Kenwood House in north London is being reopened to the public today following a £5.95 million restoration project which has seen the library returned to what Scottish architect Robert Adam had intended it to be. The project, which saw the Hampstead property closed since March last year, has also seen the restoration of three other Robert Adam-designed rooms – the entrance hall, Great Stairs and antechamber or entrance to the library – as well as the redecoration of four rooms in 18th century style, repainting of the exterior and the repair of the home’s roof – a job aimed at protecting the rooms and its stellar

Kenwood-House-Librarycollection of artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. English Heritage has also endeavoured to make the property more homely, replacing ticket desks and rope barriers with an open fire, warm rugs and leather couches on which visitors can relax. The library (pictured) was built and decorated to Adam’s designs between 1767 and 1770 as part of a wider remodelling of the villa for its owner Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Redecorated many times since, it was restored in the 1960s but this redecoration was later found to be inaccurate. The Caring for Kenwood restoration project, which has also seen restoration of the Kenwood Dairy, was funded by a £3.89 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as support from the Wolfson Foundation and other donors. To coincide with the reopening, a new app exploring Kenwood House has been released which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/. PICTURE: English Heritage/Patricia Payne.

Head out on a “robot safari” this weekend with a special free event at Science Museum in South Kensington. Robot SafariEU, part of Eurobotics week, features 13 biometric robots from across Europe including an underwater turtle robot, a shoal of luminous fish robots, a robotic cheetah cub and Pleurobot, a robotic salamander. Roboticists from across Europe will be on hand to help visitors interact with the bots. Suitable for all ages, the event kicked off on Wednesday night and runs again on the weekend. Admission is free but timed tickets are required. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RobotSafari.

A memorial to author, scholar and apologist CS Lewis was dedicated at Westminster Abbey last Friday – the 50th anniversary of his death. Conducting the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said Lewis was “one of the most significant Christian apologists of the 20th century” and the author of stories that had “inspired the imagination and faith of countless readers and film-goers”. Douglas Gresham, younger stepson of Lewis, read from the author’s book, The Last Battle, at the service. The memorial is located in Poet’s Corner in the abbey’s south transept. For more see www.westminster-abbey.org.

A Blue Plaque commemorating Al Bowlly – described as “Europe’s most popular crooner and famous radio and record star” – will be unveiled at his home in Charing Cross Road this week. Bowlly, who lived between 1899 and 1941, was the voice beyond songs like Goodnight Sweetheart and The Very Thought Of You. The English Heritage Blue Plaque will be unveiled at Charing Cross Mansions, 26 Charing Cross Road – his home during the pinnacle of his career. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Kew Gardens has opened its gates after dark for the first time with a “captivating show of lights, sound and landscape” this festive season. A mile long illuminated trail, created in partnership with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay, will take visitors’ through the garden’s unique tree collections, kicking off at Victoria Gate where a Christmas village (and Santa’s Woodland Grotto) is located. The gardens will be open every Thursday to Sunday until 23rd December and then be open every night from 26th December to 4th January from 4.45pm to 10pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org/Christmas.

VivienLeighActress Vivien Leigh is the star of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery. Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration tells her story with a focus on her Academy Award-winning role in 1939’s Gone With The Wind. The display features more than 50 portraits of Leigh by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean and Madame Yevonde – many of which have never been exhibited in the gallery before – and a selection of memorabilia including magazine covers, vintage film stills and press books. Among the photos will be a newly acquired image of Leigh and her husband, Laurence Olivier, taken by British photojournalist Larry Burrows at a garden party in 1949 (pictured), along with two rarely seen portraits of Leigh – one taken on the set of The School for Scandal by Vivienne in 1949 and the other by Paul Tanqueray in 1942. The exhibition will be held in Room 33 and runs until 20th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE:  Copyright – Larry Burrows Collection 2013.

Daytripper – Oxford

September 16, 2011

The “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is a delight for the student of historic architecture, boasting an impressive array of medieval and later, classically-inspired, buildings.

Only about an hour from London by train (leave from Paddington Station), Oxford was established as a town in the 9th century and rose to prominence during the medieval period as the location of a prestigious university, an institution which remains synonymous with the city today.

Major development followed the Norman Conquest the castle was constructed, the remains of which were included in a £40 million redevelopment several years ago of the area in which it stands and which now houses the Oxford Castle Unlocked exhibition which looks at some of the key figures in the castle’s past (you can also climb St George’s Tower for some great views over the city).

The university first appears in the 1100s and gradually expanded over the ensuing centuries gradually evolved to encompass the many medieval colleges which can still be seen there today.

Something of a hotbed of activity during the Reformation, Oxford saw the burning of three bishops – Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer at a site marked by a memorial in Magdalen Street. Constructed in the 1840s, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who drew inspiration from the Eleanor Crosses King Edward I had erected in honor of his deceased wife, Eleanor of Castile, following her death in 1290.

Oxford was also the site of the headquarters of King Charles I during the English Civil War after the king was forced to leave London (the town eventually yielded to parliamentarian forces after a siege in 1646) and was later home to the court of King Charles II after he fled London during the Great Plague of 1665-66.

Canals arrived in the late 18th century and the railways followed. Industrialisation came – in particular, in the 20th century, in the form of a large car manufacturing plant at the suburb of Cowley – and with it an increasingly cosmopolitan population. But at its heart Oxford remains a student city and it’s the students that continue to provide the lively atmosphere in the city centre.

Look for Carfax Tower to get your bearings – formerly the tower of a 14th century church, this lies at the heart of the town and can be climbed for some great views over the surrounding streets. Some of the colleges are also open to the public (see noticeboards outside the colleges for times) – particularly worth visiting is Christ Church which dates from 1524 and, founded by Cardinal Wolsey, was initially known as Cardinal’s College. It features the Tom Tower, home of the bell Great Tom, which was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren. The college, which is unique in that the college chapel is also a cathedral, is also home to the Christ Church Picture Gallery.

Other colleges of note include the beautiful Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin, it was founded in 1458 – alumni have included writers John Betjeman, CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde), All Souls (founded in 1438 with King Henry VI its co-founder), and Merton College (the oldest of Oxford’s colleges, it was founded in 1264 and is home to Mob Quadrangle, the oldest quadrangle in the university).

Other university buildings which are a must include the Radcliffe Camera – now the reading room of the Bodleian Library, this Baroque rotunda dates from 1748 and was built as a memorial to 18th century physician Dr John Radcliffe, the Sheldonian Theatre – another of Wren’s designs, it was built in the 1660s as the university’s principal assembly room, and St Mary the Virgin Church – the official church of the university, the present building partly dates from the 13th century and boasts terrific views from the tower.

Make sure you also take the time to wander through the water meadows along the River Cherwell (there are also punt rides) and walk along the River Thames, known as the Isis as it passes through Oxford. Keep an eye out also for the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, similar in design to the Venetian landmark, it spans New College Lane and joins two sections of Hertford College.

Other sites in Oxford include the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Considered of the UK’s best, the original Ashmolean was the first purpose built museum in England, opening in 1683. It now houses treasures include art and antiquities with the late ninth century Alfred Jewel, said to have been made for King Alfred the Great, among its prized objects. Other museums include the Pitt Rivers Museum which cares for the university’s collection of anthropology and world archaeology and includes exhibits brought back to Britain by explorer Captain James Cook.

Take the time also to wander through the covered market off high street which has some interesting shops selling everything from clothes to fresh food and flowers and gifts. Fans of Inspector Morse, meanwhile, may also enjoy seeing some of the sites of particular significance in the TV series – there’s an interactive online map here.

A vibrant city redolent with history, Oxford remains of England’s jewels. Perfect as a day-trip destination from London.