A Moment in London’s History – Publication of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’…

St-Michael's-CornhillCredited as “the man who invented Christmas”, Victorian author Charles Dickens’ featured Christmas celebrations in many of his works – but none more so than in his famous story, A Christmas Carol.

Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.

The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.

Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.

The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).

Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).

The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).

What’s in a name?…Bleeding Heart Yard

Bleeding

There’s a couple of different suggestions as to how Bleeding Heart Yard – a small courtyard located in the Farringdon area of the City of London, just north of Ely Place – obtained its rather descriptive – and gory – name.

The more prosaic answer is that it was named after an inn which, from the 16th century, stood on the yard and had a sign showing the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.

The more interesting answer, on the other hand, is that the name commemorates the horrible murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton (of the famed Cecil family), second wife of Sir William Hatton (formerly known as Newport), and, after his death, wife of Sir Edward Coke.

The story goes that her corpse was found here on 27th January, 1626, with the beating heart torn from the body.

A version of the legend – albeit with a slightly different protagonist – appears in a story published in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 which told of how the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton (he was actually the uncle of Sir William Hatton), made a somewhat ill-conceived pact with the Devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. The Devil dances with her during the housewarming party at the new home and then tears out her heart, found beating in the yard the next morning.

The yard also features in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit where it is the location of the home of the Plornish family.

London Pub Signs – The Dickens Inn…

The-Dickens-InnOK, the first thing to note here is that despite the name of this pub, located in St Katharine Docks, it has nothing to do with the famous 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. Well, not directly, at least.

That said, it still has an interesting history – dating back to at least the turn of the 19th century (although there is the suggestion it may be older), it is thought to have formerly been used as a brewery building or a tea warehouse and stood on a site about 70 metres east of its current location.

A brick ‘skin’ was built over the top of the timber building in the 1820s to bring it up to modern standards. It survived the Blitz but was slated to be demolished in the 1970s when the site was to be redeveloped.

But help was at hand and in 1976 the building was saved when it was painstakingly moved to its current site. The building was reconstructed to resemble what the inn’s owners called a “three storey balconied inn of the 18th century” (although there is something doubt whether such buildings ever existed like this in the 18th century).

Ah, and to Dickens. While the writer himself is not known to have visited the building, he did know the area well and its likely he would have frequently passed by it during his lifetime (in fact, when his grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, formally opened the inn in May, 1976, he is quoted on the inn’s website as saying that: “My Great Grandfather would have loved this inn”.)

Spread over three levels with balconies on the upper two, the inn originally featured a sawdust covered floor and candlelit dining on the balconies. Both practices have since come to an end but the building does offer some great views of the dock and nowadays contains several different facilities including a tavern, pizzeria and restaurant called The Grill. There’s also a suite of function rooms.

Among the famous the establishment claims as visitors in more recent times are the late Joan Rivers and singer Katie Melua.

For more information, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.

What’s in a name?…Drury Lane…

Famous for its associations with London’s theatreland, Drury Lane takes its name from the Drury family who once owned a mansion here.

Drury-LanePreviously known as the Via de Aldwych (apparently for a stone monument the Aldwych Cross which stood at the street’s northern end), Drury Lane – which runs between High Holborn and Aldwych – was renamed after Drury House which was built at the southern end of the street.

Some accounts suggest it was Sir Robert Drury (1456-1535), an MP and lawyer, who built the property around 1500; others say it was his son, Sir William Drury, also an MP and a Privy Councillor, who did so  in around 1600 – which may mean there were two versions of the one property.

The street, meanwhile, is said to have been briefly renamed Prince’s Street during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) but, following the Restoration in 1660, the name Drury once more gained supremacy.

The origins of the street’s famous theatre (London’s oldest), the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from the same year (see our earlier post here). Other theatres in the street included the Cockpit Theatre which had been designed at one stage by Inigo Jones.

The street is also famous for being the site of the worst outbreak of the plague in London – the Great Plague of 1665, burned away the following year by the Great Fire – and by the 18th century was a slum noted for its seediness, in particular for prostitution (it features in William Hogarth’s work The Harlot’s Progress).

This didn’t change until the second half of the 19th century – author Charles Dickens had been among others who had commented on the poverty he had seen there – when gentrification took hold. Among the shops opened there during this time was the first Sainsbury’s, founded at number 173 in 1869.

Alongside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (although the main entrance is in Catherine Street), other theatres in the street today include the New London Theatre and the London Theatre.

London Pub Signs – The Pillars of Hercules…

There’s been a pub on the site of this Soho institution since before the 1700s, although the current building at 7 Greek Street is believed to date from the start of the 20th century.

Pillars-of-HerculesThe pub’s name is an ancient one – it refers to two landmarks, the Rock of Gibraltar on the north side and Mount Hacho or Jebel Musa on the south side (there is apparently some dispute over which), that mark the entrance to the Mediterranean and are together known as the Pillars of Hercules. The name apparently comes from a legend that Hercules created the Strait of Gibraltar between them when pushed the two pillars apart apart and so separated Europe from Africa.

There’s been several pubs in London which have borne this name although this particular premises does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (a street which runs under the pub’s archway is named after one of its characters, Dr Manette). There was apparently a similarly named tavern on the site of what is now Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner (that one gets a mention in Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling).

According to a sign on the pub, this Pillars of Hercules was also frequented by nineteenth century poet and cricket lower Francis Thompson, author of the poet The Hound of Heaven.

The current half-timbered pub – located just to the south of Soho Square – has apparently continued as a favoured locale for literary types. Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan are among more recent writers who have visited (along with Clive James who referred to it in the title of his collections of literary criticism, At the Pillars of Hercules).

London Pub Signs – The Gladstone Arms…

GladstoneThis Borough pub is, of course, named after the 19th century Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who not only served in the office four times but also lends his name to the ‘Gladstone bag’.

Such was the renown of Gladstone – who served as PM in stints between 1868 to 1894 (he resigned the final time at the ripe old age of 84, dying just over four years later) – that his name also adorns monuments, parks, streets and geographic features around the world as well as his fair share of pubs (including the William Gladstone in the heart of Liverpool).

Gladstone is recalled in the pub’s name but also in a large images of his face adorning the external walls.

The pub is located at 64 Lant Street (the street is famous for being where Charles Dickens lodged while his father was imprisoned in nearby Marshalsea Prison), less than a minutes walk from the Tube station.

Along with food and a pint, ‘The Glad’ these days offers live music several nights a week and boasts a long list of names – some you’ll know, some you won’t – have played there. For more on the pub, check out www.thegladpub.com.

London Pub Signs – The Spaniards Inn…

Stories abound about this historic Hampstead pub – one of London’s oldest, not the least about the origins of its name.

Spaniards-InnTheories about the name include that it was named for a Spanish ambassador attending the court of King James I who sought shelter here during an outbreak of plaque. Others suggest it was named for a Spanish landlord – Francisco Perrero – or for two brothers who once owned it (that is, until one of them died in a duel they fought over a woman).

Whatever the truth, the atmospheric pub, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has apparently been around since 1585 and the stories about its connections with the famous (and infamous) number even more than those about its origins.

Highwayman Dick Turpin is associated with the pub (some stories suggest he was born here, although this seems unlikely) and the establishment  is known to have played an important role in sparing nearby Kenwood House, then the home of Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 – apparently it was the action of the landlord, Giles Thomas, in throwing open the cellars which diverted the attention of would-be rioters from the task at hand to one perhaps more enjoyable.

The pub also features in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula while among those who frequented it were painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron as well as John Keats who, the story goes, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the rather extensive garden.

Located in Spaniards Road, this Grade II-listed pub, as well as the main building, features an old toll house on the other side of the road which contains a horse trough (it has been suggested that Turpin stabled Black Bess there but take such claims with a grain of salt!).

Well worth a visit for refreshments after a stroll on the heath. For more, see www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk.

PICTURE: Philip Halling/Wikipedia 

Books – ‘The Devil in the Marshalsea’…

The Devil in the MarshalseaAntonia Hodgson, Hodder & Staughton, 2014

The-Devil-in-the-MarshalseaA murder-mystery set among the desperate and dangerous denizens of London’s Marshalsea Prison in 1727, The Devil in Marshalsea tells the story of lad-about-town Tom Hawkins who is tossed into the notorious prison for debt.

Hawkins’ only chance of escape is to find the killer of one Captain Roberts, who died in the jail before his arrival, and it’s a task that brings him into conflict with, and under the suspicion of, many within the prison walls.

There’s plenty of historical detail and the book delivers an insightful look into what life in Marshalsea would have been like – although as Hodgson points out in an historical note at the start, this is not the Marshalsea of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit – that wasn’t opened until 1800 on a different site while this one was located between Mermaid Court and what is now Newcomen Street in Southwark.

The characters are largely based on actual people – Hodgson goes to the trouble to describe the background to each in some explanatory endnotes – and their stories criss-cross the main narrative.

There’s plenty of twists along the way and the story plunges on at a cracking pace as Hawkins has to confront his worst fears and struggles to discern who is friend and who is foe in a world where everyone appears to be driven by their most base desires.

An enlightening read and, as is the case with a good murder-mystery, hard to put down. A terrific debut.

To buy this book, follow this link The Devil in the Marshalsea.

10 sites from Shakespearean London – 7. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world – St John’s Gate and Staple Inn…

Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…

St-John's-Gate St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).

Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.

10 sites from Shakespearean London – 6. Shakespearean connections in the Elizabethan world: The George Inn and Middle Temple Hall…

Today we’re taking a look at a couple of still extant London buildings which have strong associations with playwright William Shakespeare…

George-InnThe George Inn, Southwark. Located at 75-77 Borough High Street, the George Inn is London’s last remaining galleried inn. The current building has its origins in the late 17th century after the original inn, which can be traced back to at least the mid-1500s – was destroyed in a fire in 1676. Now owned by the National Trust, it is leased out and remains open as a public house – part of the Greene King chain. While its known for its connections with 19th century writer Charles Dickens – he was a patron of this establishment and mentions it in Little Dorrit (a fact we mentioned in our series on Dickens back in 2012), the inn (or at least the previous version of it) also has Shakespearean connections with its prime Southwark location meaning it’s quite possible Shakespeare himself may have visited. Whether that’s the case or not, it is known that the premises served at time as a theatre of sorts in his day with acting troops performing in the courtyard while audience members could stand in the courtyard and watch or pay extra for a seat in the gallery. For more on the inn, see www.gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-london/the-george-inn-pub/.

Middle-Temple-HallMiddle Temple Hall. Built between 1562 and 1573 by Edmund Plowden (memorialised with monuments in both the hall and nearby Temple Church), this magnificent Tudor hall has survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and continues to serve the legal profession today. It too was used as a theatre/concert hall in Elizabethan times and later as a site for Inigo Jones’ masques but in terms of the Shakespearean connection, it is known for being where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place – on the night of Candlemas (2nd February) 1602. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed the play and it is thought that Shakespeare himself was among the players. For more on the hall, which is only rarely opened to the public, you can visit our earlier posts here and (on ‘Drake’s Cupboard) here or the official website at www.middletemple.org.uk/home/.

For more on the George Inn, check out Pete Brown’s social history Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.

 

10 fictional character addresses in London – 7. Saffron Hill…

Saffron-Hill2Once at the heart of one of London’s most infamous rookeries or slums, Saffron Hill – located between Holborn and Clerkenwell – is forever associated with Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel, Oliver Twist, and in particular with the arch criminal Fagin.

In the text, Fagin’s den is located “near Field Lane” (the southern extension of Saffron Hill beyond Greville Street) and it is here that Fagin’s young associate, Jack Dawkins (better known as the Artful Dodger), takes Oliver after first encountering him.

As Oliver is led down Saffron Hill, Dickens records his thoughts and it’s worth quoting to get a flavour of the place as he saw it: “A dirtier of more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.” (Oliver Twist, p. 55, Vintage, 2007)

Saffron-Hill3Saffron Hill, known as London’s Italian quarter in the 19th century, takes its name from the saffron which was once grown here but which was not to be seen by the time Dickens’ wrote his book. As well as Fagin’s lair, the street is also home to salubrious pub The Three Cripples, Bill Sikes’ favoured watering-hole (The Three Cripples was apparently the name of a lodging house in Saffron Hill during Dickens’ time – it was located next to a pub called The One Tun) .

It’s worth noting that this is only one of many addresses in London associated with Dickens’ characters but the ill-fated Fagin does stand out as one of his most memorable.

PICTURE: Saffron Hill as it is now.

For more on Dickens’ London, check out Alex Werner’s  Dickens’s Victorian London: The Museum of London.

Famous Londoners – The Tower Ravens…

Ravens

OK, so they’re not people as such, but the ravens at the Tower of London are renowned the world over.

Known as the “Guardians of the Tower”, there are currently as many as eight ravens living at the tower, lodged in a space on the grass next to the Wakefield Tower.

Raven-pensLegend has it that there must be at least six ravens living at the Tower – should they leave, not only will the Tower fall but the kingdom as well (although we hasten to add that it’s been argued this tradition only started in the Victorian age and that there have been times when the numbers of ravens dropped below the required six, such as at the end of World War II when only one raven remained).

It was King Charles II who first ordered the ravens be protected – an order which must have upset Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed who complained after he found that the birds were interfering with the observation work he was carrying out from the Tower’s north-east turret. He later moved out to Greenwich.

The eight ravens who now live at the tower include Rocky, Merlin, Hugine and the latest additions Jubilee – given to the Tower last year to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and Grip, named after Charles Dickens’ pet raven.

The birds are looked after by a team of four headed by the raven master, Chris Skaife, who each day feed them 170 grams (six ounces) of raw meat and special biscuits soaked in animal blood.

Not all ravens can cut the mustard to work at the Tower – one recent addition Pearl was apparently bullied by other ravens and had to be withdrawn. And while the birds have the feathers on one wing trimmed to stop them escaping to a new life on the wing, that hasn’t stopped some from doing so including Grog who took off in 1981 and was last seen outside an East End pub.

The oldest raven to ever live at the Tower was Jim Crow, who died at age of 44 in 1928.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

Lost London – Mrs Salmon’s Waxworks…

Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.

Prince-Henry's-RoomsFirst sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).

The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.

Described in a handbill published soon after its initial move to Fleet Street, the exhibitions were said to include a scene of King Charles I upon the scaffold, another of the ill-fated Queen Boudicea, and more exotic tableaux including one showing Canaannite ladies offering their children in sacrifice to the god Moloch, another of a Turkish seraglio, and another of Margaret, Countess of Heningbergh with the 365 children she is said to have given birth to (all at once!). There was also a mechanised figure of the “famous English prophetess” Old Mother Shipton, who is said to have given a boot to visitors as they left.

While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.

Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.

London Pub Signs – The Trafalgar Tavern…

This Greenwich institution, housed in a Grade II-listed building in Park Row, has been noted for its whitebait dinners since it first opened its doors in 1837 (among those said to enjoy them was the author Charles Dickens – indeed the premises features in Our Mutual Friend). 

Trafalgar-TavernThe tavern, which takes its name from the famous 1805 battle of the Napoleonic War which cost Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson his life, was built by Joseph Kay, a founding member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the man responsible for the layout of Greenwich town centre.

Built on the site of an earlier tavern named the Old George Inn, the new late Regency pub featured at its heart the Lord Nelson Room which still looks out over the Thames and the, albeit much lessened, shipping that travels upon it. It was a favoured location for gatherings of liberal politicians.

In 1915, the pub transformed into the Royal Alfred Aged Merchant Seamen’s Institute – a role which it continued to fulfil until the 1960s when it reverted to being the Trafalgar Tavern.

For more on the tavern, see www.trafalgartavern.co.uk.

Where is it?…#55

Where-is-it--#55

Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Jennifer and Parktown, this is indeed the gateway to the church of St Olave Hart Street, located on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane in the City of London. The church – which has a history going back to at least the 13th century – is named after St Olaf of Norway and, as mentioned, is indeed, burial place of the diarist Samuel Pepys. Charles Dickens referred to the church as “St Ghastly Grim” thanks to this rather macabre gateway. For more on the history of the church, see our earlier post here.

Around London – Christmas at the Tower and Kew Gardens; Old Flo on display; African Diaspora on show at MoL Docklands; and, Mariko Mori at the Royal Academy…

Victorian-Christmas The Tower of London is going Victorian this Christmas with visitors able to experience some of what the Yuletide celebrations in the foreboding, much storied buildings were like in the mid-to-late 1800s. Visitors will be shown how many of the Christmas customs we now participate in each year – like writing cards, pulling crackers and the setting up of family Christmas trees – owe their origins to the Victorian era. The Yeoman Warders will be receiving a Victorian makeover and writer of the age – Charles Dickens – will be reciting some of his works before joining in a “raucous” lunch party with some of his fellow writers, artists and benefactors. It’s even rumoured that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves may make an appearance (take that as a given). Bah! Humbug! A Very Merry Victorian Christmas runs from 27th until 31st December. The festivities will all be included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Nick Wilkinson/NewsTeam.

Kew Gardens are celebrating Christmas with a host of events including a “Twelve trees of Christmas” family trail. The trail, a map of which can be picked up as you enter, includes facts about trees along the route. Volunteer guides are also leading free tours of seasonal highlights and the Kew Christmas tree can be seen at Victoria Gate. Other festive treats at Kew include the chance to see Father Christmas in his grotto (until Sunday only) and a vintage carousel on the Kew Palace Lawn. Many of the Christmas-related events end on 6th January. See www.kew.org for more.

A display focusing on the history of Henry Moore’s sculpture, Draped Seated Woman (better known as Old Flo), has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Henry Moore and the East End provides a glimpse into 1950s East London and looks at why public art was considered important at the time. It features some of the maquettes (scale models) Moore used in creating the piece. The exhibition was opened following a decision by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to sell Old Flo (now at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park) rather than display the artwork in a public space. The move is being contested by the Museum of London Docklands who have offered to put the work on public display. An online exhibition can be seen at www.museumoflondon.org.uk/oldflo and a ‘pop-up exhibition’ on Old Flo will be launched in January. The museum is also encouraging people to tweet their views about the selling of the sculpture under the hashtag #saveoldflo.

On Now: Take Another Look. Still at the Museum of London Docklands, this exhibition focuses on the visual representation of people from the African Diaspora who were living and working in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. The display of 17 exhibits in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery features prints by artists including Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank as well as newspaper cuttings, mostly dating from 1780-1833, which show black Britons in perhaps what were unexpected roles – soldiers, musicians and sportsmen – during what was the period in which the abolition of slavery occurred. There are a series of events planned around the exhibition which runs until 4th August. Entry is free. For more see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.

On Now: Mariko Mori: Rebirth. The first major museum exhibition of the New York-based Japanese artist Mariko Mori in London since 1998 has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. The exhibition features some of the artist’s most acclaimed works from the last 11 years, many of which have never before been seen in the UK, as well as works created just for the exhibition. Highlights include Tom Na H-iu, a five metre high glass monolith lit by hundreds of LED lights and connected back to the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo; Transcircle, described as a “modern day Stonehenge”; and, Flatstone, an installation of “22 ceramic stones assembled to recreate an ancient shrine”. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Around London: Charles Dickens Museum reopens; ‘The History Man’s’ blue plaque; and, a Dandy exhibition at the Cartoon Museum…

The only surviving London house lived in by author Charles Dickens – now occupied by the Charles Dickens Museum – reopens on Monday after a £3.1 million restoration and refurbishment. The redevelopment of the Georgian, Grade I listed townhouse at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury – a project named Great Expectations – has seen the museum expand into a neighbouring property at 49 Doughty Street which now houses a visitor and learning centre and cafe. Inside the house itself, the rooms have been returned to their appearance during Victorian times and on display will be some of Dickens’ personal items which haven’t been seen before. They include a set of photographic prints from 1865 which depict a train crash in Staplehurst, Kent, in which Dickens was involved. The museum, which is where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and finished The Pickwick Papers while living here between 1837-1839, was first opened in 1925. This year marks the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth (he was born on 7th February, 1812, in Portsmouth). For more on the museum and upcoming events there (including Christmas performances of A Christmas Carol and a series of special Dickensian Christmas walks), see www.dickensmuseum.com. For more on Dickens, see our earlier special – 10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens.

Historian and broadcaster AJP Taylor, known as ‘The History Man’, has been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque placed on his former home at 13 St Mark’s Crescent in Primrose Hill.  Taylor lived at the mid-nineteenth century semi-detached villa between 1955 and 1978 during the height of his fame. First appearing on television as early as 1942, Taylor was a regular on television discussion programmes between the 1950s and 1980s, and is described as one of the first ‘media dons’. He also wrote weekly columns in the press and books including the controversial The Origins of the Second World War. Married three times, he had six children and died of Parkinson’s disease in 1990. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/?topic=Blue%20Plaques.

On Now: A Dandy 75th Birthday Exhibition. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury focuses on The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic (officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records), and follows its development from its birth with the release of the first issue on 4th December, 1937 (which, incidentally, was so popular it sold 481,895) through to this year’s issues including the final print issue released on 4th December this year (after which The Dandy goes digital). Runs until 24th December. Admission charge applies. For more see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

Around London – Dickens and the foundlings; astronomy photographs at the Royal Observatory; Royal Parks allotments; and, Asian drinking vessels at the British Museum…

• A new exhibition exploring the relationship between author Charles Dickens, the Foundling Hospital and its secretary and former foundling, John Brownlow, opened at the Foundling Museum today. Received, a Blank Child: Dickens, Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital looks at how Dickens supported the institution in various ways including helping a young mother petition for a place for her child and publicising the work of the hospital through his writing – in particular the 1853 article Received, A Blank Child (the phrase comes from the wording used on the hospital’s entry forms). Among the items on display are never before displayed letters from Dickens relating to the hospital. The exhibition, which runs until 16th December, is free with the museum admission. And if you haven’t yet had a chance to see it, there’s still time to catch Dickens and the Foundling, in which six contributors including actor Gillian Anderson and journalist Jon Snow, have chosen objects to be displayed. This ends on 28th October. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition have gone on display at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (which runs the competition in conjunction with Sky at Night Magazine). Among the winning images were The Whirlpool Galaxy taken by Martin Pugh of the UK/Australia, Star Icefall by Masahiro Miyasaka of Japan, and Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction, by Laurent Laveder of France. The exhibition is free of charge and runs until February next year. For more (including an online gallery), see www.rmg.co.uk/visit/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/2012-winners/.

It’s Harvest Festival time at London’s Royal Parks and this Sunday, between 11am and 4pm, people are invited to attend the Kensington Gardens’ allotment to see the fruits of the gardeners’ labour including the “big dig” of the potato crop as well as seasonal vegetables. There’s also the chance for families to see the allotment chickens being fed and children’s activities run by Ginger Cat. This week’s event follows one last weekend at Regent’s Park. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

• On Now: Ritual and revelry: the art of drinking in Asia. This new free exhibition in room 91 of the British Museum features a display of objects which have been used in the consumption of liquids in various Asian contexts and the manner in which their use is intertwined with ritual, religious and otherwise. Among the vessels on display is a Tibetan skull-cap known as a kapala which is made from a human skull and used in religious rituals as well as a silver tea set from western India which features handles shaped like bamboo stems and a lacquered wooden sake bottle which was used as an altar piece. Runs until 6th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Around London – London’s listed; Open House beckons; Blue Plaque for opthalmologist; and, Motya Charioteer at the British Museum…

• It includes everything from the iconic Lloyd’s Building in the City to the former Strand Union Workhouse in Fitzrovia which may have inspired scenes in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and the red phone boxes which sit outside the British Museum in Bloomsbury. English Heritage this week released it’s London List 2011 which documents the more than 100 sites in London which have been awarded listed status by the organisation last year. They include 19 Underground stations (among them that of Oxford Circus, St James’s Park and Aldwych), four war memorials (including the grand Central Park War Memorial in East Ham) and two schools as well as various cemetery monuments (including at Highgate and Brompton Cemeteries, and Bunhill Fields Burial Ground) and parks (the status of Green Park was upgraded to Grade II*), religious and commercial premises, public libraries and homes. To download a copy, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/london-list-2011/.

It’s just one week to go until the Open House London weekend when more than 750 buildings of all sorts open their doors to you. We’ll be talking more about some of the special places open this year in next week’s update – this is, after all, one of our favorite London events of the year, and while, if you haven’t already entered, you’ve missed on the balloted openings, there’s still plenty of places where you can simply turn up on the day (and entry to all is free). If you haven’t already bought one, you can buy the Guide online – just follow the links from www.openhouselondon.org.uk. It can also be picked up free at some participating London libraries.

• Dame Ida Mann, Oxford’s first female professor and a pioneering ophthalmologist, has been honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her childhood home in West Hampstead. The plaque, which was unveiled by an Australian opthalmologist who worked with Mann, Donald F. Ezekial, last week, has been placed on a house at 13 Minster Road where Mann lived from 1902-1934. Mann was born in West Hampstead and lived there for 41 years before eventually emigrating to Australia. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

• On Now: Motya Charioteer at the British Museum. Best be quick for this one, the charioteer, on loan from the Museo Giuseppe Whitaker on Motya, is only around until 19th September (that’s next Wednesday). The stunning statue, displayed near the sculptures from the Parthenon, dates from about 460-450 BC and is generally credited as one of the finest examples of Greek marble sculpture to have survived down the ages. It is believed to depict the winner of a chariot race and is likely to have been commissioned to commemorate a victory by a participant from one of Sicily’s Greek cities. It was found in Sicily in 1979. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Around London – Cecil Beaton at the IWM; a night of bicycles at the Design Museum; and, Dickens and the Foundling…

A major new exhibition featuring stunning images captured by the late renowned society and fashion photographer Cecil Beaton during World War II opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today. Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War features some of the 7,000 photographs the photographer took between 1940 and 1945 with many of them exhibited for the first time. The photographs were taken in an array of locations – from Britain and Europe to the Middle East and Africa, India, Burma, China and the US – and depict everything from “ordinary” people in civilian life through to some of the era’s most famous military leaders. The exhibition will also look at how the war affected Beaton personally including his own brushes with death including in a major air crash and suffering from the likes of dengue fever and dysentery. Admission charge applies. Runs until 1st January. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

• A celebration of all things bicycle will be held at the Design Museum tomorrow (Friday, 7th September) night. Bike V Design, which kicks off at 6.30pm, will feature talks exploring the design of bikes, a mini cinema and live performances including BMX stunts and circus trick cycling as well as a demonstration of saddle manufacturing. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own bikes or enjoy the selection of bespoke bicycles on display. The night is being held to coincide with Designed to Win, the museum’s current exhibition exploring the tension between sport and design. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.

• On Now: Dickens and the Foundling. In case you’ve missed it, this exhibition at the Foundling Museum in Bloombury explores the relationship between the writer and the Foundling Hospital through a series of objects selected for display by six people with an interest in Dickens including actress Gillian Anderson, Dickens’ descendent Mark Dickens, comedian Armando Iannucci, Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq, poet Lemn Sissay and journalist Jon Snow. Among the objects on show are a letter from Dickens to the editor of The Times in which he objects to public hangings, the writing desk at which Dickens wrote what we have of the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and a manuscript page from Oliver Twist, written when Dickens lived in a house at nearby Doughty Street. The exhibition runs until the end of October. Free with museum admission. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.