A Moment in London’s History – The last execution at the Tower of London…

The Tower of London. PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the last person to be executed at the Tower of London for treason.

Injured when he was shot in the chest while serving as a conscript in the German army during World War I, Josef Jakobs worked as a dentist after the war (and was briefly imprisoned in Switzerland for selling counterfeit gold). Following the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany during the 1930s, he was arrested in 1938 by the Gestapo for selling black market passports to Jewish people fleeing the country and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

After two years, Jakobs was released after he agreed to work as a spy in England for the German military intelligence.

Having flown from Holland, Jakobs parachuted into England at a located near Ramsey in what was then Huntingdonshire, in late January, 1941. Breaking his ankle during the landing and in pain, he fired his pistol into the air early on February 1st and was subsequently apprehended by members of the Home Guard.

Among the items he was found with were a wireless transmitter, a small torch with a flashing device, a map marking positions of nearby RAF airfields and a German sausage.

Jakobs was taken to a local police station before being transferred to London where he was subsequently interrogated by MI5 during which he claimed he had escaped to England with the intent of securing passage to America. He was later taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

His court martial before a military tribunal was held at the Duke of York’s headquarters in Chelsea on 4th and 5th August. After hearing from eight witnesses in a closed court (due to intelligence sensitivities), he was convicted of spying and sentenced to death.

Jakobs’ execution was carried out at the miniature rifle range at the Tower of London – the same place where death sentences had been carried out on 11 spies executed during World War I – on 15th August.

Jakobs was blindfolded and tied to a chair (which can still be viewed in the White Tower) with a white target pinned over his heart. A firing squad of eight – all members of the Scots Guards – carried out the sentence at 7.12am (five of those in the squad had live rounds). He is said to have died instantly.

Jakobs was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.

Jakobs was the only spy executed at the Tower in World War II and the last person to suffer such a sentence there.

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.

This Week in London – Art hits Westminster streets; Open House London now a nine day celebration; and, historic sites recognised for Festival of Britain anniversary…

Inside Out Festival launch at The National Gallery. PICTURE: Nyla Sammons

Reproductions of some of The National Gallery’s most famous works have appeared on Trafalgar Square’s North Terrace as part of the City of Westminster’s ‘Inside Out’ festival. The life-sized replicas include Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888), Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1839), Botticelli’s Venus and Mars (1485), Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-3) and John Constable’s The Hay Wain (1821). The display is being accompanied by ‘Sketch in the Square’, a programme of free, daily alfresco art activities with a strong emphasis on mindfulness and wellbeing. Other events in the Inside Out festival include the ‘Tusk Lion Trail’ in which 22 life-sized lion sculptures take visitors on a journey to trail some of the West End’s most iconic landmarks, a immersive light installation by artist Chila Burman at Covent Garden’s historic Market Building, and ‘Art of London’, in which five Royal Academy artists have brought their art to Piccadilly Circus and its surrounding streets. The ‘Inside Out’ festival is part of the ‘Westminster Reveals’ campaign which aims to encourage visitors to return to the city’s streets and enjoy the city’s cultural scene. For more on ‘Inside Out’ – which runs until 31st October, see www.westminster.gov.uk/insideout.

Trellick Tower (courtesy of Open House London).

Usually held over a weekend, Open House London is this year a nine day celebration of London’s architecture and urban landscapes. Highlights this year include the chance to see inside 10 Downing Street, Ernő Goldfinger’s brutalist landmark Trellick Tower (pictured), a street of self-build timber houses in Lewisham and a former Victorian workhouse which has been transformed into a homeless shelter in Camden. There’s also the first chance to see a new design district in Greenwich, a yet to be opened community centre in Holborn and a special focus on the capital’s pubs and breweries. The full programme for the festival – which runs from 4th to 12th September and features hundreds of events – is now available online. For full listings, see www.openhouselondon.org.uk/2021.

Historic sites and objects related to the landmark 1951 Festival of Britain have been officially recognised to mark the event’s 70th anniversary. The London sites include Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church in Tower Hamlets, built as part of the ‘live’ architectural exhibition of the Festival of Britain, which has seen its heritage listing upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. Among the sites which have had their listings updated are: Royal Festival Hall which was designed by the London County Council Architect’s Department as part of their contribution to the Festival of Britain; the Church of St John located just off the Waterloo roundabout which, struck by a bomb during World War II, remained damaged until 1950 when the interior was remodelled in a neo-Georgian style for the festival; and, the Newbury Park Bus Station Canopy, which was designed with a high arched, open structure in what has been described as the modernist ‘Festival style’. The Festival of Britain, which ran from May to September, 1951, was a national exhibition and fair aimed at promoting British design, science, technology, architecture, industry, and the arts. Held in the aftermath of World War II, one of its key aims was to help foster a national sense of recovery.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 6. Nelson Mandela…

Back to Parliament Square this week where we look at a bronze statue of anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

PICTURE: Prioryman (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Unveiled on 29th August, 2007, this larger-than-life statue is the work of English sculpture Ian Walters (he completed a clay sculpture of the Parliament Square statue before his death in 2006 but sadly didn’t live to see it cast in bronze in London.)

The statue was proposed by South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods but after his death in 2001, the fundraising effort, officially launched in 2003, was led by his wife Wendy and Sir Richard Attenborough.

It depicts Mandela standing on a low plinth with his arms outstretched as though making a speech. He is shown wearing a flowery shirt.

It was originally proposed the statue be located outside of the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square but after planning approval was refused, the alternative site of Parliament Square was eventually decided upon.

The unveiling in the south-west corner of the square was attended by Mandela himself along with his wife Graça Machel and then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone while then PM Gordon Brown did the official duties.

Interestingly it’s not the only work of Walters depicting Mandela – he was also the sculptor behind the bust of Mandela which stands outside Royal Festival Hall in South Bank.

It’s also not the only South African who has a statue in Parliament Square – there’s also one of Jan Smuts, twice Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in the early 20th century (in fact Mandela recalled at the unveiling that he and his friend Oliver Tambo, who went on to become president of the ANC, had once joked about seeing the statue of a Black man one day erected in the square – Tambo never lived to see it, but Mandela, at age 89, did).

LondonLife – Shared experiences…

Julietta and her artwork which is among those in the exhibition..

Works by young Londoners depicting their COVID-19 experiences as well as their feelings in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have gone on show in an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and online. A Westminster City Council project, called Creative Collective, asked young people to produce works in any medium – audio clips, short films, poems, paintings, drawings, statements or digital works – responding to themes including lockdown, resilience and hope, community and Black Lives Matter. The results, which have previously been on display at libraries across Westminster, can now be viewed until 31st August at in the Learning Gallery at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the JR Chronicles Exhibition. The display is also available to see online here. The project is the work of the council’s cultural youth engagement programme – City Lions – in partnership with children’s services, local schools, professional artists, libraries and archives.

London Pub Signs – The Compton Arms…

The Compton Arms. PICTURE: Google Maps

While there’s said to have been a pub on this site since the 16th century, The Compton Arms is most famous for its association with George Orwell, being one of three Canonbury pubs the writer is said to have patronised.

The Compton Arms sign.

In fact, Orwell was so enamoured of the pub that it’s said to be one of the places he had in mind when writing a famous 1946 essay, The Moon Under Water, in which he describes his perfect pub.

Orwell is memorialised in the pub’s coat-of-arms which features an image of a moon over water.

The coat-of-arms also features references to local sporting legend Denis Compton after whom it’s named. Pictured are cannons representing football club Arsenal and swords from the Middlesex County Cricket Club crest – both clubs for whom Compton played.

The last item on the coat-of-arms are juniper berries – apparently a reference to the US hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg’s song, Gin and Juice (juniper berries being a key ingredient of gin). Snoop Dogg’s life story was featured in the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton.

In 2019, the pub’s former publican, Malcolm Mant, released a book, 30 Years Behind Bars: My Life and Times Running the British Pub, which covered his time running pubs including the seven years he spent at The Compton Arms.

The pub at 4 Compton Avenue is a Free House. For more, see www.comptonarms.co.uk.

This Week in London – Emblem for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee unveiled; Marble Arch Mound free after apology; and, ‘Pet Life’…

A 19-year-old graphic design student from Nottinghamshire has won a competition to find an emblem for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Edward Roberts, who is studying at Leeds, said that for his design, “I wanted to give a modern twist to the iconic elements of St Edward’s Crown, and so I created a continuous line, which I felt was a fitting representation of The Queen’s reign”. Paul Thompson, vice-chancellor of the Royal College of Art and a member of the judging panel which selected the winning design said it takes people “on a simple line journey to create the crown and the number 70, beautifully capturing the continuous thread of Her Majesty The Queen’s 70-year reign”. “Drawn on a computer, the ingenious emblem works across all scales and the flow of the line gives us a sense of a human touch behind the digital design process.” The competition, which was was open to young people aged between 13 and 25 from all over the United Kingdom, was judged by a panel of graphic designers, visual artists and design professionals, experts from the V&A, the Royal College of Art, the Design Museum, and a representative from the Royal Household. It was chaired by V&A Director Tristram Hunt. As the winner, Edward will be invited to next year’s Jubilee celebrations including the ‘Platinum Party at the Palace’, and his winning design, along with the other nine shortlisted emblem design entries which will be revealed next year, will be displayed at the V&A in June. Edward will also receive a prize of £1,500 and a year’s free membership of the V&A.

The £8 entrance fee to the Marble Arch Mound has been dropped for visitors during August after it closed only two days after opening following sustained criticism from visitors. In a statement Stuart Love, chief executive of the City of Westminster, apologised that the Marble Arch Mound wasn’t ready for visitors when it opened. “London’s businesses and residents have suffered through the pandemic and we built the Mound as part of our bigger plan to get people back into the City and into the shops, restaurants, theatres and to see the amazing sights the West End has to offer,” he said. “We wanted to open the Mound in time for the summer holidays and we did not want to disappoint people who had already booked tickets. We made a mistake and we apologise to everyone who hasn’t had a great experience on their visit.” The 25 metre high temporary attraction will reopen on Monday. For more, head here.

Explore the stories of real-life pets and their owners in a new feature at the Museum of The Home in Shoreditch. Pet Life – which features animations, projections, hands on activities and stories written by author and storyteller Bernadette Russell – aims to show “the joy, companionship and challenges our pets bring to the home”. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumofthehome.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions-and-installations/pet-life/.

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 London memorials commemorating foreign leaders – 5. Prince Henry the Navigator…

Prince Henry the Navigator. PICTURE: David Adams

We go back to Belgrave Square this week to its westernmost corner where there is a bronze statue of 15th century Portuguese aristocrat and explorer, Prince Henry the Navigator.

Prince Henry (1394-1460) was the son of King John I of Portugal and Philippa, the daughter of English nobleman John of Gaunt and sister of King Henry IV.

As well as being appointed the Governor of the Algarve in 1419, Henry became famous for his scientific and exploratory endeavours – he was instrumental in opening the navigational route to India (although his nickname “The Navigator” apparently was applied to him until centuries later5)

The statue, which has the prince wearing robes seated on a rocky outcrop with a rolled map in his hand, is attributed to Simoes de Almeida (who died in 1950) and it’s been claimed it was made as far back as 1915. There is a duplicate of the statue located in the US – at Fall River, Massachusetts – but this is credited to the sculptor, Aristide Berto Cianfarani.

While it’s origins remain somewhat unclear, we do know the statue was unveiled by the President of Portugal in February, 2002, with the Duke of Westminster present.

There are some verses from Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa on the side of the plinth.

LondonLife – Lost ‘garden snug’ recreated at Red House…

The new garden snug with the Red House in the background. PICTURE: © National Trust/Chris Davies

A lost ‘garden snug’ has been recreated at 19th century designer William Morris’ Arts & Crafts home, Red House, in Bexleyheath. Inspired by the original notes of architect Philip Webb, the design draws on an ordnance survey map from when Morris and his family were residents at the house between 1860-1865 which shows outdoor spaces separated into different ‘rooms’. Photos of the garden from the 1890s were also used to guide the project. The 100 square metre garden is enclosed with traditional hazel and hawthorn and the planting inside its bounds references some iconic Morris & Co designs like ‘Trellis’, ‘Daisy’ and ‘Fruit’. At the centre is a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula) and the garden also features traditional cottage plants like Shasta daisies, columbines, honeysuckle, irises, peonies, jasmine and mock orange. Around the central tree are specially commissioned wooden seats from Scottish craftsman Angus Ross with distinctive two-metre high arches designed to echo the house’s medieval-inspired architecture. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.

The Red House and lawn seen from the south east. PICTURE: © National Trust/Andrew Butler.

Famous Londoners – Olaudah Equiano…

Author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was, according to his own account, born in Africa, probably in southern Nigeria, in 1745.

Equiano, whose claim to have been born in Africa has recently been the subject of some dispute, wrote that he was kidnapped from his home as an 11-year-old child and sold to slave traders. He was sold again several times and eventually put on a slave ship to Barbados in the British West Indies before being sent on to the Colony of Virginia in what is now the US.

Olaudah Equiano (‘Gustavus Vassa’) by Daniel Orme, published by Olaudah Equiano (‘Gustavus Vassa’), after W Denton stipple engraving, published 1st March, 1789 (NPG D8546) © National Portrait Gallery, London

There he was purchased by Michael Henry Pascal, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who, against Equiano’s wishes, renamed him ‘Gustavus Vassa’ after 16th-century King of Sweden (he had previously been given names Michael and Jacob).

Equiano accompanied Pascal back to England then served as his valet during the Seven Years’ War with France, a role which saw present at or participating in several battles.

He learnt to read and write during this period and was baptised as a Christian in St Margaret’s Church in Westminster on 9th February, 1759.

In December, 1762, Equiano was sold to Captain James Doran of the Charming Sally at Gravesend. He was transported back to the Caribbean where in Montserrat he was sold to Robert King, an American Quaker merchant from Philadelphia.

Equiano was put to work by King as a deckhand, valet and barber. King promised him his freedom for the price of £40 and he achieved this in 1766 at about the age of 21.

Despite King’s urgings for him to continue to stay on as a business partner, Equiano, who had narrowly escaped being kidnapped and placed back into enslavement, left for England in about 1768 where he picked up work on ships, including on an Arctic expedition, and also on a project to establish an (ultimately unsuccessful) plantation in Central America’s Mosquito Coast.

Back in England in the last 1770s, he settled in London and became actively involved in the abolitionist movement, sharing his experiences with the likes of Granville Sharp including what he knew of the Zong massacre – the mass killing of more than 130 enslaved Africans aboard the British ship, Zong, during a voyage in late 1781. He was also one of eight delegates from ‘Africans in America’ to present an ‘Address of Thanks’ to the Quakers at a meeting in Gracechurch Street, London, in October, 1785.

In the 1780s, he also became involved in aiding slaves who had been freed by the British during and after the American War of Independence and was at one stage involved in the ill-fated plan for a new settlement of so-called Black Loyalists, many of whom were former slaves, at Sierra Leone (although he never went there himself).

Encouraged by his abolitionist friends, he wrote his famous autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Published in 1789, it was a hit and during his lifetime went through nine English editions and one American as well as being published in various other languages. His book and his first person accounts of slavery are seen as instrumental to the passing of an act abolishing Britain’s slave trade in 1807 (almost a decade after his death).

He married an English woman, Susannah Cullen, in April, 1792, and lived with her in Soham, Cambridgeshire, where they had two daughters, Anna Maria and Joanna.

Equiano subsequently lived at several locations in London and by the time of his death, on 31st March, 1797, he was living in Paddington Street in Westminster. Such was his fame that his death was reported in both British and American newspapers.

Equiano was buried at Whitefield’s Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road on 6th April (the exact site is lost).

He is commemorated in Martin Bond’s 1997 sculpture Wall of the Ancestors in Deptford and a memorial tablet in St Margaret’s Church (there’s also a crater named after him on Mercury).

In 2007, a first edition of Equiano’s book was carried in procession at a special service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the bicentenary of the passing of Britain’s Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

This Week in London – Royal portraits in Greenwich; Sir Roger Bannister to be honoured; and, drawing on the Tate’s Turbine Hall floor…

King Henry VII by unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505 (oil on panel) © National Portrait Gallery, London

More than 150 of the finest portraits of royal families over five dynasties are on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, which is being run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery, features famous paintings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, medals and stamps from the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Windsor dynasties. Highlights include the earliest known portrait of Henry VII (also the oldest artwork in the exhibition) which was painted in 1505 by an unknown artist, Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, portraits of Charles II and his mistresses, early 19th century domestic photographs of Queen Victoria and her family, and a selection of paintings and photographs of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/TudorsWindsors.

Westminster Abbey has announced a new memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run under a mile in four minutes. The abbey said the memorial ledger stone to Bannister, who later became a neurologist, will be placed in what is known as ‘Scientists’ Corner’ in the building’s nave, close to the graves of scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as well as the ashes of Stephen Hawking. “Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond,” said the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, in a statement. “As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.” Bannister is famous for having run a mile in three minutes, 59.4 second at Oxford on 6th May, 1954 – a record which stood for almost nine years.

Be among those transforming the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into an “ever changing work of art”. Visitors are invited to join in covering the hall’s floor with their own jottings using coloured drawing materials as part of artist Ei Arakawa’s interactive installation, Mega Please Draw Freely. The installation, which can be contributed to until 29th August, kicks off UNIQLO Tate Play – a new free programme of playful art-inspired activities for families, being in partnership with UNIQLO, at the Tate Modern. The project, which has seen the Turbine Hall floor covered with a temporary surface allowing it to be drawn upon, is inspired by the Gutai group, radical Japanese artists who wanted to change the world through painting, performance and children’s play and, in particular, the group’s ‘Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition of 1956’ in which Yoshihara Jirō created the groundbreaking work Please Draw Freely, a large board on which people were free to draw and paint. Visitors can access Mega Please Draw Freely by booking a free collection display ticket online at www.tate.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…4. Charles de Gaulle…

PICTURE: Metro Centric (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Unveiled in the early 1990s, this statue of the French leader Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) is located in St James’s, close to the headquarters where de Gaulle headed the government-in-exile following the fall of France in 1940.

The life-sized statue is the work of sculptor Angela Conner and architect Bernard Wiehahn and was erected in Carlton Gardens following a campaign by Lady Soames, daughter of Winston Churchill. De Gaulle is depicted standing in the uniform of a General de Brigade.

The was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in June 1993. Nearby are an English Heritage Blue Plaque as well as another plaque, both commemorating the location of the headquarters.

A commemorative ceremony takes place each year at the statue organised by the French Embassy.

De Gaulle flew to England in June, 1940, and was subsequently recognised by Britain as the leader of the Free French. He established his headquarter at 4 Carlton Gardens on 22nd July that year, initially living at the Connaught Hotel and, from 1942 to 1944, in Hampstead. He returned to France following the D-Day invasion in 1944.

LondonLife – Remembering the London Games…

PICTURE: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford as seen in 2020. PICTURE: Bex Walton (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

With the world’s eyes focused on the Olympic Games in Japan, memories of the Games of the XXX Olympiad held in London nine years ago come flooding back.

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.

Lost London – The Maharajah’s Fountain…

Former site of The Maharajah’s Fountain, looking into Hyde Park from Bayswater Road (you can see the plaque to the left of the path). PICTURE: Google Maps.

Once located in Hyde Park, this drinking fountain was a gift from Maharajah Meerza Vijiaram Gajapati Raj Manea Sooltan Bahadoor of Vijianagram (a small princely state once located in what is now the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh).

Installed in 1867 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the towering structure in the neo-Gothic style was apparently designed by the architect Robert Keirle (also the designer of the Readymoney Fountain in The Regent’s Park).

It was installed close to the park’s north-east corner (between North Carriage Drive and Bayswater Road, not far west of Marble Arch).

The fountain was eventually removed in 1964 (apparently due to the prohibitive cost of repairing it). A plaque these days marks its location.

This Week in London – The Marble Arch Mound opens; Wampum at the Guildhall Art Gallery; and, Paula Rego at the Tate…

The 25 metre high viewpoint in the grass and tree covered Marble Arch Mound opens to visitors on Monday. Created by Westminster City Council, the mound – which has been designed by Dutch architectural studio MVRDV, provides expansive views of Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Mayfair and Marylebone. Visitors can either climb the 130 stairs to the top or take a lift. The mound will be open to the public until January next year. Ticket holders are also invited to visit W1Curates art installation Lightfield, led by British/American artist, Anthony James, which is located inside the mound. For more information and to book tickets, see www.westminster.gov.uk/news/get-set-summit-marble-arch-mound-summer.

The history, art and culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower is explored in a new exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Opening on Friday, Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America centres on a newly-crafted wampum belt created by the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts alongside historic material from the British Museum. Wampum belts are the creative expression of the Wampanoag people, with each shell on the belt imbued with memory and meaning. The display is presented by The Box, Plymouth, and supported by Arts Council England as part of commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from England to America. Runs until 5th September. Entry is free (booking required). For more, head here.

On Now: Paula Rego. This exhibition at Tate Britain – the largest retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to date – features more than 100 works including collage, paintings, large-scale pastels, drawings and etchings as it showcases the career of the Portuguese-born artist. As well as early work from the 1950s, the display features her large pastels of single figures from the acclaimed Dog Women and Abortion series and richly layered, staged scenes from the 2000s. Runs until 24th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/paula-rego.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 London memorials to foreign leaders…3. Simón Bolívar…

PICTURE: Rept0n1x (licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0/image cropped)
PICTURE: Another Believer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of a cluster of statues depicting foreign leaders around Belgravia Square (thanks to the presence of so many foreign embassies in the area), this work depicting Simón Bolívar, a towering figure in the early 19th century liberation of South America from colonial powers, was erected in 1974.

The bronze, by Hugo Daini, shows Bolívar standing as though about to make a speech

The inscription describes Bolívar as the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama and the founder of Bolivia and also mentions the details of his birth – Caracas, Venezuela, 24th July, 1783 – and death – Santa Maria, Colombia, 17th December, 1830.

It is accompanied by a quote on the side of the pedestal, featuring words attributed to Bolívar: “I am convinced that England alone is capable of protecting the world’s precious rights as she is great, glorious and wise”.

The statue was erected by the aforementioned nations (the coats-of-arms of which are on the plinth) and unveiled in by James Callaghan, then Foreign Secretary (and later PM).

LondonLife – Kayaking at Canary Wharf…

PICTURE: Evgeny Klimenchenko/Unsplash

Where’s London’s oldest…tree?

The Totteridge Yew in 2016. PICTURE: David Skinner
(licensed under CC BY 2.0)

There are a number of ancient trees in London but the oldest is generally believed to be the so-called Totteridge Yew.

Located in the churchyard of St Andrew’s in the village of Totteridge in London’s outer north, this tree was named by the Conservation Foundation, the Ancient Yew Group, and tree officers from Barnet Council in 2008 as possibly the oldest in the city.

It’s estimated the tree – which is on the Great Trees of London list – is some 2000-years-old (some have at it at between 1,000 and 2,000 years-old). It has a 25 foot girth and was a focal point in the area long before the church was built, including for so-called “hundred courts”.

The earliest written mention of this majestic tree reportedly date back to 1677 when Sir John Cullum recorded its girth. But it’s believed that the tree may have been extant as far back as the Roman settlement of Londinium.

Another, possibly apocryphal, story associated with the tree is that of a foundling who was found abandoned under its branches and then brought up by the parish.

This Week in London – ‘Hidden Highlights’ at Westminster Abbey; food and Black entrepreneurship; and, ride the Dodgems at Somerset House…

Westminster Abbey Library, part of of the ‘Hidden Highlights’ tour. PICTURE: Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

A lost medieval sacristy used by Westminster Abbey’s monks in the 13th-century which has been revealed in the abbey grounds has been opened to the public. A visit to the dig uncovering the former sacristy is one of the stops on new ‘Hidden Highlights’ tours which also take in other areas not usually open to the public including the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV died in 1413 and, the Library, formerly part of the monk’s dormitory which features a 15th century oak roof and 17th century bookcases (pictured above). The tour, which finishes in the Diamond Jubilee Galleries which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, is part of a summer of events at the abbey which also includes open air cinema, visits to the abbey after dark, live music performances and a chance to look behind the scenes at the abbey’s role in the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/lost-medieval-sacristy-opens-to-public-for-summer-festival-of-events.

A new exhibition looking at the central role food plays in Black entrepreneurship and identity in the city’s south east has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Feeding Black: Community, Power & Place puts four businesses in the spotlight – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Woolwich businesses African Cash & Carry and Junior’s Caribbean Stall, and Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell – and tells their stories through objects, recipes and videos as well as newly commissioned photography by Jonas Martinez and original oral histories and soundscapes by Kayode ‘Kayodeine’ Gomez. The free display can be seen until 17th July next year in the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Ride the dodgems at Somerset House. Dodge, described as a “thrilling open air experience” that takes an “inventive twist on the traditional fairground”, features dodgem cars and installations from acclaimed artists as well as food and drink and DJ sets. The event runs until 22nd August. There is free entry to the site but charges apply for the dodgem rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk. The event is part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, described as the “biggest domestic tourism the capital has ever seen”.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.