March 10, 2017
This sculpture by London-based Scottish artist David Mach can be found in Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It depicts 12 K6 red phone boxes falling onto one another like a row of dominoes and was commissioned from the Royal Academician by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 1988. Unveiled the following year, it was renovated in 2001. There’s been talk in the past of it being removed (and of the end phone being connected, so it works) but the iconic sculpture remains in situ near the Old London Road gateway (and unconnected). PICTURE: Jim Linwood/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)
February 3, 2017
Dating from 1766, the clock (pictured) sits in a seven foot tall decorated case, believed to have been made by London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Inside is a barograph – comprised of two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes and the data is recorded on the clock dial which rotates once a year.
Scottish-born Cumming, who constructed his first barograph clock on the orders of King George III a year before this one in 1765, designed this clock based on ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke.
Following Cumming’s death in 1814, the clock was purchased by meteorologist Luke Howard – known as the ‘father of scientific meteorology’ – who used it to observe atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth. The data gathered was published in his book Barometrographia in 1847.
While it has previously been loaned for display at the museum, it now forms part of the permanent collection.
WHERE: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.
PICTURES: Courtesy of the Science Museum.
December 23, 2016
The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.
One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.
Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
December 9, 2016
A fixture of London’s Christmas festivities since 1947, the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is given annually to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo as gift thanking them for their support of Norway during World War II.
The tree is harvested from forests near the Norwegian capital and the selection process for the giant, known by forestry workers as the “Queen of the Forest”, starts in May.
The tree is typically a Norway spruce aged somewhere between 50 and 60 years and stands at least 20 metres high. This year’s tree – the 70th – is said to be 116-years-old, stands 22 metres tall and weighs
In keeping with tradition, it was cut down on 16th November in a special ceremony attended by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Steve Summers, along with various local school children so it can shipped to Britain ready in time for its unveiling at the start of December.
The tree is adorned with lights – in more recent years these are energy efficient light bulbs – in Norwegian style and these are turned on at a special ceremony on the first Thursday in December. The tree remains on display until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas when it is taken down and recycled as mulch.
The tree now has its own Twitter account.
November 25, 2016
The Design Museum’s new home in Kensington finally opened this week and it’s already been getting some rave reviews, hence why, despite its freshness, we thought we’d mention it in our Treasures of London feature.
The museum, which moved to its new premises after 25 years in Shad Thames, now occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building, which dates from 1962 and was designed by Robert Matthew. The building has recently undergone a £83 million makeover with the interiors designed by architect John Pawson.
The new museum has three times the space of the previous premises and features the only collection in the UK devoted exclusively to contemporary design and architecture. At the heart of the building is the Designer Maker User exhibition which, as the museum’s first free permanent display, occupies the top floor of the museum, and includes more than 1,000 items of 20th and 21st century design. At its entrance can be found a wall featuring more than 200 items from 25 countries nominated by the general public including a Bible, Coca-Cola can and a £5 banknote.
Inside, the Designer section focuses on the thought-processes of designers and features a full-sized production of a gerberette used in the Richard Rogers-designed Centre Pompidou in Paris as well as models and images of the works of the late architect Zaha Hadid, David Mellor’s traffic lights, Kinneir and Calvert’s British road signage system and a full scale prototype for a new London Tube train designed by PriestmanGoode as well as Moulton bicycles and London Underground maps.
The Maker section, meanwhile, traces the evolution of manufacturing from Thonet bentwood cafe chairs and Model T Ford cars to robotic arms and 3D printing and includes objects at different stages of production – from tennis balls to the London 2012 Olympic Torch.
And in the User section, visitors will be led to explore the interaction between the consumer and brands that have become household names – Braun, Sony, Apple and Olivetti – as well as the impact of design on politics, fashion and music. Displays in the latter part include Gucci tennis shoes, the fashions of Vivienne Westwood and Christian Louboutin and the pioneering magazine The Face.
As many as 500,000 people are expected to visit the museum in its first year. Along with permanent displays, also unveiled this week was the new exhibition, Fear and Love, featuring 11 new installations by world leading designers. They include The Pan-European Living Room by architecture practice OMA, Room Tone by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, Pittsburgh-based designer Madeline Gannon’s “mechanical creature” Mimus, and a series of death masks called Vespers created using 3D printing technology Neri Oxman.
And running until 19th February is the Beazley Designs of the Year, a celebration of design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year past. Categories include architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, product and transport.
WHERE: The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are Kensington High Street. Earl’s Court and Holland Park); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free (admission charges to special exhibitions); WEBSITE: http://designmuseum.org
PICTURES: Top – Gravity; Middle – Gareth Gardner; Bottom – Helene Binet. Courtesy The Design Museum.
September 30, 2016
It’s an atmospheric image – both literally and metaphorically – that will soon be sitting in wallets and purses across the UK. Painter JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 is among the most famous artworks hanging in The National Gallery and, as the Bank of England has announced earlier this year, will adorn newly produced £20 notes from 2020 onwards. It commemorates the end of the famous ship, the 98 gun HMS Temeraire, which had played a heroic role in Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and, say reports, had been dubbed the “Fighting” Temeraire ever since (although it’s also suggested the ship was actually known by the crew as the “Saucy” Temeraire) . The oil painting, which Turner created in 1839, depicts the ship being towed away to be broken up (although, while it was actually towed from Sheerness to Rotherhithe in London – a westerly trip, the painting depicts it going eastward). The Temeraire itself is drawn romantically, almost spectrally, while in front of it is a steam tug shown in hard modernity and, of course, in the backdrop is the majestic setting sun, evoking a sense of the end. The painting, which was bequeathed to the gallery by the artist in the 1850s, and which incidentally appeared in the James Bond film Skyfall in a scene in which 007 (Daniel Craig) meets Q (Ben Wishaw) in front of it, can be found in Room 34 of gallery.
WHERE: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square (nearest Tube stations are Charing Cross and Leicester Square); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (open to 9pm Saturdays); COST: free; WEBSITE: www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
PICTURE: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838, © National Gallery, London
August 5, 2016
Originally built in the late 1670s by John Keeling in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, the engine was acquired by the Museum of London in 1928.
Then only consisting of the central barrel and pump, it has been restored for the current exhibition, Fire! Fire!, being held to mark the 350th anniversary of the fire which wiped out much of the City of London.
Based on a 19th century photograph (pictured) which showed it still intact with undercarriage, wheels, tow bar and pumping arm, the restoration was carried out by the museum in partnership with Kent-based Croford Coachbuilders using traditional techniques and materials over a three month period.
Meriel Jeater, curator of the Fire! Fire! exhibition, said the reconstruction had revealed new insights into how the fire engine worked and shows that, weighing more than 500 kilograms without water, it would have been extremely difficult to manoeuvre along London’s narrow streets.
“Also, the relatively crude pump mechanism was only able to squirt out about six pints of water over a rather short distance, so it would have been perilously close to the flames to have had any chance of putting them out.”
Fire! Fire! can be seen at the Museum of London until 17th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/fire-fire.
PICTURES: © Museum of London.
July 8, 2016
Held in the collections of the London Metropolitan Archives, the Great Parchment Book of The Honourable the Irish Society was recently inscribed upon the UK register of the UNESCO Memory of the World.
Described as a “hugely significant record of the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century”, the book was compiled in 1639 by a commission instituted under the Great Seal of King Charles I and is a survey of all the estates in Derry managed by the City of London Corporation through the Irish Society and City of London livery companies.
As such, manuscript and provides a unique insight into this important period in the history of Northern Ireland, containing key data about landholdings and the population in Ulster at the time of its creation including for both English and Scottish settlers and the native Irish population (as well as, exceptionally, for many women at all levels of society).
The Great Parchment Book was badly damaged in a fire in 1786 and as a result was unavailable to researchers for more than 200 years until its successful reconstruction using cutting edge digital imaging technology.
It is the fourth item in the care of the London Metropolitan Archives to be inscribed to the UK register of the UNESCO Memory of the World, a programme which aims to facilitate preservation of the world’s documentary and audio-visual heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage.
The three other objects inscribed on the list which are in the LMA’s care include the Charter of William I to the City of London, London County Council Bomb Damage Maps and Robert Hooke’s Diary 1672-83.
WHERE: London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations are Farringdon and Angel); WHEN: Open Monday to Thursday and selected Saturdays (check website for times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/Pages/default.aspx.
PICTURE: Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives.
June 3, 2016
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.
May 13, 2016
Launched in 1973, this full-sized, working replica of the galleon sailed by Elizabethan seafarer and courtier Sir Francis Drake on his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 is moored at St Mary Overie Dock in Bankside.
The ship was made at the behest of two American businessmen, Albert Elledge and Art Blum, who wished to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Sir Francis Drake’s landing on the west coast of North America in 1579.
The ship was designed by Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, who spent three years researching it, drawing on original journals of the crew members and other manuscripts.
The two year job of building the vessel was given to J Hinks & Son who did so in Appledore, North Devon, using traditional methods and tools (with a few modern concessions).
The ship was officially launched from the Hinks shipyard by the Countess of Devon on 5th April, 1973. She sailed out of Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974 and arrived in San Francisco the following May to commemorate Sir Francis’ proclamation of New Albion at a site believed to have been in northern California in 1579.
Since then, the ship has sailed more than 140,000 miles around the world – like its forebear, it has circumnavigated the world – and been feared in various films including Shogun (1979), Drake’s Venture (1980) and St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (2009).
It has been moored in Southwark since 1996 – it did leave briefly for a visit to Southampton in 2003 – and as well as hosting school visits, is also open for tours and can be booked for private functions.
WHERE: Golden Hinde II, Bankside (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Self-guided tours 10am to 5.30pm daily (check website for other tour times and dates); COST: Various (depending on tour); WEBSITE: www.goldenhinde.com.
This gardener’s lodge, featuring embedded sea-shells, is located in Lower Grosvenor Garden in Victoria. It’s one of a pair given by the French Government and, like its twin, was placed in the gardens in 1952 when they were remodelled in formal French style – including paths laid out in the design of a fleur-de-lis – in honour of Anglo-French cooperation in both world wars. The gardens were designed by French architect Jean-Charles Moreux and some of the shells were apparently brought over from France. In keeping with the French theme, the gardens also feature an equestrian statue of World War I figure, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, placed there in 1930.
March 18, 2016
The test dates back to 1865 and involves drivers memorising 320 routes, 25,000 street names and some 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest including museums, theatres, churches, police stations, schools and parks within a six mile radius of Charing Cross.
The routes through central London – which previously numbered as many as 468 – are contained within the Blue Book (there’s also a series of ‘Knowledge schools’ to help would-be drivers prepare for the test).
The test includes a written exam and a series of one-to-one interviews, known as appearances, in which the prospective driver is given start and finish points and expected to describe the shortest route between them. It is overseen by the Public Carriage Office, once part of the Metropolitan Police Force, but now part of Transport for London.
It was introduced by Sir Richard Mayne, First Joint Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, after thousands of complaints were received about the lack of knowledge of London cabbies from visitors to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.
It apparently takes on average between two and four years to learn all you need to know to pass the test and you can often spot what are fondly known as ‘knowledge boys (or girls)’ riding scooters around the city with a clipboard attached to the handlebars as they learn what they need to know for the test.
February 26, 2016
Recently conserved by the National Archives, Shakespeare’s last will and testament is at the heart of a new exhibition on show at Somerset House.
By Me William Shakespeare: A Life In Writing, the first joint exhibition of the National Archives and King’s College London, features four of the six known signatures of Shakespeare still in existence and, along with his last will and testament, shows some of the most significant Shakespeare-related documents in the world tracking his existence as everything from a London citizen, businessman, family man, servant to possibly even a thief and subversive.
But back to the will. While not written in the Bard’s hand, the will is signed by him in three places and indicates the wealth and status he had garnered by the time of his death on 23rd April, 1616.
Evidence shows that Shakespeare revised his will as his estate changed, and just before his death, he added personal bequests including that a silver bowl be given to his second eldest daughter Judith, memorial rings to actor friends in London and his second best bed to his wife Anne. He left most of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna, although his will, according to the National Archives, indicates that he had hoped to establish a male legacy.
Other beneficiaries named in the will include his sister Joan and her sons and his grand-daughter Elizabeth Hall while Susanna and her husband John Hall were named as his executors.
The exhibition, which is being held in the Inigo Jones Rooms in Somerset House’s East Wing as part of the series of events being held to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, runs until 29th May. Admission charge applies.
Other documents featured in the display – all of which are registered with UNESCO – include accounts listing the grant of four-and-half yards of red cloth to Shakespeare by King James I for participation in his coronation procession in 1604, accounts from the Master of Revels showing when plays were performed at court (useful for helping to date when Shakespeare wrote particular plays), and a document recording testimony Shakespeare gave in court when his landlord, Christopher Mountjoy, failed to provide his son-in-law with a dowry for his daughter’s hand (Shakespeare is likely to have played a role in arranging the marriage).
For more on the exhibition, see www.bymewilliamshakespeare.org.
January 8, 2016
Donated to the British Museum in October (the last acquisition made under former director Neil MacGregor), the Lampedusa Cross was constructed by carpenter Francesco Tuccio out of wreckage from a refugee boat which sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 3rd October, 2013. At least 349 of the 500 refugees on board were drowned, some of whom were Eritrean Christians fleeing persecution, while 151 survived. Mr Tuccio, a resident of Lampedusa, decided to make a series of small crosses from the wreckage after meeting some of the refugees in the church of San Gerlando as a gift for them to both reflect their salvation and as a symbol of hope for the future. He was subsequently also asked to make a further cross which was carried by Pope Francis at the memorial service for the survivors. Asked by the British Museum if it could acquire a cross for its collection, Mr Tuccio made a cross specifically for the museum which he then donated to the institution, saying after he received a letter of thanks that “it is I who should thank you for drawing attention to the burden symbolised by this small piece of wood.” The cross went on display in Room 2 of the museum on 18th December (the last day of Mr MacGregor’s directorship). Entry is free. For more on the British Museum, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: © Trustees of the British Museum.
The Charter for the Society of Artists of Great Britain and its associated Roll of Obligation have been rediscovered at the Royal Academy of Arts, 250 years after was society was founded. The documents, long thought to have been missing, date from 1765 and signify the formation of artists as a professional group in Britain. They form a crucial piece in history of the development of the Royal Academy of Arts, which formed in 1768 when a group of artists broke away from the society. The Charter, which consists of three pages of vellum with a portrait of a young King George III, hadn’t been seen since 1918. It and the Roll of Obligation – which features the crossed-out names of artists ‘expelled’ from the society, including the RA’s first president, artist Joshua Reynolds and German-born Johann Zoffany – were rediscovered earlier this year during an audit of the RA collections. The finding coincides with the 250th anniversary of the formal foundation of the society when it was granted a Royal Charter by King George III. Both documents will go on show from 2018 – the 250th anniversary of the founding of the RA – in new exhibition areas being created as part of the transformation taking place at the RA. For more on the Royal Academy, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.
December 4, 2015
A Henry Moore original, Locking Piece was created in 1963-64 and first located on its current site on Riverwalk Gardens at Millbank, site of the former Millbank Penitentiary, four years later. The bronze sculpture consists of, as the name suggests, two interlocking pieces. There’s a couple of conflicting stories about where the idea for the work came from – in one, Moore said he was visiting a gravel pit near his home at Perry Green in Hertfordshire where he was playing with two pebbles which suddenly locked together (and hence came the idea of a sculpture of two interlocking pieces); and in another, Moore said the idea came from a bone fragment featuring a socket and joint found in his garden. Originally loaned to Westminster City Council, in 1978 the sculpture was given to the Tate Gallery which subsequently decided to leave the piece in situ. It’s one of numerous Moore works in London. For more on Henry Moore’s London works, see www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/uk/london.
October 23, 2015
This weekend marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (25th October, 1415) when King Henry V and his army of English archers overcame the larger French host in what is now northern France during the Hundred Years War.
To mark the occasion, the Royal Armouries have launched a new exhibition at the Tower of London, The Battle of Agincourt: 600th Anniversary Exhibition which tells the story of the battle and its aftermath as well as some of the myths which sprang up in its wake.
Below are some of the “treasures” presented in the exhibition in the White Tower which runs until 31st January. There will also be a programme of associated events running at the Tower from tomorrow until 1st November. For more, see www.royalarmouries.org/agincourt.
King Henry V played a key role in the battle, which came more than two-and-a-half months after he launched an invasion of Normandy. Until Agincourt, the campaign had not gone well – dysentery had taken a considerable toll on his men and his army had only taken one target – the port of Harfleur – when, after crossing the River Somme, the French heralds summoned him to the fight. It was on the morning of the battle – St Crispin’s Day, 25th October – that he gave a short speech to stiffen the resolve of his army which William Shakespeare subsequently embellished in his play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”. This painting of the king is by unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery.
Three scenes from a four metre by two metre model of the battlefield of Agincourt, supported by the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust and constructed by MM Dioramas and Perry Miniatures. The model features 4,000 detailed scale model figures – 2,600 French and 1,750 English, representative of the larger forces each brought the fight (the exhibition puts the number of English 8,500-9,000 and the French at 12,000 although we should note others have claimed the English were outnumbered by as much as three or four to one). In the model, which draws on recent research to accurately bring to life the arms, armour and heraldry of those involved, English archers – who played a critical role in the battle (in fact, the battle is seen as an exemplar of the use of archers in battle) – are shown positioned behind wooden stakes that King Henry V asked them each to carry for protection against the French cavalry, seen charging towards them. The battle, which started in late morning when the English archers provoked the French into attacking, was all over by early afternoon and while it’s not certain how many died, sources are agreed that the French losses were considerably higher than the English. Following the exhibition the model will be going on permanent display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
Lyle Bacinet, north Italian, late 14th century. Rare in terms of its quality, it would have been used mostly by mounted knights. By the late 14th century, men-at-arms would have worn complete plate armour. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
An arrowhead typical of the period. These would have been made in ‘sheaves’, bundles of 24 arrows which would have been worn on the archer’s waist. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
An English ‘ballock dagger’, dating from the late 14th – early 15th centuries. A common weapon and characteristic shape of the period. Such weapons may have been carried by archers to finish off the wounded. PICTURE © Royal Armouries.
Shakespeare’s retelling of events in Henry V has kept the story of the famous battle alive down the centuries. In a nod to the important role the Bard has played, the exhibition features a rare First Folio of Shakepeare’s plays as well as a tabard (below) worn by Richard Burton in the title role of King Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. It was made of hessian and felt with simulated armour at the shoulders so it would appear to have been worn on the battlefield. PICTURE © Victoria and Albert Museum.
Other 20th century artefacts related to Agincourt include a film poster for Henry V (1944), a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier. PICTURE: © ITV / REX.
For more information on events surrounding the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, see www.agincourt600.com.
September 18, 2015
Spattered with mud, the cloak is made from blue wool and trimmed with a navy collar and facings. Purchased by the museum at auction for £38,000, it will now form part of a collection of other Waterloo and Napoleonic items in the museum’s permanent collection.
The cloak can apparently be traced back to Lady Caroline Lamb, who had an affair with Wellington in the summer of 1815 and is believed to have been given the cloak as a memento. The first documented owner was Grosvenor Charles Bedford who was given the cloak in 1823 by the surgeon and anatomist Anthony Carlisle.
On presenting Bedford with the cloak, Carlisle had commented that it had been given to him by Lady Caroline who had received it from the duke. The cloak has been passed down within Bedford’s family ever since.
The National Army Museum in Chelsea already possesses a portrait of Wellington by Edward Stroehling (1768-1826) which depicts him wearing a similar cloak.
The cloak will go on display when the museum reopens next year. For more on the museum in the meantime, see www.nam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Courtesy National Army Museum.
Located in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in City Road, this memorial to Daniel Defoe, the author of numerous books including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders as well as a journalist, pamphleteer and ‘provocateur’ or spy, wasn’t erected until 1870, almost 140 years after his death.
After he died in 1731 at the age of 70, Defoe was among the more than 120,000 people buried in Bunhill Fields, a Nonconformist cemetery which opened in 1665 and had closed by 1853. He was apparently buried under the name Dabow, thanks to a spelling mistake made by the gravedigger.
When he died in relative obscurity (he was believed to have been hiding from his creditors at the time), his fame rose after his death – due in large part to the rising popularity of Robinson Crusoe, and by the mid-19th century, it was believed that the simple headstone over his grave didn’t do justice to him.
Hence an appeal was run by children’s magazine Christian World for a more suitable memorial for the writer – named as Daniel De-Foe on the memorial – and more than £150 was raised from 1,700 people, an amount which apparently exceeded expectations.
Sculptor Samuel Horner was subsequently commissioned to carve the memorial obelisk, which features projections at the base resembling a coffin lid, to the designs of CC Creeke of Bournemouth. It was unveiled on 16th September, 1870, in a ceremony attended by three of Defoe’s great grand-daughters.
There was apparently a newspaper story that the sculptor uncovered a coffin bearing Defoe’s name in preparing the site for the monument and had to get the aid of police to prevent watchers from making off with the bones from within.
The monument, which may not mark the exact location of Defoe’s grave site due to the movement of graves in the burial ground, is now Grade II*-listed (and the burial ground itself Grade I-listed). Others buried at Bunhill Fields include author John Bunyan, artist William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism.
WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 7.30am to 7pm or dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx
July 10, 2015
In honour of the sun and the heatwave it’s brought this summer, here’s the giant “equinoctial” sundial on the north bank of the Thames, just east of Tower Bridge. Known as Timepiece, it is the work of London-based sculptor Wendy Taylor and was installed here, beside the lock that leads into St Katharine Docks, in 1973. Measuring more than 3.5 metres across, the dial is made from stainless steel and is supported by three chunky chain link cables. According to the plaque, it was commissioned by Strand Hotels Ltd. It’s now a Grade II-listed structure.