Kensington-Palace• Join the Georgian Queen Caroline for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The Georgian Court will be taking to the palace gardens for a summer celebration featuring music, military drills and theatre as they bring the era to life. Visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the experience as a courtier with the gardens decked out in a range of tents where they can try out costumes and powdered wigs as well as learn court etiquette, swordplay and dancing while the ice-house will feature Georgian ice-cream (and it’s rather odd flavours such as parmesan). Runs from tomorrow until Sunday. Admission charges apply (under 16s go free with a maximum of six children per paying adult). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/. PICTURE: ©Historic Royal Palaces

First created in 1923, a playground in Victoria Tower Gardens – newly named the Horseferry Playground – has been reopened after improvement works. The works, carried out under the management of Royal Parks, have seen the reintroduction of a sandpit as well as the installation of new swings and slide, dance chimes and a stare play installation to represent the River Thames. The playground, located close to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, also features a series of timber horse sculptures, new seating and a refreshment kiosk with metal railings designed by artist Chris Campbell depicting events such as the Great Fire of London and Lord Nelson’s funeral barge and views of the River Thames. The project has also seen the Spicer Memorial, commemorating role of paper merchant and philanthropist Henry Spicer in the establishment of the playground – then just a large sandpit, restored. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/victoria-tower-gardens.

Now On – A Dickens Whodunnit: Solving the Mystery of Edwin Drood. This temporary exhibition at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury explores the legacy of Dickens’ final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, left unfinished after his death in 1870. Visitors are able to investigate crime scenes, search for murder clues and see the table on which the novel was penned as well as clips from theatrical adaptations, and a wealth of theories on ‘whodunit’. The exhibition runs until 11th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dickensmuseum.com.

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Dunkirk-Little-Ships-More than 20 Dunkirk Little Ships will gather at London’s Royal Docks this weekend ahead of their Return to Dunkirk journey marking the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations. The event, which is part of the UK’s annual festival of late openings Museums at Night, will see the ships parade around Royal Victoria Dock on Saturday night with the Silver Queen offering twilight trips and the chance to step on board some of the other ships (the Little Ships will continue with their own festival on Sunday commencing with a church service by the quayside at 11am). Other events being offered in London as part of Museums at Night include ‘Dickens After Dark’ in which the Charles Dickens Museum will open its doors to visitors for night of Victorian entertainment on Friday night and a night of music featuring the Royal College of Music at Fulham Palace (also on Friday night). Among the other London properties taking part are the Handel House Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, the Wellcome Collection, Museum of the Order of St John, and the National Archives in Kew. For a full list of events, check out http://museumsatnight.org.uk

Meanwhile, Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London is holding its first weekend culture festival, MayFest: Men of Mystery, as part of Museums at Night. On Friday and Saturday nights, there will be tours of the gallery’s new exhibition featuring the work of artist Eric Ravilious followed by outdoor cinema screenings of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and The 39 Steps as well as free swing dance lessons, street foods and a pop-up vintage shop which will help people get the vintage look. Visitors are being encouraged to dress up in styles of the 1930s and 1940s with a prizes awarded to those with the “best vintage style”. The gallery will also be inviting visitors to take part in a mass installation drop-in workshop held in the gallery’s grounds over the weekend and Saturday morning will see special events for children. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/.

A major new work by acclaimed artist Cornelia Parker goes on display in the entrance hall of the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The almost 13 metre long Magna Carta (An Embroidery) replicates the entire Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta as it was on the 799th anniversary of the document and was created by many people ranging from prisoners and lawyers to artists and barons. It accompanies the library’s exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Entry to see the artwork is free. For more, see www.bl.uk/cornelia-parker.

The works of Peter Kennard, described as “Britain’s most important political artist”, are on display in a new exhibition which opens at the Imperial War Museum in London today. Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is the first major retrospective exhibition of his work and features more than 200 artworks and other items drawn from his 50 year career including an art installation, Boardroom, created especially for the display. Works on show include his iconic transposition of Constable’s painting Haywain which he showed carrying cruise missiles about to be deployed in Greenham Common, the Decoration paintings created in 2004 in response to the Iraq War of 2003, his seminal STOP paintings which reference events of the late 1960s such as the ‘Prague Spring’ and anti-Vietnam war protests and his 1997 installation Reading Room. The free exhibition runs at the Lambeth institution until 30th May next year. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/london.

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The only surviving London house lived in by author Charles Dickens – now occupied by the Charles Dickens Museum – reopens on Monday after a £3.1 million restoration and refurbishment. The redevelopment of the Georgian, Grade I listed townhouse at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury – a project named Great Expectations – has seen the museum expand into a neighbouring property at 49 Doughty Street which now houses a visitor and learning centre and cafe. Inside the house itself, the rooms have been returned to their appearance during Victorian times and on display will be some of Dickens’ personal items which haven’t been seen before. They include a set of photographic prints from 1865 which depict a train crash in Staplehurst, Kent, in which Dickens was involved. The museum, which is where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and finished The Pickwick Papers while living here between 1837-1839, was first opened in 1925. This year marks the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth (he was born on 7th February, 1812, in Portsmouth). For more on the museum and upcoming events there (including Christmas performances of A Christmas Carol and a series of special Dickensian Christmas walks), see www.dickensmuseum.com. For more on Dickens, see our earlier special – 10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens.

Historian and broadcaster AJP Taylor, known as ‘The History Man’, has been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque placed on his former home at 13 St Mark’s Crescent in Primrose Hill.  Taylor lived at the mid-nineteenth century semi-detached villa between 1955 and 1978 during the height of his fame. First appearing on television as early as 1942, Taylor was a regular on television discussion programmes between the 1950s and 1980s, and is described as one of the first ‘media dons’. He also wrote weekly columns in the press and books including the controversial The Origins of the Second World War. Married three times, he had six children and died of Parkinson’s disease in 1990. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/?topic=Blue%20Plaques.

On Now: A Dandy 75th Birthday Exhibition. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury focuses on The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic (officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records), and follows its development from its birth with the release of the first issue on 4th December, 1937 (which, incidentally, was so popular it sold 481,895) through to this year’s issues including the final print issue released on 4th December this year (after which The Dandy goes digital). Runs until 24th December. Admission charge applies. For more see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

In which we continue our look at some of London’s connections with Dickens’ writings…

• ‘Oliver Twist’ workhouse, Cleveland Street. The building, recently heritage listed following a campaign to save it, is said to have served as the model for the workhouse in Oliver Twist and was apparently the only building of its kind still in operation when Dickens wrote the book in the 1830s. Dickens had lived as a teenager nearby in a house in Cleveland Street and was living less than a mile away in Doughty Street (now the Charles Dickens Museum) when he wrote Oliver Twist. Thanks to Ruth Richardson – author of Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor – for mentioning this after last week’s post.

• Clerkenwell Green. It is here that Mr Brownlow first comes into contact with Oliver Twist and, mistakenly suspecting him of stealing from him, chases him through the surrounding streets. Interestingly, the grass (which you would expect when talking about a green) has been gone for more than 300 years – so it wasn’t here in Dickens’ time either.

• Barnard’s Inn, Fetter Lane. It was here, at one of London’s Inns of Court, that Pip and Herbert Pocket had chambers in Great Expectations. Barnard’s Inn, now the home of Gresham College, is only one of a number of the Inns of Court with which Dickens and his books had associations – the author lived for a time at Furnival’s Inn while Lincoln’s Inn (off Chancery Lane) features in Bleak House and the medieval Staple Inn on High Holborn makes an appearance in his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And, as mentioned last week, Middle Temple also features in his books.

• ‘Dickens House’, Took’s Court. Renamed Cook’s Court in Bleak House, the house – located in a court between Chancery and Fetter Lane – was where the law stationer Mr Snagsby lived and worked in the book. It’s now occupied by music promoter and impresario Raymond Gubbay.

• London Bridge. The bridge, a new version of which had opened in 1831 (it has since been replaced), featured in many of Dickens’ writings including Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Other bridges also featured including Southwark Bridge (Little Dorrit) and Blackfriars Bridge (Barnaby Rudge) and as well as Eel Pie Island, south-west along the Thames River at Twickenham, which is mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby.

We’ve only included a brief sample of the many locations in London related in some way to Dickens’ literary works. Aside from those books we mentioned last week, you might also want to take a look at Richard Jones’ Walking Dickensian London,  Lee Jackson’s Walking Dickens’ London or, of course, Claire Tomalin’s recent biography, Charles Dickens: A Life.

In the first of a new special series written in honor of the bicentenary of the birth of author Charles Dickens (he was born on 7th February, 1812), we take a look at the Charles Dickens Museum.

Housed in one of Dickens’ former London residences at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, this property is now the focal point for people wanting to find out more about the writer and his life as evidenced by the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on Tuesday to officially mark Dickens’ birth.

Dickens lived in the property from 1837 to 1839 and it was here that significant family events, such as the birth of two of his children – Mary and Kate – and the death of his wife Catherine’s 17-year-old sister Mary took place (Mary’s tragic death is believed to be the inspiration for that of the character Little Nell in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop). It was also at the property that he wrote some of his most famous novels, including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers.

A growing demand for space, however, led Dickens to move his household to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The Doughty Street house meanwhile, the only one of Dickens’ London homes to have survived, remained a residential property but in 1923 it was threatened with demolition and subsequently acquired by the Dickens Fellowship. The museum opened there two years later.

The museum now claims to hold more than 100,000 Dickens-related artifacts. The house is displayed as it might have been when Dickens lived there – artifacts on display over four floors include his personal possessions and furnishings as well as manuscripts, letters, first edition copies of some of his books and portraits, including R.W. Buss’ spectacular (and unfinished) Dickens’ Dream, showing the author at his country home of Gads Hill Place in Kent surrounded by many of the characters that he had created.

It’s important to note that from 9th April, the museum will be closed as it undergoes a £3.2 million project, called Great Expectations, which will involve the restoration and expansion of the museum. It is expected to reopen in December this year in time to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas.

For more on events celebrating Charles Dickens and his works this year, see www.dickensfellowship.org or www.dickens2012.org.

WHERE: 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday (last admission 4.30pm) COST: £7 adults/£5 concessions/£3 children (under 10 free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.

Around London…

July 28, 2010

• A team of archaeologists from the Museum of London have unearthed the remains of a brewhouse close to the purpose-built theatre, known simply as The Theatre, where Shakespeare first acted. The brewhouse could represent what became a dedicated ‘tap room’ aimed at theatre customers and may well have been a watering hole of the Bard himself. It – and a nearby bakehouse – were originally part of Holywell Priory, once one of the richest in England, which was dissolved in 1539. You can follow the dig’s progress here: www.mymuseumoflondon.org.uk/blogs/blog/category/excavations-at-shakespeare’s-theatre/

London’s Dickens Museum has unveiled the long-lost tombstone of a cartoonist who took his own life after he was believed to have been rejected by the famous author. Robert Seymour apparently took his own life after Charles Dickens was believed to have informed him that he would no longer be employed to illustrate The Pickwick Papers (there remains considerable debate over whether Dickens should be blamed for his death). The gravestone had been missing for a century but was reportedly discovered in the crypt of a London church by scholar Stephen Jarvis. It will now be displayed in the back garden of the museum which is housed at 48 Doughty Street in Dicken’s only surviving London home (he lived there between 1837 and 1839 while writing novels including The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist). The museum is preparing to celebrate the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth in 2012.  www.dickensmuseum.com

• Sir William and Sir Joseph Hooker – the father and son responsible for transforming Kew Gardens in the nineteenth century – have been honored with a blue plaque at their former home on Kew Green. The home where Princess Alexandra was to unveil the plaque became the official residence of the garden’s director when Sir William moved there in 1851. Sir William had been appointed director of the Botanic Gardens 10 years before and during his 24 year tenure not only greatly expanded them but also opened them to the public. His son, Sir Joseph, had travelled aboard the HMS Erebus as it explored the southern oceans between 1839-1843 before succeeding his father as director upon his death in 1865. www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/princess-alexandra-unveils-blue-plaque-for-former-directors-of-kew-gardens