A cache of papers and items found in Vincent Van Gogh’s former south London home – and dating from 1873-74, the period he lodged there – have shed new light on his time in the city.
The papers, which include insurance documents, a small pamphlet of prayers and hymns, and scraps of paper painted with watercolour flowers (probably not the work of Van Gogh), were found under the floorboards and between the attic timbers of the house at 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell. They were discovered during a renovation of the early Victorian terraced house in which Van Gogh lived in while working as an assistant for an art dealer in Covent Garden. During the period he stayed at the house, it has been suggested that the Dutch artist fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord (although his love was apparently not reciprocated). He also apparently became devoutly Christian during his time there (perhaps explaining the prayer pamphlet). The home’s current owners Jian Wang, a former professional violinist who originally hails from China, and his wife Alice Childs have reportedly been renovating the property in order to use it as a base for visiting Chinese artists in collaboration with the nearby San Mei Gallery. For more on the house, see www.vangoghhouse.co.uk. A near life-size photograph of the facade of the Hackford Road house forms part of Tate Britain’s upcoming display The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain which opens later this month (more on that shortly). PICTURE: An English Heritage Blue Plaque adorning the house (Spudgun67 – licensed under CC BY 2.0).

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Queen Elizabeth II posted her first Instagram photo while visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington last Thursday in a promotion for its exhibition on computers. Under the account @theroyalfamily, the Queen posted two images of a letter at the museum which comes from the Royal Archives. It was written to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Charles Babbage and in it, the 19th century inventor and mathematician spoke of his invention of an “Analytical Machine” upon which the first computer programs were written by Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Having explained the origins of the letter, the Queen added: “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.” The Royal Family’s Instagram account has some 4.9 million followers. For more on the Science Museum, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert.  Charles Babbage, credited as the world’s first computer pioneer, designed the “Difference Engine”, of which Prince Albert had the opportunity to see a prototype in July 1843.  In the letter, Babbage told Queen Victoria and Prince Albert about his invention the “Analytical Engine” upon which the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.  Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R. PHOTOS: Supplied by the Royal Archives © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

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Looking across central London with the colourful facades of the Renzo Piano-designed Central Saint Giles mixed-use development – located east Charing Cross Road and south of New Oxford Street in the found in the district of St Giles, prominent. The £450 million project was completed in mid-2010. PICTURE: John Jackson/Unsplash.

The 24th annual Kew Orchid Festival is underway in west London with displays inspired by the flora and fauna of Colombia. For more, see www.kew.orgPICTURES: Above – Orchid stems (Ines Stuart Davidson); Below – A jaguar prowls among the orchids (photo by Jeff Eden); The Legend of El Dorado in a yellow orchid display (Jeff Eden); A sloth in a “carnival of animals” (Jeff Eden); and, Vanda orchids in a display representing the rainbow river, Cano Cristales (Jeff Eden). All pictures courtesy of Kew Gardens.

Chinese or Lunar New Year celebrations in London – the largest outside Asia – were held at various West End sites including Chinatown, on Sunday to welcome in the Year of the Pig.

PICTURES: Garry Knight (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

ZSL London Zoo recently experienced its first “snow day” for 2019. Pictured are Kiri the Kune Kune pig (above) and (below), Humboldt penguins and Asian short-clawed otters. Fun, apparently, was had by all! For more, see www.zsl.org. ALL PICTURES: © ZSL London Zoo.

The rich and tapestried history of The India Club forms the heart of a new exhibition by the National Trust which opens at the Strand-based club this week. A Home Away from Home: The India Club is an audio-based exhibition – featuring interviews with everyone from former staff, freedom fighters, BBC reporters, artists and writers – and highlights the club’s history and its ongoing significance among the British South-Asian community. Borne out of the Indian League which had campaigned for India’s independence, the club was founded in 1951 under the leadership of Krishna Menon, the first High Commissioner to India, with founding members including Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and Lady Mountbatten. Originally located at 41 Craven Street, it moved to 143 Strand, the premises of the Hotel Strand Continental, in 1964. The club, site of what was one of the UK’s first Indian restaurants, remains an important hub for a range of Anglo-Indian organisations and the community of journalists, writers, artists, academics and students who regularly meet in the premises. The exhibition comes as more than 26,000 people have signed a petition to prevent the club’s redevelopment as part of plans to refurbish the building in which its located. Opening tomorrow and running until 1st March, the display is being accompanied by a programme of supper clubs, artist talks, screenings and conversations. The exhibition is free but ticketed. For more, see
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/a-home-away-from-home-the-india-club.

PICTURES: Top – Enjoying the new exhibition in The India Club (courtesy of National Trust); Below – The India Club sign (courtesy of Jake Tilson); the restaurant in The India Club (courtesy of The India Club); the Strand Continental Hotel in which the club is located (courtesy of Jake Tilson).

PICTURE: Roman Fox/Unsplash.

An 18th century ice house has been (re)discovered beneath the streets of Marylebone during a residential development project known as Regent’s Crescent. The subterranean red brick ice house – which measures 7.5 metres wide and 9.5 metres deep and was built in the 1780s – was used by pioneering ice-merchant William Leftwich during the 1820s to bring high quality ice to wealthy households and service the trend to serve frozen treats to guests as well as supply increasing demand from food retailers and medical institutions. Leftwich, seeing a niche for clean, quality ice (ice sourced from local canals and lakes during winter was often dirty), shipped ice collected in Norway’s frozen lakes and then transported it into London via Regent’s Canal. Now listed as a scheduled monument by Historic England, the egg-shaped ice house was rediscovered by MOLA archaeologists who were working on the site on behalf of property developer Great Marlborough Estates. It will now be incorporated into the gardens of Regent’s Crescent which have been newly designed by Kim Wilkie as part of the £500 million development project. The Grade I-listed crescent was originally designed by John Nash (of Buckingham Palace and Brighton Pavilion fame) and built in 1819. The houses were destroyed during the Blitz and replica properties were built in the 1960s. But the ice house, an entrance tunnel and ante-chamber all survived the bombing and remain in what MOLA has called “excellent condition”. It is anticipated that the ice house chamber will be open to public viewing via a special corridor during archaeological and architectural festivals.

PICTURES: Top – Buildings archaeologists from MOLA record the interior of the ice house/A MOLA archaeologist brushes the near perfect exterior of the ice house exposed during excavation in 2015 (Images© MOLA).

Looking across the Thames toward South Bank and the Tate Modern. PICTURE: JJ Jordan/Unsplash

The next two posts on our annual countdown…

4. LondonLife – Still waters at Hampstead Heath…

3. Lost London – Jacob’s Island…

 

The next two on our countdown of most popular (new) posts for 2018…

6. 10 islands in the Thames – 3. Brentford Ait…

5. LondonLife – Victorian London in photographs…

Trafalgar Square bedecked for Christmas with its famous Norwegian tree. PICTURE: Ben Pipe Photography via London Partners.

A “human vending machine” appeared near St Paul’s Cathedral in central London on Monday – Human Rights Day – as part of an initiative to highlight the plight of the estimated 25 million people trapped in forced labour around the world. An initiative of the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute, the machine, which was only present for the day, was stocked with everyday food items to illustrate that fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and cheese bought in the UK are at high risk of being supplied, at some point in the chain, by forced labour. To be seen the university’s campus in Hull on Thursday, the ‘human vending machine’ is part of the “It’s Time to Break the Chain” campaign which the institute has launched to “galvanise consumer power and influence companies to combat slavery practices in supply chains across all sectors”. For more on how you can help “break the chain”, see www.hull.ac.uk/special/hidden-human-cost.aspx. PICTURE: David Parry/PA Wire (Courtesy University of Hull).


Dame Judi Dench has called for the public to nominate “women you admire” for more English Heritage blue plaques in London.
Dame Judi (here pictured at the 2017 unveiling of a blue plaque commemorating actor Sir John Gielgud) call comes after news that women make up just 14 per cent of the more than 900 blue plaques in London. “So far the scheme honours some brilliant women; Florence Nightingale, Ava Gardner and the Pankhursts, but there are many, many more unsung female heroes who deserve recognition,” Dame Judi said. “So nominate the women you admire, the women who did great and remarkable things throughout history, and the women who did not go quietly. English Heritage needs your help.” The most recent woman to appear on a blue plaque is actor Margaret Lockwood. A popular actor in the 1930s and 1940s, Lockwood (1916-1990) was the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) and lived at 14 Highland Road in Upper Norwood after moving to London as a child in the 1920s. To make your nomination, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/. PICTURES: English Heritage.

 

Christmas has arrived at ZSL London Zoo with a series of light sculptures illuminating a mile long festive trail. More than a million pea lights have been used in the first show of its kind at the zoo which taking a month to build, features 200 visual displays including a pair of giant golden giraffes (above), an 11 metre tall Christmas tree made of recycled Christmas sledges (below) and two illuminated flying flamingoes (below). Historic zoo buildings have been lit up as well, including the Grade I-listed Penguin Pool and the historic Mapping Terraces. The trail, which circles the zoo’s 36 acre site so as not to wake up the sleeping animals, has been created in partnership with Raymond Gubbay Limited and designed by Culture Creative. It can seen on selected nights until 1st January. Admission charge applies. For dates and times, see  christmasatlondonzoo.co.ukPICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.



A new permanent World War I memorial was unveiled at Brompton Cemetery earlier this month dedicated to the 24 members of the Royal Parks and Palaces staff who died in the Great War. The inscribed memorial stone, placed on one of the chapel’s colonnades (pictured above), also commemorates all the parks, gardens and grounds staff from across the UK who never returned from the war. It was unveiled at a service conducted by Reverend Canon Anthony Howe, Chaplain to the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, the gardens of which were managed by the Royal Parks during World War I. Meanwhile, the foundations for a new permanent wildflower meadow honouring the 2,625 Chelsea Pensioners buried in the cemetery were also laid near the Chelsea Pensioners’ monument (pictured below). The meadow will feature flowers which appeared in French fields after the Battle of the Somme including poppies, cornflowers, loosestrife, mallow and cranesbill. Two benches, positioned to either side of the Grade II-listed memorial, have been donated by the Royal Hospital Chelsea as a place for quite reflection. For more on the cemetery, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery. PICTURE: The Royal Parks/Paul Keene.

Thousands of people, including Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, attended Whitehall on Sunday to take part in the National Service of Remembrance, this year marking 100 years since the end of World War I. The event included two minutes silence at 11am and wreaths were laid at the base of the Cenotaph to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in all conflicts from the World War I onwards. In an historic first, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during the ceremony. Following the service, a procession involving 10,000 members of the public who were selected by a ballot marched past the monument and through London. ALL PICTURES: Crown Copyright/Ministry of Defence.

Looking across the O2 Arena towards the Docklands. PICTURE: Claus Grünstäudl/Unsplash


The last in a series of major exhibitions on World War I by celebrated photographer Mike St Maur Sheil, Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace and Reconciliation – 2018 is a free outdoor exhibition in St James’s Park reflecting on the final year of the war. The exhibition, like the others before it, features photographs of the battlefields of World War I as they appear today along with archival pictures and maps. Mike St Maur Sheil says the theme of his displays – which have reached an audience of more than 10 million and been exhibited at locations including Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg, Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green and at the junction of Broadway and 5th Avenue in New York – “has always been that time and nature have healed the wounds of war and reveal that what were once places of horror and killing have now become landscapes of beauty and tranquillity.” The free exhibition can be seen until 19th November. For more on St James’s Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/st-jamess-parkPICTURES – Two of the images on show: Top, showing the effect of artillery bombardment upon the landscape at Verdun; Below, the landscape today at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme with the shell holes and trenches still clearly visible. (Mike St Maur Sheil / Mary Evans Picture Library).