One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

Advertisements

Born to humble origins in London, Inigo Jones rose to become the first notable architect in England and, thanks to his travels, is credited with introducing the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to the nation.

Jones came into the world on 15th July, 1573, as the son of a Welsh clothworker, also named Inigo Jones (the origins of the name are apparently obscure), in Smithfield, London. He was baptised in St Bartholomew-the-Less but little else is known of his early years (although he was probably apprenticed to a joiner).

At about the age of 30, Jones is believed to have travelled in Italy – he certainly spent enough time there to be fluid in Italian – and he is also said to have spent some time in Denmark, apparently doing some work there for King Christian IV.

Returning to London, he secured the patronage of King Christian’s sister Queen Anne, the wife of King James I, and became famous as a designer of costumes and stage settings for royal masques (in fact, he is credited with introducing movable scenery to England).

Between 1605 and 1640, he staged more than 500 performances – his first was The Masque of Blackness performed on twelfth night in 1605 – including many collaborations with playwright Ben Jonson with whom he had an, at times, acrimonious relationship.

His architectural work in England – heavily influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (his copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura is dated 1601) as well as the Roman architect Vitruvius – dates from about 1608 with his first known building design that of the New Exchange in the Strand, built for Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

In 1611 Jones was appointed surveyor of works to Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, but, following the prince’s death on 6th November, 1612, he was, in 1615, appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works (having first accompanied Thomas Howard, the 2nd Earl of Arundel, on what would be his second visit to Italy).

Jones’ big break came in 1615 when he was made Surveyor-General of the King’s Works, a post he would hold for 27 years. He was subsequently was responsible for the design and building of the Queen’s House in Greenwich for Queen Anne (started in 1616 and eventually completed in 1635), the Banqueting House in Whitehall (built between 1619 and 1622, it’s arguably his finest work), the Queen’s Chapel in St James’s Palace (1623 to 1627) and, in 1630, Covent Garden square for the Earl of Bedford including the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

Other projects included the repair and remodelling of parts of Old St Paul’s Cathedral prior to its destruction in 1666 and a complete redesign of the Palace of Whitehall (which never went ahead). He’s also credited with assisting other architects on numerous other jobs.

Jones’ career – both as an architect and as a producer of masques – stopped rather abruptly with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the subsequent seizing of the king’s properties. Forced to leave London, he was eventually captured by Parliamentarians following a siege at Basing House in Hampshire in October, 1645.

His property was initially confiscated and he was heavily fined but he was later pardoned and his property returned.

Never married, Jones ended up living in Somerset House in London and died on 21st June, 1652. He was buried with his parents at St Benet Paul’s Wharf. A rather elaborate monument to his memory erected inside the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and later destroyed.

Jones’ legacy can still be seen at various sites around London where his works survive and also in the works of those he influenced, including Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, designer and builder of Chiswick House, and architect and landscape designer William Kent.

PICTURE: Bust of Inigo Jones by John Michael Rysbrack, (1725) (image by Stephencdickson/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Many people are aware of the memorial to 17th century playwright and poet Ben Jonson that sits among the who’s who of the literary world commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. But fewer people visit the poet’s actual grave, located a short distance away in the northern aisle of the nave.

And while visitors to the northern aisle of the nave may think its a small stone set into the wall above the floor itself, with the inscription ‘O rare Ben Johnson’ (note the ‘h’ used here in his name), which marks the grave’s location, we’re not quite there yet.

The stone, which was indeed the original stone covering Jonson’s grave, was actually moved from the floor to this position when the entire nave floor was being relaid in the 19th century. For the actual location of Jonson’s grave you have to head back to the aisle’s floor and there, just to the east of a brass commemorating John Hunter, you’ll find a small, grey lozenge-shaped stone which marks the actual grave site (and bears the same inscription with the same spelling).

The inscription can also be found on his Poet’s Corner memorial. It was apparently put on Jonson’s grave stone when one Jack Young passed by the grave as it was being covered and gave a mason 18 pence to carve it (Young is said to have been knighted later on).

All that’s very well but what really sets Ben Jonson’s grave apart from the other more than 3,500 graves buried in the abbey is that Jonson is the only person known to have been interred below the abbey floor standing upright.

The poet died in a somewhat impoverished state and it’s that which is said to explain the unusual arrangement. One version of the tale has the poet begging for just 18 square inches of ground for his burial from King Charles I; another has him telling the Abbey’s Dean that he was too poor to be buried with his fellow poets and that a space two foot square would serve him (the Dean apparently granted him his wish which meant Jonson’s coffin lowered into the ground end on end).

The fact he was buried upright in his coffin was apparently confirmed in 1849 when a clerk saw skeletal remains of a standing person in the spot Jonson was buried while doing another burial nearby.

The monument in Poet’s Corner, meanwhile, was erected in the early 1720s by the Earl of Oxford. It features a medallion portrait of him with actor’s masks and a broken golden lamp symbolising death on top. It was designed by James Gibbs and attributed to the sculptor JM Rysbrack.

WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURES: Top – The original grave marker now set in the wall; Below – The tile marking the actual grave site (Google Maps – images have been treated to improve resolution).


It should probably come as no surprise that this rather elegant memorial in the former graveyard of St Pancras Old Church is that of architect – and founder of a rather remarkable museum – Sir John Soane (as well as his wife Eliza and their oldest son, John).

The tomb, described by architectural commentator Nikolaus Pevsner as an “outstandingly interesting monument”, was, of course, designed by the heart-broken Soane, the architect of neo-classical buildings like the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, following the death of his wife on 22nd November, 1815.

Erected in 1816, it features a central cube of Carrara marble with four faces for inscriptions topped by a domed canopy supported on four ionic columns. A Portland stone balustrade surrounds the whole structure as well as stairs down to the subterranean tomb itself.

Among the symbolic decorative elements on the monument are a pine cone finial – a symbol of regeneration, a serpent swallowing its tail – a symbol of eternity, and reliefs of boys holding extinguished churches – symbols of death.

Sir John’s son, John, was buried in the tomb after his death in 1823 and Sir John himself was interred following his death on 20th January, 1837.

The monument is said to be only one of two Grade I-listed monuments in London – the other being Karl Marx’s gravestone in Highgate Cemetery. It is also famously said to have formed part of the inspiration for Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design of famous K2 red telephone box.

The Soane tomb was vandalised in 1869 – and it was suggested at the time that it should be relocated to Lincoln’s Inn Fields for its protection.

It was more recently restored in 1996 by the Soane Monuments Trust and again, after more vandalism, in 2000-01 as part of a restoration of St Pancras Gardens by the London Borough of Camden.

The graveyard of St Pancras Old Church, incidentally, is also the site of The Hardy Tree.

WHERE: St Pancras Gardens, Pancras Road, Camden Town (nearest Tube station is Kings Cross St Pancras); WHEN: Daylight hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: https://posp.co.uk/st-pancras-old-church/; www.camden.gov.uk/parks-in-camden.

PICTURES: Michael Day (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0).

Carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works are among items on display in a new exhibition looking at the act of writing and its impact on human civilisation at the British Library. Writing: Making Your Mark spans five millennia and five continents and includes writing examples from more than 30 writing systems including Greek, Chinese and Arabic. Highlights include an 1,800-year-old ancient wax tablet, early 19th century Burmese tattooing instruments, the final diary entry of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, James Joyce’s notes for Ulysses, Caxton’s 1476-7 printing of The Canterbury Tales – the first book printed in England, and the personal notebooks of Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (pictured). There’s also a 60,000 signature petition from 1905 protesting the first partition of Bengal, Mozart’s catalogue of his complete works from 1784-1791 featuring his handwriting and musical notation, and Alexander Fleming’s notebook in which he recorded his discovery of penicillin in 1928. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition which runs until 27th August. Admission charge applies. For more see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © British Library.

London’s forgotten rivers, tunnels, sewers, deep shelters, and the world’s first subterranean railway are all explored in a new free exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Under Ground London in part celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Victorian engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette – who designed the scheme to overhaul the city’s sewers in the 19th century. As well as Bazalgette’s landmark work, the exhibition explores the legend of a cobbled street buried beneath today’s Oxford Street and tells the story of the Thames Tunnel which, when it opened in 1843, was the world’s first tunnel under a river. There’s also information on London’s ‘ghost stations’, including Strand and King William Street; and the Metropolitan Railway – the world’s first underground railway as well as images of the River Fleet, displayed for the first time. The display can be seen until 31st October. For more, follow this link.

Women artists working in Britain in the past 60 years are being celebrated in a new display at the Tate Britain in Millbank. Sixty Years features about 60 works spanning painting, photography, sculpture, drawing and film and includes many recent acquisitions. Artists whose works are on show include Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas, Bridget Riley, Mary Martin and Anthea Hamilton. Highlights include Gillian Wearing’s film Sacha and Mum (1996), Susan Hiller’s large scale multimedia installation Belshazzar’s Feast, the Writing on Your Wall (1983-84), and two new mixed media works by Monster Chetwynd – Crazy Bat Lady (2018) and Jesus and Barabbas (Odd Man Out 2011) (2018). For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain.

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

A theatre historian believes he has discovered where William Shakespeare lived while he was writing some of his most famous works including Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While it has long been known the playwright lived close to the site of Liverpool Street station in the late 1590s, Geoffrey Marsh says an examination of official records has pinpointed the location as being on the site of what is now an office block at 35 Great St Helen’s, only a stone’s throw from The Gherkin. The BBC reports that Marsh, who is also the director of the V&A’s department of theatre and performance, found Shakespeare was a tenant of the Company of Leatherworkers and most likely lived among dwellings overlooking the churchyard of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, pictured above. PICTURE: Via Google maps

A sapphire and diamond coronet made for Queen Victoria goes on permanent display in the V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Gallery from today. The new display is being unveiled as part of the V&A’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the births of the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. The coronet was designed for the Queen by Prince Albert in 1840, the year they were married. Albert based the design on the Saxon Rautenkranz (circlet of rue) which runs diagonally across the coat of arms of Saxony. Victoria wore the coronet in a famous portrait by Franz Xavier Winterhalter completed in 1842 and again in 1866 when she wore it instead of her crown at the opening of Parliament. Entrance to the gallery is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

A major new exhibition of the work of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Edvard Munch: love and angst, a collaboration with Norway’s Munch Museum, features 83 artworks taken from the museum’s collection as well as loans from across the UK and Europe. Highlights include a black-and-white lithograph of The Scream – the first time any version of the work has been on show in the UK for a decade, Vampire II – considered to be one of his most elaborate and technically accomplished prints, the controversial erotic image Madonna, and, Head by Head, a print representing the complex relationship between human beings. All of the latter three latter prints are being displayed alongside their original matrix (the physical objects Munch used to transfer ink onto paper). Runs until 21st July in the Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. (PICTURE: The Scream (1895), Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Private Collection, Norway. Photo: Thomas Widerberg)

A retrospective of the work of Abram Games (1914-1996), a poster artist for the War Office during World War II, has opened at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters By Abram Games features more than 100 posters he designed while working in the War Office’s Public Relations Department between 1941 and 1945. It explores how his Jewish refugee heritage, his experiences while a soldier and the turbulent politics of the time shaped his career and how his work – Games is described as a “master of reductive design” – still influences design professionals today. In conjunction with the opening of the exhibition last week, Games has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Golders Green. Runs until 24th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk/artofpersuasion.

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

One of the first joint commissioners of the London Metropolitan Police, Sir Richard Mayne was also the youngest ever commissioner, and – with a stint of some 39 years, between 1829 and 1868 – the longest serving commissioner in the service’s history.

Mayne was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 27th November, 1796, as the son of Judge Edward Mayne of the Queen’s Bench in Dublin. He studied at Trinity College, graduating in 1818 with an arts degree and then at Trinity College in Cambridge, graduating with a Master of Arts in 1821.

He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in February, 1822, and commenced practice as a barrister in England’s north where he would spend the next seven years.

In 1829, he was selected by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel – without interview – after applying to serve as one of the two new commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. Just 33-years-old, he was officially known as the “Second Joint Commissioner” with Colonel Charles Rowan his senior colleague.

The pair – with his military background, Rowan brought his organisational and leadership skills to the job; Mayne his legal expertise – took up their posts on 7th July, 1829, and from their offices in 4 Whitehall Place (the back entrance was in Scotland Yard) set about creating the new police force.

The first constables of the new force were sworn in at the Foundling Hospital on 16th September and commenced their work patrolling the streets of the capital on 29th of that month.

Supported by his new income of £800 a year, Mayne married Georgina Marianne Catherine in 1831. The couple’s children would include Richard Charles Mayne who became a Royal Navy vice admiral.

In 1850, when Rowan retired, Mayne became the First Commissioner with Captain William Hay appointed the Second Commissioner.

In 1851, Mayne took personal charge of policing at the Great Exhibition and, despite Hay’s protests that he should have done that job given his military background, so successful was Mayne’s efforts that he was made a Knight Commander of the Bath (he had been made a Companion of the Bath in 1848 at the same time Rowan had been made a Knight Commander of the Bath – it had been suggested by some at the time that Mayne should have received the same honour as Rowan but it’s worth noting the latter had been a Companion of the Bath for his military services since 1815).

When Hay died in 1855, an Act of Parliament was passed changing the force’s structure so that it was to be headed by a single commissioner with two assistant commissioners. Mayne would serve in the role of sole commissioner for the next 13 years.

His period as sole commissioner was not a particularly happy one – the force’s handling of the Hyde Park riot of June, 1866, and the force’s mishandling of the Clerkenwell bombing in December, 1867 were two events which led Mayne to offer his resignation (which wasn’t accepted).

Mayne died while still in office at his home in Chester Square in Belgravia on Boxing Day, 1868, as the head of a force which had grown to almost 8,000 officers and policed a huge area.

Mayne, who was survived by his wife, was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. A monument to him was unveiled there on 25th January, 1871.

Mayne’s legacy – his work in the formation of the Metropolitan Police – can still be felt in the capital today as well as in other police forces, not only in the UK but around the world.

PICTURE: Portrait of Richard Mayne in an illustration from an 1869 edition of The Illustrated London News. (Via Wikipedia).

A state-of-the-art, multi-sensory experience focusing on the beasts, large and small, that have helped shaped London opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Beasts of London, being run in conjunction with the Guildhall School and Music & Drama, tells the story of the capital from before London existed through to the city today, all through the perspective of animals. Inspired by objects in the museum’s collection, the nine “episodes” of the experience encompass subjects including the arrival of the Romans, the creation of the first menageries during the medieval period, the plague years of the 1600s, the first circuses in the late 1700s, the end of the animal-baiting period in the Victorian era and the role of animals in today’s contemporary city. There’s also a special episode on the contribution horses have made to the city. Well-known identities including Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris, Nish Kumar, Stephen Mangan, Angellica Bell and Joe Pasquale provide voices for the animals alongside actors from the Guildhall School. The family-friendly experience can be enjoyed until 5th January, 2020. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/beastsoflondon. PICTURE: Lion sculpture; courtesy Museum of London.

A new exhibition about Britain’s role in the Cold War opens at the National Archives in Kew today – exactly 70 years since the formation of NATO. Protect and Survive: Britain’s Cold War Revealed features original documents including political memos, spy confessions, civil defence posters and even a letter from Winston Churchill to the Queen as it explores the complexities of government operations during a time of paranoia, secrets and infiltration. Other highlights include George Orwell’s infamous list of suspected communist sympathisers, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin’s ‘percentages agreement’, a plan of Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb’s fateful spy mission, ‘Atom spy’ Klaus Fuchs’ confession and Civil Defence posters. There’s also a recreated government bunker and a 1980s living room showing the impact of the Cold War on both government and ordinary lives as well as digital screens on which Dame Stella Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5, shares her experiences along with insights from historian Dominic Sandbrook and curator Mark Dunton. The display is being accompanied by a series of events including night openings, film screening and talks. Runs until 9th November (30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall). Admission charge applies. For more, see nationalarchives.gov.uk/coldwar.

Prince Albert’s personal contributions to the V&A’s Library collection are the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week as part of the South Kensington Institute’s celebration of the 200th anniversaries of the births of both the Prince and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert: Science & the Arts on the Page features books and photographs include one volume containing a letter written by the Prince’s librarian Ernst Becker highlighting Albert’s wish to promote knowledge and learning in science and the arts. There’s also a volume of songs written and set to music by Albert and his brother, featuring amendments in Albert’s own hand, as well as his signed season ticket to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Runs until 1st September on the Library Landing. Admission is free. Head here for more.

Forty years of computer game history is once again on show at the Science Museum from Saturday. Returning for its fourth year, Power UP features 160 consoles and hundreds of games, from retro classics like Space Invaders to the latest in VR technology. Special events include two adults-only evening sessions on 10th and 17th April. Runs until 22nd April. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/power-up.

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

This well-to-do district of west London owes its name to the family of Hugh Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Westminster and owner of the Grosvenor Estate, the land upon which Belgravia is located.

The country estate of the duke’s family – the Grosvenors – is known as Eaton Hall and it lies just to the south of Chester. Various names related to the estate appear on the London map. Among them is Belgravia.

Belgravia take its name from the tiny village of Belgrave which lies within the estate’s boundary (the word Belgrave, incidentally, comes from the Old French for “beautiful wood”).

The London residential area now known as Belgravia, meanwhile, was formerly known as Five Fields and used for grazing. The Westbourne River meandered through it, crossed by “Bloody Bridge”, so-called because it was a known haunt of robbers.

It later became the site of market gardens and houses began to appear in the area following King George III’s move to what was then Buckingham House but development of the area didn’t begin in earnest until the 1820s when Robert Grosvenor, later the first Marquess of Westminster (pictured here in a statue in Belgrave Square), began developing the estate with the aid of builder Thomas Cubitt.

Designed with Belgrave Square at its centre, the new development immediately became associated with the more affluent end of society, a connection which continues to this day.

As well as Belgrave Square, the district, which straddles both the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, includes Eaton, Chester and Lowndes Squares (the first two names associated with the duke’s country estate; the third named after William Lowndes, a politician and Secretary to the Treasury under King William III and Queen Anne.

Palatial terraced houses aside, landmarks include the Grade II-listed St Peter’s Church, located at the east end of Eaton Square, which was first built in the 1820s and rebuilt in the 1830s. The area is also home to numerous embassies and consulates including those of Norway, Spain, Malaysia and Egypt, and, in keeping with the international feel, also boasts several statues of notable foreigners including Simon Bolivar and Christopher Columbus.

Famous residents have included former Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher (the first two lived in Eaton Square; Thatcher in Chester Square), Louis Mountbatten, who lived in Wilton Crescent, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who lived in Upper Belgrave Street, as did Lord Lucan who mysteriously disappeared in 1974 after his children’s nanny was found murdered.

PICTURES: Top – Terraced homes in Grosvenor Crescent, which runs off Belgrave Square (Google Maps); Right – Statue of Lord Robert Grosvenor, first Marquess of Westminster (David Adams).

At Eternity's GateThe first exhibition to examine the work of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh through his relationship with Britain has opened at Tate Britain this week. Van Gogh and Britain includes more than 40 works by the artist including L’Arlésienne (1890), Starry Night on the Rhone (1888), and Sunflowers (1888). The exhibition will also feature later works by Van Gogh including two he painted while in the Saint-Paul asylum – At Eternity’s Gate (1890 – pictured) and Prisoners Exercising (1890). The exhibition shows how Van Gogh, who lived in London between 1873 and 1876 working as a trainee art dealer, responded to works by artists like John Constable and John Everett Millais and his love of British writers like William Shakespeare, Christina Rossetti and, particularly, Charles Dickens (L’Arlésienne features one of Dickens’ favourite books in the foreground). The show runs until 11th August and is being accompanied by a series of talks and other events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.ukPICTURE: Vincent van Gogh (1853 –1890), ‘Sorrowing old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’)’ (1890), Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

On Now – Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – which is focused on the work of Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) and Isaac Oliver (c1565-1617) – is the first major display of Tudor and Jacobean portrait miniatures to be held in the UK for more than 35 years and includes new discoveries as well as portraits on public display for the first time. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to portraits of Queen Elizabeth I as well as King James I, his wife Anne of Denmark and his three children – Henry, Elizabeth and Charles (later King Charles II). There are also miniatures of famous figures like Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake and a little known portrait of Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southampton. Other highlights include a previously unknown portrait by Hilliard of King Henri III of France. Runs until 19th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

A major exhibition exploring the role of money in Jewish life has opened at the Jewish Museum London in Camden Town. Jews, Money, Myth looks at the “ideas, myths and stereotypes” that link money and Jews over two millennia. It features art works such as Rembrandt’s Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver as well as new commissions by Jeremy Deller and Doug Fishbone along with film, literature and cultural emphemera ranging from board games and cartoons to costumes and figurines. There are a series of related events. For more, see www.jewishmuseum.org.uk.

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

The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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

Queen Elizabeth II posted her first Instagram photo while visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington last Thursday in a promotion for its exhibition on computers. Under the account @theroyalfamily, the Queen posted two images of a letter at the museum which comes from the Royal Archives. It was written to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Charles Babbage and in it, the 19th century inventor and mathematician spoke of his invention of an “Analytical Machine” upon which the first computer programs were written by Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Having explained the origins of the letter, the Queen added: “Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R.” The Royal Family’s Instagram account has some 4.9 million followers. For more on the Science Museum, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

View this post on Instagram

Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert.  Charles Babbage, credited as the world’s first computer pioneer, designed the “Difference Engine”, of which Prince Albert had the opportunity to see a prototype in July 1843.  In the letter, Babbage told Queen Victoria and Prince Albert about his invention the “Analytical Engine” upon which the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.  Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors. Elizabeth R. PHOTOS: Supplied by the Royal Archives © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

A post shared by The Royal Family (@theroyalfamily) on

 

Long connected with the low end trade in words, Grub Street was once located on the site where the Barbican development now stands.

The street – its name possibly comes from a man called Grubbe or refers to a street infested with worms – was located in the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate outside the city wall. It northwards ran from Fore Street to Chiswell Street and had numerous alleys and courts leading off it.

Originally located in an area of open fields used for archery and so inhabited by bowyers and others associated with the production of bows and arrows, the relative cheapness of the land – due to its marshiness – later saw the Grub Street and its surrounds become something of a slum, an area of “poverty and vice”.

During the mid-17th century, it became known as a home for (often libellous or seditious) pamphleteers, journalists and publishers seeking to escape the attention of authorities.

And so began the association of Grub Street with writing “hacks”, paid line-by-line as they eked out a living in tawdry garrets (although how many actually worked in garrets remains a matter of debate). The word “hack”, incidentally, is derived from Hackney, and originally referred to a horse for hire but here came to refer to mediocre writers churning out copy for their daily bread rather than any sense of artistic merit.

Residents included Samuel Johnson (early in his career), who, in 1755 included a definition for it in his famous dictionary – “a street near Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet”, and 16th century historian John Foxe, author of the famous Book of Martyrs.

The street, which was also referenced by the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift as a symbol of lowbrow writing, was renamed Milton Street (apparently after a builder, not the poet) in 1830. Part of it still survives today but most of it disappeared when the Barbican complex was created between the 1960s and 1980s.

PICTURE: John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing Grub Street.


This grand Victorian hotel – originally known as the Great Western Royal Hotel – was among the first large hotels constructed in London in proximity to railway termini – in this case Paddington Station.

Located 146 Praed Street, it was constructed in the 1850s to the designs of Philip Charles Hardwick and apparently cost some £60,000. The interior was designed in the Louis XIV style and the building as a whole was built with the intention of rivalling the great hotels of Europe.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who conceived the project to provide accommodation for people travelling on the Great Western Railway to Bristol and the West Country (and so managed to convince the directors of the GWR to invest), was the hotel’s first managing director.

The now Grade II-listed hotel was officially opened on 9th June, 1854, by Prince Albert and, apparently, the King of Portugal.

The main block, which effectively forms the facade of the railway station behind it, is book-ended by two towers which are said to house two storey bedrooms.

It boasts a sculpted pediment above the main entrance which was designed by John Thomas and features allegorical figures representing peace, plenty, industry and science.

The railway company took over the hotel late in the 19th century and in 1907 it was apparently updated with electric lighting, telephones and a pneumatic messaging service.

Much of the original ornamentation was lost when it was extensively modernised and extended in the 1930s in the art deco style under the eye of architect Percy Emerson Culverhouse.

The hotel was sold off as part of the privatisation of the railways in 1983 and reopened as part of the Hilton hotel chain in 2001. It remains part of that chain today.

For more, see www.hilton.co.uk/paddington.

PICTURES: The Great Western old and new – Top – via Wikipedia; Right -Oxfordian (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); 

 

A plan of the Deptford Pumping Station signed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette is going on display at the City of London Heritage Gallery on Saturday to mark 200 years since the Victorian engineer’s birth. Other items in the new display include the Shakespeare Deed – only one of six documents to bear the signature of William Shakespeare, and one of the City of London’s earliest charters – granted by King Richard I in 1197. Admission to the gallery, located in the Guildhall Art Gallery, is free. Runs until 16th May. For more, follow this link.

The first major retrospective of French painter Pierre Bonnard in 20 years has kicked off at the Tate Modern on South Bank. The CC Land Exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory, features about 100 of his most celebrated works from public and private collections spanning the period from 1912 to his death in 1947. Bonnard, like his friend Henri Matisse, had a profound impact on modern painting and went on to influence the likes of Mark Rothko and Patrick Heron. Works on show include Dining Room in the Country (1913), The Lane at Vernonnet (1912-14), Coffee (1915), Summer (1917), Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1922), Nude in an interior (c1935), and Studio with Mimosa (1939-46). Runs to 6th May; admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Coffee (Le Café), 1915,  Oil paint on canvas (via Tate Modern)

The work of pioneering video artist Bill Viola has been brought together with drawings buy Michelangelo in a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy on Saturday. Bill Viola/Michelangelo features 12 major video installations by Viola, an honorary Royal Academician, which span the period 1977 to 2013 as well as 15 works by Michelangelo including 14 highly finished drawings as well as the Academy’s Taddei Tondo. It proposes a “dialogue” between the two artists with Viola, who first encountered Michelangelo’s works in the 1970s in Florence, considered an heir to the long tradition of spiritual and affective art which uses emotion to connect viewers with the subject depicted. Runs until 31st March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This five star Mayfair establishment owes its origins and name to William Claridge, possibly a former butler, and his wife Marianne, who took over management of a small hotel at 51 Brook Street in 1853.

In 1854, they purchased the adjoining Mivart’s Hotel, first established in 1812, and substantially expanded the premises. It apparently combined the two names – Mivart’s and Claridge’s – for a short time before the reference to Mivart’s was dropped.

The hotel, which stands on the corner with Davies Street, was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte (owner of The Savoy) in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in red brick to the designs of CW Stephens (of Harrods fame) with interiors by Sir Ernest George and the inclusion of modern amenities including en suite bathrooms and lifts. The hotel, which is now Grade II-listed, reopened in 1898, with some 203 rooms and suites.

It was extended in the late 1920s with the addition of 80 new rooms and a ballroom while the lobby was redesigned by art deco pioneer Oswald Milne (much of that decoration, including work by Basil Ionides, remains).

The hotel’s reputation as a place to stay among the well-to-do was given a significant boost when Empress Eugenie, wife of French Emperor Napoleon III stayed in 1860 and entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It was also favoured by exiled royals during World War II including King Peter II and Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia all staying here. In fact, their son, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in suite 212 in 1945 (now named the Prince Alexander Suite).

The story goes that Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared the suite Yugoslav territory for a day (although evidence supporting the story about Churchill’s involvement is apparently scarce). It’s also said that a spadeful of dirt from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed so the Crown Prince could literally be born on Yugoslav soil (but there’s no mention of this aspect of the story on Crown Prince Alexander II’s official website).

Churchill and Clementine stayed in a suite here on the sixth floor after the wartime PM’s unexpected defeat in the general election of 1945.

Other luminaries to have stayed here include American actors Cary Grant, Katharine (and Audrey) Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby (Spencer Tracey famously said he didn’t want to go to heaven when he died but to Claridge’s) as well as director Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, and, more recently, everyone from Mick Jagger and Madonna to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Kate Moss celebrated her 30th birthday here.

And, of course, royals including the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have all been regular diners.

The hotel, which underwent a major restoration from 1996 and saw 25 new suites designed by David Linley opened in 2012, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, having parted ways with the Savoy Hotel in the mid-noughties.

Current facilities include the restaurant Fera at Claridge’s (this opened in 2014 after the closure of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2013) as well as The Foyer & Reading Room (where afternoon tea is served), The Fumoir cocktail bar, Claridge’s Bar and a health club and spa.

The Claridge’s Christmas Tree is a much anticipated part of London’s festive season, with recent years seeing a different world-renowned designer taking on the task of decorating it, including the likes of John Galliano, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry.

The hotel was the subject of a three part documentary, Inside Claridges, in December, 2012.

For more, see www.claridges.co.uk.

PICTURE: Tim Westcott (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

This Piccadilly institution was constructed from 1904 to 1906 and takes its name from Swiss hotelier César Ritz.

It was constructed on the site of a former coaching inn for the Blackpool Building and Vendor Company – it was the first steel-framed building in London – and designed by Mewés and Davis, the architects of the Paris Ritz. And even though Ritz himself was apparently actually retired at the time, it was built according to his specifications.

The exterior facade features Norwegian granite and Portland stone and boasts an arcade on Piccadilly which deliberately evokes the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The interior, the work of Waring and Gillow, is designed in the style of Louis XVI and was designed to be opulent with all rooms featuring a working fireplace.

Public spaces include the Palm Court – famous for its traditional afternoon teas –  and a Michelin-starred restaurant with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. Other features include the Rivoli Bar, designed in 2001 by Tessa Kennedy to resemble the bar in the Orient Express, and the basement Ritz Club, a private casino.

The now Grade II*-listed hotel was officially opened by Ritz himself on 24th May, 1906, and was soon adopted by the rich and famous – the patronage of the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) after the death of King Edward VII was one key reason for its success.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, who apparently had to have 40 police hold back the crowd to enter the hotel, is also a name famously associated with it as is that of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed here.

The Aga Khan and Paul Getty both had suites, and playwright Noel Coward and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, regularly dined here while Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped champagne from a slipper in the bar. The Marie Antoinette Suite was also famously the location of a conference between Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

The hotel also featured in 1999 film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and in the more recent TV drama Downton Abbey.

The five star hotel underwent a major 10 year refurbishment after it was acquired by the Barclay brothers in 1995. The complex these days includes the adjoining 18th century property William Kent House (designed, of course, by William Kent).

In 2001, the hotel was awarded the first Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. Other boasts these days include being the only UK hotel to have a certified tea sommelier (among teas served is the hotel’s own Ritz Royal Blend).

For more, see www.theritzlondon.com.

This important Kensington thoroughfare runs through the heart of South Kensington’s world-famous museum precinct from Thurloe Place, just south of Cromwell Road, all the way to Hyde Park.

Along its length, it takes in such important institutions as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Imperial College London while Royal Albert Hall is only a stone’s throw to the west.

It was, as might be expected given the name, indeed laid out as part of Prince Albert’s grand scheme surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a means of accessing the vast Crystal Palace which was located in Hyde Park (before moving out to south London).

It wasn’t the only road in the area built specifically for that purpose – the transecting Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate, which runs in parallel and, yes, is named for Queen Victoria, were also built for to provide access to the Great Exhibition.

After the exhibition was over, Exhibition Road formed part of the precinct known as “Albertopolis” in which, inspired by the Great Exhibition, became something of a knowledge and cultural centre featuring various museums and the great concert hall which sadly Albert didn’t live long enough to see.

In the 2000s, a scheme to give pedestrians greater priority along the road was realised (in time for the 2012 Olympics).

PICTURE: Looking north along Exhibition Road from the intersection with Cromwell Road (the Natural History Museum is on the left; the Victoria & Albert Museum – and the Aston Webb Screen – on the right)/Google Maps.