Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

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Australia HouseNews this week that scientists have confirmed an ancient sacred well beneath Australia House in the Strand (on the corner of Aldwych) contains water fit to drink. The well, believed to be one of 20 covered wells in London, is thought to be at least 900 years old and contains water which is said to come from the now-subterranean Fleet River. Australia’s ABC news was recently granted special access to the well hidden beneath a manhole cover in the building’s basement and obtained some water which was tested and found to be fit for drinking. It’s been suggested that the first known mention of the well – known simply as Holywell (it gave its name to a nearby street now lost) – may date back to the late 12th century when a monk, William FitzStephen, commented about the well’s “particular reputation” and the crowds that visited it (although is possible his comments apply to another London well). Australia House itself, home to the Australian High Commission, was officially opened in 1918 by King George V, five years after he laid the foundation stone. The Prime Minister of Australia, WM “Billy” Hughes, was among those present at the ceremony. The interior of the building has featured in the Harry Potter movies as Gringott’s Bank. PICTURE: © Martin Addison/Geograph.

• It includes everything from the iconic Lloyd’s Building in the City to the former Strand Union Workhouse in Fitzrovia which may have inspired scenes in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and the red phone boxes which sit outside the British Museum in Bloomsbury. English Heritage this week released it’s London List 2011 which documents the more than 100 sites in London which have been awarded listed status by the organisation last year. They include 19 Underground stations (among them that of Oxford Circus, St James’s Park and Aldwych), four war memorials (including the grand Central Park War Memorial in East Ham) and two schools as well as various cemetery monuments (including at Highgate and Brompton Cemeteries, and Bunhill Fields Burial Ground) and parks (the status of Green Park was upgraded to Grade II*), religious and commercial premises, public libraries and homes. To download a copy, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/london-list-2011/.

It’s just one week to go until the Open House London weekend when more than 750 buildings of all sorts open their doors to you. We’ll be talking more about some of the special places open this year in next week’s update – this is, after all, one of our favorite London events of the year, and while, if you haven’t already entered, you’ve missed on the balloted openings, there’s still plenty of places where you can simply turn up on the day (and entry to all is free). If you haven’t already bought one, you can buy the Guide online – just follow the links from www.openhouselondon.org.uk. It can also be picked up free at some participating London libraries.

• Dame Ida Mann, Oxford’s first female professor and a pioneering ophthalmologist, has been honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her childhood home in West Hampstead. The plaque, which was unveiled by an Australian opthalmologist who worked with Mann, Donald F. Ezekial, last week, has been placed on a house at 13 Minster Road where Mann lived from 1902-1934. Mann was born in West Hampstead and lived there for 41 years before eventually emigrating to Australia. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

• On Now: Motya Charioteer at the British Museum. Best be quick for this one, the charioteer, on loan from the Museo Giuseppe Whitaker on Motya, is only around until 19th September (that’s next Wednesday). The stunning statue, displayed near the sculptures from the Parthenon, dates from about 460-450 BC and is generally credited as one of the finest examples of Greek marble sculpture to have survived down the ages. It is believed to depict the winner of a chariot race and is likely to have been commissioned to commemorate a victory by a participant from one of Sicily’s Greek cities. It was found in Sicily in 1979. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Seventy-one years of broadcasting from Bush House in Aldwych came to an end last week when the BBC World Service formally left the building. The building has been used by the BBC for foreign language broadcasting since 1941 (the service’s previous home, Broadcasting House in Portland Place having been bombed out), initially for the European Service and, since 1958, for the rest of what was then called the Overseas Service. Designed by American architect Harvey Corbett, the building at the end of Kingsway in west London was constructed in 1923 and opened in 1925 (additions were made in 1928 and 1935). Built for an Anglo-American trading company at the enormous cost of around £2 million (a price tag which led to it being declared the most expensive building in the world), it was named for American businessman, Irving T. Bush. Noted for its distinctive portico featuring two male statues depicting Anglo-American friendship, the premises has been the site of important events including General Charles De Gaulle’s wartime broadcasts to the Free French while among those who worked in the building were George Orwell, who worked for the Eastern Service during World War II. The BBC, who have returned the World Service to Broadcasting House following a major extension, have never actually owned the building – owners during its residency there have included the Church of Wales and its current Japanese owners. For more on Bush House and its BBC connections, see www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/collections/buildings/bush_house.shtml. For the final broadcast, see www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18805063. PICTURE: Bush House, 1951 – Courtesy BBC.

Sixteen London Underground stations were this week listed as Grade II heritage buildings. The Tube stations – several of which were designed by Leslie Green, known for his pioneering use of ‘ox-blood’ red tiles on the exterior of stations to create a consistent brand for the stations – include the now-closed Aldwych (pictured) along with Oxford Circus (originally two stations), Covent Garden and Russell Square as well as Belsize Park, Brent Cross, Caledonian Road, Chalk Farm, Chesham, Perivale, Redbridge, St John’s Wood, West Acton and Wood Green. Three other stations – Arnos Grove, Oakwood and Sudbury Town – have had their status upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. These three were all designed by modernist architect Charles Holden for the extension of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s. The new listings were made by Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose on the advice of English Heritage.

A new permanent exhibition showing would-be sailors what it is like to fight at sea opens at the HMS Belfast this weekend. Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story, 1943, is an immersive experience using lights, imagery, sound, smoke effects, movement and smell to recreate the atmosphere and conditions of a gun turret tower when a crew was at battle stations. Visitors are encouraged to follow the story of a young sailor on Boxing Day, 1943 when the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst is sighted leading to the Battle of the North Cape. The Gun Turret Experience, housed within the original triple gun turrets overlooking the quarterdeck, was developed with the help of Royal Navy veterans and eye-witness accounts from the Imperial War Museum (of which the HMS Belfast is part). Entry is included in normal admission price. For more information, see www.hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.

• Now On: See the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore when she was married to Prince William in April at this year’s summer opening at Buckingham Palace. The gown, which features a nine foot long train, will be displayed along with the Halo Tiara until 3rd October in the palace ballroom (the same room used for the newly married couple’s reception). The exhibition features video footage of designer Sarah Burton, explaining how the dress was made. This year’s summer opening also features a display of the work of Carl Faberge – including his magnificent jewel-encrusted Imperial Easter Eggs as well as bejewelled boxes and miniature carvings of favorite pets of the royal family. More than half a million people are expected to visit the exhibition. For more information, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30