eaton Square and Wilton Crescent stands on land once known as Five Fields, was laid out in the 1820s on the orders of Robert Grosvenor, 2nd Earl Grosvenor, whose subsidiary title was Viscount Belgrave and who later become the first Marquess of Westminster (and whose family seat is Eaton Hall in Cheshire, close to the village of Belgrave from whence the name comes).

Property contractor Thomas Cubitt was responsible for the masterplan and architect George Basevi, a pupil of Sir John Soane and cousin of Benjamin Disraeli, had the task of designing the original four terraces which surrounded the square.

Most of the houses were occupied by 1840. Today, the buildings – many of which are listed – are home to numerous embassies and official residences of ambassadors.

These include the Portuguese Embassy (11 to 12), the Austrian Ambassador’s official residence (18 – the Austrians have been there since 1866 when it was used by members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Foreign Service), the High Commission of Brunei (20), the German Embassy (21-23), the Spanish Embassy (number 24), the Norwegian Embassy (25), the Serbian Embassy (28) and the Turkish Embassy (43).

Famous residents have included the currently Duke of Kent – he was born at number three in 1935, Victorian politician Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who lived at number five up until his death in 1846, and shipbuilder, Lord Pirrie, chairman of Belfast-based Harland and Wolff – builder of the RMS Titanic (in fact it’s said that it was at a dinner here which Lord Pirrie hosted and J Bruce Ismay, owner of the White Star Line, attended where plans to build the ship were first discussed).

The two hectare garden in the centre, which remains closed to the public and is Grade II listed, had gravel walks laid out in the 1850s (the current design is a restoration of what was there in the 1860s). Behind the railings, the gardens features wooden pergolas and shelters and a tennis court.

Among the monuments around the external perimeter of the square are statues of of South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), Argentinean national hero General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850), Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) and Prince Henry the Navigator. There’s also a 1998 statue of Robert Grosvenor by Jonathan Wylder on the corner of Wilton Crescent.

Within the gardens are Homage to Leonardo da Vinci, erected in 1982, and a bust of George Basevi, the architect of Belgrave Square.

Top – Statue of Prince Henry the Navigator; Below – The Spanish Embassy. PICTURES: David Adams