Much has been made about the dearth of women featured on blue plaques in this 150th year of the scheme – according to English Heritage, only 13 per cent of the 900 odd blue plaques in London commemorate a woman.

Fanny-Burney-plaqueAmong them are ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, socialite Nancy Astor, and, in recent times, cookery writer Elizabeth David.

The oldest surviving blue plaque commemorating a woman, however, is that commemorating what is today a less well-known name, that of Fanny Burney.

Burney (1752-1840), who was known as Madame D’Arblay after she married, was a widely applauded novelist who was also noted for her diaries which record her involvement in the literary circles around Samuel Johnson and the Bluestocking Group.

The blue plaque commemorating her residence at 11 Bolton Street in Mayfair was erected in 1885 by the Society of Arts (which means that like others erected by the society, later the Royal Society of Arts, it’s brown not blue).

Burney, whose most profitable work, Camilla, was published in 1796 after she had spent five years as Second Keeper of the Robs to Queen Charlotte, lived in the house following the death of her husband, the Frenchman Alexandre D’Arblay.

She spent 10 years here – from 1818 until 1828 – and had apparently thought it would be her last residence but she went on to move into three further properties after this one.

PICTURE: Simon Harriyott/CC BY 2.0

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The concept of a scheme involving placing commemorative plaques on what was once the homes of notable people was first raised by MP William Ewart in 1863 in Parliament.

Byron-plaqueThree years later, in 1866, the idea was adopted by the then Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) and in 1867 it erected two blue plaques, the first being one commemorating the birthplace of Lord Byron at 24 Holles Street just south of Cavendish Square in Marylebone and the second being that erected to Emperor Napoleon III in King Street (see last week’s post).

But the Byron plaque had the honour of being the first and it remained on the property until it was demolished in 1889 and the plaque, presumably, lost.

It has, however, been replaced several times on subsequent buildings on the site – the latest incarnation, is a “green plaque” erected by Westminster City Council on what is now a John Lewis store and was unveiled on National Poetry Day in 2012 (it replaced a non-standard, rectangular-shaped plaque – pictured above – which was installed after the building was bombed during World War II).

The current plaque describes Lord Byron as “one of the greatest British poets” and quotes him: “Always laugh when you can. It is a cheap medicine.”

Byron is said to have been born at the property on 22nd January, 1788 and was baptised George Gordon Byron at the nearby St Marylebone Parish Church. Interestingly, English Heritage says that recent research has shown there is no clear evidence for which house in Holles Street Lord Byron actually lived in meaning none of the plaques may have actually marked the correct site.

During the first 35 years of the scheme’s existence it erected on some 35 plaques (there are now some 900 in existence, so the pace has quickened since).

Less than half of them now survive but among those that do are plaques to poet John Keats (erected in 1896 on Keats’ House in Hampstead), novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (erected in 1887 on 2 Palace Green in Kensington) and politician and author Edmund Burke (erected in 1876 on 37 Gerrard Street in Soho.

PICTURE:  Wikimedia

ReculverThis striking ruin perched on the shore of Herne Bay in Kent is all that remains of a 12th century church which once stood here, itself constructed on the ruins of a Saxon monastery and, earlier still, a Roman era fort.

The site once faced the now swallowed up Isle of Thanet across a narrow waterway to the east and it was this location which made it a prime spot for the Romans, in the early to middle years of the 3rd century AD, to build one of what became known as Saxon Shore forts, constructed to watch over waterways and resist raiders from across the sea. The square fort – known as Regulbium – featured walls supported by earthen ramparts containing a range of military buildings including a headquarters building at the centre. It’s main entrance was located in the north wall.

Reculver-smallThe fort ceased to be garrisoned by regular troops by the end of the 4th century and archaeologists have found little sign of any activity there at the start of the next century.

Following the arrival of St Augustine in 597 AD and the conversion of local Saxon kings to Christianity, Egbert, the King of Kent, gave land which included Reculver (Raculf) to one Bassa for the foundation of a church or minster (this has been dated to 669 AD). A monastery was subsequently founded on the site which remained there until the 10th century after which the church, which stood roughly at what was the middle of the Roman fort and which had been enlarged during the Saxon period, became a parish church of Reculver.

Remodelled in the 12th century (from which period the towers date), it was visited by Leland in 1540 who wrote of a stone cross which stood at the entrance to the choir and was carved with painted images of Christ and the 12 Apostles (fragments of the cross are now in the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral).

The encroaching sea, meanwhile, continued to move closer and closer to the northern side of the church, seriously so by the end of the 18th century when the vicar persuaded parishioners to demolish the church and build a new one at nearby Hillsborough. Thankfully, while much of the stone from the church was used in the new building, the twin west towers were left standing.

Their value as a landmark was recognised in 1809 when the ruin was bought by Trinity House as a navigation marker. They subsequently strengthened the towers’ foundations to ensure they weren’t undermined any further. Further strengthening measures took place in later years. About half of the Roman fort remains. The site is now managed by English Heritage.

Reculver is a site richly evocative of England’s past with a history going back more than 1,700 years. The remains may only be fragments of what once stood there but they nonetheless tell a myriad of stories.

WHERE: At Reculver, three miles east of Herne Bay (nearest train station is Herne Bay (four miles); WHEN: Any reasonable time in daylight hours; COST:Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/reculver-towers-and-roman-fort/.

Antonio-Zucchi-'Portrait-of-James-Adam'-Credit---Adam-Williams-Fine-Art-LtdA painting of James Adam, unseen for almost 150 years, has gone on show at Kenwood House in London’s north.

Antonio Zucchi’s Portrait of James Adam, dating from 1763, depicts Adam who, along with his brother Robert, created the splendid villa which now sits on the northern edge of Hampstead Heath between 1767 and about 1779.

The Adams’ first encountered Zucchi while on a “grand tour” in Italy and engaged him as their draughtsman, recording what they were seeing.

They subsequently had him decorate ceilings and walls at Kenwood and his signature was also recently discovered on the painting of Adam – the only known portrait the artist completed – after it was cleaned.

The painting depicts Adam as both architect and “man of fashion” and shows his interest in classical statues and ornamentation, showing the famous Medici vase in the background.

The painting hadn’t been seen by the public since 1867. The painting, loaned to English Heritage – managers of Kenwood House – by Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd in New York, can be seen until 4th January.

WHERE: Kenwood House, off Hampstead Lane, Hampstead Heath (nearest Tube stations are Golders Green and Archway/nearest rail is Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath); WHEN: daily, 10am to 5pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/kenwood

PICTURE: Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd.

Wishing all of our readers a very happy Easter! 

Hampton-Court

It’s party time at Hampton Court Palace this weekend as the palace celebrates its 500th anniversary with festivities including a spectacular (and historic) light show. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the palace will be open for an evening of festivities including the chance to taste-test pork cooked in the Tudor kitchens, enjoy a drink at a pop-up bar in the Cartoon Gallery, listen to live performances of period music in the state apartments and watch a 25 minute sound and light show in the Privy Garden taking viewers on a journey through the palace’s much storied past culminating in a fireworks finale. The nights run from 6.30pm to 9.15pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A luxury wartime bunker, a map room dating from the 1930s and a walk-in wardrobe complete with vintage fashion are among five new rooms at Eltham Palace in south London which are opening to the public for the first time this Easter. The rooms also include a basement billiards room and adjoining bedrooms, one of which features one of the first showers ever installed in a residential house in the UK. They have been restored as part of English Heritage’s major £1.7 million makeover of the property – the childhood home of King Henry VIII which was converted into a stunning Art Deco gem in the 1930s. Visitors will be invited to join one of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld’s legendary cocktail party’s of the 1930s while children can take part in an interactive tour exploring the story of the animals that lived at the palace including Mah-Jongg, the Courtauld’s pet lemur (who had his own heated bedroom!). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/eltham. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to donate to support the renovation of the map-room can do so at www.english-heritage.org.uk/donate-eltham.

• A new exhibition showcasing the latest scientific displays concerning the life and death of King Richard III has opened at the Science Museum. King Richard III: Life, Death and DNA, which opened last Wednesday – the day before the king’s remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, features an analysis of Richard III’s genome, a 3D printed skeleton (only one of three in existence) and a prototype coffin. It explores how CT scans were used to prove the king’s fatal injuries at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 were caused by a sword, dagger and halberd (a reproduction of the latter is on display). The exhibition will run until 25th June. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RichardIII.

Shaun-the-Sheep• Join Shaun the Sheep and friends for Kew Garden’s annual Easter Egg hunt this Sunday. The hunt will take place from 9.30am to noon (or when the eggs run out!) with participants needing to find three sheep and collect a token/chocolate dropping from each before finding the Easter bunny and claiming eggs supplied by Divine chocolate. Shaun, meanwhile, who hit the big screen for the first time this year, will be found in the Madcap Meadow until 12th April. Admission charge applies. For the full range of events taking place at the gardens this Easter season, check out www.kew.orgPICTURE: RBG Kew.

London’s Boroughs are turning 50 and to celebrate London councils – working with the London Film Archive – have released a short film telling the story of the past half century. Follow this link to see it. Councils across the city, meanwhile, are holding events throughout the year to mark the occasion – check with your local council for details; some, like Barking and Dagenham, and Camden have dedicated pages.

The first chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Mansfield Cumming, has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Westminster. Known as ‘C’ thanks to his habit of initialling papers (a tradition which has been carried on by every chief since), Cumming was chief of the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau from 1909 until his death in 1923. Flats 53 and 54 at 2 Whitehall Court – now part of Grade II*-listed The Royal Horseguards Hotel – served as Cumming’s home and office at various times between 1911 and 1922. The plaque was unveiled by current Secret Intelligence Service chief, Alex Younger. Meanwhile, Amelia Edwards, pioneering Egyptologist, writer, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, has also been honoured with a blue plaque on her former home in Islington. Edwards lived at 19, Wharton Street in Clerkenwell between 1831 and 1892. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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The Paddington Trail, London, 2014Paddington comes to the Museum of London in a new exhibition opening tomorrow to coincide with the bear’s big-screen debut. A Bear called Paddington charts the story of the character from his genesis on Christmas Eve, 1956, when creator Michael Bond bought his wife a small toy bear and named him after the railway station near where they loved across the next almost 60 years to today. Objects on display include: a first edition A Bear Called Paddington – dating from 1958, it belonged to Bond’s daughter Karen Jankel; an original illustration of Paddington by Paddy Fortnum; the typewriter Bond used to write Paddington at Work and Paddington Goes To Town; the original Paddington puppet from the 1970s TV animations; and, props from the upcoming film Paddington (released on 28th November). The free exhibition runs until 4th January. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. The museum, meanwhile, is also playing host to a new life-sized statue of the famous bear designed by Benedict Cumberbatch (and known as Sherlock Bear for obvious reasons given Cumberbatch’s penchant for playing a certain detective – pictured). It forms just one stop on the Paddington Trail which, as the work of VisitLondon.com, NSPCC and film-makers StudioCanal, links 50 sites – each with their own statue of the bear – across the capital. Designed by everyone from Mayor Boris Johnson to football star David Beckham and actors Sandra Bullock and Hugh Bonneville, the bears can be found around town until 30th December. For more on the trail, including a map of locations, check out www.visitlondon.com/paddington/.

While the Oxford Street lights are already switched on (as are those in Covent Garden), Carnaby Street’s Christmas decorations are to be officially launched at 6.30pm tonight. The launch coincides with a shopping party (including 20 per cent discount), live music, free drinks, good bags and “trend masterclasses” with Grazia Magazine’s editor-at-large Angela Buttolph. Oh, and the decorations consist of eight red and white oversized sets of headphones and sunglasses. Meanwhile the Regent Street lights get turned on this Sunday with an event featuring a star-studded cast including Take That’s Mark Owen, Gary Barlow and Howard Donald (who are switching on the lights but not playing). While there’s entertainment along the street from noon, the music kicks off at 4pm and the lights, designed around the theme of the film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, get switched-on at 5pm and will be followed by a fireworks display. For more, see www.regentstreetonline.com.

The Guards Memorial in Horseguards Parade, Westminister, has been upgrade to a Grade 1-listed structure on the advice of English Heritage. Unveiled in 1926 by the Duke of Connaught, Senior Colonel of the Guards, and General George Higginson, a Crimean veteran, the memorial commemorates the 14,000 Guardsmen who died in the First World War. Designed by architect Harold Chalton Bradshaw and sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, it features five bronze soldiers, each representing a typical soldier from each of the divisions – Grenadiers, Coldstreams, Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards.

On Now: Grayson Perry: Who Are You? This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square features a series of new works created by Perry during the making of his Channel 4 TV series of the same name. Interspersed with 19th and 20th century collections of the gallery, the portraits – which include a tapestry, sculptures and pots – are of families, groups and individuals and include everyone from a young Muslim convert and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Rylan Clark. Runs until 15th March. Entry is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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The works of famed 18th century chronicler of London, William Hogarth, are on show at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. Marking the 25oth anniversary of his death on the night of 25th/26th October, 1764, the display Hogarth’s London features more than 50 of the artist’s best known satirical prints including A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress, The Four Times of Day, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane and Beer Street. A series of events – including an evening of Baroque dance & music, gin, beer and cartooning on 28th November – accompanies this exhibition which runs until 18th January and is supported by The William Hogarth Trust. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/hogarth-s-london.

Nineteenth century Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque as his former London home. Known as ‘The Liberator’, O’Connell was an abolitionist who successfully campaigned for civil and Catholic rights – including the right for Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. The first popularly elected MP since the Reformation, he lived in the property at 14 Albermarle Street in Mayfair with his family for several months in 1833 – a year in which a number of his supporters were elected to the House of Commons and in which the act to abolish slavery was given royal assent. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Peder Balke. The first ever UK exhibition focused on the paintings of this 19th century Norwegian artist is underway at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Held in conjunction with the Northern Norway Art Museum, the exhibition features more than 50 paintings, the majority of which have never been seen in the UK before. The display includes works from across Balke’s career, including The Tempest (c 1862), the only painting by a Norwegian artist in the gallery’s collection. This free exhibition runs in the Sunley Room until April. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Eltham-PalaceAnnie Kemkaran-Smith, curator at Greenwich’s art deco masterpiece Eltham Palace, examines the 1930s ‘map room’, one of five new rooms to be opened at the palace this spring following a major renovation by English Heritage. Alongside the map room – to be opened for the first time in a decade following a renovation for which English Heritage has launched a £25,000 appeal – other rooms include the luxury wartime bunker, a basement billiards room, a walk-in wardrobe and two new bedrooms. The project, work on which started earlier this month, also includes restoration of the gardens, the creation of a new visitor centre, shop and cafe in former glasshouses. The former childhood home of King Henry VIII, Eltham Palace was transformed in the 1930s by art collectors and philanthropists Stephen and Virginia Courtauld and features an interior now boasting a mix of art deco, ocean-liner styles and Swedish design with then cutting-edge features such as under-floor heating, multi-room sound systems and a centralised vacuum system. The palace will remain open to the public on Sundays over winter with the new rooms to be opened in April. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

Maiden-Castle

Located just outside the town of Dorchester in southern Dorset to the south-west of London, Maiden Castle is the largest extant Iron Age hillfort known to have been built in Britain and among the largest and most complex in all of Europe.

Featuring multiple earthen ramparts (pictured above is the ditch between two of them) – from the top of which you can see spectacular views of the surrounding countryside – and well-defended entrances, it would have once been home to several hundred people. It’s been speculated the name may come from the Celtic word “mai-dun”, meaning a great hill.

Maiden-Castle2The first archaeological excavations were carried out here in the 1930s by Mortimer Wheeler and then later in the 1980s.

Initially built between 800 and 550 BC, the first Iron Age hillfort – built on the site of an earlier Neolithic enclosure with settlement dating back some 6000 years – was enclosed by a single rampart.

In the middle Iron Age, between 550 and 300 BC, it was extended to some 19 hectares or 50 football fields and, apparently densely populated with “round houses” which over time were organised into an increasingly regimented layout, eventually become the pre-eminent settlement in southern Dorset.

In the late Iron Age, the settlement became focused on the eastern end of the fort and with the arrival of the Romans and their establishment of the town of Dorchester (Durnovaria), it was finally abandoned.

Among the features identified within the hillfort’s precincts are well-defended and complex entrances at the western and eastern ends and a large Iron Age cemetery just outside the eastern entrance.

Discovered by Sir Mortimer, the cemetery contained more than 52 burials, some of which held the remains of males with terrible injuries. While Sir Mortimer believed it was a war cemetery created following a battle between the locals and the Roman, it is now thought to have been used as a more general cemetery over a longer period of time.

The remains of a Romano-British temple (pictured above right), dating from the late 4th century AD – about 200 years after the site was abandoned, has also been found inside the hillfort’s boundaries. It consisted of a central room surrounded by a passage with a portico open to the weather. Nearby is what is believed to have been a shrine and a two roomed building thought to have been a priest’s house. A bronze plaque depicting the goddess Minerva has been found on the site, suggesting the temple have been dedicated to her.

The site is managed by English Heritage who have an MP3 audio tour you can download from the website and play on an iPod, smart phone or MP3 player to give an extra dimension to your visit!

WHERE: Maiden Castle, two miles south of Dorchester, off A354, north of bypass or train – two miles from Dorchester South/West; WHEN: Any reasonable time in daylight hours; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/maiden-castle/

For more on Iron Age Britain, check out Barry Cunliffe’s Iron Age Britain (English Heritage).

Royal-Artillery-Memorial

Often deemed to be one of London’s finest war memorials, if not the finest (indeed London Historians’ Mike Paterson has said so previously on these very pages), the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner commemorates the more than 49,000 members of the Royal Artillery Regiment who died in World War I.

Royal-Artillery-Memorial3Designed by sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger – who had served in the infantry during the war – and architect Lionel Pearson, it was unveiled in 1925 by Prince Arthur and Anglican priest, Rev Alfred Jarvis.

The monument, described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as a “masterpiece of British 20th century sculpture”, features an oversized stone replica of a 9.2 inch Howitzer Mk I atop a stone plinth accompanied by a series of four realistic bronze figures and a series of carved reliefs depicting scenes of military life.

The figures represent a gun crew: a driver, artillery captain, shell carrier and, controversially at the time, a dead soldier lying beneath his cape and helmet with an inscription from Shakespeare’s Henry V –  “Here was a royal fellowship of death”.

Three bronze panels were later added at the south end of the monument in commemoration of the almost 30,000 of the Royal Artillery who died in World War II. It was unveiled by the then Princess Elizabeth in 1949.

In late 2011, English Heritage completed a major restoration of the Grade I-listed work with a grant from the Bulldog Trust.

PICTURE: Above – David Adams. Below – virtusincertus/Flickr

A former car breaker’s yard in Hackney has reopened as a “pocket park” of “installations and hidden spaces” following an extensive transformation project. Located next to the National Trust’s Tudor manor house, Sutton House, Breaker’s Yard incorporates elements from the site’s history including car tyres, a bus greenhouse, bespoke metal gates made out of more than 1,000 toy cars donated by celebrities, locals and artists, and a multi-storey caravan sculpture, The Grange, created by landscape designer Daniel Lobb who also designed the park in collaboration with arts-based educational charity, The House of Fairy Tales. The flower-filled park also features an ice-cream van, decorated by Rose Blake – daughter of Sir Peter Blake, which will act as a “playful shop”. The park is one of a 100 ‘pocket parks’ created under a $2 programme by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in this case in collaboration with the National Trust and a host of volunteers. Entry to the park is free but admission charge applies to the house. For more on the park and Sutton House, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house/.

A photographic exhibition, Exploring London’s First World War Memorials, is running at City Hall near Tower Bridge in Southwark. Organised by the Mayor of London with aid from the War Memorials Trust, English Heritage and others, the exhibition is centred on new images of war memorials by London-based photographer James O Jenkins. As well as more traditional monuments, the memorials take the form of everything from fountains to paintings, buildings and landscape features. Entry is free. Runs until 12th September. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events. Meanwhile, the Guildhall Library is showcasing images taken by photographer Simon Gregor for the Remembrance Image Project. Runs until 12th November and is part of a series of World War I commemorative events the library is running. Others include an installation by artist Rebecca Louise Law called Poppy made up of 8,000 paper poppies from the Royal British Legion. For more on World War I commemorative events at the Guildhall LIbrary follow this link.

Open House London’s programme is available for download from tomorrow (Friday, 15th August). The event, which will be held over the weekend of 20th and 21st September, will this year be conducted under the theme of ‘revealing’ and will feature more than 800 buildings, from Open House “favourites” like The Gherkin (aka 30 St Mary Axe) and the Foreign and India Office through to lesser known properties like Wandsworth’s Quaker Meeting House or the Butcher’s Hall in the City (some of which have to be booked before the weekend). There will also be a free programme of neighbourhood walks, engineering and landscape tours, cycle rides and talks by experts. To see the programme, head to www.openhouselondon.org.uk.

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BusesAlmost 50 buses, from a horse-drawn model of the 1820s to the New Routemasters of today, will come to Regent Street on Sunday in celebration of the Year of the Bus. The ‘Regent Street Bus Cavalcade’ – which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and will see the iconic West End street closed to traffic – will also feature a variety of free family events including Lego workshops (there will be a bus shelter and bus stop made entirely out of Lego outside Hamley’s toy shop), children’s theatre performances, a pop-up London Transport canteen and the chance to have a personal message recorded by the voice of London’s buses, Emma Hignett. There will also be an exhibition – Battle Bus – which provides information about the B-type bus (a newly restored version of which will be on display) which was used during World War I to carry soldiers to the frontline as well as ambulances and mobile pigeon lofts while jewellery company Tatty Devine will feature a special range of bus-inspired jewellery and hold jewellery-making workshops on board a London bus. The cavalcade, supported by the Regent Street Association and The Crown Estate, is part of Transport for London’s celebrations marking the Year of the Bus, organised in partnership with the London Transport Museum and the capital’s bus operators. The free event runs from 11.30am to 6pm. For more information, see www.tfl.gov.uk/yearofthebus and www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

A new exhibition of materials showing how people coped at home and on the front during World War I opens at the British Library in King’s Cross today as part of efforts to mark the war’s centenary. Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour features personal objects such as letters, a handkerchief bearing the lyrics of It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary, Christmas cards, school essays about airship raids over London sit and recruitment posters, humorous magazines and even a knitting pattern for balaclavas. Highlights include a letter in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle expresses his concern over his son serving at the front, manuscripts by war poets such as Rupert Brooke as well as Wilfred Owen’s manuscript for Anthem for Doomed Youth, Vaughan Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony and Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen. A specially commissioned video and ‘soundscape’, Writing Home, features personal messages contained on postcards written to and from the front. A range of events accompanies the free exhibition. Runs until 12th October. For more on the exhibition, see www.bl.uk.

Armoured knights on horseback can be seen jousting at Eltham Palace in south London this weekend. The former childhood home of King Henry VIII will host a Grand Medieval Joust which will also include displays of foot combat, the antics of a court jester, medieval music performances and a series of children’s events including a knight’s school. Runs from 10am to 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/events. Meanwhile, the Battle of Waterloo is being remembered at the Duke of Wellington’s home of Apsley House near Hyde Park Corner. Visitors will come face-to-face with Wellington’s troops and their wives, having the chance to take a look inside a soldier’s knapsack, see the equipment he used and the drills he performed as well as see the Battle of Waterloo recreated in vegetables. The Waterloo Festival – this year marks 200 years since Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba – runs from 11am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley/.

Nominations have reopened for English Heritage’s Blue Plaques scheme in London. In 2012 nominations were temporarily suspended while new funding for the scheme was found and thanks to one individual’s donation and the creation of a new Blue Plaques Club to support the scheme on an ongoing basis, they have now reopened. There are 880 official Blue Plaques on London’s streets – remembering everyone from Florence Nightingale to Fred Perry and Charles Darwin. For more and details on nominations, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

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

Belle3

Part of the history of Kenwood House in north London hits the big screen this week with the premiere of the film Belle.

The film, which opens on Friday, is inspired by the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and a slave woman named Maria, who spent her childhood years at the property in the care of her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson) in the second half of the 18th century.

The idea for film was apparently sparked when Belle‘s writer Misan Sagay saw a painting of Dido which hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland (a copy of the painting, which was formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany but is now unattributed, can be seen hanging in the Housekeeper’s Room at Kenwood).

Lauren Houlistan, English Heritage senior curator, says Dido grew up at Kenwood from about the age of five (about 1766) and seemed to have been considered one of the family.

She says that while Lord Mansfield was “very fond of her”, Dido’s position was, however, “lower than that of her white, legitimate cousin, Elizabeth – Dido was given a smaller allowance and is noted as only joining visitors after dinner”. Dido is known to have managed the dairy at Kenwood in 1779 and was described as “superintendent” over the daily and poultry yard (for more on Dido’s extraordinary life, see our earlier post here).

Kenwood House was undergoing restoration when the film was being made so scenes for the film set in the house were shot at various other English Heritage properties including Chiswick House and the Ranger’s House in Greenwich.

WHERE: Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Golders Green and Archway/nearest train stations are Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/.

PICTURE: Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Gadon Lady Elizabeth Murray and  in Belle. © Twentieth Century Fox.

Marble-Hill-HouseA Palladian villa located on the bank of the Thames between Richmond and Twickenham, Marble Hill House was built in the mid to late 172os for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II and later Countess of Suffolk.

The symmetrical property – seen as a model for later Georgian-era villas in both England and overseas – was constructed by Roger Morris. He, along with Henry Herbert – a friend of the countess and later the 9th Earl of Pembroke – was also involved in its design as was Colen Campbell, architect to the Prince of Wales and future King George II, who is believed to have drawn up the first sketch designs for the house.

As well as being familiar with the work of neo-Palladian Inigo Jones, Lord Herbert had travelled in Italy and there is it believed had directly encountered the works of sixteenth century Italian architect Andrea Palladio whose architecture the property emulated (see our earlier post on Chiswick House here).

Key rooms include the ‘great room’ – a perfect cube, this is the central room of the house and boasts a wealth of gilded carvings; the dining parlour which had hand-painted Chinese wallpaper; and, Lady Suffolk’s rather sparsely furnished but nonetheless impressive, bedchamber.

Marble-Hill-GrottoHoward, who as well as being a mistress of King George II both before and after his accession to the throne in 1727, was a Woman of the Bedchamber to his wife, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, and, as a result, initially spent little time at the property (which coincidentally was built using money the King had given her while he was still Prince of Wales).

But after she become the Countess of Suffolk in 1731 when her estranged husband Charles Howard became 9th Earl of Suffolk after his brothers’ deaths, Lady Suffolk was appointed Mistress of the Robes, and following the death of her husband in 1733, retired from court.

In 1735 following the end of her intimate relationship with the King, she married a second time, this time happily, to George Berkeley, younger brother of the 3rd Earl of Berkeley and an MP. Together the new couple split their time between a house in Savile Row and Marble Hill. Her husband died in 1746 and Lady Suffolk, who had come to be considered a very “model of decorum”, died at Marble Hill in 1767.

Among the visitors who had spent time at the property were poet and neighbour Alexander Pope (responsible for the design of the grounds along with royal landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman), writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, and, in Lady Suffolk’s later years, Horace Walpole – son of PM Sir Robert Walpole and builder of the Gothic masterpiece Strawberry Hill.

Following Lady Suffolk’s death, later residents of the property included another Royal Mistress – Mrs Fitzherbert, mistress to the future King George IV, Swedenborgian Charles Augustus Tulk and Jonathan Peel, brother of Sir Robert Peel (you can read more about Sir Robert Peel here).

Following the latter’s death, the house stood empty for many years before publication of plans for a redevelopment by then owner William Cunard caused a public outcry which saw the property pass into the hands of the London County Council around the year 1900.

The house opened to the public as a tea room in 1903 and remained as such until the mid-1960s when, now in the hands of the Greater London Council, it underwent a major restoration project and was reopened as a museum. In 1996, the house – which now stands on 66 acres and can be seen in a much lauded view from Richmond Hill – came into the care of English Heritage.

The grounds – Marble Hill Park – are open to the public for free and include a cafe located in the former coach house. Other features in the grounds include Lady Suffolk’s Grotto – pictured above – based on one at Pope’s residence nearby. It was restored after being rediscovered in the 1980s.

WHERE: Marble Hill House, Richmond Road, Twickenham (nearest Tub-e station is Richmond (1 miles) or train stations at St Margaret’s or Twickenham);  WHEN: Various times Saturday and Sunday – entry to the house by guided tour only; COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/marble-hill-house/.

Walmer-CastleA coastal artillery fort built on the orders of King Henry VIII in light of a threatened Catholic invasion, Walmer Castle on the Kentish coast is officially the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

What was a rather functional artillery platform has been embellished significantly in the years since it became the official residence of the Lord Warden in 1708, creating a comfortable home for holders of the title who have included Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the Duke of Wellington and bookseller WH Smith.

The ‘castle’, located about a two hour, 10 minute train journey from London (and then a mile walk from Walmer Station), was constructed in 1539 as one of a string of forts – others include nearby Deal Castle and the long gone Sandown Castle – designed to protect the watery stretch between Goodwin Sands and the coast known as the Downs.

Its low circular design, featuring a central ‘keep’ reached by a drawbridge and surrounded by a curtain wall with four projecting, semi-circular bastions, was influenced by the need to defend against heavy artillery and provide a platform for guns.

Initially garrisoned with ten gunners, four soldiers and two porters under the command of a captain and a lieutenant, Walmer saw little action during Tudor times but was the site of a siege during the Civil War.

Obsolete by the end of the 17th century, it was the Duke of Dorset who was the first Lord Warden (an office created in the thirteenth century to oversee the affairs of the Cinque Ports Confederation, a grouping of five ports including Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich) to use Walmer Castle as a residence, embarking on a renovation and extension of the existing structure.

Further alterations was carried out by successive Lords Warden, the most extensive being those made by  the 2nd Earl Granville, Lord Warden between 1865 and 1891, who commissioned architect George Devey to oversee the additions.

The gardens, meanwhile, which are well worth visiting in their own right, were also Granville’s work as well as that of an earlier Lord Warden, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, who was Lord Warden between 1792 and 1806.

The Duke of Wellington (Lord Warden between 1829 and 1852) reputedly enjoyed his time staying at the castle – he was even visited by the young Princess Victoria here in 1835 (she later stayed for a month with her family when Queen) and died here on 14th September 1852. His room can still be seen inside – the contents include the armchair he was sitting in when he died (the rooms also include a small museum dedicated to Wellington and another dedicated to William Pitt).

Not all Lords Warden enjoyed the property. Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Warden  between 1941 and 1965, never stayed here but Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia and Lord Warden between 1966 and 1978, did and the Queen Mother, Lord Warden between 1978 and 2002, was a regular visitor.

The castle was opened to the public soon after responsibility for it was transferred from the War Office to the Ministry of Works in 1905. It is now under the care of English Heritage and the rooms inside are decorated as they were in the 1930s (it was WH Smith who ensured historic furnishings at Walmer could not be removed). There are even a couple of holiday cottages on site which can now be rented.

WHERE: Walmer Castle, Kingsdown Road, Deal, Kent; WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily (until 6th July); COST: Adults £7.90/Children (5-15 years) £4.70/Concession £7.10; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/walmer-castle-and-gardens/.

Aerofilms1A website launched last year – Britain from Above – boasts some unique perspectives on London among its more than 61,000 images including this one above of the South Bank site of the Festival of Britain – a national exhibition held at various venues across Britain as a post-war “tonic” for the nation – under construction, taken on 14th August, 1950. The website features images taken as part of a collection of aerial photographs taken between 1919 and 1953 by pioneering air survey company Aerofilms Ltd. It has been created by English Heritage, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales following their joint purchase of the company’s collection of more than 1.26 million negatives and 2000 photo albums and forms part of a four year project which aims to conserve and digitise some 95,000 of the oldest and most valuable photographs in the collection. Under the project, the general public is invited to share and record their knowledge and memories of the photographs featured. To get involved, head to www.britainfromabove.org.uk. Below can be seen an image of the FA Cup Final being played between Sheffield Wednesday and West Bromwich Albion (Sheffield were 4-2 victors) at Wembley Stadium on 27th April, 1935. PICTURES: © English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection EAW031792/© English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection EPW046905.

Aerofilms2

NASA's-Perpetual-Ocean-cropAn examination of the historical use of visual data has opened at the British Library. Beautiful Science, which is running in The Folio Society Gallery, features the work of scientists and statisticians down the ages and focuses on the key themes of public health, weather and evolution. Among items on display are Robert Fludd’s Great Chain of Being (1617), Florence Nightingale’s seminal ‘rose diagram’ (1858) which illustrated that more Crimean War deaths were being caused by poor hospital conditions that battlefield wounds, and a contemporary moving infographic from NASA showing ocean currents (pictured). A programme of events is running with the exhibition which closes on 26th May. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk/beautiful-science. PICTURE: NASA’s Perpetual Ocean © NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Comic Kenneth Williams (1926-1988) has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the London apartment he lived in during the hey day of the ‘Carry On’ series of films during the 1960s. Williams lived in flat 62 on the top floor of Farley Court, located between Madame Tussauds and Baker Street station, between 1963 and 1970 during which he starred in such films as Carry on Cleo and Carry on up the Khyber and also appeared in radio comedy programmes such as Round the Horne and Just a Minute. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Two exhibitions celebrating London’s Frost Fairs are underway at the Museum of London and its Docklands sister. Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814 at the Museum of London in the City and Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1684 at the Museum of London Docklands both feature objects, paintings, keepsakes, engravings and etchings from the museum’s collection. Highlights at the Museum of London exhibition include the only surviving piece of gingerbread from the 1814 fair, the last fair of its kind, as well as etchings by satirical artist George Cruikshank and a print by George Thompson while among the items on display at the Docklands museum are two paintings by a Dutch artist Abraham Hondius (c. 1625-91). Both exhibitions are free and both run until 30th March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Roman-skull-found-at-Liverpool-Street-ticket-hall-_102065More than 50 objects – including skulls from the Roman era – unearthed as part of the Crossrail project have gone on display to the public for the first time. Portals to the Past also features a Roman cremation pot (which still contained remains when discovered), 16th century jewellery, and flint used by Londoners some 9,000 years ago. The free exhibition runs at the Crossrail Visitor Information Centre behind Centre Point at 6-18 St Giles High Street until 15th March. To coincide with it, Crossrail archaeologists will be running a series of lectures on Wednesday evenings starting at 6pm. No booking is required but numbers are limited so it’s recommended that attendees turn up early. For more information, www.crossrail.co.uk/sustainability/archaeology/archaeology-exhibition-portals-to-the-past-february-2014.

A new exhibition celebrating the artists of the German Renaissance opened at the National Gallery yesterday. Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance features paintings, drawings and prints by the likes of Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Durer and Lucas Cranach the Elder and examines how perceptions of the pieces have changed over time. Works include Holbein’s Anne of Cleves, Hans Baldung Grien’s Portrait of a Young Man with a Rosary, and Matthias Grunewald’s drawing of An Elderly Woman with Clasped Hands. There is also a reconstruction of the Liesborn altarpiece, created in 1465 and originally housed at the Benedictine Abbey of Liesborn in Germany. Runs until 11th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.co.uk.

Film-makers Michael Powell (1905-1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902-1988) have been commemorated with the placement of an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the site of their former workplace, a flat in Dorset House, on Gloucester Place in Marylebone. It was from Flat 120 in the apartment block that they oversaw the production of some of their greatest films including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948) between 1942 and 1947. Film director Martin Scorsese was among those who unveiled the plaque. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

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

Chiswick-HouseAn icon of the Georgian era, Chiswick House in west London is one of the pre-eminent examples of neo-Palladian architecture in Britain and exemplifies the elegance of the time.

Designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753), the two storey, domed villa was inspired by what Lord Burlington had seen of ancient and sixteenth century architecture during his tours of Italy – in particular the work of Andrea Palladio – as well as the work of Palladio admirer, famed English architect Inigo Jones (his statue along with that of Palladio can be seen outside),

Chiswick-House2It was constructed in the 1720s, most likely between 1727 and 1729, on a site which had been purchased by the first Earl of Burlington (his grandfather) in 1682 and which was already occupied by a Jacobean-era house (this property, which the third Earl significantly renovated, was eventually pulled down in 1788). The interiors were designed by William Kent in collaboration with Burlington and feature luxurious rooms with velvet-covered walls such as the magnificently restored Blue Velvet Room.

The exact purpose of the property remains something of a mystery – it’s been suggested it was built to as a pavilion for private contemplation, grand entertainments and to house the Earl’s art collection and the fact it had no kitchen is supportive of such a conclusion. But there is evidence it was also used as a functioning house – the fact Lady Burlington died in her bedchamber in the premises in 1758 and the link which was eventually built by Lord Burlington between it and the older property on the estate are suggestive of this.

Chiswick-House3Whatever its purpose, the architectural and artistic masterpiece was complemented by formal gardens which Lord Burlington, again, along with the aid of Kent, extensively altered to create a highly planned but naturalistic-looking landscape. Known as the “birthplace of the English Landscape Movement”, the gardens have influenced everyone from ‘Capability’ Brown to the design of New York City’s Central Park.

Following Lord Burlington’s death in 1753, the house passed into the hands of his grandson, the fifth Duke of Devonshire (his wife was the rather infamous Duchess Georgiana). He extended the house into a large mansion, adding new wings (these weren’t removed until the 1950s) and improved the gardens, adding the stone bridge (pictured) that still stands over the lake.

Upon the fifth Duke’s death in 1811, the house passed into the hands of the sixth Duke, known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’. He made considerable use of the property and guests included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Fredrick William III of Prussia, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas I (again, of Russia). The Bachelor Duke also extended the grounds and brought a range of exotic animals into them, including an elephant, kangaroos and emus.

Upon his death in 1858, he left the property to his sister and after her death only four years later, it was subsequently let to some rather high-brow tenants including the Prince of Wales who received the Shah of Persia there in 1873,

The estate was eventually sold by the ninth Duke to the Middlesex County Council and after the war, gifted to the Minister of Works. In 1984, care for the house was transferred to English Heritage. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Hounslow.

Along with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, English Heritage recently completed a £12 million restoration of the gardens which, this year will host the fourth annual Camellia Festival next month. But this stunning property is well worth a visit any time of the year.

WHERE: Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green/nearest train station is Chiswick);  WHEN: 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday (until 31st March); COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.

First up, apologies that we were unable to launch our new Wednesday series yesterday due to some technical difficulties (stayed tuned for next week). And now, on with the news…

Sarah_Bernhardt_by_Lafayette_Ltd_1899_c__Victoria_and_Albert_Museum_London__William Shakespeare’s influence on successive generations of theatrical performance is the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth on 23rd April. Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright centres on the Bard’s First Folio which, published in 1623, contains 36 plays including 18 works – Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night among them – which would be unknown without it. The display includes interviews, archive footage and photography and objects from the V&A collections as well as an audio-visual presentation by Fifty Nine Productions featuring interviews with contemporary theatre practitioners such as actors, directors and designers. Objects on display include a skull used by Sarah Bernhardt when playing Hamlet in 1899, an embroidered handkerchief used by Ellen Terry when playing Desdemona in 1881 at the Lyceum Theatre, and a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in an 1887 production of Richard III. Runs in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries until 21st September. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, 1899, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A skeletal horse and a giant hand giving a thumbs up will adorn the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square during 2015-16. Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse is derived from an etching by painter George Stubbs and, while being a comment on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was intended for the plinth, also features an electronic ribbon displaying a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange on its front leg. Meanwhile David Shrigley’s Really Good is a 10 metre high hand giving a thumbs up – sending a positive message to those who see it. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/fourth-plinth.

The impact of the car on England’s landscape and the listed buildings of motoring history are the focus of a new exhibition in Wellington Arch. Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England features archive photographs, historic advertising, cartoons and motoring magazines as well as a 1930s traffic light, a petrol pump and other accessories and memorabilia. Wellington Arch, which is managed by English Heritage, is a fitting location for the exhibition – it was moved to its current position due to increasing traffic back in 1883. Admission charge apply. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.

A new exhibition exploring some of the true and not-so-true stories inspired by and produced in London opens at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tomorrow. London Stories features the best entries from The Serco Prize for Illustration 2014 with more than 50 works of art on display depicting a well-known or obscure London narrative. The short-listed illustrations tackle everything from ghost buses to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show of 1887, a Pearly King and Queen, Lenin’s ‘Love letter to London’ and an escaped monkey jazz band. There’s also a host of musical and literary references – everything from Mary Poppins to Sweeney Todd and Oranges and Lemons. Tomorrow there will be a late opening of the exhibition complete with cash bar, DJ and story-telling for adults as well as the chance to create your own London story with illustration workshops and a photo-booth. Organised by London Transport Museum in partnership with the Association of Illustrators, it runs until 6th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

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