Don’t forget to check the site next week when we do our annual most popular posts countdown.
Christmas came early for some of the residents at ZSL London Zoo this week. Asiatic lions Bhanu and Arya discovered brightly wrapped boxes scented with seasonal spices in the Land of the Lions while in the Gorilla Kingdom, the zoo’s troop of Western lowland gorillas found gifts of their favourite festive vegetables. “Gorillas Alika, Gernot, Mjukuu and Effie are always keen to clean their plates of all the festive veg at Christmas – they loved digging into their presents to find juicy carrots and tasty Brussels sprouts,” said head zookeeper Dan Simmonds. “And while lioness Arya carefully picked up her gifts and carried them off to play with later, Bhanu opened his all at once, rolling around in the boxes to release his favourite seasonal scents – nutmeg and cinnamon.” The zoo is open every day apart from Christmas Day. For more, see www.zsl.org/london-zoo. PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.
It’s Christmas in London and for such a festive occasion, one pub immediately springs to mind – The Churchill Arms.
The name is certainly not a mystery and doesn’t really have anything to do with the Christmas theme. It stems from, of course, wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill – or rather, his grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, John and Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, who were patrons here and which, in honour of Churchill and them, saw the pub so-named after World War II.
Churchill remains a theme in the interior where a good deal of related memorabilia can be found – including wartime posters, pictures of the man himself and a (fake) plaque commemorating Churchill’s use of the pub for his wartime broadcasts (there’s even a celebratory night held each year around Churchill’s birthday).
The pub, which is located at 119 Kensington Church Street, dates from 1750.
But in recent times, it’s become famous for its stunning Christmas light displays which this year reportedly feature some 80 Christmas trees and 22,000 lights. The pub is also known for its extraordinarily profuse flower displays which cost thousands of pounds each year and which have even won at none other than the Chelsea Flower Show.
It also holds the claim to fame of being the first London pub to serve Thai food when it did so as far back as 1988.
A Fullers pub, for more head to www.churchillarmskensington.co.uk.
• Find out what it’s like to live and work in the Earth’s polar extremes at Greenwich from today. The three day ‘Ice World Festival’ centres on the British Antarctic Survey’s vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, which is visiting Greenwich before beginning its first mission to the Antarctic. Visitors will also be able to meet real polar scientists and explorers and see the Boaty McBoatface submersible as well as treasures from the National Maritime Museum’s polar collection including relics from HMS Erebus and Terror and items belonging to Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton. While the ship can be seen from the dockside, a limited number of tickets are available for walk-up visitors to the festival (advanced booking tickets have sold out). Runs from today until 30th October. Admission is free. For more information, head here.
• More than 200 images – captured by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado over seven years – explore the rich diversity of the Amazon in an exhibition at the Science Museum. Amazônia provides a close-up look at one of the most unique environments on the planet through Salgado’s eyes, including panoramic scenery and the Indigenous peoples of the region (Salgado spent time with 12 different Indigenous groups over his period in the Amazon). Runs until March next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/amazonia.
• Father Christmas with return to The National Gallery for selected dates in November and December. The gallery’s Christmas experience will provide children with the chance to have their photo taken with Santa in his grotto, listen to an elven story in the winter forest set and receive a special token which they can exchange for a gift at the Elven Sorting Office. Meanwhile, Hendrick Avercamp’s painting A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle (about 1608–9) will be enlarged and reproduced on a canvas to provide a scenic backdrop for the activities. Admission charge applies. Bookings are now open. For more, head to www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/meet-father-christmas.
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In what has been, and continues to be, such a hard year for so many, we at Exploring London hope you’re still able to celebrate Christmas in some form this year…
Meantime, here’s the next four in our countdown of the 100 most popular posts of all time…
This tradition, the origins of which go back centuries, centres on a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which involves the blessing and cutting of a ‘Christmas Cheese’ with a sword.
The origins of the tradition go back to 1692 when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the Chelsea Pensioners – retired members of the British Army – for Christmas. Since 1959, it’s been organised by industry body Dairy UK and sees cheesemongers from across the UK donate cheeses to the hospital.
The ceremony involves the largest cheese among those donated being blessed and then cut with a sword by a selected pensioner. The cheese is then distributed to the pensioners at meal times in the run-up to Christmas.
This year a special COVID-safe ceremony was held and some 258 kilograms of cheese were donated to the hospital. The largest cheese – a 25 kilogram Montgomery Cheddar – was cut by Chelsea Pensioner George Reed who had a 25 year career in military as well as a career at the BBC.
As well as last year’s 60th anniversary ceremony aside, other milestones have taken place in 2016 – when Chelsea Pensioner Mary Johnston became the first woman to cut the ceremonial cheese – and in 2009, when two members of Territorial Army London Regiment bound for Afghanistan joined the ceremony for the first time.
Christmas came early at ZSL London Zoo on Monday when animals woke to find their presents had been delivered. Among them was a new Christmas climbing frame decorated with edible gifts for the ever-popular Bolivian black-capped squirrel monkeys, turkey wings for Sumatran tiger Asim and hanging stockings stuffed with vegetable trimmings for the ring-tailed lemurs. “Just like children all over the country when they wake up on Christmas morning, Asim loved tearing into his brightly wrapped presents to get at the meaty snacks inside, while our squirrel monkeys and lemurs enjoyed finding the festive treats hidden in their stockings,” said Angela Ryan, the Zoo’s animal manager. The zoo is open every day with the exception of Christmas Day itself. For more, see www.zsl.org/London. ALL PICTURES: © ZSL London Zoo
• Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be transported back to 1906 from Saturday as the palace community prepares for Christmas. Christmas Present, Christmas Past features a range of activities from carol singing around the tree to telling ghost stories (and looking at the traditions behind them) as well as live culinary demonstrations in the kitchens showing the evolution of Christmas dinner as we know it today. Meanwhile, the Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre returns next weekend (7th to 9th December) with more than 90 stalls set up in the palace courtyards selling mince pies, mulled wine and a host of other festive treats. And the palace’s ice-skating rink has returned to the Tudor West Front (and will be there until 6th January). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.
• Sir Edwin Landseer’s dramatic work – The Monarch of the Glen – is at the centre of a new exhibition celebrating the connections between the 19th century artist and the National Gallery. “Coming home” to the Trafalgar Square-based institution for the first time in more than 160 years, the painting – arguably the most famous animal painting in the world – is one of 14 works included in a new free show opening today. Among paintings created to decorate the Palace of Westminster after fire devastated the building in 1834, Landseer’s (1802-1873) work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, then housed in what is now the National Gallery building. It’s now on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, which acquired the work in 2017. This is the first London showing since 1983. Other works in the display include Landseer’s Ecorche drawing of a dog’s leg (1821), as well as paintings and drawings connected with the famous lions Landseer designed for Trafalgar Square including a John Ballantyne portrait of the artist modelling the lions in his studio and a work by Queen Victoria, whom Landseer tutored in etching, entitled A pencil drawing of a stag after Landseer’s mural on the Dining Room wall at Ardverikie Shooting-lodge (1847). Can be seen in Room 1 until 3rd February. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edwin Landseer, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ (about 1851), © National Galleries of Scotland
• More than 40 paintings created during the final year of World War I by artist Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) go on show at the National Army Museum in Chelsea tomorrow. Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918 shows his mastery of equine subjects as well as portraiture and landscapes. Munnings was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as an official war artist to capture the fighting front and logistics behind the scenes and in early 1918 was embedded with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The exhibition has been developed by the Canadian War Museum in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum and is supported but The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation. Can be seen until 3rd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.
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Christmas has arrived at ZSL London Zoo with a series of light sculptures illuminating a mile long festive trail. More than a million pea lights have been used in the first show of its kind at the zoo which taking a month to build, features 200 visual displays including a pair of giant golden giraffes (above), an 11 metre tall Christmas tree made of recycled Christmas sledges (below) and two illuminated flying flamingoes (below). Historic zoo buildings have been lit up as well, including the Grade I-listed Penguin Pool and the historic Mapping Terraces. The trail, which circles the zoo’s 36 acre site so as not to wake up the sleeping animals, has been created in partnership with Raymond Gubbay Limited and designed by Culture Creative. It can seen on selected nights until 1st January. Admission charge applies. For dates and times, see christmasatlondonzoo.co.uk. PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.
• Christmas at Kew kicks off tonight with the garden landscape once again transformed into a spectacular light and sound show. Highlights from this year’s display include a ‘Field of Light’ by Brighton based artists Ithaca which reaches across the landscape towards the newly restored Great Pagoda, a laser garden by Australian studio Mandylights, 300 illuminated origami boats floating on Kew’s lake in an installation by Italian artists Asther & Hemera, ‘Firework Trees’ lit up by explosions of coloured light, a seven metre tall Cathedral of Light, a fire garden and “enchanted walkway” of giant glowing peonies and papyrus by French artists TILT and, of course, the famous Palm House finale which brings the giant glasshouse to life with a show featuring criss-crossing laser beans, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen. Santa and his helpers can be found along the trail and there is a festival fairground with a Victorian carousel as well as food and drink at a range of stalls in Victoria Plaza. Runs from 5pm on select dates until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.kew.org/christmas. PICTURE – Below: The Fire Garden/Raymond Gubbay Ltd (RBG Kew).
• All 12 surviving portraits of celebrated 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters have been brought together for the first time in a major new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Gainsborough’s Family Album depicts the development of the Gainsborough girls from playful young children to fashionable adults with highlights including The Artist’s Daughters chasing a Butterfly (c1756) and The Artist’s Daughters with a Cat (c1760-1) as well as the little seen double full-length of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough as young women (c1774). More than 50 works are included in the display and a number have never been seen in the UK before. The latter include an early portrait of the artist’s father John Gainsborough (c 1746-8) and a drawing of Thomas and his wife Margaret’s pet dogs, Tristram and Fox. The display traces the career of the artist (1727-88) who, despite his passion for landscapes, painted more portraits of his family members than any other artist of the time or earlier. Together they form an “unusually comprehensive” visual record of an 18th century British kinship network, with several of its key players shown more than once at different stages of their lives. The exhibition runs until 3rd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• Artist William Heath Robinson and his fascination with domestic life is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner on Saturday. Heath Robinson’s Home Life centres on the fact that from about 1930 onwards, the artist’s humour was centred on domestic life including the construction of his house, ‘The Gadgets’, at the Ideal Home Exhibition of 1934 and the release, from 1936, of the first of his ‘How to’ books, How to Live in a Flat. The display features an early series of “Ideal Home” cartoons published in 1933 and rare photographs of ‘The Gadgets’ under construction at the Ideal Home Exhibition. There’s also original artwork from How to Live in a Flat and examples of a set of nursery china that he designed for a Knightsbridge department store in 1927. Runs until 17th February. Admission charge applies. For more see www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org.
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PICTURE: Rodolfo Marques/Unsplash
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.
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.
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.
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London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…