A-Ship's-OperaThe Mayor’s Thames Festival kicks off tomorrow and runs for 10 days until 15th September. This year’s highlight’s include the day long A Ship’s Opera which culminates in a sound and light “spectacular” at Tower Bridge, large-scale artworks placed on boards along the river, an exhibition of more than 50 artworks inspired by the Diamond Jubilee Pageant along the Thames, a film celebrating the people who live and work on the river which will be shown for free on an outdoor screen, riverside choral performances, boat races – including the world’s slowest river race and the longest race on the Thames – and the Source to Sea River Relay in which a bottle of Thames water, filled at the Thames’ source, will be relayed by walkers, swimmers, rower and sailors for the entire length of the river. Most activities will be focused on the stretch of river between Lambeth Bridge and St Katharine Docks. For a full program of all events, check out www.thamesfestival.org.

Last year’s Olympics and Paralympics will be celebrated again in events taking place this weekend. On Saturday – a year since the Paralympic Games closed – disabled athletes and performers will descend on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a day of celebration to mark National Paralympic Day. Part of the Mayor’s Liberty Festival, an annual showcase of deaf and disabled artists, highlights will include an aerial and sway performance – ‘The Limbless Knight’ – and the ‘Miracoco Luminarium’, an interactive light sculpture. The free day runs from noon to 8pm. For more information, see queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/events/2013/6/disability-sport (note that registration is required to watch paralympians in action in the newly reopened venue, the Copper Box). Meanwhile on Sunday, Hampstead Heath will host the annual Give it a Go! Olympic legacy festival. Kids will have the chance to take part in everything from penalty shootouts and street dance, boxing and fancy dress and circus workshops as well as martial arts and rugby sessions, and free tennis lessons. The day runs from 1pm to 5.45pm. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/hampsteadheath.

• Victorian revivalism is under examination in a new exhibition at the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery. The multi-media, multi-sensory show Victoriana: The Art of Revival explores the work of contemporary artists inspired by the 19th century – including Yinka Shonibare, Grayson Perry and Paula Rego – and features graphic design, film, photography, ceramics, taxidermy, furniture, textiles and fine art. More than 70 works are included – among them is a piece created specially for the show, Paul St George’s ‘Geistlich Tube’ – and they’re grouped under four themes – the Neo-Victorian Identity, Time Travel, The Cute and the Curious, and The Reimagined Parlour. The exhibition opens on Saturday and runs until 8th December. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/victoriana.

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Ravens

OK, so they’re not people as such, but the ravens at the Tower of London are renowned the world over.

Known as the “Guardians of the Tower”, there are currently as many as eight ravens living at the tower, lodged in a space on the grass next to the Wakefield Tower.

Raven-pensLegend has it that there must be at least six ravens living at the Tower – should they leave, not only will the Tower fall but the kingdom as well (although we hasten to add that it’s been argued this tradition only started in the Victorian age and that there have been times when the numbers of ravens dropped below the required six, such as at the end of World War II when only one raven remained).

It was King Charles II who first ordered the ravens be protected – an order which must have upset Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed who complained after he found that the birds were interfering with the observation work he was carrying out from the Tower’s north-east turret. He later moved out to Greenwich.

The eight ravens who now live at the tower include Rocky, Merlin, Hugine and the latest additions Jubilee – given to the Tower last year to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and Grip, named after Charles Dickens’ pet raven.

The birds are looked after by a team of four headed by the raven master, Chris Skaife, who each day feed them 170 grams (six ounces) of raw meat and special biscuits soaked in animal blood.

Not all ravens can cut the mustard to work at the Tower – one recent addition Pearl was apparently bullied by other ravens and had to be withdrawn. And while the birds have the feathers on one wing trimmed to stop them escaping to a new life on the wing, that hasn’t stopped some from doing so including Grog who took off in 1981 and was last seen outside an East End pub.

The oldest raven to ever live at the Tower was Jim Crow, who died at age of 44 in 1928.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.45 adults; £10.75 children under 15; £18.15 concessions; £57.20 for a family; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.  

Bompas-&-Parr-with-pineapplesKew Gardens is all about food this summer and autumn with the launch of IncrEdibles: A Festival to Feed the Imagination this Sunday. Visitors are being encouraged to take part in a range of food-related activities including taking a fruit-shaped boat on the Palm House Pond around a floating pineapple island (the Tutti Frutti Boating Lake has been designed by “culinary creators” Bompas & Parr – pictured right), checking out a ‘global gastronomic garden’ featuring more than 90 edible plants on the Great Lawn, and listening to volunteer guides in the Palm House discussing how many of our foods have their origins in the rainforest. The festival also features a range of talks, tours and tastings and you can sample some special foods at the onsite eateries. The festival runs until 3rd November. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: Bompas & Parr

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II standing on the Cosmati pavement in Westminster Abbey will go on public display for the first time this afternoon at the abbey as part of the celebrations surrounding the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. The Coronation Theatre: Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is the work of Australian-born, London-based artist Ralph Heimans and has been acquired by the abbey for its collection. The painting, which was officially unveiled in London for the Diamond Jubilee last year, was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra until the end of March. The painting can be viewed in the chapter house at the abbey from 2pm today and will remain on display until 27th September. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

A blue plaque commemorating late comic duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise has been unveiled at the Teddington Studios in west London. The Heritage Foundation plaque was reportedly unveiled by Morecambe’s widow Joan and daughter Gail. Teddington’s Studio One was where the last four series of the duo’s show were produced.

On Now: Francis Goodman: Back in Focus. This display at the National Portrait Gallery features more than 40 black and white photographs spanning the career of fashion and society photographer Francis Goodman (1913-1989), from the 1930s to the 1970s and includes portraits of the likes of artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud as well as writers including Noel Coward and Nancy Mitford. The exhibition runs until 3rd November. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Commonly thought to be older than it actually is due to its Gothic stylings (although, to be fair, parts of it do date from medieval times), the Palace of Westminster – or, as it’s more commonly known, the Houses of Parliament – didn’t actually take on much of its current appearance until the latter half of the 19th century.

The need for a new building for parliament arose after 1834 when a fire, caused by the overheating of two underfloor stoves used to incinerate the Exchequer’s obsolete tally sticks, tore through the former complex, leaving only some structures from the old palace intact. They included the 11th century Westminster Hall (the largest in Europe when it was built), 14th century Jewel Tower and a chapterhouse, crypt and cloisters, all of which was once attached to the now gone St Stephen’s Chapel.

Houses-of-Parliament2While King William IV offered the use of Buckingham Palace for Parliament, the idea – along with a host of other options – was rejected as unsuitable. Instead, a competition was held for a new design and after almost 100 entries were considered, architect Charles Barry and his design for a new palace in the perpendicular Gothic style was chosen. Interestingly, while Barry was a classical architect, under the terms of the competition, designs were required to be in a Gothic style, thought to embody conservative values .

Incorporating some of the remains of the old palace – including Westminster Hall but not the Jewel Tower which to this day stands alone – the design was based around a series of internal courtyards with the House of Commons and House of Lords located on either side of a central lobby (first known as Octagonal Hall). The design involved reclaiming some land from the Thames so the building’s main river-facing facade could be completed.

Towers stand at either end of the complex – the Victoria Tower over the Sovereign’s Entrance at the southern end of the complex (for many years the tallest square stone tower in the world) and the narrower tower formerly known as the Clock Tower which houses the bell Big Ben, at the northern end – and there is a central Octagonal Tower which stands directly over the Central Lobby. The Clock Tower, incidentally, was renamed the Elizabeth Tower last year in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (for more on it and Big Ben, see our earlier entries here and here).

Other towers include the Speaker’s Tower (located at the northern end of the building on the waterfront, this contains a residence for the Speaker), the Chancellor’s Tower (located at the southern end, it too contained a residence originally used by the Lord Chancellor) and St Stephen’s Tower – located in the middle of the building’s west front, it contains the public entrance to the building. Significant other rooms in the palace complex include the Robing Room – where the Queen puts on her ceremonial robes and crown before the State Opening of Parliament – and the Royal Gallery, used for state occasions.

The foundation stone (the building was constructed out of sand-coloured limestone from Yorkshire) was laid in 1840 and construction of the monumental building – which features more than 1,100 rooms and two miles of passageways – wasn’t completely finished until the 1870s although most of the work had been completed by 1860 (the year Barry died). The House of Lords first sat in their new chamber in 1847 and the House of Commons in 1852 (it was at this point that Barry was knighted for his work).

The cost, meanwhile, originally estimated at less than £750,000, ended up coming in at more than £2 million.

Much of the interior decoration owes its appearance to the Gothic revivalist Augustus Pugin who designed everything from wallpapers, to floor tiles and furnishings. Pugin also helped Barry with the external appearance but like Barry died before the project was completely finished (in 1852).

The palace was bombed numerous times in World War II – in one raid, the Commons Chamber was destroyed as firefighters opted to save the much older Westminster Hall instead. It was later rebuilt under the direction of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed by 1950. Other aspects of the building have also been restored.

A Grade I-listed building classified as a World Heritage Site, Barry’s Houses of Parliament remain one of London’s most iconic structures. We’ll be looking in more detail at some of the building’s features in future posts.

WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours (75 minutes) are run from 9.15am to 4.30pm on Saturdays (also six days a week during summer opening); COST: £15 adults/£10 concessions/£6 children five to 15 years (children under five are free). Prices go up after 1st April – check website for details and to purchase tickets (tours for UK residents, including climbing the Elizabeth Tower, can also be arranged through your MP); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.

For more, see Robert Wilson’s guide to the The Houses of Parliament or David Cannadine’s indepth,  The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture. For more on the story of the fire in 1834, see head parliamentary archivist Caroline Shenton’s recent book The Day Parliament Burned Down.

And so we come to the final two entries in our countdown and both, not suprisingly, are part of our Diamond Jubilee related coverage…

2. LondonLife – A look back at Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Concerning a V&A exhibition of portraits of the Queen.

1. Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee with 10 royal London locations – 5. Buckingham Palace. One of a series looking at London locations associated with the Queen, this examined some of the history of London’s most famous palace.

Wishing all our readers a very Happy New Year!

The tower at the northern end of the Houses of Parliament is known to many simply as Big Ben – what isn’t often realised is that (as was pointed out in this earlier article) Big Ben actually refers to a bell inside the tower and not the tower itself. The tower, rather, has the rather plain moniker of The Clock Tower. But in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, that’s all about to change.

News broke this week that politicians have decided to rename the tower the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. The move does have precedent – the great southern tower which stands over the Sovereign’s Entrance to the House of Lords was once known as the King’s Tower but was renamed the Victoria Tower in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (Queen Victoria is the only other British monarch to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee).

The 96 metre high tower, part of the Houses of Parliament (officially known as the Palace of Westminster), is not the first clock tower to stand on the site of the palace. The first, located on the north side of New Palace Yard, was built in 1288-90 in the reign of King Edward I and contained a bell and clock.

It was replaced in 1367 with a tower that featured the first public chiming clock in England. This second tower was demolished in 1707 after falling into disrepair and replaced with a sundial.

Following a fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, architect Sir Charles Barry was selected to design new buildings to house Parliament but interestingly his initial designs didn’t include a clock tower – this was added to the plans in 1836.

Construction of the new Clock Tower, which was built from the inside out and clad in Yorkshire Anston stone and Cornish granite, began in September 1843 but wasn’t completed until 1859 following considerable delays. The ‘lantern’ at the top is known as the ‘Ayrton Light’, named for Acton Smee Ayrton, an MP and the First Commissioner of Works in the 1870s. Not installed until 1885, it is lit up when either House is sitting at night.

The clock was constructed by Edward John Dent and his stepson Frederick to the designs of Edmund Beckett Denison. It included a “revolutionary mechanism” known as the ‘Grimthorpe Escapement’ (Denison was later created Baron Grimthorpe), which helped ensure the clock’s accuracy despite external factors like wind pressure on the clock’s hands and which was adopted in many subsequent clocks. The design of the dials were a collaboration between Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin.

The clock was installed in April 1859 but the cast-iron hands were too heavy and had to be replaced with copper ones. It began keeping time on 31st May, 1859.

It’s worth noting that the tower tilts at 0.26 degrees to the north-west but experts say this is apparently not going to be a major structural problem for 10,000 years.

For more on the Clock Tower including a terrific virtual tour, see www.parliament.uk/bigben. It is possible to tour the Houses of Parliament – including climbing the 334 steps to the top of the Clock Tower – but this is only open to UK residents (and they book up months in advance). For more on the tours, see www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/ukvisitors/bigben/.

UPDATED: Last week we looked at some of the monuments marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in London, so this week we’re taking a look at some of the monuments marking the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrating what were then 50 years on the throne in 2002.

The year  was marked with celebrations, including a Golden Jubilee Weekend, not unlike that experienced in London over last weekend, which featured public concerts in Buckingham Palace gardens including the ‘Party at the Palace’ pop concert, flyovers including one by a Concorde with the Red Arrows, a National Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral and a Jubilee Procession down The Mall.

In addition, the celebrations included the first ever parade of all the Queen’s bodyguards – this 300 strong group featured detachments from the Gentlemen at Arms (created by King Henry VIII in 1509), the Yeoman of the Guard (created by King Henry VII in 1485) and Yeoman Warders (based at the Tower of London).

As with the Silver Jubilee, the Queen more than 70 towns in the UK and visited countries overseas including Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Among the monuments in London marking the Golden Jubilee are:

• Golden Jubilee Sundial, Old Palace Yard (pictured). Designed by Quentin Newark, this was Parliament’s gift to the Queen and was installed in 2002 as part of the yard’s revamp. The dial, which is ‘set’ to Greenwich Mean Time and can be found just outside the eastern end of Westminster Abbey, features a quote in its outer circle from William Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, part III: “To carve out dials quaintly, point by point, thereby to see the minutes how they run: how many makes the hour full complete, how many hours brings about the day, how many days will finish up the year, how many years a mortal man may live.”

• King’s Stairs Memorial Stone, Bermondsey. This memorial stone located on the edge of King’s Stairs Gardens by the Thames in Bermondsey was first installed to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. In 2002, the other side of the stone was inscribed to mark the Golden Jubilee and unveiled in the presence of the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

• Dovehouse Green, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We omitted to mention this last week – located on an old burial ground granted by Sir Hans Sloane in 1733,  Dovehouse Green was laid out in 1977 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee and the Golden Jubilee of the Chelsea Society and was refurbished in 2002 to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (it reopened in 2003).

• Great Ormond Street Hospital. Not strictly a Golden Jubilee memorial, there is a plaque close to the hospital’s main entrance which commemorates the Queen’s visit to the hospital to mark its 150th anniversary in 2002, “Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee Year”.

• Golden Jubilee Footbridges. One memorial accidentally left off the list initially was the Golden Jubilee Bridges which run along either side of the Hungerford Bridge, between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges. The new four metre wide footbridges, which feature a particularly complex design, were named the Golden Jubilee Footbridges in honor of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. They replaced an earlier – and somewhat notorious – footbridge which cantilevered off the side of the railway bridge.

PICTURE: Wallyg

UPDATED: Excitement has been building for months ahead of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations which include a 1,000 boat flotilla which will sail down the Thames on Sunday, the Diamond Jubilee concert on Monday and National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday which will be followed by a ceremonial procession back to Buckingham Palace.

• First to the flotilla. The formal river procession will be held between 2pm and 6pm, starting upriver of Battersea Bridge and finishing downriver of Tower Bridge. The Queen and her family will be boarding the Royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, near Albert Bridge at 2.30pm and will travel upriver at the centre of the flotilla with the aim of pulling up alongside HMS President, near Tower Bridge, at 4.15pm.

The flotilla will be one of the largest ever assembled on the river and feature rowing, working and pleasure boats of all shapes and sizes decked out for the occasion. In addition as many as 30,000 people will be aboard passenger boats and there will also be music barges and boats spouting geysers as well as specially constructed craft like a floating belfry. It is estimated that it will take the flotilla around 75 minutes to pass any static point along the route.

Downriver of London Bridge, near the end of the pageant’s seven mile (11 kilometre) course, a gun salute will be fired and the procession will pass through an ‘Avenue of Sail’ formed by traditional sailing vessels, oyster smacks, square riggers, naval vessels and others. For more on the pageant (including the location of large viewing screens – these positions will be regulated from 8am onwards – and road closures as well as an interactive map of the route), head to www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.

• Diamond Jubilee Concert and Beacons. To be held outside Buckingham Palace, close to the Victoria Memorial, on the evening of Monday, 4th June, the concert – which starts at around 7.30pm and features everyone from Elton John to Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey – will be televised live by the BBC (unless you’re lucky enough to have one of the 10,000 balloted tickets meaning you get to have a picnic in the palace gardens and see the concert). For those who can’t go but would like to experience some of the atmosphere, Royal Parks are setting up screens along The Mall, in St James’s Park and in Hyde Park.

At 10.30pm that night, the Queen will light the National Beacon outside Buckingham Palace, the last in a network of beacons to be lit across the country. More than 4,000 beacons will be lit by communities across the UK and in Commonwealth countries around the world between 10-10.30pm that night (for more on the beacons, see www.diamondjubileebeacons.co.uk).

• National Service of Thanksgiving and Carriage Procession. On Tuesday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will leave Buckingham Palace at 10.15am and travel by car to St Paul’s Cathedral via the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, down the Strand and Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s. There they and the 2,000 invited guests will attend the National Service of Thanksgiving, conducted by the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Rev Dr David Ison (the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach).

At 11.30am, the Queen and Duke will then head to Mansion House for a reception (via St Paul’s Churchyard and Queen Victoria Street), hosted by the Lord Mayor of London David Wootton, Court of Aldermen and Court of Common Council. Other members of the Royal family will attend a reception at Guildhall. At 12.30pm, the  Queen and members of the Royal Family will then head to Westminster Hall (via Queen Victoria Street, St Paul’s Churchyard, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, the Strand, Whitehall and Parliament Square), entering through the Sovereign’s Entrance of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) at 12.40pm. There, they will attend the Diamond Jubilee Lunch.

At 2.20pm, the Queen and Prince Philip will lead a carriage procession from the Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace (via New Palace Yard, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Mall), riding in a 1902 State Landau. They will be followed by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in a State Landau, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate) and Prince Harry in another State Landau. If it’s raining, these will be replaced by the Australian State Coach, Queen Alexandra’s State Coach and the Glass Coach. Military personnel will line the route, a 60 gun salute will be fired and a Guard of Honor will await them in the Buckingham Palace forecourt.

At 3.30pm, the Queen and members of the Royal Family in the carriage procession will appear on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds and witness an RAF flypast and a Feu de Joie – a celebratory volley of rifle fire – which will be given as a salute in the palace forecourt.

There’s plenty more happening over the weekend including many local street parties – far too much for us to record here. So for more, head to the official Diamond Jubilee site, www.thediamondjubilee.org (or The Big Lunch for local lunches – www.thebiglunch.com). You can purchase a copy of the official souvenir programme online at www.royalcollectionshop.co.uk/diamond-jubilee-1/diamond-jubilee-official-souvenir-programme.html or download it at www.itunes.co.uk.

Reckon you can take a good photo? We’re looking for great images of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (just email us at exploringlondon@gmail.com).

Want to read more about the Queen? Why not check out Sixty Glorious Years: Queen Elizabeth II, Diamond Jubilee, 1952-2012, Queen Elizabeth II: A Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Album, or Debrett’s: The Queen – The Diamond JubileeFor related music, check out Diamond Jubilee: A Classical CelebrationThe Diamond Jubilee Album or Gary Barlow & the Commonwealth Band’s Sing EP (featuring Prince Harry).

Like your Royal Family large? The largest ever photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their four children has been displayed on South Bank building, Sea Containers, in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The iconic picture of the family – which also includes Earl Mountbatten, uncle to Prince Philip, and Princess Anne’s then husband Mark Phillips – was taken during 1977’s Silver Jubilee by an unknown photographer. The 100 by 70 metre image, which weighs nearly two tons, took eight people more than 45 hours to put into place on the building’s facade overlooking the Thames. It was erected by the owner of Sea Containers as a tribute to be seen during this weekend’s Jubilee Flotilla (and also to hide development work taking place behind as the building is transformed into a Mondrian hotel – Europe’s first – and office space.

• Leicester Square officially reopened last night following a £15.3 million transformation which has seen every paving stone replaced, new plants, and 40 new water jets placed around the Grade II listed fountain and statue of William Shakespeare. The 17 month makeover also included new lighting, new seating and a refurb of the underground toilets. The square – which owes its name to Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, who purchased this land in 1630 and, after building himself a mansion, kept aside part of the land for public use – now welcomes as many as 250,000 tourists a day and is known as one of the world’s premiere sites for the release of new films.

• The Royal Academy of Arts is marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a new exhibition opening tomorrow which features a selection of paintings by Royal Academicians elected during the early part of the Queen’s reign. The Queen’s Artists will include works by Jean Cooke, Frederick Gore and Ruskin Spear and will be displayed in the Reynolds and Council Rooms. Meanwhile The Saloon will house a collection of sculptures, paintings and drawings prepared by Royal Academicians for British coins and royal seals on loan from the Royal Mint Museum. The collection includes portraits of the Queen by Edward Bawden and Sir Charles Wheeler which have never before been shown in public, and Sir Anthony Caro’s new coin design of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Over in the Tennant Gallery, The King’s Artist’s George III’s Academy, will look at the king’s role in the foundation of the academy in 1768 and his influence in selecting the first artists. Highlights include portraits of King George III (pictured) and Queen Charlotte painted by the academy’s first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Copyright Royal Academy of Arts, London/John Hammond.

• A new exhibition focusing on Londoners and their treasured souvenirs commemorating Queen Elizabeth II opens tomorrow at the Museum of London. At Home with the Queen features 12 photographic portraits of Londoners at home with their mementos as well as a selection of royal commemorative objects from the museum’s collection. The latter include trinkets produced for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, official Coronation Day street decorations, Silver Jubilee paper tableware and souvenirs relating to the current Diamond Jubilee. Runs until 28th October. Admission is free. For more (including a series of events running on conjunction with the exhibition), see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The Royal Parks’ Shire horse, Jed, retired last week after a decade of service working in Richmond Park. The Queen presented a commemorative retirement rosette to Jed who was born in 1993 and joined the Royal Parks from Bass Brewery in Burton upon Trent almost 10 years ago. Horses have been used in Richmond Park since it was enclosed by King Charles I in 1637. The horses took a break in 1954 but the Shires were reintroduced in 1993 as a way to sustainably manage the parkland. For more on Richmond Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

On Now: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. This major free exhibition at the British Museum is part of the august institution’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and traces the history of the horse from domestication around 3,500 BC through to present day, with a particular focus on Britain’s equestrian tradition, from the introduction of the Arabian breed in the 18th century to events like Royal Ascot. Highlights include one of the earliest known depictions of horse and rider – a terracotta mould found in Mesopotamia dating from around 2000 to 1800 BC, a cylinder seal of Darius dating from 522 to 486 BC depicting the king hunting lions in a chariot, a 14th century Furusiyya manuscript, an Arabian manual of horsemanship, and the 19th century Abbas Pasha manuscript, the primary source of information about the lineage of purebred Arabian horses acquired by Abbas Pasha (mid-nineteenth century viceroy of Egypt). The exhibition is being held in Room 35. Runs until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when Chelsea is all abloom! This year the flower show is marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a specially designed flower bed designed by the Parish of St Helier in Jersey, the centrepiece of which is a rotating Jersey Accession Issue Postal stamp (pictured above). During a visit to the Flower Show on Monday (pictured below, this took place prior to the public opening today), Queen Elizabeth II, patron of the show, awarded the first ever Diamond Jubilee Award for the Best Exhibit in the Great Pavilion to HM Hyde & Son for their display of lilies. Among the other ways in which the show is marking the Diamond Jubilee is the opening of an exhibition of photographs of the Queen’s past visits to the show. The flower show runs until Saturday (while tickets are sold out, you can check in person daily at the ticket office for returned tickets). For more, see www.rhs.org.uk/Shows-Events/RHS-Chelsea-Flower-Show/2012. PICTURES: Andy Paradise (courtesy of RHS).

Given we’re marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at sites of significance to her story located in London, it’s perhaps only fitting that we take a look at the nearest royal residence outside the city.

Windsor, located as close as half an hour by train from London’s Paddington station (or around 50 minutes to an hour from Waterloo), boasts plenty to see including the historic town centre, nearby Eton, great river and country walks and, of course, Legoland. But today our attention will remain on Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

There has been a fortress on this site since shortly after the Norman invasion when in about 1080 King William the Conqueror ordered it constructed on a ridge above the river bank as part of a series of defensive fortifications around London. The earth and timber Norman castle was gradually added to over the years – King Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the first king to live here, added domestic quarters while King Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) built substantial royal apartments transforming the castle into a palace and began replacing the outer timber walls with stone fortifications as well as rebuilding the Norman Keep as the Round Tower (parts of which still date from this period). King Henry III (reigned 1216-1272) built upon and expanded his work.

But it was in the reign of King Edward III (1307-1327) that the castle was expanded enormously. This included the reconstruction of the lower ward including the rebuilding of the chapel, naming it St George’s (although the current chapel dates from the reign of King Edward IV – 1461-1470), and the reconstruction of the upper ward complete with apartments for him and his wife, Queen Phillipa, arranged around courtyards (although some of the work wasn’t completed until the reign of his successor, King Richard II – 1377-1399). It was also during King Edward III’s reign that the castle became the base for the Order of the Garter (which he created in 1348), a role it still fulfills.

Other works were ordered by successive Tudor monarchs including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary I. Parliamentary forces seized the castle during the Civil War (Oliver Cromwell did use it as his headquarters for a time) and Royalists were imprisoned here (King Charles I was in fact buried in a vault beneath St George’s Chapel after his execution having been previously imprisoned here).

The next major additions came in the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) when the Upper Ward and State Apartments were reconstructed in baroque splendor, the latter complete with splendid murals ceiling paintings by Italian artist Antonio Verro (the murals were later destroyed but some of the ceiling paintings survive).

From the time of King William III (1689-1702), monarchs began spending more time at Hampton Court Palace but the focus returned to Windsor with King George III. He ordered a range of improvements and updates including modernising Frogmore House in the Home Park for his wife Queen Caroline (the property was subsequently used by various royals but no-one currently lives there), but many of these were stopped prematurely due to his illness. His son, King George IV, picked up where his father left off.

In the reign of Queen Victoria, Windsor became the royal family’s principal residence and was visited by heads of state including King Louis Philippe in 1844 and Emperor Napoleon III in 1855. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died here on 14th December, 1861.

King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V (1910-1936) both had a hand in redecorating the palace and the Queen’s father, King George VI (1936-1952), was living in the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park when he succeeded to the throne.

In more recent times, the castle was the home to the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, for much of World War II. The castle suffered its greatest setback in recent times in 1992 when a serious fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel which destroyed several rooms including the ceiling of St George’s Hall which dated from the reign of King George IV. Restoration works took five years to complete.

Today the Queen spends many private weekends at the castle while the court is officially in residence here for a month over the Easter period and during Ascot Week in June – it’s at this time that the Garter Day celebrations take place with the installation of new knights.

The Queen also hosts State Visits here with banquets held in St George’s Hall as well as what are known as a ‘sleep and dine’ in which high profile figures are invited to dinner with the Queen before being shown a special display of items from the Royal Library and then spending the night. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower when the Queen is in residence.

As well as touring the State Apartments, the Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (completed in the 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of King George V), and St George’s Chapel, visitors to the castle can experience the Changing of the Guard at 11am every day but Sundays between May and early August (and every second day after that).

WHERE: Windsor (a short walk from either Windsor Central Station or Windsor & Eton Riverside Station); WHEN: 9.45am to 5.15pm until 27th July (times vary after this date – check the website); COST: £17 an adult/£10.20 a child (under 17s – under fives free)/£15.50 concession/£44.75 family (price includes an audio tour); WEBSITE: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle.

• Celebrate the Diamond Jubilee next Tuesday in Richmond Park as it hosts ‘Wild London’, the borough’s “first festival aimed at celebrating London’s woodlands, parks and gardens”. The event, which is being put on by Richmond Council and Royal Parks, will mark the Queen’s first visit to the borough in 23 years. It will showcase the conservational, recreational and inspirational role that parks and gardens play in London and will include hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, displays and performances. The event will be the first in a series celebrating the Diamond Jubilee held in Royal Parks. For more information, see www.richmond.gov.uk/home/leisure_and_culture/diamond_jubilee.htm

• The National Trust has launched a new photography competition aimed at celebrating green spaces and the life of the Trust founder Octavia Hill. The competition, called Your Space, is running in conjunction with National Trust Magazine and is open for entries until August. The competition was launched by internationally acclaimed photographers – Mary McCartney, Joe Cornish, Arnhel de Serra and Charlie Waite – with a new collection of pictures at National Trust places. One of the three Trust founder, Octavia Hill was a leading environmental campaigner in the Victorian Age and campaigned to save places in and around London like Parliament Hill. Entries in the competition, which aims to capture images of everyday green spaces, could include pictures from the local park or countryside. For details on how to enter, follow this link

• The author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, received the Freedom of the City of London this week. The books have sold an estimated 450 million copies worldwide and have been made into films. The Freedom ceremony took place at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. Speaking before the ceremony on Tuesday, Rowling was quoted as saying that both her parents were Londoners. “They met on a train departing from King’s Cross Station in 1964, and while neither of them ever lived in London again, both their daughters headed straight for the capital the moment that they were independent.  To me, London is packed with personal memories, but it has never lost the aura of excitement and mystery that it had during trips to see family as a child. I am prouder than I can say to be given the Freedom of the City, which, on top of all the known benefits (and few people realize this), entitles me to a free pint in The Leaky Cauldron and a ten Galleon voucher to spend in Diagon Alley.” For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

• On Now: Royal Devotion. This exhibition in the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace is being held to mark both the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the 350th anniversary of the revised Book of Common Prayer. The display charts the relationship between Crown and Church and its embodiment in the history of the Book of Common Prayer, one of the most important books in the English language. As well as the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, highlights include a 1549 printing of the Book of Common Prayer, medieval illuminated manuscripts, including the Book of Hours of King Richard III, Queen Elizabeth I’s personal prayer book and a copy of the book of private devotions compiled for Queen Elizabeth II in preparation for her coronation, the Book of Common Prayer used at the wedding of Queen Victoria, and King Charles I’s own handwritten revision of State Prayers. Admission fee applies. Runs until 14th July. For more, see www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/

This week we start a new series in honour of this year being the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. We’ll be looking at locations across the city which have played an important role in the story of the Queen. First up, it’s the Queen’s birthplace – a now non existent townhouse in Mayfair.

The property at 17 Bruton Street, which is marked by a small plaque installed in 1977 – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (it’s in the middle of the image to the right), was actually the home of the Queen Mother’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. It and the neighbouring townhouse at 18 Bruton Street have both been demolished and replaced with a rather bland office building.

Born here at 2.40am on 21st April, 1926, the Queen, named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, was the first child of the then Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth). At her birth, Queen Elizabeth II was only third in line to the throne after her uncle, the Prince of Wales (later, briefly, King Edward VIII), and her father.

The Queen’s grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary, both visited the newborn child at the property (along with an apparently large crowd outside). Elizabeth was christened five weeks later at the Chapel Royal in Buckingham Palace. She spent the first few months of her life living in a room at 17 Bruton Street which had been previously used by her mother before her marriage.

Recent books on the Queen include Andrew Marr’s  The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People, the souvenir album Queen Elizabeth II: A Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Album, and Sarah Bradford’s Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times.

• Correction: Bruton Street was mistakenly copied here as Brunton Street. It has been corrected. Apologies for the error!

• A revamped Crown Jewels display opens today at the Tower of London to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The new display features graphics, music and newly restored film footage and will focus on the coronation ceremony as its central theme, exploring how the regalia are used in the ceremony. The regalia – which includes some of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world such as the Star of Africa and Koh-i-Nur – is being displayed in the order in which it is used at the coronation ceremony. The Crown Jewels have been on show to the public at the Tower of London since at least 1661 after they were remade for King Charles II’s coronation. The previous collection had been largely destroyed in the Civil War although some pieces survived including a gilt silver spoon probably made for King Henry II or King Richard I (the “Lionheart”). For more information, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

Five dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, have gone on display at Kensington Palace  which re-opened to the public this week following a £12 million overhaul. The five dresses include a black silk taffeta gown (designed by Emanuel) which Diana wore to a fundraising event at the Goldsmith’s Hall in 1981 – her first official engagement with Prince Charles as well as a formal dinner dress of ivory silk (Catherine Walker) created for a State Banquet for the King and Queen of Malaysia in 1993 and a black ribbed silk shift evening dress (Gianni Versace) worn to the London premiere of Apollo 13 in Hammersmith in 1995. For more on the revamp of the palace see our earlier post. Or visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/.

• A plaque commemorating the site where the iconic image for the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars was photographed has been unveiled in the West End. The plaque at the somewhat innocuous site at 23 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, was installed by the Crown Estate and unveiled this week by Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. The image for the album cover was shot by the late photographer Brian Ward who managed to persuade Bowie to step outside the ‘studio’ space he had rented upstairs despite the fact it was a cold, wet January night.

• On Now: At Home with the World. This exhibition at the Geoffrye Museum explores the cosmopolitan nature of London’s homes over the past 400 years and looks at how diverse cultures have helped shaped the homes – covering everything from Chinese porcelain and the tea craze of the 1700s to the use of Islamic and Indian patterns in the 1800s, the popularity of Scandinavian and American design in the 1900s and the globalism of today. The period rooms on show at the museum have been reinterpreted to highlight the international influences. This is one of a series of Stories of the World: London exhibitions taking place across the city which are exploring four aspects of life – home, identity, journeys and place – as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad program. Runs until 9th September. Entry is free. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

Today marks 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, making her Britain’s second-longest serving monarch. While the celebrations are yet to kick off in earnest (the Diamond Jubilee weekend will be officially held over the 2nd to 5th June), we thought we’d take a quick look at the top 10 longest-serving monarchs who were crowned at Westminster Abbey in London:

1. Queen Victoria – 63 years (20th June, 1837-22nd January, 1901)

2. Queen Elizabeth II – 60 years (6th February, 1952-current)

3. King George III – 59 years (25th October, 1760-29th January, 1820)

4. King James I (VI of Scotland) – 57 years (24th July, 1567-27th March, 1625)

5. King Henry III – 56 years (18th October, 1216-16th November, 1272)

6. King Edward III – 50 years (25th January, 1327-21st June, 1377)

7. Queen Elizabeth I – 44 years (17th November, 1558-24th March, 1603)

8. King Henry VI – 38 years (31st August, 1422-4th March,1461, and, 31st October, 1470-11th April, 1471)

9. King Henry VIII – 37 years (22nd April, 1509-28th January, 1547)

10. King Henry I – 35 years (3rd August, 1100-1st December, 1135)