OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.

 

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Be dazzled by more than a million twinkling lights at the enchanted wonderland that is Kew Gardens this Christmas.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in London’s west have once again teamed up with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay Ltd to create a brand new illuminated trail. It starts with a path lit by hundreds of illuminated globes winding through trees festooned with silvery shards of light, snowflakes and stars and includes attractions such as an enormous glowing ‘Sledge Tree’ – made from more than 360 wooden Santa sledges, and a chorus of ‘Singing Trees’.

Other artistic installations along the trail include an ultraviolet walkway of thousands of continuously moving bubbles (created by Between Art and Technology (BAT) Studio), an enchanted promenade of hundreds of huge glowing peonies, giant grasses and coloured reeds (the work of French art studio TILT), and a host of giant trees, made from thousands of colourful, sparkling flowers complete with holographic petals (creative studio PITAYA) located along the Great Broad Walk Borders (included in the trail for the first time).

The fire garden has also returned – this year as a corridor of intricate pulsing fire sculptures and rotating lantern-lit Christmas trees – as has the Palm House finale in which the pond and glasshouse spring to life in an explosion of laser beams, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen.

And, of course, there’s roasted chestnuts, mulled cider and Santa and his elves as well as a festive fairground and other food and drink. Open between 5pm and 10pm (timed entries between 5pm and 7.40pm),  the after dark event runs until 1st January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

PICTURES: Above – A sea of illuminated globes by the Palm House / Below (top to bottom)  – 1. Giant glowing trees along The Great Broad Walk Borders; 2. Animated illuminations at Kew’s lake;  3. Giant peonies; 4.Palm House Grand Finale. ALL PHOTOGRAPHY © Jeff Eden/RBG Kew.

Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events are kicking off all over the city. Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

The world famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree will be lit next Thursday – 7th December – in an event that kicks off at 6pm. The 25 metre high tree is an annual gift from the people of Norway as a thank you for Britain’s support during World War II. Christmas carols will kick off in the square on 11th December while the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service will be held in Southwark Cathedral on 18th December. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.

Sounds Like Christmas at the V&A. A month long musical celebration across the museum’s South Kensington and Museum of Childhood sites, it features choirs, candlelit concerts, pop-up performances, film screenings, decoration-making workshops, and special installations of objects relating to the music of Christmas, as well as, at the grand entrance to the South Kensington site, ‘The Singing Tree’ (pictured). A project conceived by leading stage designer Es Devlin, the tree features digital word projections that create a poem and comes with a layered polyphonic soundscape of human and machine-generated voices. The season runs until 6th January. For the full programme, see www.vam.ac.uk/Christmas. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Greenwich Winter Time Festival. The inaugural festival, set in the grounds of the World Heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, kicks off in December and features an alternative to the traditional seasonal market as well as a covered ice rink, entertainment including live music, theatre and children’s shows, and an “authentic” Father Christmas experience. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Christmas at the Historic Royal Palaces. As well as its ice rink, Hampton Court Palace is hosting the BBC Good Food’s Festive Feast and a Christmas Music Weekend while at the Tower of London, visitors can once again skate in the dry moat, join in medieval Christmas festivities and enjoy a treat for their ears with the Noel Noel concert in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Kensington Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Christmas festivities under a Victorian theme with a 25 foot tall Christmas tree, a display of illuminated Victorian scenes, live music performances and family friendly events including ‘Under the Christmas Tree’, ‘Funtastic Sunday’, and ‘Tasty Talks’. Check website for dates – admission prices apply. See www.hrp.org.uk for more.

Meanwhile, the final release of New Year’s Eve tickets goes on sale tomorrow (Friday) from noon. People can buy up to four tickets, priced at £10 each to be among the 100,000 spectators lining the banks of the River Thames. Those without a ticket can still watch it live on BBC One. Head to www.london.gov.uk/nye for tickets.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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Trafalgar Square at Christmas. PICTURE: London & Partners

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
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Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

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A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The practice of sending Christmas cards really began in the Victoria era and it was in London, in 1843, that the first commercial Christmas cards are widely said to have been designed and printed.

first-christmas-cardThe idea had come from Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who, overwhelmed with the volume of correspondence he was receiving, conceived it as answer to his problem, allowing him to send Christmas greetings to a wide group of people – all at once.

He asked his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an edition of 1,000 were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn.

The hand-coloured card, published by Summerley’s Home Treasury Office in Old Bond Street, showed a family gathered for a Christmas celebration with two side images showing people engaged in charitable acts and a message, ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. Designed as a single flat card (not foldable like they are today), it came complete with ‘To’ and ‘From’ spaces for the sender to fill in.

The cards which Sir Henry didn’t need for his personal use were placed on sale for a shilling each but it was a fairly steep price and that – and the fact that the image of people drinking at the festive season apparently roused the ire of temperance campaigners, helped to ensure the cards weren’t an immediate success.

Nonetheless, further cards were produced in the following years and within a couple of decades, they were being mass produced.

One of Sir Henry’s original cards was reportedly sold at an auction in 2013 for £22,000.

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Kinson Leung captures the vibrant colours of the annual Winter Wonderland fair in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Via Unsplash.

kewaMore than 60,000 lights are being used to illuminate Kew Gardens this Christmas in a mile long trail through the foliage. The trail features eight newly commissioned installations from UK and international artists including Bloom – a display of 1,700 swaying flowers by the group Squidsoup (above), and the roaring scented Fire Garden – a display themed around the Twelve Days of Christmas by And Now: (pictured below are three French hens from the installation). The trail also features Wolfgang Buttress’ bee-inspired installation, known as the The Hive (pictured second below), which has been lit with 1,000 LEDs that pulsate and glow against the night sky, and finishes with an “explosion” of brightly coloured laser beams across the Palm House Pond (pictured third below). There’s also a panto featuring Santa and his elves and a Victorian carousel. The night lights can be seen until 2nd January. Admission charge applies (and there’s timed entry). Kew is also running a program of family-oriented Christmas activities during the day across the period. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURES: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew.

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Covent-Garden4Take your chance to ‘meet under the mistletoe’ this year at Covent Garden, thanks to the designs of renowned  production designer Michael Howells. Howells, whose previous credits include fashion shows for the likes of Alexander McQueen as well as sets for films including Nanny McPhee and theatre productions such as Chariots of Fire, has come up with a design featuring more than 40 “mistletoe chandeliers” of up to 3.5 metres in size, each of which is adorned with almost 700 glistening berries.  The chandeliers are united by more than 320 metres of garlands while about 100,000 pealights are suspended inside the historic Market Building. Outside, London’s biggest hand-picked – and richly decorated – Christmas tree once again stands in the piazza.  For more on Covent Garden, see www.coventgarden.london.  PICTURES: Courtesy of Covent Garden.

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Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events happening all over London. Here’s a couple worth considering:

Kensington Palace: Head back into the Victorian era where so many of the Christmas traditions we know and love find their origins. The palace and gardens have been decorated with period-inspired decorations while inside decorations include the beautifully decorated tables where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert showcased their Christmas gifts. There’s talks on the origins of Christmas foods such as plum pudding, music and carolling, and the cafe is serving up seasonal food and drink while on Saturday, a special brunch time lecture will look behind the curtains into the world of Victorian pantomime and performance. Admission charges apply – check the website for dates. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.

The Geffrye Museum: This Shoreditch institution is once again celebrating Christmas traditions of the past in its annual display showcasing the past 400 years of Christmas traditions. Christmas Past has taken place at the museum for the past 25 years and is based on ongoing, original research. It provides insights into everything from traditional Christmas feasts to kissing under the mistletoe, playing parlour games, hanging up stockings, sending cards, decorating the tree and throwing cocktail parties. A series of related events, including a concert by candlelight, are being held over the Christmas season. The display, which has free entry, closes on 3rd January. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

 

Ebola and the fight against ISIS are the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth last month. Fighting Extremes: From Ebola to ISIS looks at the experiences of British personnel serving on recent operations including the response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and the fight against ISIS in the Middle East. The display features behind the scenes interviews such as an in-depth talk with Corporal Anna Cross, a British Army nurse who contracted Ebola, photographs, and recently acquired objects such as the Wellington boots worn by healthcare worker Will Pooley, the first Briton to contract Ebola who was evacuated from Sierra Leone by the RAF, a headset used by an RAF drone pilot, and a shooting target depicting a silhouette of an ISIS suicide bomber used by the British Army to train Peshmerga troops. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Kew-GardensIt was Queen Charlotte who first dressed the branches of a Christmas tree in Kew Palace in the 1790s and, drawing on that tradition, Kew Gardens is once again hosting a mile long winter light experience. Visitors can walk through ribbons of light, count the festooned Christmas trees and listen to a holly bush choir as well as see larger than life winter flora such as snowdrops and Christmas roses and pause at the scented Fire Garden for a moment of reflection. Santa and his elves are appearing on stage at the Princess of Wales Conservatory and a Victorian carousel and other rides are located at the White Peaks Cafe where visitors can sample goodies like mulled wine, spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.  The after-dark event runs from 5pm to 10pm on select dates until 2nd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: The Palm House at Kew Gardens lit up for Christmas. Courtesy Kew Gardens.

The Paddington Trail, London, 2014Paddington comes to the Museum of London in a new exhibition opening tomorrow to coincide with the bear’s big-screen debut. A Bear called Paddington charts the story of the character from his genesis on Christmas Eve, 1956, when creator Michael Bond bought his wife a small toy bear and named him after the railway station near where they loved across the next almost 60 years to today. Objects on display include: a first edition A Bear Called Paddington – dating from 1958, it belonged to Bond’s daughter Karen Jankel; an original illustration of Paddington by Paddy Fortnum; the typewriter Bond used to write Paddington at Work and Paddington Goes To Town; the original Paddington puppet from the 1970s TV animations; and, props from the upcoming film Paddington (released on 28th November). The free exhibition runs until 4th January. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. The museum, meanwhile, is also playing host to a new life-sized statue of the famous bear designed by Benedict Cumberbatch (and known as Sherlock Bear for obvious reasons given Cumberbatch’s penchant for playing a certain detective – pictured). It forms just one stop on the Paddington Trail which, as the work of VisitLondon.com, NSPCC and film-makers StudioCanal, links 50 sites – each with their own statue of the bear – across the capital. Designed by everyone from Mayor Boris Johnson to football star David Beckham and actors Sandra Bullock and Hugh Bonneville, the bears can be found around town until 30th December. For more on the trail, including a map of locations, check out www.visitlondon.com/paddington/.

While the Oxford Street lights are already switched on (as are those in Covent Garden), Carnaby Street’s Christmas decorations are to be officially launched at 6.30pm tonight. The launch coincides with a shopping party (including 20 per cent discount), live music, free drinks, good bags and “trend masterclasses” with Grazia Magazine’s editor-at-large Angela Buttolph. Oh, and the decorations consist of eight red and white oversized sets of headphones and sunglasses. Meanwhile the Regent Street lights get turned on this Sunday with an event featuring a star-studded cast including Take That’s Mark Owen, Gary Barlow and Howard Donald (who are switching on the lights but not playing). While there’s entertainment along the street from noon, the music kicks off at 4pm and the lights, designed around the theme of the film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, get switched-on at 5pm and will be followed by a fireworks display. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.

The Guards Memorial in Horseguards Parade, Westminister, has been upgrade to a Grade 1-listed structure on the advice of English Heritage. Unveiled in 1926 by the Duke of Connaught, Senior Colonel of the Guards, and General George Higginson, a Crimean veteran, the memorial commemorates the 14,000 Guardsmen who died in the First World War. Designed by architect Harold Chalton Bradshaw and sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, it features five bronze soldiers, each representing a typical soldier from each of the divisions – Grenadiers, Coldstreams, Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards.

On Now: Grayson Perry: Who Are You? This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square features a series of new works created by Perry during the making of his Channel 4 TV series of the same name. Interspersed with 19th and 20th century collections of the gallery, the portraits – which include a tapestry, sculptures and pots – are of families, groups and individuals and include everyone from a young Muslim convert and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Rylan Clark. Runs until 15th March. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

 

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Following on from its LEGO advent calendar and Christmas tree, Covent Garden is home to a giant LEGO snow globe this Christmas. Made of 120,000 bricks, it features 14 of London’s most iconic landmarks – from Nelson’s Column, Buckingham Palace (see below) and the London Eye to The Shard, Shakespeare’s Globe and, of course, Covent Garden. The models took Duncan Titmarsh, the UK’s only certified LEGO professional, around 75 days to build. Hidden among the models are a number of LEGO Santas – count them to win prizes and press a button to make snow fall inside the globe. For more, see www.coventgardenlondonuk.com.

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Christmas is looming and at the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton that means the museum’s many period rooms have been transformed for the Christmas festivities. The rooms span 400 years of history, from 1600 until today, and show how the middle class have lived over that time. The Christmas display will also provide insights into such Christmas traditions as kissing under the mistletoe, hanging up stockings, sending Christmas cards and decorating trees. The Christmas theme carries through to the restaurant and gift shop. Entry to the exhibition is free. Runs until 6th January. For an online gallery showing some of the rooms, click here. For more on the museum, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

• Meanwhile Kensington Palace is to be transformed into giant advent calendar in the lead-up to Christmas with a daily ‘reveal’ inspired by Princess Victoria’s Christmas diary entries and letters. The halls of the palace will be decorated with 24 specially designed mirrored baubles, Christmas music will be played throughout and a sparkling 25 foot high Christmas tree will be placed in the gardens. As part of the Christmas festivities, an evening of carol singing will be held on 5th December in the King’s Gallery with carols sung by the Hampton Court Palace Royal Chapel Choir. Other events include a Midwinter Masquerade Ball on 13th December and an Eerie Evening Tour on 20th December. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

• A new permanent furniture gallery opens at the V&A this Saturday. The Dr Susan Weber Gallery – the first at the museum dedicated to furniture – will display more than 200 pieces of British and European furniture, spanning a period stretching from the Middle Ages through to present day, as well as examples of American and Asian furniture. Each piece is examined in detail with information provided about the materials and techniques used in creating it. Among the designers represented will be Thomas Chippendale, Grinling Gibbons, Robert Adam, Ron Arad and Tom Dixon. Highlights include a 20th century Frank Lloyd Wright-designed dining chair, a gilded cassone made for the Duke of Urbino in about 1509, and a scagliola decorated table which was formerly at Warwick Castle and dates from 1675. Twenty-five ‘key’ pieces have been selected for a central chronological display including a storage unit by Charles and Ray Eames dating from 1949-50, a Gothic revival cradle dating from 1861 and designed by Richard Norman Shaw and one of the museum’s newest acquisitions, the 2011 ‘Branca’ chair, designed by Industrial Facility. The display includes the use of touch screen interfaces, films and audio recordings. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

• On Now: Bronze. Last chance to see this exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts which closes on 9th December. The exhibition brings together more than 150 of the finest bronzes in the world, spanning 5000 years of history, with many of the pieces on display never seen before in the UK. Among the earliest works are the 14th century BC bronze and gold Chariot of the Sun from Denmark, ancient Chinese ritual vessels including an elephant-shaped vessel dating from the Shang Dynasty (1100-1050 BC) and an Etruscan masterpiece – Chimera of Arezzo, dating from about 400 BC. Other highlights include a Roman cavalry helmet found in Cumbria in 2010 and the Portrait of King Seuthes III, dating from the early Hellenistic period, and found in Bulgaria in 2004 as well as a series of Renaissance bronzes and more recent works like Rodin’s The Age of Bronze (c 1876). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

The Imperial War Museum has unveiled plans for a major rebuilding project at its Lambeth headquarters to culminate with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I in 2014. Under a £71 million proposal, the size of the existing World War I galleries will be doubled and a new atrium will be created with further works – including a new sunken entrance – to be completed by 2019. The museum moved to its Lambeth location, formerly the Bethlem Royal Hospital, in 1936. Prince William is fronting the first £29 million appeal for funds. Meanwhile plans have reportedly been mooted to have the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the HMS Ark Royal, brought to London where it would be permanently moored in the Thames as a tourist attraction akin to the HMS Belfast.

St Paul’s Cathedral has announced it will provide live outdoor broadcasts of its three most popular Christmas services for the first time to allow those who can fit in the cathedral to participate. A 25 metre screen will be set up in Paternoster Square, next to the cathedral, where ‘A Celebration of Christmas’ will be screen on 16th December at 6.30pm along with Christmas Carol services on the 23rd and 24th December at 4pm. See www.stpauls.co.uk.

An historic 18th century mill in East London will undergo restoration after the granting of a £248,000 lottery grant. House Mill, which dates from 1776, is believed to be the largest tidal mill still in existence anywhere in the world. Built across the River Lea, the mill was used for flour-making and for a distillery located next door on Three Mills Island in Bow. The project, which is being managed by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust, involves the restoration of the mill as well as the adjoining Miller’s House and the creation of a visitor’s centre. The trust says it has also been given the “green light” for a further £2.65 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. See http://housemill.org.uk.

A three year project has made documents drawn up for King Henry III in the 13th century available on the internet for the first time. Project partners Canterbury Christ Church University, King’s College London, and the National Archives in Kew have translated and digitised the king’s ‘fine rolls’, written to record money and favours owed to the king. The rolls consist of 56 parchments – one for each year of his reign which started in 1216 and ended in 1272 – and contain as many as 40,000 entries amounting to some two million words. Some of the parchments, the originals of which are held at the National Archives, measure up to three metres in length. See www.finerollshenry3.org.uk.

On now: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Christmas festivity on a vast scale, Winter Wonderland includes the city’s largest open air ice rink, circus acts, a giant observation wheel, rides and eating places including the igloo-style E:Cube and the Spiegel Saloon. For more information see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.