Lost London – Old Waterloo Bridge…

Waterloo Bridge between 1865-1875. PICTURE: Valentine, J, Universitaire Bibliotheken Leiden/licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Built between 1813 and 1817, the first Waterloo Bridge was designed by Scottish civil engineer John Rennie and featured nine elliptical arches, pairs of Doric columns at the piers and a flat roadway.

Originally known as The Strand Bridge, the name was changed by an Act of Parliament in 1816 and commemorated the victory over Napoleon Boneparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

It was opened by the Prince Regent, accompanied by the Duke of Wellington, on 18th June, 1817 – the second anniversary of the battle.

The bridge originally featured toll booths – the toll was removed in 1877.

In the early 20th century, piers from the bridge settled into the riverbed and created a dip, possibly due to the increasing traffic using it. A temporary steel bridge was placed alongside it and, despite opposition, it was eventually demolished in 1936.

The current bridge, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was built over the years 1937 to 1942 (although it wasn’t fully completed until 1945).

Old Waterloo Bridge was famously depicted in a series of works by Claude Monet painted between 1900 and 1904 while he stayed at the Savoy Hotel and by John Constable who created a famous painting of its opening (it’s actually his largest work). The bridge also lends its name to the 1940 American film, Waterloo Bridge, which was adapted from a 1930 play.

Interestingly, granite blocks from the original bridge were sent to Australia and New Zealand while timbers from the bridge were used for shelves and wall panels in the library at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire (where the famous Constable painting hangs). Some of the original blocks were also incorporated into the foundations and approaches of the new bridge.

The keystone from the original bridge, recovered when it was demolished, is located at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Great George Street.

Treasures of London – Coalbrookdale Gates…

Christine Matthews (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Located at the southern end of West Carriage Drive – the road which divides Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park – are bronze-painted cast iron gates which were made for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The gates are named for their manufacturer, the Coalbrookdale Company in Shropshire, and were designed by Charles Crookes.

Each of the gates were cast in one piece and feature cherubs or mer-children below gold crowns atop the finials. There are stags head urns sitting atop Portland stone pillars bearing Queen Victoria’s monograms at either end.

The gates were originally positioned as an entrance to the Great Exhibition and were known as the Queen’s Gate (due to their being through which Queen Victoria entered).

The gates were moved here from their original position during the construction of the Albert Memorial in 1871.

The now Grade II-listed gates were damaged by a bomb during World War II. They were restored in 2000.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…7. Sambourne House…

The former home of famed Victorian illustrator and photographer Edward Linley Sambourne, this property at 18 Stafford Terrace in Kensington has been preserved as a museum.

Sambourne, famed for, among other things, the cartoons he produced for Punch magazine, moved into the property in 1875, shortly after his marriage to Marion Herapath in 1874, and the couple, who would have two children – Roy and Maud – lived there for the rest of their lives.

PICTURE: Jhsteel (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

After moving in, Linley, inspired by the grand houses of his artistic friends in the so-called Holland Park circle such as Nick Fildes, Marcus Stone and Colin Hunter, set about redecorating the property in what was then the popular Aesthetic style. He installed stained glass windows, Morris & Co wallpapers and Chinese ceramic vases and over the next 35 years purchased ceramics and furnishings specifically for the property.

While Sambourne adopted many of Aesthetic elements in his decorative scheme such as the stylised motifs inspired by nature and the muted colour palette, he didn’t particularly follow the style’s call for restraint and the house quickly became home to a growing collection of furnishings and objects (in fact an inventory take in 1877, just two years after the couple moved in, shows the home already contained more than 50 vases, 70 chairs and around 700 framed pictures). 

Sambourne, who was said to have been “skilled at making a great show on a limited budget”, couldn’t afford to create a purpose-built studio and worked in various parts of the house, initially in the morning room, which he had extended to meet his needs, and later in the upstairs drawing room. After their daughter Maud married and left the property, he converted the former nursery on the top floor into a studio.

After the deaths of Linley in 1910 and Marion in 1914, their bachelor son Roy moved in and lived there until his own death in 1946. The house then passed to Maud (now Maud Messel), although she didn’t live there, and on her death passed to her daughter Anne Messel.

Anne had married Ronald Armstrong Jones in 1925 and then, following a divorce, Michael Parsons, sixth Earl of Rosse in 1935, giving her the title of Countess of Rosse. She inherited the house in 1960 – the same year her son Antony married Princess Margaret and received the title of Earl of Snowdon.

Lady Rosse, who had proposed the house be preserved as it had been in Linley’s day, subsequently negotiated the sale of the property to the Greater London Council in 1980 and in turn it was leased to the Victorian Society, which she had co-founded in 1957. It was subsequently opened as a museum.

In 1989, after the Greater London Council was abolished, ownership of the house transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (the lease to the Victorian Society meanwhile, ended in 2000). In 2022, the house, now Grade II*-listed, was re-opened to the public after a significant renovation and refurbishment project.

Alongside the decor, furnishings and ceramics, the house displays a number of the cartoons Sambourne drew for Punch as well as drawings he did for other projects, such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, and some of his collection of more than 30,000 photographs used to aid his production of cartoons (not all of which apparently are suitable for public consumption). Sambourne’s “detective camera” which allowed him to photograph subjects surreptitiously is also there.

WHERE: Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Terrace (nearest Tube stations are Kensington (Olympia) and High Street Kensington); WHEN: 10am to 5:30pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £11 adult/£9 concession/£5 child (six to 18-years-old/five and under free); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/museums/sambourne-house

London Explained – English Heritage’s Blue Plaques…

Walk the streets of London and chances are you’ll soon come across an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating someone famous.

There are now more than 990 Blue Plaques in London, commemorating everyone from diarist Samuel Pepys to writer Virginia Woolf and comedian Tony Hancock.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating singer and actor Paul Robson. PICTURE: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

The scheme was started in 1866 by the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) having been proposed by MP William Ewart three years before. The first two plaques were erected in 1867 – one commemorating poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street in Cavendish Square (although this property was later demolished) and the other commemorating Napoleon III in King Street, Westminster (this is now the oldest survivor of the scheme).

Thirty-five years – and 35 plaques – later, the London County Council took over the scheme. It was this body that standardised the plaque’s appearance (early plaques come in various shapes and colours) and while ceramic blue plaques were standard by 1921, the modern simplified Blue Plaque didn’t appear until 1938 when an unnamed student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, who was paid just four guineas for their troubles, came up with what is now an iconic design.

In 1965, the LCC, having created almost 250 new Blue Plaques, was abolished and its successor, the Greater London Council, took over the scheme, expanding its area of coverage to includes places like Richmond, Redbridge and Croydon. In 1984, the GLC appointed artisan ceramicists Frank and Sue Ashworth of London Plaques to make the Blue Plaques (and they continue to do so).

The GLC placed some 262 Blue Plaques before, in 1986, English Heritage took over management of the scheme. Since then it’s placed more than 360 plaques.

The plaques, which are 495mm (19½ inches) in diameter and 50mm (two inches) thick, are slightly domed in a bid to encourage self-cleaning in the rain.

Anyone can propose a subject for a new plaque – but generally only one plaque is erected per person (although there have been some exceptions to this), only a maximum of two plaques are allowed per building (there are 18 buildings with two), and proposals, if turned down, must wait 10 years before they are reconsidered.

In addition, new Blue Plaques are only erected a minimum of 20 years after the subject’s death, the building on which one is placed must “survive in a form that the commemorated person would have recognised, and be visible from a public highway”, and buildings which may have many different personal associations, such as churches, schools and theatres, are not normally considered.

The Blue Plaques panel meet three times a year to decide on proposals. Among those currently serving on the 12 person body are architectural historian Professor William Whyte, who chairs the panel, award-winning journalist and author Mihir Bose, Emily Gee, regional director for London and the South East at Historic England, and, Susie Thornberry, assistant director at Imperial War Museums.

The plaques don’t confer any legal protection to buildings but English Heritage says they can help preserve them through raising awareness.

Recently unveiled plaques have commemorated pioneering social research organisation Mass-Observation, lawyer Hersch Lauterpacht – who played a key role in prosecuting the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials, and, Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian Nationalist and the first Indian to win a popular election to Parliament in the UK. Among those being unveiled this year are plaques commemorating anti-racist activist Claudia Jones, suffragette Emily Wilding Davison and Ada Salter, the first female mayor of a London borough.

English Heritage’s Blue Plaques scheme isn’t the only one commemorating people in London. Others include the City of London’s Blue Plaques scheme (there is only one English Heritage Blue Plaque in the City of London – it commemorates Dr Samuel Johnson), Westminster City Council’s Green Plaques and Heritage Foundation plaques which commemorate figures who worked in entertainment.

For more, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…2. Carlyle’s House…

Carlyle’s House frontage. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Chelsea terraced house, now owned by the National Trust, was once the home of the Victorian literary couple, essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife (and skilled letter writer) Jane.

The Carlyles moved into the red brick property at 24 Cheyne Row (formerly number 5) in 1834, having left rural Scotland to see what they could make of themselves in London.

As their stars rose – by mid 19th century Thomas, the “sage of Chelsea”, had become an influential social commentator, the home became something of a hub for Victorian literati with the likes of Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot and William Thackeray all visiting them here.

When Thomas died at the property on 5th February, 1881 (Jane had died in 1866), the home reverted to the landlord but a group of admirers decided it needed to be preserved as a memorial to their friend. They raised funds through a public subscription and in 1895 opened it as a shrine to the writer.

The National Trust took over the running of the house, which was built in around 1708, in 1936 with the enthusiastic support of founder Octavia Hill who herself was a Carlyle fan.

The property, which still retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, features a recreation of the couple’s parlour based on Robert Tait’s painting A Chelsea Interior which depicts the Carlyles in the room in 1857.

The property also boasts the attic study that Thomas had constructed in August, 1853, and where he wrote The French Revolution, Latter Day Pamphlets and Fredrick the Great. His attempts at sound-proofing it had failed.

Meanwhile, Jane’s dressing room features a pair of original chintz curtains which she made in the late 1840s.

Inside the parlour at Carlyle’s House. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the items on show in the property is a necklace given to Jane by German writer and stateman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which features a pendant containing a portrait of him. There’s also a a decoupage screen made by Jane using prints in 1849 and wallpapers by William Morris.

The property, which also features a small walled garden and a bust of Thomas Carlyle on the facade, is currently undergoing restoration work and will reopen in March.

WHERE: Carlyle’s House, 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea (nearest Tube stations are Sloane Square and South Kensington); WHEN: Check website when it reopens; COST: £9 adults/£4.50 children; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house.

Five locations located to Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’…

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is forever linked to Christmas in London. So, with Christmas almost upon us, here’s a quick look at five locations mentioned or alluded to in the famous book…

1. 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town. Bob Cratchit’s house is described as being in Camden Town but what’s interesting is that as a child Dickins’ himself lived here at this property. So whether or not it’s the actual address Dickens had in mind for Cratchit’s property, it’s certainly in the vicinity.

The Royal Exchange today. PICTURE: Klaudia Piaskowska/Unsplash

2. The Royal Exchange. Referenced in regard to Ebenezer Scrooge who did business there. The current building was still being completed when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 following a fire at the premises several years before. It was opened in 1844.

3. Simpsons Tavern. Scrooge is said to have taken his “melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” which has been suggested could refers to Simpsons. Located in Ball Court, the current premises opened in 1757. The George & Vulture in Michael’s Alley is also mentioned as a possibility.

4. Newman’s Court. Located near Cornhill (which is mentioned in the book as the site where Bob Cratchit goes on a slide after leaving Scrooge’s office), it’s been suggested more than once that while the location of Scrooge’s counting house is not specified in the text, a location in Newman’s Court would fit the bill.

5. Leadenhall Market. Following Scrooge’s transformation, he sends a boy out to buy a turkey- commentators suggest the poulterer the boy attends was located in Leadenhall Market which would have been a predecessor to the current building which dates from 1881.

8 locations for royal burials in London…8. Kensal Green Cemetery…

Princess Sophia’s grave at Kensal Green Cemetery. PICTURE: Stephencdickson (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The oldest of London’s so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries established in the 19th century, Kensal Green is the burial place of a few members of the royal family dating from the Georgian and Victorian eras.

The ninth child and sixth son of King George III, Prince Augustus Frederick, the Duke of Sussex, died at Kensington Palace at the age of 70. In his will, he specifically requested he not have a state funeral and so was buried at Kensal Green on 4th May, 1843. His rather plain grey monument which is surrounded by concrete bollards, is located in front of the cemetery’s main chapel.

Opposite his grave is the tomb of his sister Princess Sophia, the 12th child of King George III. She, too, died at Kensington Palace – on 27th May, 1848 – and wished to be buried near her brother instead of at Windsor.

King George III’s grandson, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, was also buried at Kensal Green. A military man (and ally of Queen Victoria), he served as commander-in-chief for 39 years before being forced to resign in 1895. He died in 1904 at Gloucester House, Piccadilly, in 1904 and was buried at Kensal Green with his wife the following day.

WHERE: Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, Queen’s Park (nearest Tube station is Kensal Green); WHEN: Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sundays 10am to 5pm; COST: Free: WEBSITE: www.kensalgreencemetery.com.

LondonLife – Afternoon tea at The Savoy…

PICTURE: Christian Lendl/Unsplash

Afternoon tea is served under the glass-dome of The Savoy Hotel‘s Thames Foyer. Once an outdoor terrace, the covered-in foyer was opened in 1889. The custom of afternoon tea, which dates back to 1840, had become a tradition at the hotel by the 1920s and, as well as sandwiches and patisserie, included everything from English muffins to fruit salad, chocolates to sweet waffles known as gaufres. Entertainment included music played by a house band while professional dancers demonstrated the latest moves for guests. Guests at the famous London hotel have included everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to Marilyn Monroe. For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com/experience/afternoon-tea-london/.

Lost London – Northumberland House…

London: Northumberland House painted by Canaletto in 1752.

Among a number of mansions built between the Strand and the River Thames, the property was built for Henry Howard, first Earl of Northampton, in about 1605.

Then known as Northampton House, the Jacobean mansion at Charing Cross was built on the site of a former convent (roughly located on the corner of the modern-day Northumberland Avenue and The Strand).

The property was built around a courtyard with turrets at each corners and had a great hall and apartments for the various members of the household. It featured a four-storey high stone gateway opening onto the Strand and a large garden at the rear but it didn’t apparently reach all the way down to the river unlike many of the neighbouring properties.

The house passed to the Earls of Suffolk and then in the 1640s was sold to Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland, at the discounted price of £15,000, as part of a marriage settlement (hence the name change).

Various improvements were made over the years – including relocating the principal living rooms from the Strand side of the building to that facing onto the gardens and adding extra wings which protruded into the gardens.

In the 1770s, Robert Adam was commissioned to redecorate the state rooms on the garden front – the ‘Glass Drawing Room’ at Northumberland House was one of his most celebrated interiors. Shortly after this, part of the Strand front had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1780.

Northumberland House on the Strand, shortly before it was demolished in 1874. PICTURE: London Stereoscopic Company/Hulton Archive/Getty

By the mid-19th century, the mansions on The Strand had all been demolished and the Metropolitan Board of Works wished to acquire Northumberland House to construct a road across the site connecting The Strand to the Embankment.

The Duke of Northumberland resisted but after a fire substantially damaged the property, he agreed to sell which he did for £500,000 in 1874. The house was subsequently demolished and Northumberland Avenue built across the site.

A remnant from the property – a stone lion, known as the ‘Percy Lion’ – was taken from the property by the Duke in 1874 and placed atop Syon House, the Duke’s seat in London’s west. An archway from the property, designed by William Kent, is now the principal entrance to the Bromley by Bow Centre.

Lost London – Greenwich’s Romano-Celtic temple…

Although little now remains of it (and none to be seen above ground), a mound in Greenwich Park is thought to have once been the location of a Romano-Celtic temple.

Site of the temple remains in Greenwich Park. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Given its site close to Watling Street – the main Roman road linking London and the Kent ports, it’s believed that the temple may have served travellers as well as the local community. The Historic England listing for the ruins, which are a scheduled monument, suggests the temple was in use by 100AD and continued to be used until about 400AD.

The remains, which are now located on the eastern side of Greenwich Park on a site known as Queen Elizabeth’s Bower, was excavated in 1902 after they were stumbled across during works on the park. Three different floor surfaces were revealed, one of which was a tessellated pavement, along with the right arm of an almost life-sized statue, fragments of stone inscriptions and more than 300 coins dating between the 1st and 5th centuries.

A further excavation occurred in the early 1970s and another in 1999 – all of which provided further evidence of a temple.

Finds from the 1999 dig – which was undertaken by TV Channel Four’s ‘Time Team’, Birkbeck University of London and the Museum of London in the creation of a programme broadcast the following year – included part of an inscription to Jupiter and the spirits of the emperors and a stamped tile.

It is thought the temple precinct, known as a temenos, would have included a main temple building known as a cella as well as ancillary buildings and been surrounded by a stone wall.

Famous Londoners – Great Paul…

The bell casing used by Taylor’s Bell Foundry to cast Great Paul in Loughborough. PICTURE: Phil McIver (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Not the name of a person, Great Paul is in fact the name of the largest of four bells in south-west tower of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The south-west tower at St Paul’s Cathedral which contains Great Paul. PICTURE: jan buchholtz (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The bronze bell was cast in 1881 by JW Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough. With a diameter of some 11 metres, it weighs an impressive 16.8 tons (in fact, until the casting of the Olympic Bell for the 2012 London Olympics, it was the largest bell in the UK).

Brought to London from Loughborough on a train over a period of 11 days, Great Paul was hung in the tower in May, 1882.

The bell was traditionally sounded at 1pm every day but was silent for more than 40 years after its ringing apparatus broke in the 1970s.

Following a restoration, Great Paul started being rung again last year when it was rung during a festival of church bells to mark the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this year, it led a bell ringing tribute marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Previous historic occasions on which the bell was rung included Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the cathedral in 1981.

The south-east tower of the cathedral is also home to the storied bell known as Great Tom – but we’ll deal with that in a future post.

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of the Bethnal Green Museum…

This month marks 150 years since the opening of the Bethnal Green Museum, the first public museum located in London’s east.

The museum had at its core a pre-fabricated building which had earlier been erected as part of the first phase of the South Kensington Museum. It was brought to the Bethnal Green site and encased in a red brick exterior designed by James Wild.

Black and white print of the Prince and Princess of Wales arriving at the official opening of the Bethnal Green Museum (now Young V&A) on 24th June, 1872. Originally printed in the London Illustrated News. PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A

Formally known as the East London Museum of Science and Art, it was opened on 24th June, 1872, by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, amid considerable pomp and great crowds.

The museum, a branch of what became the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, was built to house and display many of the collections which had been exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Among the art collections on show was that of Sir Richard Wallace (now housed in the Wallace Museum).

An interior view of the Bethnal Green Museum (now Young V&A). PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A.

After World War II, the museum was remodelled as an art museum and included a children’s section. Then, in 1974, the museum became the Museum of Childhood with displays focusing on everything from toys and dolls houses to children’s dress and books.

It underwent an extensive renovation in the mid 2000s and reopened in December, 2006, as the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood.

The now Grade II*-listed museum, located on Cambridge Heath Road, is currently undergoing a £13 million redevelopment and will reopen in mid-2023 as Young V&A, a new museum dedicated to 0 to 14-year-olds, their families and carers.

The V&A marked a year to the opening of the new museum with the launch of a year-long Reinvent Festival, “celebrating 150 years with 150 waysto be creative”. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/blog/museum-life/young-va-reinvent-festival-reinventing-a-museum-for-the-young.

This Week in London – Coining the Queen’s portrait; the UK’s first Stolperstein; pioneering female landscape gardener honoured; and Picasso and Ingres…

Plaster model for the obverse of a coin.  Mary Gillick, 1952.  Bust of Queen Elizabeth II r., wearing laurel wreath. © The Trustees of the British Mu

A free display featuring the first coin bearing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has opened at the British Museum. Part of the celebrations marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, The Asahi Shimbun Display Mary Gillick: modelling The Queen’s portrait showcases the production and reception of the coin which was designed in 1952 and released the following year. Gillick’s portrait – which remained in circulation on coins in the UK until the 1990s and was also adapted for use on commemorative stamps – combined modern design with Italian Renaissance influences. Can be seen until 31st July. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The UK’s first Stolperstein or “stumbling stone” has been installed in Soho as part of an initiative to remember the victims of the Nazis. The small brass plaque commemorates former resident Ada van Dantzig, a Dutch-Jewish paintings conservator for the National Gallery who came to London in the 1930s and worked and resided in Golden Square in Soho (where the plaque has been installed). She later re-joined her family in the Netherlands and was arrested in France in early 1943 along with her mother, father, sister and brother. Deported to Auschwitz, Ada, along with her parents, was murdered there on 14th February, 1943. Artist Gunter Demnig created the project almost 25 years ago to commemorate victims of Nazi Persecution during the Holocaust. More than 100,000 of stones have now been laid in 26 countries throughout Europe with the location of the stones the last address of those being remembered.

A pioneering female landscape gardener has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Shaftesbury Avenue. Fanny Wilkinson, who is believed to be Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener, was also a campaigner for the protection of open space in London. She lived and worked at the flat, which overlooks an open space she laid out herself, between 1885 and 1896. Wilkinson began her career as an honorary landscape gardener to the Metropolitan Public Boulevards, Gardens and Playgrounds Association – an organisation whose mission was the formation of gardens and public parks that would create playgrounds and green ‘lungs’, especially in poor districts of the capital. In June, 1885, it was agreed that she could charge five per cent on all her MPGA payments, leading her to drop the ‘honorary’ title and become Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A painting by Pablo Picasso – Woman with a Book (1932) from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California – and a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – Madame Moitessier (1856) – are being shown together for the first time at The National Gallery. Picasso admired Ingres and referred to him throughout his career and this connection can be seen not only in his paintings but in drawings and studies he made during his ‘neoclassical’ phase in the 1920s. He encountered Madame Moitessie at an exhibition in Paris in 1921 and 11 years later painted Woman with a Book. The paintings, which are being show under a collaborative initiative between the two institutions, can be seen in Room 1 until 9th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Famous Londoners – Jumbo…

Jumbo greets some visitors as they pass by his den in London Zoo. PICTURE: From ‘Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World’ by Paul Chambers

With his name a byword for things of a large size, Jumbo was an African bush elephant who was once one of London Zoo’s most popular residents (but whose life makes for sad reading).

Born in Sudan in about 1860, Jumbo – whose name is apparently a corruption of ‘jumbe’, the Swahili word for chieftain – was captured by hunters after his mother was killed and transported north to Europe. There he was apparently first exhibited in Germany before being sold to the Jardin des Plantes, a zoo in Paris.

In 1865, he was transferred to London Zoo in England where his keeper was Matthew Scott who went on to detail his care of Jumbo in his 1885 autobiography.

Jumbo quickly became a popular exhibit and was trained to give rides to children, including those of Queen Victoria (Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were apparently also among those who rode the elephant).

But out of public view, Jumbo, particularly as he matured, was growing increasingly destructive, smashing his den and breaking his tusks (it’s said Matthew Scott would pacify him with large quantities of alcohol).

In 1882, protests broke out when, apparently concerned over Jumbo’s growing aggression, then zoo superintendent Abraham Bartlett announced plans to sell Jumbo to American circus founder PT Barnum for £2,000. Some 100,000 school students wrote to Queen Victoria begging her to stop the transaction and a lawsuit was launched to stop the sale. It was unsuccessful.

Despite the protests, the sale went ahead and in March, 1882, Jumbo and Matthew Scott, who had decided to go with the elephant, went to America. In New York, Jumbo was exhibited at Madison Square Garden in a 31 week season. In 1884, he was one of 21 elephants who crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to prove it was safe following the death of 12 people during a collapse caused by a stampede few years earlier.

Jumbo with his keeper Matthew Scott, pictured in June, 1882. PICTURE: From Bierstadt, E ‘Jumbo and trainer.’

Jumbo died on 15th September, 1885, when he was hit by a train as he and other elephants were being led back to their boxcar. According to Barnum, Jumbo was attempting to lead a young elephant Tom Thumb to safety.

Following Jumbo’s death, a postmortem revealed his stomach contents included five English pennies, keys, rivets, and a police whistle.

Sadly, PT Barnum had the body parts separated for display before Jumbo’s skeleton was eventually donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The elephant’s heart was sold to Cornell University and its hide stuffed and eventually donated to Tufts University where it was destroyed in a fire in 1975 (Jumbo remains the university mascot).

There is a statue of Jumbo near where he died in St Thomas, Ontario, and a six-storey, elephant-shaped building in Margate City, New Jersey, which was built in 1881 is said to be inspired by him. He is also said to have inspired the Disney film, Dumbo.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…6. King Edward the Confessor and King Henry III…

PICTURE: Davide Simonetti (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0/image has been cropped and enhanced).

These two statues are listed together because they both appear on the exterior of the same building – The Sanctuary which stands next to Westminster Abbey.

Close-up of Henry III. PICTURE: Can Pac Swire (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0/image has been cropped).

This Grade II-listed building, which contains a gateway to the Dean’s Yard, was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and built in Bath stone with slate roofs in the mid-1850s.

The statues, which stand in niches on the exterior of the turrets on either side of the gateway, have been identified as the two kings on London Remembers.

Their position at this location is not random. The king on the left, identified as Edward the Confessor, had St Peter’s Abbey rebuilt here in the mid 11th century (and was buried in it only a week after its consecration).

The king on the right, King Henry III, rebuilt the abbey church in the mid-13th century to provide a shrine to venerate Edward the Confessor and as a site for his own tomb.

The kings are apparently not the only monarchs adorning the building – two roundels below them depict Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Lost London – Columbia Market…

An image of the market in The Illustrated London News.

No, this is not the Columbia Road flower market we know today. This was a short-lived vast gothic market place built in the Bethnal Green in the mid-19th century to serve the East End.

The project was financed by philanthropist (and for a time Britain’s richest woman) Angela Burdett-Coutts and represented an attempt to get the costermongers off the streets.

The building, designed by Henry Darbyshire, was built in 1869, constructed of yellow brick with Portland stone cornices and a green slate roof.

It consisted of four blocks of buildings with arcades built around a central quadrangle which was open to the sky and featured some 400 stalls located under cover. There were also a series of shops with residences located above and a clock-tower which sounded every quarter hour.

The market, which sold fresh produce, was run by Burdett-Coutts’ secretary and future husband (they married in 1881) William Burdett-Coutts who built connections with a fishing fleet to supply its vendors.

He had planned a rail link with Bishopsgate to serve the market but that never happed and competition from Billingsgate and other markets – and the fact the costermongers preferred the streets – eventually saw it go out of business. It closed only a relatively few years later in 1886.

Taken over for a short time by the City of London Corporation, it was returned to the Baroness in 1874, briefly reopened 10 years later, then, according to The London Encyclopaedia, let out as workshops before finally being demolished in 1958.

A few remnants, including some rather grand iron railings and lion statues, remain.

Treasures of London – Bas-relief of Charles Dickens (and some famous friends)…

PICTURE: Eden, Janine and Jim (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Christmas is fast arriving so we went in search of some related monuments in London and found one depicting two famous characters from an iconic Yuletide text.

Located on the site of a house where 19th century writer Charles Dickens wrote six of his famous books, including A Christmas Carol, is a stone relief featuring several characters from them including Scrooge and Marley’s Ghost (represented as a door knocker in the top left).

Dickens lived at the property at what was then 1 Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone, between 1839 and 1851. It was demolished in the late 1950s and replaced with an office block upon which was incorporated the stone relief.

The bas-relief is the work of Estcourt J “Jim” Clack and features a large portrait of Dickens as well as the characters who, alongside the characters from A Christmas Carol.

They apparently include Barnaby Rudge with his raven ‘Grip’ (from the book of the same name), Little Nell and Granddad (The Old Curiosity Shop), Dombey and his daughter Florence (Dombey and Son), Sairey Gamp (Martin Chuzzlewit), David Copperfield and Wikins Micawber (David Copperfield).

Correction: The name of Barnaby Rudge’s raven has been corrected.

London Pub Signs – The Churchill Arms, Kensington…

The Churchill Arms decorated for Christmas in 2015. PICTURE: Loco Steve (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s Christmas in London and for such a festive occasion, one pub immediately springs to mind – The Churchill Arms.

The name is certainly not a mystery and doesn’t really have anything to do with the Christmas theme. It stems from, of course, wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill – or rather, his grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, John and Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, who were patrons here and which, in honour of Churchill and them, saw the pub so-named after World War II.

Churchill remains a theme in the interior where a good deal of related memorabilia can be found – including wartime posters, pictures of the man himself and a (fake) plaque commemorating Churchill’s use of the pub for his wartime broadcasts (there’s even a celebratory night held each year around Churchill’s birthday).

The pub, which is located at 119 Kensington Church Street, dates from 1750.

But in recent times, it’s become famous for its stunning Christmas light displays which this year reportedly feature some 80 Christmas trees and 22,000 lights. The pub is also known for its extraordinarily profuse flower displays which cost thousands of pounds each year and which have even won at none other than the Chelsea Flower Show.

It also holds the claim to fame of being the first London pub to serve Thai food when it did so as far back as 1988.

A Fullers pub, for more head to www.churchillarmskensington.co.uk.

This Week in London – Faberge eggs; Royal jeweller Garrard; and, Christmas at Kew…

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, rubies, nephrite, rock crystal, glass, wood, velvet, bone, 1908 © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

• The largest collection of Faberge’s Imperial Easter eggs to be displayed together in a generation go on show at the V&A from Saturday. Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is the first major exhibition devoted to the international prominence of Russian goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, and his little-known London branch. Divided into three sections which cover everything from the techniques and detailing synonymous with the Faberge name to his time in London, the royal patronage he received, and the impact of the Great War and Russian Revolution on the business. The display features more than 200 objects with highlights including a prayer book gifted by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on his Coronation Day, the only known example of solid gold tea service crafted by Fabergé, a rare figurine of a veteran English soldier commissioned by King Edward VII, and a “kaleidoscopic display” of 15 of the Imperial Easter Eggs. The latter include several that have never before been shown in the UK including the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – which was inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, the Alexander Palace Egg – which features watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and contains a model of the palace inside (pictured), the recently rediscovered Third Imperial Egg of 1887 (found by a scrap dealer in 2011) and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Basket of Flowers Egg. Runs until 8th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the jeweller Garrard is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened in Kensington Palace’s ‘Jewel Room’. Going on display for the first time are examples of the firm’s ledgers which document royal commissions dating back to 1735 while other highlights include Queen Mary’s fringe tiara which was made in 1919 using diamonds taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding gift to Queen Mary and which was subsequently worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding day. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace.

Botanical illustrations from the archives at Kew Gardens are brought to life on a canvas consisting of a selection of spectacular trees from the arboretum as part of this year’s Christmas display. Christmas at Kew also includes Spheric – a 15-metre-wide dome of light covered in more than 2,000 individually controlled LED pixels which sits on a reflective water pool and allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in a unique mirrored illusion as they cross the lake, a new installation for Holly Walk which will illuminate the night sky for over 200 metres overhead as it replicates the enchanting visual phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, a vibrant rainbow tree illumination which brings to life the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ever-popular Fire Garden. The display can be seen until 9th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 6. Royal Albert Hall… 

PICTURE: Raphael Tomi-Tricot/Unsplash

Arguably the grandest music venue in London, the Royal Albert Hall, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has been hosting musical events since it first hosted a concert in 1871.

The Grade I-listed hall, which has a seating capacity of more than 5,000 and which did suffer from acoustic problems for many years (until mushroom-shaped fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the ceiling following tests in the late 1960s), has been the setting for some of the most important – and, in some cases, poignant – music events of the past 150 years, not just in London but the world at large.

Among some of the most memorable are the Titanic Band Memorial Concert – held on 24th May, 1912, just six weeks after the sinking of the iconic ship to remember the 1514 people who died with a particular focus on the eight musicians who played on as the stricken vessal sank, the ‘Great Pop Prom’ of 15th September, 1963 – only one of a handful of occasions when The Beatles and Rolling Stones played on the same stage, and Pink Floyd’s gig of 26th June, 1969 – coming at the end of a UK tour, the on-stage antics saw the band banned (it was short-lived, however, they returned just a few years later in 1973).

Other musical figures to have taken to the stage here include everyone from composers Richard Wagner, John Philip Sousa, and Benjamin Britten to the Von Trapp family, jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bob Dylan and Elton John – a veritable musical who’s who of the past 150 years. The venue also hosted the 13th Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.

Of course, Royal Albert Hall is famous for The Proms, an annual festival of classical music which was first performed here in 1941 after the venue where it had been held since 1895 – the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place – was lost to an incendiary bomb during World War II.

Prom stands for ‘Promenade Concert’,  a phrase which originally referred to the outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens during which the audience was free to walk around while the orchestra was playing (there are still standing areas during performances). The most famous night of the season is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which, broadcast by the BBC, features popular classics and ends with a series of patriotic tunes to stir the blood.