A new sundial and garden have been unveiled in Kensal Green commemorating the Windrush generation. The sundial, the work of carver Martin Cook, is located at St John The Evangelist Church which, according to its vicar, Rev David Ackerman, has relied upon the local Caribbean community to survive and thrive since the 1960s. The sundial has been made of a single piece of slate and carved with the words “Work Together, Pray Together, Struggle Together, Stand Up for Freedom Together” which are taken from Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. An official opening ceremony for the sundial – which was funded by Westminster City Council – was held earlier this month. In a statement, Jonathan Glanz, the Lord Mayor of Westminster, said he hoped the outdoor space would become a “beacon of peace and unity for the local community in troubled times”. PICTURES: Courtesy of the City of Westminster.

Having been granted the honour of having an English Heritage Blue Plaque unveiled at her former Chelsea home last year, Gertrude Bell is actually famous for the time she spent elsewhere.

A traveller, archaeologist and diplomat, Bell’s legacy includes a mountain named after her in the Alps – Gertrudspitze – and the key role she played in the creation of the modern state of Iraq.

Born on 14th July, 1868, in Washington, County Durham, Bell was the daughter of affluent and progressive mill-owner Sir Hugh Bell and Mary Shield Bell, who died just three years after she was born. Her paternal grandfather was industrialist and MP Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell whose role in international policy-making undoubtedly influenced her interest in the world and politics.

Bell was educated at Queen’s College in London and then at Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University and was the first woman to graduate in modern history at Oxford with a first class honours degree. Following her graduation in 1892, he travelled to Persia to visit her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, a British ambassador based in Tehran.

It was the start of more than a decade of travels which included mountaineering in Switzerland – where she conquered peaks including La Meije and Mont Blanc and recorded 10 new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps (one previously uncharted peaks was named after her) – and visits to the Middle East including to Palestine and Syria.

During this period, Bell became fluent in Arabic along with a number of other languages and developed an interest in archaeology, working with Sir William M Ramsay on excavations in Binbirkilise in what was then the Ottoman Empire (and is now modern Turkey).

In 1909 she traveled to Mesopotamia, mapping and describing the Hittite city of Carchemish and visiting Babylon and Najaf. Her last journey across the Arabian Peninsula – a 1,800 mile trek – took place in 1913 during which she travelled from Damascus in Syria to Ha’il in Saudi Arabia.

Bell volunteered with the Red Cross in France during World War I before British intelligence put her to work using her expertise to get soldiers through the deserts, working in places including Basra, Damascus and Baghdad.

Following the war she was involved in mediating between Arab and British officials and played a significant role in the creation of the nation of Iraq, becoming an advisor to Faisal bin Hussein, the first King of Iraq, who named her director of antiquities. She was also among attendees at the 1921 Conference in Cairo.

Bell, who wrote a number of books about her travels, including Safar Nameh: Persia Pictures (1894) and Syria: The Desert and the Sown (1907), returned to Britain in 1925 where she faced family problems and ill-health before returning to Iraq where she died in Baghdad on 12th July, 1928, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills. She was buried at the British Cemetery there.

PICTURE: An image of Gertrude Bell in Iraq in 1909. (Wikimedia Commons

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

62. Lost London – London Bridge

61. Where’s London’s oldest…public toilets?

Having recently been granted protection as a scheduled monument, the landscape feature known as King Henry’s Mound is located in Richmond Park in south-west London.

It is believed to be a prehistoric round barrow, possibly dating from between 2,400 and 1,500 BC – a period spanning the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.

Its name, however, comes from the legend that King Henry VIII waited on top of the mound on 19th May, 1536, watching for a rocket to be launched from the Tower of London that would confirm his wife Anne Boleyn had been executed for treason (and so allow him to marry Jane Seymour).

The truth of that is unlikely – although it is possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from the mound (it’s a view that is protected, as well as, to the west Windsor Castle and the Thames Valley), King Henry VIII was apparently in Wiltshire at the time.

The mound, however, was linked to kings as far back as 1630 when a map was published listing it as ‘Kings Standinge’, ‘standinge’ being a reference to a platform on which those not involved in a hunt could stand and watch.

Both King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I are known to have hunted here – in fact, it was King Henry VIII’s father, King Henry VII, who built a royal palace at Richmond and named it after his estate in Yorkshire.

The mound was later incorporated into the gardens of Pembroke Lodge in the 19th century, during much of the latter half of which the property was home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell.

Today the Grade I-listed Richmond Park is managed by the Royal Parks.

For more on Richmond Park, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

PICTURES: The Royal Parks

The London Transport Museum Depot in Acton Town has flung its doors open for 10 days of “special family fun”. The depot, which houses more than 320,000 items from the city’s transport history including vintage London buses and classic Tube trains, now features a special family-friendly trail for the 10 day season which takes a look at historic vehicles from the past 200 years including a yellow 1881 horse drawn ‘garden seat’ bus and a red 1938 Stock Tube train. The London Transport Miniature Railway will be running and all children visiting will receive a special sealed pack including a craft kit. Admission charges apply and tickets must be prebooked for times between 11am and 6pm until Sunday, 23rd August, and from Wednesday, 26th to Sunday 30th August. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/depot-summer.

The Science Museum in South Kensington reopened its doors this week after a closure of five months. As well as the innovative Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery – which features interactive exhibits and live, socially-distanced science demonstrations – and the world’s largest medical galleries – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, visitors will be able to take in the temporary exhibition, Driverless: Who is in control?, the season of which has been extended to January next year. Tickets, which are free, must be pre-booked online and social distancing measures apply in the museum. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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It’s common to associate war memorials with the commemoration of those who died in combat. But disease, too, is a major killer of soldiers in a time of war yet few memorials explicitly mention disease as cause of death.

One which does do so, however, is the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

The memorial, which features a bronze figure riding a camel atop a stone plinth has a number of inscriptions and plaques recording the corps’ engagements during World War I and the names of the fallen.

Among them is an inscription which reads “To the glorious and immortal memory of the officers, NCO‘s and men of the Imperial Camel Corps – British, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, who fell in action or died of wounds and disease in Egypt, Sinai and Palestine, 1916 -1917-1918.”

Disease was a significant killer in World War I – it’s estimated that some 113,000 British and Dominion soldiers died of disease – but the number was far fewer than those who died in combat or from wounds, a figure which equates to at least 585,000 (not including the tens of thousands of missing).

Yet, medical advances meant disease was far less a killer than in previous wars – it’s said that in the American Civil War, for example, as many as two-thirds of those who died were the result of various diseases.

The Imperial Camel Corps, which grew to four battalions including two Australian, one British and one New Zealander before it was disbanded after the end of the in 1919, suffered some 246 casualties during World War I – we don’t have a breakdown for how many of those deaths were attributable to disease.

The Grade II-listed memorial, which was sculpted by Major Cecil Brown – himself a veteran of the Corps, was unveiled in July, 1921, in the presence of both the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers.

PICTURES: Top and right – David Adams/Below  – Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A memorial commemorating the role of the Chindit Special Forces in Burma during World War II has been awarded a Grade II listing on the National Heritage List for England in honour of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan (VJ) Day. Located in Victoria Embankment Gardens outside the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall, the memorial’s granite plinth is topped with a bronze chinthe, a mythical beast that stands guard outside Burmese temples. The Chindit Special Forces, which were formed by British Army officer Major General Orde Charles Wingate and disbanded in early 1945, are credited with helping to turn the tide of World War II against Japan in the Far East. The memorial was designed by architect David Price and the chinthe sculpture the work of Frank Forster. It was unveiled by Prince Philip on 16th October, 1990. On Saturday, as the nation commemorated VJ Day, a military delegation lad a wreath at the foot of the memorial. PICTURE: Derek Voller (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

This Whitechapel establishment, located a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge, is a remarkable survivor with roots going back to the Victorian age.

The pub originally dates from around 1880 but the current building was constructed in 1913.

The pub was named in in honour of Princess Victoria (aka “Vicky” to her family), daughter of Queen Victoria, who married Fredrick William, Crown Prince of Prussia, in 1858, and who, following their marriage, went on to have eight children including  Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Once an outlet for Truman’s Brewery in East London (and later for Scotland & Newcastle), the pub is now part of the Shepherd Neame chain.

The property at 15 Prescot Street has only recently undergone a renovation (one of several over its lifetime) which saw signboards removed and earlier Truman, Hanbury Buxton & Co signs revealed. It has a dark timbered Victorian interior and a rear garden.

For more, head to www.princessofprussia.co.uk.

PICTURES: Top – Google Maps; Right – R4vi (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

64. What’s in a name?…Fetter Lane…

63. Treasures of London – Queen Caroline’s Temple…

Among the buildings destroyed in the Blitz, St Stephen Coleman Street was one of the more than 50 City of London churches designed by the office of Sir Christopher Wren in the wake of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

The church was located on the corner of Coleman and Gresham Streets and replaced an earlier medieval building, the origins of which date back to at least the 13th century (the earliest mention occurs during the reign of King John) and which had also been known as St Stephen in the Jewry due to the number of Jewish people living in the vicinity.

St Stephen’s had apparently become a Puritan stronghold by the early 17th century when the vicars included John Davenport, who later went on to found a colony in Connecticut.

Five members of Parliament whom King Charles I attempted to arrest on 4th January, 1642, hid here as his troops searched for them. During the Commonwealth, the church instituted rules under which only those who were approved by a committee including the vicar and 13 parishioners – two of whom had apparently signed King Charles I’s death warrant, could receive Communion.

Following its destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt its former foundations – the new building incorporating some of the ruins of the former and featuring a bell lantern with a gilded weathervane on top – and was largely completed by 1677. In the early 1690s, additional funds gained through a coal tax provided for the construction of a burial vault and a gallery.

Notable vicars after the rebuild included Rev Josiah Pratt (1768-1844) who served for 21 years as secretary of the Church Missionary Society.

While the church suffered some minor damage during an air-raid in World War I, it was repaired. But it was finally destroyed during an air raid on 29th December, 1940, after which the church was not rebuilt but its parish joined with that of St Margaret Lothbury.

A City of London Corporation plaque at the intersection of Coleman Street and Kings Arms Yard marks the site of the former church.

PICTURE: An etching of St Stephen’s Coleman Street published in 1819.

• The National Army Museum in Chelsea is joining with the Royal Air Force Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, this Saturday, 15th August, with a series of free events including online talks. Among those taking part are World War II veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, recently knighted by the Queen for his efforts in helping raise funds for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, author and explorer Levison Wood (who explores the story of his grandfather’s service in Burma), and Professor Tarak Barkawi, author of Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II, as well as General Lord Richards, Grand President of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League who’s involved in a conversation about the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers during the Far East campaign. For the full programme of events, head to www.nam.ac.uk/series/vj-day-75.

Steve McQueen is back at Tate Modern. The exhibition, which reopened last Friday following the reopening of all Tate galleries, spans 20 years of McQueen’s work and features 14 major pieces spanning film, photography and sculpture. The exhibition adds to the three visitor routes already in place at the Tate Modern and coincides with McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3, an epic portrait of London’s Year 3 pupils created through a partnership between Tate, Artangel and A New Direction which can be seen at Tate Britain until 31st January. Visitors must prebook. For more, head to tate.org.uk/visit.

Beyond London (a new regular feature in which we include sites around Greater London)
• The East Terrace Garden at Windsor Castle – commissioned by King George IV in the 1820s – has opened to weekend visitors for the first time in decades. Overlooked by the castle’s famous east facade, the formal garden features clipped domes of yew and beds of 3,500 rose bushes planted in a geometric pattern around a central fountain. It was originally designed by architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville between 1824 and 1826 on the site of an old bowling green made for Charles II in the 1670s. Plants, including 34 orange trees sent by the French King Charles X, were specially imported for the garden and statues were brought from the Privy Gardens at Hampton Court, including a set of four bronze figures by Hubert Le Sueur which  were made for Charles I in the 1630s and which remain in the garden today. Prince Albert is known to have taken a particular interest in the garden and the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret grew vegetables there during World War II. As well as the opening of the East Terrace Garden on weekends, visitors with young children on Thursdays and Fridays in August are being given special access to the Castle’s Moat Garden beneath the iconic Round Tower, thought to have dated from the period of King Edward III and believed to be the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, the first story in Canterbury Tales. Pre-bookings essential. For more, see www.rct.uk.

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A blue plaque on a building in Euston marks one of the former sites of the  Hospital for Tropical Diseases – a short-lived episode in the life of a hospital which started life aboard a ship on the Thames.

The hospital, the idea for which originated with the Seamen’s Hospital Society and was funded by public subscription, was founded in 1821 aboard the former naval ship, the HMS Grampus for the relief of ill seamen with none less than King George IV himself as patron.

It was moved aboard the HMS Dreadnought in 1831 and then to the HMS Caledonia, renamed the Dreadnought, in 1857, before finally moving into a section of the Royal Greenwich Hospital in 1870 which in turn became known as the Dreadnought Hospital.

In 1919 the hospital moved to the Endsleigh Palace Hotel at the corner of Endsleigh Gardens and Gordon Street in Euston which was at the time being used as a hospital by the Red Cross. There it was joined by the School of Tropical Medicine which had been founded at the Albert Dock Seamen’s Hospital in 1899 (although this merged with the School of Hygiene in the 1920s and moved out).

It only remained there, however, until the start of World War II when it was temporarily relocated back at the Dreadnought Hospital where it remained for the war’s duration.

After the war – with the hotel damaged during then Blitz, the hospital relocated to 23 Devonshire Street in Marylebone before, in 1951 it became part of the National Health Service and moved into the then vacant St Pancras Hospital as part of the University College of London Hospital group.

It remained located there until 1998 when it moved to new purpose-built premises in Capper Street in Bloomsbury and then in 2004 made the move to its current location in the University College Hospital Tower in Euston Road. The hospital remains the only dedicated institution of its kind within the NHS.

The plaque on the Gordon Street property (the blue dot seen in the image above) was erected by the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

PICTURE: Right – Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0/image cropped)

The City of London Corporation has unveiled early ideas for the redevelopment of the Smithfield Market following the proposed relocation of the meat market to Dagenham Dock along with Billingsgate and New Spitalfields. The work of architecture practice Studio Egret West, the new designs see the Grade II*-listed East and West Smithfield buildings and Grade II-listed Rotunda transformed for public and commercial use including removing some of the modern additions to the market buildings, such as loading bays and cold rooms, to reveal the elegance of the original Victorian structure and create four large, clear “halls” under the oversailing roof. While there’s been a meat market on the site since the 12th century, the Victorian-era markets buildings, featuring ornate iron frames, were built between 1866 and 1883. Members of the public are able to share their feedback on the initial concept drawings via the website, www.wholesalemarkets.co.uk/smithfield until 4th September.

The V&A in South Kensington reopens its doors to visitors today in the first phase of a staged reopening strategy. All of the ground floor galleries are reopening including the Medieval & Renaissance Gallery, the Cast Courts, The Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art and Fashion Gallery, as well as the Europe 1600–1815 galleries on lower ground floor. The first and second floor collection galleries including The William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery, Theatre & Performance Galleries, and the Photography Centre as well as the museum’s Paintings, Tapestries and Silver Galleries are all scheduled to open on 27th August as well as the exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, which had closed just two weeks into its run.  For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: M.chohan (Public domain). 

Other recent and upcoming reopenings include: the Horniman Museum, the Foundling Museum, the National History Museum, The Queen’s House in Greenwich (Monday, 10th August) and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (exhibitions only; galleries coming later).

ZSL London Zoo is calling for volunteers to help assist visitors as they make their way around the zoo via three new one-way trails. The move, which follows a successful fundraising effort fronted by Sir David Attenborough, is aimed especially at people still furloughed and students forced to cancel gap year travel plans. Those interested in volunteering are asked to commit to a minimum of half a day each fortnight. For more, see  www.zsl.org/volunteering.

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The first recorded soundscape of London’s busy streets was created in 1928 as part of a Daily Mail campaign calling for noise restrictions. Recordings were made at five sites – Whitechapel East, St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner, Leicester Square, Cromwell Road and Beauchamp Place in South Kensington – in a collaborative project between the Mail and the Columbia Graphophone Company. Now, more than 90 years later, the sounds at the five original locations – or rather the lack of sounds during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown – have been captured again, this time as binaural recordings, a method of recording sound that uses two microphones to create a 3D stereo sound. It’s all part of the Museum of London’s ongoing ‘Collecting COVID’ project and was created in collaboration with String and Tins, an award-winning team of sound designers, composers, sound supervisors and mix engineers. Both the 1928 recordings (now digitised) and the modern recordings have been made available to listen to in their entirety for the first time on the Museum of London’s website. There are accompanying photographs by Damien Hewetson as well as historic imagery from the museum’s archive. PICTURE: A sparsely populated Leicester Square in an image taken in May this year during the coronavirus lockdown (ACME/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

66. Lost London – The Mermaid Tavern…

65. 10 subterranean sites in London – 4. St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt…

 

Kensington Palace has reopened its doors today after four months of lockdown and, to celebrate, the famous “Travolta dress” worn by Princess Diana is going on show for the first time. Designed by Victor Edelstein, the midnight blue velvet gown became the focus of world attention in 1985 when the Princess wore it to a White House Gala during which she danced with actor John Travolta. Historic Royal Palaces acquired the dress at auction in 2019. The palace will feature a new one-way route as part of coronavirus social distancing measures. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.

Other reopenings this week include: the Imperial War Museum, Churchill War Rooms, Wellington Arch, the Ranger’s House in Greenwich and the Jewel Tower in Westminster (Saturday, 1st July); the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (Monday, 3rd August); and, the Natural History Museum in South Kensington (Wednesday, 5th August).

The Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich will host Luna Cinema’s open-air cinema from Tuesday 4th to Thursday, 6th August. Audiences will be able to sing and dance along to blockbuster hits RocketmanJudy and Dirty Dancing with the college as the backdrop. Meanwhile the Old Royal Naval College is launching new smartphone tours with the first, available for free on any smartphone using the Smartify app, a family tour aimed at those visiting with children aged five to 12 years. For more, see www.ornc.org.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery’s British Surrealism exhibition will be available for anyone to view online from Friday. The exhibition, which celebrates the British artists that contributed to the iconic surrealist movement, features more than 70 artworks from 42 artists, including Leonora Carrington, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Ithell Colquhoun, and Conroy Maddox. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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It is estimated to have killed as many as 100,000 Londoners yet, presumably at least partly due to there fact it was overshadowed by the Great Fire of the following year, there are no grand memorials to the victims of the Great Plague of 1665 in London.

It does, however, get a brief mention on the board outside the church of St Olave Hart Street on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane. Recording a few facts about the church’s history from the burial register, it lists “1665 (The Great Plague) 365 names”. (It also lists Mother Goose as buried here in 1586 – but that’s for another time).

Victims of the plague were buried at numerous sites around London – including in the churchyard of St Giles-in-the-Fields and, as recently uncovered during construction of the Crossrail project, in the Bedlam burial ground (there’s a great interactive map of London’s reputed plague pit locations on Historic UK).

Yet, despite this, there remains a dearth of public memorials commemorating those who died.

PICTURE: The Seething Lane entrance of St Olave Hart Street with the blue board  and its mention of the Great Plague of 1665 (Dirk Ingo Franke (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0))

The Royal Parks have created two flowerbeds outside Buckingham Palace which spell out the letters ‘NHS’ in honour of the service’s 72nd birthday. The two 12 metre long flowerbeds, located in the Memorial Gardens – officially part of St James’s Park – contain some 45,000 flowers including scarlet geraniums, especially selected to match The Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, as well as white begonias on a blue background of drought resistant succulents which, together replicate the colours of the NHS. The floral display – an appropriate tribute in this year of pandemic – can be seen until mid-September. PICTURES: Courtesy of The Royal Parks.

This year marks 400 since the Mayflower set off from Plymouth in England’s south to Massachusetts in North America.

But what isn’t as well known is that the ship was hired in London and so it is from London – commonly believed to be from Rotherhithe on the south bank of the Thames – that the ship set off for Plymouth to pick up its passengers and supplies.

The Mayflower departed from London in mid July, 1620, and was already in Plymouth by the time another ship, the Speedwell, arrived from Delfshaven in the Netherlands in late July. The two ships would depart Plymouth for their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on 5th August (although the Speedwell proved less than seaworthy and so, after a couple of aborted attempts, the Mayflower eventually proceeded alone).

Rotherhithe was home to many of the 30 crew of the Mayflower including Captain Christopher Jones.

As a result, there’s numerous memorials to the voyage in the area, including, most famously, the pub, The Mayflower, which is said to overlook the site from where the ship sailed (pictured above). There’s also a statue  of Jones himself in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin where he was buried in an unmarked grave – he died soon after returning from America.

A series of events, including the Mayflower 400 London Lectures, had been planned to commemorate the event this year but are currently suspended. We’ll keep you informed.