liberty1Liberty, now a West End institution, was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 with a vision to transform the way people thought of fashion and homewares.

Born the son of a Buckinghamshire draper, Liberty worked with relatives from a young age before he eventually started work with a women’s fashion house, Farmer and Rogers. Rising to management, when they refused to make him a partner in the business, he decided to strike out on his own and established Liberty & Co at 218a Regent Street, an ‘oriental warehouse’ selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art. He named the property East India House.

libertyOnly 18 months after he first set up shop – financed with a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law and employed three staff – he was already expanding his premises into properties to the south in Regent Street to house furnishings and carpets. He eventually took over all the buildings between 140 to 150 and named the extended building Chesham House.

The costume department was introduced in 1884 and together with its director EW Godwin, Liberty created in-house fashions to challenge those of Paris. He is also noted for having encouraged and collaborated with designers like Archibald Knox and William Morris.

Liberty, who took the company public in 1894, was knighted in 1913. He died in 1917, seven years before the current Liberty store – the mock-Tudor building on the corner of Regent Street and Great Marlborough Street – was built.

Designed by Edwin T Hall and son, the shop was built from the timbers of two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan (and the shop frontage measures the same length as the latter). It was built around three light wells, each of which was surrounded by smaller rooms – many of which have fireplaces and were designed to give the feel of rooms in a house.

Features on the Grade II*- listed building include its weathervane – an exact replica of the Mayflower, which took pilgrims to the US in 1620, decorative shields including the arms of Shakespeare and those of the wives of King Henry VIII, and the clock above the Kingly Street entrance.

Liberty, which is generally acknowledged to have been a powerful influence on 19th and 20th century fashions and tastes, was bought by its current owners, BlueGem in 2010.

~ www.libertylondon.com

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hms-belfast

The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.

great-tea-raceIt’s 150 years ago this month that the ‘Great Tea Race’  of 1866 ended in London with the clipper ship Taeping taking the honours followed just 28 minutes later by the Ariel.

The race, which had started in China, was part of a tradition for ships carrying cargoes of tea from the east to engage in a race to be the first to dock in London – and quite a lucrative one, for it was common for the first ship to arrive to receive a premium of at least 10 per cent (although 1866 was apparently the last time this was offered).

At least 57 ships apparently sailed in the 1866-67 ‘tea season’, departing for Britain from a range of ports including Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. But it was the fastest which gathered the most attention – these chosen clippers set sail for Britain from the Min River, downriver from Foochow (now Fuzhou), in late May, 1866.

As well as the Taeping, launched in 1863 and captained by Donald MacKinnon, and the Ariel, launched only the previous year and captained by John Keay, other favourites in the 1866 race included Fiery CrossSerica and Taitsing.

The race was followed breathlessly in the London press although details were limited – largely due to the time it took for the news to reach London – as the ships set a course which took them through Indonesia via the Sunda Strait and around the southern tip of Africa and up via the Atlantic to the UK.

The Taeping, the race winner, reached London Docks at 9.47pm on 6th September while Ariel arrived at the East India Dock at 10.15pm. The Serica, meanwhile, reached West India Docks at 11.30pm. (It wasn’t to be too unfortunate for the runner-up – Captains McKinnon and Keay had apparently agreed to split the premium of 10 shillings a ton).

Amazingly, this means the three ships – which had all left China on the same tide – had sailed more than 14,000 miles in a race of 99 days yet had managed to dock with just two hours between them.

PICTURE: The Ariel and Taeping, by Jack Spurling (1926)/Wikimedia Commons

totally-thamesIt’s September and that means Totally Thames, an annual month of events celebrating London’s great watery artery. Highlights among this year’s 150 events include this Saturday’s Great River Race in which more than 300 boats from across the UK and around the world compete on a course running from Millwall Slipway to Ham House in Richmond, Life Afloat, an exhibition looking at the evolution of the houseboat living on the Thames across the last 100 years, and the 8th annual Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks this weekend as well as walks, talks, performances, art installations and boat trips including a tour of Brunel’s London. Runs until the end of the month. For more information and the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org. PICTURE: Totally Thames/Barry Lewis.

The changes that swept across society in the late 1960s are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A this weekend. You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70 is divided into six distinct sections, and starts with a recreation of Carnaby Street as it was before moving on to subjects like clubs and counterculture, revolution on the street, revolution in consumerism, festivals and alternative communities. Among the objects on display are costumes designed for Mick Jagger, a Cecil Beaton portrait of Twiggy, Roger Corman’s 1967 film about LSD, The Trip, a wall of protest posters, film, sound and still footage from the 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos, a kaftan worn by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, and a rare Apple 1 computer. Runs from 10th September to 26th February at the South Kensington institution. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/revolution.

A new exhibition showcasing the British Museum’s holdings of French portrait drawings opens at the Bloomsbury establishment today. French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet offers the chance to see some well-known French portrait drawings alongside others that have never been exhibited before. Pictures on show include Francois Clouet’s portrait of Catherine de’Medici, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s chalk drawing of his infant daughter, and a ‘playful’ portrait of artist Artemisia Gentileschi by Pierre Dumonstier. The free display can be seen in Room 90 until 29th January.

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As mentioned last week, there are a number of official English Heritage blue plaques in London which commemorate events rather than people.

Alongside the blue plaque commemorating the first V1 flying bomb to hit London (the subject of last week’s entry) is a blue plaque commemorating the site where one of world’s most famous ships – the SS Great Eastern – was built.

THE_GREAT_EASTERN_(_launched_1858_)_largest_steamship_of_the_century_was_built_here_by_I.K._Brunel_and_J.Scott_RussellThe plaque is located at Burrells Wharf, 262 Westferry Road, on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands, and it was there that the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who had previously designed the SS Great Western and the SS Great Britain, was realised under the direction of naval architect and ship builder John Scott Russell, of J Scott Russell & Co.

The ship, which had a double hull and immense paddle wheels, took some five years to build at a site in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs (if you’re interested in the etymology of the latter, see our earlier post here).

It was supposed to be launched before a crowd of thousands on 3rd November, 1857, (the Great Eastern Ship Company had sold tickets). But the launch was unsuccessful as the equipment supposed to haul the ship to the water failed (and it was during this unsuccessful attempt that the ship was apparently initially christened SS Leviathan;  her name was changed to the SS Great Eastern soon after).

A couple of further unsuccessful attempts were made before, on 31st January, 1858, the 211 metre long ship – aided by an unusually high tide – was finally sent into the Thames (unusually, it was launched sideways).

The outfitting of the ship, which started in January, 1859, took six months and on 6th September, the ship made its maiden voyage from London to Weymouth, a voyage which was marred by the tragic death of a number of stokers in a boiler explosion. Sadly, Brunel himself died soon after the maiden voyage, not in the sort of triumphant circumstances he might have hoped for.

While it was originally designed to sail to India and the Far East, it was in the Atlantic where the ship took up the passenger trade. Her first voyage to North America took place in June the following year and the SS Great Eastern continued to cross the Atlantic over the next few years (including during the American Civil War when she took British troops to Canada) but, blighted by back luck (including, in 1862, running into an uncharted rock in New York harbour) and facing the competition of faster, smaller ships, she was never really a commercial success.

Sold off, the SS Great Eastern was reinvented in the mid 1860s as a cable-laying ship and did so in various parts of the world until, after being laid-up in 1874, sailing to Liverpool where she became something of a tourist attraction and a floating billboard before eventually being scrapped in 1889.

There was legend that two skeletons were found between the two hulls when the ship was broken up – that of a riveter and his ‘bash boy’ (a young lad charged with heating and putting the rivets in the hole) – and it was believed by some that it was their deaths which had brought the ship such bad luck.

The plaque was erected in 1992.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

Launched in 1973, this full-sized, working replica of the galleon sailed by Elizabethan seafarer and courtier Sir Francis Drake on his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 is moored at St Mary Overie Dock in Bankside.

Golden-HindeThe ship was made at the behest of two American businessmen, Albert Elledge and Art Blum, who wished to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Sir Francis Drake’s landing on the west coast of North America in 1579.

The ship was designed by Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, who spent three years researching it, drawing on original journals of the crew members and other manuscripts.

The two year job of building the vessel was given to J Hinks & Son who did so in Appledore, North Devon, using traditional methods and tools (with a few modern concessions).

The ship was officially launched from the Hinks shipyard by the Countess of Devon on 5th April, 1973. She sailed out of Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974 and arrived in San Francisco the following May to commemorate Sir Francis’ proclamation of New Albion at a site believed to have been in northern California in 1579.

Since then, the ship has sailed more than 140,000 miles around the world – like its forebear, it has circumnavigated the world – and been feared in various films including Shogun (1979), Drake’s Venture (1980) and St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (2009).

It has been moored in Southwark since 1996 – it did leave briefly for a visit to Southampton in 2003 – and as well as hosting school visits, is also open for tours and can be booked for private functions.

WHERE: Golden Hinde II, Bankside (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Self-guided tours 10am to 5.30pm daily (check website for other tour times and dates); COST: Various (depending on tour); WEBSITE: www.goldenhinde.com.

Cutty-Sark-pubAnother Greenwich pub whose name references an aspect of maritime history (see our previous posts on the The Gipsy Moth and the Trafalgar Tavern), this riverside establishment takes its name from a former tea clipper (which, not coincidentally, is on display nearby).

The clipper Cutty Sark was constructed in Dumbarton in 1869 to facilitate the transport of tea from China to Britain in as short a time span as possible. It made its maiden voyage the following year and but only ended up working the tea route for a few years before being used to bring wool from Australia.

Later sold to a Portuguese company, the vessel continued to be used as a cargo ship until she was sold in 1922 and used as training ship, first in Cornwall, and later at Greenhithe in Kent.

In 1954, the vessel found a new permanent dry dock at Greenwich and was put on public display. Damaged by fire in 2007, the ship underwent extensive restoration and is now displayed in a state-of-the-art purpose-built facility which allows you to walk underneath the vessel.

The three level Cutty Sark pub, located at 4-6 Ballast Quay (formerly known as Union Wharf), features a Georgian-style bow windows on the first and second floors (the first floor is home to the Willis Dining Room which has great views of the Thames).

The present Grade II-listed building apparently dates from the early 19th century (although the sign out the front suggests 1795 and it’s been suggested the building was substantially altered in the mid-19th century) but there is evidence of a public house on the location by the early 18th century.

Known at one stage at the Green Man, in 1810 it became the Union Tavern – a reference, apparently, to the union of England and Ireland which took effect in 1801. It took its current name after the Cutty Sark arrived in Greenwich in the 1950s.

For more on the pub, see www.cuttysarkse10.co.uk. For more on the ship, see www.rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark.

DiscobolusThe ancient Greek “preoccupation with the human form” is the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Defining beauty: The body in ancient Greek art features about 150 objects dating from the prehistoric to the age of Alexander the Great. Highlights include a newly discovered bronze sculpture of a new athlete scraping his body with a metal tool after exercise before bathing, six Parthenon sculptures from the museum’s collection including a sculpture by Phidias of the river god Ilissos, and  copies of Greek originals including the Towny Discobolus (discus-thrower – pictured) – a Roman copy of Myron’s lost original – and Georg Romér’s reconstruction of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (spear-bearer) . Runs until 5th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/definingbeauty. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

 

London-based contemporary artist Hew Locke has transformed an entire deck of the HMS Belfast in a major new work, ironically titled work, The Tourists. The installation – which is on show until 7th September – depicts imaginative events in which the crew of the ship are preparing to arrive at Trinidad in time for Carnival in 1962 (the ship’s last international journey – to Trinidad – actually arrived three months after the celebration). Free with general admission charge. For more see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is hosting a free exhibition of Locke’s work in which he explores the idea of naval power through a series of ship sculptures. This free exhibition can be seen until 4th May. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.

Families are invited to take part in a new interactive experience on the “high seas of maritime history” which launches at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Saturday. The museum has joined with Punchdrunk Enrichment to take six to 12 year-olds and their families on an adventure, Against Captain’s Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted. Visitors don life jackets as they become part of the crew of the HMS Adventure and take on various seafaring roles as they navigate their way through the exhibition. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st August. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/againstcaptainsorders.

See a real coral reef and take a virtual dive in new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea – which opens tomorrow on World Oceans Day – also features more than 200 specimens including coral, fish and fossils. These include examples collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, giant Turbinate coral and creatures ranging from the venomous blue-ringed octopus to tiny sponge crabs. For more see www.nhm.ac.uk.

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The boat on this iconic Greenwich pub’s sign probably gives the game away here – the Gipsy Moth is named after a yacht of the same name.

The-Gipsy-MothThe Gipsy Moth IV was sailed single-handedly around the globe by Sir Francis Chichester, then aged in his 60s, in 1966-67, who broke numerous records as he did so including the fastest voyage around the world by any small vessel, the longest non-stop passage by a small vessel and what was then the longest single-handed passage.

Following the death of Sir Francis on 26th August, 1972 (he had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on the steps of the Old Royal Naval College using the same sword that had knighted Sir Francis Drake in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I in 1581), the boat was put on display in a Greenwich dry dock next to the Cutty Sark. Initially open to the public, it was later closed due to deterioration.

Following a restoration in the early Noughties, in 2006 the Gipsy Moth IV was again sailed around the world (on a trip that wasn’t always smooth sailing) to mark the 40th anniversary of Sir Francis’ journey. It is now owned by a charitable trust based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The renovated pub, located at 60 Greenwich Church Street next to the Cutty Sark, is situated in a building which dates from the late 18th century. It apparently changed its name from the Wheatsheaf in the mid-1970s apparently to mark the arrival of the Gipsy Moth IV.

The pub features a beer garden with views of the Cutty Sark. For more information, see www.thegipsymothgreenwich.co.uk.

The-Leadenhall-Building• Open House London is finally here with some 800 buildings across the city – some of them rarely accessible to the public – open for free this weekend, from grand historical institutions and modern skyscrapers through to ‘green’ schools, engineering projects, parks and gardens, and private homes. The weekend – which is being run this year under the theme of ‘revealing’ – also includes a programme of walks, engineering and landscape tours, cycle rides, a bus tour, childrens’ activities and expert talks as well as a moonlit ‘culture crawl’ through London on Friday night and into Saturday morning (a fundraiser for Maggie’s Centres). Among the buildings opening their doors in the festival – created by London-based architecture organisation Open-City – are the ever popular 30 St Mary Axe (aka ‘The Gherkin’), the Foreign and India Office in Whitehall, the Bank of England, Portcullis House and City Hall along with everything from The Leadenhall Building (aka ‘The Cheesegrater’ – pictured), and Temple Church in the City to the Admiral’s House in Greenwich, the Dutch Embassy in Kensington and the steam coaster, the SS Robin, in Tower Hamlets. As mentioned in a previous week, some visits required pre-booking so make sure you check the programme before heading out. For a full copy of the programme of events, see www.londonopenhouse.org. PICTURE: © R Bryant.

A major new exhibition focusing on China during the “pivotal” 50 years of Ming Dynasty rule between 1400-1450 opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Ming: 50 years that changed China features some of the finest objects ever made in China – loaned from institutions in China and elsewhere – as it explores some of the “great social and cultural changes” that saw Beijing established as the capital and the building of the Forbidden City. It includes objects from the imperial courts along with finds from three regional “princely tombs”. Four emperors ruled during the period and the display will feature the sword of Yongle Emperor, “the warrior”, the handwriting of the Hongxi emperor, “the bureaucrat”, the paintings of the Xuande emperor, “the aesthete”, and portraits of the regents who ruled while the Zhengtong emperor was a boy. The exhibition runs until 4th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The work of 19th century artist John Constable and its debt to 17th century masters is the focus of a new exhibition opening at the V&A on Saturday. Constable: The Making of a Master – which features more than 150 works including celebrated pieces by Constable like The Hay Wain (1821), The Cornfield (1826) and Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831) as well as oil sketches, drawings, watercolours and engravings – will juxtapose his works with those of 17th century landscape masters like Ruisdael, Rubens and Claude. Among those of their works on display will be Rubens’ Moonlight Landscape (1635-1640) and Ruisdael’s Windmills near Haarlem (c.1650-62). The exhibition runs until 11th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/constable.

And don’t forget, Totally Thames continues to run throughout this month which an extensive programme of river-related events. Those on during the coming week include Londonist Afloat: Terrific Tales of the Thames, a series of discussion sessions on aspects of the River Thames being held aboard the HMS President and London’s River – The City’s Ebb and Flow, a guided walk along the river (held on every Saturday and Monday during September), and Hospital and Troop Ships – Transporting the walking and wounded in the First World War, an exhibition held aboard the HQS Wellington (open Sundays and Mondays in September). For the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org.

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Tudor-Pull

Crowds lined the banks of The Thames last weekend as Her Majesty’s Watermen rowed from Hampton Court Palace to the Tower of London in the annual “Tudor Pull”.  The palace-to-palace rowing event on Sunday kicked off around 10am with a ceremony at Hampton Court during which the ‘Stela’ – an ancient piece of medieval water pipe made from a hollowed-out tree trunk which symbolises the power of The Thames – is passed to the watermen who then took it up river to the Tower in the royal barge Gloriana. The barge, which was accompanied by a fleet of other traditional rowing craft, stopped at several locations along the journey, before it arrived at the Tower in Sunday afternoon where the ‘Stela’ was presented to the Governor. The event is also said to commemorate the sinking in 1256 of Queen Eleanor’s royal barge under old London Bridge. For more on the Historic Royal Palaces in London, head to www.hrp.org.uk.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.

Our new special series will kick off next week!

RoskildeThe Vikings come to the British Museum from today with the first major exhibition in more than 30 years. Vikings: life and legend, the first exhibition to be held in the new Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery, was developed with the National Museum of Denmark and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) and looks at the Viking period from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. Featuring many new archaeological discoveries and objects never seen before in the UK alongside items from the British Museum’s own collection, the exhibition is centred on the surviving timbers of a 37 metre long Viking warship excavated from the banks of the Roskilde fjord in Denmark (pictured). Other items include skeletons recently excavated from a mass grave of executed Vikings in Dorset, the Vale of York Hoard (discovered in 2007) and a stunning hoard of silver from Gnezdovo in Russia. A unique live broadcast event presented by historian Michael Wood taking cinema audiences around the exhibition will be shown in cinemas across the nation on 24th April. Admission charge applies. Runs until 22nd June. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/vikings.aspx. PICTURE: Copyright of the National Museum of Denmark. 

The commemorations of the World War I centenary have commenced at the National Portrait Gallery with The Great War in Portraits. The first of a four year programme of events and displays at the gallery, the exhibition features iconic portraits of figures such as Winston Churchill, Kaiser Wilhelm, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as well as major art works by the likes of Lovis Corinth, Max Beckmann, and Kirchner, whose painting Selbstbildnis als Soldat (Self-portrait as a Soldier) is featured, and Harold Gillies’ photographs of facially injured soldiers from the Royal College of Surgeons. Among the highlights are Jacob Epstein’s The Rock Drill, a contrasting pair of British and German films about the Battle of the Somme, and a press photograph of Gavrilo Princip, the student who sparked the flames of war when he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Elsewhere among the 80 works on display are portraits of war heroes such as VC winners are contrasted with those of soldiers disfigured by war, POWs and those shot for cowardice. Admission is free. Runs until 15th June. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/whatson/firstworldwarcentenary/exhibition.php.

Our fascination with ruins is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. Including more than 100 works from the likes of JMW Turner, John Constable, John Martin, Eduardo Paolozzi, Rachel Whiteread and Tacita Dean, Ruin Lust examines the craze for ruins that overtook creative types in the eighteenth century and the subsequent revisiting – and at times mocking – of this fascination by later figures. Works on show include Turner’s Tintern Abbey: The Crossing and Chancel, Looking towards the East Window 1794, Constable’s Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’ c 1828-9, Graham Sutherland’s Devastation series 1940-1 – showing the aftermath of the Blitz, Jon Savage’s images of London in the late 1970s, and Whitehead’s Demolished – B: Clapton Park Estate 1996, showing the demolition of Hackney tower blocks. Runs until 18th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ruin-lust.

One of the foremost seafarers of the Elizabethan age, Sir Francis Drake became the second sea captain to circumnavigate the globe when he did so in his renamed vessel, The Golden Hind, between 1577 and 1580.

Drake's-CupboardWhile it is not believed he was a member of the Middle Temple – one of the Inns of Court, he certainly had some connections and a visit to Middle Temple Hall is recorded in August, 1586, when he was congratulated having just returned from a voyage to the Spanish Indies.

His ongoing connection to the inn can be found in two objects which remain at the hall today.

The first is a ‘cupboard’, known as Drake’s Cupboard (cup board being an alternative for table), it is reputedly to have been made from a hatch cover off the Golden Hind (there’s a replica of this ship in Southwark). Replacing an earlier table, the cupboard is used in various ceremonial aspects of life at the Inn such as, for example, being the table on which members sign a book when they are called to the Bar.

The second, meanwhile, is a lantern which hangs over the entrance to the hall and was reputedly taken from the poop deck of the ship (this was destroyed during the bombings of World War II and a replica now hangs in its place).

Both items can only be viewed when the hall is opened to the public on rare occasions like the annual Open House London event. For more on Middle Temple Hall, see our earlier entry here and www.middletemple.org.uk.

• The Olympic Torch Relay arrives in London tomorrow night before working its way around all of the city’s 33 boroughs and reaching the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony next Friday.  The torch will arrive in the city by helicopter from Guildford tomorrow night and then be abseiled into the Tower of London where it will spend the night ensconced with the Olympic medals. The relay will travel 200 miles over the next week, carried by more than 980 torchbearers. The route is as follows:

  • Saturday, 21st July – Greenwich via Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to Waltham Forest (highlights include a visit to the Cutty Sark);
  • Sunday, 22nd July – Redbridge via Barking & Dagenham and Havering to Bexley (highlights include a ride on the London Eye and a crossing of the Thames);
  • Monday, 23rd July – Lewisham via Bromley, Croydon, Sutton and Merton to Wandsworth (highlights include a visit to a live filming of Eastenders);
  • Tuesday, 24th July – Kingston via Richmond, Hounslow, Hillingdon and Denham to Ealing (highlights include a visit to Kew Gardens);
  • Wednesday, 25th July – Harrow via Brent, Barnet and Enfield to Haringey (highlights include a visit to Wembley Arena);
  • Thursday, 26th July – Camden via Islington, the City of London, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham  to Westminster (the many landmarks to be visited include St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park);
  • Friday, 27th July – From Hampton Court Palace (where it will be taken into the maze) on board Gloriana via the Thames to Olympic Park for the Opening Ceremony.

The 70 day torch relay, which kicked off on 19th May, will have travelled a total distance of about 8,000 miles and have involved 8,000 torchbearers by the time it reaches its end. LOCOG and Transport for London have advised people to see the relay at a location closest to their home given the expected crowds. For more detailed route information, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/route/. PICTURE: LOCOG

Still talking all things Olympics and London’s largest ever ‘pop up’ shop – where you can buy Olympic merchandise – was officially opened by multiple gold medalist Sir Steve Redgrave in Hyde Park last week. The shop, located on Rotten Row, will be the site of special athlete visits during the Games and visitors can have their photo taken with the Olympic Torch.

• Meanwhile, life-sized versions of the Olympic mascot Wenlock and Paralympic mascot Mandeville are popping up at some of London’s key tourist locations. The 83 two metre tall sculptures capture various elements of life in London with incarnations including a Beefeater, a giant red phone box and a replica of Big Ben. The figures can be found on the routes of Stroll, six new discovery trails designed to help both tourists and Londoners get more out of the city. A QR code on the bottom of each of the sculptures directs smartphone users to further information about the discovery trails. The discovery trails are part of the Mayor of London Presents, a city-wide programme featuring free events, shows and activities. For more on what’s happening in your area, see www.molpresents.com. Some of these events are also being run as part of the Festival of London 2012. For more on this, see http://festival.london2012.com.

• On Now: Shakespeare: staging the world. Part of the World Shakespeare Festival taking place in London, this exhibition at the British Museum looks at the then emerging role of London as a “world city” as interpreted through Shakespeare’s plays and examines the role the playhouse performed in this. The museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce the exhibition which features more than 190 objects including paintings, jewels and rare manuscripts. These include the Ides of March coin, a Roman gold aureus commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar), the Lyte Jewel, presented to Thomas Lyte in 1610 in thanks for his work in tracing King James I’s lineage back through Banquo (Macbeth), and a 1610 bird’s-eye view of Venice (Othello and The Merchant of Venice). Runs until 25th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• The Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving 19th century tea clipper, reopens to the public today following a £50 million, six year conservation project. The project to restore the Greenwich-docked ship has involved raising it more than three metres so visitors can walk underneath and see for themselves the sleek lines which helped the vessel set a then record-breaking speed of 17.5 knots or 20mph in sailing from Sydney to London. As well as raising the ship three metres, the project has involved encasing the ship’s hull in a glass casing to protect it from the weather – this area also contains the museum’s extensive collection of more than 80 ships’ figureheads, never been seen in its entirety on the site. The ship’s weather deck and rigging, meanwhile, have been restored to their original specification and new, interactive exhibitions on the vessel’s history have been installed below deck. Originally launched in 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland, Cutty Sark visited most major ports around the world, carrying cargoes including tea, gunpowder, whiskey and buffalo horns and made its name as the fastest ship of the era when carrying wool between Australia and England. The ship became a training vessel in the 1920s and in 1954 took up her current position in the dry dock at Greenwich before opening to the public. In November 2006, the ship’s rig was dismantled in preparation for a restoration project – this received a setback on 21st May, 2007, when a fire broke out aboard the ship and almost destroyed it. The ship – which was officially reopened by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) yesterday – is now under the operational management of the umbrella body, Royal Museums Greenwich. For more (including the online purchasing of tickets), see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark or www.cuttysark.org.uk. PICTURE: National Maritime Museum, London.

• A large statue of Genghis Khan has invaded Marble Arch. The 16 foot (five metre) tall sculpture of the Mongolian warlord, created by artist Dashi Namdakov, was erected by Westminster City Council as part of its ongoing City of Sculpture festival which is running in the lead-up to the Olympics. The statue has sparked some controversy – Labour councillors at Westminster have reportedly suggested Dambusters hero Guy Gibson would be a more suitable subject for a statue than the warlord Khan. The Russian artist, who has an exhibition opening at the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair next month, told the Evening Standard he simply wanted to honor Khan on the 850th anniversary of his birth.

• Development of a new West End theatre, the first to be built in the area in 30 years, has been given the green light. The new 350 seat theatre will be part of a development project located between Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street which will also feature office and retail spaces. The site was occupied by a pickle factory in the 19th and 20th centuries and from 1927 was the home of the Astoria cinema, remodelled as a live venue in the 1980s. Live music was last presented there in 2009 when the site was compulsorily acquired for the Crossrail project.

• On Now: Crowns and Ducats: Shakespeare’s money and medals. This exhibition at the British Museum explores the role of money in Shakespeare’s world and looks at how coins – a frequently recurring motif in Shakespeare’s work – and medals were issued to mark major events. Objects in the display include Nich0las Hilliard’s ‘Dangers Averted’ medal of Elizabeth I and William Roper’s print of the Queen, the first to be signed and dated by a British artist, as well as a money box such as might have been used at the Globe and a hoard of coins, including a Venetian ducat, deposited in Essex around the time of Shakespeare’s birth. Almost every coin mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays will be on show – from ‘crack’d drachmas’ to ‘gilt twopences’. Runs until 28th October in room 69a. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• London landmark, the 19th century tea clipper Cutty Sark, will reopen to the public on 26th April following a five year, £50 million conservation project. Visitors to the ship will now be able to explore the vessel as well as, for the first time, walk under the ship after it was raised three metres above the dry dock. A glass canopy has been designed to protect the base of the ship’s hull. The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 by ship-builders Scott & Linton at Dumbarton, Scotland, and, one of the last tea clippers built, was designed to move very fast through the water. After the tea trade was taken over by steamers, the Cutty Sark was used to carry more general trade including wool from Australia. Later sold to a Portuguese company and renamed Ferriera, in 1922 Captain Dowman of Falmouth bought the ship and used her in the floating nautical school. Following his death, the clipper was donated to the Thames Nautical Training School at Greenhithe. After the formation of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society in the early 1950s, the ship was moved to Greenwich and permanently installed in a stone dry-dock where the clipper’s appearance restored to that of an active sailing vessel. In November 2006, the ship rig was dismantled in preparation for a full restoration project – this received a set back the following 21st May a fire broke out aboard the ship. But with the restoration now complete, the ship will once again accommodate visitors wishing to explore its 140 year history. For more on the Cutty Sark, see www.cuttysark.org.uk. PICTURE: © Cutty Sark London

• A treasure of the V&A Museum, the 16th century Great Bed of Ware, is being loaned to the Ware Museum, located not surprisingly in the Hertfordshire town of Ware, for a year from early next month. Believed to date from around 1590 and to have been made in Ware, the bed is believed to have been created as a tourist attraction for people traveling the pilgrim route between London and Walsingham or Cambridge University. More than three metres wide, it was said to be able to sleep 12 people and was such an attraction that people apparently stopped in Ware for the night just to sleep in the bed.  It’s even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – the author has Sir Toby Belch describe a piece of paper as “big enough for the Bed of Ware”. The bed was acquired by the V&A in 1931 and hasn’t left the museum since. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

• Now On: Quentin Blake – As large as life. This exhibition at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 60 works by artist Quentin Blake, best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s books and Britain’s first Children’s Laureate. The works – which are recent commissions by UK and French hospitals – are contained in four series of pictures which are displayed throughout the museum. They include Our Friends in the Circus – a 2009 series featuring circus performers, Ordinary Life – a 2o10 series celebrating the “pleasures of everyday life”, the 2007 work Planet Zog – a 2007 series in which aliens and young people swap doctor and patient roles, and Mothers and Babies Underwater – a 2011 series created for a French maternity ward. Admission charge applies. The event draws on the long history of artists’ aiding the work of hospitals and child welfare organisations – including William Hogarth who donated paintings to the Foundling Museum. Runs until 15th April. For more information, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

• Next year – 7th February to be precise – marks 200 years since the birth of celebrated 19th century novelist Charles Dickens and to mark the bicentenary, London institutions are among those across the country organising a raft of exhibitions under the banner of Dickens 2012. First up for us is a new exhibition launched this week at the British Library. A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural explores the way in which Dickens used supernatural phenomena in his works (remember the ghosts of A Christmas Carol anyone?), while at the same time placing them in the context of the “scientific, technological and philosophical debates of his time”. The exhibition includes a letter from Dickens to his wife Catherine written in 1853 (this alludes to a disagreement which arose between them after Catherine became jealous of the attention Dickens was paying to another lady; he apparently used mesmerism to treat Catherine’s “nervous condition”), an article in an 1858 Household Words magazine in which Dickens questions the motivation of the spirits who supposedly tapped out messages to spiritualists, and, a 1821 copy of The Terrific Register: or, record of crimes, judgements, providences and calamities, a publication which was one of Dickens’ favorite reads as a youth. There is a range of accompanying events including talks by Dickens’ biographer Claire Tomalin (author of Charles Dickens: A Life) and John Bowen, author of Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Admission is free. Runs until 4th March. For more, see www.bl.ukImage: Courtesy of British Library

• The Art Fund has launched an appeal to have Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle, currently sitting atop Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, relocated to a permanant home outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The fund, which has kick started the campaign with a £50,000 grant, needs £362,500 to buy the work – a scaled down replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory – which has been on display in Trafalgar Square since May, 2010, but is due to be removed in January next year. The replica work features 80 cannon and 37 sails, set as on a day of battle, and is made out of materials including oak, hardwood, brass, twine and canvas. For more, see www.artfund.org/ship/.

• The historic ship HMS Belfast, moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, has been closed until further notice after a section of gangway which provides access to the ship collapsed earlier this week. Two contractors received minor injuries in the collapse and staff and visitors were evacuated by boat. The HMS Belfast is described as the most significant surviving Royal Navy warship from World War II and later served in places like Korea. It contains extensive displays on what life was like aboard the vessel. Keep on eye on www.iwm.org.uk for more information.

Now On: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Hyde Park’s annual festival of all things Christmas is on again and this year’s festive offerings include, an ice rink, circus, giant observation wheel, rides and the chance for younger people to visit Santa Land as well as a plethora of opportunities to purchase presents at the Angels Christmas Market and warm-up with some of the fare available at eateries including the Bavarian Village, English Food Fair, and Spiegel Saloon. Winter Wonderland is free to enter and open between 10am and 10pm daily. Runs until 3rd January. For more, see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.

Former tea clipper Cutty Sark is finally nearing the end of £50 million restoration project in its dry dock at Greenwich. The ship, almost destroyed in a fire in May 2007 which broke out while the ship was undergoing conservation work, is expected to reopen to the public next year – just in time for the Olympics. The extensive restoration project recently marked the completion of the ship’s intricate gold leaf “gingerbread”, located on the upper hull on either side of the bow, and the figurehead (pictured). The Cutty Sark undertook her first voyage – to Shanghai – in 1870 and continued to ply the waters between China and the UK until 1878 when steamships took over the route. The ship continued, however, to operate as a cargo vessel (including hauling wool between Australia and the UK) until the early twentieth century when she was eventually restored and used as a training ship. The Cutty Sark, which last went to sea in 1938, came to London in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. She was saved from the scrapyard in 1954 when she took up her position in the drydock at Greenwich and was opened to the public in 1957. For more – including a diary of the restoration work – see www.cuttysark.org.uk.

London will this weekend celebrate the 15th annual Thames Festival, billed as the city’s “largest free festival”. The two day event includes a giant shipwreck sculpture outside City Hall (created with the aid of students from 100 London schools), barge races and a parade of more than 100 boats on the Thames, a wide array of musical and street performances (these include a mass choir of 700 school children and a performance in which the HMS Belfast is used as a percussion instrument) and an illuminated Night Carnival culminating in fireworks. More than 800,000 people are expected to attend the event which takes place at a range of venues stretching from the London Eye to Tower Bridge. Other highlights include the annual Feast on the Bridge on Saturday during which Southwark Bridge will be closed to traffic, Korean Taekwondo displays, a food market and an exclusive cruise on the Thames hosted by the likes of historian David Starkey and the creators of cult children’s character Rastamouse. River boat operators, meanwhile, are offering 2-for-1 tickets for the weekend to help people make the most of the festival. For more information on the festival, see www.thamesfestival.org. For more on the 2 for 1 tickets, see www.tfl.gov.uk/river.

Regent Street and surrounds will be buzzing tonight with more than 40 shops, bars and restaurants taking part in Vogue Fashion’s Night Out. The event, which is running for its third year in London, will see many stores remaining opening until 11pm and feature special events and promotions. The night is part of a series of nights being held in countries across the globe – from Russia to Brazil, Australia to Spain. For more information, see http://fashions-night-out.vogue.co.uk.

An art deco Tube train dating from 1938 and the Sarah Siddons, the last operational ex-Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive will be running between Harrow-on-the-Hill, Rickmansworth and Amersham this Sunday as part of the Amersham Old Town’s Heritage Day. Other activities include a best dressed competition showcasing retro fashions, a free heritage bus service, including rides on the Routemaster RM1, street performances including a Punch and Judy show and clowns, and “object handling sessions” at the Amersham Museum. For more information, see the London Transport Museum’s website here.

OK, so it’s not exactly small but HMS Belfast – an offshoot of the Imperial War Museum moored permanently on the Thames near Tower Bridge – does make a fascinating museum in which to spend a few hours.

Commissioned into the Royal Navy on 5th August, 1939 (just in time for the start of World War II), the HMS Belfast is a large light cruiser built, along with the HMS Edinburgh, as an improvement on the then existing ‘Southampton’ class vessels. It is now the only surviving example of the many big gun armoured warships which were built for the Royal Navy in first half of the twentieth century.

Assigned to the Home Fleet on the outbreak of war, the ship operated out of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Isles in far north Scotland and was charged with patrolling the northern waters as part of efforts to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. Striking a mine in November of that year, however, it was put of out action until two years later when it rejoined the Home Fleet and then began escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union – a mission which saw it take part in the Battle of North Cape off the Norwegian coast in late 1943 (this battle saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst).

The HMS Belfast later saw action on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy in 6th June, 1944, when it was employed to bombard German positions onshore before, heading to Japan where, after the end of the war, it was used to evacuate survivors of prisoners-of-war and internment camps in China.

The HMS Belfast saw action in the Korean War and then spent further time in the Far East before – under threat of being disposed of and broken up – it was acquired as a museum and moored in London. The first visitors were admitted on Trafalgar Day, 1971, and, as of last year, nearly 10 million people have taken up the chance to look at the ship.

These days there’s a well-defined route through the vessel, complete with audio guide (it’s included in the admission price), which takes visitors on an informative journey describing what life was like for those who served onboard the Belfast – including everything from the Arctic messdecks where ratings slept in hammocks to the NAAFI store where they could buy supplies, sick bay, the ‘modern’ laundry room, and chapel as well as the engine room, shell rooms and magazines, and , of course, the bridge.

Many of the rooms have been set up – some using life-sized manniquins – to show how they would have looked during a typical day. Particularly worth a look is the new Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story 1943, an immersive film, light and sound show which gives a glimpse into what life was like working inside one of the six inch gun turrets.

It can take a while to get around the whole ship (and parents are asked not to take small children into the boiler room) but it’s well worth taking the time to explore properly. In addition to the features of the ship itself, there are two exhibitions – one looking at the role of the ship in peace and war, and the other, an interactive experience in what life was like on board.

WHERE: HMS Belfast is moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Entry is from the south bank of the Thames near Morgans Lane (nearest Tube stations are London Bridge, Tower Hill or Monument); WHEN: 10am-6pm (last admission 5pm) daily until 31st October, then 10am to 5pm (last admission 4pm); COST: £13.50 adults/£10.80 seniors and students/children under 16 free (price includes a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: http://hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.