Taken at Bank Underground station. PICTURE: Étienne Godiard/Unsplash
• As controversy continues to swirl around the statue dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, another statue was unveiled in London this week – this time depicting two women pirates which some accounts say were lovers. The statue of Mary Read and Anne Bonny was unveiled at Execution Dock on the north bank of the Thames at Wapping – a site where pirates and smugglers were put to death for more than 400 years. Commissioned by audiobook company Audible to mark the release of a podcast, Hell Cats, a dramatic interpretation of the two women’s lives, the statue of Read and Bonny is the work of artist Amanda Cotton. Early next year it will be relocated to Burgh Island off the south Devon coast.
• The National Trust has released a series of six free downloadable backdrops – featuring some of the star interiors from its properties – for use in virtual meetings. The backdrops on offer include Vita Sackville-West’s writing room in the tower at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, Agatha Christie’s library at Greenway, and the ‘Office of the Caretaker of the Electric Light’ at Cragside (pictured above). Different backgrounds will come online in coming weeks. Head to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/virtual-backgrounds-for-zoom.
• The London Transport Museum has unveiled three new virtual tours taking in the Holborn (Kingsway) area, Brompton Road station and King William Street station. The tours, part of the museum’s Hidden London programme, provide access to areas not usually open to the public as well as to historic archival material and footage from the museum’s collection and are led by expert guides on Zoom. Admission charges apply. For more, including dates, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london/virtual-tours.
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St Luke’s briefly stood on Euston Road before, thanks to the growing demands of the railways, it was demolished and subsequently rebuilt, brick-by-brick in Wanstead.
Designed by John Johnson (one of the architects of St Paul’s Church, Camden Square), this church was erected on the corner of Euston and Midland Roads between 1856 and 1861. It replaced a temporary iron church which had been erected on the site in the early 1850s.
But the construction in the mid-1860s of St Pancras railway station by the Midland Railway – and the compulsory acquisition of the land – meant the church had to be removed.
While the congregation, compensated with some £12,500 by the railway company, relocated to Kentish Town, the church building itself was sold to another congregation for £500.
Demolished, it was subsequently transported to Wanstead where it was it was rebuilt in 1866-67, with some alterations by Johnson who oversaw the process.
Now the Wanstead United Reformed Church (it changed denominations), it was designated a Grade II-listed building in 2009, partly due to it being one of few examples of a church which has been moved and substantially reconstructed to its original form by the original architect.
Now situated on the seafront of the town of Swanage in Dorset, the Wellington Clock Tower was originally located at the southern end of London Bridge.
The tower was erected in 1854 as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, who had died two years earlier.
Its construction was funded through public subscription and contributions of railway companies with the support of the Commissioners for Lighting the West Division of Southwark. It was designed in the Perpendicular Gothic style by Arthur Ashpitel and, after the foundation stone was laid on 17th June, 1854, took six months to build.
The three level structure, which was topped with a tall spire, housed a clock with four faces. The clock was made by Bennett of Blackheath for the 1851 Great Exhibition but the constant rumbling of the carts passing its new location apparently meant the mechanism never kept good time.
There was also small telegraph office in the ground floor room of the tower. A statue of Wellington was intended to be placed within the open top level but funds apparently ran out before it could be commissioned and it never appeared (Wellington’s declining popularity at the time may have also been a factor).
The location of this rather splendid structure meant, however, that it was soon overshadowed by construction of nearby raised railway lines. When the Metropolitan Police condemned the tower as an obstruction to traffic, it was the final straw and having spent little more than a decade in position, the decision was made to demolish the tower.
It was taken down in 1867 but rather than simply being scrapped, Swanage-based contractor George Burt had the building shipped in pieces – they apparently served as ballast during the journey – to his hometown in Dorset where he presented it as a gift to fellow contractor Thomas Docwra. Docwra had the tower reconstructed in a seafront location on the grounds of his property, The Grove, at Peveril Point.
The rebuilt tower lacked the original clock – its faces were replaced with round windows – and in 1904 the spire was also removed and replaced with a small cupola (there’s been various reasons suggested for this, including that the spire was damaged in a storm or because it was felt to be sacrilegious by the religious family which then owned the property).
The tower, which was granted a Grade II heritage listing in 1952, can still be seen on the Swanage waterfront today.
A sculpture created for the 1951 Festival of Britain has returned to Waterloo Station where it was first displayed almost 70 years ago. The work of Hungarian-born artist Peter Laszlo Peri, The Sunbathers features two figures – made from ‘Pericrete’, a special kind of concrete created by the artist as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze – and was mounted on the wall close to the station’s entrance. It was presumed lost until it was rediscovered in 2016 at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath and, following restoration, was put on show in 2017 in the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. Now, thanks to the efforts of Historic England and Network Rail, the sculptures have returned to the station, close to its original site, and will stay there for five years. PICTURES: Courtesy of Network Rail
More than 60 of these shelters were built at major cab stands around London between 1875 and 1914 in order to allow cabmen to seek refreshment without leaving their vehicle.
The narrow, rectangular, green huts were constructed by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund – which was established in 1875 by a philanthropically-minded group including the newspaper publisher Sir George Armstrong and the Earl of Shaftesbury (the group also had the support of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII).
The story goes that it was Sir George who pushed the idea forward after a servant he sent to find a cab in some inclement weather took a long time in returning thanks to the fact the cabbies were all off seeking a hot meal in nearby pubs.
The shelters, which police specified were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart given their position on a public highway, were initially very simple in design but become more ornamental as time went on (architect Maximilian Clarke, who designed a shelter for Northumberland Avenue which was built in 1882, was a key proponent of this more ornate style).
Most were staffed by attendants who sold food and drink to the cabbies (there were also kitchen facilities for them to cook their own as well as tables to sit at and a variety of reading materials). Drinking and gambling, as well as swearing, were apparently strictly forbidden.
The first of these shelters, which reportedly cost around £200 each, was erected in Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, but that shelter is long gone. Just 13 of the huts now survive and all are Grade II-listed. They have various nicknames assigned to them by London’s cabbies – one on Kensington Road, for example, is apparently known as ‘The All Nations’ thanks to its proximity to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, while another at Temple Place is simply known as ‘The Temple’.
As to which is the oldest?
Well, that’s proved a bit of a vexed question. According to listings on the Historic England website, the oldest we could find dated from 1897. They included one located in Hanover Square, another in Russell Square (this having been relocated from its previous position in Leicester Square), and a third in Thurloe Place in South Kensington, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum.
But there were three for which we could find no details of the date on which they were built. They include one on the Chelsea Embankment near the Albert Bridge, another in St George’s Square in Pimlico, and the final one in Wellington Place in St John’s Wood near Lord’s cricket ground.
Update: According to our cabbie correspondent – see comments below – the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund have said the oldest shelter is that in Kensington Park Road, which they dated to 1877. Historic England have this one listed as dating 1909 – perhaps a rebuild?
Correction: The shelter known as ‘The All Nations’ is in Kensington Road, not Kensington Park Road as originally reported.
PICTURES: Top – The Russell Square shelter (David Nicholls, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Below – the Cabmen’s Shelter in Thurloe Place opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington (Amanda Slater, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
• Britain’s Baroque culture – spanning the period from the Restoration of King Charles II to the death of Queen Anne in 1714 – is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. British Baroque: Power and Illusion – the first major exhibition on the subject – shows how magnificence was used to express status and influence and features works by painters including Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir James Thornhill as well as designs, prints and wooden models of the works of architects like Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh. The importance of portraiture, the visual differences in Protestant and Catholic worship and the illusions contained in painted baroque interiors are all explored in the display along with how the subject of war was dealt with through heroic equestrian portraiture, panoramic battle scenes and accompanying propaganda. The exhibition, which is being accompanied by a programme of events, runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Godfrey Kneller, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c1706, National Portrait Gallery, London.
• The 25th Kew Orchid Festival kicks off at Kew Gardens on Saturday in a celebration of the wildlife and culture of Indonesia. Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the festival will take visitors on an immersive journey evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Indonesia though a series of orchid displays which include a life-sized animals such as orang-utans, a tiger and a rhinoceros, an archway made of hundreds of carnivorous pitcher plants and an erupting volcano. A programme of evening events featuring gamelan music and traditional dancers as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned author and chef Petty Elliott is also planned – these must be booked online in advance. Admission charge applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.kew.org.
• On Now: Hidden London: The Exhibition. This display at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden takes visitors on an immersive journey to some of the secret places in the Tube network. Featuring rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations, it uncovers stories such as how Churchill took shelter in the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters deep underground at Down Street station at the height of the Blitz during World War II and how almost 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, worked in the Plessey aircraft underground factory located in two 2.5 mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line. The exhibition is being accompanied by a series of events including late openings and tours. Runs until next January. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hidden-london#.
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• Pippi Longstocking, Matilda and the Zog are among a pantheon of beloved children’s literary characters at the heart of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels features about 40 books, manuscripts and original artworks spanning a period of 300 years and puts a spotlight on the “rebels, outsiders and spirited survivors” within the library’s collection of children’s literature. Highlights include a UK first edition of Anne of Green Gables, the first version of Cruikshank’s coloured illustrations of Oliver Twist as well as original artworks for books including Tracy Beaker, What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean?, Zog (pictured above), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Azzi in Between. The free exhibition, which can be seen until 1st March, is accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © Zog by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler 2010 (Alison Green Books).
• A new immersive exploration of the work of Leonardo da Vinci, centred on The Virgin of the Rocks, opens at the National Gallery on Saturday. Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece encompasses a range of multi-sensory experiences presented across four rooms, allowing visitors to step into the painting’s setting, explore Leonardo’s own research and how he employed science in his effects of light and shadow in the painting and even visit a modern conservation studio and see how recent search revealed the previously hidden drawings behind the masterpiece. The experience, which is the work of 59 Productions, can be enjoyed until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Virgin of the Rocks (about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8) – tracing of the lines relating to underdrawing for the first composition, incorporating information from all technical images. © The National Gallery, London
• The Jubilee Line has turned 40 and to mark the occasion, the Jubilee Line in conjunction with London Transport Museum’s Hidden London programme are offering the chance to travel on the original route of the train. The trip includes a section of the track now not open to the public. The 96 stock train leaves from Stanmore station at 9am Sunday, terminating at Charing Cross, or from Charing Cross at 1pm, terminating at Stanmore. When Exploring London looked this week, only tickets for the 9am trip were still available. To buy tickets (which must be purchased in advance), head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/heritage-vehicles-outings.
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Queen Victoria was a monarch known for breaking records and, thanks to her rule being in an age when technology was advancing at an incredible pace, performing royal-related “firsts”.
Among the latter is the fact that the Queen was the first British monarch to travel by train – a feat she performed with Prince Albert by her side on 13th June, 1842. It was he, who having first travelled on a train in 1839, had encouraged the rather nervous 23-year-old to make the journey (which she apparently agreed to undertake only two days before she actually did).
Travelling in a specially adapted “royal saloon” decorated with flowers, the royal couple travelled on the Great Western Railway, leaving Slough, which they had travelled to from Windsor Castle, at noon and arriving at London’s Paddington Station some 25 minutes later. Queen Victoria later wrote that there was no dust or great heat during the journey which, in fact, was “delightful and so quick”.
The train – which was pulled by the Firefly-class steam engine Phlegethon – was driven by Sir Daniel Gooch who was assisted by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the railway. The Queen’s carriage was sandwiched in between six other carriages and trucks to act as a buffer in case of an accident.
On arriving at Paddington (at a temporary building which had been opened in 1838 and which would be replaced in 1854), the Queen was greeted by railway officials and their families along with a detachment of hussars on a platform covered with a red carpet. Crowds quickly grew and the royal couple were then escorted to Buckingham Palace.
The Queen would go on to regularly use railways as she travelled about Britain and even had a special signal installed on the roof of the royal carriage so the driver could be instructed to slow down as required.
Interestingly, the current Queen – Elizabeth II – and Prince Philip re-enacted the journey in 2017 to mark its 175th anniversary. They were accompanied by Isambard Thomas, the great, great, great grandson of Brunel and Gillian White, great, great grand-daughter of Gooch.
No more than the name of a Tube terminus (the north-east end of the Piccadilly Line) to many Londoners, Cockfosters has an interesting origin story.
The area in north London, which lies partly in the London Borough of Enfield and partly in the London Borough of Barnet, owes its name to its location on the edge of what was the royal forest of Enfield Chase.
In the 15th century, the forest was protected by foresters housed in three lodges – one of which was located where the West Lodge Park hotel, built in 1838, now stands.
(An interesting side note is that after the foresters stopped using the original lodge, it became, at one stage, the home of King Charles II’s Secretary of State, Henry Coventry. Diarist John Evelyn is among those who visited him.)
The ‘fosters’ part of the name is apparently derived from an Elizabethan-era variant of the word forester while ‘cock’ is a old word for leader or chief. Cockfosters, then, literally means the home of the chief or head forester.
The modernist Tube station, designed by Charles Holden and opened in 1933, is a key landmark as is the stately, Grade II-listed property Trent Park which is located on a remnant of Enfield Chase.
PICTURE: Ugur Akdemir/Unsplash
Inside the London Underground. PICTURE: Tom Parsons/Unsplash.
London’s oldest bus route is commonly cited as Route 24 which runs over seven miles from Hampstead to Pimlico.
The route was first launched in 1910 but initially stopped at Victoria Station. It was extended to Pimlico just two years later in 1912 and has largely unchanged ever since (apparently with the exception of some minor adjustments due to one-way traffic schemes).
The route, which operates 24 hours a day, does take in some key landmarks of London – among them Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade and Parliament Square. In 2013, Transport for London, said some 28,000 people used the route each day.
In 1965, the double-decker buses on the route – which have always been powered by motors rather than horses – became the first to have front entry. In 1988, it became the first route through central London to be privatised when purchased by Grey-Green (the line is now operated by Metroline).
Mostly recently, in 2013, it became the first route to fully implement the curvaceous new ‘Routemasters’ (while they’ve commonly been called that, the new buses are actually just called the ‘new bus for London’).
PICTURE: One of the new buses on the route in 2014 (Aubrey Morandarte (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))
Located at what’s now the junction with Wormwood Street (and marked by a mitre which appears on a building there), the gate was the departure point for Ermine Street which ran from London to Lincoln and York.
The gate and hence the road – which runs northward from the intersection of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill to where it becomes Norton Folgate Street (which links into Shoreditch High Street) – is believed to have been named for the 7th century Bishop Erkenwald (Earconwald). It was he who apparently first ordered its reconstruction on the site of a former Roman gate.
By Tudor times, the street had become known for the mansions of rich merchants – among those who had their homes here were Sir Thomas Gresham, Sir John Crosby and Sir Paul Pindar (Crosby Hall was later re-erected in Chelsea and the facade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house, is in the V&A). The street also become known for its many great coaching inns, all of which were eventually demolished.
Bishopsgate was the first street in London to have gas lighting when it was introduced about 1810 and, about 1932, became the first in Europe to have automated traffic lights (at the junction with Cornhill).
The City of London ward straddles the site of the old London wall and gate and is accordingly divided into “within” and “without” sections.
While there are a number of churches associated with the street – St Ethelburga Bishopsgate, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, these days it is largely lined by office buildings including the former NatWest Tower. Other notable buildings include that of the Bishopsgate Institute and the busy Liverpool Street Station is also accessible from Bishopsgate.
The name Bishopsgate is also synonymous with an IRA truck bombing which took place in the street on 24th April, 1993, in which one man was killed and 44 injured.
PICTURE: Top – Looking southward along Bishopsgate in 2014. (stevekeiretsu; licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); Right – The Bishop’s mitre marking the location of the former gate (Eluveitie/ licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).
PICTURE: Jack Finnigan/Unsplash
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.
There’s several candidates for this title – NatWest Tower, built in 1980, has been described as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper (we’ll deal with that in our current special) but we’re looking back to earlier times (after all, the term first started to be used in the 1880s) when candidates included 55 Broadway in Westminster.
Once the tallest office building in London, 55 Broadway was constructed in 1927-29 as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (which later became London Transport and then Transport for London). The building contains the St James’s Park Underground Station which is one of the most intact of the early underground stations.
Designed by Charles Holden (also noted for his design of the University of London’s Senate House and war cemeteries in Belgium and France) , the 14 storey Art Deco building is cruciform in plan to maximise street views and the amount of light entering each office as well as to ensure that the bulk of the building’s tower didn’t overwhelm the surrounding streetscapes (and to ensure the building complied with the then current building height restrictions).
The building, the design of which was influenced by US architecture, is made from a steel frame encased on concrete and faced in Portland stone. Based on a two storey pedestal which covers the entire site, the spur wings around the tower rise a further five storeys above the base while the tower itself rises 53.3 metres (175 foot).
Internally, the building features bronze and marble decoration and what was a state-of-the-art system known as a Cutler mailing chute to send letters around the building.
Of special note are the many sculptures which adorn the building, described as a “showcase of pre-Second World War British sculpture”.
Among them are two Jacob Epstein sculptures representing ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ and eight figurative reliefs representing the winds for each cardinal point, the work of sculptors led by Eric Gill and also including Eric Aumonier, Alfred Gerrard, Samuel Rabonovitch, Allan Wyon and Henry Moore (it was his first public commission).
The sculptures proved somewhat controversial at time particularly due to Epstein’s depiction of ‘Day’ featuring a nude male – Ezra Pound famously said Epstein was contributing to a “cult of ugliness”. And while this sculpture eventually had his manhood truncated slightly following the outcry, the sculptures were otherwise left untouched.
Holden won the RIBA London Architecture Medal for the building which received Grade I-listing in 2011 (it had earlier been Grade II listed), partly due to its being London’s first ‘skyscraper’ and a building which “heralded the epoch of tall steel-framed office buildings”.
The building was damaged during the Blitz but remains largely intact. There are now plans to convert the building to luxury apartments although at present Transport for London continue to use the building.
PICTURES: Top – Epstein’s ‘Night’ – One of the less controversial sculptures adorning the building (Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))/Right – The mass of 55 Broadway with the controversial (and altered) sculpture of ‘Day’ (David Adams).
Note: The original article said 55 Broadway was once the tallest building but should have, of course, said tallest office building. St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building until 1967. The building was also damaged during the Blitz but apparently not by a flying bomb.
The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.
The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).
Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.
PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail: top – Monica Wells; below – James O Jenkins.