NPG_936_1374_KingCharlesIIbThe first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.

Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.

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For many Londoners, an opportunity to see the Queen means heading to Buckingham Palace to watch her wave from the balcony – or standing in the Mall to watch as her carriage goes by.

Given that, we thought we’d take the time to have a quick look at the history of The Mall, an important player in events like the annual Trooping the Colour.

This one kilometre long grand processional route which links Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, was originally cut through St James’s Park in 1660 when King Charles II was looking for a new paille-maille pitch (see our earlier entry on Pall Mall for more on this). Two long avenues of trees were planted on either side, giving it a leafy feel that’s still in evidence today.

The Mall had become notorious by the 18th century and was spruced up in 1911 under the eye of Sir Aston Webb (who also designed other elements in the area including a new facade for Buckingham Palace, the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace, and Admiralty Arch at the western end of the route) to become the grand avenue, complete with red-carpet like surface (this was done later), that it is today.

It is bordered by St James’s Park on the south side and on the north side is overlooked by various grand buildings – including Clarence House and the Institute of Contemporary Arts – as well as, toward the western end, Green Park.

These days the Queen publicly processes down The Mall for a number of events throughout the year – among them are the State Opening of Parliament (held earlier this month) as well as military ceremonies like Trooping the Colour and events like last year’s Royal Wedding when is it said that more than a million people were said to have filled the broad street.

The Mall is also the route along which Heads of State process in a horse drawn carriage during official visits (the road is then decorated with Union Jacks and flags of the visitor’s country). During the Olympics, it will be the start and end location of the marathons and cycling road races.

Apart from the Queen Victoria Memorial at the eastern end of The Mall, statues and monuments lining the road include the Queen Mother Memorial, a statue of explorer Captain James Cook, and a recently installed statue of cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin.

There are apparently a series of tunnels underneath with link Buckingham Palace with Whitehall.

We should also briefly mention Horseguards, which is at The Mall’s eastern end and where Trooping the Colour and Beating Retreat takes place. This was formerly the site of a tiltyard of the Palace of Whitehall and jousting tournaments were held here during the time of King Henry VIII. It has been used for parades and ceremonies since the 17th century. While cars were parked here for much of the 20th century, this practice was stopped in the mid-1990s.

Queen Elizabeth II this week unveiled the final plaque marking the end of the 37 mile/60 kilometre Jubilee Greenway in front of Buckingham Palace. The circular Greenway – marked by 542 glass plaques – has been created to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It can be walked or cycled and takes in key sites around London, including Kensington Palace, Regent’s Park, the Thames Barrier and Olympic sites including Greenwich Park (equestrian events), the O2 Arena (hosting gymnastics, trampoline and basketball events) as well as the main stadium at Olympic Park. The Greenway is divided into 10 sections and you can download either the entire walk or brochures for one of the sections only here.

This weekend sees the Barbican Centre play host to the event known as ‘Barbican Weekender’ – two days of free art, dance, music, theatre and film at the Barbican Foyers. Part of London 2012 Festival, the event’s ‘Freestage’ programme features Roxxxan,Dizralie and the Small Gods, young drummers from East London and performance poetry by the Barbican Young Poets. There’s also street dance classes with Boy Blue Entertainment, the chance to make an Opera in a Day with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, a Digital Graffiti wall, street food stalls, the Wah Nails Pop-Up boutique and free running by Streets United. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/weekender.

• On Now – Measuring the Universefrom the Transit of Venus to the edge of the cosmos. Marking the 2012 transit of Venus, this exhibition at the Greenwich Observatory follows the story of man’s ongoing quest to understand the vastness of space, looking at the people and technologies involved in seeing farther than ever before – from the Astronomer Royal, Edmond Halley, to Captain James Cook and Edwin Hubble and through to the possibilities offered by the Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer. It’s accompanied by a series of talks, observing events – including this month’s Daytime Sky Watch sessions – and a planetarium show. Runs until 2nd September. Admission is free. For more information, see www.rmg.co.uk.

A series of four marine timekeepers which eventually solved the ‘problem’ of longitude – revolutionising sea travel by allowing mariners to accurately locate their position – are housed at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

The three clocks and one watch were designed by John Harrison, a working class joiner from Lincolnshire who made it his life’s mission to design a device which would keep accurate time at sea.

Calculating longitude – an east-west position on the earth – is relatively simple. Because time moves forward one hour for every 15 degrees one travels in an eastward direction (or back an hour for every 15 degrees one travels westward), it’s possible to calculate a position by simply knowing the local time at two different places on earth.

The problem was that the pendulum clocks of the 1600s were affected by changes in temperature and humidity  and couldn’t keep accurate time on board a ship meaning that while a mariner might know the local time, he could not get an accurate measurement of time elsewhere to compare it to.

While mariners could use the ‘lunar distance method’ to measure longitude – this involved measuring the motion of the moon relative to the stars – it relied on clear skies and was not very accurate. So in 1714 the British Government announced it would award a prize of £20,000 to anyone who could come up with a solution to longitude which was accurate to within half a degree (or two minutes).

Clockmaker John Harrison was among those who took up the challenge (his somewhat tragic story is told in great detail in Dava Sobel’s terrific 1995 book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time). His first effort, known simply as H1, was constructed between 1730 to 1735 and, using a counterbalanced spring mechanism making it independent of gravity, was successfully tested on a voyage to Lisbon.

But Harrison wasn’t satisfied and began work on H2 in 1737 before, after realising its shortcomings three years later, starting work on another clock, H3, in 1740. He worked on this for 19 years but it failed to meet the accuracy requirements of the Board of Longitude which was charged with looking overseeing the awarding of the £20,000.

In 1753, Harrison asked a London watchmaker John Jefferys to create a watch to his designs, initially for his own personal use. But he soon discovered that with a few improvements, H4 – which looks like a large pocketwatch (see picture), could be the answer he was looking for.

In 1761 and 1764, Harrison’s son William took the watch on two voyages to the West Indies, yet, despite the fact that its accuracy was well within the requirements of the Board of Longitude, the board initially refused to pay up. After much wrangling Harrison was finally paid £10,000 but told that to obtain the other half of the money, he would have to create at least two more copies of H4.

Harrison went on to make one copy – H5 – while watchmaker Larcum Kendall, made another, K1, at the direction of the Longitude Board. When Harrison suggested that Kendall’s K1 could be considered the second of the two copies he was required to make, the board rejected the idea. Harrison then appealed directly to the king, George III, and finally to parliament before he was eventually awarded a further £8,750 in 1773.

Kendall’s watch, meanwhile, was taken by Captain James Cook on a three year voyage as far afield as Antarctica. It was a test which proved beyond all doubt the accuracy of the timekeepers. A year after Cook’s return in 1775, John Harrison died in his house in Red Lion Square on 24th March, 1776. It is not known whether he knew of the success of the timekeeper taken on Cook’s voyage.

Harrison’s four timekeepers are now housed at the Royal Observatory where the intriguing story of their creation is told.

WHERE: Royal Observatory, Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich (nearest DLR stations are that of Greenwich and Cutty Sark and it can also be reached by river – stop at Greenwich Pier); WHEN: 10am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm) daily; COST: £7 adult/£5 concessions/free for children 15 and under (annual passes available – £10 an adult/£7.50 concessions) ; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory/

PICTURE: Courtesy of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Daytripper – Oxford

September 16, 2011

The “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is a delight for the student of historic architecture, boasting an impressive array of medieval and later, classically-inspired, buildings.

Only about an hour from London by train (leave from Paddington Station), Oxford was established as a town in the 9th century and rose to prominence during the medieval period as the location of a prestigious university, an institution which remains synonymous with the city today.

Major development followed the Norman Conquest the castle was constructed, the remains of which were included in a £40 million redevelopment several years ago of the area in which it stands and which now houses the Oxford Castle Unlocked exhibition which looks at some of the key figures in the castle’s past (you can also climb St George’s Tower for some great views over the city).

The university first appears in the 1100s and gradually expanded over the ensuing centuries gradually evolved to encompass the many medieval colleges which can still be seen there today.

Something of a hotbed of activity during the Reformation, Oxford saw the burning of three bishops – Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer at a site marked by a memorial in Magdalen Street. Constructed in the 1840s, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who drew inspiration from the Eleanor Crosses King Edward I had erected in honor of his deceased wife, Eleanor of Castile, following her death in 1290.

Oxford was also the site of the headquarters of King Charles I during the English Civil War after the king was forced to leave London (the town eventually yielded to parliamentarian forces after a siege in 1646) and was later home to the court of King Charles II after he fled London during the Great Plague of 1665-66.

Canals arrived in the late 18th century and the railways followed. Industrialisation came – in particular, in the 20th century, in the form of a large car manufacturing plant at the suburb of Cowley – and with it an increasingly cosmopolitan population. But at its heart Oxford remains a student city and it’s the students that continue to provide the lively atmosphere in the city centre.

Look for Carfax Tower to get your bearings – formerly the tower of a 14th century church, this lies at the heart of the town and can be climbed for some great views over the surrounding streets. Some of the colleges are also open to the public (see noticeboards outside the colleges for times) – particularly worth visiting is Christ Church which dates from 1524 and, founded by Cardinal Wolsey, was initially known as Cardinal’s College. It features the Tom Tower, home of the bell Great Tom, which was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren. The college, which is unique in that the college chapel is also a cathedral, is also home to the Christ Church Picture Gallery.

Other colleges of note include the beautiful Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin, it was founded in 1458 – alumni have included writers John Betjeman, CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde), All Souls (founded in 1438 with King Henry VI its co-founder), and Merton College (the oldest of Oxford’s colleges, it was founded in 1264 and is home to Mob Quadrangle, the oldest quadrangle in the university).

Other university buildings which are a must include the Radcliffe Camera – now the reading room of the Bodleian Library, this Baroque rotunda dates from 1748 and was built as a memorial to 18th century physician Dr John Radcliffe, the Sheldonian Theatre – another of Wren’s designs, it was built in the 1660s as the university’s principal assembly room, and St Mary the Virgin Church – the official church of the university, the present building partly dates from the 13th century and boasts terrific views from the tower.

Make sure you also take the time to wander through the water meadows along the River Cherwell (there are also punt rides) and walk along the River Thames, known as the Isis as it passes through Oxford. Keep an eye out also for the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, similar in design to the Venetian landmark, it spans New College Lane and joins two sections of Hertford College.

Other sites in Oxford include the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Considered of the UK’s best, the original Ashmolean was the first purpose built museum in England, opening in 1683. It now houses treasures include art and antiquities with the late ninth century Alfred Jewel, said to have been made for King Alfred the Great, among its prized objects. Other museums include the Pitt Rivers Museum which cares for the university’s collection of anthropology and world archaeology and includes exhibits brought back to Britain by explorer Captain James Cook.

Take the time also to wander through the covered market off high street which has some interesting shops selling everything from clothes to fresh food and flowers and gifts. Fans of Inspector Morse, meanwhile, may also enjoy seeing some of the sites of particular significance in the TV series – there’s an interactive online map here.

A vibrant city redolent with history, Oxford remains of England’s jewels. Perfect as a day-trip destination from London.

Earlier this month it was former US President Ronald Reagan’s turn to be honored with statue in Grosvenor Square. Last week it was the turn of former Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space – to be so honored with a new statue located outside the British Council’s offices in the Mall (opposite another explorer, Captain James Cook). The statue, a gift of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, was unveiled to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s celebratory visit to London on 14th July, 1961, just three months after he completed his orbit of the earth on 12th April that year. The 3.5 metre high zinc alloy figure stands close to Admiralty Arch which was where Gagarin met then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan after he was invited to the UK by the National Union of Foundrymen. Among those present for the unveiling of the statue – which is a replica of one in the town of Lubertsy where Gagarin worked as a foundryman as a teenager – was Gagarin’s daughter Elena Gagarina, now director of the Kremlin Museums, and Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency. The British Council is running an exhibition, Gagarin in Britain, which looks at the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme, until 14th September – among the objects on display is the first space suit and an ejector seat similar to that Gargarin used when he ejected out of Vostok 1. Entry is by registration only and space is limited – email gargarin@britishcouncil.org is you’d like to register for a place. For more information, see www.britishcouncil.orgPICTURE: Frank Noon/British Council

A new iPhone app which directs people to key sites in what was Roman London (Londinium) will go live on Monday. Developed by the Museum of London and the History Channel, Streetmuseum Londonium will bring to life some of the city’s most significant Roman sites, such as the amphitheatre at Guildhall, using “augmented reality video” which will overlay scenes of Roman London over the modern city while soundscapes will allow users to listen to a ritual at the Temple of Mithras or traders at the forum. In addition, users will be able to ‘digitally excavate’ Roman artifacts including leather bikini briefs and an ancient manicure set. Navigation to these “immersive experiences” will be via a specially created new map of Roman London which will be superimposed on a modern map of the capital, allowing users to see how the city has changed. The launch follows the earlier creation of the Streetmuseum app which guides people to more than 200 sites across the city. More than 200,000 people from across the world have so far downloaded this. Streetmuseum Londinium will be available free to download from 25th July. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk/apps for more.

London will mark one year to go until the Olympic Games next Wednesday with a ceremony in Trafalgar Square which will be broadcast live on BBC1. Among those present with be the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) chairman Sebastian Coe and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The event will also feature a live cross to the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park where Olympic hopeful Tom Daley will make the first dive into the pool.

• The British Library hopes to raise £2.75 million to acquire the world’s earliest surviving intact European book, the 7th century St Cuthbert Gospel. A copy of the Gospel of St John, the book was buried with St Cuthbert on the isle of Lindisfarne in 698 and later found in the saint’s coffin in Durham Cathedral in 1104. The National Heritage Fund Memorial has already awarded £4.5 million to obtain the St Cuthbert Gospel and the Art Fund and The Garfield Weston Foundation have donated £250,000 each. The book has been on long-term loan to the library since 1979 and is regularly on view in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. The library was approached last year and given first option to acquire the text after the Society of Jesus (British Province) decided to sell it. A price of £9 million has been agreed, of which £2.75 million remains outstanding. For more, see www.bl.uk.