Spotted in Sloane Square Tube station. PICTURE: John Cameron/Unsplash
The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.
Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.
More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.
These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.
The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.
It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).
A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).
The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.
Commonly used as a nickname to describe the London Underground, the “Tube” is an obvious reference to shape of the tunnels themselves.
The word is believed to have been first popularised around 1890. Underground lines had previously been constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method – that is, digging out the trench for the Underground line, lining the tunnel with iron and them covering it.
Thanks to its depth (due to the fact it had to pass under the Thames), City and South London Railway’s line from King William Street (a now disused station) to Stockwell was the first to be created by boring a tunnel through the earth and then lining it to create a tube. The line, a forerunner of what is now the Northern Line, opened in December, 1890. It was the first true ‘tube’ of the Underground system.
The construction of the line was followed in 1900 by the opening of the Central London Railway’s line from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank (now part of the Central Line) which was given the nickname the “Twopenny Tube”.
The name stayed and was soon applied to the entire network of Underground lines (and interestingly, it wasn’t until 1908 that the word “Underground” first appeared in stations).
The world observed International Women’s Day on Monday and to mark the occasion, the Museum of London has launched an original video series featuring five female comedians performing short original pieces inspired by objects in the museum’s women’s history archives. The first of the videos features comedian Thanyia Moore responding to a Henry Grant photograph of a female bus conductor from the mid-1970s when London Underground first officially employed women as bus drivers (pictured right). Further videos – which will be rolled out over Women’s History Month – feature comedians Samantha Baines, Jenny Bede, Jen Ives and Leila Navabi responding to objects ranging from a commemorative toilet roll created by First 100 Years to mark a century since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act made it illegal to ban people from jobs based on their sex in 1919 (pictured below) to a recruitment letter from Sainsbury’s seeking female staff to work in their shops during World War I. To watch the first of the series head here.
A Tube line which these days runs 14 miles from Harrow & Wealdstone station in the north to Elephant & Castle in the south, the Bakerloo line first opened in 1906 and initially ran just from Baker Street to Kennington.
Not only the first Tube for CT Yerkes’ scheme of electric railways for London, it was also the first line to run across London from north to south (legend says it was built because of complaints from businessmen that they couldn’t get to Lord’s cricket ground fast enough though we’re somewhat sceptical of this claim).
Bakerloo was a nickname, a contraction of the line’s official name – the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway. It was apparently first coined by the Evening Standard. Not everyone was impressed, however – the Railway Magazine described it as a “gutter title” and said it was beneath the dignity of the railway company to accept it.
Despite a rather slow uptake – which initially resulted in trains with as few as two cars being used in off-peak periods, what’s now a brown-coloured coded Underground line did become a success and over the ensuing years expanded (and contracted) before reaching its current length with 25 stations (the busiest apparently being Oxford Circus).
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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• 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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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.
Inside the London Underground. PICTURE: Tom Parsons/Unsplash.
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.
This name – now only usually used in reference to several buildings and landmarks around the Kings Cross area including churches, a road, hotel and railway stations – was originally that of a separate village.
The village was named for the church in its midst which had been dedicated to St Pancras. The church – which has been dated back to at least the Norman era – is said to have been built on one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in the UK and was dedicated to a Roman-era boy martyr, St Pancras (in Latin, St Pancratius).
Tradition holds that St Pancras was a citizen of Rome who converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his faith during the Diocletian persecution in the early 4th century when aged just 14. When Pope Gregory the Great sent St Augustine on his mission to England in the late 6th century, he sent relics of the saint with him, hence why many English churches are dedicated to St Pancras.
The village which had been based around the church was apparently largely abandoned in the Middle Ages – possibly due to flooding – and the area was only resettled in the late 18th century with the development of Camden Town and Somers Town.
While the church – now known as St Pancras Old Church – was restored in the mid-19th century, a new parish church – known as St Pancras New Church – which built about a kilometre away on Euston Road.
It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.
Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.
The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.
The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.
Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.
Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.
While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).
Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).
• The fourth annual ‘Performance Festival’ opens at the V&A in South Kensington tomorrow. Highlights include a preview of the V&A’s exclusive virtual reality recording of David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, the museum’s first ever stand-up comedy night and a premiere screening of the film Lady Macbeth followed by a Q&A with director William Oldroyd, actress Florence Pugh and costume designer Holly Waddington. The festival, which runs until Sunday, 30th April, is being run in conjunction with the display The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres currently in the museum’s Theatre and Performance Gallery. Admission free to most events/selected events are ticketed in advance. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/performance-festival.
• The secrets and hidden spaces of the London Underground will be laid bare in an open day at the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot this weekend. Activities include art and poster tours, a program of talks including discussions of the finds made during the Crossrail excavations, London’s mail rail and the Thames Tunnel, miniature railway rides and the chance to see heritage vehicles including the restored 1892 ‘Carriage 353’ . There’s also plenty of options for eating and shopping. Runs Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd April). Admission charge applies but kids are free. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends
• Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing has been commissioned to create a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett for Parliament Square, it was announced last week. The statue will be the first female statue to stand in the square when it’s unveiled next year as well as the first to do so which was created by a woman.
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