This Week in London – V&A’s ‘Performance Festival’; Underground secrets revealed; and, Gillian Wearing to create Millicent Fawcett statue…
April 20, 2017
• The fourth annual ‘Performance Festival’ opens at the V&A in South Kensington tomorrow. Highlights include a preview of the V&A’s exclusive virtual reality recording of David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, the museum’s first ever stand-up comedy night and a premiere screening of the film Lady Macbeth followed by a Q&A with director William Oldroyd, actress Florence Pugh and costume designer Holly Waddington. The festival, which runs until Sunday, 30th April, is being run in conjunction with the display The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres currently in the museum’s Theatre and Performance Gallery. Admission free to most events/selected events are ticketed in advance. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/performance-festival.
• The secrets and hidden spaces of the London Underground will be laid bare in an open day at the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot this weekend. Activities include art and poster tours, a program of talks including discussions of the finds made during the Crossrail excavations, London’s mail rail and the Thames Tunnel, miniature railway rides and the chance to see heritage vehicles including the restored 1892 ‘Carriage 353’ . There’s also plenty of options for eating and shopping. Runs Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd April). Admission charge applies but kids are free. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends
• Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing has been commissioned to create a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett for Parliament Square, it was announced last week. The statue will be the first female statue to stand in the square when it’s unveiled next year as well as the first to do so which was created by a woman.
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This Week in London – Maritime Greenwich lights up; garden memorial to Diana; and, Ecce Homo at St Paul’s…
April 13, 2017
Wishing all our readers a very happy Easter!
• Maritime Greenwich will celebrate 20 years of UNESCO World Heritage Listing with a “spectacular” lighting event next Tuesday night. The lights will be switched on at 8.30pm on 18th April, illuminating landmarks including the Cutty Sark, the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory as well as the Old Royal Naval College. The event, the first in a series to mark the 20 year anniversary this year, is the first time all the buildings have been lit up in unison and is a one night only event. Greenwich Park and the grounds of the National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College will be kept open until 10pm to give visitors more time to witness the historic event. Maritime Greenwich was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 due to its role in the progression of English artistic and scientific endeavour in the 17th and 18th centuries. The event takes place from 8.30pm to 11pm (Cutty Sark will be lit until 11pm) and is free to attend. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk. PICTURE: RMG
• A memorial garden to Princess Diana has opened at Kensington Palace, marking 20 years since her death. The temporary ‘White Garden’ – located in what was formerly the Sunken Garden which often featured floral displays admired by the Princess – features flowers and foliage inspired by memories of the Princess’s life, image and style. The garden, which can be seen from a public walkway, complements the exhibition, Diana: Her Fashion Story, currently on show in the palace. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.
• Mark Wallinger’s work, Ecce Homo – a life-sized sculpture of Jesus Christ with his hands bound behind his back and a crown of barbed wire on his head, has been placed at the top of St Paul’s Cathedral’s west steps for Easter. The sculpture, which will be at the cathedral for six weeks, represents Christ as he stands alone, waiting for judgement and a sentence of death. The sculpture is being presented by the cathedral in partnership with Amnesty International and the Turner Prize winning artist to highlight the plight of all those currently in prison, suffering torture or facing execution because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held beliefs. The statue first appeared on the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth in 1999. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk.
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March 14, 2017
Unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in Victoria Embankment Gardens last Thursday, the Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial recognises the contributions of the many hundreds of thousands of UK armed forces and citizens deployed in the Gulf region, Iraq and Afghanistan between 1990 and 2015 – including the 682 service personnel who died – and those who supported them at home. The memorial was designed by sculptor Paul Day and features two large stones – one representing Afghanistan and the other Iraq – which are linked by a giant two-sided bronze ‘tondo’ depicting the concepts of ‘duty’ and ‘service’. Inclusive of all who contributed, both military and civilian, the monument bears no names. The Queen was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and among others who attended the ceremony near the Ministry of Defence was PM Theresa May and Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon. PICTURES: Top – © Crown copyright 2017.
March 10, 2017
This sculpture by London-based Scottish artist David Mach can be found in Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It depicts 12 K6 red phone boxes falling onto one another like a row of dominoes and was commissioned from the Royal Academician by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 1988. Unveiled the following year, it was renovated in 2001. There’s been talk in the past of it being removed (and of the end phone being connected, so it works) but the iconic sculpture remains in situ near the Old London Road gateway (and unconnected). PICTURE: Jim Linwood/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)
OK, I know the plaque on the front says this was the actual home of author George Orwell – who moved here in 1944 with his family. But the property was also apparently partly the inspiration for Victory Mansions, the home of Winston Smith, the protagonist of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) moved to the property at 27b Canonbury Square with his wife Eileen and their young adopted son Richard in 1944 after their flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, was hit by a V-1 flying bomb.
But Eileen sadly died unexpectedly during surgery only a few months later in early 1945 while Orwell was off working as a war correspondent.
Despite this, Orwell retained the property until 1947 – the same year his allegorical story Animal Farm was published – but had left the property when Nineteen Eighty Four, which he had largely written while on the Scottish island of Jura in 1947 and 1948, was published in June, 1949 – only a few months before he died in January, 1950.
His was apparently the basement flat – rather unlike Smith’s home which Orwell wrote was located “seven flights up” in a rather large block. The architectural differences aside, however, Orwell’s flat apparently served as something of a model for Smith’s “bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area” which was, like the rest of the flats Victory Mansions, was “falling to pieces” and filled with the smell of boiled cabbage.
A plaque erected by the London Borough of Islington has long adorned the building although last year Orwell’s son Richard attended the unveiling of a new plaque which amended the dates Orwell lived here, changing it from 1945 to 1944-47.
Of course, London is replete with other locations mentioned in Orwell’s book – Trafalgar Square becomes Victory Square (Big Brother stands atop the column in place of Admiral Lord Nelson), the Ministry of Truth where Smith works is modelled on the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, and the cells in the Ministry of Love are apparently based on those at Bethnel Green Police Station where Orwell has been incarcerated (although only for a few hours) after being arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour in 1931.
Orwell, meanwhile, is commemorated with numerous plaques located around London, including an English Heritage Blue Plaque at a property in Lawford Road, Kentish Town.
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.
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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