This Week in London – Month-long Thames celebration kicks off; glass vessels saved after Beirut’s port explosion; and, Chiswick House…in LEGO…

• Totally Thames – London’s month-long celebration of its river – kicks off Friday with a programme featuring more than 100 events across a range of locations. Highlights this year include Reflections, an illuminated flotilla of more than 150 boats that will process down the Thames to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on 24th September; River of Hope, an installation of 200 silk flags created by young people across the UK and Commonwealth at the National Maritime Museum; and, of course, the Great River Race, London’s great river marathon on 10th September involving some 330 boats and crews from across the world. There’s also talks, walks, exhibitions and art and, of course, the chance to meet some mudlarks. For more, including the full programme of events, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org.

Roman beaker, 1st century AD, The Archaeological Museum at the 
American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Eight ancient glass vessels, newly conserved after being damaged in the 2020 Beirut port explosion, have gone on show at the British Museum. Painstakingly pieced back together and conserved at the conservation laboratories at the British Museum, the vessels were among 72 from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods which were damaged when a case fell over in Beirut’s AUB Museum. Six of the vessels at the British Museum date from the 1st century BC, a period which saw glass production revolutionised in Lebanon, while two others date to the late Byzantine – early Islamic periods, and may have been imported to Lebanon from neighbouring glass manufacturing centres in Syria or Egypt. The vessels can be seen in Room 3 as part of the Asahi Shimbun Display Shattered glass of Beirut until 23rd October before their return to Lebanon in late Autumn. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• Chiswick House LEGO model. A brick model of Chiswick House is on show at the property in London’s west. The model, which uses 50,000 bricks and took two years to build, illustrates the dramatic architectural changes that Chiswick House has undergone in its 300-year history including the addition of two wings which were demolished in the late 18th century. On show until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk/event/chiswick-house-lego-brick-model/.

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This Week in London – Celebrations as Museum of London marks final 100 days at London Wall; Ustad Alla Rakha’s tabla at British Museum; and, Lucian Freud in his grandfather’s home…

• The Museum of London is celebrating its final 100 days at London Wall on Friday with free ice creams and “goody bags” for visitors. The museum will be giving away 500 Lewis of London ice creams from 11:30am, while visitors will also enjoy a performance by Grand Union Orchestra at midday. The first 100 visitors through the doors will also receive a gift bag featuring Museum of London memorabilia, including a Museum of London guidebook, a pack of playing cards displaying iconic images from the museum’s collections, a greeting card featuring a print by artist Willkay, and a special gift of either a tea towel, a Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens mug, a sketch notebook, an A3 print of London or a soft toy. Meanwhile, from Friday, digital screens will display a countdown clock to mark the days left before the London Wall site closes to the public on 4th December, in preparation for the museum’s move to a new home at West Smithfield. Friday’s event is part of a six-month long programme of activities leading up to the closure of the site. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum

The tabla – twin hand drums – used by legendary Indian musician Ustad Alla Rakha during his European tours of the early 1980s is going on display at the British Museum in a world first. Ustad Alla Rakha was one of the most important and respected tabla players of his generation, working with the All India Radio in the 1930s, composing music for the film industry in the 40s, and regularly playing with world-renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar. The tabla will be on display in the Hotung Gallery until early 2023 after which they will go on loan to the Manchester Museum South Asia Gallery. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Now on: Lucian Freud: The Painter and His Family. The first exhibition of Lucian Freud’s work at the Freud Museum, the home of his grandfather, Sigmund Freud, and aunt, Anna Freud, this display explores Lucian Freud’s childhood, family and friends and celebrates some lesser known aspects of his life including his love of reading and lifelong fascination with horses as well as his relationships with the former occupants of the building. Alongside paintings and drawings, the exhibition includes illustrated childhood letters, books Freud owned and book covers he designed. His sole surviving sculpture, Three-legged Horse (1937) and early painting, Palm Tree (1944), is also being displayed. The display is being accompanied by a programme of events. For more, see www.freud.org.uk.

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Treasures of London – The Cyrus Cylinder…

The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This clay cylinder, found beneath the sands of what is now Iraq, records an account of the conquest of Babylon by the Persian Achaemenid leader Cyrus the Great in 539 BC when he took power from Nabonidus and in doing so brought an end to the Babylonian empire.

The cylinder, which is written in Babylonian cuneiform script, was discovered in March, 1879, during excavations carried out for the British Museum. It had been placed in the foundations of Babylon’s main temple, dedicated to the god Marduk. It was formally acquired by the British Museum the following year.

The barrel-shaped cylinder measures 22.5 centimetres long with a maximum diameter of 10 centimetres. It was excavated in several parts which have since been reunited (although some sections are still missing).

The inscription, which consists of 45 lines of script, states that Babylonians welcomed Cyrus as their ruler “amid celebration and rejoicing” and extols him as a great benefactor who improved their lives, restored religious sites and repatriated displaced people.

The cylinder, which is today what we would describe as propaganda, has been seen by some as confirming the Biblical account of the repatriation of captured Jews back to their homeland while the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, called it “the world’s first charter of human rights”.

It has been loaned twice to Iran – in 1971 when it was displayed to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire and more recently in 2010 when it was exhibited at the National Museum of Iran. It has also been exhibited in Spain, India and the US.

WHERE: Room 52, British Museum, Great Russell Street (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street); WHEN: Daily, 10am to 7pm (8:30pm Fridays); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org.

Another view of the Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum. PICTURE: Courtesy of the British Museum (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

This Week in London – Coining the Queen’s portrait; the UK’s first Stolperstein; pioneering female landscape gardener honoured; and Picasso and Ingres…

Plaster model for the obverse of a coin.  Mary Gillick, 1952.  Bust of Queen Elizabeth II r., wearing laurel wreath. © The Trustees of the British Mu

A free display featuring the first coin bearing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has opened at the British Museum. Part of the celebrations marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, The Asahi Shimbun Display Mary Gillick: modelling The Queen’s portrait showcases the production and reception of the coin which was designed in 1952 and released the following year. Gillick’s portrait – which remained in circulation on coins in the UK until the 1990s and was also adapted for use on commemorative stamps – combined modern design with Italian Renaissance influences. Can be seen until 31st July. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The UK’s first Stolperstein or “stumbling stone” has been installed in Soho as part of an initiative to remember the victims of the Nazis. The small brass plaque commemorates former resident Ada van Dantzig, a Dutch-Jewish paintings conservator for the National Gallery who came to London in the 1930s and worked and resided in Golden Square in Soho (where the plaque has been installed). She later re-joined her family in the Netherlands and was arrested in France in early 1943 along with her mother, father, sister and brother. Deported to Auschwitz, Ada, along with her parents, was murdered there on 14th February, 1943. Artist Gunter Demnig created the project almost 25 years ago to commemorate victims of Nazi Persecution during the Holocaust. More than 100,000 of stones have now been laid in 26 countries throughout Europe with the location of the stones the last address of those being remembered.

A pioneering female landscape gardener has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Shaftesbury Avenue. Fanny Wilkinson, who is believed to be Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener, was also a campaigner for the protection of open space in London. She lived and worked at the flat, which overlooks an open space she laid out herself, between 1885 and 1896. Wilkinson began her career as an honorary landscape gardener to the Metropolitan Public Boulevards, Gardens and Playgrounds Association – an organisation whose mission was the formation of gardens and public parks that would create playgrounds and green ‘lungs’, especially in poor districts of the capital. In June, 1885, it was agreed that she could charge five per cent on all her MPGA payments, leading her to drop the ‘honorary’ title and become Britain’s first professional female landscape gardener. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A painting by Pablo Picasso – Woman with a Book (1932) from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California – and a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – Madame Moitessier (1856) – are being shown together for the first time at The National Gallery. Picasso admired Ingres and referred to him throughout his career and this connection can be seen not only in his paintings but in drawings and studies he made during his ‘neoclassical’ phase in the 1920s. He encountered Madame Moitessie at an exhibition in Paris in 1921 and 11 years later painted Woman with a Book. The paintings, which are being show under a collaborative initiative between the two institutions, can be seen in Room 1 until 9th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Marble Hill revived; Harry Kane at the Museum of London; and, golden books at the British Library…

Marble Hill in London’s west reopens on Saturday following a restoration and the reinstatement of a lost pleasure garden. Once home to King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, Marble Hill is a rare example of a home built by and for a woman in Georgian England and is one of the last survivors of the many 18th century villas that once fronted the Thames in the area. Marble Hill was built as a country retreat from London’s crowds and among those entertained here were poet Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, John Gay and Jonathan Swift. English Heritage has invested £3 million into a major transformation of the house and 66 acres of riverside parkland which also used a £5 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Community Lottery Fund. This has included the reinstatement of a pleasure garden – an “Arcadian landscape” which was inspired by sketches made by Pope – with the opening up of previously inaccessible woodland areas, the reinstallation of paths and the replanting of avenues of trees that led from the house to the river. Howard’s ninepin bowling alley has been restored and an 18th-century garden grotto has been excavated and returned to its 18th-century appearance. Inside the house, English Heritage has re-instated the paint scheme that existed during Howard’s lifetime in several interior spaces, including the Great Room, conserved the fine collection of early Georgian paintings which includes portraits of Howard’s circle and re-created furniture including an intricate carved peacock motif table and luxurious crimson silk wall hangings in her dressing room. The new display has reframed Howar’s beyond being simply the King’s mistress by also exploring her abusive first marriage and the role deafness played in her life as well as her rise in Georgian society and the social circles she captivated. Entry to the house is free. For more, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/.

Harry Kane of England celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on 29th June, 2021 in London, England. PICTURE: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

England football captain Harry Kane is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Harry Kane: I want to play football features sporting memorabilia including the shirt Kane, who grew up in Chingford, East London, wore on his debut for England where he scored against Lithuania just 79 seconds after coming on the pitch, Kane’s MBE which was awarded to him in March 2019 for ‘services to sport’ and the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot (Kane being one of only two British players to receive a Golden Boot at a World Cup competition, where he was named Man of the Match three times) as well as family photos. The display also includes a changing room space where visitors can listen to Kane’s pre-match playlist and an interactive area where visitors can learn more about who has inspired Harry and share their own hopes and dreams. A programme of activities for families and children will run alongside the free display. Runs until December. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The use of gold in embellishing and enhancing the written word across cultures, faiths and through time is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library. Gold, which opens Friday, showcases some of the most luxurious illuminated manuscripts, gold-tooled books, sacred texts and scrolls from the British Library’s collection with objects on display including the Harley Golden Gospels, the Lotus Sutra and a treaty in Malayalam, beautifully inscribed on a long strip of gold itself. Admission charge applies. Runs until 2nd October. For more, see www.bl.uk.

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This Week in London – Ukraine’s culture on show; spotlight on the news; St George’s Day; and, London Transport’s posters at the Depot…

Easter egg, a dove of peace, Ukraine, 1970-1980. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

• A free display on the cultural heritage of Ukraine has opened at the British Museum. Located in the museum’s ‘Collecting the world’ gallery, Ukraine: Culture in crisis features objects drawn from the museum’s collection including a 5,500-year-old painted storage jar, hand-coloured lithographs of a man and a woman in Ukrainian dress dating from about 1813, and, an Easter egg decorated with the dove of peace (pictured) dating from between 1970 and 1980. There are also objects from the Greek colony of Olbia established on the Black Sea between 600 and 300 BC including a black glazed, fluted amphora from southern Italy dating from between 300 and 250BC. For more, head to www.britishmuseum.org. To learn more about the protection of cultural heritage in Ukraine visit icom-poland.mini.icom.museum/icom-poland-appeal-help-us-help-ukraine.

The earliest surviving printed news report in Britain of the 1513 Battle of Flodden and an original BBC radio script of the D-Day landings are among exhibits at the British Library’s first major exhibition putting a spotlight on the role news plays in our society. Other exhibits on show at Breaking the News, which opens on Friday, include smashed hard drives used by The Guardian to store Edward Snowden’s hard files. The display explores what makes an event news and the meaning of a free press as well as the ethics involved in making the news, news objectivity and how the way we encounter news has evolved over five centuries of news publication in Britain. Runs until 21st August. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.bl.uk/events/breaking-the-news.

St George’s Day celebrations return to Trafalgar Square this Saturday. The free family event, which runs from noon until 6pm, will feature live music by the likes of string quartet Bowjangles, hoedown collective Cut A Shine, brass band Das Brass and folk headliner James Riley & the Rooftop Assembly. There will also be appearances from St George with his Dragon, Divine stilt walkers and the Pearly Kings and Queens as well as a range of food stalls. Other family-oriented activities including The Knights Training School, the Storytorium, a dragon Selfie station, face painting, upcycled arts and crafts, and a games area.

The art and poster stores at the London Transport Museum’s Depot in Acton Town will be open to the public this weekend. The Art of the Poster Open Days, which run from today until Sunday, will give the public the chance to view some of the more than 30,000 posters in the depot’s collection and hear from expert guides about how posters have characterised London and its transport over the past century. There will also be talks from artists, curators and historians and visitors have the chance to design their own posters in creative workshops as well as, on Saturday and Sunday, riding the London Transport Miniature Railway. Timed tickets must be booked in advance. Admission charges apply. For bookings, head to www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/depot/art-poster.

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This Week in London – Greek architecture and the British Museum; and, ‘The Art of Menswear’ at the V&A…

East front of the Parthenon; narrow walled street on r, with garden on l with three figures, beyond front of Parthenon with mosque behind’. 1765 Pen and grey ink and watercolour, with bodycolour, over graphite © The Trustees of the British Museum

A new display celebrating the influence of the ancient Greek architectural influence on the British Museum building is open at the museum. The Asahi Shimbun Displays Greek Revival: simplicity and splendour centres on a 200-year-old drawing of the west side of the Parthenon in Athens by British architect Robert Smirke. Smirke drew the Parthenon – still surrounded by medieval and later structures – when he was just 23-years-old and would go on, in the 1820s, to design the British Museum, one of the largest and most famous Greek Revival buildings in the world. Alongside the display is a online visitor trail which features 11 stops around the museum including the south facade and its colonnade and portico of 44 Ionic columns and the opulent Enlightenment Gallery. The free exhibition can be seen until 8th May in Room 3. For more, see britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/greek-revival-simplicity-and-splendour; for more on the trail head to britishmuseum.org/visit/object-trails/greek-revival-architecture-simplicity-and- splendour.

• The first major exhibition to celebrate “the power, artistry and diversity” of masculine attire and appearance opens at the V&A’s Sainsbury Gallery on Saturday. Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear features around 100 looks and 100 artworks displayed across three galleries – Undressed, Overdressed, and Redressed – and includes both contemporary looks and historic treasures. Fashion designers Harris Reed, Gucci, Grace Wales Bonner and Raf Simons will be represented along with paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola and Joshua Reynolds, contemporary artworks by Robert Longo and Omar Victor Diop, and an extract from an all-male dance performance by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. Interspersed will be outfits worn by such famous faces as Harry Styles, Billy Porter, Sam Smith, David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich. Runs until 6th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see vam.ac.uk/masculinities.

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This Week in London – 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture in British Museum exhibition; Surrealism’s influence explored; and, new sculpture at St Paul’s…

Burton Agnes chalk drum, chalk ball and bone pin (3005 – 2890BC). PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum 

• A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture – described as “the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years” – has gone on show at The British Museum as part of its The world of Stonehenge exhibition. The sculpture was unearthed by members of Allen Archaeology during a routine excavation on a country estate near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire in 2015. Uncovered alongside the burial of three children (it had been placed near the head of the eldest child and included three hastily added holes possibly to represent the children), the sculpture is decorated with elaborate motifs that the museum said “reaffirms a British and Irish artistic style that flourished at exactly the same time as Stonehenge was built”. The sculpture is similar to three barrel-shaped cylinders made of solid chalk – dubbed the ‘Folkton drums’ due to their shape – which have been in the museum’s collection since they were unearthed in the excavation of a child burial in North Yorkshire in 1889. It is thought the items are works of sculptural art rather than intended to serve a practical purpose and were perhaps intended as talismans to protect the children they accompanied. Radiocarbon dating of the Burton Agnes child’s bones identifies the burial as from 3005–2890 BC. The world of Stonehenge can be seen until 17th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/stonehenge.

The Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition at Tate Modern, 2022, ©Tate

Spanning 80 years and 50 countries, a new exhibition opening at the Tate Modern today takes an in-depth look at how Surrealism has inspired and united artists around the globe. Surrealism Beyond Borders, running at the Tate in partnership with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, features more than 150 works ranging from painting and photography to sculpture and film, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Among the highlights Cecilia Porras and Enrique Grau’s photographs, which defied the conservative social conventions of 1950s Colombia, and paintings by exiled Spanish artist Eugenio Granell, whose radical political commitments made him a target for censorship and persecution. There’s also iconic works such as Max Ernst’s Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924) and lesser known, but significant, pieces such as Antonio Berni’s Landru in the Hotel, Paris (1932), and Toshiko Okanoue’s Yobi-goe (The Call) (1954). Runs until 29th August in the Eyal Ofer Galleries. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/surrealism-beyond-borders.

A “bold” new artwork by Nigerian-born artist, Victor Ehikhamenor, has gone on display in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. The specially-commissioned mixed-media work is part of 50 Monuments in 50 Voices, a partnership between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Department of History of Art at the University of York which involves inviting contemporary artists, poets, musicians, theologians, performers and academics to respond to 50 historic monuments across the cathedral. Still Standing combines rosary beads and Benin bronze hip ornament masks to depict an Oba (King) of Benin and was made in response to a 1913 brass memorial panel commemorating Admiral Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson (1843-1910) which is in the Nelson Chamber of the Cathedral’s Crypt. Rawson had a long career in the Royal Navy which culminated in his commanding the Benin Expedition of 1897. The work is on show until 14th May. Admission charge applies. For more, head to https://pantheons-st-pauls.york.ac.uk/50-monuments-in-50-voices/.

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This Week in London – Stonehenge at the British Museum, and, Caribbean transport workers focus of new Transport Museum display…

Stonehenge © English Heritage
Nebra Sky Disc, Germany, about 1600 BC. PICTURE: Courtesy of the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony – Anhalt, Juraj Lipták.

The UK’s first major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge opens at the British Museum today. The World of Stonehenge features more than 430 objects gathered from across Europe including Bronze Age grave goods unearthed near Stonehenge in the grave of a man known as the Amesbury Archer, the Nebra Sky Disc – the oldest surviving representation of the cosmos anywhere in the world, and the 4,000-year-old wooden monument, called Seahenge, that was discovered in 1998 on a Norfolk beach (and is being loaned for the exhibition for the first time). Admission charge applies. The exhibition can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 17th July. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/world-stonehenge

The contribution people of Caribbean heritage have made to London’s transport history is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce features personal oral histories from past and present generations of people of Caribbean descent along with newly commissioned and re-edited films, archive photography, historic advertising posters, and objects such as a Syllabus of Training for Cooks manual from staff canteens. The exhibition is expected to run until summer 2024. Included in general admission. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/legacies.

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This Week in London – The Lord Mayor’s Show returns; Peru at the British Museum for the first time; and, Heritage at Risk in London…

The Lord Mayor’s Show returns to London this weekend after being cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 6,500 people, 120 horses and more than 50 decorated floats are expected to take part in the event – which dates back to the 13th century – on Saturday. It comes a day after Alderman Vincent Keaveny, who has been elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London, officially takes office tomorrow. Highlights in this year’s three mile-long procession include colourful full-size model elephants, Japanese taiko drummers, and a horse-drawn bus as well as a fire engine with a 210-foot extendable turntable ladder – the tallest in Europe. The procession, which will be watched by millions live on the BBC and through online streaming, will leave The Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence, at 11am. In honour of this year’s show, three of London’s Thames bridges – London, Cannon St and Southwark – are being lit specially for the occasion. For more, including details on where to watch the show, see www.lordmayorsshow.london.

Gold alloy and shell ear plates with feline features, Peru, 800–550 BC. Museo Kuntur Wasi.

More than 40 ancient objects from Peru are the centrepiece of a new exhibition which opened at the British Museum this week. Peru: a journey in time is the first major exhibition the museum has ever staged focused on Peru and coincides with the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence. The exhibition charts the rise and fall of six societies, from the early culture of Chavin in 1200 BC to the fall of the Incas in AD 1532. Highlights include a 2,500-year-old gold headdress and pair of ear plates which were part of an elite burial found at the site of Kuntur Wasi, Cajamarca, a ceremonial drum from around 100 BC-AD 650 featuring a depiction of the capture of defeated enemies in ritual combat, and, the oldest object on loan – a ceremonial vessel from the Cupisnique culture in the shape of a contorted human body, which dates from up to 1200 BC. The display can be seen until 20th February, 2022, in the Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• Streatham Hill Theatre in London’s south is among buildings added to Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register for this year. Opened in 1929, the Grade II-listed building was designed by William George Robert Sprague and is described as an “unusually lavish example of a theatre built outside of the West End”. Other London buildings on the list include everything from a Toll Gate House in Spaniards Road, Highgate, to Alexandra Palace in Wood Green, and churches such as St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London. Meanwhile, among the sites removed from the list this year after being “saved” are the Battersea Power Station, first added to the list in 1991 and in recent years the subject of a major redevelopment, and former public conveniences at Guilford Place, Lamb’s Conduit Street, in Bloomsbury, which have been “sensitively transformed into a cosy wine and charcuterie bar”. For more, see https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/heritage-at-risk-2021/.

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This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

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Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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Treasures of London – Sutton Hoo helmet…

This spectacular Anglo-Saxon helmet – perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon object in a museum today – was among the finds made at the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk in the late 1930s, the story of which is told in the current Netflix film, The Dig.

The Sutton Hoo helmet in the British Museum in 2016. PICTURE: Geni (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The ornately decorated helmet, the manufacture of which is dated to the late 6th or early 7th century, was found buried in the grave mound of an important figure whom some believe was an East Anglian king named Rædwald. The grave mound had been constructed over a ship containing the body and artefacts including the helmet. The ship itself had disintegrated but its imprint was uncovered during the excavation.

Excavated in hundreds of corroded fragments, the iron and bronze helmet, which is believed to have weighed about 2.5 kilograms, was painstakingly reassembled in the mid-1940s to reveal a helmet featuring cheek and neck guards and a mask with sculpted facial features including a nose, eyebrows and moustache as well as holes for the eyes. It features a number of other decorative elements including representations of dragons and warriors as well as geometric patterns. Gold and silver were used in the decorations.

The helmet underwent a second reconstruction in the early 1970s after issues were identified with the first.

The helmet, along with other artefacts found at the site, were deemed to be the property of Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty who subsequently donated it to the British Museum. It is on permanent display in Room 41 of the museum.

This Week in London – City statues to be removed; 800-year-old window at centre of upcoming Becket exhibition; and, weavers give £100,000 for new museum…

Statues of two prominent men with links to the trans-Atlantic slave trade will be removed from Guildhall, the City of London has said. The City of London Corporation’s policy and resources committee voted to remove statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass following a recommendation from the corporation’s Tackling Racism Taskforce. The statue of Beckford, a two-time Lord Mayor of London in the late 1700s who accrued wealth from plantations in Jamaica and held African slaves, will be replaced with a new artwork while the likeness of Sir John Cass, a merchant, MP and philanthropist in the 17th and 18th centuries who also profited from the slave trade, will be returned to its owner, the Sir John Cass Foundation. The corporation will now set up a working group to oversee the removal of the statues and replacement works and will also consider commissioning a new memorial to the slave trade in the City.

A detail from the healing of Ralph de Longeville in the Miracle window, Canterbury Cathedral, early 1200s. © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral.

An 800-year-old stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral will form the centrepiece of an upcoming exhibition on Thomas Becket. Now scheduled for April after delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint will feature more than 100 objects as it tells the story of Becket’s life, death and enduring legacy. The ‘Miracle Window’ – one of seven surviving from an original series of 12 – will be shown in its original arrangement of the first time in more than 350 years. The fifth in the series, it depicts miracles which took place in the three year after Becket’s death including the healing of eyesight and the replacement of lost genitals. The exhibition will represent the first time a complete stained glass window has been lent by the cathedral. Details of tickets will be announced soon. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/becket.

The Worshipful Company of Weavers this week announced the donation of £100,000 towards the creation of the new Museum of London in former market buildings at West Smithfield. The donation is one of the largest ever awarded by the livery company which, having a Royal charter dating from 1155, is the oldest surviving. The masterplan for the new museum received planning permission in June last year.

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This Week in London – The ‘Fight for Women’s Rights’ at the British Library; ghosts at Hampton Court Palace; and, Arctic culture at the British Museum…

Banners loaned from Southall Black Sisters, Bishopsgate Institute, People’s History Museum, Sisters Uncut, Feminist Archive South (Courtesy of the British Library)

The history of the women’s rights movement and the work of contemporary feminist activists is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, the opening of which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, features everything from personal diaries and banners to subversive literature, film, music and art. Highlights include protest poems written by Sylvia Pankhurst on toilet paper in Holloway Prison following her imprisonment for seditious activity in January 1921, a first edition of Jane Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, published anonymously ‘By a Lady’ in 1811, and, football boots belonging to Hope Powell, a veteran player who became the first woman to manage England Women in 1998. There’s also records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s god-daughters and a supporter of campaigns for women’s suffrage, and a piece of fence wire cut by writer Angela Carter’s friends and sent to her as a present from RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire where they were protesting against nuclear missiles. Runs until 21st February next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Like a good ghost story? Hampton Court Palace is launched a new self-guided ‘Creepy Stories and Ghostly Encounters’ trail on Saturday. The trail takes in sites including those where the ‘Grey Lady’ – said to be the ghost of Tudor nursemaid – has appeared since Victorian times, the locations said to be haunted by two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, and the site where a spectral figure was captured on film slamming shut a door in 2003. The palace is also unveiling a new display of carved pumpkins in the Royal Kitchen Garden. Entry charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The first major exhibition on the history of the Arctic and its Indigenous people, through the lens of climate change and weather, has opened at the British Museum. The Citi exhibition, Arctic: culture and climate, reveals how Arctic people have adapted to climate variability in the past and are facing today’s weather challenges. It features everything from rare archaeological finds, unique tools and clothing as well as artworks and contemporary photography with highlights including an eight-piece Igloolik winter costume made of caribou fur and an Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood which was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition as well as artworks commissioned specifically for the exhibition. These include an Arctic monument of stacked stones, known as an Inuksuk – used to mark productive harvesting locations or to assist in navigation – which was built by Piita Irniq, from the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada. Can be seen in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery until 21st February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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This Week in London – Rare Hebrew manuscripts at British Library; British Museum to reopen; and art at the Old Royal Naval College…

The launch of a new exhibition looking at Hebrew manuscripts marks the next phase of the British Library reopening. Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word explores the history, culture and traditions of the Jewish people around the world and features rarely seen treasures including a letter to King Henry VIII written by an Italian rabbi in 1530 regarding Biblical laws that could support Henry VIII’s claim to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as well as the earliest dated copy – 1380 – of Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, a rare uncensored copy of the Babylonian Talmud dating from the 13th century, and a 15th century illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s Shape of the Earth, one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language. Also reopening is the library’s free permanent gallery – the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library – with a new one-way route taking in treasures including Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks and handwritten manuscripts by the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. For more on the exhibition and the library’s reopening, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: David Jensen.

The British Museum reopens to visitors from today after the longest closure in its 261 year history. Tickets must be pre-booked online or over the phone and visitors will be able to access the ground floor galleries through a new one-way route. The museum has also announced that Grayson Perry’s work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – an elaborate, cast-iron coffin-ship originally created for his British Museum exhibition of the same name in 2011 – is returning to the museum. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

A “celestial choir of spinning sound machines” can be seen at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this weekend. Positioned in Lower Grand Square, Chorus is the monumental work of award-winning artist and British Composer of the Year Ray Lee. It features a series of giant metal tripods supporting rotating arms, at the end of which are loudspeakers which emit finely turned musical pitches. It can be viewed from Friday through to Monday. Meanwhile, the Painted Hall is hosting Luke Jerram’s artwork Gaia which features NASA imagery in creating a virtual, 3D small scale Earth. Gaia can be seen from tomorrow until 6th September (admission charge applies).  For more, see www.ornc.org.

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Treasures of London – The Gayer-Anderson Cat…

This stunning hollow bronze figure from ancient Egypt depicts the goddess Bastet in the form of a seated (domestic-sized) cat and dates from around 600 BC.

Its name comes from Irish-born military man Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, who was a keen collector of Egyptian sculpture, jewellery and pottery which he showcased as his Cairo home, now known as the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Gayer-Anderson donated the cat to the British Museum in 1939 (there’s a copy in the Gayer-Anderson Museum).

The 14 centimetre tall figure, which wears a silver protective pectoral and golden earrings and nose ring, was probably housed in a temple. The scarab beetle on the cat’s head and chest symbolises rebirth and the silver wedjat-eye on the pectoral was supposed to invoke protection and healing.

The cat, which a particularly fine example of a cat sculpture from the period, can usually be seen in the Egyptian sculpture gallery in Room 4 of the British Museum but given its closure because of the coronavirus pandemic, you may like to take a look at a 3D model of the cat which is on the museum’s website here.

PICTURE:  © the Trustees of the British Museum

This Week in London – UK treasure finds, and V&A acquires medieval brooch…

While the closure of institutions due to the COVID-19 crisis has changed our coverage temporarily, we’ll still be using this space to report news as it comes to hand..

A 1,100-year-old brooch, a coin from Roman Britain, an Iron Age drinking set and a solid gold Bronze Age arm ring were among finds unearthed by the general public in England, Wales and Ireland last year. The British Museum has revealed that preliminary figures show more than 1,300 treasure finds – generally defined as gold and silver objects that are over 300 years old, or groups of coins and prehistoric metalwork – were reported across the three countries in 2019. In total, some 81,602 archaeological finds were recorded with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme last year with the most finds found in Norfolk, followed by Suffolk and Hampshire. PICTURE: Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c50BC (© Mat Honeysett 2019).

Meanwhile, the V&A has announced it has acquired a rare jewelled late medieval cluster brooch which was uncovered in 2017 by a metal detectorist in a former royal hunting ground near Brigstock, Northamptonshire. The brooch, which dates from c. 1400- 1450, is believed to have been made in either France or Germany. It’s the only one of its kind to be found in the UK and one of only seven known examples in the world. The brooch is on display in V&A’s William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery (when the museum reopens).

 

This Week in London – The British Museum gets arty; music festivals in Georgian Britain; the story of Tangerine Dream; and, migration at Dulwich…

• Artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Visa Celmins are on show in a new exhibition at the British Museum. Reflecting artistic developments in the past 100 years of modern art, Living with art: Picasso to Celmins features 30 prints and drawings. It showcases highlights from the wide-ranging collection of Alexander Walker (1930–2003), a longstanding film critic for London’s Evening Standard newspaper, which was bequeathed to the British Museum in 2004. The exhibition can be seen at the museum until 5th March before heading off on tour. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: David Hockney (b. 1937), ‘Jungle Boy’ (1964) Etching and aquatint in black and red on mould-made paper © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt.

Music festivals in Georgian Britain – from the Handel Commemoration of 1784 to the Crystal Palace concerts of the late 19th century – are explored in a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Music Festivals in Georgian Britain looks at the logistics behind the organisation of the concerts which followed on in the tradition of benefit concerts for charities as well as the expectations of audiences. Runs until 14th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

The “extraordinary story” of German band Tangerine Dream is told in a new exhibition opening at the City of London’s Barbican Music Library today. Tangerine Dream: Zeitraffer features photographs, previously unpublished articles, video clips, and original synthesizers as it tells the story of the band – credited with laying the foundation for the Ambient and Trance music styles – from its founding in 1967 and the release of its first album, Electronic Meditation, in 1970 through to the latest album, Recurring Dreams, last year. The band, which has released more than 160 albums, has also composed the scores for more than 60 Hollywood films including Michael Mann’s Risky Business and Ridley Scott’s Legend as well as Firestarter, based on the Stephen King novel. In 2013, they also wrote the score for the record-breaking video game, Grand Theft Auto V, and their music has appeared in recent Netflix series, Stranger Things, Black Mirror and Mr Robot. Runs until 2nd May. Admission is free.

The stories of six “community curators” – each of whom has personal experience of migration – are at the centre of a new display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Journeys, which explores themes of identity, belonging, migration and London’s multiculturalism, examines the contemporary relevance of works by the likes of Poussin, Rubens, Canaletto and Van Dyck against the backdrop of the life stories of the curators who, aged between 29 and 69, have a combined heritage spanning eight countries including Yemen, Sri Lanka, Italy, Pakistan and Ireland. Opens next Tuesday (21st January) and runs until 24th June with a special free late opening on 19th June during the final week which coincides with Refugee Week. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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This (Year) in London – Five exhibitions you won’t want to miss in 2020…

It’s our first ‘This Week in London’ for 2020 so instead of our usual programming, we thought we’d briefly look at five key exhibitions that you won’t want to miss this year…

1. Thomas Becket at the British Museum. Marking the 850th anniversary of the murder of the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury on 29th December, 1170, the museum will host the first ever major exhibition on the life, death and legacy of the archbishop as part of a year-long programme of events which also includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services. The exhibition will run from 15th October to 14th February, 2021. PICTURE: Alabaster sculpture, c 1450–1550, England. Here, Becket is shown kneeling at an altar, his eyes closed and his hands clasped in prayer, all the while four knights draw their swords behind him. To Becket’s right is the monk Edward Grim, whose arm was injured by one of the knight’s swords. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Elizabeth and Mary at the British Library. This exhibition draws on original historic documents to  take a fresh look at what’s described as the “extraordinary and fascinating story of two powerful queens, both with a right to the English throne: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots”. Letters and other 16th century documents will show how their struggle for supremacy in the isles played out. Runs from 23rd October to 21st February, 2021.

3. Tudors to Windsors at the National Maritime Museum. This major exhibition promises to give visitors “the opportunity to come face-to-face with the kings, queens and their heirs who have shaped British history and were so central to Greenwich”.  Including more than 150 works covering five royal dynasties, it will consider the development of royal portraiture over a period spanning 500 years and how they were impacted by the personalities of individual monarchs as well as wider historical changes. Will be held from April.

4. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King at Hampton Court Palace. Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold – King Henry VIII’s landmark meeting with his great rival, the French King François I, the exhibition will feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the English and French courts as well as a never-before-seen tapestry, manufactured in the 1520s, which depicts a bout of wrestling at the meeting presided over by François and which also shows a black trumpeter among the many musicians depicted. Opens on 10th April. The palace will also play host this year to Henry VIII vs François I: The Rematch, a nine day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment. Runs from 23rd to 31st May.

5. Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This display brings together, for the first time, the three surviving versions of the iconic ‘Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I. The portrait commemorates the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England and the display will include the Royal Museums Greenwich’s own version of the painting along with that from the National Portrait Gallery and that which normally hangs in Woburn Abbey. Runs from 13th February to 31st August.

We’ll feature more details in stories throughout the coming year. But, of course, this is just a sample of what’s coming up this year – keep an eye on Exploring London for more…

This Week in London – Troy explored at British Museum; Georgian theatre in London; and, Green Plaque for Europe’s first recording studio…

A major exhibition on the legendary city of Troy has opened at the British Museum. Troy: myth and reality showcases works of art inspired by the “tales of war, love and loss” connected to the Trojan cycle of myths and follows in the footsteps of archaeologists and adventurers who have sought to find evidence of the ancient city. Among the almost 300 objects on show are original finds – such as pottery, silver vessels, bronze weapons and stone sculptures – found by Heinrich Schliemann’s work at the site between 1870 and 1890, a Roman sarcophagus lid picturing a wheeled – and armed – wooden horse (on loan from Oxford’s Ashmolean), Filippo Albacini’s (1777–1858) marble sculpture, The Wounded Achilles, and a Roman silver cup from the National Museum of Denmark depicting the meeting of Priam and Achilles as described in Homer’s The Iliad (pictured). Admission charges applies. Runs until 8th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/Troy. PICTURE: Priam and Achilles, Roman silver cup, 1st century AD, National Museum of Denmark Photograph: Roberta Fortuna and Kira Ursem © National Museet Denmark.

Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, unveiled a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating the site of Europe’s earliest recording studio in Covent Garden earlier this month. The studio was opened on Maiden Lane, one street north of the Strand, in 1898 by audio pioneer Fred Gaisberg and The Gramophone Company, a precursor to EMI – the same company which opened the world-famous Abbey Road Studios 33 years later. The campaign for the plaque – located on a building now housing a pizza restaurant – was led by music journalist and author James Hall with support from the EMI Archive Trust. For more, see www.westminster.gov.uk/green-plaques.

• On Now: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain. This interactive display throughout the entire Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 100 objects which highlight the similarities and differences between theatre going in the Georgian era and now. It explores key venues in London and beyond and is divided into four sections focusing on Georgian theatres like Drury Lane and Covent Garden, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the importance of the Foundling Hospital Chapel as a music venue, and the provincial music festivals held in other major cities in Britain. Runs until 5th January. Free with museum admission. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

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