This Week in London – Buckingham Palace masterpieces; the Museum of London wants your dreams; theoretical physicist honoured; and, Khadija Saye’s self-portraits…

Gerrit Dou The Grocer’s Shop (1672) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

World renowned artworks from Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery go on show at the Queen’s Gallery from tomorrow. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace features 65 works by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto and, unlike in the tours of the State Rooms, visitors to the Queen’s Gallery will face the chance to enjoy the works close-up. The paintings on show include Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (early 1660s), Sir Peter Paul Rubens Milkmaids with Cattle in a Landscape, (c1617–18), Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633), Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day (c1733–4), Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1537) and Gerrit Dou’s The Grocer’s Shop (1672). The exhibition runs until January 2022. Advance booking is essential and admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

The Museum of London is seeking to record the dreams of Londoners during the coronavirus pandemic in a new project with the Museum of Dreams at Western University in Canada. Guardians of Sleep represents the first time dreams as raw encounters and personal testimonies will be collected by a museum. Londoners are being asked to register their interest to take part by 15th January with conversations with members of the Dreams network – an international team of trained scholars from the psychosocial community, slated to be held over Zoom in February. Contributions will be considered for acquisition by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ project. To volunteer to participate in the study, or to find out more details, members of the public should contact info@museumofdreams.org.

Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, has been honoured with a Blue Plaque at his former property in Putney. The red brick Edwardian house was the Pakistani scientist’s London base from 1957 until his death in 1996. It features a study where Salam would write while listening to long-playing records of Quranic verses and music by composers ranging from Strauss to Gilbert and Sullivan. Salam’s work on electroweak theory contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle – the ‘God particle’ which gives everything mass, and he was also involved in improving the status of science in developing countries.The unveiling comes as English Heritage issues a call for the public to nominate more notable scientists from history for its Blue Plaque scheme in London with only around 15 per cent of the 950 plus blue plaques across the capital dedicated to scientists. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A self-portrait series by late Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye can be seen at the British Library’s entrance hall from today.  Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe features nine silk-screen prints and demonstrates Saye’s deep concern with “how trauma is embodied in the black experience” as well as her Gambian heritage and mixed-faith background. Saye, who died in 2017, photographed herself with cultural, religious and spiritual objects of significance both to her Christian mother and Muslim father and in African traditions of spirituality. The free display is on show until 2nd May. For more, see www.bl.uk.

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

10 London buildings that were relocated…10. Sir Paul Pindar’s house…

OK, so our last entry in this series isn’t a house, just a facade. But it is a significant and rare example of part of a pre-Great Fire timber-framed house in London which has been relocated.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is paul-pindars-house-.jpg
PICTURE: tx K.B. Thommpson
(licensed under CC BY 3.0)

The intricately detailed wooden facade, which can now be found in the V&A in South Kensington, was originally part of a three-and-half storey mansion which stood on the west side of Bishopsgate Without (that is, just outside the City of London’s walls).

It was built by Sir Paul Pindar, a wealthy merchant and diplomat who was knighted by King James I in 1620 (we’ll be featuring more of his story in an upcoming ‘Famous Londoners’ article).

He had purchased several properties in the street in 1597 and then incorporated these properties into a single mansion which also included a new section (of which the striking facade survives).

The house, which Shakespeare himself may well have walked past, was unusually large and sufficiently opulent that it served as the residence of Pietro Contarini, the Venetian ambassador, in 1617–18.

By 1660, it had been divided into smaller dwellings and, having survived the Great Fire of London, subsequently became a residence for the indigent. The front rooms on the ground floor, meanwhile, were turned into a tavern named the Sir Paul Pindar’s Head.

By the late 19th century, however, the nearby Liverpool Street Railway Station needed more room for expansion and, as a result, in 1890 the property was demolished to make space.

Part of the facade, however, was carefully dismantled (albeit some large sections, like the projecting carved window frames, were kept intact) and subsequently moved to the V&A where it was reassembled using carpenters’ marks on the wood.

The restored frontage (without the original glass and leading which was replaced in 1890) initially stood near the front of the museum but in the Noughties was delicately moved to where it now stands in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries.

While the museum is currently closed as a result of coronavirus restrictions, we publish these details for when you can visit. Timed tickets can be booked for future dates here.

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: Special – see above; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

Treasures of London – Chiswick House Conservatory…

While the lockdown means buildings are now closed, we continue with our regular series for visits at a later time…

This 300 foot long, now Grade I-listed, conservatory was constructed on the orders of the 6th Duke of Devonshire in the grounds of the neo-Palladian Chiswick House to the west of London and completed in 1813.

Then one of the largest of its kind in the world, the conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware (he also designed the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly) and while its east and west ranges are of a conventional design, its centre features an unusual domed roof.

The conservatory, which was built on land which the duke had acquired by buying a neighbouring estate, is seen as a forerunner to Decimus Burton’s famous building at Kew Gardens as well as Joseph Paxton’s conservatory at Chatsworth and even the Crystal Palace itself.

In 1828, the Duke filled it with his exotic collection of camellias. The glasshouse now stands at the heart of Chiswick House’s annual Camellia Festival.

The collection of camellias is, of course, a treasure in its own right. It was first created by the 6th Duke and his gardener, William Lindsay, with plants acquired from Alfred Chandler’s nursery in Vauxhall.

The collection includes 33 different varieties, including some of the earliest introduced to the UK, and one of the rarest plants in the world – a deep pink camellia japonica known as ‘Middlemist’s Red’ which was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Shepherds Bush nurseryman John Middlemist, and apparently presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823.

For more, see www.chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk.

Where’s London’s oldest…(still-in-use) bridge?

There’s several candidates for the title (and, of course, it depends on what exactly we mean). So here we go… 

First up is the Clattern Bridge, which crosses the River Hogsmill (a small river which runs into the Thames), in Kingston upon Thames in the city’s south-west.

The earliest known reference to this three-arched bridge dates back to 1293 and the medieval name, ‘Clateryngbrugge’, is thought to refer to the sound horses’ hooves made as they clattered across.

While the bridge (pictured above and right), which had replaced an earlier wooden Saxon bridge, was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries, its Historic England Grade I listing notes that it remains a “good example of a medieval multi-span bridge which survives well” and includes some “impressive medieval masonry”.

Second is another Grade I-listed bridge that doesn’t even cross a river but rather a moat at Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east.

The stone north bridge, now the main entrance to the palace, is described by English Heritage as “London’s oldest working bridge” – although it’s not as old as the Clattern Bridge.

It was constructed in 1390 on the orders of King Richard II, replacing an earlier wooden bridge (it was apparently Geoffrey Chaucer – yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer – who supervised the building works as part of his job as Clerk of the Works to Eltham Palace).

The bridge features four arches, pointed cutwaters with chamfered tops on the outside and a red brick parapet on top.

Thirdly, is the Richmond Bridge which, although not in the same (medieval) league as the previous two, is the oldest bridge crossing the Thames.

The now Grade I-listed structure was built between 1774 and 1777 as a replacement for a ferry crossing and while it was slightly altered in 1939-40, it remains substantially original.

PICTURE: Top – Clattern Bridge (Maureen Barlin/licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Middle – The bridge at Eltham Palace (John K Thorne/Public domain); Bottom – Richmond Bridge (Marc Barrot/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…9. Red House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…8. Carlyle’s House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…7. Fenton House and Garden…


Like other National Trust properties, Fenton House is now closed – please do not travel there. But we run this article in the hope you’ll be able to visit in the future…

This Hampstead property dates from the 17th century but its current name comes instead from Philip Fenton, a merchant who bought it in 1793, some 100 years after it was constructed.

The two storey brown brick property, which had previously been known as Ostend House (perhaps a reference to its unknown first owner’s Flemish links), was considerably altered by Fenton, a merchant from Yorkshire who had based himself in Riga. But despite that – and subsequent alterations, many original features remain.

The Grade I-listed property was acquired by Katherine, Lady Binning, in 1936. In 1952 she bequeathed it to the National Trust complete with her rather large collections of porcelain, needlework, furniture and artworks.

The Trust also moved in a large collection of early musical instruments. Assembled by Major George Benton Fletcher, these had been given them to the Trust in 1937 and include a harpsichord dating from 1612 which was probably used by Handel.

Located on an acre, the house features a notable walled garden featuring formal topiary and lawn, a sunken rose garden, a 300-year-old apple and pear orchard and kitchen garden.

Fenton House is now closed – but for more information on when it might reopen, keep an eye on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fenton-house.

PICTURE: Top – A view of Fenton House (It’s No Game/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Inside the property (Kotomi_/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – Treasures of Osterley and, a Summer Opening remembered…

With the closures of properties around London thanks to the COVID-19 emergency, we’ll be highlighting some online exhibitions instead. Here’s a couple to get you started…

Osterley House in Isleworth in London’s west was purchased by the Child banking family in 1713 who then set about transforming the property and filling it with treasures sourced from around the world. An exhibition, which was held at the house between November and February but which can now be viewed online, tells the story of the family who developed the banking business Child & Co during Britain’s Financial Revolution between 1660 and 1750. While the property, which is now looked after by the National Trust, is rightfully famous for the interiors Robert Adam created in the later 18th century, Treasures of Osterley: Rise of a Banking Family, features treasures from this earlier era. Among the items featured are a receipt for money signed by King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynn, a lacquered screen from China decorated with the arms of the Child family (c1715-20), and the oil painting Saint Agatha by Carlo Dolci (1616–1687), which was purchased by Sir Robert Child. To view the exhibition (which was open to the public at the house between November and February), head to www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/exhibition/treasures-of-osterley. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Visitors to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in 2018 were able to see a special display of artworks selected by the Prince of Wales to mark his 70th birthday. The exhibition, Prince and Patron, featured Prince Charles’ favourite works from both the Royal Collection and his private collection. They include a cedar wood pavilion created by classical Afghan-born carver Nasser Mansouri, a red felt cloak which, believed to have been worn by Napoleon, was seized from Napoleon’s baggage train at Waterloo following his defeat, and, various portraits of the Prince and other members of the Royal Family. The display can be viewed on the Google Arts and Culture website.

 

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…2. Morden Hall Park…

Located on the banks of the River Wandle in Morden, south London, Morden Hall was built for the Garth family in the 18th century on the site of an earlier manor house.

The manor, which had once been held by the abbot of Westminster Abbey, had been in the Garth family since it was purchased by Richard Garth, a clerk and son of a successful lawyer, following the Dissolution in the 16th century. At the time, the newly built manor house, apparently known as Growtes, stood just to the south of where the hall now stands.

The now Grade II-listed hall was built for the family in between 1759 and 1765 and over the next century a number of tenants occupied it – it was used at once point as a school for young gentlemen.

In 1867, the Garth family sold the altered house and estate to a tobacco merchant, Gilliat Hatfeild (Gilliat’s father, Alexander Hatfeild, had, since 1834, leased two mills on the site to ground tobacco from plantations in Virginia into snuff). Gilliat created a park from the land surrounding the hall, planting trees and demolishing cottages.

His son, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, took over the running of the estate on the death of his father in 1906. During World War I, the hall saw service as a convalescent home for the military and was later used by the Salvation as a home for women and children.

In 1941, Alexander’s grandson, Gilliat Edward Hatfield – who had closed the mills and snuff-making factory in the early 1920s – left the house and the core of the estate (the remainder was occupied by new housing and roads) to the National Trust. The hall itself has since been used as a restaurant and, following a 2015 renovation, is now a venue for weddings.

The 125 acres of grounds, which are open to the public, contain a variety of landscapes including the remains of a deer park, meadows and a wetland. The restored rose garden was first planted by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild in around 1921 in part of what had been his father’s deer park. It was laid out in two halves separated by a small stream with rose-covered bridges. The rose garden also features a massive Westfelton Yew which is believed to be hundreds of years old.

The snuff mills, which were built in 1750 and 1830, are still standing (the western mill contains an exhibition on the life of the Morden mill workers in the Victorian era) as are various workshops, the former stables and Morden Cottage, parts of which date from the 1750s and which was used by GE Hatfeild who preferred living there to the hall. Facilities in the park include the Potting Shed Café near the main entrance and a second-hand bookshop in the former stable yard.

WHERE: Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, Morden (nearest train station is Stableyard); WHEN: The rose garden is open from 8am to 6pm daily (check the website for other times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park.

PICTURES: Top – The White Bridge over the River Wandle at Modern Hall Park (Garry Knight/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right – Morden Hall from the park (public domain)

Picture Special – ‘Lightopia’ shines at Chiswick House…

The grounds of Chiswick House in London’s west have been illuminated in spectacular fashion over the past few weeks in a winter light trail known as ‘Lightopia’ – but don’t worry, you still have until 1st March to take it all in. The event features acrobats, musicians, a 3D projection busting from the walls of Chiswick House and 47 groups of handmade, silk light installations, including the ‘Tree of Light’ centrepiece – a stunning, 18 metre peacock which moves in synchronisation with music. These silk installations combine ancient techniques of Chinese lantern making with modern technology and were made by people from the Chinese village of Zigong. An admission charge applies. For more, head to www.lightopiafestival.com . Here’s a sample of what’s on show…

ALL PICTURES: Courtesy of Lightopia Festival

A Moment in London’s History – The National Trust acquires Eastbury Manor House…

This month (12th January to be exact) marks 125 years since the National Trust was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. So we’re taking a quick look at another, somewhat related, milestone – the acquisition of the Trust’s first London property.

Located in Barking, Eastbury Manor House, initially known as Eastbury Hall, was built between 1560 and 1573 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) for Clement Sisley on land which once belonged to Barking Abbey.

The H-shaped house and surrounding estate remained in the family until 1629 after which it passed through the hands of a number of well-to-do families, gradually falling into disrepair.

By the early 19th century, decay had led to one of the property’s unique octagonal stair turrets being pulled down and wooden flooring and fireplaces removed. The ground floor was being used as a stable and dairy.

The property struggled on into the early 20th century when it was threatened with demolition. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, recognising its significance as a rare example of mid-16th century brick built gentry house, lobbied for it to be saved and, working alongside the National Trust, ran a campaign to raise funds for its acquisition.

The house – and surrounding gardens – were acquired by the Trust for the nation in 1918 and then, in 1934, leased to Barking Borough Council. The following year the property became the home of Barking Museum.

It was awarded Grade I-listed status in 1954 and is now managed by the Borough of Barking and Dagenham. A restoration program in recent years has seen the addition of a permanent exhibition on the property’s history.

WHERE: Eastbury Manor House, Eastbury Square, Barking (nearest Tube station is Upney); WHEN: From 13th  February, 10am to 4pm Thursdays and Fridays and, from 22nd March, 11am to 4pm Sundays; COST: £5.20 adults/£2.60 children and concessions/£9.30 family (LBBD residents, SPAB and National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.eastburymanorhouse.org.uk.

PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

10 (more) historic London garden squares…9. Manchester Square…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICTURES: Google Maps

This Week in London – Saint Agatha returns to Osterley; Lucian Freud’s self-portraits; and, the collection of Sir Stamford Raffles…

A painting of early Christian martyr Saint Agatha by 17th century Italian artist Carlo Dolci is the highlight of a new exhibition opening at Osterley House in London’s west on Monday. The painting, which has been acquired by the National Trust for the house thanks to an Art Fund grant and other donations, is at the heart of Treasures of Osterley –  Rise of a Banking Family which explores the rise to fame and fortune of the Child family. Sir Robert Child had originally purchased the picture at the start of the 18th century but it was later sold with other family heirlooms in the 1930s. The painting depicts the miraculous moment with St Peter appeared to St Agatha in a vision and healed her wounds. The exhibition can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley-park-and-house.

The first exhibition to focus on the “visceral and unflinching” self-portraits of artist Lucian Freud (1922-2011) has opened at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits features about 50 works that chart his artistic development from early graphic works to the fleshy, painterly style of his later work. The display is organised into six sections, starting with first major self-portrait, Man with a Feather (1943), which is juxtaposed with his late work, Self-portrait, Reflection (2000). It ends with two self-portraits he painted in 2002 and 2003. The exhibition can be seen in The Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing of Galleries until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985 Oil on canvas, 55.9 x 55.3 cm Private collection, on loan to the Irish Museum of Modern Art © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images

• On Now: Sir Stamford Raffles: collecting in Southeast Asia 1811-1824. Controversial figure Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles spent most of his career as an official with the East India Company in South-East Asia during which he was an avid collector of objects from the region. His collection, one of the first large collections from the region, was eventually donated to the British Museum. This display at the museum showcases an important selection of 130 objects from that collection including Hindu-Buddhist antiquities, different types of theatrical puppets, masks, musical instruments and stone and metal sculpture. A collaboration with Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, the exhibition can be seen until 12th January in Room 91. It’s free to enter. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

LondonLife – Westminster Abbey marks 750th anniversary of Henry III’s rebuild; new mental health awareness tour at National Gallery; and, Rembrandt at Kenwood…

Two 13th century manuscripts from Westminster Abbey’s collection have this month gone on show in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at the abbey to mark the 750th anniversary of King Henry III’s rebuilding of the church originally constructed on the orders of Edward the Confessor. Believed to have never before been displayed to the public, the manuscripts – which feature ink script on vellum and have wax seals on silk cords attached – include a royal charter dated 1246 in which King Henry III announces his intention to be buried alongside Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey and an inventory of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine dating from 1267 which shows how much gold, precious stones and jewels were taken from it and pawned to provide the king with much-needed money. The documents can only be seen until 28th October. Admission charge applies. For more, www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries. The display is one of number of special events taking place to mark the anniversary of the third consecration of the abbey church which took place in the presence of King Henry III on 13th October, 1269. While Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a special service to mark the occasion on Tuesday, other events aimed at the public include a special family day next Wednesday (23rd October) featuring medieval re-enactors in the cloisters, the chance to meet some of the abbey staff and to take part in a family-friendly Eucharist as well as a late opening for amateur photographers to take photographs inside the abbey (23rd October), and special family tours of the abbey (22nd and 24th October). Meanwhile, this Saturday, the abbey will host the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. For more on other events at the abbey, head to www.westminster-abbey.org/events.

The National Gallery launched its first mental health awareness tour to mark World Mental Health Day last week. The tour, which is available as a smartphone app, aims to improve understanding of mental health among gallery visitors with an alternative perspective on the collection which draws on young people’s experiences of mental health – gleaned through workshops with 16 to 25-year-olds – and connects visitors with the gallery’s paintings to challenge common myths about mental health. The tour includes a focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the gallery’s architecture and figures from its portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. The tour – co-created by researchers from King’s College London, the McPin Foundation, a group of young people affected by mental health issues and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme and funded by Medical Research Council and the British Academy – is available free to visitors for six months. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

Kenwood House in Hampstead is hosting a special display commemorating 350 years since Rembrandt’s death on 4th October, 1669. The exhibition – Rembrandt #nofilter – centres on the artist’s Self-portrait with Two Circles which has been taken from its usual place in the former dining room and represented in the dining room lobby alongside a digital photo mosaic of the painting made of “selfies” taken by visitors to Kenwood. Entry is free Runs until 12th January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood/.

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What’s in a name?…Cockfosters…


No more than the name of a Tube terminus (the north-east end of the Piccadilly Line) to many Londoners, Cockfosters has an interesting origin story.

The area in north London, which lies partly in the London Borough of Enfield and partly in the London Borough of Barnet, owes its name to its location on the edge of what was the royal forest of Enfield Chase.

In the 15th century, the forest was protected by foresters housed in three lodges – one of which was located where the West Lodge Park hotel, built in 1838, now stands.

(An interesting side note is that after the foresters stopped using the original lodge, it became, at one stage, the home of King Charles II’s Secretary of State, Henry Coventry. Diarist John Evelyn is among those who visited him.)

The ‘fosters’ part of the name is apparently derived from an Elizabethan-era variant of the word forester while ‘cock’ is a old word for leader or chief. Cockfosters, then, literally means the home of the chief or head forester.

The modernist Tube station, designed by Charles Holden and opened in 1933, is a key landmark as is the stately, Grade II-listed property Trent Park which is located on a remnant of Enfield Chase.

Other notable buildings include Christ Church Cockfosters, founded in 1839, and The Cock Inn, which opened in Chalk Lane in 1798.

PICTURED: Top – Trent Park House (© Christine Matthews/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; below – Cockfosters Tube Station (Steve Cadman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

Treasures of London – ‘Madonna of the Pomegranate’…

Conservator Rachel Turnbull completes the conservation of the 15th century Madonna of the Pomegranate – a painting revealed to be a rare example by the workshop of Italian artist Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) which is now on display at the Ranger’s House in Blackheath.

Long believed to be a later imitation of his work, the discovery of the painting’s true origins was made while it was undergoing cleaning and the work’s true colours – hidden under more than a century of yellow varnish – revealed.

The painting depicts the Madonna and Christ Child flanked by four angels while the Madonna holds a pomegranate – a symbol of the future suffering of Christ. The angels hold lilies – a symbol of Mary’s virginity and purity, garlands of roses – a symbol of Mary’s love of God, and books of prayer.

The assumption that it was a later copy arose because of its variations from the original – now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence – and the varnish that had concealed its quality. X-ray testing, infrared studies and pigment analysis have now, however, revealed it to be from the same Florentine workshop where Botticelli created his masterpieces.

English Heritage conservators removed surface dirt, nineteenth-century overpaint and old varnish to reveal the painting’s original vivid reds, blues and golds. It is believed this “tondo”, a kind of circular painting, is the closest existing copy of the original.

The painting was purchased by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in 1897 and subsequently found among the more than 700 artworks in the Wernher Collection, elements of which are on display at the Ranger’s House.

WHERE: Ranger’s House Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath (nearest train station is Blackheath); WHEN: 11am to 5pm, Sunday to Thursday; COST: £9.50 adults/£8.60 concession/£5.70 children (5-17 years) (members free; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/rangershouse.

PICTURES: © English Heritage.

 

LondonLife – Ham House gets flowery…

Part of the garden at the historic Thames-side mansion Ham House has been redesigned with the aim of bringing some new life to the manicured lawns. Rosie Fyles, head gardener at the 17th century property in Richmond – now in the care of the National Trust, has overseen the planting of a series of “plats” – each the size of a tennis court – with some 500,000 bulbs and wildflowers to create a “pageant of colour” from early spring and throughout summer. The plats have also been created with wildlife and diversity in mind, using naturalising bulbs to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Fyles hopes the project will prove inspirational for home gardeners. “You can easily use pots, planters or a small area of border to create a pollinator-friendly bulb display over a few early spring months; in fact you can curate your own sequence of flowering from February to May at least,” she said. “We have used Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’, four types of species tulips (including bright red Tulipa linifolia) and Muscari latifolium to create a bright, deep blue carpet of colour.” For more, head to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden. ALL PICTURES: National Trust/Chris Davies.

LondonLife – Van Gogh-era papers found in his former London home…


A cache of papers and items found in Vincent Van Gogh’s former south London home – and dating from 1873-74, the period he lodged there – have shed new light on his time in the city.
The papers, which include insurance documents, a small pamphlet of prayers and hymns, and scraps of paper painted with watercolour flowers (probably not the work of Van Gogh), were found under the floorboards and between the attic timbers of the house at 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell. They were discovered during a renovation of the early Victorian terraced house in which Van Gogh lived in while working as an assistant for an art dealer in Covent Garden. During the period he stayed at the house, it has been suggested that the Dutch artist fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord (although his love was apparently not reciprocated). He also apparently became devoutly Christian during his time there (perhaps explaining the prayer pamphlet). The home’s current owners Jian Wang, a former professional violinist who originally hails from China, and his wife Alice Childs have reportedly been renovating the property in order to use it as a base for visiting Chinese artists in collaboration with the nearby San Mei Gallery. For more on the house, see www.vangoghhouse.co.uk. A near life-size photograph of the facade of the Hackford Road house forms part of Tate Britain’s upcoming display The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain which opens later this month (more on that shortly). PICTURE: An English Heritage Blue Plaque adorning the house (Spudgun67 – licensed under CC BY 2.0).

10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London…7. Charles and Mary Lamb’s house…

Renowned sibling writers Charles and Mary Lamb lived in a property at 64 Duncan Terrace in Islington from 1823-27 and, their visitors there apparently included Mary Shelley.

Shelley had returned to London in 1823 after the death of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley who had drowned along with two other men off the coast of Italy in July the previous year.

Back in London, Shelley lived in various properties as far afield as Kentish Town – many of which are no longer extant. But one home she was known to have visited after her return (which is still standing) was that of the Lambs.

Charles, part of the literary circle which included Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, described the property – Colebrook Cottage – as a “white house with six good rooms”. Now Grade II-listed, it dates from the 18th century.

The New River once ran close by  – so close, in fact, that one guest, believed to be the blind poet George Dyer, walked into the river after leaving the house and had to be rescued by Lamb. The river is now covered.

The property features an English Heritage Blue Plaque (although in this case, it’s actually brown), commemorating Lamb’s stay here.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

 

What’s in a name?…Bishopsgate…

This major London thoroughfare (and ward of the City of London) owes its name to one of the eight former gates of the City of London – that’s right, Bishopsgate.

Located at what’s now the junction with Wormwood Street (and marked by a mitre which appears on a building there), the gate was the departure point for Ermine Street which ran from London to Lincoln and York.

The gate and hence the road – which runs northward from the intersection of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill to where it becomes Norton Folgate Street (which links into Shoreditch High Street) – is believed to have been named for the 7th century Bishop Erkenwald (Earconwald). It was he who apparently first ordered its reconstruction on the site of a former Roman gate.

By Tudor times, the street had become known for the mansions of rich merchants – among those who had their homes here were Sir Thomas Gresham, Sir John Crosby and Sir Paul Pindar (Crosby Hall was later re-erected in Chelsea and the facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house, is in the V&A). The street also become known for its many great coaching inns, all of which were eventually demolished.

Bishopsgate was the first street in London to have gas lighting when it was introduced about 1810 and, about 1932, became the first in Europe to have automated traffic lights (at the junction with Cornhill).

The City of London ward straddles the site of the old London wall and gate and is accordingly divided into “within” and “without” sections.

While there are a number of churches associated with the street – St Ethelburga Bishopsgate, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, these days it is largely lined by office buildings including the former NatWest Tower. Other notable buildings include that of the Bishopsgate Institute and the busy Liverpool Street Station is also accessible from Bishopsgate.

The name Bishopsgate is also synonymous with an IRA truck bombing which took place in the street on 24th April, 1993, in which one man was killed and 44 injured.

PICTURE: Top – Looking southward along Bishopsgate in 2014. (stevekeiretsu; licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – The Bishop’s mitre marking the location of the former gate (Eluveitie/ licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).