This Week in London – Paddington’s story; pioneering neurologist JS Risien Russell honoured; and, Sir Quentin Blake’s gift…

Michael Bond with plush Paddington. PICTURE: © P & Co. Ltd 2021

A new family friendly exhibition celebrating Paddington Bear opens at the British Library tomorrow. The Story of a Bear features more than 50 books, documents, film clips and original artworks as it explores Michael Bond’s creation of the much loved children’s book character. Highlights include a first edition of Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington published in 1958, Barbara Ker Wilson’s original review of the book, photographs and memorabilia of Michael Bond on loan from his family as well as original illustrations of Paddington stories by artists including Peggy Fortnum, David McKee and RW Alley. There are also clips from the Paddington movies and sound recordings featuring Bond speaking about his creation. The exhibition is ticketed (booking in advance recommended). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/paddington-the-story-of-a-bear.

Pioneering neurologist James Samuel Risien Russell has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home and practice in Marylebone. Russell, born in 1863 in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), was one of the UK’s first Black consultants and played a critical role in establishing the British school of neurology in the 1890s. His contribution in furthering our understanding of many conditions of the nervous system and mental health issues has only recently come to light thanks to new research by the Windrush Foundation. Dr Risien Russell lived and worked at 44 Wimpole Street from 1902 until his death in March, 1939. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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• A display of images from Sir Quentin Blake have gone on show at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury to mark his gift of 24 drawings to the museum. Curated by children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child, Quentin Blake: Gifted features pictures form two series –  Children and Dogs and Children with Birds & Dogs – as well as a range of responses from writers including poetry collective 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE, children’s author and poet Michael Rosen and Scottish playwright, poet and novelist Jackie Kay. Admission charge applies. Runs until 26 September. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/quentin-blake-gifted/.

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This Week in London – V&A celebrates Alice; life under Nazi air raids; and, carbon capture at the Science Museum…

A view of the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A landmark exhibition focusing on the iconic work of literature, Alice in Wonderland, opens at the V&A on Saturday. Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser features more than 300 objects encompassing film, performance, fashion, art, music and photography and explores the cultural impact of Alice in Wonderland and its ongoing inspiration for everyone from Salvador Dalí to The Beatles, Vivienne Westwood and Little Simz. Highlights of the exhibition, which boasts theatrical sets and immersive environments including a special VR experience, include Lewis Carroll’s handwritten manuscript, illustrations by John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Mary Blair for Walt Disney’s iconic 1951 film adaptation, Royal Opera House stage costumes, fashion from Iris van Herpen and photography from Tim Walker. Admission charges apply. Runs in The Sainsbury Gallery until 31st December. For more, see vam.ac.uk/alice.

Artworks which shine a new light on the experience of ordinary people forced into new patterns of living by Nazi air raids during World War II are the subject of a new exhibition which opened in the Churchill War Rooms this week. Wartime London: The Art of the Blitz includes newly acquired drawings from Henry Moore, as well as works from other British artists including William Matvyn Wright, Eric Ravilious, Ernest Boye Uden, Mabel Hutchinson, Evelyn Gibbs, Evelyn Dunbar, and Leila Faithfull. Admission charge applies. Runs until 12th September. For www.iwm.org.uk/events/wartime-london-art-of-the-blitz.

A prototype mechanical tree that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is among objects on display in a new exhibition Our Future Planet – at the Science Museum. The exhibition offers visitors a look at the cutting-edge technologies and natural solutions being used to mitigate the impacts of climate change and, as well as Klaus Lackner’s Mechanical Tree – on display in the UK for the first time, it features experts including leading ecologists studying ancient forests, engineers at Arizona State University who developed the earliest versions of carbon capture machines, and chemists at C-Capture who are working to remove carbon dioxide from emissions at the UK’s largest power plant. This free exhibition runs until 4th September, 2022. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/our-future-planet.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

London Pub Signs – The Edgar Wallace…

The Edgar Wallace pub in 2018. PICTURE: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Formerly named The Essex Head, this West End pub was established as far back as 1777.

Perhaps its greatest claim to fame (in its earliest incarnation, at least) was that it was the location where, in 1783, lexicographer Samuel Johnson and his friend and physician Richard Brocklesby established the Essex Head Club.

James Boswell was a member and the club apparently met at the pub three times a week as a favour to the landlord, Sam Greaves, a former servant of the Thrale family, friends of Johnson (who also lived with them for some years). It apparently lived on for some time even after Johnson’s death in 1784

The original name of the pub, located at the corner of Essex Street and Devereux Court in the Temple district, referred to Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, whose London home, Essex House, was previously located nearby (the house was largely demolished in the 1670s).

The pub, meanwhile, took on its current name in 1975. It was done to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of celebrated crime writer Edgar Wallace.

Wallace, who was known for wearing a trilby and apparently driving a yellow Rolls Royce (and whose claims to fame include initially drafting the screenplay for the film King Kong – he died before it was completed), is credited as being the inventor of the modern thriller novel.

While he was born in Greenwich, Wallace had spent his childhood in the area where the pub now stands (there’s also a plaque to him in Fleet Street commemorating the time he spent working as a reporter before he found fame as an author – we’ll being telling more of his story in an upcoming ‘Famous Londoners’).

Lost London – William Blake’s birthplace, Soho…

William Blake’s house in Soho, an illustration by  Frederick Adcock, published in ‘Famous houses and literary shrines of London’ (1912) and written by Arthur St John Adcock.

William Blake, one of the UK’s most lauded artists and poets, was born in a property at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in Carnaby Market, Soho, on 28th November, 1757.

Blake was the third of seven children (although two died in infancy) born to James and Catherine (he was baptised at nearby St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 11th December). His father ran a hosiery store and the residence was located above his father’s shop (Blake worked as a delivery boy while a child).

Behind the premises was a workhouse and Blake’s memories of this flavoured some of his later works including Nurse’s Song.

Blake lived in the property until he was 25-years-old, during which time he completed an apprenticeship to engraver James Basire located in Great Queen Street and became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House in The Strand.

He moved to Green Street with his new wife, Catherine Boucher, in 1782.

His oldest brother James took over his father’s shop following his death in 1784 and, in 1809, the first floor of the premises hosted Blake’s only – and unsuccessful – solo exhibition.

The house survived until the 1960s but despite its famous heritage, the property was razed and a block of flats – William Blake House – was erected in its place. A plaque commemorating Blake’s birth in the former property is all that remains.

Famous Londoners – John Keats…

This month marks 200 years since the death of Romantic poet and London resident John Keats – famous for poems including Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode to the Nightingale – at the age of just 25.

Born on 31st October, 1795, Keats was the eldest of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings’ four children. The story goes that he was born in the stable – owned by his mother’s father and managed by his father, located near Finsbury Circus.

John Keats by William Hilton, after Joseph Severn (based on a work of circa 1822) National Portrait Gallery (NPG 194)

At the age of eight, Keats attended the boy’s academy at Enfield (his brothers George and Tom would also attend). He had been at the school for less than a year when, on the night of 15th April, 1804, his father was seriously injured in a horse-riding accident and died the following day.

Within a couple of months, his mother entered an ill-fated marriage and eventually left her family to live with another man. She returned to her family by 1808 but, now ill, she died of tuberculosis in March, 1809. following his mother’s death, his grandmother appointed two London merchants including tea broker Richard Abbey as Keats’ guardians.

Keats, meanwhile, built up a close friendship with headmaster John Clarke and his older son Charles Cowden Clarke at Enfield and through them really began to foster a love of literature (in particular Edmund Spenser‘s Faerie Queene is said to have helped awakened his love of poetry).

But at Abbey’s instruction he left Enfield in 1811 and began to work toward a career as a surgeon, apprenticed to surgeon Thomas Hammond, in nearby Edmonton.

In October, 1815, he left his apprenticeship with Dr Hammond, apparently after a quarrel between them. Moving into London, he registered at Guy’s Hospital for the six-month course of study which was required for him to become a licensed surgeon and apothecary. Lodging with two older students at 28 St Thomas Street, he progressed quickly and was soon promoted to “dresser”, a role which saw him involved dressing wounds daily to prevent or minimize infection, setting bones, and assisting with surgery.

Poetry, however, continued to occupy his mind and his sonnet O Solitude! became his first published poem when it appeared in The Examiner on 5th May, 1816 (editor Leigh Hunt, who was introduced to Keats by Clarke later that year, also went on to publish other works including his sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Home).

Keats, who became a certified apothecary in late 1816 (he’d holidayed in Margate with his brother Tom after passing his exams earlier that year), now faced further studies to become a surgeon. But he instead decided to give up medicine and devote himself entirely to his poetry (a move which apparently infuriated his now sole guardian Abbey). About the same time he moved into lodgings at 76 Cheapside with his two brothers, George and Tom (there was also a sister Fanny), having previously lived with that at 8 Dean Street in Southwark.

His circle of artistic acquaintances – which included fellow Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and painter Benjamin Robert Haydon – now growing, in March, 1817, Keats’ first book of poetry – Poems – was published. It was also around that time that he moved with his brothers to a property at 1 Well Walk in Hampstead, no longer needing to be near the hospitals where he had worked and studied.

In May, 1818, Keats published his 4,000 line allegorical romance, Endymion, but it received a rather scathing reception including by Blackwood’s Magazine which apparently declared the work nonsense and recommended Keats give up writing poetry.

In summer that year, Keats went on a walking tour of Scotland, Ireland and the Lake District with his friend Charles (Armitage) Brown. Following his return to Hampstead, Keats nursed his brother Tom who was ailing from tuberculosis (George having by now left for America) and who died on 1st December.

Following his brother’s death, Keats accepted Brown’s invitation to move into his property at Wentworth Place, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath (now the Keats House museum).

Keats’ House in Keats Grove, Hampstead. PICTURE: Spencer Means (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

While living at Wentworth Place, Keats developed an intimate relationship with next-door neighbour Frances (Fanny) Brawne and the couple “came to an understanding” but his literary ambitions and failing health – by early 1820 he too had tuberculosis – meant it never came to marriage.

Keats third volume of poetry – containing his famous odes including Ode to a Nightingale and Ode to a Grecian Urn – was published in mid-1820 but now increasingly suffering from tuberculosis, he was advised by his doctors to head to a warmer climate. In September that year he left for Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn (who painted a famous posthumous portrait of Keats), knowing he would probably never see Brawne again.

In Rome – having had to spend 10 days quarantine after the ship arrived in Naples due to a suspected cholera outbreak, he moved into a villa on the Spanish Steps (now home to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House museum) but, despite medical efforts, his health continued to deteriorate.

John Keats died on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery. His tombstone bears no name or date, just the words “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water” and an epitaph which speaks of a “young English poet”.

Keats, depicted in a 2007 bronze statue at Guy’s Hospital PICTURE: under_volcano (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Keats had only been a serious poet for some six years prior to his death and his three volumes of poetry had probably only amounted to some 200 copies. But his reputation continued to grow after his death with support from the likes of Shelley, Tennyson and the pre-Raphaelites, and he is now well-established in the literary canon as one of the greatest English poets.

As well as Keats’ House – which is managed by the City of London and which features an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade, Keats is memorialised with several other plaques in London and a famous statue at Guy’s Hospital which features him seated in a former alcove removed from London Bridge – see image above).

Treasures of London – Charles Dickens’ writing desk and chair…

Charles Dickens’ desk and chair at the Charles Dickens Museum. PICTURE: Alyx Dellamonica (Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the treasures to be found at Dickens’ former house (and now the Charles Dickens Museum) in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, is the desk and accompanying chair where Dickens’ wrote several of his later novels including Great ExpectationsOur Mutual Friend and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens purchased the mahogany pedestal writing desk as well as the walnut and fruitwood smoker’s armchair in 1859. He used them in the study of his final home at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent (Dickens also had an identical chair in his London office which is now in the New York State Library).

After the author’s death in 1870, the desk and chair – which feature in Luke Fildes’ 1870 work The Empty Chair and the RW Buss’ 1875 work Dickens’ Dream  – were passed down through the Dickens family until they was auctioned in the 2000s with the funds raised used to benefit the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

While the desk and chair had previously been loaned to the museum for display, in 2015 the establishment was able to purchase the desk and chair and make it part of its permanent collection thanks to a £780,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

While the museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, we include these details for when it reopens.

WHERE: 48-49 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: Currently closedCOST: £9.50 adults/£7.50 concessions/£4.50 children (under six free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.

London Pub Signs – The Dove, Hammersmith…

While many establishments have been temporarily forced to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we publish this piece in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon…

The Dove, Hammersmith, seen from the Thames. PICTURE: Tarquin Binary (public domain)

This storied Thames-side pub in London’s west apparently has associations with everyone from King Charles II to Arts and Crafts designer William Morris and author Graham Greene and is known as a prime site to watch the annual Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford universities.

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The Dove, Hammersmith. PICTURE: Michael Gwyther-Jones (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The establishment, now Grade II-listed, at 19 Upper Mall is said to have a history dating back to the late mid 18th century and was originally founded as a coffee house.

The rooms within are fittingly small given the building’s age; in fact, the bar was once listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest bar room in the world.

The pub’s name apparently comes from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark in which a dove is sent out after the great flood to find dry land and returns with an olive leaf in its beak indicating the receding waters (it’s also interesting to note that the pub was known for almost 100 years as ‘The Doves’ for many years – it has been said this was due to a sign-writer’s error which was only corrected in the last 1940s).

King Charles II is said to have met his mistress Nell Gwyn at this riverside location prior to its current incarnation. Others who have come to be associated with the pub itself – Morris and Greene aside – include American author Ernest Hemingway, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and Scottish poet, playwright and lyricist James Thompson who is said to have written the words for his 1740 song, Rule, Britannia!, here.

Another association comes from Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, founder of the Doves Bindery and the Doves Press, both of which he named after this pub. It’s also mentioned in the pages of Sir Alan Herbert’s 1930 popular novel, The Water Gipsies.

Now part of the Fuller’s chain. For more information, see www.dovehammersmith.co.uk.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 6, 5, 4 and 3…

The next four in our countdown as we head to the final couple of entries…

6. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 4. 186 Fleet Street…

5. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 2. ‘Whitehaven Mansions’…

4. A look back at 10 fictional character addresses in London…

3. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 8. The Darling’s House…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 10, 9, 8 and 7…

We’re into the top 10! Here’s the next four in our countdown…

10. 10 London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill – 5. London residences…

9. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 3. 32 Windsor Gardens…

8. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 9. 7 Savile Row, Burlington Gardens…

7. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 7. Saffron Hill…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 26, 25, 24 and 23…

The next four in our countdown…

26. 10 iconic London film locations…5. Belle at Kenwood House (but not as you know it)…

25. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 6. Wimbledon Common…

24. Where’s London’s oldest…department store?

23. LondonLife – A rare glimpse inside King Henry V’s chantry chapel…

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 28 and 27…

The next two in our countdown…

28. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

27. Lost London – The ‘Tyburn Tree’

LondonLife – Vale John Le Carré (but George Smiley lives on)…

PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps

News this week that spy turned novelist John Le Carré has died at the age of 89. His family reportedly confirmed the author had died of pneumonia at the Royal Cornwall Hospital on Saturday night. Born as David Cornwall, Le Carré worked as an intelligence officer for the British Foreign Service and, drawing in his work, began writing Cold War spy thrillers under the pseudonym of Le Carré with his first, Call for the Dead, published in 1961. It was in this novel – Le Carré went on to write others – that his most famous character, George Smiley, made his first appearance. Initially a minor character, Smiley went on to become a star in three novels published in the 1970s, the most famous of which is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Smiley’s last appearance was in a later book, 2017’s A Legacy of Spies). In tribute to Le Carré and George Smiley, pictured is 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea, the fictional home of Smiley (albeit a very real property!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LondonLife – Not such a lonely bear…

Paddington Bear may look lonely seated on a park bench but he is actually among a host of new statues which were placed in Leicester Square earlier this year. Others include Mr Bean, Mary Poppins, Laurel and Hardy, and Harry Potter and now comes news that Paddington will have more company from spring next year. A 10th statue – depicting the “King of Bollywood”, Shah Rukh Khan, and his co-star Kajol – will be placed in the famous square in what will be the first ever Bollywood statue erected in the UK. The new statue will recreate a scene from the award-winning rom-com, Diwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 72 and 71…

The next two entries in our countdown…

72. 10 sites of significance in Jane Austen’s London – Redux…

71. What’s in a name?…St Mary Axe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in London – British surrealism; The Prince of Wales’ coronet; and, David Hockney’s drawings…

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.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

 

LondonLife – A century of film icons coming soon to Leicester Square…

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.

10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 3. Hodge…

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.

 

Famous Londoners – George Eliot…

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))