London’s oldest chophouse, Simpson’s, can be found in the City of London, just off Cornhill, and dates from the mid-18th century.

Thomas Simpson had opened his first ‘Fish Ordinary Restaurant’ in Bell Alley, Billingsgate, in 1723, catering to a clientele made up largely of those working at the Billingsgate (Fish) Market.

When that was demolished, he retired briefly before purchasing the Queen’s Arms in Bird in Hand Court off Cheapside.

Located in Ball Court Alley, Simpson opened the current establishment in 1757 (although the Grade II-listed building itself dates from the late 1600s or possibly early 1700s). It was a gift from his father.

Customs at the restaurant included having meals were presided over a chairman who would ensure lunch started promptly as one (their job also included introducing notable guests and measuring the cheese – a task related to a tradition of placing bets on the height, weight and girth of the cheese).

Seating is arranged in stalls and the layout is apparently consistent with that of the 19th century (although some things, thankfully, have changed – ladies were finally admitted in 1916).

For more, see www.simpsonstavern.co.uk.

PICTURES: Elisa.rolle (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Located in the heart of the City of London (actually, according to a myth, it’s the exact centre of the Roman-era city), Williamson’s Tavern dates from the mid-18th century.

The tavern, located in Groveland Court, just off Bow Lane, owes its name to Robert Williamson who bought residence which once stood on the site – and happened to be the home of the Lord Mayor of London – in  the mid-1700s.

It was Williamson who turned the premises, which had been built soon after the Great Fire of 1666, into a hotel and tavern (the Lord Mayor, meanwhile, moved into the George Dance-designed Mansion House in 1752).

Said to be popular among merchants and seafarers, the hotel, meanwhile, remained in the family until 1914 when James Williamson died and the property was auctioned.  The hotel eventually disappeared but the tavern – now housed in a building dating from the early 1930s – lives on.

There is a remnant of its glorious past nearby – King William III and Queen Mary II, who were said to have dined at the previous Lord Mayor’s residence, presented the Lord Mayor with a gift in the form of now Grade II-listed wrought-iron gates with their monogram and they still stand at one end of Groveland Court.

The tavern, meanwhile, claims to have “probably…the oldest excise license in the City of London”. It also features a stone plaque in the floor which, so the story goes, marks the exact centre of London (although its apparently covered by carpet) and there are some Roman-era bricks or tiles incorporated into a fireplace which were discovered during the 1930s rebuild.

It’s also said to have a resident ghost – Martha (also the name of one of the pub’s dining rooms). According to the pub’s website, police dogs won’t go near the place as a result while longer serving members of staff say they have all seen a painting of her in various parts of the pub (of course, no such painting exists).

The tavern is now part of the Nicholson’s chain. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/williamsonstaverngrovelandcourtlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Once located in Cowper’s Court, just off Cornhill, this City of London establishment was in the 1770s said to be a favoured place to gather of members of the East India Company.

Along with other coffee houses like the more famous Lloyds, it was one of those locations where shipping news would first be broken. As well as attracting those associated with the East India Company, it had also been popular with traders connected to the South Sea Company.

Most famously, this was where, in 1845, John Tawell was apparently apprehended for murdering his mistress Sarah Hart by giving her prussic acid, apparently to prevent his affair becoming known.

His arrest became famous thanks to the fact the telegraph system was used by police for the first time to help apprehend a suspect. In this case it was used to send a message from Slough, where a person matching Tawell’s description had been seen boarding a train to Paddington.

Police were hence waiting when Tawell arrived at Paddington. He was subsequently tailed and eventually arrested the next morning in the Jerusalem Coffee House.

Tawell was hanged in Aylesbury on 28th March that year following his conviction (he’d put forward a somewhat implausible defence that Hart had been killed after eating apples and accidentally ingesting the pips which contained the acid).

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem went into decline in the mid-19th century and eventually disappeared from the fabric of the city.

PICTURE: The entrance to Cowper’s Court today (Google Maps).

The grave holding the remains of Puritan preacher and writer John Bunyan, who died in August, 1688, now celebrates  the famed author of The Pilgrim’s Progress with an effigy lying atop a chest tomb. But it was not always so.

Bunyan, was in fact, first buried in the Baptist corner of the burial ground but it was understood that when the tomb of his friend John Strudwick was next opened (it was at Strudwick’s London home that Bunyan had died), his body would be moved into it. It’s thought this was done which Strudwick himself died in 1695.

Bunyan’s name was inscribed on the side of the monument over the tomb which took the form of a relatively unadorned stone chest in the Baroque style.

By the mid-1800s, however, this had fallen into decay and a public appeal was launched for the tomb’s restoration.

More than simply cleaning up the existing tomb, however, the Portland stone monument was completely reconstructed in 1862.

Designed by sculptor Edgar George Papworth, the new monument was again constructed as a chest, but this time with an effigy of Bunyan lying on top and two relief panels on the sides depicting scenes from his famous book.

The now Grade II* monument has been further restored a couple of times since, including after World War II when it was damaged by bomb shrapnel.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 8am to 7pm weekdays/9.30am to 7pm weekends; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx.

PICTURES: Top – Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams

This narrow City of London street, which runs from Fleet Street to St Bride Street, apparently has nothing to do with Mary Poppins. In fact, it’s named after a bird.

The name is said to be a corruption of ‘popinjay’, an archaic word for parrot (and later used to describe someone who is vain). So, what’s that got to do with London?

Well, the bird was apparently featured on the crest of the Abbot of Cirencester and in medieval times, their London property – a hostel or inn – stood where the court now stands and was given the name of Popyngaye.

In later years Popinjay Alley became Popinjay Lane, Popinjay Court and, eventually, Poppin’s Court.

The north end of the alley was cut off in 1870.

There was once a relief of a carved parrot over the entrance to the court to remind people of its history but it’s long gone.

PICTURE: jansos (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

A much-fought for building in the City of London, the neo-gothic Mappin & Webb building was built in the 19th century as a branch of the royal jewellers, Mappin & Webb.

Located on the corner of Poultry and Victoria Street opposite Mansion House – the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, the triangular-shaped building was designed by John Belcher and completed in 1870.

The building, which featured a cone-roofed tower on the main corner of the site, was granted Grade II status

Following a long – and complicated – battle over the future of the site (which involved no less than Prince Charles), the Mappin & Webb building was demolished in 1994.

The site is now 1 Poultry, which was completed in 1997 and subsequently became the youngest building to be listed as Grade II*. It was designed by James Stirling and is considered an exemplar of post-modernist architecture.

PICTURE: The Mappin & Webb building in 1993 (Derek Voller (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))

Millennium Bridge crossing the Thames between the City of London and South Bank. PICTURE: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash (image cropped).

London illuminated. PICTURE: Christopher Burns/Unsplash

A theatre historian believes he has discovered where William Shakespeare lived while he was writing some of his most famous works including Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While it has long been known the playwright lived close to the site of Liverpool Street station in the late 1590s, Geoffrey Marsh says an examination of official records has pinpointed the location as being on the site of what is now an office block at 35 Great St Helen’s, only a stone’s throw from The Gherkin. The BBC reports that Marsh, who is also the director of the V&A’s department of theatre and performance, found Shakespeare was a tenant of the Company of Leatherworkers and most likely lived among dwellings overlooking the churchyard of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, pictured above. PICTURE: Via Google maps

This former Threadneedle Street institution in the City of London was the headquarters of the South Sea Company.

Incorporated in 1711, the company was assigned a monopoly on British trade with Spanish America but when that failed to result in riches, it embarked upon a speculative scheme which ended in the economic collapse known as the ‘South Sea Bubble’ and saw many investors ruined.

Among those employed at the company as a clerk was essayist Charles Lamb who adopted his nom-de-plume, Elia, based on one of his fellow clerks.

The building, located on the corner with Bishopsgate was designed around a quadrangle. The back of it apparently burned down in 1826 and was subsequently rebuilt.

The building was partly remodelled in the 1850s and was eventually demolished at the end of the 19th century.

PICTURE: A 1750s engraving of Old South Sea House

Created as part of the City of London’s contribution to 1951’s Festival of Britain, these gardens are found just to the south-east of St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of a series of gardens located around the cathedral, they were created on the former site of the street known as Old Change in an area which had suffered considerable bomb damage in World War II.

Laid out by Sir Albert Richardson, the gardens feature a sunken lawn with a wall fountain at the west end which was a gift of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

The gardens, which are permanently open to the public, also contain Georg Erlich’s sculpture, The Young Lovers, which was erected on the garden’s upper terrace – above the water fountain at the west end – in 1973.

Some relandscaping took part in 2012 including the creation of a new garden to the west, called the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gardens.

PICTURES: Top – Diliff (licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0/image cropped); Right – David Adams

The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College reopens on Saturday following a two-year, £8.5 million restoration project. The hall, known as the UK’s “Sistine Chapel”, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Completed in 1705, its 4,000 square metre interior features a decorative scheme painted by Sir James Thornhill, the first British artist to be knighted, which took 19 years to complete. The paintings celebrate English naval power as well as the then newly installed Protestant monarchy with joint monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II as well as Queen Anne and King George I all represented in the artworks along with hundreds of other mythological, allegorical, historical and contemporary figures. The restoration project has also seen the King William Undercroft, located underneath the hall, converted into a new cafe, shop and interpretation gallery. Two cellar rooms from King Henry VIII’s palace – which once stood on the site – were discovered during the restoration works and are also now on public display. Other new touches include the return of a series of carved oak benches to the hall (having been introduced when it was used as an art gallery in the 19th century they were removed 100 years ago), two ‘treasure chests’ containing objects related to the ceiling artworks which can be handled, and new tour options – not just of the hall and undercroft but of the entire Old Royal Naval College site. There’s a host of special activities over the opening weekend, including a parade and official opening ceremony from 9.30am, the chance to meet historical characters, music, food stalls, kids activities and more. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ornc.org. PICTURED: The Old Royal Naval College, home of the Painted Hall.

The V&A has announced it is extending its sell-out Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition due to unprecedented demand. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum, which had originally been scheduled to close on 14th July, will now run until 1st September with new tickets made available on 15th of each month (there’s also a limited number of tickets available to purchase daily at 10am from the V&A’s Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; V&A members, of course, attend free-of-charge with no need to book). The exhibition, which initially sold out of its five month run with 19 days of opening, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. For more, see vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Merchant Navy Treasures: An Introduction to the Newall Dunn Collection. This display at the City of London’s Guildhall Library delves into the Newall Dunn Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive photographic and reference collections on merchant shipping, and showcases the achievements of shipping historian Peter Newall and artist and writer Laurence Dunn. Alongside images, press releases and newspaper cuttings, on show are company brochures, menus and other items from the ocean liners and cargo vessels of three famous lines from the golden age of shipping: the Cunard, Orient and Union-Castle. Admission is free. Runs until 24th May. For more, follow this link.

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

His name was once given to a prominent London fortification, Baynard’s Castle, and now lives on in a City of London ward – Castle Baynard. But who was Ralph Baynard?

A Norman nobleman, Baynard was among those who accompanied William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066.

He was rewarded with a barony centred on Little Dunmow in Essex; the parish church was founded by his wife, Lady Juga, in 1104, and their son Geoffrey founded an Augustinian priory dedicated to St Mary there in 1106.

Ralph Baynard was also granted permission to build Baynard’s Castle in the City of London – it sat where the Fleet River entered the Thames. He is said to have died in the reign of William Rufus, aka William II, who ruled from 1087 to 1100.

Baynard’s Castle in London was eventually razed by King John in 1213.

Baynard’s name, meanwhile, may also live on in the district of Bayswater.

The City of London’s largest rooftop viewing space – The Garden at 120 – has opened atop the newly opened Fen Court office building in Fenchurch Street. The viewing platform – located 15 storeys above the street – offers 360 degree views of the City and features a pergola planted with fruit trees and Italian wisteria, a water feature and coffee hut. Entry is free and access is between 10am and 6.30pm weekdays until 31st March (5pm on weekends) and between 10am and 9pm from 1st April to 30th September. For more, see www.thegardenat120.com. PICTURE: diamond geezer (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rembrandt’s drawing and prints are the subject of a new free exhibition at the British Museum. Marking 350 years since the death of Rembrandt van Rijn in 1669, Rembrandt: thinking on paper features more than 60 of the Dutch artist’s works ranging from quick sketches to fully realised compositions with subject matter including self-portraits, landscapes and Biblical scenes. Works include Young woman sleeping (Hendrickje Stoffels?) (c1654), his printing plate for Reclining female nude (1658), the pen-and-ink Sketches of an old man and child (c1639-40), Self-portrait, bareheaded, bust in frontal view (1629), Self-portrait drawing at a window (1648), the Raising of Lazarus (c1632) and his late, large drypoints the Three Crosses (1653) and Ecce Homo (1655). Runs until 4th August in Room 90. Entry is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The first posthumous retrospective of the work of Franz West (1947-2012) ever staged in the UK has opened at the Tate Modern. Franz West spans the artist’s career over four decades and includes examples from his series of early abstract small sculptures like Passstücke (Adaptives), furniture work first displayed in the artist’s pivotal 1989 exhibition at the Haus Lange Museum, as well as later, large-scale installations such as Auditorium (1992) and Epiphany on Chairs (2011). The artist’s works in papier-mâché – Legitimate Sculptures – are also featured and there’s a room devoted to Redundanz (1986), a three-part ensemble accompanied by text that stresses “the difference between language and art as ways of understanding the world”. The display finishes with an array of West’s dramatic aluminum works and a collection of maquettes for the artist’s outdoor sculptures, five of which are installed in the South Landscape. Runs until 2nd June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

A “human vending machine” appeared near St Paul’s Cathedral in central London on Monday – Human Rights Day – as part of an initiative to highlight the plight of the estimated 25 million people trapped in forced labour around the world. An initiative of the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute, the machine, which was only present for the day, was stocked with everyday food items to illustrate that fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and cheese bought in the UK are at high risk of being supplied, at some point in the chain, by forced labour. To be seen the university’s campus in Hull on Thursday, the ‘human vending machine’ is part of the “It’s Time to Break the Chain” campaign which the institute has launched to “galvanise consumer power and influence companies to combat slavery practices in supply chains across all sectors”. For more on how you can help “break the chain”, see www.hull.ac.uk/special/hidden-human-cost.aspx. PICTURE: David Parry/PA Wire (Courtesy University of Hull).

The Lord’s Mayor’s Show is coming up soon (10th November) so we thought it a good time to take a quick look at the life of one of the city’s most memorable Lord Mayors – Sir John Lawrence, who served in the office in 1664-65.

Sir John, a merchant and member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (and Master of the company in 1677), is remembered for the role he played during the Great Plague of 1665 which preceded the Great Fire of London the following year.

Following the arrival of the plaque in London, those with the means took to their heels and left the city for safer climes. But Sir John assured the public that he and the City officers would remain at their posts to keep law and order among the frightened populace.

He oversaw the issuing of a series of plague-related orders designed to stem the spread of disease and appointed people to oversee and attend to the needs of households affected by the disease and search out the bodies to be taken away as well as doctors to tend to the sick and help prevent infection.

His efforts in ensuring the food supply remained steady have been particularly praised as has his opening of his own home in St Helen’s Bishopsgate to those servants who were discharged when the households in which they worked fled the city.

His tenure as mayor is often favourably contrasted with that of his successor, Sir Thomas Bludworth but Sir John also had numerous other positions during his lifetime, including as president of St Thomas’ Hospital, a committee member of the East India Company and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Sir John was married and had two children. He died on 26th January, 1692, and was buried at the Church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

He is remembered on a plaque at Bunhill Fields for being mayor when, at the City’s expense, the burial ground was enclosed with a wall.

PICTURE: Part of the inscription at the gates of Bunhill Fields commemorating Sir John’s role in enclosing the burial ground. (Edwardx; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

 


The world’s first photographic experiments and earliest cameras, pictures by everyone from pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron to 20th century great Cecil Beaton, and a series of newly commissioned works by German photographer Thomas Ruff and American artist Penelope Umbrico are among attractions at the V&A’s new Photography Centre, the first phase of which opens tomorrow. Designed by David Kohn Architects, the new centre spans four galleries and more than doubles the space dedicated at photography at the South Kensington institution. The initial display, Collecting Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital, includes more than 600 objects from across the world including seminal prints and negatives by pioneers like William Henry Fox Talbot and Cindy Sherman, 20th century greats like Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans and Irving Penn, and contemporary photographers like Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mary McCartney and Martin Parr. There’s a pioneering botanical cyanotype by Anna Atkins, images by the world’s first female museum photographer – Isabel Agnes Cowper, and motion studies by Eadweard Muybridge as well as camera equipment, photographic publications, original documents and a “digital wall” to showcase cutting-edge photo imagery. The opening is being accompanied by a three week ‘spotlight’ on photography across the V&A including talks, screenings, courses, workshops and other events. Entry to the new centre in the V&A’s North East Quarter is free. A second phase, including a teaching and research space, browsing library and studio and darkroom for photographer residencies, will open in 2022. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURES: Top – Rendering of Gallery 99 in the new Photography Centre (© David Kohn Architects); Right – Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lightbody Fields 225, 2009, Gelaton silver print form a photogram (© Hiroshi Sugimoto, Victoria and Albert Museum).

The role women have played in the development of jazz music is the subject of a new exhibition at the Barbican Music Library in the City of London. Women in Jazz explores how social and political changes in the 20th century played a significant role in encouraging more female involvement in jazz and highlights the new generation of performers. The display includes photographs, journals, video and memorabilia from the National Jazz Archive. Opens on Tuesday and runs until 31st December. For more, follow this link.

The first major retrospective of textile artist Anna Albers (1899-1994) opens at the Tate Modern today. Anna Albers features her most important works – many shown in the UK for the first time – in a display including more than 350 objects including small-scale studies, large wall-hangings, jewellery made from everyday items, and textiles designed for mass production. It explores the many aspects of Albers’ practice including the intersections between art and craft hand-weaving and machine production as well as the artist’s writings, including The Pliable Plane: Textiles in Architecture (1957), On Designing (1959) and On Weaving (1965). Berlin-born Albers was a student at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and there began working with textiles – later taking her talent to the US and making many visits to Central and South America. The exhibition in the The Eyal Ofer Galleries runs until 27th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

This rather oddly named pub can be found at 45 Monument Street in the City of London, just a short walk (you may have guessed) from The Monument itself.

There actually nothing terribly mysterious about the name – it comes from a nonsensical narrative poem by Lewis Carroll which he puts in the mouths of those rambunctious twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the book, Through The Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, published in 1871.

No, the real mystery here is why this particular pub, which sits on the corner with Lovat Lane (renamed from Love Lane in the early 20th century; no prizes for guessing what went on there previously), was given this name.

The pub – and there’s been one on the site since at least the early 19th century – was apparently previously known as The Cock and once served the porters from the nearby Billingsgate Market on Lower Thames Street (just across the road). But after Billingsgate moved out to Docklands in 1982, the pub changed its name.

Why remains a matter of conjecture – although in the poem the two main characters encounter a bed of oysters which they eventually eat (perhaps there’s a link here to the fact Billingsgate was formerly located nearby?).

The rooms inside include the, given the pub’s moniker, appropriately named Lewis Carroll Bar and Dining Room.

The pub is now part of the Nicholson chain, previously having been under the Charrington and Fuller’s umbrellas. For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thewalrusandthecarpentermonumentlondon.

PICTURE: Chemical Engineer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

 

Following their sojourn at Lake Geneva where, in September, 1816, Mary Shelley (then Godwin) first started writing Frankenstein, Shelley and her lover – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – returned to England and then to London where on 30th December, 1816, they were married at St Mildred’s Church, Bread Street.

The marriage followed the suicide of Percy Shelley’s wife, Harriet, who was found drowned in the Serpentine in Hyde Park on 10th December that year. Harriet’s family had apparently resisted the poet taking custody of the couple’s two children and it has been reported that Percy was advised by lawyers that marrying Mary, pregnant to him again at this stage, would improve his chances of his winning custody of them.

Mary’s father William Godwin and step-mother Mary Jane Claremont Godwin attended the wedding and the rift which had divided the family due to the couple’s earlier elopement was apparently at least partly mended as a result. Others in attendance were the publisher and poet Leigh Hunt.

The church in which they were married once stood on the east side of the south end of Bread Street in the City of London (and is not to be confused with the Church of St Mildred, Poultry, which once stood near Mansion House).

Originally dating at least as far back as the early 13th century, it had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren in the years following.

In good condition and retaining many of Wren’s original fittings into the 20th century, the building was sadly destroyed by bombing in 1941 (and the parish subsequently united with that of St Mary le Bow). The site is now covered by the Grade II-listed Seventies office building, 30 Cannon Street.

A memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip, which now stands just off New Change, was once located in this church.

PICTURE: Interior of St Mildred, Bread Street from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839). (Via Wikipedia)

A massive wooden head has temporarily been added to London’s skyline this week as part of the month long celebration of London’s river, Totally Thames. The nine metre high sculpture ‘Head Above Water’, which stands on Queen’s Stone Jetty (also known as Gabriel’s Pier) near Gabriel’s Wharf on South Bank, has been made from cross-laminated timber sourced from sustainable forests. Deliberately gender, ethnicity and age neutral, it is the work of designer/sculptor Steuart Padwick and looks across the Thames at the City of London and St Paul’s Cathedral, standing “as a symbol of hope, bravery, compassion, positivity and change, for those who have come through or are still confronting mental health issues, and the people who support them”. The sculpture has been installed in support of the mental health campaign ‘Time to Change’ and at night is being lit with visitors able to interact with its changing colours to reflect their mood (for instructions on how to get involved, head to www.steuartpadwick.co.uk/head-above-water/.) The head can only be seen until 23rd September.

PICTURE: The head being installed (David Holt/licensed under CC BY 2.0)