A nickname for a section of Paddington (or is it Maida Vale?) centred on the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal (which links through to Paddington Basin), the origins of the term Little Venice are somewhat mysterious.

Some claim the area owes its moniker to the 19th century poet Robert Browning who moved back to London from Italy after his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died in 1861 and settled in the area until 1887 (before returning to Italy – Venice – where he died in 1889).

It was while living in the area that some say he apparently coined the name (his residence there, meanwhile, is also noted in the naming of Browning’s Pool, located at the junction of the two canals).

Others, however, give credit to another iconic 19th century literary figure – Lord Byron – but suggest the context wasn’t so much praise but rather a wishful statement noting that London could have had its own Venice if the canals weren’t so filthy.

Either way, the name apparently didn’t gain much currency until after World War II (and the ‘Little’ was apparently a late addition – the area was first simply known as London’s Venice).

These days, Little Venice is a sought-after residential district and hosts some great cafes as well as pubs and theatres – including the Puppet Theatre Barge. It also serves as a terminus for various canal boat companies and hosts the annual IWA Canalway Cavalcade, which has been taking place since 1983 (pictured above).

As well as boasting its own island, Browning’s Pool, meanwhile, is also home to Rembrandt Gardens, named so in 1975 in honour of the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam.

Robert Browning aside, others who have lived in the area reportedly include artist Lucian Freud, singer Robbie Williams, entrepreneur Richard Branson and Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear.

PICTURE: Paul Hudson/CC BY 2.0

Located on the north bank of the River Thames at Chelsea, these 19th century pleasure gardens were only open for about 40 years.

The origins of the gardens go back to the 1830s when a mansion and surrounding estate – previously owned by Thomas Dawson, Viscount Cremorne (hence the name) – was sold to one Charles Random who went by the name of Baron de Berenger or Baron de Beaufain, a convicted stockmarket fraudster. Random established a sports facility called the Cremorne Stadium on the site where people could indulge in swimming, rowing, fencing, boxing and shooting (the ‘baron’ himself was apparently a crack shot).

The venture was not an immediate success however and so management began to diversify and provide other entertainments more synonymous with pleasure gardens including mock tournaments and pony races as well as dances and, of course, balloon ascents. Nonetheless, the venture failed and was sold off to a City coffee house owner of the name of Thomas Bartlett Simpson.

He sublet the 12 acre site to James Ellis who reopened the house and grounds as a pleasure gardens in 1845.  Ellis, however, went bankrupt within just a few years – an interesting side note is that he then went to Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria (part of what is now Australia) where he established another Cremorne Gardens beside the city’s Yarra River  – although like his London venture that, too, didn’t have a long life.

Back in London, Simpson then took over management of the gardens himself and  within just a few years the gardens had become popular among the fashionable.

The gardens featured a dazzling array of facilities including a banqueting hall, theatre, and American-style bowling saloon and provided all manner of entertainments such as balloon ascents, firework displays, dancing, and performances. The site could be entered from the grand entrance on King’s Road or at the Cremorne Pier on the river.

Alongside its regular entertainments, the gardens also hosted numerous spectacular events including, in 1861, being the site from where Madame Genevieve Young, the ‘Female Blondin’, crossed the Thames on a tightrope and where, in 1864, Mr Godard ascended in his Montgolfier Balloon. Other acts – such as a 1855 renactment of the storming of a fort at Sebastapol during which a stage collapsed, and another in which a balloon drifted onto the spire of a nearby church – were less successful.

The garden passed through the hands of several other managers over the ensuing years and but by the 1870s has acquired something of a bad reputation. While while then-manager John Baum, who had invested considerable sums in upgrading the gardens’ facilities, won a libel case against a local minister who had published a pamphlet condemning the gardens (in principle at least – he was apparently only awarded a farthing in damages), in 1877 he decided not to reapply for his licence and closed the gardens.

During its final years of operations, the gardens were captured on canvas by artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was a resident in nearby Cheyne Walk.

The modern Cremorne Gardens – located by the Thames near the Lots Road power station – were opened in 1982. Iron gates from the original gardens (pictured), which had been taken to a brewery, were restored and installed in the new gardens.

PICTURE: Above – The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons; Right – The Cremorne Gardens gates, Tarquin Binary/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

A smaller scale albeit spectacular view – in this one, the focus is on a particular building – but among the most splendid views of London is that of the Houses of Parliament (aka The Palace of Westminster) from across the Thames.

Featured in various ways in numerous films and TV shows (1980s sitcoms Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister among them) as well on bottles of HP Sauce, the iconic view from the east bank of the Thames, taking the facade of the building with the bookends of Victoria and Elizabeth Towers, has only been around its current form following the completion of  Sir Charles Barry’s gothic masterpiece in 1870 (although the Palace of Westminster and adjacent buildings have occupied the site for far longer).

The site, along with the neighbouring Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, is protected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, the official listing of which notes that the “iconic silhouette of the ensemble is an intrinsic part of its identity, which is recognised internationally with the sound of ‘Big Ben’ being broadcast regularly around the world”.

PICTURE: Cody Thompson/Unsplash

Another historic City of London view, this one dates from 1677 when construction of this memorial to the Great Fire of London was completed.

Located just a stone’s throw from the site where the fire of 1666 apparently started (more on that in our earlier post), the 61 metre high Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke with a platform viewing platform set just below a stone drum and gilt copper urn from which flames emerge in a symbolic representation of the fire.

The viewing platform was intended as a place where Wren and Hooke could conduct experiments for the Royal Society (to this end, the Monument also features a laboratory in the cellar while its hollow shaft was designed to accommodate experiments with pendulums, its staircase steps measure exactly six inches high so they could be used in experiments on pressure and there is a trapdoor in the top of the orb to facilitate use of a telescope).

Vibrations caused by the traffic on Fish Street Hill, however, caused problems and so the idea was abandoned and the platform, located at a height of about 48.5 metres, was left to the public.

A mesh cage was added to the top in the mid 19th century, apparently as a preventative measure after a number of people had leapt from the top. The cage was replaced in 2008 as part of a major, £4.5 million, 18 month-long restoration of the Grade I-listed structure.

While people are welcome to climb the 311 steps to the top on a circular staircase that winds its way up the inside of the pillar to take in the views over the City and Thames (and about 100,000 d0 so each year, gaining themselves a special certificate for their efforts), for those who can’t make the climb, equipment enabling the streaming of live video images, taking in a 360 degree panorama from the top of the Monument, was installed as part of the restoration. These images can be accessed via the Monument’s website. The images, which take in the city, are updated every minute.

WHERE: The Monument, junction of Fish Street Hill and Monument Street (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily (until October); COST: £4.50 adults/£2.30 children (aged five to 15)/£3 seniors (joint tickets with Tower Bridge available); WEBSITE: www.themonument.info

Top – Panoramic view from the top of The Monument taken in 2006; Below – The Monument. PICTURES: Top – Piotr Zarobkiewicz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/Below – David Adams

Tradition holds that the spot where this officially protected view originates from – the prehistoric barrow known as King Henry’s Mound – was where King Henry VIII stood on 19th May, 1536, to watch for a rocket fired from the Tower of London.

The signal was to indicate that his former wife, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded for treason and hence that he was now free to marry Jane Seymour.

Sadly, the story is seen as unlikely – the king was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

But it adds a nice nostalgia to this tree-framed view which looks across Richmond Park and areas south of the River Thames to the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The mound, which also offers views west over the Thames Valley towards Windsor, is believed to cover a burial chamber from the Bronze Age (it would have stood more prominently over the Thames Valley in those days) and was later used as a viewing position for hunting deer and falconry.

A permanent public telescope has been set up on the mound which since the 19th century has sat in Pembroke Lodge Garden (named for the Countess of Pembroke who lived in a cottage here between about 1788 and 1831).

The historic view made headlines last year over calls for London’s Mayor to step in and halt building work amid concerns that the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens tower in Stratford, east London, could be seen in the view behind the cathedral dome.

WHERE: King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park (nearest Tube station is Richmond); WHEN: 24 hour pedestrian access except during the deer cull in November and February; COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park

PICTURE: Royal Parks

Looking over the River Thames from the Tate Modern at the dome of St Paul’s. PICTURE: Christian Battaglia/Unsplash

The remains of several archbishops of Canterbury are believed to have been found beneath a former parish church in Lambeth. Workers were carrying out renovation works at the deconsecrated St Mary-at-Lambeth, removing flagstone, when they found a hitherto unknown crypt containing some 20 lead coffins one of which had a small gold archbishops’ mitre resting on top of it. Among those whose coffins have been identified are those of Archbishop Richard Bancroft (in office 1604-1610), who played an important role in the creation of the King James Bible, and Archbishop John Moore (1783-1805) as well as Moore’s wife Catherine and that of John Bettesworth, Dean of Arches, Judge of the Archbishop Prerogative court. It is also believed that archbishops Frederick Cornwallis (1768-1783), Matthew Hutton (1757-1758) and Thomas Tenison (1694-1715) were buried in the tomb under the church’s chancel. The church, which is located beside the River Thames adjacent to Lambeth Palace – London home of the archbishops of Canterbury, originally dates from the 11th century and was deconsecrated in the 1960s. The burial place of John Tradescant (c1570-1638), described as the first “great gardener” in British history, it was subsequently transformed into what is now known as the Garden Museum, the world’s first museum of garden history. The museum closed in 2015 for a £7.5 million redevelopment project and is expected to reopen in late May. PICTURE: Top – the lead coffins with metallic bishop’s mitre; a still taken from video posted on the Garden Museum website/Right – St Mary-at-Lambeth (right side of image).

Flowers on Westminster Bridge, placed there in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which an assailant, named as 52-year-old Khalid Masood, killed three people and injured at least 50 as he drove a vehicle at high speed across the bridge along a pedestrian walkway. Crashing outside the Houses of Parliament he then stabbed to death PC Keith Palmer before he was shot dead by another officer. Addressing a vigil in Trafalgar Square in the aftermath of the attack, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the city “will never be cowed” by terrorism. “Those evil and twisted individuals who try to destroy our shared way of life will never succeed and we condemn them,” he said. PICTURE: David Holt/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Looking from across the River Thames. PICTURE: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

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No sign of Tube turmoil as we look south across the River Thames to The Shard and Southwark. The 95 storey high building is the tallest in London (and the fourth tallest in Europe). PICTURE: Fred Mouniguet/Unsplash

royal-african-company• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.

Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.

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The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.

fireOf course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 is only one of numerous fires which have occurred in London (although it was no doubt the greatest in terms of destruction). But among others was a fire in 1212 which has been described as London’s worst in terms of the death toll which some have put as high as 3,000 (although it’s generally believed it’s unlikely to have been that high).

The fire, which only came some 77 years after another great conflagration destroyed a stretch of the city reaching from Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1135, began in Southwark on 10th July (hence it’s also known as the Great Fire of Southwark). Crossing London Bridge, it went on to destroy a large part of the City itself.

As well as destroying buildings on London Bridge including houses and the chapel (the structure itself, having recently been rebuilt in stone, survived somewhat intact although it only remained in partial use for some time afterward), also destroyed the Southwark church known as St Mary Overie (precursor to today’s Southwark Cathedral) as well as many buildings around Borough High Street.

There were apparently numerous deaths – the story goes that many of them occurred when a mass of people poured onto London Bridge from the City as they attempted to cross to Southwark to help put out the fire (or perhaps just gawk at it).

They were trapped in the middle of the bridge when, with the south end was already ablaze, the north end caught fire from sparks. As well as suffering fatally from the effects of flames and smoke, people were apparently crushed in panic and others were pushed off the bridge to drown in the River Thames (along with some of the boat crews who tried to rescue them).

And, just as the Great Fire of 1666, the fire of 1212 did result in some building reforms including the placement of a ban on the use of thatch for rooves.

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Part of the Totally Thames festival, South Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang’s eye-catching installation, Floating Dreams, acts a memorial to the millions of people who were displaced and divided during the Korean War (1950-53) as well as symbolising the hopes that North and South Korea will once again be unified. The three-storey high installation, which sits on the river alongside Millennium Bridge, is constructed from 500 drawings created by the generation, now aged in their 80s and 90s, who had fled North Korea for South Korea during the war. Their images have been transferred on pieces of a traditional Korean rice paper known as Hanji and then compiled into the cube. The illuminated installation can be seen throughout the festival which runs until 30th September. For more on what’s happening throughout Totally Thames, see http://totallythames.org.

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great-tea-raceIt’s 150 years ago this month that the ‘Great Tea Race’  of 1866 ended in London with the clipper ship Taeping taking the honours followed just 28 minutes later by the Ariel.

The race, which had started in China, was part of a tradition for ships carrying cargoes of tea from the east to engage in a race to be the first to dock in London – and quite a lucrative one, for it was common for the first ship to arrive to receive a premium of at least 10 per cent (although 1866 was apparently the last time this was offered).

At least 57 ships apparently sailed in the 1866-67 ‘tea season’, departing for Britain from a range of ports including Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. But it was the fastest which gathered the most attention – these chosen clippers set sail for Britain from the Min River, downriver from Foochow (now Fuzhou), in late May, 1866.

As well as the Taeping, launched in 1863 and captained by Donald MacKinnon, and the Ariel, launched only the previous year and captained by John Keay, other favourites in the 1866 race included Fiery CrossSerica and Taitsing.

The race was followed breathlessly in the London press although details were limited – largely due to the time it took for the news to reach London – as the ships set a course which took them through Indonesia via the Sunda Strait and around the southern tip of Africa and up via the Atlantic to the UK.

The Taeping, the race winner, reached London Docks at 9.47pm on 6th September while Ariel arrived at the East India Dock at 10.15pm. The Serica, meanwhile, reached West India Docks at 11.30pm. (It wasn’t to be too unfortunate for the runner-up – Captains McKinnon and Keay had apparently agreed to split the premium of 10 shillings a ton).

Amazingly, this means the three ships – which had all left China on the same tide – had sailed more than 14,000 miles in a race of 99 days yet had managed to dock with just two hours between them.

PICTURE: The Ariel and Taeping, by Jack Spurling (1926)/Wikimedia Commons

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September is the month of ‘Totally Thames’, London’s celebration of its mighty river, so we thought it only fitting that we look at one of the city’s riverside treasures.

Located to the east of the City at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames can be found London’s only lighthouse (pictured left). No longer operational, it was built between 1864-66 for what became known as the Corporation of Trinity House, an association of shipmen and mariners.

trinity-wharf-lighthouseGranted its charter by King Henry VIII in 1514, in 1573 it was given the authority to erect and maintain beacons, mark and signs to help sea navigation. It’s since been the provider of buoys, lighthouses and lightships and, while headquartered at Trinity House in the City of London, established Trinity Bouy Wharf, located at the confluence of the Bow and Thames Rivers, as its Thames-side workshop in 1803.

The wharf was originally used to make and store wooden buoys and sea marks and as a mooring site for the Trinity House yacht which laid and collected buoys.

The lighthouse is the second on the site – the first was built in 1854 by the then chief engineer of Trinity House James Walker. The second, existing, lighthouse was built James Douglass – Walker’s successor – and as an “experimental lighthouse” was used for testing equipment and training lighthouse keepers.

The wharf, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the site is now leased to Urban Space Management who have developed it as a centre for art and cultural activities. The area around the wharf also now features two prototype “cities” made out of shipping containers.

totally-thamesIt’s September and that means Totally Thames, an annual month of events celebrating London’s great watery artery. Highlights among this year’s 150 events include this Saturday’s Great River Race in which more than 300 boats from across the UK and around the world compete on a course running from Millwall Slipway to Ham House in Richmond, Life Afloat, an exhibition looking at the evolution of the houseboat living on the Thames across the last 100 years, and the 8th annual Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks this weekend as well as walks, talks, performances, art installations and boat trips including a tour of Brunel’s London. Runs until the end of the month. For more information and the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org. PICTURE: Totally Thames/Barry Lewis.

The changes that swept across society in the late 1960s are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A this weekend. You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70 is divided into six distinct sections, and starts with a recreation of Carnaby Street as it was before moving on to subjects like clubs and counterculture, revolution on the street, revolution in consumerism, festivals and alternative communities. Among the objects on display are costumes designed for Mick Jagger, a Cecil Beaton portrait of Twiggy, Roger Corman’s 1967 film about LSD, The Trip, a wall of protest posters, film, sound and still footage from the 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos, a kaftan worn by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, and a rare Apple 1 computer. Runs from 10th September to 26th February at the South Kensington institution. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/revolution.

A new exhibition showcasing the British Museum’s holdings of French portrait drawings opens at the Bloomsbury establishment today. French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet offers the chance to see some well-known French portrait drawings alongside others that have never been exhibited before. Pictures on show include Francois Clouet’s portrait of Catherine de’Medici, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s chalk drawing of his infant daughter, and a ‘playful’ portrait of artist Artemisia Gentileschi by Pierre Dumonstier. The free display can be seen in Room 90 until 29th January.

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London blazed again on Sunday night when a 120 metre long wooden replica of the city as it was in Restoration times was set alight to mark 350th years since the Great Fire of London. London 1666 was designed by US “burn artist” David Best for London’s Burning – a festival of events in the City of London produced by Artichoke to mark the anniversary. It had been placed on a barge moored in the River Thames before it was lit up to ensure that the fire didn’t spread anywhere it wasn’t wanted. The actual Great Fire of London broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on 2nd September, 1666, and blazed across the city for four days, destroying more than three quarters of the old City of London as it render tens of thousands of Londoners homeless and devastated iconic structures like Old St Paul’s Cathedral. You can see a video of the burn herePICTURES: © Matthew Andrews.

 

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Knights-atop-the-columnStanding outside the Temple Church, in the west of the City of London (between Fleet Street and the River Thames), stands a pillar topped with a pair of Templar knights riding a horse in an obvious commemoration of the military order that once had its preceptory here.

But what many people don’t realise is that the column was also erected, apparently like the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, to commemorate another point where the all-consuming Great Fire of London was finally stopped.

The 10 metre high column was erected in 2000 (another of its purposes was to mark the millennium) in what was once the cloister courtyard of the headquarters of the Templars, which had originally founded to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land in 1119.

The bronze figures of the two men atop a single horse which caps the column was a representation of the image found on the order’s official. It represents the poverty of those who initially joined it – so poor they could only afford one horse for every two men, a situation which was to change dramatically in coming centuries as the order accumulated wealth, a situation which, eventually, in France, led to its downfall.

London Remembers reports that the column was designed in the gothic style, similar to the Purbeck marble columns in the church (which, incidentally, are said to be the oldest surviving free-standing examples of their kind) and deliberately made to contrast with the more florid column of Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument, which marks where the fire started and, also, according to a signboard, “the arrival of the new classical order”.

The column, designed by Ptolemy Dean, and the sculpture, designed by Nicola Hicks, were the gift of Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Treasurer of the Inner Temple in 1999. A Latin inscription around the base of the column reads: “Lest the Temple should be without a memorial of the start of the third millennium the Inner Temple caused this monument to be erected for the greater glory of God.”

For more on Temple and the Temple Church, see our earlier posts here and here and here.

PutneyThis south-west London Thames-side district (and the bridge named after it), traces the origin of its name back to Saxon times.

Putney2Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).

Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.

The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.

Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.

The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).