Women’s suffrage advocate Millicent Garrett Fawcett will become the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Westminster’s Parliament Square next month to mark the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 1918 act which gave women the vote for the first time. But who exactly was she?

Born in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, on 11th June, 1847, Millicent Garrett was the daughter of Newson Garrett, a merchant and shipowner, and his wife Louisa – the eighth of their 10 children.

At the age of 12, in 1858, she went to London with her older sister Elizabeth (who would go on to become Britain’s first female doctor) to study at a private boarding school in Blackheath. A key moment came seven years later in 1865 when she went to hear a speech by radical MP John Stuart Mills who spoke of equal rights for women.

Fawcett was deeply impacted and became actively involved in his campaign. When she was just 18, Millicent was introduced via Mills to Henry Fawcett, MP for Brighton and women’s rights activist and the two became close friends before, despite an age difference of 14 years, marrying on 23rd April, 1867. As well as caring for her husband who had been blinded in a shooting accident some 10 years before they were wed, Millicent took up a role as his secretary.

In 1868, Millicent gave birth to their only child, Philippa, and the family spent their time between two households – one in London (at 51 The Lawn on the site of what is now Vauxhall Park) and the other in Cambridge (where she later became a co-founder of Newnham College).

Meanwhile, with her husband’s encouragement, she was also pursuing her own writing career, penning the popular short book, Political Economy for Beginners, which was published in 1870, as well as becoming a well-known public speaker on a range of issues including women’s rights.

While when her husband – then Postmaster General – died of pleurisy on 6th November, 1884, Millicent temporarily withdrew from public life (it was after Henry’s death that, as per his wishes, Vauxhall Park was created on the site of his former home). But the years following saw her become increasingly engaged in activities in support of women’s suffrage.

She was involved in the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897 – it went on to become the largest group of its kind with 50,000 members by 1913 – and would later become its president, a post she would hold until after World War I.

Fawcett’s interests, however, also saw her involved in campaigns to curb child abuse, to end child marriage and the “white slave trade” as well as the formation of a relief fund for South African women and children affected by the Boer War (in 1901 she visited South Africa as head of a commission charged with reporting on conditions in concentration camps).

When some groups advocating for women’s suffrage started to take more violent action – which included breaking windows and hunger strikes when jailed, Fawcett argued against such militancy and remained among the moderates, convinced that women would eventually win the vote as a result of the changes taking place in society.

Suffrage activism was interrupted thanks to World War I but the role women played in support of the war effort saw opinion shift enough for, in 1918, the passing of the Representation of the People Act, which gave women aged over 30 voting rights.

In 1919, Fawcett retired from active engagement in politics. She was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1925.

Fawcett witnessed the passing of an act to give women equal voting rights to men in 1928 – 10 years after the first act – before dying, at the age of 82, at her home at 2 Gower Street in Bloomsbury, London, on 5th August, 1929 (there’s a Blue Plaque on the property where she had lived for more than 45 years – pictured above). She was cremated at Golders Green but there is a memorial to both her and her husband in Westminster Abbey.

The Fawcett Society, which has carried her name since 1953, continues to fight sexism and gender inequality in the UK, campaigning on issues such as closing the gender pay gap.


Famous for its mentions by Charles Dickens, Jacob’s Island – located in Bermondsey – was not actually a true island.

It was a small parcel of land formed into an “island” thanks to its location in a loop of the Neckinger River and, on the south side of the loop, a man-made ditch which was used as a mill run for Bermondsey Abbey.

The “island” – which on a modern map was located just to the south of the street known as Bermondsey Wall West, east of Mill Street, west of George Row and north of Wolseley Street, was home to a notorious slum or “rookery” between the 18th and early 19th centuries,

It was most famously mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist and was where the notorious Bill Sikes died in the mud of ‘Folly Ditch’ – a reference to the ditch surrounding the island – as he attempted to elude the authorities.

Dickens describes Jacob’s Island in the book as a place “where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. In the preface to the 1867 edition of the book, he even wrote of its ongoing existence which was apparently doubted by one City alderman, saying “Jacob’s Island continues to exist (like an ill-bred place as it is) in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, though improved and much changed”.

The slum itself existed until the late-1800s – much of it was razed in a fire of 1861 – in subsequent decades, the ditches surrounding it were filled in and the area redeveloped into warehouses.

The River Neckinger, incidentally, is one of London’s ‘lost rivers’. Its name means ‘devil’s neckerchief’ or ‘devil’s necklace’ – a reference to the hangman’s noose – and it is believed to refer in here to the gibbet from which pirates were hung close to the mouth of where the river entered the Thames at nearby St Saviour’s Dock and where their bodies left to deter others from taking a similar path.

PICTURE: Top – Jacob’s Island and Folly Ditch, an engraving from a book published in 1873 (Internet Archive Book Images/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – ‘Folly Ditch’, pictured here in about 1840.


This rather large fountain once stood in Mayfair as a tribute to literary greats Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Designed by Thomas Thorneycroft (and apparently funded from wealth of a lady who died intestate but who had apparently always advocated for the location of a fountain on the site), the fountain stood on the centre of what is now a roundabout at the intersection of Old Park Lane and Hamilton Place.

Unveiled in July, 1875, it featured the three poets standing on various sides of a central pillar (Shakespeare taking pride of place looking towards Hyde Park). Below them sat three muses and above them, on top of a central column, stood a figure representing fame, blowing a trumpet.

The fountain,  and survived until World War II during which it sustained damaged. It was dismantled in 1948 and only the figure of ‘Fame’ is believed to have survived.



Forty-three letters written by Queen Elizabeth I and her senior advisors concerning the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, have been donated to the British Library. Many of the 43 letters were written to Sir Ralph Sadler, who held the Scottish Queen in custody at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire between 1584-85 prior to her execution in 1587. Four of the letters are signed by Queen Elizabeth I and others are written in the hand of Chief Minister Lord Burghley and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The collection has been on loan to the library for a number of years but has now been gifted by the industrialist and philanthropist Mark Pigott to the American Trust for the British Library. The library plans to digitise the letters and make them available on its Digitised Manuscripts website.

The alteration of books through customisation, decoration or disguise is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Library on Monday. Books: Used and Abused shows how some books have been used as notepads or expanding files while others have become containers. A free ‘book surgery’ advice session will be held at the library on 22nd February for people to learn about their own ‘used and abused’ books and how to repair them. Runs until 9th March. Entry is free (booking required for the free advice session). For more, head here.

•  Sir Mark Rylance will bring the words of Shakespeare to life in six special performances at Westminster Abbey this April. All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits will feature a cast of 23 actors from Shakespeare’s Globe performing extracts from some of the Bard’s most famous plays and poetry. The performances will occur over 26th to 28th April. Tickets go on sale on 29th January via the  Shakespeare’s Globe box office.

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


No prizes here for guessing that this pub owes its name to the long serving 19th century monarch, Queen Victoria.

There’s apparently a story that the Queen stopped off here on her way to Paddington Station and that, as a result, the pub was named in her honour.

Whatever the truth of that, the now Grade II-listed pub – located at 10a Strathearn Place (on the corner with Surrey Place) – was apparently built in 1838 – the first year if Victoria’s reign (and possibly a more valid reason for its name) and remodelled around the turn of the 20th century.

It features a luxuriously decorated interior with fireplaces, mirrors, and an original counter as well as paintings of the Queen, Prince Albert and their family.

The upstairs Theatre Bar features decorative elements taken from the former Gaiety Theatre which were installed in the late 1950s.

The pub, which was apparently patronised by the likes of author Charles Dickens (he is said to have written some of Our Mutual Friend here), Sir Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin as well as David Bowie – who did a live performance when launching an EP here in the 1960s.

It’s also been associated with more recent celebs like musicians Ronnie Wood and Liam Gallagher, artist Damien First and actor Keira Knightley.

There’s also a story that in 1960s one of the paintings on the walls was found to be a valuable portrait of a member of the Royal Family. It’s now apparently in the Royal Collection.

The pub is now part of the Fuller’s group – and has twice won their ‘Pub of the Year’ award. For more, see www.victoriapaddington.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)


OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.



Located beneath Guildhall’s Great Hall is the oldest surviving part of the structure, the largest of London’s medieval crypts.

Dating from the reign of King Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, the vaulted East Crypt is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in England with a ceiling featuring a series of carved bosses depicting heads, shields and flowers.

It features a series of stained glass windows depicting five famous Londoners – Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Sir Thomas More, Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys.

The pillars holding up the roof, meanwhile – once located at ground level – show signs of where horses were once tied up while their riders went about their business.

The West Crypt, which is believed to date from the 13th century, was sealed off after collapsing under the weight of the roof of the Great Hall which fell down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was reopened in 1973.

The windows of the West Crypt represent some of the City of London’s livery companies (pictured above, right).

One of the most famous incidents took place in the crypts on 9th July, 1851, when Queen Victoria attended a banquet here during a state visit.

The crypts today are available to hire for atmospheric events.

WHERE: Guildhall, Guildhall Yard, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm daily (when not being used for events); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall.aspx.


The moniker of this Soho street owes its origins to the Greek Orthodox Church – London’s first – which was built in the area following an influx of Greeks in the 17th century.

The street was laid out in the 1670-80s and along with taverns, coffee houses and tradesmen’s workshops, also had some aristocratic tenants such as the 5th Earl of Anglesey. Casanova stayed in the street when visiting in 1764 and writer Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, also lodged here temporarily.

Other tenants have included Josiah Wedgwood who had a warehouse and showrooms here from 1774 to 1797. Number 1, the House of St Barnabas, was once the home of twice Lord Mayor of London, William Beckford, and also the location where Sir Joseph Bazalgette commenced work on designing the city’s famed sewer system (it was then the offices of the Westminster Commissioners Sewers). It’s now a private members club.

The church, meanwhile, was soon taken over by the French Protestants who came into the area and eventually demolished in 1936. A remnant of the church, an inscription which was once embedded in the wall of the church, was salvaged and apparently taken to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater.

Current premises based in the street include pubs like the Pillars of Hercules (number 7) and Coach and Horses (number 29) as well as establishments such as The Gay Hussar restaurant (number 2) and French patisserie Maison Bertaux (number 28).


A highlight of any journey through subterranean London is spending some time in the St Paul’s Cathedral crypt, famously the resting place of, among others, Admiral Lord Nelson and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

Built as an integral part of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, the crypt is said to be the largest in Europe and runs the complete length of the building above. It features some 200 memorials.

Nelson’s resting place is under the centre of the dome – his remains, brought back from the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in a keg of naval brandy, are entombed inside a wooden coffin made from one of the French ships he defeated at the Battle of the Nile which is then contained in a black sarcophagus. Originally made for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s but left unused when the Cardinal fell from favour, it’s now topped with Nelson’s viscount coronet in place of where the cardinal’s hat would have stood.

The Duke of Wellington, meanwhile, lies just to the east in a tomb of Cornish porphyritic granite set atop a block of Peterhead granite carved with four sleeping lions at its four corners. The coffin was lowered through a specially created hole in the cathedral floor above Nelson’s tomb and then moved into the sarcophagus.

Other memorials – not all of which commemorate people actually buried here – include one to the architect, Sir Christopher Wren, which features the words, written in Latin, ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you’.

There’s also memorials to everyone from artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Blake to Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, Lawrence of Arabia and, more recently, one for Gordon Hamilton Fairley, killed by a terrorist bomb in 1975. There’s even a bust of the first US President, George Washington.

The crypt also contains a number of war memorials and is the location of the OBE Chapel, dedicated at a service attended by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960, honouring those who have given distinguished service to the nation.

Other features of the crypt include the Treasury where more than 200 items are on display including some of the cathedral’s plate and vestments (much of which has been lost over the years including when a major robbery took place in 1810), liturgical plate from other churches in the diocese and some Wren memorabilia including his penknife, measuring rod and death mask.

The crypt is also home to the cathedral’s gift shop and cafe where you can stop for a refreshment before heading back out into the streets above.

WHERE: The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s and Mansion House); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £18 adults (18+)/£8 children (aged 6 to 17)/£16 concessions/£44 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Admiral Lord Nelson’s tomb (Marcus Holland-Moritz/ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.o)


Seventeenth century politician, diplomat and royal courtier, Henry Jermyn’s influence can still be seen in London’s West End today.

Jermyn was born as the fourth, but second surviving, son of courtier Sir Thomas Jermyn, of Rushbrook, Suffolk, and his wife Catherine, in early 1605. He was baptised soon after at St Margaret’s Lothbury in London in late March of that year.

Having already been among several diplomatic missions, he entered the political world at about the age of 20 in 1625, when he was elected member for Bodmin in Cornwall – the first of several seats he (and his brother Thomas) would hold around the country.

He joined the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, in 1627, becoming her vice-chamberlain in 1628, and Master of the Horse to the Queen in 1639 (although he apparently spent a couple of years in exile in France during this period when he refused to obey the King and marry another courtier).

An ardent royalist, in 1641, he participated in a plot against Parliament and was forced to flee to France. In 1642, he joined the Queen in The Hague and returned to England with her in 1643 as the Civil War raged.

His loyalty was rewarded on 6th September that year when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Jermyn of St Edmundsbury (he was apparently wounded just 10 days later at the Battle of Aldbourne Chase). He was made the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain in early 1644 and in April that year accompanied the Queen to France where he helped her raise money for the Royalist cause.

He was made Governor of Jersey in 1645 (a post in which he succeeded his father), although it was a role he apparently had little interest in, at one point proposing selling the island to France.

In 1649, it was apparently Jermyn who had to give the Queen the news of King Charles I’s execution. Her closest advisor, it was subsequently falsely rumoured that he had secretly married the Queen – some even went so far to suggest he had fathered her children.

Jermyn became a member of King Charles II’s Privy Council in 1652 and, in 1659, just before the Restoration, he was created the Earl of St Albans. Created ambassador to France in 1661, he would go on to play a key role in helping King Charles II negotiate the secret 1670 Treaty of Dover with the French King Louis XIV.

In the early 1660s he was rewarded with land grants including land located to the north of St James’s Palace in London. He encouraged the development of the area, centred on St James’s Square and surrounding streets including Jermyn Street – such was his impact on the area that he became known as the “Father of the West End”.

He returned to France with Queen Henrietta Maria in 1665 and was present when the Queen died on 31st August, 1669, at Colombe in France. He subsequently returned to England and served as Lord Chamberlain to King Charles II between 1672-74 as well as, in 1672, being invested as a Knight of the Garter.

Jermyn, who never married, was generally said to have been a prolific gambler (and, some said, a glutton) and while he attempted to retire more than once to Rushbrook, the lure of London’s gaming tables proved too strong.

He died in his house in St James’s Square on 2nd January, 1684, and was buried at Rushbrook. While his earldom became extinct, his barony passed to his nephew Thomas Jermyn.

PICTURE: A City of Westminster Green Plaque located at the site of Henry Jermyn’s former home in St James’s Square.  (Simon Harriyott/licenced under CC BY 2.0


Hatters they are, but mad they most definitely are not (more on that connection later). Lock & Co Hatters, which describes itself not only as London’s oldest hat shop but the world’s oldest, has been serving the city’s hat needs since James Lock first opened the doors at number six, St James’s Street, in 1765.

Lock took over the premises after completing an apprenticeship as a hatter with Charles Davis, son of Robert Davis who had opened a hatters in St James’s Street in 1676. Lock had married Charles’ sister Mary in 1759 and, along with his new bride, had inherited his father-in-law’s business. In 1765, they and their growing family moved across the road from that premises to No 6, previously a coffee house.

The shop soon established itself with the city’s elite and its client list grew to include the likes of Lord Grenville, Prime Minister between 1806-07, and, most famously, Admiral Lord Nelson, who first visited the shop in 1800 to order his signature bicorne – a “cocked hat and cockade” – with a specially built-in eye shade (Nelson had lost his eye at the Battle of Calvi). Nelson’s final visit, incidentally, would take place in September, 1805, when he settled his bill before setting sailing to Spain where, wearing one of Lock’s hats, he would lose his life – and become part of a legend – in the Battle of Trafalgar.

But back to the Locks. James Lock died in 1806 and it was his illegitimate son, George James Lock (aka James Lock II), who inherited the business which continued to flourish (clients around this time include the Georgian dandy Beau Brummell). George’s son, James Lock III and his younger brother George took over in 1821, and in 1849, they were commissioned by Edward Coke to create a hard-domed hat for his gamekeepers – the result was the iconic Coke hat (known to some as the Bowler hat, a name which came from Southwark-based Thomas and William Bowler whom Lock had commissioned to make the hat) .

The Lock & Co hat business continued to pass down through the family and the list of the famous who purchased hats in the store continued to grow – Oscar Wilde bought a black fedora there to wear on his US lecture tour (and due to his later incarceration was unable to pay his bill which was settled more than 100 years later by one of his fans after this news was included in an article in The Times) while Sir Winston Churchill wore a Lock silk top hat on his wedding day and also purchased his trademark Cambridge and Homburg hats there.

In 1932, film star Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, moved in above the shop (and naturally bought some monogrammed hats which were sold in 2011 as part of his estate) while Charlie Chaplin purchased hats there in the 1950s and, impressively, in 1953, Lock worked with jewellers Garrard and Co to design the “fitments” for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation crown.

A warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, followed (in 1993, Lock & Co received its second Royal Warrant, this time from the Prince of Wales.

Others among Lock’s more high profile clientele over the years have included Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F Kennedy, and Lock’s Coke hat even made a famed appearance on the silver screen as the headwear of the Bond villain Oddjob in Goldfinger.

The firm, meanwhile, has continued to grow, acquiring Piccadilly hatters Scott & Co in the 1970s.

Lock’s association with Lord Nelson was remembered in 2012 when it designed a hat for his statue atop Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which featured a full-sized Olympic torch and which, due to popular demand, was left on the admiral for the duration of the Olympics.

Interestingly, it is also claimed that James Benning, a member of the Lock family and a servant of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) – writer of Alice in Wonderland, was the inspiration behind the ‘Mad Hatter’.

PICTURES: Top – Jeremy T. Hetzel; Right – Matt Brown – both licensed under CC BY 2.0.



The name of this City of London street – which leads from Upper Thames Street to the intersection of Queen Victoria and Cannon Streets – speaks to the City’s past when it originated at the now-lost dock or jetty known as Garlickhithe. 

Garlickhithe was, not surprisingly, where garlic was landed and sold in a tradition dating back to at least the 13th century. It’s one of numerous thoroughfares in the City named for what was traded there.

The name is also remembered in the church which still stands at the bottom of the hill, St James, Garlickhythe, and which once stood right on the back of the Thames. The church was founded in the 12th century, rebuilt several times – the last time after the Great Fire of London under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.



Now an elegant place to have lunch or afternoon tea, The Orangery was originally built in 1704-05. Its construction came at the behest of Queen Anne – the younger sister of Queen Mary II, she had ascended to the throne after the death of Mary’s husband King William III in 1702 following a fall from a horse (Mary had died of smallpox at Kensington Palace in 1694). Queen Anne used the building for parties in summer and in winter, thanks to underfloor heating, as a conservatory for plants (two engines were later fitted to the building to lift the orange trees kept there in colder months). The building’s architect is thought to have been the renowned Nicholas Hawksmoor, clerk of works for Kensington Palace, but it was extensively modified by Sir John Vanbrugh. The building also contains carvings by Grinling Gibbons. For more, see www.orangerykensingtonpalace.co.ukPICTURE: Vapor Kopeny/Unsplash


Jane Austen died in Winchester, Hampshire, on 18th July, 1817, at the age of just 41. She was buried in the city’s cathedral but a small tablet was unveiled in Westminster Abbey to mark her death 150 years later.

Located in Poets’ Corner in the abbey’s south transept, the small tablet was erected on 17th December, 1967, by the Jane Austen Society. Made of polished Roman stone, it simply bears her name and year of birth – 1775 – and year of death.

The tablet was placed on the lefthand side of the (much larger) memorial to William Shakespeare and below that of lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

This is the final in our series on Jane Austen’s London – we’ll be starting a new series shortly.

WHERE: Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube station is Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Various  – check website; COST: £22 adults/£17 concessions/£9 chirldren (6-16)/five and under free (check website for more options); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURE: Carcharoth (Commons)/CC BY-SA 3.0 (image cropped)


The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south celebrates the 200th anniversary of its public opening this year. It is the oldest public picture gallery in all of England.

The origins of the gallery back owe their existence to an art dealership run by a Frenchman, Noël Desenfans, and his Swiss friend, painter Sir Francis Bourgeois. In 1790, the men were commissioned by King Stanislaus II Augustus of Poland to form a royal collection of art for him.

They spent five years doing so but in 1795, the king was forced to abdicate and the two dealers were left with the collection. They began searching for a new home for it but failed to find one and following Desenfans’ death in 1807, Sir Francis decided to leave the collection to Dulwich College (apparently on the advice of his friend, actor John Philip Kemble). The college had been founded in the early 17th century as the ‘College of God’s Gift’ by Edward Alleyn, actor and theatre entrepreneur, who had left it his estate.

Sir Francis died in 1811 and, under the terms of his will, the paintings left to Dulwich had to be made available to the public to view. There was an existing gallery at Dulwich College (the collection had originally been formed around Alleyn’s collection which included portraits or kings and queens) but, conscious that it might not be ideal for displaying the collection, Sir Francis had left £2,000 in his will to refurbish it and made it clear that should this be required, he wanted his friend, Sir John Soane to oversee the work.

Sir John, visiting the college the day after Sir Francis’ death, inspects the existing building but decides that an entirely new wing will need to be built to house the collection. He submitted numerous designs but the cost – more than £11,000 – was considerably more than the college could afford despite Sir John’s efforts to cut costs and simplify. Eventually, after Margaret Desenfans agreed to donate £4,000 of her own money, the college officials agreed to begin construction.

In 1814, the collection was moved into the building and the following year, the now completed building was opened to Royal Academicians and students.  The public opening came two years later, in 1817, and the same year the Desenfanses and Francis Bourgeois were buried in the gallery’s mausoleum as its founders.

Several additions and renovations have since followed (including works after bombing during World War II). The last major works were carried out in the 1990s after which the gallery was formally reopened on 25th May, 2000, by Queen Elizabeth II.

Those who visited the gallery, many as students, have included some big names in the art world – John Constable, JMW Turner and Vincent Van Gogh. Charles Dickens referenced the gallery in his work, The Pickwick Papers, in which he had Samuel Pickwick visit the gallery following his retirement.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is now an independent registered charity. Its more than 600 works include one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world by artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese and Murillo. Collection highlights include Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window (1645), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Flower Girl (1665-70), Thomas Gainsborough’s Elizabeth and Mary Linley (c 1772) and Sir Peter Lely’s Nymphs by a Fountain (early 1650s).

WHERE: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich (nearest rail is West Dulwich or North Dulwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults/£6 seniors/under 18s free (additional cost for special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

PICTURES: Courtesy Dulwich Picture Gallery.


The remains of two rooms, which once formed part of the splendid Greenwich Palace – birthplace of King Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were discovered during works being undertaken ahead of the construction of a new visitor centre under the Old Royal Naval College’s famed Painted Hall, it was revealed last week.

The rooms, set well back from the river Thames, are believed to have formed part of the service range, believed to be the location of kitchens, a bakehouse, brewhouse and laundry.

As well as the discovery of a lead-glazed tiled floor, one of the rooms, which was clearly subterranean, featured a series of unusual niches where archaeologists believe may have been ‘bee boles’ – where ‘skeps’  (hive baskets) were stored during winter when the bee colonies were hibernating and where, when the bees were outside during summer, food and drink may have been stored to keep cool.

Discussions are reportedly now underway over the possibility of displaying the Tudor finds in situ. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, hailed the find as “remarkable”.

“To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” he said. “The unusual and enigmatic nature of the structure has given us something to scratch our heads over and research, but it does seem to shine a light on a very poorly known function of the gardens and the royal bees. The most exciting aspect is that the Old Royal Naval College is able and willing to incorporate this into the new visitor centre, so everyone can see a small part of the palace, for the first time in hundreds of years.”

Greenwich Palace was built by King Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426 and rebuilt by King Henry VII between about 1500 and 1506.

Substantially demolished at the end of the 17th century (and with plans to build a new Stuart palace on the site never realised), it was replaced with the Greenwich Hospital which became the Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692 and 1728.

The Painted Hall, located in the Old Royal Naval College, is currently undergoing an 18 month transformation which includes the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café. Visitors to the hall currently have the unique opportunity to get up close to the famous ceiling of the hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK”, on special tours. Visit www.ornc.org/painted-hall-ceiling-tours-tickets for more.

PICTURES: © Old Royal Naval College


This month marks 300 years since composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition (and one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world) Water Music – and it was in a rather fitting setting.

The first performance of the composition – which was deliberately created for
playing outdoors (and carrying across water) – took place at about 8pm on 17th July, 1717, aboard a City of London barge in the River Thames.

Some 50 musicians played the piece – using everything from flutes and recorders to trumpets, horns, violins and basses – with Handel himself fulfilling the role of conductor.

The barge was part of a rather grand flotilla which made its way up the river from the Palace of Whitehall to Chelsea, at the centre of which was a royal barge upon which King George I and members of the nobility, including various duchesses, rode.

Numerous other Londoners also turned out to hear the performance aboard all manner of watercraft and the king was apparently so impressed with what he heard that he requested several encores both on the trip to Chelsea and on the return journey.

The story goes that the somewhat unpopular king had apparently requested the concert on the river to upstage his son, the Prince of Wales (and future King George II), who was stealing the limelight by throwing lavish parties (the king and his son were famously at odds and it was therefore no shock when the prince didn’t attend the performance).

There’s another story, meanwhile, that suggested Handel composed the piece to regain the favour of the King which he had apparently lost when, seeking to capitalise on his growing fame, he left his employment as conductor at the court of the then Elector of Hanover (a position George held before he was king) and moved from Germany to London during the reign of Queen Anne (although some claim the future king knew he would one day follow Handel to London and actually approved of his decision to move there).

Water Music, meanwhile, has since become part of popular culture – it’s generally said that most people will recognise at least one part of it – but interestingly, no-one is said to be exactly sure how the music, which is generally broken into three separate suites, should be performed, given that the original score has been lost.

PICTURE: Edouard Hamman’s painting showing Handel (on the left) with King George I aboard a barge on 17th July, 1717. Via Wikipedia



The exchanging of gifts on Queen Elizabeth II’s official engagements both in the UK and overseas is the subject of a special exhibition at this year’s summer opening of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. Displayed throughout the rooms are more than 250 objects from more than 100 countries and territories and among the gifts on show is the Vessel of Friendship (pictured), a model of a 15th century ‘treasure ship’ sailed by Chinese navigator and diplomat Zeng He which was presented to the Queen by President Xi Jinping of China during a State Visit to Buckingham Palace in October, 2015. There’s also a colourful beaded Yoruba throne presented to the Queen by the people of Nigeria in 1956, a pair of baskets woven from coconut leaves given by Queen Salote Tupou III of Tonga during a visit by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1953, and a wooden totem pole presented to the Queen during a visit to Canada in 1971. Royal Gifts can be seen at the palace from Saturday until 1st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The lives of some of London’s most popular entertainers is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Life on the London Stage employs documents, prints and photographs to depict the lives of entertainers from the days of the Elizabethan theatre through to the 20th century. Among those whose lives are depicted are everyone from Edmund Keen and Dame Ellen Terry to Sir Henry Irving and Charlie Chaplin. Objects on show include documents recording the tragic life of William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund Shakespeare, Sir Laurence Olivier’s orders for bespoke boots and letters from Carry On actor Kenneth Williams to a young fan. Runs until 6th December. Admission is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

Three time British Open champion and perhaps the first ‘celebrity golfer’ Henry Cotton has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque, which was unveiled earlier this month, is located at the golfer’s former home at 47 Crystal Palace Road in East Dulwich. Cotton lived there with his family during his early years and developed the skills that would later lead to his success in the sport. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Head to the countryside at Kew Gardens as it hosts an ‘Insect Adventure Camp’ in its newly named ‘Natural Area’ of native woodlands this summer. The camp features bell tents, woodland houses, picnic tables and trails which will host a series of family-friendly activities including animation workshops, insect safaris and the chance to explore specimens under a microscope. Other attractions at the gardens this summer include a virtual reality climbing experience following head arborist Tony Kirkham as he scales at 150-year-old Giant Redwood, the return of the kitchen gardens, the Hive installation and the Kew Science Festival. Admission charges apply. Dates vary for different events, so head to www.kew.org for more information.

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Located in Gracechurch Street in the City of London, this church was first recorded in the late 12th century (although there had apparently been a church here for some time earlier) and was named for St Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism (St Benet is apparently a short form of that name).

The church, which stood on the intersection with Fenchurch Street and is among a number of London churches dedicated to that particular saint, is sometimes called St Benet Grass Church – that name apparently relates to a nearby haymarket (see our earlier post on Gracechurch Street).

Records apparently show that during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, Biblical texts which had been added to the interior walls during the earlier reign of her brother, the Protestant King Edward VI, were removed.

The church was repaired in the early 17th century but subsequently destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It was among 51 churches rebuilt in the aftermath to the designs of the office of Sir Christopher Wren.

It continued on until 1864 when the parish was united with All Hallows, Lombard Street, which was later among a number of churches united with St Edmund the King and Martyr in Lombard Street.

The church building – its spire had come in for some criticism – was demolished just a couple of years later in 1867-68 (its removal helped to widen Fenchurch Street) and the site apparently sold for £24,000.

The pulpit is now in St Olave, Hart Street, and the plate was split between St Benet in Mile End Road – which was built with the proceeds of the sale of the church land – and St Paul’s Shadwell. (St Benet Gracechurch was apparently only one of two of Wren’s churches never to have an organ).

There’s a plaque marking the location of the church at 60 Gracechurch Street. The narrow street St Benet’s Place also references the former church.

PICTURE: St Benet Gracechurch in the 1820s from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839)/Via Wikipedia.



For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams