10 islands in the Thames – 4. Isleworth Ait..

Another unpopulated ait (another word for river island), this nine acre isle is located in a stretch of the Thames with old Isleworth on one bank and the Kew towpath on the other.

The tidal island, which regularly floods, was once, like other arts in the Thames, used for the production of osiers, a type of willow used to make baskets to carry produce from Middlesex to London. There were once said to be five neighbouring islands, all of which have now disappeared.

Once the property of the Duke of Northumberland (it formed part Syon Park estate, his London property, which is located nearby), the island was purchased by the Metropolitan Water Board and is now owned by Thames Water.

Covered in trees, the ait provides a sanctuary for birds – including everything from kingfishers to swifts and herons – and rare snails like the two-lipped door snail. Officially declared a Local Nature Reserve, it has been under the management of the London Wildlife Trust since 1995.

The ait cannot be accessed without permission from the trust.

PICTURE: John McLinden (image cropped; licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Where is it?…#57


Can you identify where in London this picture was taken (obviously out of season!)? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Mike, Visiting Houses and Gardens and Roberta Stimson (via Facebook) – this is indeed the Great Conservatory at Syon Park – London home of the Duke of Northumberland – located on the banks of the Thames in west London. The magnificent structure was commissioned by the third duke, Hugh Percy, and designed by architect Charles Fowler in 1826. Constructed of gunmetal, Bath stone and glass, it is said to have inspired Joseph Paxton in his designs for the Crystal Palace. For more on Syon Park, see www.syonpark.co.uk.

Around London – Celebrating the City; Syon Park dig; Westminster’s rubbish; and, 1000 years of British literature…

• The City of London today kicks off Celebrate the City – four days of mostly free music, art and cultural events.The events include musical performances in many of the City’s churches, walks and talks at various locations around the Square Mile, new exhibitions including Butcher, Baker, Candlestock Maker – 850 years of Livery Company Treasures at the Guildhall Art Gallery, Livery Hall and historic building openings, family entertainment at the Cheapside Street Fayre at Saturday (including free ice-cream and tuk-tuk rides for children) and activities at the Barbican Centre and the Museum of London. The celebrations start in Guildhall Yard (pictured) at 6pm tonight when musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama perform Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with firing cannons. Among the many other highlights will be the chance to play golden street pianos, to join in the Midsummer street part at the climax of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, to enjoy a sunset from the Tower Bridge walkways and to see the transformation of St Helen’s Square into a sculpture space. The weekend will also host the Open House Junior Festival, London’s first ever child-friendly City architecture festival. To see detailed listings of what’s on, head to www.visitthecity.co.uk/index.php/celebrate/.

• The Museum of London will next week launch its annual community and training dig at Syon Park in Hounslow. The dig, which will be open to school and community groups, will run from 25th June to 7th July and will focus on the area of Sir Richard Wynne’s house. A Parliamentarian, in 1659 he was implicated in a Royalist insurrection and was imprisoned. The house, which featured in the Battle of Brentford when Royalist troops advanced on Parliamentary forces in London in 1641, was later purchased by the Duke of Northumberland and demolished to extend Syon’s parkland. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• We couldn’t resist mentioning this one: Westminster City Council has released a top 10 list of the strangest objects people have dumped on London’s streets. They include an inflatable Margaret Thatcher and other inflatable dolls, wedding dresses, stuffed animals and a range of film props. The council say that, on average, enough litter is picked up off Westminster’s streets every two days to fill the entire 864 cubic metres of Marble Arch. They add that if just half of the annual waste collected off the street is recycled properly in the correct bins it would save them nearly £1million.

• On Now: Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. The major summer exhibition at the British Library, it explores how the last 1,000 years of English literature have been shaped by the country’s places. The exhibition  features more than 150 works with highlights including John Lennon’s original lyrics for The Beatles’ song In My Life, JK Rowling’s handwritten draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JRR Tolkein’s original artwork for The Hobbit and original manuscripts from the likes of Jane Austen, William Blake, Charlotte Bronte, Arthur Conan Doyle, JG Ballard and Charles Dickens. As part of the exhibition, the Library is inviting people to “Pin-a-Tale” on an interactive map of Britain, that is, take a literary work and pin it on the map along with a description of how the work links with that particular location – head to www.bl.uk/pin-a-tale to take part. The exhibition runs until 25th September. Admission fee applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Where is it? #12

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you reckon you know the answer, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

And the answer is…this is part of the decorative facade of the Middlesex Guildhall which stands opposite the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Square. The building, which dates from 1912-13 and stands on the former site of the Westminster Abbey Sanctuary Tower and Old Belfry (where fugitives from the law could seek sanctuary), is now home to the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Designed by architect James Gibson, it is the latest in a series of buildings which stood on the site which have served as courthouses and the headquarters of the Middlesex County Council (the first Middlesex Guildhall was built here in 1889). Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “art nouveau Gothic”, it features a series of medieval-looking decorative friezes and sculptures by Henry Charles Fehr.

The image pictured above shows one of the friezes – this one of the Duke of Northumberland offering the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey the Crown (known as the “Nine Days Queen”, she was later imprisoned and eventually executed on 12th February, 1554). Others show King John handing the Magna Carta to the English barons and the granting of the charter of Westminster Abbey.

It was refurbished for use of the Supreme Court in 2007 and the court has occupied it since its creation in 2009.

Interestingly, according to Ed Glinert of The London Compendium, it was here that courts martial were held of those suspected of giving aid to the enemy during World War I.

Around London – New VC gallery at Imperial War Museum; Roman remains unearthed at Syon Park; and, High Society at the Wellcome Collection…

An exhibition containing the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses has opened at the Imperial War Museum, housed in what is the museum’s first new major permanent gallery for 10 years. The Extraordinary Heroes exhibition – housed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery – contains his Lordship’s collection of 162 Victoria Crosses, awarded for parts played in wars stretching from the Crimean to the Falklands, displayed alongside the 48 Victoria Crosses and 31 George Crosses already held by the museum. As well as the awards, the new gallery will display many objects for the first time, including a badly damaged backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher when he leapt on a grenade during action in Afghanistan in 2008 to save the lives of his fellow soldiers (he survived as well), and the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis who won a VC for his role in placing limpet mines in the Johore Straits in World War II. The gallery was paid for with a £5 million donation from Lord Ashcroft. Admission is free. For more information, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The remains of a Roman settlement have been unearthed at historic home, Syon Park, in London’s west. Archaeological experts from the Museum of London have already removed around 11,500 pieces of pottery, jewellery and about 100 coins from the site on the Syon Park estate. Syon Park, the home of the Duke of Northumberland, sits on the northern bank of the Thames, opposite Kew Gardens. The site was excavated in 2008 in preparing for the construction of a new luxury hotel there. Some of the artefacts will go on display at the new hotel, the London Syon Park, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which will open early next year. The settlement, which includes a Roman road and burials, was discovered only half a metre below ground level. For more information on the property, see www.syonpark.co.uk.

Now on: From an early morning coffee in European cities to chewing betel nut in Asia, the Wellcome Collection’s major winter exhibition, High Society, traces the role mind-altering drugs have played in history and culture. The display includes more than 200 exhibits, from an 11th century manuscript written by monks in Suffolk detailing poppy remedies, to a 17th century account by Captain Thomas Bowrey describing his crew’s experiments with the cannabis drink bhang, and an account of NASA’s experiments with intoxicated spiders. Admission is free. The exhibition runs until 27th February. For more information, see www.wellcomecollection.org.