tower-of-londonA new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP. 

Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Horatio Nelson – hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, is the subject of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. One of the most famous figures of her time, Hamilton rose from obscure beginnings to the heights of celebrity and is best remembered for the scandalous affair she had with Lord Nelson for the six years prior to his death in 1805. Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity brings together more than 200 objects, many of which have never been displayed before, including paintings, letters, costumes and jewellery. Highlights include works by artists George Romney, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, letters from Hamilton and her lovers, betrothal rings exchanged between Hamilton and Nelson, her songbooks and decorative objects. The exhibition, which runs until 17th April, is accompanied by a series of events including walking tours and late openings. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

The first-ever exhibition of portraits of artists in the Royal Collection opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow. Portrait of the Artist features more than 150 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts including a self-portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1623) which was hung in Whitehall Palace, a portrait of his former assistant Anthony van Dyck (c1627-28), and Cristofano Allori’s work Head of Holofernes (1613) in which the artist appears as the decapitated Holofernes as well as self-portraits by everyone from Rembrandt to Lucien Freud and David Hockney. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.

Sir Joseph Lyons, founder of Lyons tea shops and the ‘Corner Houses’ of London – among the first chain restaurants in England, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Hammersmith. Sir Joseph, who lived at the property in the 1890s close to the now-demolished headquarters of his catering empire at Cadby Hall, opened the doors to his first teashop at 213 Piccadilly in 1894. He was knighted by King George V in 1911. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Garnitures: Vase sets from National Trust Houses. Being run in conjunction with the National Trust, the display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington explores the history of ‘garniture’ – sets of ornamental vases unified by their design and a specific context. A status symbol for a period between the 17th and 19th century, garnitures fell out of fashion and complete sets are now extremely rare. The display features garnitures loaned from 13 different National Trust houses as well as objects from the V&A’s collection. Highlights include a garniture made in miniature for a doll’s house, an extremely rate 17th century silver set of jars, a Rococo set and Wedgwood ceramics. The free exhibition runs until 30th April. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/garnitures.

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Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?

kings-roadIt was the Stuart king Charles II who first starting using the road’s course as part of his route to Hampton Court which meant it was closed to the public.

Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.

King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.

The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.

The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.

Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.

PICTURE: Secret Pilgrim/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Kensington-Palace-garden-partyJoin Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP

The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.

 Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

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Buckingham-PalaceBuckingham Palace will host a family festival in celebration of the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II this Saturday. The festival, which will be held in the Family Pavilion on the West Terrace, at the Royal Mews and in The Queen’s Gallery, will feature a 24 foot high, life-sized drawing of the Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant (BFG) by Sir Quentin Blake, story-telling sessions, arts and crafts activities including the chance to make hats inspired by the Queen’s outfits and a BFG ‘dream jar’, and a toy kitchen where under fives can decorate a birthday cake. There will also be dressing-up activities in the Royal Mews and a special family tour of current exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery while a selection of refreshments will be available. Admission charge applies. For more information, check out www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Kew Gardens holds it first Science Festival this weekend with a range if interactive activities for visitors to get hands-on with. The family friendly festival will celebrate the ground-breaking discoveries made by Kew scientists and allow visitors to explore how to use a DNA sequencer, clone a cabbage or pollinate orchids with tuning forks. The festival will also features a special display and talks about carnivorous plants and there’s special activities for younger “budding scientists” such as making their own mushroom spore print. The festival kicks off tomorrow and runs until Sunday. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Our Lives in Data. This free exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington explores some of the many ways in which our data is collected, analysed and used for a variety of purposes – from a toy that learns from a child’s personality to become a better playmate to new virtual reality tools created by game designers to help researchers understand vast collections of data. There is also the chance to test facial recognition software through an “intelligent mirror” and an exploration of some of the latest products developed to help people protect their data, including a Cryptophone and wi-fi blocking paint. Runs until September, 2017. For more, visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/data.

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Gnome1
Fifteen gnomes have taken up residence in Hampton Court Palace’s gardens for the next couple of months and they’re feeling particularly chatty.
The gnomes have been specially designed by local community groups and each reflects a unique aspect of the palace landscapes. They also each have a unique tale to tell through the voice of Umbriel, a gnome who starred in Alexander Pope’s epic poem, The Rape of the Lock, which was set at Hampton Court Palace (in fact it was the first time the word gnome appeared in English). Umbriel, voiced by actor Stephen Mangan, will regale visitors with tales from the palace’s rich history – from the time a mole unhorsed King William III through to the time a periwig was left behind by its owner in the maze (the stories were all written by schools and community groups for the project as well as children’s author Francesca Simon, poet Michael Rosen, and Historic Royal Palace’s joint chief curator Lucy Worsley). The gnomes (and Umbriel) can be experienced until 2nd October. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/. PICTURES: Courtesy HRP

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Fire2• A new “theatrical” exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Fire! Fire! takes visitors on an interactive journey from before, during and after the great fire, looking at how the fire started and spread and the personal stories of Fire1Londoners present at the time. Visitors will be able to step in Pudding Lane and see what life was like for 17th century Londoners, walk into the bakery where the fire started, and identify objects melted by the flames. Exhibits on show include a restored 17th century fire engine, originally built in London in the last 1670s, other firefighting equipment including a squirt, a leather bucket and fire hook, a pair of bed hangings, a burnt Geneva Bible, and letters written in the fire’s aftermath. Admission charges apply. Can be seen until 17th April next year. A series of events, including walks, tours, lectures, workshop and family activities, accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire.  The museum has also commissioned a Minecraft building group recreate London as it was in 1666 with the first of three interactive maps to be released next week (available for free download from www.museumoflondon.org.uk) and further maps to follow in September and February. For more information on other events surrounding the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350.

The long lost Palace of Whitehall is the subject of a new visitor experience which kicks off at the last surviving part of the palace – the Banqueting House – today. Handheld devices, binaural 3D sound and haptic technology is being made available to guests as they stroll around the streets of modern Whitehall, allowing them to immerse themselves in the former palace during the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The Lost Palace experience, created in a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and Chomko & Rosier and Uninvited Guests, includes a chance to see the jousts which so delighted Queen Elizabeth I at Horse Guards Parade, accompany King Charles I as he walks through St James’s Park to his execution at the Banqueting House, meet Guy Fawkes following his arrest in the Gunpowder Plot, take part in a performance of King Lear and eavesdrop on an encounter between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn before their doomed love affair began. The Palace of Whitehall was once the largest palace in Europe with 1,500 rooms spread across 23 acres. Tickets can be purchased at the Banqueting House. Runs until 4th September. For more details, see www.hrp.org.uk/thelostpalace.

DressDresses worn by Queen Elizabeth II during two of the most significant events in Her Majesty’s life – her wedding and her coronation – can be seen as part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from Saturday. The two dresses will form part of a special exhibition – Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, the largest display of the Queen’s dress ever held. Alongside the two feature dresses, both designed by British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, are around 150 outfits created by designers including Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. The then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress (pictured), made for her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh on 20th November, 1947, was made in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls and attached to a 15 foot long train, while the Queen’s Coronation dress – created for the event on 2nd June, 1953, is made of white duchesse satin and encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals (along with an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left side of the skirt, added secretly by Sir Norman, to bring her good luck). The exhibition, open to 2nd October, is being accompanied by special displays at both Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016. 

The world’s largest collection of London images – more than 250,000, dating from 1450 to now – are being made available on a free-to-access website hosted by the London Metropolitan Archives from today. Collage – The London Picture Archive features more than 8,000 historical photographs of capital’s streets as well as images of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and photographs of the construction of Tower Bridge along with maps, prints, paintings and films, all drawn from the collections at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the Clerkenwell-based London Metropolitan Archives. The collection can be accessed at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

It’s hands-on gaming at the Science Museum for two weeks from Friday with more than 160 systems and hundreds of games available to play on. Power UP spans 40 years of gaming with games ranging from classics like Pong and Pac-Man to modern games like Halo and systems from Atari and SEGA to PS4 and Xbox One. Ninety minute sessions are being held four times daily from 11am tomorrow until 7th August. Ticket charges apply. For more , see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/powerup.

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Steven-SpielbergDirector 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.

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Photographer John Pannell was among the crowds who gathered in The Mall to witness Trooping the Colour on Saturday. Traditionally held to mark the Queen’s birthday, this year’s event – in honour of the fact that the Queen has turned 90 (her actual birthday being 21st April) – was followed on Sunday by a lunch for 10,000, known as the Patron’s Lunch, in The Mall. Trooping the Colour has marked the official birthday of the sovereign since the reign of King George II. Above are the Queen and Prince Philip while below are part of the Massed Bands of the Household Division, among those who marched, and, RAF planes fly-past Buckingham Palace while watched from the palace’s famed balcony by the Queen and the royal family.

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PlanesPICTURES: John Pannell/Flickr

The-Mall

A view down Constitution Hill looking toward Whitehall, taken from the top of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park corner. To the left is Green Park and to the right, the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Constitutional Hill apparently has nothing to do with a document of any sort but takes its name from the fact that, considered to be a fine “constitutional” walk from St James’s Park to Hyde Park (King Charles II is rumoured to have been among those said to have taken their “constitutional” along this route while Queen Victoria survived a couple of assassination attempts on the road). The pillars at the near end are symbolic gates commemorating those who served Britain in World War I and II from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean (more on them in an upcoming post).

Spread-your-wings• A “ground-breaking” hands-on exhibition exploring the concept and future of flight and space travel opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich this week. Above and Beyond, produced by Evergreen Exhibitions in association with Boeing (and created in collaboration with NASA), features more than 10 interactive displays, allowing visitors to learn to fly like a bird, take an elevator to space, enjoy a view of Earth from above or go on a marathon mission to Mars and see how your body would cope. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/above-and-beyond-exhibition.

Horrible Histories is bringing the world of the ‘Terrible Tudors’ to life at Hampton Court Palace this half-term break. The Birmingham Stage Company is offering the chance for visitors to dip into 100 years of Tudor history, spanning the reigns of the “horrible” Henries to that of the crowning of King James I in 1603. Get behind the dry facts and discover what the role of the Groom of the Stool was, which queen lost her wig as she was executed and decide whether to join in punishing the ‘whipping boy’ or the monarch and which side you’ll be on as the Spanish Armada set sail. The hour long performances will take place on the palace’s historic East Front Gardens (unreserved seating on the grass). Admission charge applies. Runs from today until 2nd June. For more see, www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The Royal Parks is hosting its first ever BioBlitz at Brompton Cemetery this Bank Holiday weekend. For 24 for hours from 5pm on Friday, people are invited to join in the hunt to track down as many species of plants, animals and fungi as possible with events including tree and nature walks, earthworm hunts, bee and wasp counts and lichen recording. There will also be a range of stalls for people to visit with representatives from a range of nature and wildlife organisations present. The BioBlitz is one of several projects linked to the £6.2 million National Lottery-funded facelift of the cemetery. For more, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/events/whats-on/bioblitz.

Sleep with the lions at ZSL London Zoo next to Regent’s Park from this week. The zoo new overnight experience at the Gir Lion Lodge, in which guests can stay in one of nine cabins at the heart of the new Land of the Lions exhibit, opened on Wednesday. Guests will also be taken on exclusive evening and morning tours in which they’ll find out more about how ZSL is working with local communities and rangers in India’s Gir Forest to protect these endangered cats. The private lodges will be available six nights a week until December with designated adults-only and family nights available. For more, see www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/gir-lion-lodge. 

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OK, we’ve reached the last in our series of London film locations so this week we’re taking a quick look at three more…

Millennium-FootbridgeThe Millennium Bridge. Initially nicknamed the “wobbly bridge” due to its propensity to move underfoot, this footbridge over the River Thames first opened in June, 2000, for only couple of days before it was closed for almost two years so its movement could be fixed and eventually reopened again in 2002. But despite its young age, the bridge has appeared not just in a Harry Potter film – 2009’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – where it gets destroyed but also in the break-out 2014 Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy in which it plays the role of a bridge in the city of Xandar (embedded in the rest if the CGI-created city). Among other London locations featured in that film is the modern Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street (again, it makes part of Xandar).

The Regent’s Park. The 2010 film The King’s Speech features numerous London locations – among them is the Avenue Garden in the south-east corner of the park where speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) takes a stroll with Bertie, the future King George VI (played by Colin Firth), which turns a little uncomfortable. Other locations include 33 Portland Place (which plays the role of the Duke and Duchess’ Piccadilly home as well as that of the interior of Logue’s consulting rooms in the famous Harley Street), and the Draper’s Hall in the City, the interior of which plays the role of St James’s Palace.

The Temple Church. This famous – and beautiful – City of London church made its starring performance in the Tom Hanks movie of 2006, The Da Vinci Code. The church enters the movie when symbology professor Robert Langton (played by Hanks) and cryptologist Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou) come here in search for a knight’s tomb. Other London locations featured in the film (alongside those in France and Scotland), include Westminster Abbey (although the interiors were actually shot at Lincoln Cathedral). For more on the history of the church, see our earlier post here or on the tomb effigies, see our post here.

Our next special series kicks of next Wednesday.

A once forgotten collection of watercolour paintings and drawings owned by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia has gone on show at Hampton Court Palace as part of commemorations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The Empress and the Gardener exhibition features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace and its park and gardens during the time when Brown worked there as chief gardener to King George III between 1764 and 1783. The works came to be in the collection of the Empress – a renowned fan of English gardens – after Brown’s assistant, John Spyers, sold two albums of his drawings of the palace to the her for the considerable sum of 1,000 roubles. The albums disappeared into her collection at the Hermitage (now the State Hermitage Museum) and lay forgotten for more than 200 years before they were rediscovered by curator Mikhail Dedinkin in 2002. As well as the collection – on public show for the first time, the exhibition features portraits of Brown and the Empress, previously unseen drawings of her ‘English Palace’ in the grounds of the Peterhof near St Petersburg, and several pieces from the ‘Green Frog’ dinner service, created for the Empress by Wedgwood, which is decorated with some of the landscapes the prolific Brown created across England. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A house in Chelsea has become only one of 19 homes in London to bear two official blue plaques. Number 48 Paultons Square has the honour of having been home to two Nobel prize winners (albeit in different fields) – dramatist Samuel Beckett, who lived there for seven months in 1934 while writing his first novel, Murphy, and physicist Patrick Blackett, noted for his revolutionary work in U-boat detection during World War II, who lived there from 1953 to 1969. Other ‘doubles’ include 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (home to Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia (home to George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the blue plaques scheme. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The rise of the British graphic novel is the subject of a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Great British Graphic Novel features works by 18th century artist William Hogarth as well as Kate Charlesworth, Dave Gibbons (one of the creators of the ground-breaking Watchmen), Martin Row, Posy Simmonds (creator of the Tamara Drewe comic strip) and Bryan and Mary Talbot. It runs until 24th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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This year marks 300 years since the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the most famed landscape designer of the Georgian age and a man who has been described as the “father of landscape architecture”.

Capability-BrownBrown is understood to have been born in 1716 in the village of Kirkharle in Northumberland, the fifth of six children of a land agent and a chambermaid (he was baptised in on 30th August so it is believed his birth happened sometime earlier that same year).

He attended the village school before he worked as apprentice or assistant to the head gardener in Sir William Loraine’s kitchen garden at Kirkharle Hall.

Having left home in 1741 he joined the gardening staff of Lord Cobham, as one of the gardeners at his property in Stowe, Buckinghamshire.

There he worked with William Kent, another famed landscape architect of the Georgian age and one of the founders of the new English style of gardens, until, at the age of 26, he was appointed head gardener.

He remained in Stowe until 1750 and while there, in 1744, married Bridget Wayet (with whom he went on to have nine children). During his time there, he also created the Grecian Valley and also took on freelance work from Lord Cobham’s noble friends, a fact which allowed him to produce a body of work that would start to make his reputation.

Having struck out on his own from Stowe, he settled with his family in Hammersmith, London, in the early 1750s, already widely known and considered by some the finest gardener in the kingdom.

The work continued to flow in and it’s believed that, over the span of his career, Brown was responsible for designing or contributing to the design of as many as 250 gardens at locations across the UK, – many of which can still be seen today. As well as Stowe, these included gardens at Blenheim Palace, Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight, Warwick Castle, Harewood House and Petworth House in West Sussex.

Following on from the work of Kent, Brown was known for his naturalistic undulating landscapes, in particular their immense scale, flowing waterways and a feature known as a ‘ha-ha’, a ditch which blended seamlessly into the landscape but which was aimed at keeping animals away from the main house of the estate.

His style, which contrasted sharply with the more formalised, geometric gardens epitomised in the French style of gardening, did not, however, meet with universal praise. Criticisms levelled against him including that he had often erased the works of gardeners of previous generations to complete gardens which were, in the end, described by some as looking no different to “common fields”.

It’s worth noting that Brown also dabbled in architecture itself – his first country house project was the remodelling of Croome Court in Worcestershire and he went on to design and contribute to the design of several houses including Burghley House Northamptonshire as well as outbuildings including stable blocks.

The nickname ‘Capability’ apparently came from his habit of informing his client that their estates had great “capability” for improvement. It’s wasn’t apparently a name he used himself.

So established became his reputation that in 1764 Brown was appointed King George III’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace (as well as Richmond and St James’ Palaces), taking up residence with his family at Wilderness House. He also worked on the gardens at Kew Palace.

Brown died on 6th February, 1783, in Hertford Street in London at the door of his daughter Bridget’s house (she had married architect Henry Holland with whom he Brown had, at times, collaborated). He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, the parish church of a small estate Brown owned at Fenstanton Manor in Cambridgeshire.

Brown impact on garden design in England is now undisputed although it wasn’t always the case – his contribution was largely dismissed in the 18th century and it was only in the later 20th century that he had become firmly established as a giant figure in the gardening world.

A celebrated portrait of Brown (pictured above) – painted by Nathaniel Dance in about 1773 – is in the collection of National Portrait Gallery.

For more on events surrounding the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth, see www.capabilitybrown.org.

PICTURE: Capability Brown by Nathaniel Dance, circa 1773. © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

ShakespearesFirstFolio1623BritishLibraryPhotobyClareKendall It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (in case you missed that), and among the many events marking the occasion comes a major exhibition at the British Library focusing on 10 key performances that it says have made the Bard the “cultural icon” he is today. Shakespeare in Ten Acts, which opens on Friday, focuses on performances which may not be the most famous but which represent key moments in shaping his legacy. They span the period the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe theatre in around 1600 to a radical interpretation of the same play from US theatre company The Wooster Group in 2013. Among the exhibition highlights are a human skull which was given to the actress Sarah Bernhardt by writer Victor Hugo (and which she used as Yorik’s skull when she played Hamlet in 1899), a dress worn by Vivien Leigh playing Lady Macbeth in the 1955 production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the only surviving play script written in the Bard’s own hand and rare printed editions including Shakespeare’s First Folio and the earliest printed edition of Hamlet from 1603 (one of only two copies in the world). The exhibition, which runs until 6th September, is accompanied by a season of events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Shakespeare’s First Folio 1623 British Library Photo by Clare Kendall.

Still talking exhibitions commemorating Shakespeare’s death and a manuscript of William Boyce’s Ode to the Memory of Shakespeare will be on display at The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery from tomorrow. The work, which was composed in 1756, was performed annually at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. The manuscript, the first page of which was thought to be lost until it was acquired in 2006, formerly belonged to Samuel Arnold, who compiled the first complete edition of Handel’s works. Runs at the Bloomsbury-based museum until 30th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

 Exquisite watercolours depicting the natural world go on show in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Maria Merian’s Butterflies features 50 works produced by the eighteenth century German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian. The works – many of which record the flora and fauna of the then Dutch colony of Suriname in South America, were published in the 1706 work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) and partially printed, partially hand-painted versions of the plates were purchased by King George III for his library at Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace). As well as insects, the works – which were based on a visit Merian made to the colony in 1699, depict lizards, crocodiles and snakes as well as tropical plants such as the pineapple. The exhibition runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.

The evolution of conceptual art in Britain is the subject of a new exhibition at Tate Britain in Milbank  Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 features 70 works by 21 artists and positions conceptual art “not as a style but rather a game-changing shift in the way we think about art, how it is made and what it is for”. Highlights include Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) and Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1987) as well as Victor Burgin’s Possession (1976), Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1974-78) and Conrad Atkinson’s Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 1975 (1975-76). Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th August. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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The-Magic-Garden

PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces

 Inspired by myths and legends of the Tudor Court, The Magic Garden has opened at Hampton Court Palace. The garden – located in King Henry VIII’s former tiltyard – has been designed by award-winning landscape architect Robert Myers and has been six years in the making. Features include the famous five lost tiltyard towers which have been recreated with each reflecting a different aspect of the Tudor era – from the King’s and Queen’s Towers which offer the best vantage point over the area, to the Discovery Tower which represents the Tudor fascination with exploration, the Battle Tower which symbolises King Henry VIII’s warlike spirit and the Lost Tower which brings to mind the eventual fate of the towers. There’s also a ‘wild wood’ – evoking the hunting grounds loved by the Tudors, a winding pathway of strange topiary and a ‘jungle’ of tree ferns and fatsias as well as a 25 foot long sleeping dragon who wakes as the clock strikes the hour. The garden, which is open until 30th October, is aimed at children of all ages, particularly those between two and 13 years-of-age. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

More than 500 artefacts related to the Rolling Stones have gone on display at the Saatchi Gallery in the first international exhibition on the group. EXHIBITIONISM: The Rolling Stones spans two floors and nine thematic galleries and charts the history of the Stones from the early 1960s to cultural icons as well as considering the band’s influence on popular culture. It features never-before-seen dressing room and backstage paraphernalia, instruments and costumes, original stage designs, audio tracks and video footage, personal diaries and album cover artwork. Works by an array of artists, designers, musicians and writers – everyone from Andy Warhol to Tom Stoppard and Martin Scorsese – are also included. Admission charge applies. Runs at the Kings Road gallery near Sloane Square until 4th September. For more, see www.saatchigallery.com.

The evolution of Dutch flower painting from the turn of the 17th century is the subject of a free exhibition which opened at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Dutch Flowers features 22 works, about half of which come from the gallery’s collection while the other half come from private holdings. Artists whose works are featured include Jan Brueghel the Elder, Ambrosias Bosschaert and Roelandt Savoy – all among the first to produce paintings that exclusively depicted flowers. The exhibition – the first display of its kind for more than 20 years – is in Room 1 until 29th August. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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17-Bruton-StreetQueen Elizabeth II, the oldest British monarch, celebrates her 90th birthday later this month and, although we’ve run a piece on the Queen’s birth before, we thought it only fitting to take a second look at what proved to be a momentous birth.

The then Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary) was born at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair – the London home of her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore (they also owned Glamis Castle in Scotland) – at 2.40am on 21st April, 1926.

She was apparently delivered by Caesarian section and the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, was in attendance to ensure everything was above board (the custom, which has since been dropped, was apparently adopted after what was known as the ‘Warming Pan Scandal’ when, following the birth of Prince James Francis Edward, son of King James II and Queen Mary of Modena, in June, 1688, rumours spread that the baby had been stillborn and replaced by an imposter brought into the chamber inside a warming pan).

The first child of the Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Bertie) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), she was third in line to the throne at her birth but thanks to the abdication of King Edward VIII, became her father’s heir.

The event apparently drew a crowd to the property (although none could yet suspect how important this princess was to become) and among the well-wishers who visited the newborn that afternoon were her paternal grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary, who had apparently been woken at 4am to be informed of the birth of their second grandchild.

The property was to be Princess Elizabeth’s home for the first few months of her life (named after her mother, paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, she was christened in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace five weeks after her birth).

The home of her birth and a neighbouring townhouse have both since been demolished and replaced by an office building. A plaque commemorating it as the Queen’s birthplace was installed in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year of 1977 and another to mark the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

The Queen’s birthday will be officially commemorated in June.

PICTURE: Via London Remembers

 

 

 

Kew-Palace-2 The education of the daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte is the subject of a new display which has opened at Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. The queen’s progressive approach to learning meant the princesses received a “thoroughly modern” schooling covering everything from geography to art, upholstery to tackling brain-teasers as well as botany and music. The latter, in particular the harpsichord, was a particular passion of Princess Augusta, and to instruct her and the other girls, JC Bach, son of world-renowned composer JS Bach, was employed as music master (the display features a hand-written copy of his father’s Well-Tempered Clavier – designed to train and test the skills of harpsichord players). Other items on show include a copy of Queen Charlotte’s own tortoiseshell notebook embellished with gold and diamonds, a letter the queen wrote to the princesses’ governess – reputedly the first letter she wrote in English, and a series of newly acquired satirical prints from the Baker Collection depicting Queen Charlotte and her daughters. The new display can be seen from today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kew-palace/. PICTURE: Newsteam/Historic Royal Palaces.

The lives of servants working in middle-class houses in London over the last 400 years are the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch earlier this month. Swept Under The Carpet? Servants in London Households, 1600-2000 illustrates the dynamic nature of the relationship between servants and their employers – from the intimacy of a maid checking her master’s hair for nits in the late 17th century to an ayah caring for an Anglo-Indian family’s children in the late 19th century and an au-pair picking up after the children in the middle of the 20th century. It explores their story through an examination of the places in which they worked – the middle class parlour, drawing room and living room. Entry to the exhibition, which runs until 4th September, is free. For more, www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

On Now – Vogue 100: A Century of Style. This exhibition currently running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square features iconic images of some of the 20th century’s most famous faces. Included are rarely seen images of the Beatles and Jude Law as well as portraits of everyone from artists Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon, actors Marlene Dietrich and Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Diana Spencer and soccer player David Beckham. There’s also complete set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss 1993 underwear shoot, Peter Lindbergh’s famous 1990 cover shot – said to define the ‘supermodel era’, a series of World War II photographs by Vogue‘s official war correspondent Lee Miller and vintage prints from the first professional fashion photographer, Baron de Meyer. The display can be seen until 22nd May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Bloody-TowerIt was in February, 1616 – 400 years ago this year – that the adventurer and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh (Ralegh) was released from the Tower of London where he had spent the last 13 years of his life. Sadly, his freedom was to be short-lived.

Raleigh had been imprisoned in 1603 by King James I – not his biggest fan – after being accused of plotting against the king and subsequently sentenced to death for treason (a sentence which was then commuted to life imprisonment).

The Tower, where he’d been imprisoned a couple of times before – most notably by Queen Elizabeth I for secretly marrying Bessy Throckmorton, one of her maids-of-honour, was to be his home for the next 13 years.

It was in Bloody Tower (in left of picture) that his rather luxurious ‘cell’ was located. Originally known as the Garden Tower, it was renamed for the tradition that the two ‘Princes in the Tower’, King Edward V and his brother Richard, had been murdered here in 1483.

The tower’s top floor was added specifically to provide more room for his family in 1605-06 (and Raleigh’s son Carew was conceived and born while he was imprisoned here). It was also during this time of imprisonment that he wrote his History of the World (published in 1614).

Raleigh was released in 1616 to lead an expedition to the New World – he’d previously been on a couple of expeditions there including one with his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert aimed at finding the Northwest Passage (but which deteriorated into privateering and led to his brief imprisonment following his return to England), and one aimed at finding the legendary ‘golden land’ of El Dorado (which he failed to do). It was again with the purpose of finding gold that he now returned to the Orinoco River region of South America.

Failure, however, was once more the outcome, and on Raleigh’s return to England, the death sentence issued on 1603 was reimposed (for his failure but also for attacking the Spanish in defiance of the king’s instructions to specifically not do so, although the blame was not all his). He would be executed in Old Palace Yard at Westminster on 29th October, 1618.

National-Gallery2The Royal Mews – a stables and carriage house – is these days located at Buckingham Palace but prior to being moved there, the Royal Mews, previously usually referred to as the King’s and Queen’s Mews depending who was on the throne, was located on the site where the National Gallery (pictured) and Trafalgar Square now stand.

The name ‘mews’ actually refers to the fact that, from at least the reign of King Richard II in the late 14th century (although official records suggest there may have been a mews on the site as far back as the reign of King Edward I), the royal hawks were initially housed on the site – then in the village of Charing Cross – (the word ‘mew’ refers to the moulting of the birds and originally referred to when they were confined here for that purpose but later come to simply mean the place were the birds were caged).

The title of Keeper of the King’s Mews became a sought-after honour during the 15th century (although largely honorary with the actual work done by deputies) but among those who held the honour were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known, during the Wars of the Roses as the ‘Kingmaker’.

In 1534, the King’s Mews was destroyed by fire and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it took the form of a stable but kept the original name of mews (although it has been suggested the change of use took place before the fire).

During the Civil War, the Mews were apparently used as a prison by the Parliamentarians for captured Royalists and during the Commonwealth, soldiers were apparently quartered here. Diarist Samuel Pepys also apparently visited several times.

In 1732 the building was again rebuilt, but this time it was to the grand designs of William Kent – images show a grand building with turrets and a great open square before it. In the 1760s, King George III had some of his horses and carriages moved to facilities on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (he had purchased this from the Duke of Buckingham for his wife’s use) but the bulk remained on the Charing Cross site.

In the early 19th century they were opened to the public but in the 1820s, King George IV – making Buckingham Palace his main residence – had the entire stables moved (the Royal Mews which now stand at Buckingham Palace were designed by John Nash and completed in 1825).

The old mews were subsequently demolished and Trafalgar Square – another Nash design – built on the site between 1827 and 1835 while the National Gallery opened in 1838.