LondonLife – Exploring Buckingham Palace’s gardens…

The garden at Buckingham Palace in spring. PICTURE: John Campbell (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)

The historic 39 acre garden at Buckingham Palace opened to the public for the first time last Friday as part of the palace’s summer opening. Visitors can follow a route that takes in the 156-metre Herbaceous Border, plane trees which were planted by and named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and views of the island and its beehives across the 3.5-acre lake. There’s also the opportunity to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and guided tours of the south-west of the garden with features including the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow. The current landscape dates back to the 1820s when King George IV turned Buckingham House into a place. It features more than 1,000 trees, the National Collection of Mulberry Trees (mulberry trees were first planted by King James I in 1608), 320 different wildflowers and grasses, and, since 2008, five beehives. The Queen traditionally hosts three garden parties in the gardens annually which are each attended by 8,000 guests, who consume around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake. The gardens are open until 19th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

A curving path leading past the Magnolia Dell to the Rose Garden. PICTURE: John Campbell (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)
The Rose Garden and summer house can be seen as part of guided tours. PICTURE: John Campbell ( Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)
Spring flowers in the Buckingham Palace garden. PICTURE:John Campbell (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.)

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Royal Albert Hall…

Crowds gathered at the Opening of Royal Albert Hall, on 29th March, 1871, as seems in the Illustrated London News, on the 8th April, 1871.

Next week sees the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary concert taking place, one of a number of events to mark the anniversary of the hall’s opening.

This spectacular building in South Kensington was officially opened on 29th March, 1871, as The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences (the opening was actually brought forward from 1st May – 20th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition – at the request of Queen Victoria).

The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1867 and the work on the building, the creation of which was partly funded by profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, was complete by the end of 1870 (at least its structure – much of the interior decoration was apparently added later).

An image of the interior of the hall during the opening ceremony on 29th March. 1871. The illustration originally appeared in The Graphic. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family left Buckingham Palace in a line of state carriages for the event at noon escorted by the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Large crowds lined the route of her passage and a guard of honour composed of the Grenadiers stood opposite the entrance.

On arriving, the Queen was met by the Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), members of the building committee and some of those who has served as commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Queen processed to a dais inside the building’ auditorium where some 8,000 dignitaries and invited guests waited in the audience. But she was apparently too overcome by memories of her late husband – Prince Albert, after whom the building as named – to give a speech. So it was the Prince who did so, although the Queen did reportedly add her own comments, saying according to an account in The Guardian: “I cannot but express my great admiration for this beautiful building, and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”

A battery of artillery performed a salute in nearby Hyde Park after which the Queen and Royal Family took their seats in the Royal Box to watch the musical program that followed. The Queen then returned to Buckingham Palace.

Interestingly, the first concert at the hall, held to test acoustics, actually took place month earlier on 25th February for an audience of some 7,000 people made up of those who had worked on the building and their families as well as officials and various invited members of the public.

This Week in London – New statue of Princess Diana; V&A’s new Design 1900 gallery; a Blue Plaque for Jean Muir; and, police boxes reimagined…

A new statue of the late Princess Diana is being unveiled today at Kensington Palace. The statue will be unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Diana’s former home. The garden – originally created on the orders of King Edward VII in 1908 – has been redesigned by designer Pip Morrison to provide a more reflective setting for the memorial. This included planting more than 4,000 of Diana’s favourite flowers including forget-me-nots and tulips. The statue, which is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, is expected to be unveiled by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, who commissioned it in 2017.

The V&A’s new gallery, Design 1900. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A new permanent gallery has opened at the V&A which explores the role design plays in shaping, and being shaped by, how we live, work, travel and communicate. Design 1900 is housed within the museum’s former 20th Century Gallery and, among the displays are new acquisitions including Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s iconic British road signage system, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book, Nike’s Nigeria football shirt for the 2018 World Cup and a one-of-a-kind desk designed by Future Systems for Condé Nast Chairman Jonathan Newhouse. The display also includes items from the Rapid Response Collecting programme such as 3D-printed door openers, designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the I Believe in Our City bus shelter posters that highlighted increased anti-Asian bias. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Twentieth century dressmaker and fashion designer Jean Muir has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Mayfair address she worked for 30 years. The plaque was unveiled at 22 Bruton Street, the location of the showroom and office she operated out of from 1966 to 1995, by her house model, friend and client Joanna Lumley. Others among Muir’s clientele included actress Patricia Hodge and writer Lady Antonia Fraser. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The City of London Corporation has unveiled the design for new ‘Digital Service Points’ which will reimagine the concept of the traditional police boxes. ‘The London Stones’, the work of architecture and design studio Unknown Works, will include information screens, life saving emergency equipment and serve as hubs for City of London Police officers and community events. Details from buildings, stories and images of the Square Mile will be collected and ‘digitally carved’ into the exterior of the ‘stones’ which will also be home to a vast array of lichen colonies and species expected to evolve in their colour and appearance as they grow.

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This Week in London – Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and, a new sculpture trail in Greenwich…

The 18 day meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France in 1520, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is the subject of an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, which is being held to mark the 500th anniversary of the event (having been rescheduled from last year), is being held in rooms in Hampton Court Palace that were once used by the architect of the summit, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and features objects from the actual meeting as well as treasures from the courts of the two kings. They include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments – woven from cloth of gold and chosen by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais, Wolsey’s Book of Hours, and a unique tapestry which, manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, depicts a bout of wrestling at the event with a black trumpeter shown among the brace of royal musicians. The display can be seen until 5th September. Admission charge applies. For more information and tickets – prebooking is essential, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A free sculpture trail, featuring works by artist Josie Spencer, has opened on the King William Lawns at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Fragments in Time features life-sized bodies captured in dramatic positions, including fractured figures, which demonstrate the beauty and resilience of the human spirit while highlighting the fragility of life. The artist says the works have been chosen from a group of pieces that treated the figures as if they were the “archaeology of our time found in another century, in the future, when those then looking at them can see the fragility of our life now”. The trail can be seen until 6th August.

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A Moment in London’s History – The coronation of King Edward IV…

It’s 560 years ago this month that the Yorkist King Edward IV was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is king-edward-iv.jpg
King Edward IV by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1540 (NPG 3542). PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Only three months earlier, on 4th March, 1461, the 19-year-old Edward had been declared King at Westminster in London. He had then gone on to defeat the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Towton in North Yorkshire during a snowstorm on 29th March, said to have been the bloodiest single day battle ever fought on English soil with an estimated 28,000 men dying.

While his coronation was first set for July, ongoing trouble from the Lancastrians saw him bring the date forward (his predecessor, Henry VI, was in exile at the time).

Edward arrived at the Tower of London on Friday, 26th June, and then retired to Lambeth for the night. The following day – Saturday, 27th June – he crossed London Bridge and made his state entrance into the City.

Accompanied by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and some 400 of the elite citizens of the City, Edward, said to be an impressive figure at six foot, four inches tall, then processed through the City streets to the Tower of London.

Once at the Tower, he created some 28 new Knights of the Bath, including his younger brothers George and Richard. They then rode ahead of him as he rode through the streets to Westminster.

The following morning, Sunday, 28th June, Edward went to Westminster Abbey where he was crowned King. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, presided over the ceremony, assisted by William Booth, the Archbishop of York.

After the coronation, a banquet was held in Westminster Hall with the King sitting under a cloth of gold. One of the highlights was apparently the moment when Sir Thomas Dymoke, the King’s champion, rode into the hall in full armour. Flinging down his mail gauntlet, he is said to have challenged anyone who disputed Edward’s right to be king to do battle with him. No-one took up the offer.

A further banquet was held the following day at the Bishop of London’s Palace – in honour of his brother George who was created Duke of Clarence, and on the Tuesday, King Edward, wearing his crown, attended St Paul’s Cathedral.

Edward’s first reign ended in 1470 when on 30th October, he was forced into exile and King Henry VI. But it was only to be for a brief period – Edward IV reclaimed the throne on 11th April, 1471, defeating the Lancastrians in a decisive battle at Barnet on 14th April (April marked the 550th anniversary of that battle).

This Week in London – Royal gowns; first ‘blossom garden’; and, the brightest colours ever created…

A view of the Royal Style in the Making exhibition. PICTURE © Historic Royal Palaces.

A stunning wedding dress worn by Diana, the Princess of Wales – including its 25 foot long sequin encrusted train – and a rare surviving ‘toile’ – a working pattern – of the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, are among star items on display in a new exhibition in Kensington Palace’s Orangery. Royal Style in the Making features some never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century as well as original sketches, fabric swatches and unseen photographs from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a treasure trove of more than 10,000 items of dress and design history cared for by Historic Royal Palaces. Admission charge applies. The display can be seen until 2nd January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

• The first in a series of ‘blossom gardens’ has been opened by the National Trust in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London’s east. The garden features 33 trees including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple which represent the city’s 32 boroughs and the City of London itself. The garden, which was opened last month by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will be followed by further gardens planted over the next five years across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The brightest colours ever created are dazzling eyes at Kew Gardens. Naturally Brilliant Colour, an exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, explores the origins of colour and vision and showcases how botanical artists have depicted the brightest and most intense colours found in nature. Works by Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) and contemporary artist Julia Trickey are on show as well as the world’s first botanical artwork to accurately reproduce natural structural colour (it features flakes of ‘Pure Structural Colour’ which artificially replicates how microscopic structures within the surface layers of plants and animals reflect sunlight in a specific way to generate bright colours). Runs until 26th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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London Explained – Beefeaters…

A nickname for the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, its origins are somewhat obscure but apparently related to a penchant for beef and was presumably meant as an insult (hence they prefer being called by their proper title). It was apparently first used of the English population in general and is said to have first been applied to the Yeoman Warders in the second half of the 17th century.

A Yeoman Warder in everyday “undress” uniform. PICTURE: PRA (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/image cropped)

The Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London (not to be confused with the Yeomen Warders of The Guard, the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, who are also referred to as “beefeaters”), are charged with guarding of the Tower of London and its contents including the prisoners of state who were formerly held within its walls (the last was during World War II).

With a history dating back to the reign of King Henry VII and first present at the Tower during the reign of King Henry VIII, they were made extraordinary members of the Sovereign’s Bodyguard during the reign of King Edward VI in 1552 (meaning they wear scarlet livery and carry partizans on state occasions).

The Chief Yeoman Warder is their commander and second-in-command is a Yeomen Gaoler (who still carries an axe on state occasions). There are also three Sergeant Yeoman and a Yeoman Ravenmaster. A Yeoman Warder (along with a detachment of soldiers) carries out the Ceremony of the Keys every night – formally locking the Tower.

These days (drawing on innovations introduced by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower between 1826 and 1852), the Yeoman Warders must be warrant officers who have served at least 22 years (and have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal) in the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines.

The Yeoman Warders – and there were 38 (although we’re not sure how cutbacks due to COVID may affect this) – live within the Tower under the authority of the Resident Governor. They wear the red state dress uniform on state occasions and a dark blue “undress” uniform for everyday use. Moira Cameron became the first female Yeoman Warder in 2007.

As well as carrying out state duties, since Victorian times the Yeoman Warders have conducted towers of the Tower and assisted visitors with their inquiries.

This Week in London – Raphael Court to reopen at V&A; naming a Tower raven; and, Caroline Norton’s Blue Plaque…

The V&A has unveiled its refurbished Raphael Court – home to the world famous Raphael Cartoons – after a renovation last year to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The gallery, which reopens to the public along with the rest of the museum on 19th May, transforms the way visitors will encounter the large scale cartoons on loan to the V&A from the Royal Collection. The new gallery features state-of-the-art LED lighting, acoustic panelling and bespoke furnishings. There are also high-resolution images of the cartoons which can be explored at the gallery as well as online. The cartoons were created by Raphael in 1513 after he was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a set of 10 designs for a series of tapestries to hang in the the Sistine Chapel. Illustrating scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, each of the cartoons – which were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels to be made into tapestries – measures around five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of them survive and were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I). They were first lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865. For more, see vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.

People across the globe are invited to help name a baby female raven, one of a pair born at the Tower of London during lockdown. Until 18th May, people are invited to vote for their favourite name on the Ravenmaster’s shortlist – from Matilda (the name of a medieval queen) to Florence (named for Florence Nightingale), Brontë (named for the writing family), Winifred (named for Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale, who plotted her husband Lord Nithsdale’s escape from the Tower in 1716 disguised as a woman) and Branwen (a figure from Celtic mythology). The poll can be found at http://bit.ly/NameOurRaven and the winning name will be announced as part of the reopening of the Tower on 19th May.

Nineteenth century women’s rights campaigner Caroline Norton has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located on a townhouse at 3 Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, the home from where Norton fought for the rights to own the proceeds of her own work as a writer. Her abusive marriage and subsequent separation from George Chapple Norton was one of the most highly publicised cases in 19th-century Britain. It led to Norton successfully lobbying for legal rights for married women and, as a result of her campaigning, mothers were eventually granted custody of children under seven (and access thereafter) in cases of divorce or separation. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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Treasures of London – Hyde Park’s ‘Grand Entrance’…

David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This ornate triple stone entrance in the south-east corner of Hyde Park (better known as Hyde Park Corner), was designed by Decimus Burton when he was just 25-years-old.

Made of Portland stone, the gate, also known as the ‘Apsley Gate’ (after the nearby home of the Duke of Wellington) or the ‘Hyde Park Screen’, was installed in the late 1820s and replaced a former tollgate.

Several designs were proposed in the late 18th century but it was only after work started to transform Buckingham Palace from a home into the grand building we know today that Burton, who was already working on designing a series of gates, lodges and railings around Hyde Park for the Office of Woods and Forests, was asked to design the screen alongside plans for a grand memorial arch to serve as an entrance to Green Park which would be located opposite.

Burton’s designs for the Hyde Park gateway were approved by none other than King George IV and it now stands true to his original design. Decorative elements in the gate include scroll-topped columns and friezes by John Henning which were copied from the Elgin Marbles. Burton also designed the classical-style lodge house just inside the gates.

Burton’s initial plans for the Green Park arch, however, were deemed not to be grand enough – after all, this would be one of the approaches to Buckingham Palace – and so he produced a second design which is now largely embodied in what became the Wellington Arch.

While the Hyde Park gateway originally stood in line with Wellington Arch, traffic management matters saw the latter moved to its current position in the 1880s, putting it out of alignment with the gateway.

Showing part of the frieze. PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – Hampton Court Palace’s Tulip Festival, National Gallery acquires ‘Portrait of a Girl’, and, art at Canary Wharf…

Hampton Court Palace is hosting its first ever Tulip Festival. Featuring more than 100,000 bulbs placed throughout the formal gardens, the festival pays homage to the estate’s long history of tulip cultivation and, thanks to partnership with the Hortus Bulborum in the Netherlands, involves some types of tulip that have not been on show at the palace since the 17th century. First introduced to the British Isles in the 1630s, tulip planting at Hampton Court dates back to the reign of Queen Mary II. Ten different heritage and modern types have been planted across the gardens for the festival including Parrot, Triumph, Rembrandt and Darwin tulips. Visitors can undertake a self-guided trail which takes in both the palace’s courtyards – filled with ornate planters and flowers specially-selected to match the historic brickwork – and the gardens. Admission charge applies (tickets must be pre-booked). Runs until 3rd May. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/tulip-festival-2021.

Isaack Luttichuys (1616–1673), Portrait of a Girl, about 1650 © The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery has acquired Portrait of a Girl (about 1650) by Isaack Luttichuys, the first work by the artist to enter a British public collection. Luttichuys, who name is pronounced ‘Lootickhouse’, was born in London to Dutch parents and spent his early life in England (where the family was known as Littlehouse, the literal English translation of the name). The artist later moved to Amsterdam where he enjoyed a highly successful career as a portrait painter until his death in 1673. The work was acquired from the estate of banker and philanthropist George Pinto under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council. 

Escape to faraway lands with a new art installation at Crossrail Place Roof Garden at Canary Wharf. Crossorelle is the work of artists Baker & Borowski, and features a design inspired by the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech which fuses the Moroccan garden’s rich palette and art deco shapes with exotic flora. Free to visit, the display can be seen until 19th June. For more, see https://canarywharf.com/whats-on/crossorelle-roof-garden-mar-jun-2021/.

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10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

This Week in London – Women commemorated in new Blue Plaques, and, Buckingham Palace gardens explored…

A social reformer, a former slave turned campaigner and the “people’s princess” are among six women who will be commemorated with new English Heritage Blue Plaques this year. The first of the new plaques – dedicated to crystallographer and peace campaigner Kathleen Lonsdale – was unveiled last week at the home in Seven Kings, Redbridge, where she lived from 1911 to 1927 during her early days at UCL and the Royal Institute. Lonsdale went on to carry out ground-breaking work on crystal structures and played what’s described as a “fundamental role” in progressing x-ray crystallography. Other plaques will commemorate social reformer Caroline Norton, designer Jean Muir, former slave and campaigner Ellen Craft, barrister Helena Normanton, and, Diana, Princess of Wales. For more on English Heritage’s Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The lake in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. PICTURE: Bob Jones (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The garden at Buckingham Palace will open to the public this summer, allowing visitors to explore the 39 acre grounds on a self-guided tour for the first time. The route will encompass the 156-metre herbaceous border, plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and take in views of the garden’s 3.5 acre lake and island with its beehives. Visitors will also have the chance to enjoy a picnic on the lawns and explore the south-west of the garden – which includes the Rose Garden, summer house and wildflower meadow – on guided tours. Meantime, during April and May enthusiasts are able to enjoy the garden in springtime on guided tours. And for those unable to make it in person, a series of digital talks, A Warden’s Welcome, which explore Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse kick off online next Wednesday. Charges apply for all – for more information and tickets, see www.rct.uk.

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This Week in London – Gold bunnies at Hampton Court; ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ on a phone; and last two trees for London Blossom Garden…

Despite the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we hope you have a happy Easter break!

A screenshot from ‘Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition’

The National Gallery’s first exhibition aimed at mobile phone users – exploring Jan Gossaert’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Kings – goes live from Friday. Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’, mobile edition features six poems in the voice of King Balthasar, a character depicted in the painting, who interprets six scenes shown in the work while interactive sound brings them to life, all in an effort to guide people to details they may have missed in the work. Users can use their zoom function to explore the masterpiece’s minutiae and share their favourite finds on Instagram. The mobile phone offering is a pre-cursor to the planned reopening of the physical exhibition Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration’ – forced to close just a week after opening last December – on 17th May. To see the mobile display, head to nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours.

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its Lindt Gold Bunny hunt for Easter. Families are invited to join in the search for the famous Lindt Gold Bunnies which have been hidden around the palace, enjoying the gardens along the way. Using a trail map, children will be able to learn about various lesser known Hampton Court residents including John Dale, Henry VIII’s master cook, and John Blanke, the King’s royal trumpeter. Successful treasure hunters can then claim a chocolate reward and a pair of gold bunny ears. Included in admission, the trail is designed for children aged three to 12-years-old and takes about one-and-a-half hours to complete. Runs until 18th April. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/easter-lindt-gold-bunny-hunt/.

The final two blossom trees have been planted in the new London Blossom Garden. The public garden, which is being created as a lasting, living memorial to Londoners who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the city’s shared experience of the pandemic, is located in the northern part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham. Scheduled to open later this spring, it has been created in partnership with the National Trust and with the support of Bloomberg, and features 33 blossoming trees representing London’s boroughs and the City of London.

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

Famous Londoners – Old Martin…

A grizzly bear (not Old Martin). PICTURE: Joshua J Cotten/Unsplash

A large, fully grown, grizzly bear presented to King George III by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811, Old Martin was one of the scarier residents of the Tower of London’s menagerie.

The bear, who was apparently named after a famous bear in Europe (the “old” was added because he spent so long in resident at the Tower), is said to have been the first grizzly in London.

He was not, however, the first bear to live there – King Henry III had been given a polar bear by King Haakon IV Haakonsson of Norway in 1251 (George, however, was apparently unimpressed with his gift, said to have commented in private that he would have preferred a tie or pair of socks).

Despite his many years in the menagerie, Old Martin apparently refused to be tamed and remained fierce towards both strangers and his keepers alike.

When the Duke of Wellington closed the menagerie in the early 1830s (King William IV apparently had little interest in the animals), Old Martin was moved to the London Zoo in Regent’s Park. He died there in 1838.

His skin and skull were subsequently sent to the Natural History Museum and rediscovered there in 1999 for an exhibition at the Tower.

There’s a rather odd story associated with Old Martin. It’s said that in 1816 – when Old Martin was living in the Tower’s menagerie – a Yeoman Warder saw a ghostly bear while on night duty near the Martin Tower. He apparently attempted to run it through with a bayonet but the blade went straight through and struck the door frame behind it. The somewhat dubious story goes that the poor Yeoman Warder died of shock just a few hours later.

This Week in London – Famous faces take in history, and, the Tudor world brought to life…

Famous faces from TV and radio including Strictly Come Dancing champion Oti Mabuse and her partner Marius Iepure, Radio 2’s Reverend Kate Bottley and TV presenter Monty Halls, are visiting dramatic historic locations that are special to them in a new series of videos launched by Historic England. In each film in the #UncoverMore campaign, the personalities “discover a thread through time that brings to life the stories of people, places and spaces that have survived through the decades”. In their film, Oti and Marius dance at two of England’s oldest ballrooms (at Powderham Castle and Hampton Court Place), while Rev Bottley visits Loughborough Bellfoundry, and Monty Halls takes in ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’. To watch the videos, head to https://historicengland.org.uk/coronavirus/culturerecoveryfund/uncover-more/.

The magnificence of the Tudor world will be bought to life in an online talk featuring Historic Royal Palace’s Chief Curator Dr Lucy Worsley next Wednesday. Worsley will be joined by Professor Glenn Richardson from St Mary’s University and fellow Historic Royal Palaces curators Dr Alden Gregory and Brett Dolman in an hour long talk that will focus one of “the most spectacular examples of royal showmanship”, the Field of Cloth of Gold, the 1520 event when Henry VIII met near Calais with his great rival François I of France. The talk will also feature a sneak preview of Hampton Court Palace’s upcoming exhibition Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King. The event is free (although donations of £10 are encouraged). To register, head here.

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 5. The Tower of London…

Thomas left the employ of Theobold, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1154 when he took up the role of Chancellor for the newly crowned King Henry II (on Theobold’s recommendation).

The new role meant he wasn’t much in London over the next eight years – King Henry II spent less than two-and-a-half years in England during that period and Becket’s new role meant he was expected to be with the King.

The Tower of London (the expansive St Thomas’s Tower is on the front left). PICTURE: flicksmores (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One London connection during this period came about, however, when King Henry II awarded him the custody of the Tower of London (the role which is now known as Constable of the Tower and was apparently then referred to as Keeper of the Tower).

Interestingly, Becket is just one of four Archbishops of Canterbury who held the post (although he was Archbishop later) but is the only saint to have done so.

During his time as Constable of the Tower, Becket did carry our substantial repairs on the complex (while Chancellor he also oversaw repairs to other buildings including the Palace of Westminster).

There is a further connection between Becket and the Tower – King Edward I, during his rather dramatic renovations and expansion of the fortress, included a chapel dedicated to the martyred St Thomas in the royal quarters. To this day, the tower which fronts the Thames is known as St Thomas’s Tower (the naming of Traitor’s Gate, formerly known as Water Gate, under it occurred much later and had nothing to do with him).

This Week in London – The ‘Queen’ is missing from the Tower; and, ‘Unreal City’ online…

Merlina and Christopher Skaife in 2014. PICTURE: Megan Rosenbloom (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The ‘Queen’ is missing from the Tower of London. ‘Merlina’, who is one of seven ravens in residence at the Tower under the care of raven master Christopher Skaife, reportedly hasn’t been seen at the fortress for several weeks. A spokesman for the Tower said it was feared Merlina, who joined the flock in 2007, had died. “Merlina was our undisputed ruler of the roost, Queen of the Tower Ravens,” he told the Evening Standard. “She will be greatly missed by her fellow ravens, the ravenmaster, and all of us in the Tower community.” Legend states that there must be six ravens at the Tower or the Kingdom will fall.

An exhibition of augmented reality art (often known as AR art) is available to be viewed online. Unreal City, described as London’s biggest public festival of AR art, was launched back in December and involved 36 digital sculptures by the likes of Olafur Eliasson, Cao Fei, Alicja Kwade, Koo Jeong A, and Marco Brambilla, arranged in a walking tour along the Thames. The festival, which is  a partnership between Acute Art and Dazed Media, has now made the works available to be seen online via the via the Acute Art app. Also to be seen are works by artists KAWS, Bjarne Melgaard, and Tomás Saraceno.  The works can be seen for free via the Acute Art app until 9th February.

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This Week in London – Buckingham Palace masterpieces; the Museum of London wants your dreams; theoretical physicist honoured; and, Khadija Saye’s self-portraits…

Gerrit Dou The Grocer’s Shop (1672) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

World renowned artworks from Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery go on show at the Queen’s Gallery from tomorrow. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace features 65 works by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto and, unlike in the tours of the State Rooms, visitors to the Queen’s Gallery will face the chance to enjoy the works close-up. The paintings on show include Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (early 1660s), Sir Peter Paul Rubens Milkmaids with Cattle in a Landscape, (c1617–18), Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633), Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day (c1733–4), Titian’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (c1537) and Gerrit Dou’s The Grocer’s Shop (1672). The exhibition runs until January 2022. Advance booking is essential and admission charge applies. For more, see www.rct.uk.

The Museum of London is seeking to record the dreams of Londoners during the coronavirus pandemic in a new project with the Museum of Dreams at Western University in Canada. Guardians of Sleep represents the first time dreams as raw encounters and personal testimonies will be collected by a museum. Londoners are being asked to register their interest to take part by 15th January with conversations with members of the Dreams network – an international team of trained scholars from the psychosocial community, slated to be held over Zoom in February. Contributions will be considered for acquisition by the Museum of London as part of its ‘Collecting COVID’ project. To volunteer to participate in the study, or to find out more details, members of the public should contact info@museumofdreams.org.

Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, has been honoured with a Blue Plaque at his former property in Putney. The red brick Edwardian house was the Pakistani scientist’s London base from 1957 until his death in 1996. It features a study where Salam would write while listening to long-playing records of Quranic verses and music by composers ranging from Strauss to Gilbert and Sullivan. Salam’s work on electroweak theory contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle – the ‘God particle’ which gives everything mass, and he was also involved in improving the status of science in developing countries.The unveiling comes as English Heritage issues a call for the public to nominate more notable scientists from history for its Blue Plaque scheme in London with only around 15 per cent of the 950 plus blue plaques across the capital dedicated to scientists. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A self-portrait series by late Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye can be seen at the British Library’s entrance hall from today.  Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe features nine silk-screen prints and demonstrates Saye’s deep concern with “how trauma is embodied in the black experience” as well as her Gambian heritage and mixed-faith background. Saye, who died in 2017, photographed herself with cultural, religious and spiritual objects of significance both to her Christian mother and Muslim father and in African traditions of spirituality. The free display is on show until 2nd May. For more, see www.bl.uk.

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LondonLife – Buckingham Palace’s Picture Gallery empties out…

Old Masters have been removed from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace for the first time in almost 45 years to allow for essential maintenance works. The works, which include paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto, will be featured in a landmark new exhibition – Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – which, featuring some 65 artworks in total, opens in the palace’s Queen’s Gallery on 4th December. They have been removed from the Picture Gallery – one of the palace’s State Room where Old Master paintings have hung since the reign of King George IV in the 1820s – over a period of four weeks to allow for building improvements which will include the replacement of electrics and pipework – some of which has not been updated since the 1940s – as well as the gallery’s roof. The refurbishment is part of a £370 million, 10 year refit programme being carried out at the palace due for completion in 2027.