The Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition – coordinated by Grayson Perry in this, the institution’s  250th anniversary year – opened this week. The world’s largest open submission contemporary art show, this year’s display features more than 1,300 hand-picked artworks in an array of mediums including a monumental sculpture by Anish Kapoor, large scale works by David Hockney and Joana Vasconcelos as well as others by the likes of Mona Hatoum, Tal R, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mike Nelson, Tracey Emin, Rose Wylie, Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman. The display extends across the newly extended campus off Piccadilly and can be seen until 19th August. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Grayson Perry, Selfie with Political Causes (Woodcut
200 x 300cm The artist and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd.)

Beloved children’s author, PL Travers – she of Mary Poppins fame – has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was installed at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea where the Australian-born Travers lived for 17 years and which is said to have been the inspiration for the Banks’ family home in the Disney film, Mary Poppins. Travers took up residence in the house in 1946, after returning to the UK from the US where she’d lived during World War II. It was here that she raised her adopted son, John Camillus Hone, and it was the property she was living in when she negotiated with Walt Disney for the rights to make a film about her famous book. She left the premises in 1962. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

An exploration of how symbols encapsulating Egypt’s ancient past have been appropriated in more modern times has opened at the British Museum. The Past is Present: becoming Egyptian in the 20th Century brings together 31 objects gathered through the museum’s ‘Modern Egypt Project’ as it explores how the nation has branded itself by drawing on the past. The items on show include pasta packaging and cigarette boxes depicting the pyramids, milk bottles with a Cleopatra logo, and the emblem of the Banque Misr (Bank of Egypt), the first bank owned and operated by Egyptians. This Asahi Shimbun Display is free to see and can be viewed in Room 3 until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Formerly known as Walnut Tree Island (among other names), this Thames River island, which lies just upstream of Hampton Court Place, was once a playground for the wealthy and is now home to about 100 residents living in houseboats.

The island was once part of the manor of Hampton Court and by the mid-19th century was home to a number of squatter families who made a living by harvesting osiers (willow rods) used in basket weaving.

In 1850, it was purchased by a property speculator and lawyer Francis Kent (another name for the island was Kent’s Ait) who evicted the squatters and rented part of the island to Joseph Harvey, who established a pub called The Angler’s Retreat there. Another part he leased to a local boatbuilder and waterman named Thomas George Tagg who set up a boat rental and boat-building business there.

In the 1870s, Tagg – whose name became that of the island’s – took over the licence of the pub and built a larger, more imposing hotel in its place, transforming the backwater establishment into a high society favourite. Among its patrons were none other than Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The island also become a mooring site for luxurious houseboats and by the 1880s, the island was ringed with the craft – among those who rented one was none other than JM Barrie, later the author of Peter Pan.

In 1911, Tagg’s original lease of the island ran out and it was subsequently taken by Fred Karno (formerly known as Fred Westcott), a theatre impresario who is credited with having ‘discovered’ Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and who had stayed in houseboats on the island.

He subsequently built a luxurious hotel there, The Karsino, which he sold in 1926, but which went on to change hands several time over the ensuring years (and names – it became known variously as the Thames Riviera and the Casino Hotel).

Eventually, in a badly dilapidated state, the hotel once known as The Karsino was demolished in 1971 (but not before putting in an appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange).

Karno also owned a luxurious houseboat, the Astoria, which was once moored on the island but which is now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (who adapted it into a rather stylish recording studio in the Eighties – A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were apparently both recorded here) and moored upstream on the northern bank of the Thames.

A road bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland in the 1940s – when the island was being used to produce munitions – but this collapsed in the 1960s.

A new bridge was built to the island in the 1980s and a small lagoon carved out of the centre to increase the number of mooring sites for houseboats.

No homes are these days permitted to be constructed on the island but it’s still a mooring place for houseboats, some 62, in fact. These days the island owned by an association of the houseboat owners who each have their own garden on the island.

In the centre of the island is a rather unique sundial (see below). And just to the south-east of Taggs Island lies the much smaller Ash Island; the stretch of water separating the two was apparently once known as Hog’s Hole.

PICTURES: Top – Houseboats on Taggs Island ( Motmit at en.wikipedia/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) ; Right – The Karsino in 1924 (Adam37/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The sundial (stevekeiretsu/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Famous for its mentions by Charles Dickens, Jacob’s Island – located in Bermondsey – was not actually a true island.

It was a small parcel of land formed into an “island” thanks to its location in a loop of the Neckinger River and, on the south side of the loop, a man-made ditch which was used as a mill run for Bermondsey Abbey.

The “island” – which on a modern map was located just to the south of the street known as Bermondsey Wall West, east of Mill Street, west of George Row and north of Wolseley Street, was home to a notorious slum or “rookery” between the 18th and early 19th centuries,

It was most famously mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist and was where the notorious Bill Sikes died in the mud of ‘Folly Ditch’ – a reference to the ditch surrounding the island – as he attempted to elude the authorities.

Dickens describes Jacob’s Island in the book as a place “where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. In the preface to the 1867 edition of the book, he even wrote of its ongoing existence which was apparently doubted by one City alderman, saying “Jacob’s Island continues to exist (like an ill-bred place as it is) in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, though improved and much changed”.

The slum itself existed until the late-1800s – much of it was razed in a fire of 1861 – in subsequent decades, the ditches surrounding it were filled in and the area redeveloped into warehouses.

The River Neckinger, incidentally, is one of London’s ‘lost rivers’. Its name means ‘devil’s neckerchief’ or ‘devil’s necklace’ – a reference to the hangman’s noose – and it is believed to refer in here to the gibbet from which pirates were hung close to the mouth of where the river entered the Thames at nearby St Saviour’s Dock and where their bodies left to deter others from taking a similar path.

PICTURE: Top – Jacob’s Island and Folly Ditch, an engraving from a book published in 1873 (Internet Archive Book Images/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – ‘Folly Ditch’, pictured here in about 1840.

 

A new exhibition charting the history of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Draped Seated Woman (known affectionately as Old Flo), has opened at Canary Wharf. Indomitable Spirit features traces the creation of the 2.5 metre high bronze sculpture in 1957-58, its placement in 1962 on the Stafford Estate in Stepney, and, in 1997, its removal to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it has spent the last 20 years before returning to the East End – this time Cabot Square – last year.  It also explores the artist’s life, career and legacy and the reasons as to why Old Flo – part of an edition of six sculptures – became such an important feature in the East End. The exhibition can be seen in the lobby of One Canada Square until 6th April. Admission is free. For more, see www.canarywharf.com. PICTURE: Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’, Canary Wharf.

The first of two Peter Pan-themed weekends kicks off at the Museum of London Docklands this Saturday. Adventures in Peter Pan’s Neverland features a series of interactive events film screenings and performances across the weekend with professional character actors leading workshops and re-enacting short scenes from the story. There will also be “sightings” of Captain Hook’s pirates and other characters and two screenings of the classic animated film Peter Pan each day. Money will be raised for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity through donations on ticket sales and other fundraising activities during the event. Runs from 10.45am to 4pm this Saturday and Sunday and again on 3rd and 4th March. Tickets start at £4. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

On Now: Winner-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic. This exhibition at the V&A, which is closing on 8th April, features original drawings by EH Shepard – on show in the UK for the first time – created to illustrate AA Milne’s classic tale and, as well as examining Milne’s story-telling techniques and Shepard’s illustrative style, takes a look at the real people, relationships and inspirations behind the bear’s creation. Around 230 objects are featured in the display and as well as original manuscripts, illustrations, proofs and early editions, they include letters, photographs, cartoons, ceramics, fashion and video and audio clips, with the latter including a 1929 recording of Milne reading Winnie-the-Pooh). Other highlights include Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh manuscript and pages from the manuscript of House at Pooh Corner as well as Shepard’s first character portraits of Winnie and Christopher Robin nursery tea set which was presented to then-Princess Elizabeth in 1928. Admission charge applies. For more see, www.vam.ac.uk/winniethepooh. PICTURE: Line block print, hand coloured by E.H. Shepard, 1970, © Egmont, reproduced with permission from the Shepard Trust

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Opened in 1891 (albeit under a different name), this Soho institution was apparently founded by a German couple named Schmitt who ran it until the outbreak of World War I.

It was then sold to Belgian chef Victor Berlemont and it’s at this point that some say the name, previously said to have been the Wine House, was changed to the York Minister (although there seems to be a bit of confusion about when the name changed).

Its French associations, meanwhile. were given a big boost during World War II when General Charles de Gaulle and Free French Army officers, in London following the fall of France, made it their HQ. In fact, some say that it was in this pub that de Gaulle wrote his famous speech against the Vichy settlement.

While it was often informally called the “French pub” thereafter, the name didn’t officially change until it reopened after a fire in 1984.

M Berlemont’s son Gaston, meanwhile, had succeeded his father in running the pub many years earlier – there’s a story that when he walked into the pub after World War II, still dressed in his uniform, his father handed over the keys and left him to it. A well-loved Soho identity, the moustachioed Gaston remained at the helm until 1989 when the pub passed into the hands of some French House regulars.

Located at 49 Dean Street, The French House is known for its Bohemian links, particularly with the literary and artistic set. Dylan Thomas is said to have accidentally left his handwritten manuscript Under Milk Wood here while others associated with the pub include Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan, artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, writer John Mortimer (of Rumpole fame) and actor Tom Baker (of Dr Who fame).

For more, see www.frenchhousesoho.com.

PICTURE: Tom (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

We’ve finally reached numbers 1 and 2…

2. Lost London – The Mermaid Tavern…

1. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

Wishing all our readers a very happy and safe start to 2018. Our usual coverage resumes on Tuesday!

The countdown continues…

6. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 8. A square in Soho?…

5. What’s in a name?…Hanging Sword Alley…

Come back tomorrow for the next two…

 

The countdown continues…

8. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 6. 9 Bywater Street, Chelsea…

7. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 2. 27a Wimpole Street…

Come back tomorrow for the next two!

And so we begin our annual countdown of the 10 most popular (new) posts of the year, starting with number 10…

10. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Brett Street, Soho…

9. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 1. Fetter Lane, Old Jewry and Wapping…

Come back tomorrow for the next two!

 

OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.

 

Twenty years after the publication of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, a new exhibition is opening today at the British Library featuring centuries old treasures. Harry Potter: A History of Magic features Harry Potter-related objects as well as rare books, manuscripts and ‘magic’-related objects from across the world. Highlights include original artwork for the Harry Potter books, the 16th century Ripley Scroll – a six metre long scroll which purportedly describes how to make a philosopher’s stone, Chinese ‘oracle bones’ (the oldest dateable objects in the library’s collection), a celestial globe dating from 1693 which has been brought to life using augmented reality technology, the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel (an historical figure who also features in the first Harry Potter book), and a mermaid, allegedly caught in Japan in the 18th century. Specially designed panels inspired by the exhibition have gone on display at 20 public libraries across the UK to coincide with the opening. The exhibition can be seen at the King’s Cross institution until 28th February after which it will travel to the New York Historical Society for display late next year. Admission charge applies. A series of events accompanies the display. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: The Ripley Scroll, England, 16th century © British Library Board.

Original costumes and props from the film Paddington 2, have gone on sh0w at the Museum of London ahead of the movie’s opening next month. Behind the Scenes of PADDINGTON 2 provides a close-up look at the film with highlights including a Paddington outfit, the London pop-up book that Paddington is trying to buy for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, and costume designer sketches. The display is accompanied by a series of events for half-term which include the chance to meet Paddington, some of the actors from the film and children’s author Katherine Woodfine as well as a talk and book reading with Michael Bond’s daughter, Karen Jankel. There’s also a chance to win four tickets to the world premiere of the film which opens on 10th November. The free display can be seen until 19th December. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/paddington.

A new display exploring how money works and what it looks like under communism has opened at the British Museum. Drawing on the museum’s extensive collections, The currency of communism features a series of posters advertising financial products along with other objects – including a medal commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall – which explore concepts behind money in communist societies around the world, both historically and in the present day. The display has been made possible through an Art Fund grant which has enabled the museum’s curator of modern money, Thomas Hockenhull, to build a collection of numismatic material from socialist and socialist governed countries, some of which will be seen here. On view on Room 69a, the display can be seen until 18th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Jane Austen died in Winchester, Hampshire, on 18th July, 1817, at the age of just 41. She was buried in the city’s cathedral but a small tablet was unveiled in Westminster Abbey to mark her death 150 years later.

Located in Poets’ Corner in the abbey’s south transept, the small tablet was erected on 17th December, 1967, by the Jane Austen Society. Made of polished Roman stone, it simply bears her name and year of birth – 1775 – and year of death.

The tablet was placed on the lefthand side of the (much larger) memorial to William Shakespeare and below that of lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

This is the final in our series on Jane Austen’s London – we’ll be starting a new series shortly.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube station is Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Various  – check website; COST: £22 adults/£17 concessions/£9 chirldren (6-16)/five and under free (check website for more options); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURE: Carcharoth (Commons)/CC BY-SA 3.0 (image cropped)

Literary history was made in London 80 years ago this month – on 21st September, 1937 – when George Allen & Unwin Ltd published JRR Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit.

The initial print run of 1,500, which featured black and white illustrations and a dust jacket designed by Tolkien himself, had sold out by December. It was released in the US the following year and was subsequently republished in the UK was published in numerous new editions.

George Allen & Unwin, which was founded by George Allen in 1871 and became George Allen & Unwin when Stanley Unwin purchased a controlling interest in 1914, went on to publish Tolkien’s follow-up epic, The Lord of the Rings, in the 1950s after Unwin suggested a sequel based on the popularity of the first.

The publishing company, which also published the likes of everyone from Bertrand Russell to Roald Dahl, was based at Ruskin House in Museum Street in Bloomsbury at the time of the publication.

The company now lives on as an Australian company, Allen & Unwin Australia Pty Ltd.

Jane Austen featured numerous London locations in her novels. Here’s five…

Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. In Emma, the main protagonist’s married sister, Isabella, lives here with her lawyer husband John Knightley and children. Isabella is well pleased with her home, noting “We are so very airy”.

Hill Street, Mayfair. Admiral Crawford, uncle of Henry and Mary Crawford, lives in this street in Mansfield Park.

Harley Street, Marylebone (pictured). John and Fanny Dashwood took a house in this street for the “season” in Sense and Sensibility.

Bond Street. Well known to Austen, she has Marianne, then upset over Willoughby (who has lodgings here), visit here on a shopping trip in Sense and Sensibility.

Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. The Hursts have a house in this fashionable West End street in Pride and Prejudice and here Jane Bennet visits Caroline Bingley hoping to see her brother Charles. Read the rest of this entry »

OK, it’s not in London per se but given its proximity, we thought this plaque commemorating Jane Austen’s visits to an inn which once stood in the town of Dartford in Kent worth mentioning.

The plaque, which was erected by the Dartford Borough Council in High Street in 2006, commemorates the times Austen stayed at The Bull and George Inn while travelling from the family home in Hampshire to meet her brother Edward Knight in Kent.

Edward has been adopted as a boy by a relative, Thomas Knight, who owned Godmersham Park which stands between Canterbury and Ashford. Edward, who married Elizabeth Bridges, later inherited the house and Jane and her sister Cassandra were apparently frequent visitors (at different times) during which time they helped look after their nieces and nephews and visit nearby towns such as Canterbury.

Austen is known to have often rested at the inn overnight on her way to and from Kent and at other times simply stopped for a meal.

PICTURE: Ken/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Jane Austen is known to have patronised many shops while in London (mainly concerned with fabrics) – here’s just a few…

Twinings – The Austen family is known to have bought their tea from the famous merchant’s 300-year-old premises which still stands in the Strand near Temple Bar; a letter survives which Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in reference to an order.

Newton’s – A linen drapers formerly located at 14 Coventry Street just off Leicester Square. Jane is known to have visited here with her sister Fanny.

Wilding & Kent – Upmarket drapers, located in Grafton House on the corner of New Bond and Grafton Streets. Jane, who is known to have visited frequently, complained of the queues there.

Layton & Shear’s – A fashionable mercer’s shop located at 9 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, conveniently located next door to where Jane lived for a time with her brother Henry.

There are others – this is just a sample!

 

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

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

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

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

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

PICTURE: Google Maps

Another of the places Jane Austen stayed when visiting London, the terraced house at 23 Hans Place was the address her brother Henry moved to from his flat in Covent Garden (see last week’s entry)

Jane stayed at the premises for almost two years over 1814 and 1815 (it was her last known visit to London). Austen, who stayed in a bedchamber at the front of the house on the top floor (a plaque commemorating Jane’s occupancy is located on the building), described the home as “delightful” and expressed her love of the garden.

The house has been considerably altered since although the original property still is said to lie underneath the brick skin now upon it.

It was while Jane was staying there that she was invited by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) – a fan of her writing – to Carlton House on 13th November, 1815, where she was permitted to dedicate one of her future works to him (Emma was duly dedicated the following year).

Henry, meanwhile, lived here until 1816 – the complete collapse of the bank in which he was partner had come in March of that year after which Henry was declared bankrupt. Following the financial disaster, he took up a post as curate at Chawton in Hampshire where the family were based.

While we’re in the area, we should also mention another property around the corner – 64 Sloane Street. It was here that Henry lived before moving to Covent Garden and here that, in April and May 1813, Jane stayed with Henry as his wife Eliza was dying (she passed away on 25th April).

Henry and Eliza had moved into the the Sloane Street property in 1809 (from Brompton) and Jane had visited several times (among the books she worked on while there was Sense and Sensibility).

Both properties were part of the Hans Town development which dated from the late 1770s.

PICTURE: Gwynhafyr/CC BY-NC 2.0

 

As you may have realised (the new £10 banknote anyone?), this month marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen in Winchester on 18th July, 1817, so to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 sites of interest from Jane Austen’s London. To kick off our new Wednesday series, we’re looking at one of the locations where she is known to have resided while in London – number 10 Henrietta Street.

Number 10 in those days was the location of a bank – Austen, Maunde and Tilson – in which Jane’s older (and favourite) brother Henry was a partner. Above the bank’s offices was a flat Henry moved into after the death of his wife Eliza in 1813. It was also where Jane stayed when visiting publishers in the summer of 1813 and again in March, 1814, the latter when she was working on the proofs of Mansfield Park.

As well as a dining room at the front on the first floor, it had a sitting parlour, small drawing room and bedchambers (Jane is known to have stayed in one on the second floor). She described the property as “all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way”.

Austen is known to have visited nearby theatres including the Lyceum and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane while staying in London and during 1813 also visited the “blockbuster” exhibition of Sir Joshua Reynold’s paintings at the British Institute in Pall Mall ( a fascinating reconstruction of which can be found here).

A City of Westminster Green Plaque (erected in partnership with the Jane Austen Society) commemorates Jane’s stay here.

PICTURE: Diane Griffiths/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

This week we pay tribute to author Michael Bond, who died last week at the age of 91, with a look at the life of his most famous literary creation – and an iconic London character – Paddington Bear.

Paddington came to life in the late 1950s after, on Christmas Eve, 1956, Bond, then working as a BBC cameraman, famously purchased a teddy bear as a present for his wife, Brenda. He named it Paddington thanks to the fact that they were living near Paddington Station at the time.

The first book featuring Paddington – A Bear Called Paddington – apparently only took 10 days to write and was published on 13th October, 1958, by William Collins & Son.

Paddington, the story goes, arrived in London’s Paddington Station as a stowaway sent from “deepest, darkest Peru” by his Aunt Lucy who had gone to live at a Home for Retired Bears in Lima (his aunt had taken him in after he was orphaned in an earthquake).

The bear – who is based on the Spectacled Bear, South America’s only native bear species – was found at the station near the lost property office by Mr and Mrs Brown, wearing an old bush hat and sitting on his suitcase with a label around his neck which read “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” (The label, Bond later revealed, was inspired by memories he had of evacuees fleeing the Blitz in London).

The Browns named the bear Paddington after he told them they wouldn’t be able to pronounce his real name (it’s actually Pastuso) and took him to their home at 32 Windsor Gardens (for more on that location, see our earlier post here) where he subsequently lived with them, their children Judy and Jonathan and housekeeper Mrs Bird. The family learn that he had made the journey from Peru in a lifeboat and had been sustained by marmalade along the way – his favourite food.

The subsequent stories – Bond wrote 13 novels as well as picture books and, thanks to the success of the early books, he was able to retire from the BBC to concentrate on writing in 1965 – focused on Paddington’s adventures in London. As well as the books – which have sold millions of copies around the world, there’s also been several TV series and a 2014 film, Paddington, with a sequel, Paddington 2, to be released later this year.

Among other interesting facts about Paddington, who commonly is seen wearing a blue duffel coat (with a hood and wooden toggles) and Wellington boots, is that he has two birthdays – the Browns weren’t sure how old he was so they started at age one and agreed he would have two birthdays each year – one on Christmas Day and the other on 25th June. He also often carries a marmalade sandwich under his hat “in case of emergencies”.

There’s a life-sized statue of Paddington at Paddington Station (the work of Marcus Cornish, it was unveiled by Bond in 2000, three years after the author had received an OBE for his services to children’s literature – a CBE followed in 2015 ), and in a touching tribute after Bond’s death, people have been leaving marmalade jars alongside it. There’s also an artwork depicting Bond with his creation at the southern end of St Mary’s Terrace, one of a series of works depicting famous local people (pictured).

Vale Michael Bond.

For more on Paddington, check out the official site www.paddington.com.

PICTURE: Loz Pycock/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)