Isaac-Newton

Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1995 statue of Isaac Newton which stands on the British Library’s piazza in King’s Cross has been granted a ‘voice’ as part of a new project called Talking Statues. Visitors who swipe their smartphones on a nearby tag will receive a call from the famous scientist – voiced by Simon Beale Russell – as part of the initiative which is being spear-headed by Sing London. It is one of 35 different statues across London and Manchester which will be brought to life by a range of public identities. Among the other statues in London which have been brought to life are Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge in Gough Square (voiced by Nicholas Parsons) and Dick Whittington’s Cat in Islington (Helen Lederer), John Wilkes in Fetter Lane (Jeremy Paxman), the Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station (Patrick Stewart) and Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street Underground (Anthony Horowitz). The British Library and Sing London are also holding a competition to give William Shakespeare a voice by writing a monologue for the statue in the library’s entrance hall which will then be read by an as yet unannounced actor. Entries close 17th October. For more, visit www.talkingstatues.co.uk

PICTURE: British Library

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Famed around the world for her London-based wax museum (and the chain of waxworks which now bears her name), French-born Madame Tussaud is a towering figure of the early 19th century.

Born Anna Maria Grosholtz in Strasbourg on 1st December, 1761, Marie Tussaud’s association with waxworks came early when, her father Joseph having apparently died from wounds sustained in the Seven Years War just before her birth, she accompanied her mother Anna Maria Walder to Berne in Switzerland where her mother took up a position as a housekeeper for a physician and anatomical wax sculptor and portraitist Dr Philippe Curtius.

Madame-TussaudIn 1765, Dr Curtius moved to pre-Revolutionary Paris where he was soon to open a couple of establishments – at the Palais-Royal and the Boulevard du Temple (later consolidated at the latter site) – displaying his works in wax. Marie, whom Dr Curtius brought to Paris with her mother in 1768, started working with him on wax models and in 1777, at the age of just 16, produced her first wax figure, that of philosopher Voltaire. Other early works of Madame Tussaud’s depicted Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin.

The story goes that such was the renown of Tussaud and her “uncle” Dr Curtius, that their social circle came to include members of the Royal Family. Tussaud is widely believed to have been an art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister Elizabeth and may have even taken up residence at Versailles.

Tussaud recounts that she was arrested during the French Revolution – the story goes that she was imprisoned and eventually released thanks to the intervention of family friend and revolutionary Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois but whether this is true remains a matter of debate.

Tussaud claims she was then forced make death masks of those who ended their life on the scaffold including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre. When Curtius died in 1794, she inherited his wax works and the following year married an engineer Francois Tussaud with whom she had two sons, Joseph and Francois (later known as Francis).

In 1802, Madame Tussaud accepted an invitation to go to London to exhibit her work at the Lyceum Theatre but thanks to the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, she and her four-year-old son Joseph were unable to return to France. Separated from her husband, she subsequently spent the next three decades travelling with her exhibition – which included relics from the Revolution and, like those of Curtius, was being constantly updated to reflect current affairs – around Britain and Ireland.

Her son Francois joined her in 1822 and Tussaud continued travelling until 1835 when she first established a permanent exhibition in Baker Street, London. Known as the Baker Street Bazaar, it apparently contained more than 400 wax figures. In 1846, Punch Magazine is credited with having invented the term ‘Chamber of Horrors’ for the room where the relics of the French Revolution were displayed.

Tussaud wrote her memoirs in 1838, and, in 1842, completed a wax model of herself. She died in her sleep on 16th April, 1850, in London. Her son Francois became chief artist for the exhibition after her retirement – he was succeeded by his son and then grandson. The exhibition moved to its current site in Marylebone Road in 1884.

Now owned by the Merlin Entertainments Group, Madame Tussauds has branches in cities in some 10 countries as well as its London base. Many of her original models still exist and are on display in the London museum along with the exhibition’s oldest attraction – known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’, it dates from 1863 – a breathing likeness of Louis XV’s sleeping mistress Madame du Barry.

For more on Madame Tussauds today, see www.madametussauds.com.

For more on the life of Madame Tussaud, see Kate Berridge’s book, Waxing Mythical: The Life and Legend of Madame Tussaud.

221b-Baker-Street

Today we kick off our new Wednesday series with a look at some of the most famous addresses in London where fictional characters once lived. Most, if not all, of the addresses we’ll look at are not fictional in themselves – they do actually exist – but the characters said to have lived there owe their lives solely to the imaginations of their creators and the readers and audiences who have loved and admired them.

To kick it off, we take a quick look at what is certainly the most visited address of a fictional character in London – 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes and his associate Dr John Watson.

The-Sherlock-Holmes-MuseumWe’ve looked mentioned this Baker Street address in a couple of earlier posts – including a look at the origins of the naming of Baker Street and a piece on Sherlock Holmes himself.

So, to somewhat recap, the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has Holmes and Watson living at this address from 1881 (it becomes their address in the first book featuring them – A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887) to 1904 when Holmes retired (Watson was not a continual presence here, moving in and out a couple of times).

What’s interesting is that the address now belongs to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, although in terms of the other numbers in the street, this is actually located between numbers 237 and 241 (in a street which was, prior to the 1930s, known as Upper Baker Street).

What is now number 221 is a 1930s art deco building formerly known as Abbey House (but this would have been 41 Upper Baker Street in 1887). It was the headquarters of Abbey National which had a long-running dispute with the museum over the right receive mail at the address 221b (since the closure of Abbey House in the early Noughties, the museum has received the mail).

It should be noted that there are also numerous other theories over the ‘real’ location of 221b Baker Street – in particular one which suggests the real address is opposite the former location of Camden House in Baker Street, thanks to a reference in The Empty House.

The museum, which is located in a house built in 1815, is set up as it was in Holmes’ day and contains his first floor study, filled with artefacts relating to the many cases he solved – including his famous pipe as well as his deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, violin, and the wicker chair which was used in Sidney Paget’s famous illustrations.

Other rooms include Dr Watson’s small second floor bedroom and the housekeeper Mrs Hudson’s room.

Worth noting is that there is also reconstruction of Holmes’ study at The Sherlock Holmes pub, located at 10-11 Northumberland Street in Westminster. This had been created for the Festival of Britain in 1951 by the Marylebone Borough Library and Abbey National and was located at Abbey House. For on this, check out the Westminister Libraries & Archives site.

WHERE: The Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221b Baker Street (nearest Tube station is Baker Street);  WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily; COST: £8 adults; £5 children (under 16); WEBSITE: www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk.

A new permanent gallery looking at how the Royal Navy shaped individual lives and the course of British history over the 18th century opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Monday 21st October, Trafalgar Day. Nelson, Navy, Nation charts a course from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and provides a setting for the museum’s many artefacts related to Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. Among the 250 objects on display in the gallery are the uniform (with bullet hole) Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar, artworks likes William Hogarth’s Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, a seven barreled volley gun and grim items like a surgeon’s tools including an amputation knife, bone saw and bullet forceps. There is also the last letter Nelson wrote to his daughter Horatia and mourning rings worn by close friends and family at his funeral. Entry to the new gallery is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

The first major exhibition dedicated to the American-born artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s time in London between 1859 and his death in 1903 opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this week. An American in London: Whistler and the Thames features paintings, etchings and drawings produced by the artist and more than 70 objects related to Whistler’s depiction of the Thames and Victorian London. Highlights include Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873) and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge (1859-1863), the oil painting Wapping (1860-64) and the etching Rotherhithe (1860). There are also a series of portraits of Whistler and his patrons. Runs until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Composer Eric Coates has been honoured with the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home at Chiltern Court in Baker Street. Coates, who created “some of the best known and loved pieces of English light orchestral music”, lived in a flat at the property between 1930-39. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics. This exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library takes a look at 10 of the most iconic children’s books of the 20th century – from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, Peter Pan and Wendy, and The Iron Man as well as Just So Stories, The Hobbit, The Borrowers, The Secret Garden and The Railway Children. On display is at least four illustrated editions or artworks of each title with Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Peggy Fortnum and Lauren Child among the artists whose works are being shown. The exhibition also features five specially filmed interviews with four illustrators and Paddington Bear author Michael Bond. Runs until 26th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk.

In this, the year of the 150th anniversary of the creation of what we now know as the London Underground, it’s only fitting that we take a look at the city’s oldest Tube station – Baker Street.

Opened on 10th January, 1863, by the Metropolitan Railway, the Grade II* listed property was designed by John Fowler, the company’s engineer in chief. While some stations on the initial railway – which stretched from Paddington to Farringdon – had platforms located in open cuttings, Baker Street was one of only three initial stations (the other two were at what was then named Gower Street (now Euston Square) and Great Portland Street) which was genuinely located underground, with subterranean platforms covered by brick barrel-vaults and lit by gaslights as well as natural light brought from the surface by “lunettes”.

The station was subsequently extended and further developed and, thanks to the company’s desire to make Baker Street its headquarters and “flagship” station, it underwent a major overhaul in 1911-13 with Charles Walter Clark, another Metropolitan Railway employee, designing a new grand booking hall and concourse featuring a lost property office, “ladies’ room” and a WH Smith bookstall.

Features inside include a cast-iron screen – complete with clock –  installed at the entrance to the lower concourse in 1925 to help control passenger flow during the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, a marble memorial to Metropolitan Railway employees who died in World War I, and, in a nod to the proximity of his fictitious Baker Street residence, large and small Sherlock Holmes silhouettes on tiles located at various places inside (there’s a statue of him outside the station).

For more on the 150th anniversary, see www.tfl.gov.uk/tube150.

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will be held next Wednesday at St Paul’s Cathedral from 11am with Queen Elizabeth II among those attending (the first time she has attended the funeral of a British politician since Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965). The funeral procession of the former Prime Minister, who died on Monday aged 87, will start at the Houses of Parliament and make its way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square before moving down the Strand, Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Baroness Thatcher’s coffin will carried in a hearse for the first part of the journey and will be transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery at St Clement Danes church on the Strand for the final part of the journey. There will be a gun salute at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, a Book of Condolence has opened at St Margaret’s Church, beside Westminster Abbey, this morning and will be available for people to pay their respects until 17th April, during the church’s opening hours. St Margaret’s – which stands between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – is commonly known as the parish church of the House of Commons.

The story of the Jewel Tower – one of the last remaining parts of the medieval Palace of Westminster – is told in a new exhibition at the historic property. Now in the care of English Heritage, the tower – located to the south of Westminster Abbey, was built in 1365 to house King Edward III’s treasury, later used as King Henry VIII”s ‘junk room’, the record office for the House of Lords, and, from 1869, served was the “testing laboratory” for the Office of Weights and Measures. The exhibition, which opened this month, is part of the English Heritage celebrations commemorating the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. The Jewel Tower is open daily until November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.

See some of the earliest underground trains, a Lego version of Baker Street station and ride the Acton Miniature Railway. The London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton is holding it’s annual spring open weekend this Saturday and Sunday and in celebration of the Underground’s 150th anniversary, attractions will include the Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the recently restored Metropolitan Carriage 353 along with model displays, rides on the miniature railway, film screenings, talks, and workshops. Wales’ Ffestiniog Railway team – celebrating their own 150th anniversary – will also be present with the narrow gauge train, Prince. Open from 11am to 5pm both days. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

Now On: Designs of the Year. The Design Museum has unveiled contenders for the sixth annual Designs of the Year competition and you can what they are in this exhibition. Consisting of more than 90 nominations spanning seven categories, the nominated designs include the Olympic Cauldron by Heatherwick Studio, The Shard – western Europe’s tallest building – by Renzo Piano, a non-stick ketchup bottle invented by the Varanasi Research Group at MIT, and Microsoft’s Windows phone 8. The exhibition runs until 7th July – the winners will be announced this month. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org.

The city’s first underground line – and the first underground line in the world – was the Metropolitan Line, which opened in 1863 with the aim of helping to reduce London’s growing traffic congestion problem.

Running for three miles, the new railway, constructed by the Metropolitan Railway Company, ran for three miles under New Road, from Paddington to Farrington Street and took three years to build.

It was constructed using a technique known as “cut and cover” which involved digging a trench and building a tunnel inside before covering it back up.

Almost 40,000 passengers journeyed between Paddington and Farringdon on the day it opened, with the journey taking about 18 minutes.

The success of the new railway sparked a flurry of interest and in 1868, the first section of the District Line was opened, the same year the St John’s Wood Railway Company opened a line from Baker Street to Swiss Cottage.

Having grown substantially since it’s earliest days, today only six miles (9.7 kilometres) of the Metropolitan Line’s 41.5 miles (66.7) kilometres actually run underground.

The line now carries about 53 million passengers annually and 49 trains operate on it during peak periods.