This Week in London – Three of London’s oldest charters on show and other coronation celebrations; Sir Christopher Wren’s life explored; and, a Pre-Raphaelite model and artist honoured…

• Three of the City of London’s oldest charters go on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery on Saturday as part of a series of events commemorating the coronation of King Charles III. On display will be the William Charter, which, drawn up in 1067 following the coronation of King William the Conqueror, was the earliest known royal document in Europe to guarantee the collective rights of all people in a town and not just a select few. Also to be seen is the Shrievalty Charter, which, issued by King John in 1199, confirms the rights of Londoners to elect their own sheriffs, and the Mayoralty Charter, which, also issued by King John – this time in 1215, confirmed that the Mayor of London could also chosen by Londoners with the proviso that they were publicly presented. Visitors can also see the beautifully illustrated Cartae Antiquae which records charters and statutes covering laws enacted from the reign of Edward III (1327 onwards) to the accession of Henry VII in 1485 and was used as an essential reference tool by City officials, as well as prints of the 19th century coronations of Queen Victoria, King William IV and King George IV. Admission is free but booking is recommended. Runs until 5th October. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/heritage-gallery-exhibition.

St Paul’s Cathedral PICTURE: Vinay Datla/Unsplash

• Other events marking the coronation kick off in the City of London in the coming week. Among the extensive list of activities is a pop-up well-being garden in Seething Lane where you can pose for pictures with a floral crown installation, a guided walking tour of the City entitled ‘1000 Years of Royalty – the Best, the Worst and the Very Horribilus’, and a “Cockney knees-up” with Pearly King and Pearly Prince at Leadenhall Market. For more details and the full list of events, head to www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/coronation.

• A new exhibition commemorating the expansive career of Sir Christopher Wren opens today in St Paul’s Cathedral – the extraordinary building designed by Wren to replace the medieval cathedral destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 Part of a series of events marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher in 1723, Sir Christopher Wren: The Quest for Knowledge explores not only his early life and career as an architect but also his lesser-known contributions to the fields of mathematics, astronomy and physiology. The display, located in the north aisle of the crypt, features drawings, photographs and objects from the cathedral’s collections. Entry to the exhibition is included in general admission. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk/whats-on/exhibition-christopher-wren-quest-for-knowledge.

• The Pre-Raphaelite model and artist, Marie Spartali Stillman, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at what was her family home in Battersea. It was while living at The Shrubbery – a 1770s Grade II-listed property now located on Lavender Gardens – that Stillman first modelled for Pre-Raphaelite artists. Tutored by Ford Madox Brown, she went on to become one of a small number of professional women artists in the late 19th century, creating more than 150 works over a period spanning 50 years. Stillman is the first female Pre-Raphaelite artist and one of only very few female artists to receive a Blue Plaque. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

This Week in London – Georgian fashion; Shakespeare’s First Folio; what’s new at the British Museum…

Wedding dress worn by 
Princess Charlotte of Wales, 1816. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© His Majesty King Charles III 2023

• The only royal wedding dress that survives from the Georgian period – the silk embroidered bridal gown of Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of King George IV – is one of the star sights at a new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Style and Society: Dressing the Georgians features more than 200 works from the Royal Collection including rare surviving examples of clothing and accessories as well as artworks by artists such as Gainsborough, Zoffany and Hogarth. Other highlights include a portrait of the wedding ceremony of George IV and Princess Caroline of Brunswick by John Graham – on display for the first time – as well as the original silver and gold dress samples supplied for the bride and other royal guests. There’s also a Thomas Gainsborough,’ depicting’s full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte wearing a magnificent court gown, a preserved gown of similar style worn at Queen Charlotte’s court in the 1760, and life-size coronation portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay. Other items include a 1782 portrait of Prince Octavius, the 13th child of George III and Queen Charlotte, by Benjamin West in which the three-year-old wears a a style of dress known as a ‘skeleton suit’, jewellery including diamond rings given to Queen Charlotte on her wedding day and a bracelet with nine lockets – one with a miniature of the left eye of Princess Charlotte of Wales, and accessories such as a silver-gilt travelling toilet service acquired by the future George IV as a gift for his private secretary at a cost of £300. The exhibition can be seen until 8th October. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rct.uk.

One of the finest copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library for just one day on Monday, 24th April, as part of the celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary of its publication. The document will be on display between 10.30am to 3.30pm with a 10-minute introductory talk given on the hour throughout the day. Two small and original copies (‘Quartos’) of Henry IV Part One and Othello will also be on display, next to a replica copy of the First Folio that visitors can look through. The First Folio brought together 36 plays in one volume and was published in an edition of around 750 copies on 8th November, 1623 – seven years after Shakespeare’s death. It is now regarded as one of the most valuable books in the literary world. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/guildhall-library.

Prints and drawings acquired by the British Museum over the past five years have gone on show in Room 90. New acquisitions: Paul Bril to Wendy Red Star features works ranging from an early 17th-century study for a fresco by the Flemish artist Paul Bril to 19th century drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 2019 prints by the Apsáalooke (Crow) artist Wendy Red Star and Cornelia Parker’s From H to B and back again – made during with the COVID-19 pandemic. Can be seen until 10th September. Admission is free. For more, see britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/new-acquisitions-paul-bril-wendy-red-star.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

This Week in London – Shakespeare’s First Folio; Charles Dickens and fog; and, Berthe Morisot at Dulwich…

The Dulwich College Folio. PICTURE: © Dulwich College

Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich from tomorrow. The display is part of a national celebration of the 400th anniversary of the folio’s publication. Shakespeare’s First Folio was published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death. Some 235 copies are known to survive with 50 remaining in the UK. The version on display – the Dulwich College Folio, which includes the Comedies and Histories (but lack the Tragedies), is believed to have been acquired by the college in 1686 from the estate of William Cartwright, a bookseller and actor who performed with the King’s Company and is known to have played Brabantio in Othello and Falstaff in Henry IV Part I and Part II. The two volumes feature handwritten notes, ink and water stains, and burn holes, suggesting they were well-used before the college acquired them. The Tempest and the Thames can be seen until 24th September. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/folio-400.

London’s fog and its reflection in Charles Dickens’ writings are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. A Great and Dirty City: Dickens and the London Fog explores how the fog affected Dickens’ work, his health and that of his family, and how London has endeavoured to mitigate the problem of air pollution over the past couple of centuries. Among the items on display are the hearthstone Dickens laid in front of the fireplace in the Drawing Room, the fire poker from Dickens’ dining room at Gad’s Hill Place (his home from 1856 until his death in 1870), original first edition parts of Dickens’ ‘foggiest’ novel Bleak House, an original pen and wash illustration by Frederick Barnard depicting Martin Chuzzlewit, Mary Graham, and Mark Tapley, and, a letter from Dickens to his sister-in-law Helen Dickens in which he writes about his brother Alfred’s “inflammation in the region of the lungs” which is dated on 16th July, 1860 – just 11 days before Alfred’s death. Runs until 22nd October. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://dickensmuseum.com.

Forty of Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot’s works have been brought together for a new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism, which opens tomorrow, is the first major UK exhibition of the renowned Impressionist since 1950 and features many works never seen before. Highlights include Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight (1875) – painted while Morisot was on honeymoon in England, Self-Portrait (1885) – which will appear alongside Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Young Woman (c.1769) from Dulwich Picture Gallery’s collection, Apollo revealing his divinity to the shepherdess Issé, after François Boucher (1892), In the Apple Tree (1890) and Julie Manet with her Greyhound Laerte (1893). Runs until 10th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…10. Flamsteed House…

Flamsteed House from Greenwich Park. PICTURE: David Adams

Located at the heart of what is now known as the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich is a residence, built for the first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed and subsequently used by his successors to the post.

The property was built at the behest of King Charles II after he appointed Flamsteed to the post in March, 1675. Flamsteed, who initially worked out of the Queen’s House below, laid the foundation stone for the new property on 16th August that year.

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built under the supervision of Robert Hooke, the building was constructed on the foundations of the previous building on the site – known variously as Duke Humphrey’s Tower or Greenwich Castle) – and used bricks from spare stock at Tilbury Fort, and wood, iron and lead from a demolished gatehouse at the Tower of London.

Costing some £520, the three story property featured a large hall and parlour on the ground floor, a bedroom and study for the then-single Flamsteed, a basement kitchen and “astronomer rooms” while on the floor above was a single large, octagonal room, known initially as the “Great Room” and later as the “Octagon. Room”, featuring a series of tall windows through which Flamstead could conduct his observations of the heavens.

A telescope was mounted on the roof and two summerhouses, one of which contained Flamsteed’s camera obscura, were built on either side. Other buildings on the site during Flamsteed’s time included the adjoining Quadrant House and Sextant House (so-named for the equipment they housed).

The original property was extended several times and a series of additional buildings were also added to the site including what is now known as the Meridian Building (which incorporates not only Flamsteed’s Sextant House and Quadrant House but subsequent additions including apartments for an assistant, fireproof record rooms and domes to house equipment including the Telescope Dome.

Flamsteed House. PICTURE: givingnot@rocketmail.com (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

In 1946, the scientific work of the observatory was relocated to Herstmonceux in Sussex and the complex came under the management of the National Maritime Museum. In 1960, Flamsteed House was reopened as part of the museum; other buildings later followed suit.

The site was renovated in the early 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum in 1993.

These days Flamsteed House hosts displays about its construction as well as what life was like for those who lived there. Wren’s Octagon Room, which houses a collection of timepieces and astronomical instruments, remains a highlight.

Flamsteed House is now topped by a time-ball which was installed in 1919 (replacing an earlier one which was installed in 1833) and drops each day at 1pm.

WHERE: Flamsteed House, Royal Observatory Greenwich (nearest stations are Cutty Sark DLR and Greenwich and Maze Hill Stations); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £16 adults/£10 under 25s/students/£8 children; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory/attractions/flamsteed-house.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…9. Turner’s House…

PICTURES: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Located close to the River Thames in south-west London, Sandycombe Lodge was designed and built by the artist JMW Turner as a country retreat.

The Twickenham property, which was constructed in 1812-13 on land the famed “painter of light” had bought six years earlier, also provided a home for Turner’s father, ‘Old William’, who was a retired Covent Garden barber and wigmaker. Old William would tend the garden and keep the house when Joseph Mallord William Turner, who is best known for his expressive landscapes and marine paintings, wasn’t present.

The finished property featured a large sitting room overlooking the expansive garden. It was initially known as Solus Lodge and the name later changed to Sandycombe.

Turner would use the home as a base for sketching and fishing trips. He painted many scenes of local landscapes including, notably, England: Richmond Hill on the Prince Regent’s Birthday in 1819.

Among those who visited Turner at the property was his friend and fishing companion, Sir John Soane (his influence can be seen on the home’s design in features such as the use of arches inside and the skylight above the stairs).

Turner, who also had a property in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where he died in 1851, only had the house for 13 years – with his father’s health declining and his own touring schedule which meant he wasn’t able to spend as much time at the property as he would have liked, Turner sold Sandycombe in 1826 to his neighbour Joseph Todd. Todd, the owner of Twickenham Park, enlarged the villa and rented it out.

It subsequently passed through numerous hands (the large grounds around gradually diminishing).

Used as a factory for making goggles in World War II, it was in a poor state when purchased by Professor Harold Livermore and his wife Ann in 1947. In the 1950s, they secured a Grade II*-listing for the property and later set up the The Sandycombe Lodge Trust, now Turner’s House Trust, in 2005.

On Livermore’s death in 2010 at the age of 95, the trust became the owner of Sandycombe. Following a significant restoration which aimed to take the house back to Turner’s original designs and which was completed in 2017, it opened to the public as a museum.

Displayed in the house are some of Turner’s sketches as well as model ships he used in creating his art. A ‘speaking clock’ captures recollections of friends and Old William is brought to life digitally in the basement. What remains of the gardens have also been restored.

The house features an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

WHERE: Sandycombe Lodge, 40 Sandycoombe Road, St Margarets, Twickenham (nearest rail is St Margarets; nearest Tube station is Richmond); WHEN: 12pm to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday (until 2nd July); COST: £8 adults/£3 child (3 to 15 years)/£17 family; WEBSITE: https://turnershouse.org.

This Week in London – Wren letter in the Painted Hall; art from America’s South; and, ‘Finding Family’ at the Foundling Museum…

Sir Christopher Wren, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, oil on canvas, 1711 NPG 113

A letter written by Sir Christopher Wren requesting stone for the construction of the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich is on display in the Painted Hall vestibule. Wren wrote the letter requesting 2,000 tonnes of Portland stone to Thomas Gilbert, overseer of the King’s Quarries of the Isle of Portland, on 11th October, 1700. It is being displayed along with information explaining how the stone was brought from Dorset to London. The display is one of a series of events taking place at the Old Royal Naval College marking the 300th anniversary of Wren’s death on 25th February, 1723. Can be seen until January, 2024. An admission charge applies. For more, see https://ornc.org/whats-on/painted-hall-display-letter-written-by-sir-christopher-wren/. For more on events surrounding the 300th anniversary of Wren’s death, head to https://ornc.org/celebrating-wren300/.

Slavery, the cruel segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era, and the civil rights movement in the southern United States are all explored in a new exhibition at the Royal Academy. Souls Grown Deep like the Rivers: Black Artists from the American South, features around 64 works – including assemblages, sculpture, paintings, reliefs, and drawings – by 34 artists spanning the period from the mid-20th century to the present. Drawn mostly from the collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, many of the works are being seen in Europe for the first time. The display in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries also features quilts by the celebrated quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and the neighbouring communities of Rehoboth and Alberta. Opening on Friday, the exhibition can be seen until 18th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see royalacademy.org.uk.

Three masterpieces from The National Gallery’s collection – by Hogarth, Gainsborough and the Le Nain Brothers – have gone on show at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury as part of a new exhibition exploring what family is and can be. Finding Family examines the ways in which artists have represented and responded to ideas of family with reference to the historic paintings as well as contemporary works of art. The art is accompanied by creative writing created by participants in ‘Tracing Our Tales’ – the museum’s award-winning programme for young care leavers – who have responded to the exhibition’s themes. Opens on Friday and runs until 27th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/event/finding-family/.

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Where’s London’s oldest…chair?

The Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Getty Images/Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The coronation of King Charles III is taking place in Westminster Abbey on 6th June and in preparation for that, the Coronation Chair is getting a makeover.

The six foot tall chair, which was made around 1300, is commonly referred to as the oldest piece of furniture in the UK which is still used for its original purpose and which is by a known maker.

The chair was constructed on the orders of King Edward I in 1300-1301 specifically to hold the Scone of Stone which he had brought south from Scotland several years before and which he had given into the care of the Abbot of Westminster.

Made of oak and painted by one Master Walter, the chair was decorated with patterns of birds, foliage and animals on a gilt background. On the seat back was painted the figure of a king, possibly King Edward I, with his feet resting on a lion. The chair, which would have had the appearance of being made of gold, would have also been decorated with coloured glass.

The space for the stone below the seat was originally fully enclosed and it’s believed the chair originally contained no seat with the King sitting on a cushion placed directly on the Stone of Scone.

The chair now rests on four gilt lions which were added in the 16th century (although those currently there are replacements made in 1727).

The Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey PICTURE: Jim Dyson/Getty Images/Dean and Chapter of Westminster

While there is some debate over whether King Edward II was sitting in the chair when he was crowned in 1308, that has certainly been the case from the 1399 when King Henry IV was crowned while sitting on it. Twenty-six subsequent monarchs including everyone from King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth II followed suit (Oliver Cromwell, meanwhile, had the chair removed to Westminster Hall when installed there as Lord Protector).

The chair has been graffitied in earlier centuries thanks mostly to Westminster schoolboys and visitors. Among the most legible graffiti scrawled upon it is “P Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800”. It also suffered minor damage in a bomb attack in 1914 thought to have been carried out by Suffragettes (it didn’t suffer any damage in World War II thanks to its being removed to Gloucester Cathedral).

The Stone of Scone, which had been taken briefly back to Scotland by Scottish Nationalists in 1950, was formally returned to Scotland in 1996 where it can now be seen at Edinburgh Castle. It is being returned to London for the coronation.

The chair, which for centuries had been kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor, was moved to the abbey’s ambulatory in 1998 and then again moved again in 2010, this time to a specially-built enclosure in St George’s Chapel, located at the west end of the nave, so it could undergo conservation work. The two year conservation program was completed in 2013.

The chair is currently undergoing cleaning and work to stabilise what’s left of the gilding ahead of the coronation.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…6. Hogarth’s House…

Described as the “father of British painting”, 18th century artist William Hogarth bought this property in Chiswick at the height of his fame in 1749.

PICTURE: Patche99z/Public Domain

The property, which had been built between 1713 and 1717 and had previously been the country property of a pastor and his family, then located in what was a rural area and served as the Hogarths country home (they had an inner London home in Leicester Fields).

Hogarth extended the home and had a studio installed above a (now lost) coach house in the rear of the garden. As well as his wife Jane, occupants included Hogarth’s sister Anne and his mother-in-law.

Following Hogarth’s death in 1764 (Hogarth, who actually died in the Leicester Fields property, is buried in the nearby St Nicholas Church), Jane continued to live at the property and along with her cousin Mary Lewis, ran a business selling prints of her husband’s works. Mary inherited the house when Jane died in 1789 and remained there until her own death in 1808.

The house, which features three stories and an attic, subsequently passed through various hands including, from 1814 to 1833, Rev Henry Francis Cary, who translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (and counted literary luminaries such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb as friends). It was sold for redevelopment in 1901 and, following a failed campaign by artists and writers to buy the house, it was purchased by Chiswick resident, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Shipway.

Drawing on the help of the architect Frederick William Peel and Hogarth’s biographer, Henry Austin Dobson, he had the house restored and turned into a museum, installing a collection of the artist’s works and commissioning replica furniture based on images in Hogarth’s prints (he even personally took photographs for a guidebook).

The house opened to the public in 1904 and in 1909 Shipway gave the house to Middlesex County Council. Its ownership passed to Hounslow Council when Middlesex County Council was abolished in 1965.

It was damaged by in September, 1940, during World War II after a parachute mine detonated nearby but was repaired and reopened in 1951. A single storey extension to the property was rebuilt at the time to provide a space for exhibitions.

The now-Grade I-listed property’s interior was refurbished for the tercentenary of Hogarth’s birth in 1997 and again in 2011. A further project in 2020 known as the Mulberry Garden Project – funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund – added the Weston Studio for learning and activities, but also re-landscaped and reinterpreted the garden to highlight historic planting and themes. 

The house and garden are currently managed by London Borough of Hounslow.

Inside, the house continues to show Hogarth’s artistic output including such famous engraving series as A Harlot’s ProgressA Rake’s Progress and Marriage à-la-mode. The house also contains some of the replica furniture commissioned by Shipway.

In the garden is a Mulberry tree believed to be the last survivor of an orchard first established on the site in the 1670s.

There’s a statue of Hogarth and his famous pug dog, Trump, located in Chiswick High Road.

WHERE: Hogarth’s House, Hogarth Lane, Great West Road, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green while nearest Overground is Chiswick Station); WHEN: 12pm to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays; COST: Free; WEBSITE: https://hogarthshouse.org.

What’s in a name?…Shoe Lane…

Looking south down Shoe Lane from near Charterhouse Street where it passes under the Holborn Viaduct. PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps.

This name of this rather long laneway, which runs from Charterhouse Street, under Holborn Viaduct, all the way south to Fleet Street, doesn’t have anything to do with footwear.

The name is actually a corruption of the Sho Well which once stood at the north end of the thoroughfare (and which itself may have been named after a tract of land known as Shoeland Farm thanks to it resembling a shoe in shape).

In the 13th century the lane was the London home of the Dominican Black Friars – after they left in the late 13th century, the property became the London home of the Earl of Lincoln and later became known as Holborn Manor.

In the 17th century, the lane was known as for its signwriters and broadsheet creators as well as for a famous cockpit which was visited by none other than diarist Samuel Pepys in 1663. It was also the location of a workhouse.

Prominent buildings which have survived also include St Andrew Holborn, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (it actually survived the Great Fire of London but was in such a bad state of repair that it was rebuilt anyway). The street these days is lined with office buildings.

Famous residents have included John de Critz, Serjeant Painter to King James I and King Charles I, preacher Praise-God Barebone who gave his name to Barebone’s Parliament held in 1653 during the English Commonwealth, and Paul Lovell, who, so the story goes, refused to leave his house during the Great Fire of 1666 and so died in his residence.

This Week in London – Stephen Lawrence and Dick Whittington remembered; Museum of London seeks Jewish-fashion items for new display; and, become a volunteer ranger at The Regent’s Park…

The Guildhall Art Gallery which contains the City of London Heritage Gallery. PICTURE: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Stephen Lawrence, a London teenager who was killed in a racially motivated murder in 1993, and four-times medieval Mayor of London, Richard Whittington, are both remembered in a new display at the City of London Heritage Gallery. Among the items on show is a report by the headteacher of John Roan School in Greenwich which was created following Lawrence’s death along with the last will and testament of Whittington and a book recording his third election as mayor in 1406 and showing his decorated coat of arms. Also on show in the gallery is a Bomb Damage Map which, produced by London County Council, shows the extent of damage to Rotherhithe and part of the Isle of Dogs following a German Luftwaffe raid in September, 1940. The display can be seen until 28th April. Admission is free but booking is recommended. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/events/heritage-gallery-exhibition.

The Museum of London is seeking information on high-profile items of clothing created by leading Jewish fashion designers ahead of an exhibition running later this year. Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners Shaped Global Style, scheduled to open in October, will explore the major contribution of Jewish designers had in making London an iconic fashion city during the 20th century. It will feature pieces from the museum’s own collections but those behind the exhibition are also looking for a range of other high profile items. These include menswear made by Mr Fish and Cecil Gee which were worn by famous names such as Sean Connery, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Muhammad Ali, Michael Caine and The Beatles, womenswear made by Rahvis in the 1930s and 1940s and worn by Hollywood film stars, hats made by Otto Lucas and worn by the likes of Greta Garbo and Wallis Simpson, a theatre costume made by Neymar for Cecil Landau’s 1949 production of Sauce Tartare, and 1930s gowns made by dressmaker Madame Isobel (Isobel Spevak Harris). Anyone who has information about the location of these objects are asked to email fashioncity@museumoflondon.org.uk with any information. More information on the exhibition will be provided closer to the date.

The Royal Parks is looking for volunteer rangers in The Regent’s Park this spring. Following the success of volunteer ranger programmes in Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks, the charity is seeking “friendly and chatty people who are passionate about The Regent’s Park, and keen to inspire and educate visitors”. Volunteers, who need to commit to a minimum of three hours per month, will work in pairs and share facts about the park’s heritage as well as provide tips on the best walking and cycling routes and inform visitors on how everyone can help nature thrive in the parks. Rangers can choose from a range of 90-minute volunteering sessions across weekdays and weekends. Applications close on 26th February. Full training will be provided. To apply, visit www.royalparks.org.uk/rangers.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

10 historic London homes that are now museums…3. Keats House…

Briefly the home of Romantic poet John Keats, this Hampstead premises is a now a museum dedicated to the writer and exhibition space.

Constructed in around 1815 as a pair of semi-detached dwellings, the now Grade I-listed house was one of the first to be built in the area. The two residences were initially occupied by critic Charles Wentworth Dilke and his family, and by the writer Charles Armitage Brown.

PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Keats, a friend of Dilke and Brown, began visiting the Regency-era villa, then named Wentworth Place, soon after. He was then living with his two younger brothers nearby in Well Walk but after George married and emigrated to America and Tom died of tuberculosis and, Brown invited Keats to move in as a lodger.

He did so in December, 1818, and it was while living at the property that he composed La Belle Dame sans Mercians, completed The Eve of St Agnes and write his famous odes, including Ode to a Nightingale.

The Dilkes family moved out in April, 1819, and Mrs Brawne and her daughter moved in. Keats developed an intimate relationship with the daughter, Fanny, and the couple were secretly engaged but owing to his premature death, never married.

In September, 1820, with his health failing, Keats left the property and headed to Rome (the trip was funded by friends who hoped the warm climate would help improve his health). He died in the eternal city on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery.

Brown, meanwhile, left the property in June, 1822 (he also left for Italy) and Keats’ sister Fanny – who had become friends with Fanny Brawne – moved into Brown’s half of the house with her husband Valentin Llanos between 1828 and 1831. The Brawnes left in early 1830.

Subsequent occupants included actor Eliza Chester who converted the two residences into one.

The property was threatened with demolition in the early 20th century but saved by public subscription. It opened to the Keats Memorial House on 9th May, 1925. In 1931, a new building was erected nearby house artefacts related to Keats.

Since 1998 the property has been under the management of the City of London Corporation. It underwent a restoration project in the mid-1970s and again between 2007 and 2009. The Keats Foundation was established in November, 2010, and is involved in educational initiatives, both at Keats House and elsewhere.

Visitors to the house today are taken on a journey through Keats’ short life and legacy. Among the artefacts which can be seen there are items related to his time as a medical student, portraits of some of the famous people Keats met while living at the property including the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley as well as Shelley’s wife Mary (author of Frankenstein), a bust of Keats which stands at his actual height – just over five feet tall, and a mask of Keats’ face made by his artist friend Benjamin Haydon. 

There’s also portraits of both Keats and Fanny, Fanny’s engagement ring, and a volume of Shakespeare’s plays Keats gave her before leaving for Rome as well as busts of Charles Brown and editor Leigh Hunt (it was through Hunt that Keats met Dilke and Brown).

The garden features a 200-year-old mulberry tree and a plum tree which was planted to commemorate Ode to A Nightingale.

A Blue Plaque (although it’s actually brown) was unveiled at the house at 10 Keats Grove by representatives of the Royal Society of Arts on the property as far back as 1896 to commemorate Keats.

WHERE: Keats House, 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead (nearest Overground station is Hampstead Heath; nearest Tube stations are Hampstead and Belsize Park); WHEN: 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm, Thursday, Friday and Sunday; COST: £8 adults/£4.75 concession; 18 and under free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/attractions-museums-entertainment/keats-house/visit-keats-house.

10 historic London homes that are now museums…2. Carlyle’s House…

Carlyle’s House frontage. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Chelsea terraced house, now owned by the National Trust, was once the home of the Victorian literary couple, essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife (and skilled letter writer) Jane.

The Carlyles moved into the red brick property at 24 Cheyne Row (formerly number 5) in 1834, having left rural Scotland to see what they could make of themselves in London.

As their stars rose – by mid 19th century Thomas, the “sage of Chelsea”, had become an influential social commentator, the home became something of a hub for Victorian literati with the likes of Charles Dickens, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, George Eliot and William Thackeray all visiting them here.

When Thomas died at the property on 5th February, 1881 (Jane had died in 1866), the home reverted to the landlord but a group of admirers decided it needed to be preserved as a memorial to their friend. They raised funds through a public subscription and in 1895 opened it as a shrine to the writer.

The National Trust took over the running of the house, which was built in around 1708, in 1936 with the enthusiastic support of founder Octavia Hill who herself was a Carlyle fan.

The property, which still retains many of its original fixtures and fittings, features a recreation of the couple’s parlour based on Robert Tait’s painting A Chelsea Interior which depicts the Carlyles in the room in 1857.

The property also boasts the attic study that Thomas had constructed in August, 1853, and where he wrote The French Revolution, Latter Day Pamphlets and Fredrick the Great. His attempts at sound-proofing it had failed.

Meanwhile, Jane’s dressing room features a pair of original chintz curtains which she made in the late 1840s.

Inside the parlour at Carlyle’s House. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the items on show in the property is a necklace given to Jane by German writer and stateman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which features a pendant containing a portrait of him. There’s also a a decoupage screen made by Jane using prints in 1849 and wallpapers by William Morris.

The property, which also features a small walled garden and a bust of Thomas Carlyle on the facade, is currently undergoing restoration work and will reopen in March.

WHERE: Carlyle’s House, 24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea (nearest Tube stations are Sloane Square and South Kensington); WHEN: Check website when it reopens; COST: £9 adults/£4.50 children; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house.

Five locations located to Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’…

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is forever linked to Christmas in London. So, with Christmas almost upon us, here’s a quick look at five locations mentioned or alluded to in the famous book…

1. 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town. Bob Cratchit’s house is described as being in Camden Town but what’s interesting is that as a child Dickins’ himself lived here at this property. So whether or not it’s the actual address Dickens had in mind for Cratchit’s property, it’s certainly in the vicinity.

The Royal Exchange today. PICTURE: Klaudia Piaskowska/Unsplash

2. The Royal Exchange. Referenced in regard to Ebenezer Scrooge who did business there. The current building was still being completed when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 following a fire at the premises several years before. It was opened in 1844.

3. Simpsons Tavern. Scrooge is said to have taken his “melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” which has been suggested could refers to Simpsons. Located in Ball Court, the current premises opened in 1757. The George & Vulture in Michael’s Alley is also mentioned as a possibility.

4. Newman’s Court. Located near Cornhill (which is mentioned in the book as the site where Bob Cratchit goes on a slide after leaving Scrooge’s office), it’s been suggested more than once that while the location of Scrooge’s counting house is not specified in the text, a location in Newman’s Court would fit the bill.

5. Leadenhall Market. Following Scrooge’s transformation, he sends a boy out to buy a turkey- commentators suggest the poulterer the boy attends was located in Leadenhall Market which would have been a predecessor to the current building which dates from 1881.

Treasures of London – The first (commercial) Christmas card…

Christmas cards have been a staple of Christmases (although a declining one these days) since at least as far back as 1843.

It was then that Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant, inventor and the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, came up with the idea of sending out a card bearing Christmas greetings to a large number of people as a means of coping with the substantial volume of correspondence he was receiving (and would have to send to greet family and friends at Christmas).

Sir Henry commissioned his friend, painter John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an initial run of 1,000 cards were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn (a further thousands cards were printed in a second run).

Having sent the cards he required, Sir Henry sold the rest for a shilling each under his literary pseudonym of Felix Summerly from the premises of his publisher Joseph Cundall in Old Bond Street (the introduction of the uniform Penny Post in 1840 having made sending them affordable – Cole had been an important figure in its establishment as assistant to the idea’s main instigator Rowland Hill).

The card, which were hand-coloured by professional colourer Mason, depicts a family gathered for Christmas and imbibing wine with side panels depicting two acts of charity – “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked”. On it were printed the words “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”.

The card was apparently controversial for its depiction of drinking wine (temperance advocates argued it promoted drunkenness) and particularly for its images of children drinking wine.

The idea didn’t also catch on immediately – the cost of a shilling was rather steep. But new designs soon began to appear in the following years and by the mid-1850s, the idea had finally taken hold.

WHERE: The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place (nearest Tube stations are Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross St Pancras and Chancery Lane); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday (booking in advance suggested); COST: Adult £17/Young person (16-24) £12/Child (3-15) £10 (discounts apply for booking online/other ticket types available; WEBSITE: www.postalmuseum.org

This Week in London – 12 Days of Christmas at the Tower; Museum of London celebrates its London Wall closing; and, William Beatty at the Old Royal Naval College…

The Tower of London is getting into the festive spirit with a celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Twelve installations have been installed at the Tower, each representing as different aspect of the fortress’s unique history – from nine wreaths representing “nine rowdy ravens” to five gold coins representing the Mint once housed there. There’s also the six Queens of King Henry VIII and three “lordly lions” – a reference to a gift presented to King Henry III and housed in a Lion Pit at the tower. Visitors will have the chance to collect a map at the start of their visit and follow a trail to find the installations at they explore the Tower. Christmas at the Tower of London runs daily until 3rd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The Museum of London is preparing to close its doors at its London Wall site as it moves to its new location in Smithfield and to celebrate it’s holding two free weekend festivals. The first, to be held this weekend, will feature family-friendly activities including arts and crafts, dance, face painting and theatrical performances while the second, to be held on the weekend of 3rd and 4th December (after which the museum will close), will feature a celebration of London’s music scene from the 70s to the present day with a DJ sets, a late night film festival and museum’s first ever 24 hour opening. Visitors on both weekends can also take part in London Biggest Table Football competition for a chance to win an England shirt signed by Harry Kane and to see the museum’s collection in a new light thanks to an illuminated display. For more on the festivals, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.

Now On: Blood and Battle: Dissecting the life of William Beatty. The life and work of renowned 19th-century naval surgeon and physician, Sir William Beatty, is explored in this exhibition at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. The display – which marks 200 years since Beatty, who had served as ship’s surgeon on HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar (and who wore the musket ball that killed Nelson in a locket on his watch chain for the rest of his life afterwards) – took up the post of Physician to the Royal Hospital for Seamen – explores Beatty’s work as a ship’s surgeon, his time at Greenwich Hospital and how he was honoured by being knighted and appointed Physician Extraordinary to George IV and the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) as well as his outside interests including his involvement in developing the London – Greenwich Railway. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://ornc.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

8 locations for royal burials in London…4. Christ Church Greyfriars…

We’ll return to Westminster Abbey shortly but first we’re heading into the City of London.

Christ Church Greyfriars, also known as Christ Church Newgate Street, was the burial site of several queens in the medieval era.

Christ Church Greyfriars. PICTURE: Karmakolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

These include the second wife of King Edward I, Queen Marguerite, who partly financed construction of the church which commenced in the 1290s and finished well after her death in the 1360s.

Marguerite, who was the first uncrowned queen since the Norman Conquest (apparently due to the expense), was only 26 when she was widowed in 1307 (having married the king in 1299 when he was at least 40 years her senior).

She died on 14th February, 1318, while at her castle at Marlborough but her remains were brought to London where she was buried in Greyfriars wearing a Francisan habit. Her tomb, sadly, was destroyed during the Reformation.

Also buried in Greyfriars was Queen Isabella, the widow (and adversary) of the ill-fated King Edward II. Isabella, who was also known as the ‘She-wolf of France’, is said to have been buried in the clothes she wore at her wedding to the King 50 years earlier. Despite rumours to the contrary, her lover, Roger Mortimer, was not buried with her (although Isabella’s daughter – Joan of the Tower, who was the wife of King David II of Scotland – was).

While their predecessor as Queen, Eleanor of Provence, wife of King Henry III, was buried at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire where she had died (the grave is unmarked), her heart was brought to London and buried in Greyfriars.

Others buried in the church include King Henry III and Eleanor’s daughter, Beatrice of England, and King Edward III’s daughter Isabella, Countess of Bedford.

There’s not much left of Greyfriars these days – the medieval church, one of the largest then in London, burned in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and following a rebuild under Sir Christopher Wren’s supervision, it was again all but destroyed during the Blitz in World War II.

It was decided not to rebuild and what remained of the church – some of the outer walls and tower – were designated a Grade I-listed building in 1950. Plantings inside are laid out to resemble the pews of the church in plan.

WHERE: Christ Church Greyfriars, King Edward Street (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/city-gardens/find-a-garden/christchurch-greyfriars-church-garden

Moment(s) in London’s History – Three (more) short-term PMs…

As the nation awaits the announcement of new Prime Minister following the 48 day tenure of Liz Truss – the shortest of any British Prime Minister, we take a quick look at the circumstances surrounding the next three shortest serving PMs…

1. George Canning. Canning, a Tory, had twice served as Foreign Secretary – between 1807-1809 and 1822-1827 (a period during which he also served as Leader of the House of Commons) when, following the resignation of Prime Minister Lord Liverpool in April, 1827, he was chosen to succeed him in the office. But Canning’s health took a turn for the worse soon after and he died in office on 8th August, 1827, having served just 119 days as Prime Minister.

2. The Viscount Goderich. FJ Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, succeeded George Canning as Prime Minister in 1827. But he was unable to hold together Canning’s coalition of Tories and Whigs and so resigned himself after just 144 days in office. He nonetheless went on to serve in the cabinets of both Earl Grey and Sir Robert Peel.

3. Andrew Bonar Law. The only Canadian to have served as British Prime Minister, Law was a Conservative Party leader who became Prime Minister after the fall of David Lloyd George’s Coalition Government on 23rd October, 1922. The party then won a clear majority in a general election on 15th November of that year. But ill with throat cancer he resigned on 20th May the following year, having served just 211 days in office. He died soon after on 30th October that year.

This Week in London – Hieroglyphs explored at the British Museum; King Charles III coronation date announced; ‘The Admiral’s Revenge’ in Greenwich’; and, Dickens and ghosts…

The Rosetta Stone. Granodiorite; Rasid, Egypt; Ptolemaic, 196 BC © The Trustees of the British Museum.

• Marking 200 years since French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) was able to decipher hieroglyphs using the Rosetta Stone, a new exhibition opening at the British Museum explores how the stone and other inscriptions and objects helped scholars unlock one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Hieroglyphs: unlocking ancient Egypt centres on the Rosetta Stone but also features more than 240 other objects, many of which are shown for the first time. Alongside the Rosetta Stone itself, highlights include: “the Enchanted Basin”, a large black granite sarcophagus from about 600 BCE which is covered with hieroglyphs and images of gods; the richly illustrated, more than 3000-year-old Book of the Dead papyrus of Queen Nedjmet which measures more than four metres long; and the mummy bandage of Aberuait, a souvenir from one of the earliest ‘mummy unwrapping events’ in the 1600s where attendees each received a piece of the linen, preferably inscribed with hieroglyphs. There’s also the personal notes of key figures in the race to decipher hieroglyphs including those of Champollion which come from the Bibliothèque nationale de France as well as those of England’s Thomas Young (1773 – 1829) from the British Library. The exhibition can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery until 19th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see britishmuseum.org/hieroglyphs.

• King Charles III will be crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6th May next year, Buckingham Palace has announced this week. The Queen Consort, Camilla, will be crowned alongside him in the first such coronation since 12th May, 1937, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were crowned in the abbey. The ceremony, which will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will, according to the palace, “reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry”. King Charles III is expected to sign a Proclamation formally declaring the coronation date at a meeting of the Privy Council later this year. The first documented coronation at Westminster Abbey was that of King William the Conqueror on 25th December, 1066, and there have been 37 since, the most recent being that of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June, 1953.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/Vfmo5dgTEl0″ title=”YouTube video player” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen

A new dark comedy, The Admiral’s Revenge, has opened in The Admiral’s House in the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich. The play, set in 1797, features sea shanties, puppetry and follows a crew of shipmates in the wake of the ill-fated Battle of Tenerife. Audiences have the chance to explore the Admiral’s House before the show and enjoy a complimentary rum cocktail. Runs until 12th November. For ticket prices, head to https://ornc.org/whats-on/1797-the-mariners-revenge/.

A new exhibition exploring Charles Dickens’ interest in the paranormal has opened at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. To Be Read At Dusk: Dickens, Ghosts and the Supernatural explores Dickens’ famous ghost stories, including A Christmas Carol, and reveals his influence on the genre. Highlights include a copy of The Chimes which Dickens gifted to fellow author Hans Christian Anderson, original John Leech sketches of Dickens’ ghosts of the past, present and future and original tickets and playbills relating to the author’s public performances of his ghost stories. The display will also look into Dickens’ own views on the supernatural as a fascinated sceptic and includes  correspondence in which he was asking about the location of a supposedly haunted house. Runs until 5th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://dickensmuseum.com/blogs/all-events/to-be-read-at-dusk-dickens-ghosts-and-the-supernatural.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com

Lost London – The Painted Chamber, Palace of Westminster…

Part of the medieval Palace of Westminster, the Painted Chamber took its name from a series of large paintings which decorated the walls.

A watercolour of the Painted Chamber in Westminster Palace by William Capon made in 1799.

The long and narrow chamber, which stood parallel to St Stephen’s Chapel, was constructed in the 13th century during the reign of King Henry III and was apparently initially intended as a private apartment for the king as well as a reception room.

It featured a state bed at one end positioned under a painting of King Edward the Confessor and also had a “squint” – a small opening at eye level – through which the monarch could view religious services in a chapel located next door.

The chamber was apparently originally known as the King’s Chamber but came to be known as the Painted Chamber when the walls were decorated with paintings depicting vices and virtues and Biblical figures.

These paintings, which were completed over an almost 60 year period from 1226 and which were repaired a couple of times during that period, were added to with commissions by successive monarchs.

The painted chamber was the location for the State Opening of Parliament in the Middle Ages and was where Oliver Cromwell and the others signed King Charles I death warrant in 1649. The body of King Charles II rested here overnight before he was interred in Westminster Abbey.

A ceiling panel from the Painted Chamber depicting a prophet, created between 1263-1266 PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Later neglected, the walls of the chamber were whitewashed and hung with tapestries and in the early 19th century restoration work was done to reveal the paintings again with artist and antiquarian Charles Stothard commissioned by the Society of Antiquarians in 1819 to make watercolour copies (further copies were also made by the clerk of works at Westminster, Thomas Crofton Croker).

By 1820, the chamber was being used for the Court of Requests, a civil claims court.

The Painted Chamber was gutted when fire devastated much of the Palace of Westminster on the night of 16th October, 1834. It was reroofed and refurnished and used by the House of Lords until 1847 – as well as for the State Opening of Parliament in February, 1835. It was finally demolished in 1851.

Two ceiling paintings which were removed in 1816 during repairs are now at the British Museum (pictured right).

LondonLife – Lonely vigil…

PICTURE: Laura Chouette/Unsplash

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square.