Banners loaned from Southall Black Sisters, Bishopsgate Institute, People’s History Museum, Sisters Uncut, Feminist Archive South (Courtesy of the British Library)

The history of the women’s rights movement and the work of contemporary feminist activists is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, the opening of which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features everything from personal diaries and banners to subversive literature, film, music and art. Highlights include protest poems written by Sylvia Pankhurst on toilet paper in Holloway Prison following her imprisonment for seditious activity in January 1921, a first edition of Jane Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, published anonymously ‘By a Lady’ in 1811, and, football boots belonging to Hope Powell, a veteran player who became the first woman to manage England Women in 1998. There’s also records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s god-daughters and a supporter of campaigns for women’s suffrage, and a piece of fence wire cut by writer Angela Carter’s friends and sent to her as a present from RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire where they were protesting against nuclear missiles. Runs until 21st February next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Like a good ghost story? Hampton Court Palace is launched a new self-guided ‘Creepy Stories and Ghostly Encounters’ trail on Saturday. The trail takes in sites including those where the ‘Grey Lady’ – said to be the ghost of Tudor nursemaid – has appeared since Victorian times, the locations said to be haunted by two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, and the site where a spectral figure was captured on film slamming shut a door in 2003. The palace is also unveiling a new display of carved pumpkins in the Royal Kitchen Garden. Entry charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its Indigenous people, through the lens of climate change and weather, has opened at the British Museum. The Citi exhibition, Arctic: culture and climate, reveals how Arctic people have adapted to climate variability in the past and are facing today’s weather challenges. It features everything from rare archaeological finds, unique tools and clothing as well as artworks and contemporary photography with highlights including an eight-piece Igloolik winter costume made of caribou fur and an Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood which was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition as well as artworks commissioned specifically for the exhibition. These include an Arctic monument of stacked stones, known as an Inuksuk – used to mark productive harvesting locations or to assist in navigation – which was built by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada. Can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 21st February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Partly located on a site now occupied by the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in central London  was a leprosy hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, in 1101.

The site was located outside the City walls making it ideal for such an establishment (given lepers had to isolate from the rest of the population) and the hospital, one of the first such establishments in England, was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of outcasts.

As well as an oratory or chapel, the hospital, initially founded on eight acres of farmland, is believed to have included houses for lepers, a master’s house, and quarters for a chaplain, clerk and servant. A chapter house was added in the early 14th century.

The hospital was under the care of the crown and in 1299, King Edward I ordered that the hospital be run by and its revenues given to the military Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists).

By the 15th century leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) was on the decline in England but this hospital continued to be used for lepers until at least 1500 after which it is recorded that it had opened it doors to the poor who needed care.

In 1539, the hospital was closed under King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. While the chapel remained in use as a parish church (it was at this time that “in-the-fields” was added to the church’s name), the hospital’s other buildings were given by King Henry VIII to John Dudley, Lord Lisle (and later Duke of Northumberland and Protector of Edward VI, the king’s eventual heir).

The church, meanwhile, had fallen into a poor state of repair by the early 1600s and was demolished. Construction of a Gothic replacement started in 1623 in a project largely funded by Alice, Duchess Dudley, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. The new church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London in 1631. The current building dates from 1733 (but more about that at another time).

PICTURE: The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields as it appears now. (Prioryman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The launch of a new exhibition looking at Hebrew manuscripts marks the next phase of the British Library reopening. Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word explores the history, culture and traditions of the Jewish people around the world and features rarely seen treasures including a letter to King Henry VIII written by an Italian rabbi in 1530 regarding Biblical laws that could support Henry VIII’s claim to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as well as the earliest dated copy – 1380 – of Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, a rare uncensored copy of the Babylonian Talmud dating from the 13th century, and a 15th century illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s Shape of the Earth, one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language. Also reopening is the library’s free permanent gallery – the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library – with a new one-way route taking in treasures including Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks and handwritten manuscripts by the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. For more on the exhibition and the library’s reopening, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: David Jensen.

The British Museum reopens to visitors from today after the longest closure in its 261 year history. Tickets must be pre-booked online or over the phone and visitors will be able to access the ground floor galleries through a new one-way route. The museum has also announced that Grayson Perry’s work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – an elaborate, cast-iron coffin-ship originally created for his British Museum exhibition of the same name in 2011 – is returning to the museum. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

A “celestial choir of spinning sound machines” can be seen at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this weekend. Positioned in Lower Grand Square, Chorus is the monumental work of award-winning artist and British Composer of the Year Ray Lee. It features a series of giant metal tripods supporting rotating arms, at the end of which are loudspeakers which emit finely turned musical pitches. It can be viewed from Friday through to Monday. Meanwhile, the Painted Hall is hosting Luke Jerram’s artwork Gaia which features NASA imagery in creating a virtual, 3D small scale Earth. Gaia can be seen from tomorrow until 6th September (admission charge applies).  For more, see www.ornc.org.

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Having recently been granted protection as a scheduled monument, the landscape feature known as King Henry’s Mound is located in Richmond Park in south-west London.

It is believed to be a prehistoric round barrow, possibly dating from between 2,400 and 1,500 BC – a period spanning the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.

Its name, however, comes from the legend that King Henry VIII waited on top of the mound on 19th May, 1536, watching for a rocket to be launched from the Tower of London that would confirm his wife Anne Boleyn had been executed for treason (and so allow him to marry Jane Seymour).

The truth of that is unlikely – although it is possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from the mound (it’s a view that is protected, as well as, to the west Windsor Castle and the Thames Valley), King Henry VIII was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

The mound, however, was linked to kings as far back as 1630 when a map was published listing it as ‘Kings Standinge’, ‘standinge’ being a reference to a platform on which those not involved in a hunt could stand and watch.

Both King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I are known to have hunted here – in fact, it was King Henry VIII’s father, King Henry VII, who built a royal palace at Richmond and named it after his estate in Yorkshire.

The mound was later incorporated into the gardens of Pembroke Lodge in the 19th century, during much of the latter half of which the property was home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell.

Today the Grade I-listed Richmond Park is managed by the Royal Parks.

For more on Richmond Park, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

PICTURES: The Royal Parks

We decided to continue with our Wednesday series. While the properties are all currently closed, we hope you’ll still enjoy exploring them with us online until the day they reopen…

Hackney property Sutton House –  originally known simply as ‘the bryk place’ – was built by Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), a courtier  who started out in the service of Thomas Cromwell but rose to become Principal Secretary of State to King Henry VIII. Sadleir, who had married a cousin of Cromwell, had the property constructed in 1535 as his family home.

Sadleir – who makes an appearance in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels and who, as well as being of service to King Henry VIII, also served King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – sold the property just 15 years later. The red brick house – now said to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Hackney – subsequently passed through numerous hands with its owners apparently including merchants, a sea captain and French Huguenot refugees. In 1751, it was divided into two residences – Ivy House and Milford House.

The property housed a boy’s school in the early 1800s – novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was among those who attended – and later became a girl’s school. The rector of Hackney bought the premises in 1891 and used it as a base for the St John at Hackney Church Institute, a social and recreational centre for young men.  His modifications included turning part of the cellars into a chapel.

Mistakenly named after the founder of the Charterhouse School, Thomas Sutton (he actually lived in a now demolished adjacent property), Sutton House was bought by the National Trust in the 1930s using the proceeds of a bequest made in memory of two men killed in World War I.

Among its various roles, the building served as a centre for fire wardens during World War II and, from the 1960s, serving as the offices of a trade union. After the union left in the 1980s, the house fell into disrepair and in 1982 squatters moved in and it was renamed ‘the Blue House’. Several murals from this period – when rock concerts were held in the barn – are preserved into the house.

The squatters were evicted and in the late Eighties, a society was formed with the aim of saving the house. Following renovations, the house opened to the public in 1994. These days the Grade II*-listed home is used as a museum and art gallery. There’s also a shop and cafe.

While the facade of the house underwent some changes during the Georgian era, the property’s interior remains essentially Tudor. Highlights include the kitchen, oak panelled chambers, carved fireplaces and, of course, the cellars.

The National Trust reclaimed some adjacent land to create an award winning garden known as the Breaker’s Yard. The name comes from the fact the land was once occupied by a car breaker’s yard.

There’s said to be a couple of ghosts who reside in the house including wailing dogs and a mysterious ‘blue lady’.

The property, which stands in Homerton High Street, is temporarily closed but for more information, check the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house-and-breakers-yard.

ALL PICTURES: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The most grand of the entrances to the now demolished Whitehall Palace, this monumental gateway – located in what is now Whitehall, at the south end of and on the other side of the road to the Banqueting House – was built in 1531-32 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

The name apparently comes from the tradition that the three story gate was designed by Hans Holbein but there is apparently some doubt that was the case.

The gate had rooms on the first and second floor with small flanking turrets to either side. It boasted a Royal Coat of Arms over the archway under the gate along with other royal emblems including the Tudor rose. There were also several busts set into roundels on the black and white chequerboard facade, possibly by Giovanni da Maiano.

King Henry VIII apparently used the chambers as a study and library (and later, it’s said, to store the wheelchairs he required late in life). Most famously, the upper room is also believed to have been the location where he secretly married Anne Boleyn on 25th January, 1533.

The upper floor was used as the Paper Office between 1672 until 1756 while the lower floor was used as lodgings with residents including the Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox and Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, famed as one of the mistresses of King Charles II.

Remarkably, the building, along with the Banqueting House, survived the fire of January 1698 which destroyed most of the palace. Proposals were subsequently put forward to demolish the gate to allow better flow of traffic but these were fended off until August, 1759, when it was destroyed along with an adjacent house.

PICTURE: Whitehall Showing Holbein’s Gate and Banqueting Hall by Thomas Sandby, c1760 (now at the Yale Center for British Art)

Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

Did you know that 2020 marks 10 years since Exploring London first began…well…exploring London?

We’ll be celebrating our anniversary across the year in a number of ways including counting down our 100 most read stories ever…

So let’s kick off the countdown with numbers 100 and 99…

100. LondonLife – A new crown for King Henry VIII…

99. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London…1. 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden…

PICTURE: Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

This City of London street is named for a church which once stood to the east of the thoroughfare.

The church was founded as part of a monastery the 11th century by brothers Ingelric and Girard – the former was apparently a man of some influence in the courts of King Edward the Confessor and King William the Conqueror (although there is apparently a tradition that the church was founded earlier, by the Saxon King Wihtred of Kent, in the 7th or 8th century).

The collegiate church, which had the job of sounding the curfew bell in the evenings to announce the closing of the city gates during the reign of King Edward I (the right later moved to another church), gave special rights to the precinct in which it stood including that of sanctuary for certain types of criminals. Indeed, by the 14th century, it was the largest area of sanctuary in England.

This was particularly useful for those making what was supposed to be their final journey from Newgate to their execution at Tower Hill – the precinct lay along the route and, yes, some were said to have escaped into the district as they passed by. But perhaps the most famous said to have sought sanctuary in the precinct were Miles Forrest, one of those accused of murdering the so called “Princes in the Tower” – King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.

The institution was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII and demolished in the mid-16th century but the name lived on in the precinct where it once stood – during the Elizabethan era it was apparently famous for its lace.

The site of the church was later the site of the General Post Office, built in 1829, which was eventually demolished in 1911 and replaced by a premises located to the west.

The street, which becomes Aldersgate Street in the north and runs into Cheapside in the south, was also once home to the The Bull and Mouth Inn, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and a French Protestant Church. The latter was built in 1842 but demolished in 1888 to make way for more Post Office buildings.

PICTURES: Looking south (top) and north (below) from St Martin-le-Grand (Google Maps).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

One of the major surviving altarpieces created by Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor Giovanni Martini da Udine in the early 16th century has gone on display at The National Gallery. The Virgin and Child with Saints, said to date from about 1500–25, has undergone an extensive seven year conservation process – described as one of the longest and most complex in the gallery’s history – prior to going on show for the first time in 100 years. The process involved removing old varnish and repaints, dividing the altarpiece into its original three boards and cleaning and repairing them before putting them back together with an additional support and then finally filling and retouching the original paintwork and adding a frame to ensure it can be moved in the future. The painting depicts the Virgin and Child with St James on one side and St George on the other while a man, most likely the artist’s patron, kneels in front. Known as a ‘sacra conversazione’ (holy conversation), this type of painting become increasingly popular over the course of the 15th century. The work can be seen in Room 56. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Installation of The Virgin and Child with Saints by Giovanni Martini da Udine in Room 56./©The National Gallery, London

Join in some Tudor sports this weekend at Hampton Court Palace. Until Sunday, families are invited to head to the East Front Gardens where they can try their hand at shooting a crossbow or a bow and arrow, practice some traditional sword fight, and watch demonstrations in hand to hand combat by King Henry VIII and his courtiers. There will also be some falconry displays. Admission to ‘Henry VIII’s Sporting Academy’ is included in general admission charge. For more, check out www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The most expensive British watch ever made has gone on show at the Science Museum in South Kensington. The 18ct gold-cased watch, known as the Space Traveller II, was handmade by George Daniels in 1982 and named in honour of the Moon landings. It sold for £3.2 million at auction in 2017. The watch, which has been loaned by a private donor, is being displayed in the Clockmakers’ Museum and sits in an exhibit about Daniels, a former master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers who is credited with helping to revive independent watchmaking in the late 20th century. While Space Traveller I was sold soon after its completion, Space Traveller II was used by Daniels until his death in 2011. It displays both solar and sidereal (star) time and also shows the phase of the Moon, an annular calendar, the equation of time and features a stopwatch which functions with either solar or sidereal time. Entry to the Clockmakers’ Museum is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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

One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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Originally built as a dining hall for King Edward IV in the 1470s, the Great Hall is a survivor of the medieval royal palace that once stood on the site and later become incorporated into the Art Deco home created by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s.

The hall, which is comparable in size to that of Hampton Court Palace, was designed by Thomas Jordan, chief mason to the king, and Edmund Graveley, his chief carpenter.

It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide and has a magnificent oak roof described as a ‘false’ hammerbeam construction (the ‘false’ because the posts are morticed into the ends of the hammerbeams rather than resting on them).

The hall would have once had a raised dais at one end while the other end joined to the rest of the would have featured a screen behind which doors led to a buttery, pantry and kitchen. A hearth was located near the dais end of the hall.

The windows, which are set high in the walls, would have been of stained glass (the stained glass there now was added in 1936 and is the work of George Kruger Gray) and the walls below them would have been decorated with tapestries.

Eltham was a favourite residence of King Edward IV and one of the most lavish feasts ever held there was at Christmas, 1482, when some 2,000 people were fed (it was the king’s last visit to the palace before his death the following April). The hall would have also been familiar to King Henry VIII who spent much of his childhood here but later in his life rarely came to Eltham.

King Charles I was the last king to visit the palace and in 1651 it was sold off by Parliament to Colonel Nathaniel Rich who, as well as demolishing many buildings, stripped the lead off the hall’s roof. The property was later used as a farm and the hall became a barn.

In the early 19th century a campaign was launched to save the hall from demolition which saw the roof propped up and during the latter half of the 1800s it was used as an indoor tennis court.

Further repairs were made in the 1890s and again between 1911 and 1914 when the roof was dismantled and reassembled under the direction of the Office of Works.

The Courtaulds, who had their spectacular adjoining property built in the 1930s, apparently intended to use the hall as a music room and carried out a number of repairs – including to the roof – and additions including a minstrel’s gallery (there is no evidence of such a feature in the original).

After World War II, the Ministry of Works assumed responsibility for the Great Hall (and other palace remains) – opening the hall to the public for three days a week – before in 1984 English Heritage took over management of the Great Hall (and later the entire site).

PICTURE: David Adams

WHERE: The Great Hall, Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich (nearest train station is Mottingham); WHEN: 10am to 6pm Sunday to Friday; COST (without Gift Aid): £15 adults/£9 children/£13.50 concessions/£39 family (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

 

Jousting returns to Hampton Court Palace this weekend with visitors invited to join King Henry VIII and his court as they watch this sporting spectacle. Along with the thrills and spills of the tourney, visitors can also partake of the delights of Tudor food and music and a specially commissioned play featuring chief minister Thomas Cromwell as he prepares a royal banquet to celebrate the king’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. The event kicks off with a royal procession in which knights will greet the king with a display of heraldic pageantry before they head to the jousting arena at the East Front Gardens. Admission charge applies. Runs on 14th and 15th July. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: A previous jousting event at Hampton Court Palace (David Adams).

Venture into the hidden world of shadows in a major new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington on Friday. Afraid of the dark? takes visitors deep into underground caves, to the depths of the oceans and into the pitch blackness of night as it recreates habitats usually hidden from view and presents hundreds of incredible creatures, some brand new to science, which have adapted to a life without sunlight. The sensory display allows visitors to touch some of Britain’s nocturnal animals, hear the sounds of the deep sea, smell the distinctive aromas of a bat cave and see through the eyes of a cave boa using infrared technology. Runs until 6th January. Admission charge applies (children aged up to 16 are free). For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Bauhaus designers and teachers Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Belsize Park home where they lived and worked in the 1930s. Gropius (1883-1969) founded the art school known as Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919 with Breuer (1902-1981), who initially joined as a student before becoming director of furniture workshops in 1924, and Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) who joined the staff in 1923 and edited the house magazine and 14 books. All three went on to have successful careers in the field of design and architecture and live in flats in the Grade I-listed Isokon Building, completed in 1934 and originally known as the Lawn Road Flats, in Belsize Park. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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We’re skipping upstream, past a few islands this week, to take a look at Thames Ditton Island which lies in Kingston Reach, above Teddington Lock. The island is the largest of a group of three which also includes Swan Island (the smallest) and Boyle Farm Island.

Located opposite the grounds of Hampton Court Palace (built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century and then, following his fall from grace, claimed by King Henry VIII in 1525), the 320 metre long Thames Ditton Island owes its existence to King Henry who had the river widened and straightened here so that he could use the river for an uninterrupted journey up the river from Westminster to Hampton Court. In doing so, the island was created.

Used as pasture land for the local manor (and known apparently at one point as Colly’s Ait, ait being a word for a river island, before being renamed Thames Ditton after the village on the west bank) for several centuries, the island became a popular recreation spot for the wealthy interested in water sports during the Edwardian era, thanks to the arrival of the railway in the area in the late 19th century.

The island is these days connected to the Thames Ditton bank by a 1930s suspension bridge which ends near the 13th century Ye Olde Swan pub. It is now home to more than 45 rather exclusive riverside properties (almost all are in stilts to help ward off the danger of flooding, a phenomenon with which long-term residents in the area are familiar).

Swan Island, while lies just to the south of Thames Ditton Island, is tiny and the location of the home of the ferryman, who up until 1911, would take people across the river to Hampton Court.

Further to the south likes Boyle Farm Island which also has a single house open it. It stands opposite the mainland property formerly known as Boyle Farm but now a nursing home known as the Home of Compassion.

Interestingly, while Thames Ditton Island is part of Greater London, Boyle Farm Island is part of Surrey (along with Thames Ditton village).

PICTURE: Andrew Lewin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

And so we come to one of the most curiously named, yet perhaps most famous, of all the Thames islands in London.

First, to the name. The almost nine acre island, which was previously divided into two and perhaps even three, was previously known by other names including Twickenham Ait and Parish Ait. A place of recreation since perhaps as early as the start of the 17th century – there’s an early reference to a bowling alley being located there, since at least the mid-18th century it was also home to an inn, known variously as The Ship and The White Cross.

During the 19th century, the island became a popular destination for steamer excursions and the inn was rebuilt on a grander scale in about 1830. It became famous for the eel pies that could be bought there – so popular were they that the island’s name was apparently changed in tribute (although there’s a very dubious story that it was King Henry VIII who first made the island’s eel pies famous by stopping to sample one from a stall there – that, however, seems unlikely).

Second, to the fame. Now known as the Eel Pie Hotel, in the first half of the 20th century the inn began an association with music which would see it one day make an important contribution to the development of British pop music.

Dances were held there in the 1920s and 30s and in the mid-1950s, jazz sessions were held there. By the Sixties, the venue – under the stewardship of Arthur Chisnall – had started to attract R&B bands and among those who played here in the following years were everyone from Eric Clapton (as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and The Rolling Stones to The Who, The Moody Blues, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. In 1967, the venue was forced to close due to the cost of repairs but reopened briefly in 1969 as ‘Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden’, attracting bands including Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band.

The new venture didn’t last. Squatters moved in and in 1971, the hotel burned down in a “mysterious” fire while it was being demolished.

The island, the centre of which was again damaged by fire in 1996, now hosts about 50 homes and a few boatyards as well as other businesses and artist’s studios. It’s also home to the Twickenham Rowing Club, which was first established in 1860 and moved to the island in 1880.

While for many years it could only be accessed by ferry, the island can these days be accessed via a footbridge (the first bridge was installed in 1957 and replaced in 1998).

Notable residents on the island have included William Hartnell, the original Dr Who, and inventor Trevor Baylis (best known for the wind-up radio). The island has appeared in several books and TV shows including the 2005 series How To Start Your Own Country in which TV personality Danny Wallace attempted to “invade” the island. He was unsuccessful.

PICTURES: Above – Eel Pie Island from Twickenham. Below – A signboard tribute to the island’s musical heritage. (David Adams).


The final days of Anne Boleyn are being brought to life in a new play running at the Tower of London. Written and directed by Michael Fentiman, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn tells the story of the last 17 days of the Queen’s life before her execution in 1536 following her spectacular fall from grace. The performance is staged on the site of the lost Tudor palace at the Tower where Anne spent her final days and is based on contemporary sources including letters to her husband, King Henry VIII, and her final speech on the scaffold in the moments before she was beheaded. The outdoor show (suitable for all ages) runs for 35 minutes with two performances a day – 11am and 2pm, from Friday to Tuesday until 28th August (weather permitting). Admission is included in the entry price. For more information, head here. PICTURES: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.