An exhibition which traces the history of surrealist art in Britain has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Featuring more than 70 works, British Surrealism marks the official centenary of surrealism – which dates from when founder André Breton began his experiments in surrealist writing in 1920 – and features paintings, sculpture, photography, etchings and prints. Among the 40 artists represented are Leonora Carrington, Edward Burra, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Ithell Colquhoun, John Armstrong, Paul Nash and Reuben Mednikoff as well as lesser known but innovative artists like Marion Adnams, John Banting, Sam Haile, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe. Highlights include Armstrong’s Heaviness of Sleep (1938), Burra’s Dancing Skeletons (1934), Adnams’ Aftermath (1946), Nash’s We Are Making a New World (1918), Colquhoun’s The Pine Family (1940), Pailthorpe’s Abstract with Eye and Breast (1938) and Bacon’s Figures in Garden (c1935). Also featured are works and books by some of the so-called ‘ancestors of surrealism’ including a notebook containing Coleridge’s 1806 draft of poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a playscript for Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1859). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th May. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons,1934, (1905-1976). Photo © Tate

The Prince of Wales’ investiture coronet has gone on show in the Jewel House at the Tower of London for the first time. Made of 24 carat Welsh gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with a purple velvet and ermine cap of estate, the coronet – which was designed by architect and goldsmith Louis Osman – features four crosses patee, four fleurs-de-lys and an orb engraved with the Prince of Wales’ insignia. The coronet was presented to Queen Elizabeth II by the Goldsmiths’ Company for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Caernarfon Castle on 1st July, 1969. It’s being displayed alongside two other coronets made for previous Princes of Wales as well as the ceremonial rod used in the 1969 investiture which, designed by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John (1860-1952), is made of gold and is decorated with the Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto Ich Dien. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The first major exhibition devoted to David Hockney’s drawings in more than 20 years opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. David Hockney: Drawing from Life features more than 150 works with a focus on self portraits and his depictions of a small group of sitters including muse Celia Birtwell, his mother, Laura Hockney, and friends, curator Gregory Evans and master printer Maurice Payne. Previously unseen works on show include working drawings for Hockney’s pivotal A Rake’s Progress etching suite (1961-63) – inspired by the identically named series of prints by William Hogarth, and sketchbooks from Hockney’s art school days in Bradford in the 1950s. Other highlights include a series of new portraits, coloured pencil drawings created in Paris in the early 1970s, composite Polaroid portraits from the 1980s, and a selection of drawings from the 1980s when the artist created a self-portrait every day over a period of two months. Runs until 28th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Laurel & Hardy, Bugs Bunny, Mr Bean and Mary Poppins are among the big screen icons who are coming to Leicester Square as part of a new art installation taking up residence from late February. Scenes in the Square, an initiative of the Heart of London Business Alliance in partnership with Westminster City Council and major film studios, celebrates a century of cinema with a “trail” of interactive bronze statues. Other characters include Gene Kelly – hanging off a lamp-post as he appeared in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain – and more modern heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman. Paddington will also be present with visitors able to sit on a bench and have lunch beside him. Several of the eight statues will be illuminated at night and the trail will be enhanced with interactive content including maps, video and music. It is hoped further characters will be introduced following a six month pilot period. PICTURES: Above – An artist’s impression of what the square will look like; Below – Models of Laurel and Hardy with the life-size Laurel and sculptor David Field in the background.

This famous cat, belonging to lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), is memorialised outside his former home in Gough Square.

Johnson was known for his fondness of this particular cat – his biographer James Boswell, reports, for example: “I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail.”

According to Boswell, Johnson told him that while he had had finer cats, Hodge – who is believed to have been a black cat – was a “very fine cat indeed”. Such was the cat’s renown that poet Percival Stockdale wrote an Elegy on The Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat.

This statue to Hodge was erected in 1966 by then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Roger Cook. The work of Jon Bickley (who apparently modelled Hodge on his own cat Thomas Henry), it depicts Hodge sitting on top of Johnson’s famous (and massive) dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells (the latter a reference to Johnson’s habit of feeding oysters to Hodge – while this wasn’t unusual, Johnson’s going out himself to fetch them himself – lest his servants resent Hodge – was).

The monument, which has Hodge looking towards his former home, features a plaque which has Johnson’s quote about Hodge – “a very fine cat indeed” – as well as his famous quote about the city in which they lived – “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Dr Johnson’s former house and workplace at number 17 Gough Square, where he lived for 11 years, is now a museum.

 

Last month marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of leading English novelist George Eliot – actually the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. 

Born in Warwickshire on 22nd November, 1819, Evans was the third child of Robert Evans, an estate manager, and Christiana Evans, daughter of a local mill owner.

Described as a “voracious reader” from an early age, she was a boarder at various schools up until the age of 16 when, following the death of her mother, she returned home to act as housekeeper (she apparently continued her education in the library of Arbury Hall, the property her father managed).

In 1841, when her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, she moved with her father to Foleshill near Coventry. There, they met Charles and Cara Bray – Charles was a wealthy ribbon maker and religious free-thinker who used his wealth to establish schools and hospitals to help improve conditions of the poor.

Thanks to her friendship with the Brays, Evans came into contact at their house, Rosehill, with the likes of Welsh social reformer Robert Owen, Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, and American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as German theologian David Friedrich Strauss and German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (in fact, her first major literary work was the completion of an English translation of Strauss’ The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and she also later translated Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity).

Evans, who was a devout evangelical Christian in her youth, lived with her father until his death in 1849. She had questioned her faith some years before but after she’d informed her father she would no longer go to church, they had reached a compromise under which she had been free to think as she wished as long as she continued to attend church.

Following her father’s death, Evans – now 30 – had visited Switzerland and, following her return to England, moved to London to pursue a career in writing.

In London, Evans initially stayed in the Strand home of radical publisher John Chapman, whom she’d met through the Brays. She eventually went on staff at his left-wing journal, The Westminster Review – becoming, in time, Chapman’s right-hand, the editor in fact if not in title, at publication by the time she left in 1854.

At that time she moved in with journalist George Henry Lewes, who had met her several years earlier. He was still married to Agnes Jervis, despite her having born to children to another man, and the new couple’s relationship caused a great scandal, leading many to shun Evans. The couple travelled together to Germany for research and thereafter Lewes and Evans apparently considered themselves married.

While she had stories published in magazines in the years earlier, her first novel, Adam Bede, was published under the pseudonym George Eliot in 1859 (she’d first used the pseudonym on a short story, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, published in 1857). Much acclaimed, the public interest surrounding the novel led Evans – who now called herself Marian Evans Lewes – to acknowledge the work as hers – a revelation which came as a shock to many given her unconventional private life but which, despite that, failed to dent the novel’s popularity.

Encouraged by Lewes, she wrote several novels over the next 15 years including The Mill on the Floss in 1860, Silas Marner in 1861, Romola in 1863, Felix Holt, the Radical in 1866 and her most acclaimed novel (sometimes described as the greatest English novel ever written), Middlemarch in 1871-72. Her final novel, Daniel Deronda, was published in 1876.

Celebrated for the depth of her characterisations and her descriptions of English rural life, she was recognised as the greatest English novelist of her time.

The couple, meanwhile, lived in several properties in London – including one in Richmond, ‘Holly Lodge’ in Wimbledon Park Road, Wandsworth (it was the first property south of the Thames to be marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque), and ‘The Priory’ near Regent’s Park in Marylebone.

Eliot’s success as a novelist saw the couple gradually gain social acceptance – in an indication that can be seen in that Charles Darwin, Aldous Huxley, Henry James and Frederic Leighton were all among those entertained at The Priory in the couple’s latter years together.

Lewes died in 1878 and two years later, on 16th May, 1880, Lewes married John Cross – a longstanding friend who was 20 years younger and who had provided comfort following the loss of her husband.

Following their honeymoon in Venice, the couple returned to London where they lived at a property in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (an English Heritage Blue Plaque marks the property).

It was to be a short-lived marriage – soon after moving into their new home, Mary Ann (now) Cross fell ill with a throat infection and coupled with the kidney disease she had suffered for several years, she died on 22nd December of that year at age 61.

Eliot was buried in Highgate Cemetery beside Lewes. A memorial stone was erected in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner in 1980.

PICTURES: Top – George Eliot, replica by François D’Albert Durade, oil on canvas, 1850-1886, based on a work of 1850, 13 1/2 in. x 10 1/2 in. (343 mm x 267 mm), Purchased 1905, Primary Collection, NPG 1405; Below – The English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Cheyne Walk property (Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0))

This Georgian square, like the nearby (and famous) Fitzroy Tavern, Fitzroy Street and Fitzrovia itself, owes its names to the FitzRoy family who owned the land on which it was built.

It was Charles FitzRoy, 1st Baron Southampton, who had the area developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the aim of creating a desirable location for aristocratic families to live.

It was completed in stages with residences along the eastern and southern sides built first – from the 1790s – by Robert and James Adam (the southern side was destroyed in the Blitz but has been rebuilt).

The Napoleonic Wars then interrupted construction and it wasn’t until the late 1820s and early 1830s that the northern and western sides were completed.

Notable residents included painter James McNeill Whistler (number eight), Sir Charles Eastlake, first director of the National Gallery (number seven), Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (number 21 – now home to the High Commission of Mozambique), George Bernard Shaw (number 29 – later also briefly home to Virginia Woolf), and artists Ford Madox Brown (number 37) and Roger Fry (number 33)

In more recent times, the square has been home to the likes of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell (number six), and novelist Ian McEwan (number 11 – he made the square the main location for his 2005 novel, Saturday).

The garden was first laid out in about 1790, initially just for the use of residents. Monuments now include Naomi Blake’s View, erected for the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The square was largely pedestrianised in the 1970s and upgraded in 2008.

PICTURES: Top – View of Fitzroy Square from the former BT Tower (Rain Rabbit/CC BY-NC 2.0/image cropped); Below – View (James Stringer/CC BY-NC 2.0/)

Pippi Longstocking, Matilda and the Zog are among a pantheon of beloved children’s literary characters at the heart of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels features about 40 books, manuscripts and original artworks spanning a period of 300 years and puts a spotlight on the “rebels, outsiders and spirited survivors” within the library’s collection of children’s literature. Highlights include a UK first edition of Anne of Green Gables, the first version of Cruikshank’s coloured illustrations of Oliver Twist as well as original artworks for books including Tracy Beaker, What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean?, Zog (pictured above), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Azzi in Between. The free exhibition, which can be seen until 1st March, is accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © Zog by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler 2010 (Alison Green Books).

A new immersive exploration of the work of Leonardo da Vinci, centred on The Virgin of the Rocks, opens at the National Gallery on Saturday. Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece encompasses a range of multi-sensory experiences presented across four rooms, allowing visitors to step into the painting’s setting, explore Leonardo’s own research and how he employed science in his effects of light and shadow in the painting and even visit a modern conservation studio and see how recent search revealed the previously hidden drawings behind the masterpiece. The experience, which is the work of 59 Productions, can be enjoyed until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Virgin of the Rocks (about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8) – tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition, incorporating information from all technical images. © The National Gallery, London

The Jubilee Line has turned 40 and to mark the occasion, the Jubilee Line in conjunction with London Transport Museum’s Hidden London programme are offering the chance to travel on the original route of the train. The trip includes a section of the track now not open to the public. The 96 stock train leaves from Stanmore station at 9am Sunday, terminating at Charing Cross, or from Charing Cross at 1pm, terminating at Stanmore. When Exploring London looked this week, only tickets for the 9am trip were still available. To buy tickets (which must be purchased in advance), head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/heritage-vehicles-outings.

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This Bloomsbury pub, not surprisingly, takes its name from its proximity to the British Museum (it’s directly opposite).

Located at 49 Great Russell Street, the Grade II-listed, four storey building was refurbished under the eye of theatre and music hall architect William Finch Hill (and possibly Edward Lewis Paraire) in the mid-1850s in modified French Renaissance style. Along with the exterior, the interior also contains some elements dating from this period.

There has apparently been a pub on the site since the 1720s – it was previously called the Dog & Duck, a reference to the rural nature of the location back then, and was renamed the British Museum Tavern in the mid-18th century before taking its current name when the refurbishment took place in the 1750s.

Famous patrons have apparently included Karl Marx, who frequented it while writing Das Kapital in the British Museum Reading Room. Other famous figures associated with it are Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JB Priestley.

Ah, and the sign itself (pictured right). It depicts Sir Hans Sloane, a royal physician and MP whose collections formed the basis of the British Museum when it first opened its doors.

Now part of the Greene King franchise. For more, see www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/museum-tavern/.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

This Bloomsbury square is another that’s one of a pair – in this case with Mecklenburgh Square which stands on the other side of the site of the now-demolished Foundling Hospital (across what’s now known as Coram’s Fields).

The three acre square was planned by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who was appointed to develop the estate around the hospital with the intention of maintaining some open space around the hospital while allowing spare land to be leased for housing (and so raise some much needed funds for the hospital).

The square was over the period 1795-1802 while the gardens in the square’s middle were laid out in in the late 1790s (initially for use by residents only, they’re now open to the public).

The name comes from Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the then Prince Regent (later King George IV).

The square, which is Grade II-listed along with Coram’s Fields and Mecklenburgh Square, was a respectable if not highly fashionable residential location.

Famous residents have included numerous members of the Bloomsbury Group such as siblings Virginia (later Woolf) and Adrian Stephen, economist John Maynard Keynes and Leonard Woolf – all of whom lived in the same property (Virginia and Leonard moved out of the square when they married in 1912) as well as EM Forster. Writer JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, also lived for a time in a house overlooking the square.

Jane Austen refers to the square in Emma in which her sister Isabella praises it as “very superior to most others” and “very airy”.

All of the original buildings around the square have since been demolished and replaced – among them number is 40 which was built for the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children in the 1920s and now houses the Foundling Museum (there’s a statue of the hospital’s founder Thomas Coram outside by William MacMillan – pictured right).

The north side of the square is home to the UCL School of Pharmacy, the west side features tiered apartments which form part of the Grade II-listed Brunswick Centre development, which dates from the late 1960s and early 1970s, while on the south side is the university residence known as International Hall.

The gardens were extensively renovated in 2002-03 by Camden Council; works which included restoration of railings apparently taken for munitions during World War II. Its trees include a London plane tree, said to be the second oldest in London, which in 2009 was declared one of the Great Trees of Britain.

On one of the garden’s railings, close to the statue of Captain Coram, is a tiny bronze sculpture of a mitten by artist Tracey Emin, a fitting symbol of the childhoods connected with the Foundling Hospital.

PICTURES: Top – Looking across Brunswick Square Gardens (Google Maps); Right – Thomas Coram (David Adams).

This London institution, located at 16 Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, is famous for its association with Bohemians and intellectuals including artists Augustus John and Jacob Epstein, and writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell, all of whom frequented the pub.

The name of the pub, which is from where Fitzrovia gets its name, comes from the Fitzroy family, the Dukes of Grafton, who owned much of the land in the area.

More specifically it was Charles Fitzroy, 1st Baron Southampton and the great-grandson of the first duke (Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II), who first developed the northern part of the area, building Fitzroy Square (Fitzroy Street also carries the family name as does Grafton Way).

The pub apparently started life as a coffee house in the early 1880s but had been converted into an establishment where stronger drinks were served in 1897. It was originally known as The Hundred Marks but rebranded The Fitzroy Tavern in 1919.

Other luminaries associated with the pub have included Nina Hamnett, the so-called ‘Queen of Bohemia’, her friend American poet Ezra Pound, MPs Michael Foot and Barbara Castle, and, the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley.

Thanks to the man responsible for converting the establishment into a pub, proprietor Judah ‘Pop’ Kleinfeld, the establishment was also the birthplace of a charity called Pennies from Heaven which raised money for underprivileged children.

The story goes that having witnessed the loser of a darts match throw his dart into the ceiling in exasperation, Kleinfeld came up with the idea of providing customers with darts which had little paper bags attached for people to put small change in before throwing them at the ceiling (and the money then collected for the charity).

Now part of the Samuel Smith chain, the pub which sits on the corner with Windmill Street, has undergone an award-winning refurbishment in recent years with its original Victorian-era look restored including polish mahogany partitions with etched glass.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Google Maps.

Wondering which ‘great’ Queen this street name is referring to? Perhaps Queen Victoria, our own Queen Elizabeth or even her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I?

None of the above – the West End thoroughfare which runs between Drury Lane and Kingsway, is named for Queen Anne (of Denmark), consort of King James I (and the ‘great’ in Great Queen Street, we imagine, refers to the size of the thoroughfare and not the ‘greatness’ of the Queen).

Originally a residential street dating from the first half of the 17th century (one of which apparently sported a statue of another queen, Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, on its facade), the houses were gradually replaced  over the years but some early 18th century abodes do remain.

Famous residents include everyone from Civil War Parliamentarian General Thomas Fairfax and 18th century composer Thomas Arne to late 17th and early 18th century portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and James Boswell, biographer of Samuel Johnson.

Freemason’s Hall, home of the United Grand Lodge of England, is located on the corner with Wild Street and the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms next door stand on the site of the former Freemasons Tavern where, in 1863, the Football Association was founded.

PICTURE: View down Great Queen Street with the edifice of Freemason’s Hall on the right. (Google Street View)

Once one of the most famous residents of ZSL London Zoo, Winnie the Bear was brought to the city by a Canadian soldier – Lt Harry Colebourn – during World War I.

Colebourn, a member of the 34th Fort Garry Horse Regiment of Manitoba and the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, had purchased the black bear cub at White River, Ontario, for $20, on 24th August, 1914, from a hunter who had killed the cub’s mother.

Colebourn, who named the bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg, subsequently took the bear with him to England where his regiment, the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade, was training on Salisbury Plain ahead of their deployment to France.

The female bear became the mascot’s regiment but when the regiment left for France in December, 1914, she was left at the London Zoo in Regent’s Park for safekeeping.

Colebourn was a frequent visitor during leave from the front – he had initially intended to take Winnie back to Canada at the end of the war. But when the war ended in 1918, Colebourn instead donated the bear to the zoo in appreciation of the care staff had given her.

Among those who came to see the bear at the zoo were writer AA Milne and his son Christopher Robin – Milne subsequently named his famous fictional creation Winnie-the-Pooh after the bear.

Winnie the bear died at the zoo on 12th May, 1934.

There’s a statue of Lt Colebourn and Winnie at the zoo (pictured). The work of Bill Epp, it was presented to the zoo by the people of Manitoba, Canada, on 19th July, 1995. It’s a copy of an original Epp work which was unveiled in Assiniboine Park Zoo, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 6th August, 1992.

PICTURE: Chris Sampson (CC BY 2.0)

The grave holding the remains of Puritan preacher and writer John Bunyan, who died in August, 1688, now celebrates  the famed author of The Pilgrim’s Progress with an effigy lying atop a chest tomb. But it was not always so.

Bunyan, was in fact, first buried in the Baptist corner of the burial ground but it was understood that when the tomb of his friend John Strudwick was next opened (it was at Strudwick’s London home that Bunyan had died), his body would be moved into it. It’s thought this was done which Strudwick himself died in 1695.

Bunyan’s name was inscribed on the side of the monument over the tomb which took the form of a relatively unadorned stone chest in the Baroque style.

By the mid-1800s, however, this had fallen into decay and a public appeal was launched for the tomb’s restoration.

More than simply cleaning up the existing tomb, however, the Portland stone monument was completely reconstructed in 1862.

Designed by sculptor Edgar George Papworth, the new monument was again constructed as a chest, but this time with an effigy of Bunyan lying on top and two relief panels on the sides depicting scenes from his famous book.

The now Grade II* monument has been further restored a couple of times since, including after World War II when it was damaged by bomb shrapnel.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 8am to 7pm weekdays/9.30am to 7pm weekends; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx.

PICTURES: Top – Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams

Many people are aware of the memorial to 17th century playwright and poet Ben Jonson that sits among the who’s who of the literary world commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. But fewer people visit the poet’s actual grave, located a short distance away in the northern aisle of the nave.

And while visitors to the northern aisle of the nave may think its a small stone set into the wall above the floor itself, with the inscription ‘O rare Ben Johnson’ (note the ‘h’ used here in his name), which marks the grave’s location, we’re not quite there yet.

The stone, which was indeed the original stone covering Jonson’s grave, was actually moved from the floor to this position when the entire nave floor was being relaid in the 19th century. For the actual location of Jonson’s grave you have to head back to the aisle’s floor and there, just to the east of a brass commemorating John Hunter, you’ll find a small, grey lozenge-shaped stone which marks the actual grave site (and bears the same inscription with the same spelling).

The inscription can also be found on his Poet’s Corner memorial. It was apparently put on Jonson’s grave stone when one Jack Young passed by the grave as it was being covered and gave a mason 18 pence to carve it (Young is said to have been knighted later on).

All that’s very well but what really sets Ben Jonson’s grave apart from the other more than 3,500 graves buried in the abbey is that Jonson is the only person known to have been interred below the abbey floor standing upright.

The poet died in a somewhat impoverished state and it’s that which is said to explain the unusual arrangement. One version of the tale has the poet begging for just 18 square inches of ground for his burial from King Charles I; another has him telling the Abbey’s Dean that he was too poor to be buried with his fellow poets and that a space two foot square would serve him (the Dean apparently granted him his wish which meant Jonson’s coffin lowered into the ground end on end).

The fact he was buried upright in his coffin was apparently confirmed in 1849 when a clerk saw skeletal remains of a standing person in the spot Jonson was buried while doing another burial nearby.

The monument in Poet’s Corner, meanwhile, was erected in the early 1720s by the Earl of Oxford. It features a medallion portrait of him with actor’s masks and a broken golden lamp symbolising death on top. It was designed by James Gibbs and attributed to the sculptor JM Rysbrack.

WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURES: Top – The original grave marker now set in the wall; Below – The tile marking the actual grave site (Google Maps – images have been treated to improve resolution).

Carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works are among items on display in a new exhibition looking at the act of writing and its impact on human civilisation at the British Library. Writing: Making Your Mark spans five millennia and five continents and includes writing examples from more than 30 writing systems including Greek, Chinese and Arabic. Highlights include an 1,800-year-old ancient wax tablet, early 19th century Burmese tattooing instruments, the final diary entry of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, James Joyce’s notes for Ulysses, Caxton’s 1476-7 printing of The Canterbury Tales – the first book printed in England, and the personal notebooks of Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (pictured). There’s also a 60,000 signature petition from 1905 protesting the first partition of Bengal, Mozart’s catalogue of his complete works from 1784-1791 featuring his handwriting and musical notation, and Alexander Fleming’s notebook in which he recorded his discovery of penicillin in 1928. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition which runs until 27th August. Admission charge applies. For more see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © British Library.

London’s forgotten rivers, tunnels, sewers, deep shelters, and the world’s first subterranean railway are all explored in a new free exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Under Ground London in part celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Victorian engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette – who designed the scheme to overhaul the city’s sewers in the 19th century. As well as Bazalgette’s landmark work, the exhibition explores the legend of a cobbled street buried beneath today’s Oxford Street and tells the story of the Thames Tunnel which, when it opened in 1843, was the world’s first tunnel under a river. There’s also information on London’s ‘ghost stations’, including Strand and King William Street; and the Metropolitan Railway – the world’s first underground railway as well as images of the River Fleet, displayed for the first time. The display can be seen until 31st October. For more, follow this link.

Women artists working in Britain in the past 60 years are being celebrated in a new display at the Tate Britain in Millbank. Sixty Years features about 60 works spanning painting, photography, sculpture, drawing and film and includes many recent acquisitions. Artists whose works are on show include Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas, Bridget Riley, Mary Martin and Anthea Hamilton. Highlights include Gillian Wearing’s film Sacha and Mum (1996), Susan Hiller’s large scale multimedia installation Belshazzar’s Feast, the Writing on Your Wall (1983-84), and two new mixed media works by Monster Chetwynd – Crazy Bat Lady (2018) and Jesus and Barabbas (Odd Man Out 2011) (2018). For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain.

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This five star luxury Mayfair hotel opened in 1931 and quickly established a reputation for luxuriousness.

Located at 35 Park Lane on the site of what was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Dorchester (and later a mansion built for millionaire RS Holford), the hotel was the dream of Sir Robert McAlpine who bought the site in partnership with Gordon Hotels in 1929 for £500,000 and vowed to create a luxury hotel that would “rank as the finest in Europe”.

Engineer Sir Owen Williams initially oversaw the building’s design but a falling out saw architect William Curtis Green take over the project (meaning while the structural frame was Sir Owen’s work, the elevations are largely the work of Green). A quarter of the building was constructed underground.

When the 10 storey modernistic building was opened on 18th April, 1931, by Lady Violet Astor, it featured luxurious rooms and suites (with, apparently, the deepest baths of any hotel in London), a ballroom built to accommodate 1,000, an Oriental Restaurant and, of course, the Dorchester Bar (it was here the ‘Dorchester of London’ cocktail was invented).

The Dorchester survived World War II with only minor damage (its basement served as an air-raid shelter). In fact, during World War II, such was the reputation of its reinforced concrete structure, that UK Cabinet members including Lord Halifax stayed here while US General Dwight D Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his suite – now the Eisenhower Suite – during World War II.

In the 1950s, stage set designer Oliver Messel revamped various aspects of the hotel including designing some suites in an extension in Deanery Street (the Oliver Messel Suite is named for him).

The hotel has hosted its share of the rich and famous – Prince Philip hosted his bachelor party in the hotel’s Park Suite on the eve of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (the Queen, meanwhile, had dined there the day before the engagement was announced), and actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used the hotel as something of a “second home”.

Other notable figures who have stayed at the hotel include writers Cecil Day-Lewis and Somerset Maugham, painter Sir Alfred Munnings, director Alfred Hitchcock and film stars Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye and James Mason as well as Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman.

The Dorchester was listed as a Grade II building in 1981 and, having been sold by the McAlpine family to a consortium headed by the Sultan of Brunei in the mid-1970s, it was purchased outright by the Sultan of Brunei in the Eighties (and later transferred ownership to the Brunei Investment Agency).

The hotel was completely renovated between 1988 and 1990 and was again refurbished in 2002.

Facilities today at the hotel – alongside the 250 rooms and suites – include numerous restaurants and bars such as the three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, China Tang, The Spatisserie and The Grill at the Dorchester, as well as The Bar at the Dorchester and The Promenade where afternoon tea is served. There’s also a spa.

Today The Dorchester is the flagship of the Dorchester Collection of hotels which also includes 45 Park Lane, Cowarth Park in Ascot, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hotel Bel-Air in LA, the Hotel Eden in Rome, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.

Out the front of the hotel is a London Plane tree which was named one of the “great trees of London” in 1997.

For more, see https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/.

PICTURE: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || (licensed under CC BY 2.0/image cropped)

Long connected with the low end trade in words, Grub Street was once located on the site where the Barbican development now stands.

The street – its name possibly comes from a man called Grubbe or refers to a street infested with worms – was located in the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate outside the city wall. It northwards ran from Fore Street to Chiswell Street and had numerous alleys and courts leading off it.

Originally located in an area of open fields used for archery and so inhabited by bowyers and others associated with the production of bows and arrows, the relative cheapness of the land – due to its marshiness – later saw the Grub Street and its surrounds become something of a slum, an area of “poverty and vice”.

During the mid-17th century, it became known as a home for (often libellous or seditious) pamphleteers, journalists and publishers seeking to escape the attention of authorities.

And so began the association of Grub Street with writing “hacks”, paid line-by-line as they eked out a living in tawdry garrets (although how many actually worked in garrets remains a matter of debate). The word “hack”, incidentally, is derived from Hackney, and originally referred to a horse for hire but here came to refer to mediocre writers churning out copy for their daily bread rather than any sense of artistic merit.

Residents included Samuel Johnson (early in his career), who, in 1755 included a definition for it in his famous dictionary – “a street near Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet”, and 16th century historian John Foxe, author of the famous Book of Martyrs.

The street, which was also referenced by the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift as a symbol of lowbrow writing, was renamed Milton Street (apparently after a builder, not the poet) in 1830. Part of it still survives today but most of it disappeared when the Barbican complex was created between the 1960s and 1980s.

PICTURE: John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing Grub Street.

Located in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, the Hardy Tree takes its name from its association with novelist Thomas Hardy.

Before Hardy found fame as the author of such novels as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far from the Madding Crowd, in the 1860s he worked as an assistant to a West End-based architect, Arthur Blomfield.

Blomfield’s firm, in order to make way for a new line for the Midland Railway, was commissioned by the Bishop of London to exhume bodies from their graves in the churchyard and relocate them.

Hardy was given the job of supervising the removal of the corpses – apparently among those exhumed was a coffin containing a man with two heads!

It’s said that after he had removed the bodies, Hardy had to decide what to do with the headstones which remained and came up with the idea of placing them in a rather lovely fanned collar around an ash tree growing in a part of the churchyard unaffected by the railway line.

Whether Hardy was actually responsible for the placement of the gravestones remains somewhat uncertain (although it’s a nice story). But his work in the graveyard is believed to have at least partly inspired his poem, The Levelled Churchyard.

The moss-covered gravestones and tree have since merged and now make a fascinating monument to the churchyard’s past life, attracting Hardy pilgrims from across the world. And, of course, the churchyard is also famous as the site where Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, planned her elopement with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while she was visiting the grave of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft not to mention Charles Dickens’ famous reference to it in A Tale of Two Cities and its association with so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘bodysnatchers’ in the 19th century.

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

 

This year marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, so it’s timely to have a look at the life of this famous Londoner.

Shelley was born on 30th August, 1797, in Somers Town, London, to feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher, novelist and journalist William Godwin. Her mother died soon after her birth, leaving her upbringing to Godwin (and his second wife Mary Jane Clairmont who apparently didn’t get on with Mary).

While she received little formal education, she was tutored in a range of subjects – everything from literature to art, French and Latin – by her father and visiting tutors. Godwin described her as having a great desire for knowledge.

She first met her future husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while still a teenager. Shelley, who was estranged from his wife, had struck up a friendship with her father and was subsequently a regular visitor to their house.

Mary and Percy began secretly meeting each other at Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave in St Pancras Churchyard and then on 28th June, 1814, the couple eloped to France, taking Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont with them but leaving Shelley’s pregnant wife behind.

They went on to Paris and then, through war-ravaged France, to Switzerland. At Lucerne, however, a lack of money forced them to turn back and they returned to London where Mary’s father refused to have anything to do with her.

Now pregnant, Mary and Shelley moved into lodgings with Claire in Somers Town and later in Nelson Square where they were known for entertaining his friends. Shelley’s wife, meanwhile, gave birth to his son – something that must have been hard for Mary – and it is believed that he was also a lover of Mary’s step-sister Claire.

Mary gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on 22nd February, 1815, but she died just 12 days later. That same year, the death of Shelley’s grandfather brought himself considerable wealth and with their financial situation now relieved, in August, 1815, they moved to Bishopgate, in Windsor Great Park. In January, 1816, Mary gave birth to her second child, a son, William.

In May, 1816, the couple travelled with their son William and Mary’s step-sister Claire to Geneva in Switzerland where they hoped to improve Percy’s health. It was during the time they spent there that a ghost-writing contest in June, 1818, led her to write what would be the basis of the novel Frankenstein – credited with introducing genre of science fiction into English literature.

Returning to England, the Shelley’s took up residence in Bath (Clairmont was pregnant by Lord Byron and they wanted to keep this from the Godwins). Harriet Shelley, Percy’s estranged wife, drowned herself in the Thames on 9th November and it was following that, that on 30th December, Mary and Percy married at St Mildred’s Church in London with Mary’s father and step-mother as witnesses.

In March, 1817, the Shelley’s took up residence in Marlow where Mary gave birth to second daughter, Clara Everina Shelley, on 2nd September. Then in March, 1818, the family – along with Claire Clairmont and her daughter – travelled to Italy where it was hoped the warmer climate would help Shelley, who had been diagnosed with pulmonary disease.

There they lived at various addresses and were in Venice when Clara died of dysentery on 24th September, 1818. They traveled to Rome in April the following year and there, on 7th June, William died of malaria, leaving the couple devastated.

Their fourth child and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, was born in Florence on 12th November. Their Italian sojourn continued for the next couple of years until, on 8th July, 1822, Percy Shelley and his friend Edward Williams were drowned in a squall in the Gulf of Spezia.

Determined to show she could write and look after her son, Mary Shelley returned to England in mid-1823 and lived in The Strand with her father and stepmother until in the summer of 1824 she moved to Kentish Town. Her novel, The Last Man, was published in 1826 followed by The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837) as well as working on numerous other writing projects.

Shelley never remarried although she was linked to various men romantically including American actor John Howard Payne whose offer of marriage she rejected.

After her son Percy left university in 1841, he came to live with her and between 1840 and 1842 Shelley travelled to various locations in Europe with her son. Sir Timothy Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s father, died in 1844 with the result that Shelley and her son were now financially independent.

Percy married Jane Gibson St John in 1848 and Mary lived her son and daughter-in-law, splitting their times between the ancestral Shelley home – Field Place in Sussex – and Chester Square in London as well as accompanying them on their travels overseas.

Shelley suffered considerable illness in the last years of her life – including debilitating headaches and bouts of paralysis in her body – before on 1st February, 1851, she died at the age of 53 from a suspected brain tumour at the Chester Square property.

She had asked to be buried with her mother and father, but Percy and Jane instead buried her at St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth closer to their home. In order to fulfill her wishes, they had the bodies of her parents exhumed from St Pancras graveyard and reburied with her.

Despite gaining respect as a writer in her own lifetime, Shelley’s reputation in the literary arts was overshadowed by that of Percy’s after her death. But in more recent decades her overall writing career has come to be more closely examined and applauded.

If you missed it, for more on Mary Shelley’s links with London, see our special series 10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London.

PICTURE: Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (oil on canvas, exhibited 1840/NPG 1235). © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The V&A has reopened the second of its two Cast Courts following a redevelopment which has seen the addition of a new interpretation gallery, new exhibits and the restoration of historic original features. The West Court, now renamed the Ruddock Family Cast Court, has been returned to its historic past with original 19th century floors and wall colours and the Central Gallery, now renamed the Chitra Normal Sethia Gallery, features a new exhibition exploring the history, significance and contemporary relevance of the casts on display. Among the new exhibits are a scaled down digital reproduction of the arch of Palmyra destroyed by the so-called Islamic State in 2015 while one of the key existing exhibits, a 35 metre high cast of Trajan’s Column (displayed in two parts – see picture) has had its base permanently opened so visitors can gain an internal perspective. The reopening follows that of the Weston Cast Court in 2014 and completes a project which was begun in 2011. The Cast Courts were first opened in 1873, then known as the Architecture Courts, and house a collection of casts of some of the world’s most inspiring objects including everything from Michelangelo’s David to 16th-century tombs by Peter Vischer in Nuremberg and the Pórtico de la Gloria from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. They are the only public galleries in the South Kensington institution to display the same collection of objects as when they first opened. Entry to the Cast Courts is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Works by Edward Burns-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and Grayson Perry are among those on show as part of a new exhibition at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery. Visions and Visionaries – a collaboration between the Guildhall Art Gallery, The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust, Flat Time House, and the Bologna-based Association Age of Future, highlights some of the key figures who defined the ‘Visionary’ idea of art and laid the foundations for a later generation of avant-garde artists. Among the works on show are Sir John Gilbert’s depiction of two knights ambushed by fairies in a moon-lit forest, Marcello Pecchioli’s Alien Priest, and John Latham’s experimental screen print, NO IT, 1967 as well as Sir John Gilbert’s The Enchanted Forest, Burne-Jones’ St Agnes and St Dorothy; and a series of 25 drawings by Blake to illustrate two poems by Thomas Gray, The Bard and The Fatal Sisters. Admission is free. Runs until 28th April. For more, follow this link.

On Now: Cats on the Page. Featuring original illustrations of Mog by Judith Kerr, Beatrix Potter’s Kitty-in-Boots as imagined by Quentin Blake and two illustrations by Axel Scheffler for TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, this exhibition at the British Library is a celebration of literary felines and their creators. Objects on show include Lewis Carroll’s own copy of the exceptionally rare 1893 (third) edition of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (in which the author expresses frustration with the printing including a comment on an illustration of Alice’s kitten), an 1879 letter by Edward Lear in which he included doodles of himself and his cat Foss, a 16th century pamphlet on witchcraft with a woodcut image accompanying the description of a black cat or familiar belonging to ‘Mother Devell’, and a letter written by TS Eliot to Alison, daughter of his friend Geoffrey Tandy, which contains a draft of his poem Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer as well as Alison’s reply which includes drawings of the two cats. Coinciding with the 80th anniversary year of the original publication of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the free exhibition is being accompanied by a programme of events and can be seen until 17th March. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/cats-on-the-page.

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And so we come to the final in our series looking at London sites which tell part of the story of Mary Shelley, writer of Frankenstein, the book which this year marks its 200th anniversary. Of course, one of the most influential figures in her life was her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, so to finish the series, we’re taking a quick look at three sites memorialising him in London…

1.  Poland Street, Soho. Shelley lived at number 15 after he was expelled from Oxford University in 1811 for publishing a pamphlet on atheism. He wasn’t here long – in August he eloped with Harriet Westbrook, then just 16, to Scotland. The building, which stands on the corner with Noel Street, features an English Heritage Blue Plaque and there’s a massive mural on its side, Ode to the West Wind, which takes its name from a poem he wrote in 1819. It was painted by Louise Vines in 1989. PICTURE: Google Maps.

2. Broadwick Street, Soho. The impressive Spirit of Soho mural on the corner with Carnaby Street was created in 1991 and restored in 2006. It features the images of numerous famous figures from the district’s history. As well as the likes of Casanova and Marx, Shelley also features – located a couple of people to the right of Casanova (here seen in red) at the base of the mural’s central panel. PICTURE: Dun.can (image cropped; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

3. Westminster Abbey. There’s no memorial to Mary Shelley in Westminster Abbey but in Poet’s Corner – located in the South Transept – you will find a small memorial to her husband. The joint memorial (which also commemorates John Keats) was designed by sculptor Frank Dobson and unveiled in 1954 by then Poet Laureate John Masefield. It simply features two plaques – one bearing the name Shelley and the other Keats with their birth and death years – linked by a “swag of flowers” attached to a lyre at the top of each plaque.

And that brings and end to our series on Mary Shelley’s London (although, of course there are still more sites associated with Shelley to explore!) . We’ll recap the series next week before launching our next Wednesday special series…