Looking across central London with the colourful facades of the Renzo Piano-designed Central Saint Giles mixed-use development – located east Charing Cross Road and south of New Oxford Street in the found in the district of St Giles, prominent. The £450 million project was completed in mid-2010. PICTURE: John Jackson/Unsplash.
• Kenwood House in north London is being reopened to the public today following a £5.95 million restoration project which has seen the library returned to what Scottish architect Robert Adam had intended it to be. The project, which saw the Hampstead property closed since March last year, has also seen the restoration of three other Robert Adam-designed rooms – the entrance hall, Great Stairs and antechamber or entrance to the library – as well as the redecoration of four rooms in 18th century style, repainting of the exterior and the repair of the home’s roof – a job aimed at protecting the rooms and its stellar
collection of artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. English Heritage has also endeavoured to make the property more homely, replacing ticket desks and rope barriers with an open fire, warm rugs and leather couches on which visitors can relax. The library (pictured) was built and decorated to Adam’s designs between 1767 and 1770 as part of a wider remodelling of the villa for its owner Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Redecorated many times since, it was restored in the 1960s but this redecoration was later found to be inaccurate. The Caring for Kenwood restoration project, which has also seen restoration of the Kenwood Dairy, was funded by a £3.89 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as support from the Wolfson Foundation and other donors. To coincide with the reopening, a new app exploring Kenwood House has been released which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/. PICTURE: English Heritage/Patricia Payne.
• Head out on a “robot safari” this weekend with a special free event at Science Museum in South Kensington. Robot SafariEU, part of Eurobotics week, features 13 biometric robots from across Europe including an underwater turtle robot, a shoal of luminous fish robots, a robotic cheetah cub and Pleurobot, a robotic salamander. Roboticists from across Europe will be on hand to help visitors interact with the bots. Suitable for all ages, the event kicked off on Wednesday night and runs again on the weekend. Admission is free but timed tickets are required. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RobotSafari.
• A memorial to author, scholar and apologist CS Lewis was dedicated at Westminster Abbey last Friday – the 50th anniversary of his death. Conducting the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said Lewis was “one of the most significant Christian apologists of the 20th century” and the author of stories that had “inspired the imagination and faith of countless readers and film-goers”. Douglas Gresham, younger stepson of Lewis, read from the author’s book, The Last Battle, at the service. The memorial is located in Poet’s Corner in the abbey’s south transept. For more see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• A Blue Plaque commemorating Al Bowlly – described as “Europe’s most popular crooner and famous radio and record star” – will be unveiled at his home in Charing Cross Road this week. Bowlly, who lived between 1899 and 1941, was the voice beyond songs like Goodnight Sweetheart and The Very Thought Of You. The English Heritage Blue Plaque will be unveiled at Charing Cross Mansions, 26 Charing Cross Road – his home during the pinnacle of his career. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• Kew Gardens has opened its gates after dark for the first time with a “captivating show of lights, sound and landscape” this festive season. A mile long illuminated trail, created in partnership with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay, will take visitors’ through the garden’s unique tree collections, kicking off at Victoria Gate where a Christmas village (and Santa’s Woodland Grotto) is located. The gardens will be open every Thursday to Sunday until 23rd December and then be open every night from 26th December to 4th January from 4.45pm to 10pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org/Christmas.
• Actress Vivien Leigh is the star of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery. Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration tells her story with a focus on her Academy Award-winning role in 1939’s Gone With The Wind. The display features more than 50 portraits of Leigh by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean and Madame Yevonde – many of which have never been exhibited in the gallery before – and a selection of memorabilia including magazine covers, vintage film stills and press books. Among the photos will be a newly acquired image of Leigh and her husband, Laurence Olivier, taken by British photojournalist Larry Burrows at a garden party in 1949 (pictured), along with two rarely seen portraits of Leigh – one taken on the set of The School for Scandal by Vivienne in 1949 and the other by Paul Tanqueray in 1942. The exhibition will be held in Room 33 and runs until 20th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Copyright – Larry Burrows Collection 2013.
Playwright. Actor. Theatre manager. David Garrick stands out as a towering figure of the theatrical world in the 18th century and is remembered, at least in part, for his friendship with the irrepressible lexicographer Samuel Johnson.
Born on 19th February, 1717, in Hereford to an army officer (with French Huguenot roots) as the third of five children, Garrick attended school in Lichfield, north of Birmingham, including, at the short-lived Edial Hall School where Dr Johnson himself taught Latin and Greek. It was during his youth that he first took an interest in the stage, appearing in George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.
When the school closed due to lack of funds, Garrick accompanied Dr Johnson to London (they had become friends) and there he and his younger brother Peter established a wine business (Peter eventually went back to Lichfield to run part of the business from there). While the business wasn’t a great success, Garrick took to acting in amateur theatricals and eventually – according to Peter Thomson, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – made his professional debut acting incognito in a pantomime in London in March, 1741, although Garrick apparently said placed his debut in Ipswich that summer when he was acting in Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave (meanwhile the first performance of one of his dramatic works – Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades – had taken place at Drury Lane the previous year).
His breakthrough role came later that year – in October – when he appeared in London on the stage of the unlicensed Goodman’s Fields Theatre in the title role of Richard III. Soon acclaimed by the likes of Alexander Pope and William Pitt as the greatest actor of his time, further roles followed at Goodman’s Fields and at the famous Drury Lane Theatre as well as in Dublin (where he started an ultimately ill-fated love affair with Irish actress Peg Woffington who returned with him to London where he continued acting at Drury Lane).
Having also performed for a season, at the rival Covent Garden Theatre, in April 1747, Garrick entered into a partnership with James Lacy for the ownership of the Drury Lane Theatre. The first performance was apparently by Garrick himself, reading Ode to Drury Lane Theatre, on dedicating a Building and erecting a Statue, to Shakespeare – a piece written by Dr Johnson.
It was two years later – on 22nd June, 1749 – that he married a German dancer Eva Marie Veigel. They lived at a house at 27 Southampton Street and Garrick’s increasing wealth led him to buy a country property in Hampton, today in south west London, in 1754 which became known as “Garrick’s Villa”. Considerably altered, the Grade I-listed property still stands there today (albeit having suffered extensive damage in a 2008 fire) along with the summerhouse he built to house his collection of Shakespearian memorabilia – known as Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, it’s open to the public over from April to October.
Meanwhile, as well as managing the theatre, Garrick continued acting and writing plays. In September, 1769, he staged the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon, celebrating 200 years since the playwright’s birth – even though it was five years too late and was ultimately a bit of a disaster, he took his celebration of Shakespeare back to Drury Lane and there it was a huge success.
Garrick, who moved from Southampton Street into the newly built Adelphi Terrace in 1772, remained manager of Drury Lane until his retirement in 1776 during which time it became widely acknowledged as the country’s leading theatre. He died at home on 20th January, 1779. His wife outlived him by 43 years. The couple had no children. Garrick was subsequently interred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey – the first actor to receive the honour.
Garrick’s legacy was enormous – not only is he famed for bringing a new ‘realistic’ style to the profession he so loved, he set new standards in the arts of public relations and was also an instrumental figure in having Shakespeare recognised as England’s national icon. Legend goes that he was also the actor responsible for the phrase “Break a leg!” – apparently so engrossed in a performance of Richard III that he overlooked the fact he’d fractured his bone.
It wasn’t until some time after Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain on 21st October, 1805, that the large public space in Westminster we now know as Trafalgar Square took its name.
Prior to the development of the square, much of the area it covers was occupied the King’s Mews – stables linked to the Palace of Whitehall – and was simply seen as part of the district known as Charing Cross (named for the memorial cross which stood close to where the equestrian statue of King Charles I now stands – for more on this, see our earlier post and follow the links).
Following the relocation of the Mews in the early 19th century, plans were drawn up by architect-of-the-age John Nash to redevelop the area while the square itself, completed in 1845, was designed by Sir Charles Barry (best known for his work on the Houses of Parliament).
The final design incorporated a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson atop a column, known as ‘Nelson’s Column’, in the centre – apparently against Barry’s wishes (see our earlier post for more on Nelson’s Column).
Originally designed with an upper terrace and a lower piazza linked by stairs at the eastern and western end of the terrace, the square contains two fountains on either side of the column – the current fountains were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1937-9 and replaced earlier ones.
It was originally suggested that the square be named King William IV Square but it was apparently architect George Ledwell Taylor who provided the alternative of Trafalgar Square in honor of Nelson’s great battle.
Bordered by significant landmarks including the National Gallery to the north, the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields to the north-east, South Africa House to the east and Canada House to the west, the square stands at the confluence of a number of major roadways including Whitehall, Strand, Charing Cross Road and The Mall.
Aside from the aforementioned statue of King Charles I, monuments within the square include Nelson’s Column along with plinths set in the four corners of the square. These bear statues of King George IV, Victorian military figures General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock while the fourth plinth, located in the north-west corner, was originally intended to bear an equestrian statue of King William IV.
Instead, it was left empty for many years before the advent of the Fourth Plinth project under which a variety of contemporary artworks – most recently a massive sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse – have occupied the space (you can see a picture of the current work in our earlier post here).
The square, once known as the home of thousands of pigeons before these were banished midway through last decade to allow greater public use of the space, also features the busts of three admirals – John Jellicoe, David Beatty and Andrew Cunningham, located against the north wall under the terrace.
There are also two statues on a lawn in front of the National Gallery – these are of US President George Washington and King James II. Curiously, the square also features a small pillar box in the south-east corner, referred to by some as the smallest police station in London.
A renovation project in 2003 pedestrianised the roadway along the north side of the square and installed a central stairway between the the upper and lower levels along with lifts, public toilets and a cafe.
For some more on the history of Trafalgar Square, see Jean Hood’s Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London’s Landmark Through Time.
• The Cutty Sark, the world’s last surviving 19th century tea clipper, reopens to the public today following a £50 million, six year conservation project. The project to restore the Greenwich-docked ship has involved raising it more than three metres so visitors can walk underneath and see for themselves the sleek lines which helped the vessel set a then record-breaking speed of 17.5 knots or 20mph in sailing from Sydney to London. As well as raising the ship three metres, the project has involved encasing the ship’s hull in a glass casing to protect it from the weather – this area also contains the museum’s extensive collection of more than 80 ships’ figureheads, never been seen in its entirety on the site. The ship’s weather deck and rigging, meanwhile, have been restored to their original specification and new, interactive exhibitions on the vessel’s history have been installed below deck. Originally launched in 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland, Cutty Sark visited most major ports around the world, carrying cargoes including tea, gunpowder, whiskey and buffalo horns and made its name as the fastest ship of the era when carrying wool between Australia and England. The ship became a training vessel in the 1920s and in 1954 took up her current position in the dry dock at Greenwich before opening to the public. In November 2006, the ship’s rig was dismantled in preparation for a restoration project – this received a setback on 21st May, 2007, when a fire broke out aboard the ship and almost destroyed it. The ship – which was officially reopened by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) yesterday – is now under the operational management of the umbrella body, Royal Museums Greenwich. For more (including the online purchasing of tickets), see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark or www.cuttysark.org.uk. PICTURE: National Maritime Museum, London.
• A large statue of Genghis Khan has invaded Marble Arch. The 16 foot (five metre) tall sculpture of the Mongolian warlord, created by artist Dashi Namdakov, was erected by Westminster City Council as part of its ongoing City of Sculpture festival which is running in the lead-up to the Olympics. The statue has sparked some controversy – Labour councillors at Westminster have reportedly suggested Dambusters hero Guy Gibson would be a more suitable subject for a statue than the warlord Khan. The Russian artist, who has an exhibition opening at the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair next month, told the Evening Standard he simply wanted to honor Khan on the 850th anniversary of his birth.
• Development of a new West End theatre, the first to be built in the area in 30 years, has been given the green light. The new 350 seat theatre will be part of a development project located between Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street which will also feature office and retail spaces. The site was occupied by a pickle factory in the 19th and 20th centuries and from 1927 was the home of the Astoria cinema, remodelled as a live venue in the 1980s. Live music was last presented there in 2009 when the site was compulsorily acquired for the Crossrail project.
• On Now: Crowns and Ducats: Shakespeare’s money and medals. This exhibition at the British Museum explores the role of money in Shakespeare’s world and looks at how coins – a frequently recurring motif in Shakespeare’s work – and medals were issued to mark major events. Objects in the display include Nich0las Hilliard’s ‘Dangers Averted’ medal of Elizabeth I and William Roper’s print of the Queen, the first to be signed and dated by a British artist, as well as a money box such as might have been used at the Globe and a hoard of coins, including a Venetian ducat, deposited in Essex around the time of Shakespeare’s birth. Almost every coin mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays will be on show – from ‘crack’d drachmas’ to ‘gilt twopences’. Runs until 28th October in room 69a. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
The first in an occasional series looking behind some of London’s place names. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the origins of the name of the inner metropolitan suburb of Soho.
The name was apparently taken from a hunting cry – ‘So Ho’ and is believed to have been first used to describe this area of London in the 1600s (the cry was also later used as a rallying cry by the James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth’s men when he tried to overthrow James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685).
The area was used as grazing lands before becoming part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds and then in the later 1600s started to undergo development, becoming known as a refuge for immigrants from Greece and France (the French Protestant Church on Soho Square is indicative of the diverse population who have lived there).
It later morphed into a somewhat seedy and bohemian entertainment district and became home to some big name writers, artists, intellectuals and musicians. Over the years, famous residents have included everyone from Karl Marx to poet William Blake.
These days, while elements of entertainment industry remain – in particular the film industry as well as some seedier establishments – the area, bordered by Oxford and Regent Streets, Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus to the south, is also home to large numbers of trendy cafes, pubs and restaurants and still boasts a healthy nightlife.