The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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Turbine-HallOn Saturday, the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall on South Bank will host an “audio-visual feast” of music, performances, art installations and activities. The free Turbine Festival will feature everything from an alternative hair salon and a London bus built on the day by artist John Costi to a pop-up juice bar where you can make your own drinks and a record shop where you can design your own vinyl record sleeve. The day will also feature performances by Grime/HipHop/AfroPop artist Afrikan Boy, Felix’s Machines – who will transform live music and sound into a 3D visual show, and poet Jacob Sam-La Rose, as well as a programme of “bite-sized” films running in collaboration with the London Short Film Festival, and a series of interactive workshops covering everything from beatboxing to crafting. Visitors to the festival, sponsored by Hyundai, are also encouraged to contribute to a special project by My Culture Museum by submitting photographs or bringing objects to be archived and curated. Runs from 12.30pm to 9.30pm. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

•  Three paintings previously attributed to later followers of 16th century Venetian artist Titian but subsequently found to be by the artist himself and his studio have gone on display together for the first time at Apsley House. The three paintings – which include Titian’s Mistress (c1560), A Young Woman Holding Rose Garlands (c1550) and Danae (c1553) – were all in poor condition before conservation and cleaning by experts from English Heritage, the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Hamilton Kerr Institute revealed their true quality (and Titian’s signature on two of the paintings). All three works were held in the Spanish Royal Collection and among 160 that Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and King of Spain, tried to take out of the country following his defeat by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Vittoria in 1813. Wellington was subsequently given the paintings by a grateful King Ferdinand VII. The Titian at Apsley House exhibition, which opened earlier this month, runs at the Duke of Wellington’s home at Hyde Park Corner until 31st October. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wellington-arch/.

On Now: Festival of the Unconscious. This festival at Sigmund Freud’s former London home and now home to The Freud Museum sees artists, designers, writers and performers taking another look at Freud’s seminar 1915 paper, The Unconscious. Features of the festival, which runs until 4th October, include specially commissioned films by animators from Kingston University running throughout the house, sound and video installations by London-based art project Disinformation in the dining room and an installation from stage designers at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Freud’s study. There’s also a display by Julian Rothenstein, co-author of Psychobox, and a chance to recline and “free-associate” on a psycho-analytic couch in Freud’s bedroom. An extensive programme of events accompanies the displays. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.freud.org.uk.

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Three days of events kick off in London tomorrow to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Events will include a Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at 3pm tomorrow (Friday) coinciding with two minutes national silence while Trafalgar Square – scene of VE Day celebrations in 1945 – will host a photographic exhibition of images taken on the day 70 years ago (the same images will be on show at City Hall from tomorrow until 5th June) and, at 9.32pm, a beacon will be lit at the Tower of London as part of a nation wide beacon-lighting event. On Saturday at 11am, bells will ring out across the city to mark the celebration and at night, a star-studded 1940s-themed concert will be held on Horse Guards Parade (broadcast on BBC One). Meanwhile, on Sunday, following a service in Westminster Abbey, a parade of current and veteran military personnel will head around Parliament Square and down Whitehall, past the balcony of HM Treasury where former PM Sir Winston Churchill made his historic appearance before crowds on the day, to Horse Guards. A flypast of current and historic RAF aircraft will coincide with the parade and from 1pm the Band of the Grenadier Guards will be playing music from the 1940s in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, special V-shaped lights will be used to illuminate Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament as a tribute. For more information, see www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/ve-day-70th-anniversary.

The works of leading London-based photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg are on show in at new exhibition at the Museum of London in the City. London Dust will feature three major newly acquired works by Luxemburg including Aplomb – St Paul’s, 2013, Walkie-Talkie Melted My Golden Calf, 2013, and the film London/Winterreise, 2013. Blees Luxemburg’s images – others of which are also featured in the exhibition – contrast idealised architectural computer-generated visions of London that clad hoardings at City-building sites with the gritty, unpolished reality surrounding these. In particular they focus on a proposed 64 floor skyscraper, The Pinnacle, which rose only seven stories before lack of funding brought the work to a halt. The free exhibition runs until 10th January next year. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The Talk: The Cutting Edge – Weapons at the Battle of Waterloo. Paul Wilcox, director of the Arms and Armour Research Institute at the University of Huddersfield, will talk about about the weapons used at Waterloo with a chance to get ‘hands-on’ with some period weapons as part of a series of events at Aspley House, the former home of the Iron Duke at Hyde Park Corner, to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. To be held on Monday, 11th May, from 2.30pm to 4pm. Admission charge applies and booking is essential – see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley for more.

On Now: On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent. A selection of ground-breaking photographs depicting the Sidi community – an African minority living in India – is on show at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. The works, taken between 2005 and 2011, are those of acclaimed contemporary Indian photographer Ketaki Sheth and the exhibition is his first solo display in the UK. They provide an insight into the lives of the Sidi, and include images of a young woman named Munira awaiting her arranged wedding, young boys playing street games, and the exorcism of spirits from a woman as a young girl watches. Admission is free. Runs in Room 33 until 31st August. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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There’s been a pub on the site of this Soho institution since before the 1700s, although the current building at 7 Greek Street is believed to date from the start of the 20th century.

Pillars-of-HerculesThe pub’s name is an ancient one – it refers to two landmarks, the Rock of Gibraltar on the north side and Mount Hacho or Jebel Musa on the south side (there is apparently some dispute over which), that mark the entrance to the Mediterranean and are together known as the Pillars of Hercules. The name apparently comes from a legend that Hercules created the Strait of Gibraltar between them when pushed the two pillars apart apart and so separated Europe from Africa.

There’s been several pubs in London which have borne this name although this particular premises does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (a street which runs under the pub’s archway is named after one of its characters, Dr Manette). There was apparently a similarly named tavern on the site of what is now Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner (that one gets a mention in Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling).

According to a sign on the pub, this Pillars of Hercules was also frequented by nineteenth century poet and cricket lower Francis Thompson, author of the poet The Hound of Heaven.

The current half-timbered pub – located just to the south of Soho Square – has apparently continued as a favoured locale for literary types. Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan are among more recent writers who have visited (along with Clive James who referred to it in the title of his collections of literary criticism, At the Pillars of Hercules).

great-seal-king-john-eton-college-british-library-magna-carta-law-liberty-legacyThe largest ever exhibition related to the Magna Carta opens at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow to mark the 800th anniversary of the document’s sealing. Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy features two original Magna Carta manuscripts from 1215 as well as 1215 document, the Articles of the Barons (known as ‘draft’ of the Magna Carta), the Petition of Right (1628), the English Bill of Rights (1689), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It will also display two of the most celebrated documents in American history – the Delaware copy of the Bill of Rights and Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence (both on loan from the US National Archives) –  along with UK cabinet papers from 1941 in which it was proposed an original Magna Carta manuscript from 1215 be given to the US in return for their support in World War II and artefacts including King John’s teeth, thumb bone and fragments of clothing taken from his tomb in 1797 as well as his will. The exhibition tells the story of the Magna Carta from its creation in 1215 through to its later use by people fighting for various rights and freedoms and its continuing impact on the world today. There’s also a series of interviews with politicians, historians and public figures including Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, former US President Bill Clinton and William Hague. Runs until 1st September. Admission charge applies. For more – and a digitised gallery of artifacts – visit www.bl.uk/magna-carta-exhibition. PICTURE: Great Seal of King John, 1203 © Eton College Archives on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington opens at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square today. Marking the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington: Triumphs, Politics, and Passions explores Wellington’s political and military career as well as his personal life. Highlights include Goya’s 1812 portrait of Wellington following his entry into Madrid (later modified to recognise further battle honours and awards), and Thomas Lawrence’s famous portrait painted in 1815, the same year as the Battle of Waterloo (the painting, which normally hangs in Apsley House, was used as the basis of the design of the £5 British note from 1971 to 1991). The exhibition of 59 portraits and other works also includes rarely seen works loaned by Wellington’s family include a John Hoppner portrait of the duke as a young soldier and a daguerreotype portrait taken by Antoine Claudet for Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844. Runs until 7th June. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk or for more on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, see www.waterloo200.org.

An exhibition celebrating the works of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen opens at the V&A in South Kensington on Saturday. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty presents his works in 10 sections which focus on everything from McQueen’s roots in London, his “skilful subversion of traditional tailoring practices”, his fascination with the animal world and his longstanding interest in Eastern cultures. At the centre of the exhibition is The Cabinet of Curiosities, a display showcasing more than 100 garments and accessories and shown with film footage from his many catwalk presentations. The exhibition runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies but you’ll have to be quick – the exhibition has already set the record for the most ever advance sales for an exhibition at the museum. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty.

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BusesAlmost 50 buses, from a horse-drawn model of the 1820s to the New Routemasters of today, will come to Regent Street on Sunday in celebration of the Year of the Bus. The ‘Regent Street Bus Cavalcade’ – which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and will see the iconic West End street closed to traffic – will also feature a variety of free family events including Lego workshops (there will be a bus shelter and bus stop made entirely out of Lego outside Hamley’s toy shop), children’s theatre performances, a pop-up London Transport canteen and the chance to have a personal message recorded by the voice of London’s buses, Emma Hignett. There will also be an exhibition – Battle Bus – which provides information about the B-type bus (a newly restored version of which will be on display) which was used during World War I to carry soldiers to the frontline as well as ambulances and mobile pigeon lofts while jewellery company Tatty Devine will feature a special range of bus-inspired jewellery and hold jewellery-making workshops on board a London bus. The cavalcade, supported by the Regent Street Association and The Crown Estate, is part of Transport for London’s celebrations marking the Year of the Bus, organised in partnership with the London Transport Museum and the capital’s bus operators. The free event runs from 11.30am to 6pm. For more information, see www.tfl.gov.uk/yearofthebus and www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

A new exhibition of materials showing how people coped at home and on the front during World War I opens at the British Library in King’s Cross today as part of efforts to mark the war’s centenary. Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour features personal objects such as letters, a handkerchief bearing the lyrics of It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary, Christmas cards, school essays about airship raids over London sit and recruitment posters, humorous magazines and even a knitting pattern for balaclavas. Highlights include a letter in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle expresses his concern over his son serving at the front, manuscripts by war poets such as Rupert Brooke as well as Wilfred Owen’s manuscript for Anthem for Doomed Youth, Vaughan Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony and Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen. A specially commissioned video and ‘soundscape’, Writing Home, features personal messages contained on postcards written to and from the front. A range of events accompanies the free exhibition. Runs until 12th October. For more on the exhibition, see www.bl.uk.

Armoured knights on horseback can be seen jousting at Eltham Palace in south London this weekend. The former childhood home of King Henry VIII will host a Grand Medieval Joust which will also include displays of foot combat, the antics of a court jester, medieval music performances and a series of children’s events including a knight’s school. Runs from 10am to 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/events. Meanwhile, the Battle of Waterloo is being remembered at the Duke of Wellington’s home of Apsley House near Hyde Park Corner. Visitors will come face-to-face with Wellington’s troops and their wives, having the chance to take a look inside a soldier’s knapsack, see the equipment he used and the drills he performed as well as see the Battle of Waterloo recreated in vegetables. The Waterloo Festival – this year marks 200 years since Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba – runs from 11am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley/.

Nominations have reopened for English Heritage’s Blue Plaques scheme in London. In 2012 nominations were temporarily suspended while new funding for the scheme was found and thanks to one individual’s donation and the creation of a new Blue Plaques Club to support the scheme on an ongoing basis, they have now reopened. There are 880 official Blue Plaques on London’s streets – remembering everyone from Florence Nightingale to Fred Perry and Charles Darwin. For more and details on nominations, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

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Cabmen's-ShelterThe London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.

A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.

Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Americus-Backers-piano

The oldest surviving English grand piano, built in London in 1772 by Americus Backers, has gone on display at Apsley House in London, home of the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley.

Known to have been played by the Iron Duke’s wife Kitty (nee Pakenham), it has been suggested (although remains unconfirmed) that the piano belonged to the Iron Duke’s father, Lord Mornington, who was politician and a composer.

The piano, which has been loaned to English Heritage by Lord and Lady Douro and is expected to remain at the house for the foreseeable future, is the earliest example of a piano with loud and soft pedals and is illustrative of the impact Backers, described by some as “the father of the English grand pianoforte style”, had on the development of piano design.

While much of the detail of Backers’ life  remains obscured, he was apprenticed to a piano builder in Saxony before coming to England in the 1750s and taking up residence in Jermyn Street in 1763 where he apparently lived until his death in 1778. He is known to have built both pianofortes and harpsicords.

The piano, the only known pianoforte by Backers still existing, was previously on loan to the Russell Collection in Edinburgh.

In celebration of the return of the piano to Apsley House, the residence is hosting a special concert this Tuesday (21st May), between 7pm-9pm – the first time the piano will have been heard for at least 5o years (albeit for a short period only with most of the concert performed on a 1781 Ganer. ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Music of the French Wars’ will be held in the Waterloo Gallery. Tickets are £45 each and limited seats are available. Call English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1183 for bookings or see www.english-heritage.org.uk. PICTURE:  Professor David Owen Norris, who has researched and devised the programme has been devised the programme for the evening, playing the piano.He will be joined by the soprano Amanda Pitt. Image courtesy of English Heritage.

Where is it?…#43

September 14, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

This image is one of many found in a subterranean tunnel surrounding Hyde Park Corner Underground Station and depicts, of course, the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, enjoying his latter years. The ‘Iron Duke’ has strong connections to Hyde Park Corner – his former home, Apsley House, No 1. London, is located there as is the Wellington Arch, the Decimus Burton memorial to him. For more on the Duke, see our earlier post here and for more on Wellington Arch, see our earlier ‘Where is it?’ post here.

A detailed history of Apsley House, the former home of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, has gone live online as part of a pilot project aimed at “deepening the public’s understanding of English history”. The property, known as Number 1, London, is one of 12 initially being profiled in depth in a pilot project on the new English Heritage online resource, Portico. Others include Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, located in Kent, as well as Beeston Castle, Brough Castle, Byland Abbey, Carlisle Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle, Easby Abbey, Kenilworth Castle, Lullingstone Roman Villa, Rievaulx Abbey and Wroxeter Roman City near Shrewsbury. Brief historical details are also provided for an additional 220 lesser known free sites including Dunster Yarn Market in Somerset. For more see www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/archives-and-collections/portico/.

The West Lawn of the British Museum Forecourt has been turned into an image of the Australian continent as part of a five year partnership programme between the museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The landscape moves from the vegetation of the eastern Australia’s coast through to the red centre and onto a rocky Western Australian outcrop. It showcases some of the continent’s unique and highly threatened flora. The  construction of the landscape, which follows one showcasing that of South Africa last year, is part of the museum’s ‘Australian season’. Runs until October. Admission is free. See www.britishmuseum.org.

• Dame Judy Dench was awarded the Freedom of the City of London for services to acting at a ceremony at the Guildhall last week. The winner of an Academy Award, nine BAFTAs and three Laurence Olivier Awards, Dame Judy is an icon of stage and screen. She is reportedly looking forward to driving her sheep over London Bridge and occasionally wearing a sword in public – both privileges of those awarded the Freedom of the City of London. The Freedom of the City’s origins are believed to date back to 1237 and enabled recipients to carry out their trade. Today people are nominated for or apply for the Freedom for the link with the City or are awarded it for a significant contribution to London life. Many of the traditional privileges – such as driving your sheep over London Bridge or being hanged with a silken rope – no longer exist.

Now On: Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it. The British Library’s first exhibition which explores science fiction through literature, film, illustrations and sound. Guest curated by Andy Sawyer, director of science fiction studies MA at the University of Liverpool, the exhibition traces the evolution of the genre from Lucian of Samosata’s True History, written in the 2nd century AD, through to the recent writings of Cory Doctorow and China Mieville. Highlights include a 1516 edition of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a 1647 edition of Lucian’s True History, and a 1906 edition of HG Wells text, The War of the Worlds. Runs until 25th September. For more see, www.bl.uk/sciencefiction.

Having just been cleaned as part of a renovation of the State Dining Room at Apsley House (pictured) – the former London residence of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the silver-gilt Portuguese Centrepiece  was presented as part of a complete service to the duke in 1816.

The gift of the Portuguese Regency Council, it was created in honor of the duke’s role in leading the armies of Spain, Britain and Portugal to victory over Napoleon’s forces in the Peninsular War of 1808-14.

The service, which consists of more than 1,000 pieces, was designed by Portuguese court artist Domingos Antonio de Sequeira who took three years to complete it with much of the work carried out in Sequeira’s house and neighbouring workshops. Subsequently damaged in the sea crossing to England, repairs had to be made before it was formally presented to the duke late in 1816.

The eight metre long centrepiece commemorates all the battles of the Peninsular War in which the allies were victorious. It was acquired for the nation in 1948 and is now permanently displayed on the duke’s original mahogany dining table, designed especially to support its weight.

WHERE: Apsley House, 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park (nearest tube station is Hyde Park Corner); WHEN: 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday (until 31st October); COST: £6.30 an adult/£5.70 concessions/£3.80 a child (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/

The State Dining Room at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s former London residence, reopened to the public last weekend after a make-over. The revitalisation works included repairing and cleaning the ceiling and chandelier as well as the Portuguese silver centre piece, which was presented to Wellington by the Portuguese Council of Regency to commemorate his victories over Napoleon in the Peninsular War. The house, which bears the landmark address of Number One London, was given to the nation in 1947 by the 7th Duke of Wellington, whose family continues to occupy private rooms in the premises. See www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

Seventy-six years after it last hosted a guest, the former Midland Grand Hotel at London’s St Pancras station reopened its doors quietly earlier this month following a 10 year, £150 million restoration project. The Grade I-listed Victorian Gothic building, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (he also designed the Albert Memorial), originally opened in 1873. It closed in 1935 but was saved from demolition in the 1960s after a campaign led by poet laureate Sir John Betjeman. Among the highlights of the recent project is the restoration of the Sir George Gilbert Scott suite to look like it did in the Victorian era. The hotel, rebranded the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel,  will be officially opened on 5th May, exactly 138 years after it first opened. See www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel/.

Architect Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976) has been honored with an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home and office in Islington. The architect, best known for his redesign of Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War II, lived and worked at 1 Canonbury Place from 1956 until the mid-1960s. He and his family then moved next door while he continued to use the property as his offices (it remained in use as architectural offices long after his death). Other commissions for which Sir Basil is known include Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, the controversial Knightsbridge Barracks and the Swiss Cottage Library. Internationally, his works included the unusual ‘beehive’ extension to the Parliament Building in Wellington, New Zealand.

• Now On: Your chance to lift the two 1,100 tonne bascules at Tower Bridge. The City of London Corporation this week launched their annual competition to find a “guest bridge driver”. Enter by going to Tower Bridge’s website (www.towerbridge.co.uk) and answering a question about the bridge or the Square Mile. The winner will be drawn next month and as well as using the controls to lift and lower the bridge, will receive a commemorative certificate in the control cabin, a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition and the chance to visit the underground bascule chamber and fifth-level turrets, neither of which are normally open to the public. They’ll also be presented with a bottle of champagne.

Best known for his defeat of Napeleon at the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was not a native Londoner. But his involvement in the military and politics meant he went on to have a significant impact on the city.

Wellesley (whose surname was actually Wesley until his family changed it in 1798) was born in Ireland in early May, 1769, and, following his schooling – including time spent at Eton and in France, he entered the British Army as an ensign in 1787, subsequently serving as an aide-de-camp to two Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. While in Ireland, he was also elected an MP in the Irish Parliament.

His military career took him to the Netherlands and then India, where he was later appointed Governor of Seringapatam and Mysore.

Returning to Europe, Wellesley took a leave of absence from the army and, having been knighted, again entered politics becoming the Tory MP for Rye in 1806, then MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight before being appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland.

He left these tasks to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – most notably in the Peninsular War where he led the allied armies to victory at the 1813 Battle of Vitoria (and was subsequently promoted to the rank of field marshal).

Following Napoleon’s exile, Wellington was created the Duke of Wellington. He served briefly as ambassador to France before Napoleon’s return in 1815. It was for his subsequent role at the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon was finally and totally defeated, that Wellington is mostly remembered now.

Entering politics after his return to England in 1819, he was named Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1827 and was twice elected Prime Minister, from 1828-30 and again in 1834, before his death in 1852 after which he received a state funeral.

It’s not hard to find reference to the duke in today’s London and countless pubs testify to his one-time popularity.

He purchased his most famous residence, Apsley House (which attracted the nickname of Number 1 London, thanks to it being the first house one encountered in London after passing through the toll gate) in 1817. Indeed, it was the installation of iron shutters at this property – a measure taken to prevent a mob demanding electoral reform from destroying it – that led to him being given the nickname, the “Iron Duke”.

These days Apsley House is managed by English Heritage and contains the Duke’s collection of artworks and furnishings.

Opposite Apsley House, close to Hyde Park Corner, stands an equestrian statue of Wellington and behind it Wellington Arch, which dates from between 1826-30, and originally stood parallel to the Hyde Park Screen. In 1846, a vast statue of the Duke was mounted on top of the arch but this was replaced with a sculpture of Peace in her Quadriga when the arch was relocated to its present site in 1882 due to a need to widen the road. There are great views from the top.

At Hyde Park Corner, close to Park Lane, stands another memorial to Wellington, this time a massive statue of the Greek hero Achilles. It was put there in 1822 (and incidentally sparked considerable controversy – it was London’s first nude public sculpture in centuries and despite the careful placing of a fig leaf, didn’t please everybody).

Wellington was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral and his huge block-like tomb in the crypt is given a level of prominence only equaled by that of Admiral Nelson.

The National Portrait Gallery this week launches an exhibition, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, which features the Duke’s favorite painting of himself (not the one above). The painting, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, hasn’t been on public exhibition for 60 years. From 21st October.

PICTURES: Image of the Duke of Wellington is by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1814). Source: Wikipedia.