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)

 

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Costumes from a new film about Queen Anne, The Favourite, have gone on show at Kensington Palace where the Queen once lived. The film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, explores the relationships and power struggles between the Queen (played by Olivia Coleman) and two of her closest female attendants – Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Lady Churchill’s impoverished cousin turned chambermaid, Abigail (Emma Stone). The costumes have been designed by three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell who worked with Fox Searchlight Pictures and Historic Royal Palaces in creating the display in the Queen’s Gallery, once used by Queen Anne and her husband for exercise when the weather was bad. The display can be seen until 8th February. Admission charge applies. The Favourite opens in the UK and Ireland on 1st January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Michael Bowles

Previously unseen portraits of Amy Winehouse and Sir Kenneth Branagh and newly acquired portraits of explorer Sir Rannulph Fiennes, astronaut Tim Peake and British Museum director Neil MacGregor have gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The portraits, which also include photographs from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding in May this year, form part of a major new display of the gallery’s contemporary collection which features works produced from the year 2000 until today. Sitting alongside the collection is a new exhibition of works by artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby from her series The Beautyful Ones – comprised of portraits of Nigerian youth, including some members of her own family. Admission is free and The Beautyful Ones display can be seen until 3rd February. For more. see www.npg.org.uk.

A recently discovered rare self portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female artist of the Italian Baroque, has gone on show at the National Gallery. Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615-17), which was acquired by the gallery in July, 2017, can be seen in the Central Hall of the gallery after going through a five month conversation and restoration process which was documented in a series of short films shared on social media via #NGArtemisia. In March, the painting will leave the gallery on a “pop-up” tour of unexpected venues across the UK. A major exhibition of Gentileschi’s work is planned at the National Gallery in 2020. Admission to see the painting is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Thousands of people, including Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family, attended Whitehall on Sunday to take part in the National Service of Remembrance, this year marking 100 years since the end of World War I. The event included two minutes silence at 11am and wreaths were laid at the base of the Cenotaph to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in all conflicts from the World War I onwards. In an historic first, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during the ceremony. Following the service, a procession involving 10,000 members of the public who were selected by a ballot marched past the monument and through London. ALL PICTURES: Crown Copyright/Ministry of Defence.

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.

 

The “lost garden” of Sir Walter Raleigh opens at the Tower of London on Saturday, marking the 400th anniversary of the famous explorer’s death. Sir Walter, an adventurer who was a court favourite in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and enemy of King James I, was imprisoned in the tower on three occasions, at times living there with his wife and family, before he was eventually executed  on 29th October, 1618. Held in the Bloody Tower, he used the courtyard outside to grow plants from the New World and experiment with ingredients from an “elixir of life”. The gardens, which occupy the spot where the original apothecary garden once stood and are now a new permanent display at the tower, features a range of fragrant herbs, fruit and flowers. There’s also information on how they were used by Raleigh and his wife, Bess Throckmorton, to create herbal remedies and the chance for green-fingered families to concoct their own elixir. Meanwhile, the Bloody Tower has been revamped with a combination of film, sound, graphics and tactile objects to provide an insight into Raleigh’s times of imprisonment at the tower. Sir Walter and his wife Bess will also be present, entertaining crowds on Tower Green with stories of his adventures. Included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon.

The Domesday book, the earliest surviving public record in the UK, forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition looking at the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England which opens at the British Library tomorrow. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War spans the six centuries from the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest. As well as the Domesday documents – last displayed in London seven years ago and on loan from The National Archives, among the 180 treasures are the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History as well as finds from Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard. The Codex Amiatinus, a giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716, returns to England for the first time in 1,300 years. The exhibition, which runs until 19th February, is being accompanied by a series of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © The National Archives.

A series of 20 new works by London women artists go on display in public spaces across the city from today. The free exhibition, LDN WMN, is being curated by the Tate Collective as part of the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign marking the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK. It features large installations, paintings and digital graphics in bringing the hidden stories of some of London’s pioneering and campaigning women to life. They include that of reporter and activist Jackie Foster, suffragist Lolita Roy, SOE operative Noor Inayat Khan and the women who built Waterloo Bridge. The artworks, by artists including Soofiya, Manjit That and Joey Yu, will be displayed in locations from Canning Town to Alexandra Palace, Brick Lane to Kings Cross. For locations, head to www.london.gov.uk/about-us/mayor-london/behindeverygreatcity/visit-ldn-wmn-series-free-public-artworks.

Phoenixes, dragons, griffins and other fantastic beasts take over Hampton Court Palace this half-term, bringing the fantasy children’s book series and gaming brand Beast Quest to life. The interactive experience will see families pitted against strange and magical beasts in a quest which will require bravery, quick-thinking and new found skills. The Beast Quest experience is suitable for all the family and takes about one hour, 15 minutes to complete. Runs from Saturday to 28th October and is included in the usual palace admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

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A new stained glass window depicting bright country scenes was unveiled in Westminster Abbey last week in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen’s Window, located in the south transept overlooking Poet’s Corner, is the work of world-renowned artist David Hockney and was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to celebrate her reign. The work is Hockney’s first in stained glass and features a Yorkshire scene with hawthorn blossom which uses his distinct colour palette of yellow, red, blue, pink, orange and greens. “The subject reflects The Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside,” the abbey said in a statement. The window was created by York-based stained glass artists Barley Studio to Hockney’s designs. Other artists who have completed stained glass works in the abbey include Sir Ninian Comper, Hugh Easton and John Piper with the last stained glass windows, by Hughie O’Donoghue, installed in the Lady Chapel in 2013. PICTURE: Alan Williams/Westminster Abbey

Erected around the turn of the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (some put the date  of its erection at about 1897; others in about 1905), the clocktower replaced an obelisk that had previously stood in the centre of St George’s Circus in  Southwark.

The rather ornate tower was designed by architect and engineer Jan F Groll and featured four oil lamps to help light the intersection, described as the first purpose-built traffic junction in England.

It survived until the late 1930s when it was demolished after being described as a nuisance to traffic.

Meanwhile, the Robert Mylne-designed obelisk had been first erected in 1771 and marked one mile from Palace Yard, one mile 40 feet from London Bridge and one mile, 350 feet from Fleet Street (Mylne, incidentally, was the architect of the original Blackfriars Bridge).

Following its removal, it was taken to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park where it stood until 1998 when it was moved back to its position in St George’s Circus where it now stands. It was Grade II*-listed in 1950.

There’s a replica of the obelisk in Brookwood Cemetery – it marks the spot where bodies taken from the crypt of the Church of St George the Martyr, located in Borough High Street, in 1899 were reinterred to ease crowding.

PICTURE: Once the site of a clocktower, the obelisk has since been returned to St George’s Circus (Martin Addison/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

An English author who originally hailed from the west of England (possibly Wales), William Baldwin wrote and published a number of works in the mid-1500s while living in London and has been credited, thanks to his satirical work, Beware the Cat, as being the author of the first English novel.

Baldwin is believed to have studied at Oxford prior to coming to London where, from 1547, he worked with the printer Edward Whitchurch – who had apparently set up shop at Wynkyn de Worde’s former printworks at the Sign of the Sun (now at the Stationer’s Hall, just off Ludgate Hill – pictured) – as a corrector.

Whitchurch also published Baldwin’s works including the popular Treatise of Moral Philosophy (1547) and Canticles or Balades of Salomon (1549), which was dedicated to a young King Edward VI and was a translation of the Biblical book, Song of Songs.

His other works included being the editor and key contributor to the hugely popular and influential Mirror for Magistrates (1554) which was something of a cautionary tale for public officials, and the Marvelous History Entitled Beware the Cat, Concerning Diverse Wonderful and Incredible Matters (aka Beware the Cat).

The latter book, which is an attack on Catholicism, tells the story of a priest who uses alchemy to talk to cats and finds that, despite his low opinion of them, they actually live according to strict rules (reflecting on the arbitrary nature of the “rules” which govern everyday life).

While Baldwin is believed to have finished the work during the last months of the reign of King Edward VI (he died on 6th July, 1553), the subsequent accession of Queen Mary I and her tougher line on the press freedoms led Baldwin to postpone publication until 1561 by which time Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne.

Around the same time as he completed this work, Baldwin is said to have assisted the Royal Master of Revels, George Ferrers, in preparing Christmas festivities at the Royal Court – this was an occasional role he would perform beside his work with Whitchurch.

Baldwin’s last known work was The Funerals of King Edward the Sixth (1560). In 1563, he is believed to have been ordained a deacon and stepped away from the printing trade. He served in various clerical roles (there is an account of him preaching at Paul’s Cross) before dying some time prior to 1st November, 1563.

(With thanks to John N King’s 2004 article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

 

This City of London pub – a sizeable establishment to say the least, takes its name from a building that no longer exists. 

Located at 9 Gracechurch Street, The Crosse Keys is located in a former purpose-built bank – that of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Designed by W Campbell Jones, the Grade II-listed building opened in 1913 and featured the largest banking floor in the City at the time.

The bank moved out in the latter part of the 20th century and JD Wetherspoon moved in, opening it as The Crosse Keys and keeping much of the original opulent interior, including marble pillars and fireplaces and a magnificent glass dome above the stairwell.

Oh, and the name? That comes from The Crosskeys Inn, a famous coaching inn which once stood on the site and took its name from the keys of heaven, held by St Peter (the crossed keys form part of the Holy See’s coat of arms).

The origins of the inn go back to before the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the inn’s yard also served as a playhouse during the Elizabethan era – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, of which Shakespeare himself was a member, were said to be among those who performed here).

It was destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt and burnt down again in 1734. Rebuilt again, by the late 1800s, it had become a well known coaching inn, said to cater for some 40 or more coaches a day.

There’s a City of London blue plaque marking the site and inside, plenty of historical facts and figures in a series of prints on the walls.

For more, see www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/london/the-crosse-keys-city-of-london.

PICTURE: The rather grand facade of The Crosse Keys (Ewan Munro; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

This week marked 20 years since the British Library’s St Pancras building was officially opened, so we thought it timely to take a look at this London ‘treasure’.

Located on Euston Road, the building, complete with rather grand piazza, was designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long.

The largest public building to be constructed in the 20th century in the UK, it was designed specifically to house the British Library collections – which itself had only been created in 1972 when an act was passed by Parliament.

The building – which did draw some criticism over its design when it was completed but has been embraced by the public – was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 25th June, 1998.

Grade II-listed since 2015, it’s comprised of 112,000 square metres spread over 14 floors – including five below ground – and features 11 reading rooms specialising in various subject areas including one for ‘manuscripts’, another for ‘maps’ and another for ‘rare books and music’.

The centrepiece of the building is the King’s Tower which is home to the library of King George III and the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The collection housed at the library includes more than 150 million items. Highlights – many of which are housed in the Treasures Gallery – include a copy of the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook as well as a first edition of The Times (18th March, 1788), manuscripts by everyone from Jane Austen and James Joyce to Handel and the Beatles, and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book.

The library, which also hosts temporary exhibitions, is also home to a restaurant, cafe and several coffee shops as well as its own retail shop.

There are now plans to further develop the campus by expanding onto a 2.8 hectare site at its northern end with the aim, among other things, of creating more exhibition spaces, new learning facilities and a permanent home for the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. A joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), won a competitive process to undertake the development last year.

WHERE: British Library, 96 Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm (includes Treasures Gallery – exhibition times can vary); COST: Free (but admission fees may be charged for exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.bl.uk.

PICTURE: Top – Aerial view of the St Pancras building (Tony Antoniou); Below – One of the reading rooms (Paul Grundy).

This corner pub was originally located in a former royal hunting lodge in what became The Regent’s Park.

It was one of several inns which were in the park which were demolished when it was created.

But unlike others, The Queen’s Head and Artichoke was rebuilt on its current site at 30-32 Albany Street in 1811. The existing building apparently dates from around 1900.

The licence for the pub is said to date back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The story goes that the establishment received its rather odd name thanks to Daniel Clarke, head gardener and master cook to the Queen and her successor, King James I – and, later, the pub’s proprietor.

For more, see www.theartichoke.net.

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

News recently that Parliament Square has its first female statue (more about that in an upcoming post) so we thought it timely to consider London’s oldest statue of a female.

It’s actually of a queen – Elizabeth I – and can be found on the facade of the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in the City of London (also home to a rather famous clock).

Believed to have been made in 1586, the statue is said to be the work of one William Kerwin and originally adorned Ludgate.

It was moved to its current position over the church’s vestry door in 1760 when Ludgate was demolished due to road widening. Along with other statues from the gate, it had been given to Sir Francis Gosling who had it placed at the church.

The statue features a rather regal looking Queen, standing formally in royal robes with sceptre and orb.

 

Formerly known as the National Westminster Tower (NatWest Tower for short), Tower 42 – sometimes referred to as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper – was once the tallest building in the London (but now comes in at number eight).

Designed by Richard Seifert & Partners (who had proposed a couple of different options), the 47 storey building at 25 Old Broad Street was built between 1971 and 1980 as the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank.

The length of the build – which ended up costing £72 million – was due to the fact that it was paused in the mid-1970s to allow for a redesign of the ground area after the City of London Club was heritage listed (and thus its planned demolition couldn’t proceed).

Some 42 of its stories are cantilevered off a concrete core which contains elevators and service rooms. It has been repeatedly said the building was designed so that in plan view it resembles the NatWest logo – three interlocking chevrons – but Seifert apparently said this was just a coincidence.

It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 11th June, 1981, and, at 183 metres tall, was not only the tallest in London but in the entire UK until it was surpassed by One Canada Square in the Docklands in 1990. It remained the tallest building in the City of London until 2009 when Heron Tower took over that title.

Among its innovations were use of sky lobbies – located on levels 23 and 24, they are accessible by express elevators from the ground floor, and an automated external window washing system. Problematically, however, its interior layout proved somewhat inflexible which meant some of the bank’s operations remained outside of the building. Thanks to a need for large trading floors after deregulation in 1986, NatWest subsequently relocated its headquarters.

After the building was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993, the entire tower, under the supervision of GMW Architects, was reclad and the interior refurbished. It was subsequently renamed the International Finance Centre and again renamed in 1998, this time as Tower 42 (a reference to the 42 cantilevered floors).

In 2011, it was purchased by South African businessman Nathan Kirsh for a reported £282.5 million. These days it contains office space, several restaurants, health clubs and other services as well as and a champagne bar with panoramic views, Vertigo 42.

An LED light display was installed in 2012 in time to display the Olympic rings for that year’s Games.

The building was refused listed status in 2014 owing to its now greatly altered nature.

Interestingly, part of the site was once occupied by Crosby Hall, built in 1466 for City alderman Sir John Crosby and one time residence of King Richard III. The hall was relocated to Chelsea in 1910.

PICTURE: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0


An ornate turreted building in South Kensington, construction of the Imperial Institute began in 1887 – the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt and paid for almost entirely by public subscription, the huge 213 metre long building featured three “Renaissance-style” towers with copper covered domes. Foremost among them was the 87 metre high Queen’s Tower (initially known as the Collcutt Tower after the architect).

Officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1893 (although the building was apparently never completed), the building – which was built to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – was intended as an exhibition space to showcase the Empire’s industrial and commercial resources and also as a location for research and meetings.

The idea for a permanent exhibition space for colonial “produce” had apparently been enthusiastically backed by the Prince of Wales (and the Queen herself) following a series of exhibitions showcasing the wares of India and the colonies in preceding years.

But the enthusiasm for the institute, said to have cost more than £350,000, quickly waned (perhaps because of a vagueness over its purpose) and despite efforts to encourage people to use it through introducing “attractions” like a billiards room, the financial position of the institute became somewhat straitened.

Help came from the University of London which took over half of the building just six years later in 1899 and other tenants followed in attempt to keep money for maintenance flowing. Various government departments took on responsibility for the building in the following years.

With its purpose increasingly questioned by the middle of the 20th century, when Imperial College needed to expand, it was decided to demolish the building. Demolition started in 1957 and ran into the mid-1960s. Thanks to public protests led by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, the Queen’s Tower, however, was preserved and is now part of Imperial College.

The tower, which once had a public viewing gallery (now closed) contains 10 bells, known as the Alexandra Peal, which are hung about halfway up the tower. They given by a Mrs Elizabeth A Miller, of Melbourne, Australia, in 1892 as a gift and are named after Queen Victoria, the then Prince and Princess of Wales, and other children and grandchildren of the Queen. They are rung on important college occasions.

Meanwhile, the institute, renamed the Commonwealth Institute, relocated to Kensington High Street. It later went into liquidation. That site now houses the recently unveiled Design Museum.

PICTURE: Top – Imperial Institute during the Edwardian era (public domain); Below –  The Queen’s Tower is all that now remains of the institute (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Currently known as the Coca-Cola London Eye (it’s had several name and sponsorship changes over its life), this unmissable structure started operations in the year 2000.

Designed by Marks Barfield Architects and located at the south-western corner of Jubilee Gardens on South Bank, it stands 135 metres tall and, with a diameter of 120 metres, is the world’s biggest cantilevered observation wheel. It was also the tallest observation deck in London but lost that title to The Shard.

It features 32 sealed, ovoid-shaped capsules for passengers, each of which can hold up to 25 people, and rotates at the rate of about 0.6 mph, meaning a rotation takes around half an hour (a rate which allows most people to get on or off without stopping the wheel).

The Eye, which offers a birds-eye view of surrounding areas including the Houses of Parliament, was formally opened by then PM Tony Blair on 31st December, 1999, but didn’t open to the public until the following March (thanks to a clutch problem on one of the capsules).

It originally intended as a temporary structure built to mark the new millennium (after which it would be dismantled an moved to another location) but its popularity (and the resolution of a dispute over its lease in the mid-Noughties) has seen become a permanent fixture.

The capsules – there’s apparently no number 13 – were upgraded in 2009 and in 2013, one of them was named the Coronation Capsule in honour of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Eye has been lit up on numerous occasions to mark special events – among them Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011.

WHERE: Coca Cola London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road (nearest Tube stations are Waterloo, Embankment and Westminster); WHEN: 11am to 6pm daily (till 29th March); COST: See website for details; WEBSITE: www.londoneye.com.

 

Loved and loathed by Londoners over the years since its construction in the mid-Sixties, the column-like BT Tower, despite growing competition, remains a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.

The tallest building in Britain at the time of its official opening in 1965, the 189 metre tall structure (including a 12 metre tall mast) was commissioned by the General Post Office to support microwave aerials which carried communications from London to the rest of the UK.

Designed by a team led by architect GR Yeats under the direction of Eric Bedford, chief architect of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, its narrow, tubular shape was engineering to reduce wind resistance and ensure stability.

Construction of the tower started in June, 1961, and some 13,000 tonnes of steel and 4,600 square metres of specially treated glass were used in building the £2.5 million tower.

Along with the aerials capable of handling up to 150,000 simultaneous telephone calls and 40 TV channels, the tower also housed 16 floors of technical and power equipment, as well as other floors with offices and even a revolving restaurant on the 34th floor (it made one revolution every 22 minutes).

PM Harold Wilson did the honours of officially declaring the tower open on 8th October, 1965. Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit would come on 17th May, 1966, just two days before then Postmaster General Tony Benn opened the tower’s public areas – an observation gallery and a 34th floor cocktail bar and restaurant, called Top of the Tower, which was managed by Butlins. More than 50,000 visited the observation gallery in the first three weeks after its opening.

A bomb exploded in the men’s toilets on the 31st floor – the location of the viewing gallery – in October, 1971, and took two years to repair. Despite this – no-one has apparently ever claimed responsibility for the bombing, public areas continued to remain open until the restaurant closed in 1980 and access to the observation gallery ceased in 1981 (although the restaurant is still used for corporate and charity events).

Originally known as the Post Office Tower, the tower has had many other official names since it was built including the Museum Tower, the London Telecom Tower and the BT Tower while staff suggestions at the time it was being constructed included the Pointer, Spindle, Liaiser and Telebeacon. Interestingly, the tower was apparently designated an official secret when built and didn’t appear on Ordnance Survey maps until after MP Kate Hoey, following on from other members who had “given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret”, told Parliament of its address – 60 Cleveland Street – in February, 1993.

The now Grade II-listed tower, which is located just off Tottenham Court Road in Fitzrovia, remained the tallest building in London until it was overtaken by the NatWest Tower in 1980. The last of its famous satellite dishes were removed in 2011.

Its wrap-around LED light display, officially called the Information Band, went live in 2009. It has since carried special messages on occasions like Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day as well as an Olympic countdown and even the first ever tweet sent by the Queen (a message to mark the opening of the BT-sponsored ‘Information Age’ communications gallery at the Science Museum in 2014).

The tower has featured numerous times in literature and film, the latter including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

PICTURES: Top – BT Tower with Wembley in the background (Robert Speirs, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – View of BT Tower from The Monument (Dun.can, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This iconic building – home to the venerable insurance firm Lloyd’s of London – stands on the former site of East India House on the corner of Lime and Leadenhall Streets in the City of London.

Designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership (now Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners) in conjunction with structural engineers Arup, this 12 storey building – which features galleries adjoining a series of towers located around a central, glass-topped atrium – was completed in 1986 after eight years of construction. The £75 million building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The building, which was granted grade I-listed status in 2011 (making it the youngest building to receive the honour), used more than 33,000 cubic metres of concrete, 30,000 square metres of stainless steel cladding and 12,000 square metres of glass in its creation.

Among its most famous innovations is the location of services – including lifts, toilets and tubes containing wiring and plumbing – on the exterior of the building in an effort to maximise space inside (inviting comparisons with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which Rogers was involved in the design of, along with Renzo Piano, prior to working on this building).

The building incorporates – in Leadenhall Street – part of the facade of the previous Lloyd’s building which had occupied the site since 1928 (the corporation had been founded in 1688 in Tower Street by Edward Lloyd and endured several moves before coming to its current home).

The 11th floor Committee Room incorporates the Adam Great Room, an adaptation of the original dining room from Bowood House in Wiltshire which was designed by Robert Adam for the 1st Earl of Shelbourne. It was purchased from Bowood in 1956 and incorporated into Lloyd’s former Heysham building before being moved into the current building.

Also present in the building, hanging from the Rostrum on the ground floor, is the famous Lutine Bell. It was recovered from the wreck of HMS Lutine – lost at sea with all hands and cargo in 1799 and, as a result, the subject of a claim against Lloyd’s which was paid in full – in 1859 and has since graced Lloyd’s underwriting rooms. While it was formerly rung to announce when news of an overdue ship arrived – once for a loss, twice for its safe return – these days it is only used on ceremonial occasions.

The building’s futuristic and iconic look meant it’s served as a location in numerous films including 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Mamma Mia (2008) and The Ghost Writer (2010). It has also, in recent years, attracted climbers, leading Lloyd’s to seek an injunction to prevent such actions.

PICTURE: Stephen Richards/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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)

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.