The Serpentine Swimming Club, located on Hyde Park‘s Serpentine, dates its founding from 1864, the year it held the first of its famous Christmas Day Races.

The club, actually the oldest in Britain, was created in response to Londoners’ growing need for recreation – Hyde Park then being at the centre of a heavily built-up area – and came as the mass transit system – London’s Underground – was making it more accessible.

Initial facilities included a shady elm tree and a wooden seat. They’ve since improved somewhat to include changing rooms (although they’re still described as spartan).

These days members are permitted by The Royal Parks to swim in the lake between 6am and 9.30am daily.

While the Christmas Day Race – in which swimmers compete for the Peter Pan Cup (since the first cup was awarded by JM Barrie in 1904) – is the most famous race, the club also hosts numerous other races throughout the year which range in length and include a “bridge to bridge” race from one end of the Serpentine to the other (just held on 14th July).

While members use the Lido – which opened in 1930 – for swimming, it remains a separate entity to the SSC.

For more about the club, see www.serpentineswimmingclub.com.

The Lido on the Serpentine. PICTURE: Phil Russell/The Royal Parks.

Advertisements

A series of new “one-off” public benches are being unveiled across London as part of the month-long London Festival of Architecture currently underway in the city. Designed by emerging artists and designers and installed in partnership with the City of London Corporation and Cheapside Business Alliance, the benches include Patrick McEvoy’s doggy design, Here Lies Geoffrey Barkington (pictured), located in Jubilee Gardens in Houndsditch, Maria Gasparian’s Ceramic City Bench in Bow Church Yard, McCloy + Muchemwa’s sinuous A Bench for Everyone inside One New Change, and Nicholas Kirk Architects’ Money Box – formed of 45,000 stacked penny coins – outside London Bridge Station. The festival runs until the end of the month and there’s still a plethora of activities to take part in. For more, see www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org. PICTURE: © Agnese Sanvito (Via LFA)

A free summer series of concerts kicks off in The Regent’s Park Bandstand this weekend in what has been described as a “new chapter” in the bandstand’s history. To be held every Sunday afternoon between 3pm and 5pm (with an extra concert to be held at the same time on the Bank Holiday of 27th August) until 2nd September, the concerts range from classic rock to big bands and jazz. Those performing include the Brixton-based South London Symphonic Winds, Regent Community Brass and the Barnes Concert Band as well as the Heroes Band – which raises funds for Help for Heroes – and Royal Academy of Music-associated acts, the Jonny Ford Jazz Quintet and Metropolitan Brass. The concerts have been organised by the Friends of Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill, working with The Royal Parks charity, the Royal Academy of Music and the Crown Estate Paving Commission, and it’s hoped they’ll become an annual fixture in the park. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park.

Romania’s role in World War I is the subject of a free, temporary display at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Romania and the Great War charts the “years of neutrality (1914-1916), the fierce battles of 1916 on the Entente side, the painful retreat to Moldavia, the striking victories of 1917 and the momentous victory of 1918, which offered a strategic foundation to the political unification of all Romanian provinces and the creation of a modern, democratic state”. Objects on show include photographs, maps, uniforms and original First World War medals. Runs until 15th July. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

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

The work of internationally renowned artist Christo, The London Mastaba floats serenely on Hyde Park’s Serpentine, despite the reported ruffled feathers of some swimmers upset over its installation in their pool.

The floating sculpture, which takes up about one per cent of the lake’s surface, is Christo’s first public sculpture created for show in the UK.

Made up of 7,506 multi-coloured and stacked barrels reaching 20 metres high, the sculpture sits on a floating platform of high-density polyethylene cubes which has been anchored into place.

The artwork’s installation coincides with an exhibition of the work of Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s at the nearby Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018 features sculptures, drawings, collages and photographs spanning more than 60 years and, according to Christo will provide “important context” for The London Mastaba.

The exhibition can be seen at the gallery until 9th September. Meanwhile, the sculpture will be floating on the Serpentine, weather permitting, until 23rd September.

And finally, the Serpentine Gallery’s annual temporary pavilion – this year the work of Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, of Taller de Arquitectura – can be seen until 7th October at the Kensington Gardens’ gallery. For more information on all three projects, see www.serpentinegalleries.org.

PICTURES: Top – The London Mastaba (pinn/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND-2.0); Right – Christo, The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), Collage 2018: 43.1 x 55.9, Pencil, wax crayon, enamel paint, colour photograph by Wolfgang Volz, map, technical data, mylar and tape, Photo: André Grossmann © Christo 2018; Below – Serpentine Pavilion 2018, designed by Frida Escobedo, Serpentine Gallery, London © Frida Escobedo, Taller de Arquitectura, Photography © 2018 Iwan Baan

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)

A ‘pop-up’ World War I mail sorting office will appear in The Regent’s Park this Saturday as part of centenary commemorations of the Great War. The office evokes the giant wooden building known as the ‘Home Depot’ which was located in the park and which handled all the mail from and to the front line during the war – some two billion letters and 140 million parcels. Believed to have been the largest wooden building in the world, it covered at its greatest extent more than five acres. The sorting office provides visitors with an immersive experience as it brings to life the story of the 2,500 people who worked there and visitors can even work a shift as part of an interactive session led by The Postal Museum. There’s a chance to write a postcard to a soldier or postal worker to give them your thoughts on the war and outdoors, there’s a display on the role the Post Office played in keeping the war running. The sorting office can be visited for free this Saturday, 12th May, and Saturday, 19th May. For more, follow this link.

Two new acquisitions – the first ever painting by Spaniard Juan de Zurbarán to enter a UK collection and a teenage work by portraitist John Singer Sargent – have gone on show at the The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. The rather long titled Still Life with Lemons, Lilies, Carnations, Roses and a Lemon Blossom in a Wicker Basket, together with a Goldfinch perched on a Porcelain Bowl of Water, on top of a Silver Tray, all arranged upon a Stone Ledge was painted by Baroque artist de Zurbarán in about 1643–49 while Wineglasses was painted by Sargent at the age of 19, probably at St-Enogat in Brittany where he spent the summer of 1875 having just seen his first Impressionist exhibition in Paris. Still Life with Lemons in a Wicker Basket can be seen in Room 30 while Wineglasses is in Room 44. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Wineglasses, John Singer Sargent, RA (1856–1925) Probably 1875  © The National Gallery, London.

On Now – 50 Glorious Shows! The Cartoon Museum is this year celebrating 12 years at 35 Little Russell Street in Bloomsbury and to mark the occasion, this display features more than 170 original works which have been highlights in previous exhibitions. Among those whose work is represented are masters of the British tradition of cartooning like Hogarth, Gillray, Tennial and EH Shepard as well as that of top comic artists and graphic novelists like Dudley D Watkins, Posy Simmonds and Bryan Talbot. There’s also a selection of political satire and caricature. The show runs until 2nd September. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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

Only the remains of this once mighty tree can now be seen in Greenwich Park. Thought to have been planted in the 12th century, the tree died in the late 1800s but, thanks to the support of the ivy that clung to it, remained standing until it finally collapsed in June, 1991. 

The tree, located to the east of the Royal Observatory, has several links to the Tudors – tradition says King Henry VIII danced around it with Anne Boleyn while their daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, is said to have picnicked beneath its leafy canopy. The proximity of Greenwich Palace may explain the connection.

There was apparently in Victorian times, a large seat placed around the tree and there has been a suggestion that the hollow truck was big enough to make a small prison where people who misbehaved in the park were locked up.

Planted alongside is another English Oak – it was officially dug into the soil on 3rd December, 1992, by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark 40 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

WHERE: Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park (nearest DLR is Cutty Sark Station and Greenwich Station); WHEN: 6am to 7pm (6pm from end of British Summer Time) daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park

PICTURE: Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent/www.clemrutter.net/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

It’s perhaps the most famous of the visits that Jane Austen made during her London stays and while the property no longer exists, we thought it was worth mentioning. 

But first, let’s explain. The Prince Regent (later King George IV) was an admirer of Jane’s novels, so much so that when he was aware of the author’s presence in London, he issued – via his librarian and chaplain Rev James Stanier Clarke – an invitation for her to visit the library and tour his palatial London property, Carlton House.

The grand, lavishly decorated property, created from an existing property between 1783 and 1812 by the architect Henry Holland, was among the grandest in London at the time. Facing on to the south side of Pall Mall, the building sat across what is now Waterloo Place while its gardens abutted St James’s Park.

Jane visited on 13th November, 1815, and in the company of Rev Clarke toured the library. During her visit, it was suggested she could dedicate her next novel to the Prince Regent, an idea which didn’t sit that well with Jane who was a supporter of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline.

After her initial equivocation, her publisher John Murray apparently managed to prevail upon Jane to do so and she eventually capitulated, dedicating her novel Emma to him (a special copy of the novel was sent to the Prince at Carlton House).

Carlton House, meanwhile, didn’t last for much longer. King George IV, on his accession to the throne, decided to create a property more fitting for a king and ordered works to be carried out on Buckingham House so it could be his main London residence (as Buckingham Palace).

Carlton House, despite the exorbitant sums the Prince had spent transforming it, was demolished in 1825 and the John Nash-designed Carlton House Terrace built upon the site. Columns from the Carlton House were reused in creating the portico of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.

PICTURE: Carlton House (via Wikipedia).

The Queen Victoria Memorial, looking from Buckingham Palace across to St James’s Park. PICTURE: Robin Bilney/Royal Parks


There are several 19th century bandstands in London but we believe the oldest still standing is in Hyde Park.

This octagonal, Grade II-listed, bandstand was originally located in the adjoining Kensington Gardens (near Mount Gate),  having been built in 1869, only eight years after the first ever bandstand in London had been installed in the nearby Royal Horticultural Gardens in Kensington.

It was moved to Hyde Park in 1886 – it can now be found on the north side of Serpentine Road, just to the north-west of Hyde Park Corner – and concerts were apparently held here three times a week in the 1890s. (Another bandstand was erected in Kensington Gardens in the 1930s).

Featuring cast iron decorative columns and a tent roof, the Hyde Park bandstand appeared in the 1935 film, Top Hat, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (although the building in the film was actually a replica located on a Hollywood soundstage). Others who have ‘played’ the bandstand include the famous trumpeter Harry Mortimer.

The bandstand, which is now one of the oldest in Britain, is still used for concerts on occasion as well as being part of the annual Winter Wonderland event. Check The Royal Parks website for details of when events are scheduled here.

PICTURE: Claire Ward/Geograph/CC BY-SA 2.0

The later years of the life of Japan’s greatest artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), is the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum. Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave features his iconic print, The Great Wave (c1831), along with works he created during the last 30 years of his life until his death at the age of 90. Around 110 works – major paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books depicting everything from iconic land and seascapes, to deities, mythological creatures, flora and fauna, and beautiful women – will be on display with about half the artworks changed over midway through the exhibition due to conservation reasons. Alongside The Great Wave, other key works, which come from the British Museum’s own collection as well as loans from Japan, Europe and the US, include Hokusai’s print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji (published around 1831-33), a depiction of Red Shoki (the demon queller) – borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and his brush drawing manual Hokusai manga. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 13th August in Room 35. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: British Museum

The fashions of Cristóbal Balenciaga are on show at the V&A in the first ever UK exhibition to explore his work and influence. Marking the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous Paris house, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion focuses on the latter part of his career in the 1950s and 1960s, a period during which he dressed some iconic figures and introduced revolutionary shapes such as the ‘baby doll’, the tunic and the sack. More than 100 garments and 20 hats are featured with highlights including ensembles made for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, dresses and hats belonging to Sixties fashion icon Gloria Guinness and pieces worn by one of the world’s wealthiest women, Mona von Bismarck. Opens on Saturday and runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/balenciaga.

British female cartoonists and comic artists are celebrated in an exhibition on now at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Inking Woman features the work of more than 80 artists as it traces the evolution of British women in their role as satirists, humorists and story-tellers. Among them are Mary Darly, 18th century print seller, artist and the author of the first book on the art of caricature, Principles of Caricatura (1762), Marie Duval, an early artist for the 19th century magazine Judy, Sally Arts, Grizela and Kathryn Lamb – cartoonists for mainstream publications like Punch and Private Eye, political and joke cartoonists, strip cartoonists and caricaturists and comic artists and graphic novelists. Runs until 23rd July. Admission charge applies. See www.cartoonmuseum.org.

• An eight foot high snail will be touring The Royal Parks from the end of the month as part of The Royal Park’s Mission: Invertebrate. Funded with £600,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery, the project aims to inspire people with the “amazing story of nature’s unsung workforce” and help park managers gain better insight into the 4,100 invertebrates species which live in The Royal Parks’ 5,000 acres. The snail, which will be visiting the parks during the half-term break and summer holidays, will bring with it interactive story-telling and a range of free, creative activities. For a full itinerary of the snail’s wanderings, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/be-involved/mission-invertebrate/family-programme.

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

Tradition holds that the spot where this officially protected view originates from – the prehistoric barrow known as King Henry’s Mound – was where King Henry VIII stood on 19th May, 1536, to watch for a rocket fired from the Tower of London.

The signal was to indicate that his former wife, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded for treason and hence that he was now free to marry Jane Seymour.

Sadly, the story is seen as unlikely – the king was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

But it adds a nice nostalgia to this tree-framed view which looks across Richmond Park and areas south of the River Thames to the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The mound, which also offers views west over the Thames Valley towards Windsor, is believed to cover a burial chamber from the Bronze Age (it would have stood more prominently over the Thames Valley in those days) and was later used as a viewing position for hunting deer and falconry.

A permanent public telescope has been set up on the mound which since the 19th century has sat in Pembroke Lodge Garden (named for the Countess of Pembroke who lived in a cottage here between about 1788 and 1831).

The historic view made headlines last year over calls for London’s Mayor to step in and halt building work amid concerns that the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens tower in Stratford, east London, could be seen in the view behind the cathedral dome.

WHERE: King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park (nearest Tube station is Richmond); WHEN: 24 hour pedestrian access except during the deer cull in November and February; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park

PICTURE: Royal Parks

Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline. 

Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.

It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.

The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.

Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).

The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.

The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.

WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

PICTURE: Mike Rolls/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (taken in 2012).

winter-wonderland

Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.

autumn-colours

Autumnal colour on display in Bushy Park, south-west London. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.

PICTURE: David Adams

the_jesse_cope_detail_ca-_1310-25_c_victoria_and_albert_museum_londonObjects associated with some of the most notable personages of the Middle Ages – from King Edward I and his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile through to Edward, the Black Prince, and martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket – will go on show at the V&A in South Kensington as part of a display of medieval embroidery. Opening Saturday, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery features embroidered treasures such as a seal-bag which, dating from the early 12th century, was made to hold the foundation document of Westminster Abbey, the Toledo Cope which has been brought back to England from Spain for the first time since its creation in the 14th century and an embroidered vestment associated with Thomas Becket. There’s also the Hólar Vestments from Iceland, the Jesse Cope from the V&A’s own collections (pictured), the Daroca Cope from Madrid and an embroidered tunic worn by Edward, the Black Prince. As well as embroidery, the display features panel paintings, manuscripts, metalwork and sculpture. Runs until 5th February along with a season of events. Admission charges apply. See www.vam.ac.uk/opus for more. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Two works by Spanish painter Fray Juan Bautista Maino have gone on exhibition for the first time in the UK at The National Gallery, off Trafalgar Square. The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Kings, dating from 1612-14, have been loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and can be seen for free in a display being held in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Beyond Caravaggio. Each of the paintings measures more than three metres in height and were originally part of a retable (altarpiece) created for the altar of the Dominican church of San Pedro Martir in Toledo. The work took three years to complete and it was while he was doing so that Maino took religious vows and joined the Dominican Order (there’s also a chance he included a self portrait in the work in the form of a pilgrim on the altar’s far left). Can be seen until 29th January. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

A former disused toilet block has been converted into a new cafe overlooking the 150-year-old Italian Gardens in the Kensington Gardens. Formally opened by Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Royal Parks charity, earlier this month, the cafe has a “living roof” aimed at supporting the biodiversity and wildlife of the gardens and has been designed in sympathy with the gardens and the nearby Grade 2* listed Queen Anne’s Alcove, currently being restored. The Italian Gardens were a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. For more on the cafe, including opening times, head here.

Alderman Andrew Parmley has been elected as the 689th Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with tradition, he will take up the office after the ‘Silent Ceremony’ in Guildhall on 11th November followed by the annual Lord Mayor’s Show parade through the City the following day.

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

Cricket-game

A quintessentially English summer pastime in London’s inner north.

PICTURE: David Adams

Greenwich-Park-in-summerThe remains of the 17th century Old Keeper’s Cottage in Greenwich Park are being brought to light in an archaeological dig underway in the park this week. The lodge stood close to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak near the centre of the park and was demolished in 1853. This year’s dig is the final of a three year project to unearth the lodge’s remains, sparked after tiles were discovered near the site of the cottage in 2010. Finds so far include a second century Roman brooch, post-medieval pottery and a Victorian watch-winder. The digs have also revealed remains associated with the lodge including two buildings and part of the boundary of the complex. Toni Assirati, head of education and community engagement at Royal Parks, says while much is already known about the history of Greenwich Park – which dates back to 1427 – much remains to be yet discovered about its social history. “This project will hopefully help us find out more about the lives of the people who worked and lived in the park.” Members of the public are invited to attend from 3pm to 6pm on 13th July to hear more about the project from the archaeologists involved as well as see some of the unearthed artefacts. For more about Greenwich Park, see our earlier post here or head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park. PICTURE: Greenwich Park, looking toward Observatory Hill (the site of the dig is to the left of the hill). © Anne Marie Briscombe/Royal Parks.

Sir Joseph Paxton was one of the pre-eminent landscape gardeners and architects of the Victorian age, although his name is remembered today in great part because of his role in creating one of the most famous buildings of the era – London’s Crystal Palace.

Joseph Paxton ILNThe palace opened 165 years ago this year – it was built for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. But before we get to that, we have to go back a few years to the origins of its designer.

Paxton was born to a large Bedfordshire farming family on 3rd August, 1803 (although the year has been a matter of dispute at times, apparently because, wanting to appear older than he was, early on in his career he claimed that he had been born in 1801).

He attended school locally before venturing into the gardening profession (a number of other family members were already involved in gardening), taking on a number of gardening-related jobs before his first break came in 1823 when he was admitted by the Horticultural Society of London to work as a student gardener in the experimental gardens of Chiswick House in London’s west – then leased by the society from the Duke of Devonshire.

His work was soon noticed and, in 1826, the duke, with whom Paxton would come to have a close friendship, was apparently so enamoured that he appointed him to the position of head gardener at Chatsworth House, his family pile in Derbyshire.

It was something of a dream job for the then still young Paxton, who, over the ensuing years would be responsible for designing gardens as well as fountains (including the Emperor Fountain, named after Emperor Nicholas I of Russia), an arboretum, a model village, a conservatory of unprecedented size – known as the Great Conservatory, and a lily house, the latter featuring a design based on the leaves of the giant Victoria amazonica water lily.

Paxton’s ties to Chatsworth were strengthened further when he married the niece of Chatsworth’s housekeeper, Sarah Bown, in 1827. They would have eight children, six of whom survived.

Chatsworth became the most famous garden in England under Paxton’s watch but for many, it is his instrumental role in the Great Exhibition pavilion which stands out as his greatest achievement.

His involvement was really that of an opportunist – all of the original 245 plans for the main exhibition hall had been rejected when Paxton, on hearing of this while in London on business with regard for his role as a director of the Midland Railway, delivered his own design.

Inspired very much by the lily house he had designed (and which had yet to be completed) at Chatsworth, the design was innovative for a number of reasons, including its modular and prefabricated nature and the copious amounts of glass it used (only possible due to recent technological developments concerning the use of iron and glass).

Following its acceptance (this despite the fact it apparently breached the design competition’s rules), it took some 2,000 men eight months to build the 500 metre long building which, despite some criticism, was such a success at the Great Exhibition that in October of 1851 – some five months after its opening – Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria. (For more on the Crystal Palace, see our earlier entry here).

Following the Great Exhibition, the building, with Paxton’s aid, was relocated to Sydenham in south London after the exhibition where it remained until it burned down in 1936.

Paxton, meanwhile, returned to his post as head gardener at Chatsworth (a role he fulfilled until 1858), but he is also credited with numerous other projects including the design of public parks in places as far afield as Liverpool and Glasgow, and the design of the London Road Cemetery in Coventry.

He was also involved in the commission charged with improving the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and designed numerous residences, the most famous being Mentmore Towers which he designed for Baron Mayer de Rothschild (among his other contributions to the world of design was a plan for an ‘atmospheric railway in London’ which was never built – for more on that, see our previous post here).

Paxton, who also acted as a Liberal MP for Coventry for the last 11 years of his life and was for many years involving in publishing various gardening-related magazines, general newspapers and writing a couple of books, became wealthy by speculating on the growing railway industry.

He died on 8th June, 1865, at his home, Rockhills, in Sydenham and was buried in St Peter’s Churchyard at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate. His wife Sarah continued to live at Chatsworth until her death in 1871.

PICTURE: Via Wikimedia Commons.

Elfin-OakDelightfully carved out of a hollow oak tree, the Elfin Oak takes its name from the many colourful figures that adorn it.

The sculpture, which sits beside the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is the work of children’s book illustrator Ivor Innes.

He spent two years – 1928 to 1930 – carving “Little People” upon an ancient oak tree trunk that had been found in Richmond Park and relocated to Kensington Gardens (and in 1930, with his wife Elsie, published the children’s book, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens).

The characters depicted include animals and fanciful creatures such as a gnome called Huckleberry, a series of elves including Grumples and Groodles and a witch named Wookey.

The hollow, incidentally, had been presented to The Royal Parks by Lady Fortescue in response to an appeal run to improve facilities in line with a scheme by George Lansbury (among other things, he also founded the Serpentine Lido).

Now a Grade II listed structure (and well protected by wire mesh), it has a few pop culture associations – among them, the fact that it appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1969 album, Ummagumma (the head of the band’s lead singer and guitarist David Gilmour can be seen projecting from the trunk).

Meanwhile, in 1996, Spike Milligan – long a fan of the oak – was the face of a successful campaign to raise funds for its restoration.

Announcing the Grade II listing in 1997, then Heritage Minister Tony Banks noted that the oak sat alongside the late Victorian fascination with Little People and complemented Sir George Frampton’s statue of Peter Pan (also located within the gardens).

“Together the two sculptures make Kensington Gardens very much the world capital of fairies, gnomes and elves,” he reportedly said.

PICTURE: Lonpicman/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0/

The-Mall

A view down Constitution Hill looking toward Whitehall, taken from the top of Wellington Arch at Hyde Park corner. To the left is Green Park and to the right, the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Constitutional Hill apparently has nothing to do with a document of any sort but takes its name from the fact that, considered to be a fine “constitutional” walk from St James’s Park to Hyde Park (King Charles II is rumoured to have been among those said to have taken their “constitutional” along this route while Queen Victoria survived a couple of assassination attempts on the road). The pillars at the near end are symbolic gates commemorating those who served Britain in World War I and II from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean (more on them in an upcoming post).