February 20, 2017
Immortalised in a statue in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on South Bank last year, Mary Seacole is the first named black woman to have a memorial statue made in her image in London.
Mary Jane Seacole (nee Grant) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1805, the daughter of a Scottish army lieutenant, James Grant, and a mixed-race Jamaican woman who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. She was taught traditional medicine by her mother from a young age and travelled extensively, visiting other parts of the Caribbean including Cuba and Haiti as well as Britain – staying in London for about a year around 1821, during which she added to her knowledge of medicine.
In 1836, she married merchant Edwin Seacole (he was the godson of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson – some rumours have it that he was actually his illegitimate son) but he died only eight years later in 1844. She subsequently spent some time in Central America – opening a ‘hotel’ there and aiding in the response to an outbreak of yellow fever – before returning to Jamaica where she apparently provided nursing services at the British Army HQ in Kingston.
In 1854, Seacole returned to England and, amid reports of the hardships soldiers were facing in the Crimean War which had broken out the year before, asked the War Office to send her to the Crimea as an army nurse. She was refused on multiple occasions (some say because of her race; others because she was too late to join the teams of nurses that were sent) and so she headed to Crimea herself.
There, she founded the British Hotel near Balaclava which provided food, quarters and medical care for sick and convalescent officers. She also apparently rode out to the front line of battle where she cared for the sick and wounded and such was her fame that Mary became known as ‘Mother Seacole’, earning a reputation said to rival that of Florence Nightingale.
Seacole returned to England after the war in ill health and poverty and apparently such was her renown that a benefit festival was held in her honour in July, 1857, to raise funds for her to live on. That same year she published her memoir, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.
Seacole returned to Jamaica in the early 1860s but was back in London by 1870. She died at her home in Paddington of ‘apoplexy’ on 14th May, 1881, and was buried in Kensal Green.
In 2004, Seacole was ranked the greatest Black Briton in an online poll. She has also been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (located on her one-time residence at 14 Soho Square) and a City of Westminster Green Plaque in George Street on the Portman Estate.
The three metre high bronze statue of Mary, built through funds raised in a public appeal and installed using money granted by the government, is the work of sculptor Martin Jennings. It was unveiled by actress Baroness Floella Benjamin in June last year before a reported crowd of some 300.
A disk behind the statue is inscribed with the words of The Times‘ Crimean War correspondent Sir William Howard Russell, who wrote in 1857: “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”
Seacole remains somewhat of a controversial figure with some saying her recent fame has unfairly come at the expense of contemporary Florence Nightingale.
January 30, 2017
The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).
Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.
January 24, 2017
December 21, 2016
This Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.
Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.
Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.
Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.
The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.
The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner. The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.
As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.
The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.
PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.
October 31, 2016
The Lord Mayor’s Show will be held on 12th November so we thought in the lead-up to it, we’d look briefly at the lives of five of the notable Lord Mayors of London during the 801 years of the institution…
• William Hardel: Mayor of London (the title Lord didn’t come until a century later) in 1215, Hardel was the only commoner on the committee – known as the enforcers – appointed to see that the provisions of the Magna Carta were carried out.
• John Wilkes: A radical, politician, journalist and notorious womaniser, he was Lord Mayor of Lord in 1774. He is noted for being the subject of what is reputedly the only cross-eyed statue in London (pictured), found at the intersection of Fetter Lane and New Fetter Lane in the City of London. It is said to be a true-to-life depiction.
• David Salomans: The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, the banker and MP was elected in 1855. One of his tasks during his time as Lord Mayor was the removal of the inscription on The Monument which had blamed Roman Catholic conspirators for the Great Fire of London.
• Robert Fowler: The last Lord Mayor of London to have served in the office more than once, Fowler held the office in 1883 and 1885. Many others had done so previously – including the famous Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington – but none since.
• Dame Mary Donaldson: The first female Lord Mayor of London, she was elected in 1983, having previously held the honours of being first female alderman (1975) and first female sheriff (1981). Dame Fiona Woolf became the second female Lord Mayor in 2013.
October 4, 2016
A giant hand giving a thumbs-up, the latest commission to grace Trafalgar Square’s famous Fourth Plinth, was unveiled late last month. Really Good, by UK artist David Shrigley stands seven metres high and features a disproportionately long thumb arising from a closed fist. The sculpture is the latest in a string of artworks to have graced the plinth which was built in 1841 and originally designed to hold a statue of King William IV but, thanks to a lack of money, remained empty until recent times. Speaking at the launch of the new work last month, the artist said the work was about “making the world a better place or it purports to actually make the world a better place”. “Obviously, this is a ridiculous proposition, but I think it’s a good proposition,” The Independent reports him saying. “Artworks on their own are inanimate objects so they can’t make the world a better place. It is us, so I guess we have to ask ourselves how we can do this.” For more on the Fourth Plinth program, see www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/art-and-design/fourth-plinth-2016
PICTURE: © Gautier Deblonde
September 1, 2016
• The 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is upon us and to mark the event, the City of London is playing host to London’s Burning, a “festival of arts and ideas”, over the coming weekend. Produced by Artichoke, the festival includes everything from Fire Garden – an installation by French street art group Compagnie Carabosse at the Tate Modern, and Holoscenes – a six hour underwater performance installation by Los Angeles-based company, Early Morning Opera, in Exchange Square, Broadgate, to Fires of London: Fires Ancient and Fires Modern – two large scale projections by artist Martin Firrell onto St Paul’s Cathedral (pictured right) and The National Theatre, Station House Opera’s Dominoes – a kinetic sculpture of breeze block dominoes which retraces the path of the fire through the streets, and London 1666 – a 120 metre long wooden sculpture of Restoration London by American artist David Best working in collaboration with Artichoke which will be set alight on Sunday at a site on the river between Blackfriars Bridge and Waterloo Bridge (the sculpture is pictured above – you can also watch it live online here). Events run until 4th September. Head here to see the list of events in London’s Burning and to download a copy of the programme complete with map. PICTURES: © Matthew Andrews and C Totman.
• Entry to The Monument – built as a permanent reminder of the great conflagration of 1666 – will be free from 2nd to 4th September in celebration of the Great Fire anniversary. Opening hours at the iconic 202 foot tall column have also been extended for the weekend but be warned that due to limited capacity, tickets mist be booked in advance with allotted time slots for entry. To book, head here.
• A free exhibition telling the story of London’s bakers and their cakes, bread and puddings over the 350 years since 1666 has opened at the London Metropolitan Archives this week. London’s Baking! Bakers, Cakes, Bread and Puddings from 1666 takes its inspiration from Thomas Farriner and his Pudding Lane bakery, ground zero for the fire. And along with the displays, it features recipes for you to take away and bake including almond cakes from 1700, suet puddings from 1850 and “questionable” school dinner chocolate sponge traybake from the 1970s. Runs at the Clerkenwell-based organisation until 1st February. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/Pages/event-detail.aspx?eventid=2749.
• Of course, these are just some of the events taking place as part of Great Fire 350. Others include the Fire Food Market in Guildhall Yard, running from 6.30pm to 10pm Saturday night and from 5pm to 10pm Sunday night, as well as events we’ve previously mentioned including the programme of events running at St Paul’s Cathedral and the Fire! Fire! exhibition at the Museum of London. For more of the walks, talks, performances, installations and other events taking place, head to www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350.
Send all items for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 22, 2016
Sculpture in the City has returned to the Square Mile for summer with 17 contemporary artworks by internationally renowned artists located in public spaces across the City of London. With the event now in its sixth year, this year’s sculptures include Jaume Plensa’s seven metre high cast iron work Laura (located at 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin), it’s pictured above), Matt Collishaw’s work, Magic Lantern Small – a grand scale “zoetrope”, one of the earliest moving image machines (located in Bury Court, it’s pictured below), and Huma Bhabha’s work, The Orientalist (located in Fenchurch Avenue, it’s pictured far below). Other works can be found in locations including St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Gardens, The Leadenhall Building and St Helen’s Bishopsgate Churchyard. A map of the SITC trail and extra commentary on the individual artworks can be accessed by downloading the SMARTIFY app for Apple and Android devices and then scanning any of the sculptures. There’s also a map and information available at www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/sculptureinthecity. PICTURES: Nick Turpin
Director Steven Spielberg, actor and playwright Mark Rylance, physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, TV personality Simon Cowell, and The Duchess of Cornwall are among 50 high profile personalities who have put their childhood dreams and aspirations on show around the country – including in London – to mark not only the release of the film The BFG but also the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. Launched last weekend, the ‘BFG Dream Jar Trail’ features a series of up-to-six-foot-tall ‘Dream Jars’, each of which contains a sculpture representing the childhood dreams of a different personality. The free trail – which takes in London sites such as Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Leicester Square, Harrods, Emirates Stadium and The Shard – has been created in support of the work of Save the Children and a specialist nursing programme supported by Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity with the jars to be auctioned in collaboration with Paddle8 later this year to raise money for both causes (the auction will be launched on the film’s premiere on 17th July). At least 34 jars have already gone on display with more to be unveiled in coming days. The joint creation of Save the Children, the Roald Dahl Literary Estate, Entertainment One and VisitLondon.com with support from Unilever, the trail can be seen until 31st August. To see the art trail map and discover the stories behind each jar and its location, head to www.visitlondon.com/bfg. For more on the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth, head to www.roalddahl.com/roalddahl100. PICTURED: Above – director Steven Spielberg’s self-designed jar, on display in Leicester Square, illustrating his childhood fantasy of having all the sweets in the world but none of the ill effects from overindulgence.
To look at it, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine the memorial marking the former site of the ‘Tyburn Tree’ near Marble Arch was part of the English Heritage Blue Plaques scheme.
But, located on the ground on a traffic island at the junction of Edgware and Bayswater Roads, this memorial commemorating the site of the former gallows at what was once London’s execution grounds (and those who died upon it) is just that.
It’s estimated by some that as many as 60,000 people may have been executed here over the 600 years until the late 1700s
While the plaque only mentions one of the names by which the various gallows erected here were known – Tyburn being the name of the village originally here, others included ‘The Elms’, the ‘The Deadly Never Green Tree’ and the ‘Triple Tree’, the latter presumably a reference to the famous three-sided gallows set up here during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The last gallows was removed in 1759 when executions were moved into Newgate Prison (for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our earlier post here).
The plaque was erected on the site in 1964 by the London County Council; it replaced an earlier triangular plaque the council had erected here in 1909.
The memorial was restored and rededicated in a ceremony in 2014 with the placement of three oak trees around it (this picture was taken before the restoration).
There is a green City of Westminster plaque nearby which commemorates 105 Roman Catholic martyrs who lost their lives on the gallows between 1535 and 1681 while the deaths of the more than 350 Roman Catholics who died across England and Wales during the Reformation, including those on the Tyburn Tree, are also recalled in a shrine at the nearby Tyburn Convent.
The world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide opened at the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the UK’s tallest public artwork – in London’s east last week. Standing 178 metres high, the slide wraps around the sculpture 12 times as it descends toward earth, providing a 40 second ride of speeds up to 15 kph through a series of twists and turns including a tight corkscrew section known as the ‘bettfeder’ (named after the German word for ‘bedspring’). The slide, which was designed by Belgian artist Carsten Höller at the invitation of Sir Anish Kapoor, designer of the ArcelorMittal Orbit (constructed for the 2012 Olympic Games), is open until 30th December. For more on the Slide and to book, see http://arcelormittalorbit.com/whats-on/the-slide/. PICTURES: Supplied.
June 20, 2016
Now the name of a dock on Bankside (pictured below), St Mary Overie (also spelt as Overy) also forms part of the formal name of Southwark Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.
The simple version of the name’s origins is that it simply means St Mary “over the river” (that is, St Mary on the south side of the Thames) which was used in relation to a priory founded there in the Norman era by two knights (it’s to this foundation that what is now Southwark Cathedral owes its origins, something we’ll take a more detailed look at the nunnery in an upcoming Lost London post).
But there’s also another, more romantic version, of the name’s origins. That story, as it’s told on a plaque located at the dock (pictured above), goes back to before the Norman founding of priory, back to the days when, before the building of London Bridge, a ferry ran between the two banks of the River Thames.
The man responsible for the ferry was John Overs, a “notorious miser”, who decided to save money by feigning his death and thus plunging his household into mourning, saving that day’s provisions. As one may imagine, however, Overs was not a popular man and his servants, instead of fasting in their mourning, held a feast in celebration of his death.
In rage, the old master leapt out of his bed and a servant, terrified and imaging some sort of demonic manifestation, struck him fatally with an oar on the head.
Overs’ daughter, Mary, sent for her lover so that he may come and together with her claim her father’s inheritance but such was his haste, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. So overcome was Mary by her misfortunes that she founded a convent into which she subsequently retired (this was subsequently ‘refounded’ by the two Norman knights).
The dock, meanwhile, is today the berthing place of the Golden Hinde II, a sea-worthy replica of the flagship in which Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe (for more on the ship, see our earlier post here).