Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

Advertisements

The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday as the new Lord Mayor of London, Charles Bowman, takes office with the event once again culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Thames. The Lord Mayor will arrive in the City at 9am via a flotilla which includes the QRB Gloriana and other traditional Thames barges. Riding in the splendid State Coach, the Lord Mayor then joins in the world famous procession which sets off from Mansion House at 11am, pausing at the Royal Courts where he swears allegiance to the monarch before returning via Victoria Embankment at 1pm. The fireworks display will start at 5.15pm from a barge moored between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges. For more details, head to https://lordmayorsshow.london. Meanwhile, on Sunday, annual Remembrance Sunday services will be held around the country centred on the Cenotaph in Whitehall where, in a break with tradition, Prince Charles is expected to lay a wreath on behalf of the Queen who, along with Prince Philip, will be watching from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building.

More than 50 portraits by Paul Cézanne have gone on show in a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Cézanne Portraits features works previously unseen in the UK including three self-portraits – one of which is Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat (1885-86) –  and two portraits of his wife –  Madame Cézanne Sewing (1877) and Madame Cézanne (1886–7) – as well as Boy in a Red Waistcoat (1888-90) and Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair, both of which haven’t been seen in London since the 1930s. The exhibition, which includes paintings spanning the period from the 1860s until shortly before Cézanne’s death in 1906, explores the special pictorial and thematic characteristics of the artist’s portraiture work such as his use of complementary pairs and his creation of multiple versions of works featuring the same subject. The exhibition, which has already been on show at the Musée d’Orsay and will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC from late March next year, runs until 11th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat by Paul Cézanne, 1885-6, © Private Collection 

The use of venom as the ultimate natural weapon is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on Friday. Venom: Killer and Cure explores how the use and effects of venom, the different biological roles it plays and how humans have attempted to harness and neutralise its power, with the former including some remarkable medical innovations. Specimens on show include everything from snakes to spiders, wasps, scorpions and the duck-billed platypus as well as live example of a venomous creature. Highlights include a gaboon viper head – a snake species with the largest known venom fangs, an emperor scorpion which engages in unusual mating behaviour known as “sexual stingings”, a flower urchin which can inject venom that causes muscular paralysis in humans for up to six hours, a tarantula hawk wasp which has one of the most painful venomous stings, and a box jellyfish, larger specimens of which can cause death in humans in two to five minutes. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Coinciding with the centenary of the Russian Revolution comes a new exhibition at the Tate Modern which offers a visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is based around the collection of late graphic designer David King (1943-2016) and charts how seismic events such as the overthrow of the last Tsar, the revolutionary risings of 1917 and Stalin’s campaign of terror inspired a wave of art and graphic design across the country. The display includes more than 250 posters, paintings, photographs, books and other ephemera by artists such as El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Nina Vatolina. Runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

Located beneath the Banqueting House – a remnant of the Palace of Whitehall, the undercroft was originally designed by Inigo Jones (who designed the building as a whole) as a private drinking den for King James I.

French landscaper and architect Isaac de Caus was commissioned to decorate one end of the vaulted undercroft as a shell grotto where the king could relax with his friends. In 1623, it received a dedication from Ben Jonson:

“Since Bacchus, thou art father
Of wines, to thee the rather
We dedicate this Cellar
Where now, thou art made Dweller.”

Following the Restoration, during the reign of King Charles II, the basement was used to hold lotteries – John Evelyn describes one such event taking place in 1664 in his famed diary, although soon after this was moved into a purpose-built facility nearby.

The undercroft was subsequently used for storage including during the reign of King James II when it was apparently used to store furnishings from the Privy and Council Chambers of Whitehall Palace while they were being rebuilt.

From the late 1890s until the 1960s, it became part of the museum of the Royal United Services Institute (which also used the hall upstairs) but following a restoration in 1992, is now open to the public and also used for special events at the building.

WHERE: Undercroft, Banqueting House, Whitehall (nearest Tube is Westminster or Charing Cross); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (check if there is a private function); COST: £5.50 adults (16+)/children under 16 free/Historic Royal Palaces members free; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house/

PICTURE: alh1/Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hatters they are, but mad they most definitely are not (more on that connection later). Lock & Co Hatters, which describes itself not only as London’s oldest hat shop but the world’s oldest, has been serving the city’s hat needs since James Lock first opened the doors at number six, St James’s Street, in 1765.

Lock took over the premises after completing an apprenticeship as a hatter with Charles Davis, son of Robert Davis who had opened a hatters in St James’s Street in 1676. Lock had married Charles’ sister Mary in 1759 and, along with his new bride, had inherited his father-in-law’s business. In 1765, they and their growing family moved across the road from that premises to No 6, previously a coffee house.

The shop soon established itself with the city’s elite and its client list grew to include the likes of Lord Grenville, Prime Minister between 1806-07, and, most famously, Admiral Lord Nelson, who first visited the shop in 1800 to order his signature bicorne – a “cocked hat and cockade” – with a specially built-in eye shade (Nelson had lost his eye at the Battle of Calvi). Nelson’s final visit, incidentally, would take place in September, 1805, when he settled his bill before setting sailing to Spain where, wearing one of Lock’s hats, he would lose his life – and become part of a legend – in the Battle of Trafalgar.

But back to the Locks. James Lock died in 1806 and it was his illegitimate son, George James Lock (aka James Lock II), who inherited the business which continued to flourish (clients around this time include the Georgian dandy Beau Brummell). George’s son, James Lock III and his younger brother George took over in 1821, and in 1849, they were commissioned by Edward Coke to create a hard-domed hat for his gamekeepers – the result was the iconic Coke hat (known to some as the Bowler hat, a name which came from Southwark-based Thomas and William Bowler whom Lock had commissioned to make the hat) .

The Lock & Co hat business continued to pass down through the family and the list of the famous who purchased hats in the store continued to grow – Oscar Wilde bought a black fedora there to wear on his US lecture tour (and due to his later incarceration was unable to pay his bill which was settled more than 100 years later by one of his fans after this news was included in an article in The Times) while Sir Winston Churchill wore a Lock silk top hat on his wedding day and also purchased his trademark Cambridge and Homburg hats there.

In 1932, film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, moved in above the shop (and naturally bought some monogrammed hats which were sold in 2011 as part of his estate) while Charlie Chaplin purchased hats there in the 1950s and, impressively, in 1953, Lock worked with jewellers Garrard and Co to design the “fitments” for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation crown.

A warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, followed (in 1993, Lock & Co received its second Royal Warrant, this time from the Prince of Wales.

Others among Lock’s more high profile clientele over the years have included Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F Kennedy, and Lock’s Coke hat even made a famed appearance on the silver screen as the headwear of the Bond villain Oddjob in Goldfinger.

The firm, meanwhile, has continued to grow, acquiring Piccadilly hatters Scott & Co in the 1970s.

Lock’s association with Lord Nelson was remembered in 2012 when it designed a hat for his statue atop Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which featured a full-sized Olympic torch and which, due to popular demand, was left on the admiral for the duration of the Olympics.

Interestingly, it is also claimed that James Benning, a member of the Lock family and a servant of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) – writer of Alice in Wonderland, was the inspiration behind the ‘Mad Hatter’.

PICTURES: Top – Jeremy T. Hetzel; Right – Matt Brown – both licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

Still a favourite at tea rooms across the world, the Chelsea bun – a squarish, sticky spiced fruit bun – owes its origins to Richard Hand’s establishment in what was Jew’s Road and is now Pimlico Road in what is now Pimlico, on the border with Chelsea.

The single storey premises opened early in the 18th century and in the interior Mr Hand, apparently known as “Captain Bun”, kept a curious collection of clocks, models, paintings, statues and other curiosities.

The bun house, known variously as the Old Chelsea Bun House and the Original Chelsea Bun House, was a huge hit, attracting a clientele which included royalty – King George II and Queen Caroline visited with their daughters as did King George III and Queen Charlotte – and also, famously, the political figure and Jonathan Swift, who bought a stale one for a penny in 1711 and recorded that he didn’t like it.

The tradition of eating a hot cross bun on Good Friday lead to huge crowds at the bun house on that day in particular – said to number more than 50,000 some years – and such were that crowds that in 1793, Mrs Hand, following complaints from her neighbours, declared in a public notice that she would only be selling Chelsea buns, and not cross buns, on Good Friday that year.

The house did, however, return to selling hot cross buns on Good Friday – it is said to have sold an enormous 24,000 on Good Friday in 1839 (some sources have out the figure as high as 240,000 but that may have been a misprint).

Despite the success of Good Fridays, according to The London Encyclopaedia, the closure of the nearby Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in 1804 had impacted the business.

In 1839, following the death of the Hands’ two sons and with no further family member to take over the business, it was closed and the bakery reverted to the Crown. The building was subsequently demolished.

PICTURE: Chelsea buns today. Duncan Hull under licence CC BY 2.0.

One of the National Gallery’s most celebrated paintings – Jan van Eyck’s The Amolfini Portrait – is being exhibited for the first time alongside works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and its successors in a new exhibition exploring the influence of the 15th century masterpiece on 19th century artists. As well as van Eyck’s work, Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites features Sir John Everett Millais’ Mariana (1851), Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1848-49), William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853) and William Morris’s La Belle Iseult (1858 – pictured) along with a host of other works. The exhibition provides a particular focus on one of the most distinctive features of The Amolfini Portrait – the convex mirror in which van Eyck himself is famously reflected – and, to that end, includes a convex mirror owned by Rossetti and another used by William Orpen. Other objects featured in the exhibition include early photographs, drawings and archival material surrounding the 1842 purchase of The Amolfini Portrait by the National Gallery as well as a Victorian reproduction of van Eyck’s masterwork, The Ghent Altarpiece. The exhibition in the Sunley Room opens Monday and can be seen until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.co.uk/reflections. PICTURE: © Tate, London (N04999)

The history of opera from its roots in Renaissance Italy to the present day is being explored in a new exhibition opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington on Saturday. Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, a collaboration between the museum and the Royal Opera House, focuses on seven operatic premieres in seven cities – Montverdi’s L’incoronazione de Poppea (the first public opera), which premiered in Venice in 1642, Handel’s Rinaldo, which premiered in London in 1711, Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro, which premiered in Vienna in 1786, Verdi’s Nabucco, which premiered in Milan in 1842, Wagner’s Tannhauser, which premiered in Paris in 1861, Strauss’ Salome, which premiered in Dresden in 1905, and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which premiered in St Petersburg in 1934.  It features more than 300 objects including Salvador Dali’s costume design for Peter Brook’s 1949 production of Salome, Edouard Monet’s painting Music in the Tuileries Gardens, the original score of Nabucco, and one of only two surviving copies of L’incoronazione de Poppea. There will also be original material from the St Petersburg premier of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk which, including the composer’s original score, stage directions, libretto, set models and costume designs, is being reunited and displayed outside Russia for the first time. World leading performances can be heard over headphones, creating what the museum says is a “fully immersive sound experience”. The exhibition is the first to be displayed in the V&A’s purpose built Sainsbury Gallery and will be accompanied by a programme of live events. Runs until 25th February. For more see www.vam.ac.uk/opera.

Fancy yourself a potter? A ceramics factory where the public can mould or cast jugs, teapots and flowers opens at the Tate Modern today in an art installation by artist Clare Twomey. Located on level five of the gallery’s Blavatnik Building, FACTORY: the seen and the unseen will launch the second year of Tate Exchange and will comprise a 30 metre work space, eight tonnes of clay, a wall of drying racks and more than 2,000 fired objects. In the first week, visitors are invited to ‘clock in’ and learn the skills of working with clay and then exchange what they have made with other objects made in a factory setting. The production line will stop in the second week and visitors invited to enter a factory soundscape and join a factory tour to discuss how communities are built by collective labour. From now until January next year, Tate Exchange: Production will feature a range of artist’s projects at both the Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool exploring the role of the museum in production from a range of viewpoints. For the full programme of events, see www.tate.org.uk/tateexchange.

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

This Grade II*-listed pub originally dates from the early 18th century but the current building was constructed in the 1860s and still retains many features dating from that period.

The name for this pub, located at 18 Argyll Street just south-west of Oxford Circus, comes from John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, one of the Duke of Marlborough’s leading generals and the owner of the land on which the street (and pub) now stands.

The London mansion of the dukes was located where the London Palladium now stands and there is a legend that there was a tunnel between the house, which was eventually demolished in 1864, and the pub.

While the pub has undergone some alterations since it was built, mid-19th century features inside include etched glass separating the booths and an ornate plaster ceiling.

The pub is now part of the Nicholson chain. For more, head here.

PICTURES: Top – Russell Davies/Flickr/; Right – Michael Flynn/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

The first prison on the site to the north of Clerkenwell Green, initially known as the Clerkenwell Bridewell or New Prison, was built in 1616 and was used as an overflow for City prisons.

Later that century, a second prison was built next door, this time as an as a remand prison for those awaiting trial to relieve the crowded Newgate. Among those imprisoned here was the notorious Jack Sheppard and his mistress Bess Lyon (they both escaped from it in 1724).

The prison, which wasn’t located far from the Middlesex Sessions House, was significantly enlarged in 1774 and, in 1818, when the original Clerkenwell Bridewell was demolished, the New Prison was rebuilt almost entirely across both sites, providing accommodation for a couple of hundred.

Less than 30 years later, however, in the mid-1840s the still relatively new building was demolished and a new House of Detention, also known as the Middlesex House of Detention, was built in its stead. Its design was cruciform and influenced strongly by the recently completed Pentonville Prison. It had several wings for males and one for females.

The prison was eventually closed in 1877 and demolished in 1890. The Hugh Myddelton School was subsequently built on the site (the building still stands, albeit it is used as flats).

One of the most famous incidents at the prison took place on 13th December, 1867, when during an unsuccessful escape attempt, members of the Fenian Society detonated a barrel of gunpowder, causing an explosion which blew open the prison wall as well as damaging the houses which lay opposite across Corporation Row. In what became known as the “Clerkenwell Outrage”, 12 bystanders were killed and scores injured. The ringleader, Michael Barrett, was the last person to be publicly hanged at Newgate on 24th May, 1868.

The prison’s Victorian-era vaults still lie beneath the streets of Clerkenwell and a number of films including Sherlock Holmes and TV shows including Secret Diary of a Call Girl have been shot here. They can be accessed via special tours from time-to-time.

PICTURE: Above – Visiting time at Clerkenwell House of Detention from an 1862 publication (via Wikipedia); Below – All that remains of the House of Detention – the vaults (Daejn/Wikipedia)


The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south celebrates the 200th anniversary of its public opening this year. It is the oldest public picture gallery in all of England.

The origins of the gallery back owe their existence to an art dealership run by a Frenchman, Noël Desenfans, and his Swiss friend, painter Sir Francis Bourgeois. In 1790, the men were commissioned by King Stanislaus II Augustus of Poland to form a royal collection of art for him.

They spent five years doing so but in 1795, the king was forced to abdicate and the two dealers were left with the collection. They began searching for a new home for it but failed to find one and following Desenfans’ death in 1807, Sir Francis decided to leave the collection to Dulwich College (apparently on the advice of his friend, actor John Philip Kemble). The college had been founded in the early 17th century as the ‘College of God’s Gift’ by Edward Alleyn, actor and theatre entrepreneur, who had left it his estate.

Sir Francis died in 1811 and, under the terms of his will, the paintings left to Dulwich had to be made available to the public to view. There was an existing gallery at Dulwich College (the collection had originally been formed around Alleyn’s collection which included portraits or kings and queens) but, conscious that it might not be ideal for displaying the collection, Sir Francis had left £2,000 in his will to refurbish it and made it clear that should this be required, he wanted his friend, Sir John Soane to oversee the work.

Sir John, visiting the college the day after Sir Francis’ death, inspects the existing building but decides that an entirely new wing will need to be built to house the collection. He submitted numerous designs but the cost – more than £11,000 – was considerably more than the college could afford despite Sir John’s efforts to cut costs and simplify. Eventually, after Margaret Desenfans agreed to donate £4,000 of her own money, the college officials agreed to begin construction.

In 1814, the collection was moved into the building and the following year, the now completed building was opened to Royal Academicians and students.  The public opening came two years later, in 1817, and the same year the Desenfanses and Francis Bourgeois were buried in the gallery’s mausoleum as its founders.

Several additions and renovations have since followed (including works after bombing during World War II). The last major works were carried out in the 1990s after which the gallery was formally reopened on 25th May, 2000, by Queen Elizabeth II.

Those who visited the gallery, many as students, have included some big names in the art world – John Constable, JMW Turner and Vincent Van Gogh. Charles Dickens referenced the gallery in his work, The Pickwick Papers, in which he had Samuel Pickwick visit the gallery following his retirement.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is now an independent registered charity. Its more than 600 works include one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world by artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese and Murillo. Collection highlights include Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window (1645), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Flower Girl (1665-70), Thomas Gainsborough’s Elizabeth and Mary Linley (c 1772) and Sir Peter Lely’s Nymphs by a Fountain (early 1650s).

WHERE: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich (nearest rail is West Dulwich or North Dulwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults/£6 seniors/under 18s free (additional cost for special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy Dulwich Picture Gallery.

And so the day has finally arrived. Following its usual bonging at midday today, the famous bell nick-named Big Ben has now controversially fallen silent as what have been described as “critical” conservation works are carried out.

How long the 13.7 tonne bell, which sits at the top of Elizabeth Tower (formerly known as the Clock Tower) at the northern end of the Palace of Westminster (also known as the Houses of Parliament) and is officially known as the “Great Bell”, will be silent remains something of a mystery.

Following uproar over the initial announcement that the bell would be silent for four years (until 2021), officials have now said that the plan will now be reviewed. There have also been claims that the bell will continue to toll for significance events such as Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve (Conservative MPs also reportedly want the bell to toll as the UK leaves the EU on 29th March, 2019).

It should be noted that while the mechanism which strikes the bell will be stopped from doing so during works to protect the ears of those working on it, the clock faces on the tower will continue to show the time.

The giant bell, which was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, went into action on 11th July, 1859, and has been bonging almost continually since. It apparently stopped for two years during World War I for fears it would attract Zeppelins to the site and was silent during the funerals of former PMs Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. It was last silent in 2007 when maintenance was carried out.

PICTURE: Athena/Unsplash

 

 

 

A special tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales – who died 20 years ago this month, is included in this year’s Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace. Located in the Music Room, the display features the desk at which the Princess worked in her Kensington Palace sitting room along with selected objects, many of which have been chosen by her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. They include a silver Cartier calendar – a gift to the Princess from President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy when the Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1985, a wooden tuck box which belonged to the then Lady Diana Spencer when she was at school, her childhood typewriter, and small round enamel boxes which were commissioned as gifts for the Princess to give to hosts on official overseas trips – among those shown are one decorated with an image of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue which was taken on a 1991 official visit to Brazil. Meanwhile, this Saturday, a special family festival is being held at the palace, and adjoining Royal Mews and Queen’s Gallery. Featuring drop-in arts and crafts activities, dance and drama workshops and story-telling sessions, the festival runs from 10.30am to 3pm. Entry is included in the admission price. For more on the festival, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/whatson/event/847051/Family-Festival. The summer opening of the palace, and the special exhibition on Royal Gifts, runs until 1st October. See www.royalcollection.org.uk for more. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 .

An exhibition exploring how artist Henri Matisse’s personal collection of treasured objects were both subject matter and inspiration for his work opens at the Royal Academy of Arts this Saturday. Matisse in the Studio features about 35 objects displayed alongside 65 of Matisse’s paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and cut outs. The collection of objects includes everything from a Roman torso and African masks to Chinese porcelain and North African textiles, with most of them on loan from the Musée Matisse in Nice. The display is arranged around five thematic sections – ‘The Object as an Actor’, ‘The Nude’, ‘The Face’, ‘The Studio as Theatre’ and ‘The Language of Signs’. Runs until 12th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

On Now – Plywood: Material of the Modern World. This exhibition in the V&A’s Porter Gallery celebrates that most versatile of building materials – plywood – and features more than 120 objects ranging from the fastest plan of World War II – the de Havilland Mosquito – to the downloadable, self-assembly WikiHouse. While fragments of layered board have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs, plywood really came into its own during the 19th century and has since been used to construct everything from an experimental elevated railway in mid-19th century New York to tea chests, hat boxes, and surfboards. Highlights include a 1908 book printed during Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition to Antarctica and bound with plywood covers, pieces by modernist designers including Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Grete Talk, Robin Day and Charles and Ray Eames, and striking examples of transport design including a 1917 moulded canoe, a 1960s British racing car with plywood chassis and some of the first ever surf and skate boards. A cluster of ice-skating shelters designed in plywood by Patkau Architects can be seen in the John Madejski Garden during the exhibition. Admission is free. Runs until 12th November. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/plywood.

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

This Grade II*-listed building is the former site of the offices of publisher, John Murray, who published four of Jane Austen’s six novels including Emma (1815), Mansfield Park (1814), Persuasion (1818) and Northanger Abbey (1818) (the last two after Austen’s death on 18th July, 1817).

Murray, whose offices were located here from 1812 onwards, published, along with Austen, many of the great literary names of the age including everyone from Lord Byron to Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving (the company also later published the likes of Herman Melville and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

The John Murray with whom Austen dealt (and it seems her brother Henry must have played a considerable part in getting Murray to publish his sister’s works given Murray had already won considerable fame with the publication of Byron’s epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1811) was actually John Murray II, of whom Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra: “He is a rogue, of course, but a civil one”.

His father John Murray I had founded the business in Fleet Street in 1768 and his son, John Murray III, continued it after his father (in fact, there were a succession of John Murrays down to John Murray VII).

The business was acquired in 2002 by Hodder Headline, itself then acquired by the French Lagardère Group. John Murray is now an imprint of Hachette UK.

PICTURE: Google Maps

This important Bayswater thoroughfare, which runs north from Bayswater Road, is one of numerous streets and districts of the city which take their name from the monarch – in this case Queen Victoria.

The street was once known as Black Lion Lane (named after a local inn) and was renamed the Queens Road in honour of Queen Victoria, soon after she came to the throne in 1837. It was changed to Queensway in 1938 to give the name a bit more distinctiveness.

It’s suggested that was reason for the renaming was that the road was one of the Queen’s favourite horse-riding routes when she was living at Kensington Palace (also her place of birth).

The street was the site of an early department store which was opened by William Whiteley and the origins of which go back to the mid-19th century (the building was rebuilt and most recently reopened as a shopping centre in 1989).

Other associations with the street include portrait painter Augustus Egg, who lived in a cottage in Black Lion Lane, and the Hitchcock film, Frenzy, scenes for which were apparently firmed at the then Coburg Hotel on the corner with Bayswater Road.

View north up Queensway from Bayswater tube station. PICTURE: Daniel Case/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

The 25.2 metre long skeleton of a blue whale named Hope along with that of an American mastodon, a meteorite which is one of the oldest specimens in Earth, a taxidermal display of a giraffe and giant coral are among items on display in the Natural History Museum’s newly transformed Hintze Hall from tomorrow. Selected from the museum’s more than 80 million specimens, the sometimes historic items are at the heart of 10 new displays which go on show in the ground floor alcoves known as ‘wonder bays’ as part of what is being described as a “once-in-a-generation” transformation of the 136-year-old museum. The 10 ‘wonder bays’ include five on the eastern side of the building focused on the origins and evolution of life on earth while those on the western side show the diversity of life on earth today. Elsewhere in the museum, hundreds of new specimens have been introduced including those in two new displays on the first floor balconies: the ‘Rocks and Minerals Balcony’ on the east side which features almost 300 rocks, ores and minerals and the ‘Birds Balcony’ on the west side which features more than 70 birds from as far afield as New Zealand and the Falkland Islands. To coincide with the new displays is the launch of a new summer exhibition – Whales – which features more than 100 specimens showing the diversity of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Featuring species ranging from the double-decker bus sized sperm whale – the largest toothed predator on Earth – to the 1.5 metre long harbour porpoise – one of the smallest cetaceans, the exhibition’s highlights include skulls revealing how whales sense and their eating habits, organs showing how they breathe and digest food and flippers which reveal swimming styles. For more on the exhibition and the transformation of the South Kensington museum, see www.nhm.ac.uk. PICTURE: Blue whale in Hintze Hall © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

The mysterious fate of Sir John Franklin and his 128 man crew – last seen in Baffin Bay in July, 1845, as they sailed in search of the North-West Passage – is the subject of a new landmark exhibition opening at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Death In The Ice: The Shocking Story of Franklin’s Final Expedition tells the story of the disappearance of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and the largely unsuccessful expeditions which were launched in the following 30 years to find them as well as the more recent work of forensic anthropologist, Dr Owen Beattie, and the 1845–48 Franklin Expedition Forensic Anthropology Project (FEFAP), and the eventual discovery of the remains of the HMS Erebus in 2014 and the HMS Terror in 2016. At the heart of the exhibition are objects found by Parks Canada’s archaeological teams including personal items, clothing and ship components with those from the Erebus, including the ship’s bell, being shown for the very first time since their discovery and some items found in earlier searches. Along with an examination of the Victorians fascination with the fate of the men, the exhibition will also show the significant role the Inuit played in learning their fate as well as in relation to recording the European exploration of the Arctic more generally and includes numerous Inuit objects, some of which incorporate materials of European origins traded from explorers or retrieved from abandoned ships. Developed by the Canadian Museum of History in partnership with Parks Canada and the National Maritime Museum and in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit Heritage Trust, the exhibition runs until 7th January. Admission charge applies. For more see www.rmg.co.uk/franklin.

Fifty drawings from Britain’s finest collections by artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn and eight portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger from the Royal Collection have gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt includes many rarely seen works with all those on show chosen because they captured an apparent moment of connection between the artist and a sitter. While some of those pictured in the portraits can be identified – such as the emperor’s chaplain or the king’s clerk, many are simply faces seen in the street, such as those of a nurse or a shoemaker or an artist’s friend or student. The display also includes the types of tools and media used to create the artworks and shows how the artists moved away from using medieval pattern books to studying figures and faces from life. Runs until 22nd October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/encounter.

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

Located in Gracechurch Street in the City of London, this church was first recorded in the late 12th century (although there had apparently been a church here for some time earlier) and was named for St Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism (St Benet is apparently a short form of that name).

The church, which stood on the intersection with Fenchurch Street and is among a number of London churches dedicated to that particular saint, is sometimes called St Benet Grass Church – that name apparently relates to a nearby haymarket (see our earlier post on Gracechurch Street).

Records apparently show that during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, Biblical texts which had been added to the interior walls during the earlier reign of her brother, the Protestant King Edward VI, were removed.

The church was repaired in the early 17th century but subsequently destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It was among 51 churches rebuilt in the aftermath to the designs of the office of Sir Christopher Wren.

It continued on until 1864 when the parish was united with All Hallows, Lombard Street, which was later among a number of churches united with St Edmund the King and Martyr in Lombard Street.

The church building – its spire had come in for some criticism – was demolished just a couple of years later in 1867-68 (its removal helped to widen Fenchurch Street) and the site apparently sold for £24,000.

The pulpit is now in St Olave, Hart Street, and the plate was split between St Benet in Mile End Road – which was built with the proceeds of the sale of the church land – and St Paul’s Shadwell. (St Benet Gracechurch was apparently only one of two of Wren’s churches never to have an organ).

There’s a plaque marking the location of the church at 60 Gracechurch Street. The narrow street St Benet’s Place also references the former church.

PICTURE: St Benet Gracechurch in the 1820s from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839)/Via Wikipedia.

 

• An new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service opens at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich on Saturday. The free display explores the lives and experiences of the women who served and trained at Greenwich, spanning the period from World War I to the late 1970s. As well as covering the role of the WRNS during the first and second World Wars, the exhibition also looks at the post war experiences of the Wrens and features 16 new interviews and rarely seen photographs which bring to life this chapter in the history of the Old Royal Naval College. The exhibition can be seen until 3rd December. Entry is free. For more, www.ornc.org/wrns. PICTURE: Newly commissioned WRNS officers at Greenwich, 1969. Courtesy Old Royal Naval College.

An English Heritage blue plaque commemorating Stella Reading, founder of the Women’s Voluntary Services, was unveiled at the organisation’s former London headquarters this week. Lady Reading (1894-1971) founded the “army that Hitler forgot” from a single room in the building in 1938 with the so-called ‘ladies in green’ going on to serve in a range of roles – from looking after child evacuees and collecting aluminium for aircraft to serving thousands of cups of tea from static and mobile canteens. The plaque at 41 Tothill Street in Westminster was unveiled by actress and Royal Voluntary Service ambassador Dame Patricia Routledge. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A year-long season of Korean art in the UK is being launched with a free festival at Olympia London this Saturday. The family-friendly London Korean Festival features food tastings, Korean drumming, martial arts exhibitions, traditional craft workshops and a sneak peak at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang using the latest VR technology. There’s also a chance for budding K-Pop stars to audition for the K-Pop World Festival and a ticketed evening concert at 7pm featuring four K-pop sensations. The free daytime festival runs from 11am to 5.30pm. For more information, visit www.kccuk.org.uk. Tickets for the K-Pop concert can be obtained at londonkoreanfestival.co.uk.

On Now: Picturing Hetty Feather. This exhibition at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury explores the depiction of the Foundling Hospital through the life of the fictitious Victorian foundling Hetty Feather. Feather first came to life in 2008 and Dame Jacqueline Wilson has since gone on to write four more books about the spirited character, the first two of which feature the Foundling Hospital. The popularity of the books, which have sold millions of copies, has resulted in a stage show and TV series. This exhibition, the first devoted to Hetty Feather and the Foundling Hospital, explores the ways in which curators, writers, directors and designers have used historical evidence (and gaps in it) to bring the 19th century hospital to life. Objects on show include props and original costumes from the CBBC TV series as well as treasures from the Foundling Hospital Collection and the exhibition also includes immersive experiences such as the chance for visitors to try on costumes, try their hand at script writing and discover their own ‘picturing’ abilities (a reference to the imaginative story-telling Hetty employs to help her cope with life’s challenges). Runs until 3rd September. Admission charge applies. For more (including information on associated events), see foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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

For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

Restored and altered as part of the creation of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s £54.5 million Exhibition Road Quarter project, the screen was originally built in 1909 to conceal the museum’s boilers. 

Named for renowned architect Sir Aston Webb, who designed the screen as part of his masterplan of the V&A conceived in the last 1800s (but who is perhaps most famous for designing the facade of Buckingham Palace), the screen originally featured a solid stone wall along Exhibition Road on the museum’s west side topped with a colonnade (through which glimpses of the buildings behind could be seen) and featuring a central arch through which to enter the museum.

The screen, which was damaged during World War II by shrapnel, later had black metal gates fitted in the arch for security. They were topped by a large coat-of-arms.

Under the guidance of architect Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A, the work – which actually involved moving the screen off-site in 2013 and then reassembling its 1375 stones last year – has seen the removal of the wall so that people now have 11 entrances into the courtyard beyond (now redesigned as the porcelain-tiled Sackler Courtyard).

Which means the screen that was once designed to hide what was beyond it has been recast to reveal it instead.

The screen – and the Exhibition Road Quarter project as a whole – is being unveiled to the public today. The V&A is hosting a week long event to celebrate the completion of the project.

WHERE: Aston Webb Screen, Exhibition Road entrance, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington (nearest Tube station is South Kensington); WHEN: Anytime; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

PICTURE: The Aston Webb Screen, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow

 

 


Another view which owes its existence to the Victorians is that from the walkways adjoining the twin towers of the iconic Tower Bridge.

Built between 1886 and 1894, the bridge, the most sophisticated bascule bridge then in existence, was designed with two open-to-the-elements high level walkways, located 42 metres above the Thames, which enabled pedestrians to cross the bridge even when it was raised.

But the walkways didn’t prove popular – people apparently preferred to wait until the bridge was lowered rather than climb the 200 or so steps up and then down to use the walkways. The absence of people meant the walkways became the haunt of some ‘disreputable’ people – prostitutes and pickpockets are the most commonly cited. In 1910, they were closed.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the walkways were opened up once again, allowing visitors to enjoy a view that had been barred to the public for some 72 years.

As well as providing panoramic views to the east and west down the River Thames, the walkways these days contain an exhibition on ‘Great Bridges of the World’ as well as, since 2014, the chance to walk on the 11 metre long glass floor (and, if it’s not doing so in real life, see the bridge raised below via the augmented reality ‘Raise the Bridge’ app).

And don’t worry, the steps have been joined by elevators for those who can’t make the stair climb.

WHERE: Tower Bridge (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm (until September); COST: £9.80 an adult/£3.90 child (aged five to 15)/£6.80 adult concession (family tickets also available as well as joint tickets to the Monument); WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk/walkways.

PICTURES: Top – Tower Bridge with its two high level walkways (David Adams); Below – View of the glass floor in the walkways (Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0/cropped image)


There are several 19th century bandstands in London but we believe the oldest still standing is in Hyde Park.

This octagonal, Grade II-listed, bandstand was originally located in the adjoining Kensington Gardens (near Mount Gate),  having been built in 1869, only eight years after the first ever bandstand in London had been installed in the nearby Royal Horticultural Gardens in Kensington.

It was moved to Hyde Park in 1886 – it can now be found on the north side of Serpentine Road, just to the north-west of Hyde Park Corner – and concerts were apparently held here three times a week in the 1890s. (Another bandstand was erected in Kensington Gardens in the 1930s).

Featuring cast iron decorative columns and a tent roof, the Hyde Park bandstand appeared in the 1935 film, Top Hat, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (although the building in the film was actually a replica located on a Hollywood soundstage). Others who have ‘played’ the bandstand include the famous trumpeter Harry Mortimer.

The bandstand, which is now one of the oldest in Britain, is still used for concerts on occasion as well as being part of the annual Winter Wonderland event. Check The Royal Parks website for details of when events are scheduled here.

PICTURE: Claire Ward/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0