This Week in London – Marble Hill revived; Harry Kane at the Museum of London; and, golden books at the British Library…

Marble Hill in London’s west reopens on Saturday following a restoration and the reinstatement of a lost pleasure garden. Once home to King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, Marble Hill is a rare example of a home built by and for a woman in Georgian England and is one of the last survivors of the many 18th century villas that once fronted the Thames in the area. Marble Hill was built as a country retreat from London’s crowds and among those entertained here were poet Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, John Gay and Jonathan Swift. English Heritage has invested £3 million into a major transformation of the house and 66 acres of riverside parkland which also used a £5 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Community Lottery Fund. This has included the reinstatement of a pleasure garden – an “Arcadian landscape” which was inspired by sketches made by Pope – with the opening up of previously inaccessible woodland areas, the reinstallation of paths and the replanting of avenues of trees that led from the house to the river. Howard’s ninepin bowling alley has been restored and an 18th-century garden grotto has been excavated and returned to its 18th-century appearance. Inside the house, English Heritage has re-instated the paint scheme that existed during Howard’s lifetime in several interior spaces, including the Great Room, conserved the fine collection of early Georgian paintings which includes portraits of Howard’s circle and re-created furniture including an intricate carved peacock motif table and luxurious crimson silk wall hangings in her dressing room. The new display has reframed Howar’s beyond being simply the King’s mistress by also exploring her abusive first marriage and the role deafness played in her life as well as her rise in Georgian society and the social circles she captivated. Entry to the house is free. For more, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/.

Harry Kane of England celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on 29th June, 2021 in London, England. PICTURE: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

England football captain Harry Kane is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Harry Kane: I want to play football features sporting memorabilia including the shirt Kane, who grew up in Chingford, East London, wore on his debut for England where he scored against Lithuania just 79 seconds after coming on the pitch, Kane’s MBE which was awarded to him in March 2019 for ‘services to sport’ and the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot (Kane being one of only two British players to receive a Golden Boot at a World Cup competition, where he was named Man of the Match three times) as well as family photos. The display also includes a changing room space where visitors can listen to Kane’s pre-match playlist and an interactive area where visitors can learn more about who has inspired Harry and share their own hopes and dreams. A programme of activities for families and children will run alongside the free display. Runs until December. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The use of gold in embellishing and enhancing the written word across cultures, faiths and through time is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library. Gold, which opens Friday, showcases some of the most luxurious illuminated manuscripts, gold-tooled books, sacred texts and scrolls from the British Library’s collection with objects on display including the Harley Golden Gospels, the Lotus Sutra and a treaty in Malayalam, beautifully inscribed on a long strip of gold itself. Admission charge applies. Runs until 2nd October. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

LondonLife – Hammersmith terrace…

PICTURE: Victor Huang/iStockphoto.

A row of terraced houses overlooking the Thames in Hammersmith.

LondonLife – Climbing the rigging…

PICTURES: @NathanTurner

Visitors to the Cutty Sark now have the opportunity to climb the ship’s rigging for the first time since the ship arrived in Greenwich in 1954. The ‘Rig Climb Experience’, which was launched last weekend, sees those bold enough to do so stepping up from the main deck onto the ship’s ratlines, climbing up its shrouds and traversing one of the ship’s lower yardarms  to reach the tops platform where they’ll be able to take in magnificent views over Greenwich and The Thames. One of the fastest tea clippers of its day, the Cutty Sark – which was built in Dumbarton in 1869 – had more than 11 miles of rigging, 32 sails with an original sail area of 32,000 square feet, and a 152 foot main mast. Prices start at £41 for adults and £26 for children for a ‘Standard Rig Climb’ and £51 for adults and £36 for children for the Rig Climb Experience Plus. For more, head to www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark.

10 historic stairways in London – 7. Wapping Old Stairs…

This Thames-side set of stairs gives access to the River Thames from Wapping High Street and is one of few survivors of what was once numerous “watermen’s stairs”.

PICTURE: Fin Fahey (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5)

The Grade II-listed stairs, which are accessed from the top via a narrow passage bearing their names which runs down the side of the Town of Ramsgate pub, were once used to reach boats to carry passengers across the Thames or offload cargo.

The worn stone stairs at Wapping Old Stairs, which the Historic England says may be of earlier origin than the 18th century, are unusual in that there’s two sets of stairs – one set back behind the other.

The stairs have made numerous appearances in pop culture including in an episode of Dr Who and in a rhyme published in the early 19th century.

Many believe the stairs were the location of Execution Dock, where pirates, smugglers and mutineers were executed by hanging including the notorious Captain William Kidd (but there are alternate theories about where the stairs were located).

Other surviving watermen’s stairs go by the names of Alderman Stairs, Pelican Stairs and King Henry’s Stairs (also known as Execution Dock Stairs, thanks to its being another site posited as the location of Execution Dock.)

LondonLife – Bridges over the Thames…

PICTURE: Lisa van Vliet/Unsplash

The Hungerford Bridge, flanked by the two Golden Jubilee Bridges, and the north-west bank of the Thames.

LondonLife – Illuminated workers, Thameside…

PICTURE: Robin Canfield/Unsplash

LondonLife – Parliamentary silhouette…

Looking across the River Thames alongside Westminster Bridge. PICTURE: Mark Haupt/Unsplash

LondonLife – Foggy morning on the Lea, East London…

PICTURE: Dan Poulton/Unsplash

Lost London – Prison hulks on the Thames…

Floating prisons known as ‘hulks’ were a regular site on the Thames in London between the late 18th century and mid-19th century, used to house convicts awaiting transportation to British penal colonies including in what is now Australia.

The ‘hulks’ were actually decommissioned warships, dismasted and repurposed for the purpose of housing prisoners.

The Warrior’ converted into a prison hulk off Woolwich. PICTURE: Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 21st February, 1846.

The decision to use the former warships – some of which had a storied history – for such a purpose was initially seen as a temporary measure to ease overcrowding in the jails with an Act of Parliament in 1776 only authorising their use for two years.

But, despite rising concerns over conditions on the hulks, they remained in use until 1857 when the act finally expired for good. Some 8,000 convicts were housed upon them in the first 20 years alone.

The hulks were initially moored off Woolwich – the former East Indiaman Justitia and a former French Navy frigate Censor were among the first – and the convicts aboard them put to use working to improve the river and at Woolwich Arsenal and nearby docks. The hulks were also later positioned at sites including Limehouse and Deptford (and the idea of using hulks was also exported to colonies in Australia and the Caribbean).

The hulks were initially operated by private individuals under a government contract but from 1802 they were placed under the supervision of the Inspector of Hulks. Aaron Graham was first to hold the post while his successor John Capper, who was appointed Superintendent of Prisons and the Hulk Establishment in 1814, oversaw numerous reforms of the system. During Capper’s tenure, the use of private contractors was later phased out with the government assuming direct responsibility for the hulks.

Some hulks – like positioned at Limehouse – were used as “receiving hulks” where prisoners were initially sent for several days where they were inspected and issued clothing, blankets, and a mess kit. They were then sent to “convict hulks” where they were assigned to a mess and a work gang for the long-term. Other hulks were to serve specific purposes such as being a “hospital hulk” (there was also a hulk off Kent, the Bellerophon, which was specifically designated for boys).

Conditions on board the vessels were indeed appalling and disease spread quickly with mortality rates of 30 per cent not uncommon. Prisoners were kept chained when aboard and floggings handed out as punishment for any offences. Food and clothing were of poor quality.

Despite this, the hulks continued to be seen as a convenient means of housing convicts and, in 1841, there were still more than 3,500 convicts on board hulks in England. It was said that one ship – a second vessel named Justitia – housed as many as 700 convicts alone.

Following several government inquiries into the hulks and the construction of more prisons on land, the hulks were gradually decommissioned. But altogether, between  1776 and 1884, the British Government had converted more than 150 ships into hulks in both the UK and the colonies.

LondonLife – Low tide on the Thames…

PICTURE: Gavin Allanwood/Unsplash

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.

This Week in London – Totally Thames turns 25; Muppeteer Jim Henson honoured; and, Beerfest-Lite…

One Night Light Show by Leo Villareall as part of Totally Thames. PICTURE: Totally Thames.

Totally Thames, the annual month-long celebration of London’s river, is celebrating its 25th iteration this month. Highlights this year include Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River which lights up the Thames every night (along with a special three-day celebration including guided tours, talks, sketching workshops and a one-off illumination event on 23rd September) as well as the chance to explore the foreshore with ‘Mudlarking’ at St Paul’s Cathedral, take a deep dive into the history of dockside communities with ‘The Islanders’ and see river-themed art from children across the globe
come together at the National Maritime Museum in Rivers of the World. More than 80 events are included in the programme which runs until the end of the night. For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/whats-on.

• Muppet creator Jim Henson was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Hampstead home this week. Henson lived in the home at 50 Downshire Hill between 1979 and 1982 and continued to use it as his base until his death in 1990. It stands opposite the former ‘Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’, where creatures from fantasy films including The Dark CrystalThe Storyteller and Labyrinth were created. Henson’s son Brian,  chairman of the board at The Jim Henson Company, said it was an honour to have the property recognised, “knowing that he so admired and respected the talent in London, and that this is the place he called home when creating some of his most memorable productions.” For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Beerfest-Lite takes place in Guildhall Yard in the City of London today. The event , which runs from noon to 9pm – features beers from the Meantime, Windsor and Eaton, Hook Norton and Shepherd Neame breweries and a street vendor menu including paella, hot dogs, souvlaki and Caribbean dishes as well as a jazz performance from the Alvar Tree Frogs and Bavarian Oompah band Würst Brass. For more, see www.citybeerfest.org.

Send all inclusions to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

LondonLife – Kayaking at Canary Wharf…

PICTURE: Evgeny Klimenchenko/Unsplash

10 London hills – 10. Richmond Hill…

The famous and protected view looking south-west from Richmond Hill across The Thames and Glover’s Island. PICTURE: flicksmores (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For the final in this series we head out west to Richmond Hill which takes its name from the palace which once stood nearby.

At the summit of the hill, which stands about 50 metres (165 feet) high, stands the gate to Richmond Park while the steeper western slopes drop down to Petersham Meadows by the River Thames.

What was the village of Richmond – now incorporated into greater London – sits partly on the slopes of the hill. It and the hill take their names from a palace, established here in the early 16th century by King Henry VII as a replacement for Sheen (Shene) Palace which had been destroyed in a fire in 1499. The King named the new building Richmond Palace, in honour of the earldom of Richmond in Yorkshire, one of his titles.

Richmond Hill is famed for its views – they include the only view in England protected by an Act of Parliament (passed in 1902). It looks to the south-west over Petersham to the Thames, taking in Glover’s Island, and reaching as far as Windsor and has been immortalised in works by the likes of artists JMW Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds as well as by author Sir Walter Scott.

Richmond Hill features many fine 18th century homes including Wick House (built for Joshua Reynolds in 1771) and the westward slopes boast the Terrace Walk and Terrace Gardens, both of which are Grade II* listed, while the massive bulk of the former Royal Star and Garter Home for disabled ex-servicemen (now apartments) can be seen close to the summit.

Other famous residents on the hill have included Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood and actress Celia Johnson while scenes for the film, The Hours, were shot on The Terrace.

Looking at Richmond Hill from the Petersham meadows; to the left is the Petersham Hotel, to the right, the former Star and Garter Home. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

LondonLife – The Shard under a mackerel sky…

PICTURE: Bex Walton/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

The final in our series on St Thomas Becket’s London is not about a static site but a pathway, one that people have been walking since the Middle Ages as pilgrims to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

A Pilgrim’s Way signpost near Chaldon in Surrey. PICTURE: G Travels (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Famous today through its association with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Pilgrim’s Way actually refers to not one path but a series of routes taken by pilgrims as they made their way from London to Canterbury, linking up along the way with another route originating in Winchester.

The pilgrimage from London typically started at the now long lost St Thomas Becket Chapel in the middle of Old London Bridge and then headed south through Southwark where the Tabard Inn – where Chaucer has his pilgrims staying at the start of his journey – was located.

These days, there’s several routes – the official Pilgrim’s Way website has a couple of different routes through London. Both start at Southwark Cathedral and one then follows the line of A2 south before heading east to the Thames through Deptford where it joins up with a second route. This route, on leaving Southwark Cathedral, follows the south bank of the Thames east.

On becoming one route at Deptford, the Pilgrim’s Way then follows the Thames through Greenwich and Woolwich before turning southward to Dartford and eventually linking up with the Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester in the village of Otford in Kent (and then on to Canterbury).

Other versions of the pilgrimage route start at Westminster Abbey and take in St Paul’s Cathedral before crossing over the Thames and heading east to Gravesend and on to the Medway towns and eventually Canterbury.

Interestingly, some believe that King Henry II took the route from London to Canterbury when performing his very public act of atonement for his role in the saint’s death (although others believe he made the pilgrimage from Winchester).

LondonLife – Award-winning Thames views…

Overall winner – Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning

Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning was the overall winner of this year’s Thames Lens competition. The Thames Festival Trust received more than 350 entries to the competition between July last year and January this year which was held under the theme of ‘Thames Unlocked’. As well as submitting new images, photographers were encouraged to consider past photos for submission given the impact of coronavirus related restrictions. Other notable images, which were selected by representatives of the Thames Festival Trust and Port of London Authority, included Fraser Gray’s LV 21 and Royal Terrace Pier Gravesend (the runner-up – pictured below), and Sarah Gannon’s highly commended image Costa del Rotherhithe (pictured far below). For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/read-watch-listen/thames-lens-2020/.

Runner-up – Fraser Gray’s Royal Terrace Pier and LV 21 Light Vessel in the early morning fog.
Highly commended – Sarah Gannon’s Costa del Rotherhithe

London pub signs – The Town of Ramsgate…

This storied Thames-side pub in Wapping has a history dating back centuries although much of the current premises dates from renovation works carried out in the late 1930s.

PICTURE: Fin Fahey (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the pub’s website, the first of its predecessors was probably established in the Wars of the Roses in the 1460s and was known as The Hostel.

In the 1530s, it was known as The Red Cow, and it wasn’t until 1766 it became known as Ramsgate Old Town, finally becoming The Town of Ramsgate by 1811.

The name apparently relates to its location on Wapping Old Stairs. It was there that the fisherman of the seaside town of Ramsgate would apparently land their catch to avoid the taxes they’d have to pay if they did so at Billingsgate.

The now Grade II-listed pub is famous for its connections to the notorious “Hanging Judge” George Jeffreys who presided over the ‘Bloody Assizes’ and sent hundreds to their death following the unsuccessful attempt by James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of the late King Charles II, to overthrow King James II. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Jeffreys is said to have been captured outside the premises while attempting to escape, disguised as a sailor, on a collier bound for Hamburg. He subsequently died in the Tower of London.

There’s also said to be a close connection with piracy – at the base of Wapping Old Stairs is what some say was the site of Execution Dock where pirates were tied up to be drowned by the rising tide.

The front area of the pub – which features an etching on a mirror of Ramsgate Harbour – is the oldest part of the building. A depiction of Ramsgate Harbour can also be seen on the pub sign.

For more on the pub, see http://townoframsgate.pub.

Correction – We accidentally dropped an I off James II’s title. Our apology!

LondonLife – Tower Bridge crossing…

Crossing the Thames on a cold winter’s day. PICTURE: Lubo Minar/Unsplash