Treasures of London – Prior Bolton’s oriel window…

Prior Bolton’s oriel window (left) seen in the church. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This 500-year-old window is located inside the church of St Bartholomew the Great.

It was constructed on the orders of William Bolton who became prior of St Barts in 1505. Bolton, who was employed by both King Henry VII and King Henry VIII on various building projects including at Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, also brought his love of construction to his role as prior and ordered the construction of a new lodging for himself to be built at the church’s eastern end.

A wooden gallery led from the first floor of the new lodging to the gallery of the church quire, where he had a private chapel. The oriel window, located in the chapel, gave a view of the quire, the high altar and the tomb of Rahere – the founder of the priory, located on the other side of the church (the window also enabled the prior to keep an eye on the monks!).

Bolton had his name recorded on the window in the form of a pictorial pun which shows a barrel or ‘tun’ pieced by a crossbow bolt (ie bolt-tun).

Bolton also had a door put through from the church to his new lodgings – it too can still be seen in the church.

WHERE: Off Little Britain, West Smithfield (nearest tube station is Barbican); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, 1pm to 5pm Sunday (plus services) ; COST: Free (but donations welcomed); WEBSITE: www.greatstbarts.com

Treasures of London – The ‘Line of Kings’…

PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A star sight at the Tower of London for some 350 years, the ‘Line of Kings’ dates back to the mid-17th century and was originally installed in the Royal Armouries at the Tower to promote the restored monarchy of King Charles II and the Stuart dynasty.

Often described as the “world’s longest running tourist attraction” (the first visitor was recorded in 1652), it features the historic armour of monarchs on wooden figures and accompanied by fully decked-out carved horses – the work of Grinling Gibbons and others among Britain’s best woodcarvers.

The line has been added to and redisplayed numerous times over its history, partly to accommodate successive monarchs (17 in all were included with King George II being the last).

Only those monarchs deemed worthy were included – this deemed “bad” kings like King Richard III were omitted while “good” kings like King William the Conqueror, King Edward III and King Henry V were included. Queens were not included – when Queen Mary II and King William III were created joint monarchs, only King William was included.

The display began to be mentioned in guidebooks from the 1750s onwards. In 1825, amid growing scholarship and criticism, the line underwent a major change.

It was dismantled and then redisplayed in a purpose-built gallery adjoining the south side of the White Tower. The new line-up included prominent noblemen as well as kings while the kings themselves were reshuffled with some, like King Edward III, dropped, and King James II added.

It was further enhanced in 1869 but the display closed in 1882. The equestrian figures then appeared on the upper floor of the White Tower.

The Line of Kings, which is now located on the entrance floor of the Tower, last underwent a significant revamp between 2011 and 2013.

Highlights include the earlier surviving armour of King Henry VIII – a silvered and engraved armour which was made in the years following his coronation in 1509 – as well as the gilded armours of King Charles I and King James II.

WHERE: White Tower, Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm daily; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children under 15; £24 concession; family tickets from £52.20; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

Treasures of London – The Cyrus Cylinder…

The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This clay cylinder, found beneath the sands of what is now Iraq, records an account of the conquest of Babylon by the Persian Achaemenid leader Cyrus the Great in 539 BC when he took power from Nabonidus and in doing so brought an end to the Babylonian empire.

The cylinder, which is written in Babylonian cuneiform script, was discovered in March, 1879, during excavations carried out for the British Museum. It had been placed in the foundations of Babylon’s main temple, dedicated to the god Marduk. It was formally acquired by the British Museum the following year.

The barrel-shaped cylinder measures 22.5 centimetres long with a maximum diameter of 10 centimetres. It was excavated in several parts which have since been reunited (although some sections are still missing).

The inscription, which consists of 45 lines of script, states that Babylonians welcomed Cyrus as their ruler “amid celebration and rejoicing” and extols him as a great benefactor who improved their lives, restored religious sites and repatriated displaced people.

The cylinder, which is today what we would describe as propaganda, has been seen by some as confirming the Biblical account of the repatriation of captured Jews back to their homeland while the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, called it “the world’s first charter of human rights”.

It has been loaned twice to Iran – in 1971 when it was displayed to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire and more recently in 2010 when it was exhibited at the National Museum of Iran. It has also been exhibited in Spain, India and the US.

WHERE: Room 52, British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street); WHEN: Daily, 10am to 7pm (8:30pm Fridays); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.

Another view of the Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Treasures of London – The Tijou Screen at Hampton Court Palace…

A section of the Tijou Screen representing Scotland. PICTURE: Man vyi

Standing at the river end of the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace is a stretch of wrought-iron screen designed and made by Huguenot ironworker Jean Tijou for King William III and Queen Mary II.

The screen, which is one of the finest examples of 17th century ironwork in the world, was created between 1689 to 1692. It features 12 panels displaying symbols including the monogram of William and Mary, the garter emblem and representations of England, Ireland, Scotland and France.

William expressed his personal admiration for the work.

The Tijou Screen seen from the Thames. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The screen was among numerous royal commissions created by Tijou, who had arrived in England in about 1689 and secured the patronage of the joint monarchs.

The screen fell into neglect in the 18th century and were subsequently repaired numerous times before being split up in the 19th century. It was re-erected at Hampton Court in 1902 and since been restored several times.

Treasures of London – The Solebay Tapestry…

The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 © National Maritime Museum, London

A monumental tapestry – and the only surviving one of its era depicting an English naval scene, the Solebay Tapestry was actually one a series of six designed by father and son team, Willem Van de Velde the Elder and Younger.

Commissioned by King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York (later King James II), the tapestry known as The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672 – commemorates the Battle of Solebay, a naval battle fought in Southwold Bay off the coast of Suffolk on 28th May, 1672. The first battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, it ended with both sides claiming victory and was the final naval battle in which James was engaged.

It depicts the dramatic climax of the battle and shows the Royal James engulfed in flames after it was set alight by Dutch fireships. Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich whose was aboard the Royal James, died in the attack.

Detail from the Solebay Tapestry, showing the burning of the ‘Royal James’, before conservation. © National Maritime Museum, London

William Van de Veldes the Elder, who was a contemporary of Rembrandt and, along with his son, is considered the founder of English maritime painting, was present at the battle and made a series of sketches from a boat at the scene (he was actually there for the Dutch, not the English).

Subsequently commissioned to reimagine the battle from the English point-of-view, it was the studios of the Van de Velds in the Queen’s House in Greenwich that a series of ‘cartoons’ – large-scale paper designs – were produced using the sketches.

These were then presented to weavers who, once thought to have been based in Mortlake but now believed to have been based in either at Clerkenwell or Hatton Garden, used them to create the tapestries.

The tapestry in the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich was displayed behind King George VI during his speech at the opening of the National Maritime Museum in 1937 but hasn’t been able to be displayed for the past 22 years due to its fragile condition.

In urgent need of repair, the first phase of a conservation project was completed last year. Royal Museums Greenwich has now launched an urgent crowdfunding campaign through ‘Art Happens with Art Fund’ to raise £15,000 for the completion of the project. This will mean the tapestry can be included in an exhibition at the Queen’s House next February marking 350 years since the Van de Veldes’ arrival in England.

The crowdfunding campaign runs until 17th March. To contribute, head to www.artfund.org/save-solebay.

Detail from the Solebay Tapestry of sailor washed out to sea, taken in March 2019 before conservation. © National Maritime Museum, London

Treasures of London – Wren’s Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral…

PICTURE: Andrea Vail (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Housed now in the building it depicts, the Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral was created by architect Sir Christopher Wren to show King Charles II what his proposed grand new English Baroque cathedral would look like (following the destruction of the medieval cathedral in the Great Fire of 1666).

Made of oak, plaster and lime wood, the model was made by William Cleere to Wren’s design in between September, 1673, and October, 1674, at a scale of 1:25. It measures 6.27 metres long, 3.68 metres wide and more than four metres tall, making it one of the largest in the UK.

The model, which cost about £600 to make – an extraordinary sum which could apparently buy a good London house, was designed to be “walked through” at eye level and, as well as being a useful way to show the King what the proposed building would look like, was also something of an insurance policy in case something happened to Wren.

It was based on drawings made by Wren and his assistant Edward Woodroofe on a large table in the cathedral’s convocation or chapter house (later demolished in the early 1690s) and was originally painted white to represent Portland stone with a blue-grey dome and gilded details.

There are some differences between the model and the finished cathedral – among them was a substantial extension of the quire, double-height portico on the west front, and, of course, the bell towers on the west front which were made in place of the cupola which was located halfway down the nave on the model.

Part of an earlier wooden model from 1671 also survives – it was apparently lost for many years and rediscovered in 1935.

The Great Model can be seen on tours of the Triforium.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £21 adults/£18.50 concessions/£9 children/£36 family (these are walk-up rates – online advanced and group rates are discounted); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk (for tours, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits/guided-tours)

Treasures of London – Bas-relief of Charles Dickens (and some famous friends)…

PICTURE: Eden, Janine and Jim (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Christmas is fast arriving so we went in search of some related monuments in London and found one depicting two famous characters from an iconic Yuletide text.

Located on the site of a house where 19th century writer Charles Dickens wrote six of his famous books, including A Christmas Carol, is a stone relief featuring several characters from them including Scrooge and Marley’s Ghost (represented as a door knocker in the top left).

Dickens lived at the property at what was then 1 Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone, between 1839 and 1851. It was demolished in the late 1950s and replaced with an office block upon which was incorporated the stone relief.

The bas-relief is the work of Estcourt J “Jim” Clack and features a large portrait of Dickens as well as the characters who, alongside the characters from A Christmas Carol.

They apparently include Barnaby Rudge with his raven ‘Grip’ (from the book of the same name), Little Nell and Granddad (The Old Curiosity Shop), Dombey and his daughter Florence (Dombey and Son), Sairey Gamp (Martin Chuzzlewit), David Copperfield and Wikins Micawber (David Copperfield).

Correction: The name of Barnaby Rudge’s raven has been corrected.

Treasures of London – Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I…

Held in the National Archives at Kew, this great seal was used during the second half of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign – from 1586 to 1603.

The seal, which replaced an earlier one used by Queen Elizabeth I, was used by the Chancery to prove the document it was attached to was issued in the Queen’s name. The seal also acted as a security device, ensuring the document couldn’t be read before reaching the intended recipient. Made of wax, it was created using a metal pattern or matrix.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I. PICTURE: Courtesy of The National Archives, Kew.

The metal pattern for this seal was created by court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

The obverse or front side of the seal, which is made of resin and beeswax which turns brown with age, shows Queen Elizabeth I on her throne, her hands holding a sceptre and an orb – royal insignia – and accompanied by the Royal Coat of Arms. The reverse (pictured) shows Queen Elizabeth I mounted on a horse and surrounded by symbols including the Tudor Rose, a harp representing Ireland and fleur de lys representing France. The inscription around the seal reads: Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’).

The seal was traditionally carried before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal in a purse or burse. One used to carry Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix is in the collection of the British Museum.

The matrix used to create the second seal was surrendered to King James I on his accession to the throne on 3rd May, 1603. James then used it for the next 11 weeks until his own was ready (at which time Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix was defaced).

Treasures of London – The pelicans of St James’s Park…

Pelicans were first introduced to St James’s Park in 1664 when a pair of the rather large birds were presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II. They’ve been there ever since.

Pelicans in St James’s Park in 2015. PICTURE: Philippa Willitts (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

More than 40 pelicans have apparently made their home at the park over the years. Past pelicans have included the solitary Daphne – nicknamed the ‘Lady of the Lake’, she lived alone at the park in the early 1970s as well as Astra and Khan, who came from Astrakhan in Russia and were presented by the Russian Ambassador in 1977. There’s also been a Louis, who came from Louisiana in 1982, and Vaclav and Rusalka, who were a gift from Prague Zoo in 1995.

There are currently six members of the ‘scoop’ or ‘squadron’ (just two of the collective nouns used for pelicans) in the park. They include Isla and Tiffany – gifted from Prague in 2013 – and Gargi (gifted in 1996 after he was found in a Southend garden) as well as newer arrivals, brothers Sun and Moon, and a female named Star, all of whom came from Prague Zoo in 2019. Five are Eastern Whites and one is a South American White.

The pelicans are fed fresh fish each day between 2:30pm and 3pm, next to Duck Island Cottage, and while they are free to go where they wish, they rarely go far from the almost 57 acre park. But they did make headlines for eating a pigeon in 2006.

Royal Parks are offering a walking tour of St James’s Park which ends with watching the daily feeding on 5th November. Head here for details.

Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

Treasures of London – The Green Closet, Ham House…

The Green Closet, Ham House. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This small chamber off The Long Gallery at Ham House – which was designed as an up-close and personal gallery to display both cabinet pictures and miniatures – is a rare survivor from the reign of King Charles I.

It retains many of its original contents and features carved woodwork and painted ceilings installed by Franz Cleyn during a 1637-39 refurbishment of the chamber carried out on the orders of the home’s then owner, William Murray.

The room, which would have been used for private meetings, was hung with green silk damask in 1655 (the present hangings are copies) and architecturally the room has remained unchanged since 1672 when a door into the North Dining Room was opened.

Of the many pictures hanging in the chamber, 22 were here in 1683 and another 10 of those now hanging here were hanging elsewhere in the house at the time.

The more than 80 works on show include a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard created around 1590, a couple of David Paton – one of King Charles II (dated 1668) and one depicting John Maitland, the Duke of Lauderdale (dated 1669), one of the owners of Ham House.

The larger works include Gerard Dou’s Bust of an Old Man (1635), a rare posthumous portrait of Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset (18th century) and the convivial scene, Boors smoking and drinking, by Adriaen Brouwer which, regarded as an original work in 1683, was then one of the most highly valued works at the house.

WHERE: Ham House, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond (nearest Tube station is Richmond). WHEN: Selected dates – check the website; ADMISSION CHARGE: Yes (National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden.

Treasures of London – War posters from the National Archives…

Left to right: Abraham Gomes, Forces Recruitment ATS (girl’s head) (between 1939 and 1946); Mary Le Bon, Give yourself a happy holiday…and help our farmers. Lend a hand on the land at an agricultural camp (between 1939 and 1946); Unknown author, There’s often a listener. Silence is safety. Never talk to anyone about sailing dates, cargoes, destinations (between 1939 and 1946).

These posters are among almost 2,000 original works created by artists working for the Ministry of Information during World War II now in the collection of The National Archives based in Kew.

The posters tackle a range of issues – from saving on fuel at home to warnings about spies, posters to inspire effort on the homefront and those to recruit new men and women to the service.

Under a partnership with Wikimedia UK, in 2013 The National Archives digitised and released more than 350 images of the posters into the public domain. Here are some those released.

The originals are held at The National Archives.

Left to right: Roy Nockolds, “In Germany…someone is doing the same job as you. Beat him!” (1942); Tom Purvis, “Stand Firm!” (between 1939 and 1946); and, Frank Newbould,  “Give us the tools and-” – Winston Churchill (between 1939 and 1946).

Treasures of London – Southwark Bridge…

Southwark Bridge lit up to mark its 100th birthday. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation.

Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.

The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.

Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.

Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.

Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.

The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.

The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.

The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Treasures of London – The St Katharine Cree rose window…

The Rose Window in St Katharine Cree. PICTURE: John Salmon (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Said to have been modelled on a rose window once inside Old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London), the window, also known as Catherine (Katharine) Wheel, features some beautiful examples of 17th century stained glass.

The window, which is located in the chancel of the church of St Katharine Cree in Leadenhall Street in the City not far from Leadenhall Market, was installed when the church was rebuilt in the early 1630s (replacing an earlier medieval church – the church’s tower, however, dates from 1504 and was part of the earlier church on the site). It is abstract in design but

The window, which was removed to ensure its protection during World War II, has undergone repairs and the centre of the wheel was replaced after it was blown out in 1992 when a massive truck bomb went off at the nearby Baltic Exchange.

The Catherine Wheel, incidentally, was an execution device associated with the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine had upset the Emperor Maxentius in the early 4th century by speaking out against his persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Tradition has it that after failing to break her spirit through torture (and, so say some, a marriage proposal which she refused), Maxentius ordered her to be put to death on a spiked wheel, it broke at her touch and she was later beheaded.

Treasures of London – Hyde Park’s ‘Grand Entrance’…

David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This ornate triple stone entrance in the south-east corner of Hyde Park (better known as Hyde Park Corner), was designed by Decimus Burton when he was just 25-years-old.

Made of Portland stone, the gate, also known as the ‘Apsley Gate’ (after the nearby home of the Duke of Wellington) or the ‘Hyde Park Screen’, was installed in the late 1820s and replaced a former tollgate.

Several designs were proposed in the late 18th century but it was only after work started to transform Buckingham Palace from a home into the grand building we know today that Burton, who was already working on designing a series of gates, lodges and railings around Hyde Park for the Office of Woods and Forests, was asked to design the screen alongside plans for a grand memorial arch to serve as an entrance to Green Park which would be located opposite.

Burton’s designs for the Hyde Park gateway were approved by none other than King George IV and it now stands true to his original design. Decorative elements in the gate include scroll-topped columns and friezes by John Henning which were copied from the Elgin Marbles. Burton also designed the classical-style lodge house just inside the gates.

Burton’s initial plans for the Green Park arch, however, were deemed not to be grand enough – after all, this would be one of the approaches to Buckingham Palace – and so he produced a second design which is now largely embodied in what became the Wellington Arch.

While the Hyde Park gateway originally stood in line with Wellington Arch, traffic management matters saw the latter moved to its current position in the 1880s, putting it out of alignment with the gateway.

Showing part of the frieze. PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Treasures of London – St Thomas Becket pilgrim badges…

The Museum of London is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic but we run this story in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon.

This pilgrim badge depicts the scene of Becket’s martyrdom. An inscription at the base of the badge reads ‘THOMAS MA’ (meaning ‘Thomas Martyr’). Becket is on his knees in front of an altar with a number of knights attacking him. Behind the altar stands the figure of Edward Grim, a clerk who tried to stop Becket’s murder. One of the knights carries a shield with two bears’ heads on it, identifying him as Reginald Fitzurse (through the visual pun on the Latin ‘ursus’, meaning ‘bear’). Fitzurse was the knight popularly believed to have struck final blow that killed Becket. PICTURE: © Museum of London.
Pilgrim badge in the shape of a bust of St Thomas Becket wearing a mitre and inscribed ‘T:H:O:M:A:S’. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

The Museum of London contains a large collection – in fact, it’s said to be the largest in the UK – of pilgrim badges relating to the commemoration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas Becket, who was brutally murdered in 1170.

Produced largely in Canterbury (possibly some in London), the lead-alloy badges were worn, typically on a hat or staff, by pilgrims as a means of commemorating their pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

They came in various shapes and sizes. Many simply depict a bust of Becket’s head wearing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mitre (see picture right).

But others are more elaborate and depict the full-length figure of the archbishop, scenes of his martyrdom at the hands of King Henry II’s knights (see picture above) and even the elaborate bejewelled shrine housing St Thomas’ remains that was erected in about 1220 in Canterbury Cathedral (the endpoint of the pilgrimage).

The museum also has small tin ampullae which were created to hold “Canterbury Water” or “St Thomas’ Water” – water into which drops of the martyred archbishop’s blood were dripped before it was blessed – which was given to pilgrims to take home as a kind of “cure all”.

The collection of badges can be seen when the museum reopens. Keep an eye out for the reopening at www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Treasures of London – Sutton Hoo helmet…

This spectacular Anglo-Saxon helmet – perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon object in a museum today – was among the finds made at the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk in the late 1930s, the story of which is told in the current Netflix film, The Dig.

The Sutton Hoo helmet in the British Museum in 2016. PICTURE: Geni (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The ornately decorated helmet, the manufacture of which is dated to the late 6th or early 7th century, was found buried in the grave mound of an important figure whom some believe was an East Anglian king named Rædwald. The grave mound had been constructed over a ship containing the body and artefacts including the helmet. The ship itself had disintegrated but its imprint was uncovered during the excavation.

Excavated in hundreds of corroded fragments, the iron and bronze helmet, which is believed to have weighed about 2.5 kilograms, was painstakingly reassembled in the mid-1940s to reveal a helmet featuring cheek and neck guards and a mask with sculpted facial features including a nose, eyebrows and moustache as well as holes for the eyes. It features a number of other decorative elements including representations of dragons and warriors as well as geometric patterns. Gold and silver were used in the decorations.

The helmet underwent a second reconstruction in the early 1970s after issues were identified with the first.

The helmet, along with other artefacts found at the site, were deemed to be the property of Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty who subsequently donated it to the British Museum. It is on permanent display in Room 41 of the museum.

Treasures of London: The Diana Fountain, Green Park

The statue atop the fountain. Neil Turner (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
The fountain. David Short (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This fountain and statue ensemble – also known as Diana of the Treetops and the Constance Fountain (and not to be confused with the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park or the Diana Fountain in Bushy Park) – for many years stood at the centre of Green Park.

The fountain replaced an earlier one by Sidney Smirke – installed in 1860 – that had fallen into disrepair.

The Ministry of Works approached the Constance Fund – which had been established by artist Sigismund Goetze and was administered by his wife Constance following his death – to provide finances for a replacement and after they agreed, a competition for the design was held overseen by Sir William Reid.

Escourt J “Jim” Clack, a teacher from Devon, won and designed a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Diana to top the fountain. Depicting a naked Diana unleashing a hunting dog, it sits atop a stylised tree under which sit the fountain basins. The fountain was unveiled in 1954.

In 2011, the statue was removed, restored and some gilding added and then placed near the entrance to Green Park tube station in the north-east corner of the park.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 14, 13, 12 and 11…

And, just before we get to the top 10, here’s the next four in our countdown…

14. Treasures of London – The Cheapside Hoard

13. Lost London – The Devil Tavern…

12. 10 fictional character addresses in London – 1. 221b Baker Street…

11. London Pub Signs – The Hung, Drawn and Quartered…

Merry Christmas (and the next four in our countdown!)…

Christmas tree outside St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: Alex Liivet
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In what has been, and continues to be, such a hard year for so many, we at Exploring London hope you’re still able to celebrate Christmas in some form this year…

Meantime, here’s the next four in our countdown of the 100 most popular posts of all time…

22. Lost London – The Savoy Palace…

21. What’s in a name?…St Mary Overie…

20. Treasures of London – The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral

19. Treasures of London – Admiral Lord Nelson’s coat