The President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, attending a wreath-laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday night to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Scottish missionary and explorer Dr David Livingstone. The ceremony took place at the grave of Dr Livingstone – his body was repatriated to London following his death in Zambia in 1873 from malaria and dysentery. The Very Reverand Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, said the ceremony honored a “Scot of humble origins, but clear determination and courage”. “140 years after his death, he remains respected throughout these islands, and especially in Africa, where, for 30 years, he laboured to spread the Gospel, to explore the land’s secrets, and to map what he discovered,” he said. “Treating all people as his equals, he worked to abolish the slave trade in Africa.” Livingstone conducted several expeditions into the interior of Africa – while they included a failed attempt to find the source of the Nile, he is credited with documenting numerous geographical features including Victoria Falls (he named it after Queen Victoria) and Lake Malawi. Celebrated as a hero of the Victorian age, his meeting with Henry Stanley in October 1871 – Stanley had been sent to find him after he had lost contact with the outside world – gave rise to the expression “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” (though whether he actually said the phrase remains a matter of debate).

A landmark exhibition on the career of David Bowie opens at the V&A on Saturday. David Bowie is features more than 300 objects including handwritten lyrics, costumes, photographs, films, Bowie’s instruments and album artwork selected by the V&A’s theatre and performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh. The exhibition takes an in-depth look at Bowie’s music and how it and his “radical individualism” has influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design and contemporary culture. Among the more than 60 costumes on display will be a Ziggy Stardust bodysuit (1972) and costumes made for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour as well as some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries. This exhibition, which is sponsored by Gucci and Sennheiser,  runs until 11th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/davidbowieis.

Homeland star Damian Lewis has received the Freedom of the City of London in a ceremony at Guildhall on Tuesday in recognition of his “outstanding achievements in acting”. Lewis, who graduated from the City of London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 1993, has appeared in The Forsyte Saga, US mini-series Band of Brothers and, of course, in Homeland. Interestingly, his maternal grandfather, Sir Ian Bowater, was Lord Mayor of the City of London from 1938 to 1939. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.au.

Work is underway on the first of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s, “pocket parks”. The size of a tennis court, the pocket parks are set to “reinvent some of London’s forgotten nooks and crannies”. Among the first will be an edible park featuring vegetable, herbs, fruit trees and hops located on ‘dead space’ behind a Stockwell bus stop (the hops will be sold to the Brixton Beer Cooperative). All 100 of the pocket parks will be finished by March 2015 at a cost of £2 million. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/priorities/environment/greening-london/parks-green-spaces/pocket-parks.

It’s the chance to try a new sport for the first time in a day of free games and activities which will be held at the Queen Mother Sports Centre in Vauxhall Bridge Road on Saturday. From 10am to 3pm, visitors will be able to try a range of different sporting activities including football, basketball and swimming with athletes and coaches on hand to offer advice. For more, see www.westminster.gov.uk.

Known as “The Lady with the Lamp”, Florence Nightingale is remembered for her contribution to the development of the profession of nursing and the reform of medical practices during the Crimean War and the latter half of the 19th century.

Born on 12th May, 1820 in Florence (it’s from her birthplace that she gets her name), Florence Nightingale was the second daughter of William Edward Nightingale, son of a wealthy Sheffield banker, and Frances Smith.

She had a relatively privileged childhood at her family’s homes of Lea Hurst in Derbyshire and Embley Park in Hampshire (her father was named High Sheriff of the county in 1828) as well as occasional visits to London and received a broad education.

Believing herself to be called by God into His service when in her mid-teens, she chafed at the life set before her. It was a during visit to  convent which holidaying in Rome with family friends that she became convinced she had a mission from God to tend to the sick.

This was only furthered during a subsequent visit to a religious community at Kaiserswerth am Rhein – a training school for nurses – that finally convinced her of the possibility of making nursing a vocation for ladies. Returning to England, Nightingale took up her first official post – as superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlemen – in 1853.

The Crimean War broke out in March, 1854, and later that year, aware of reports of the suffering sick and wounded English soldiers were enduring, Nightingale offered her services to the War Office following an invitation by the Secretary for War Sidney Herbert.

Charged with authority over all the nurses (her official title was later Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals in the East), Nightingale embarked for Crimea on 21st October with 38 nurses (there’s a plaque at 90 Harley Street – site of the hospital from which Nightingale left for the Crimea). She reached Scutari in Turkey on 4th November, the night before the Battle of Inkerman.

Headquartered in Scutari, Nightingale set about organising the military hospitals, improving general hygiene and conditions and supplies of essentials like clothes and other equipment. The wounded men soon recognised her efforts and began calling her ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ – referring to sight of her checking the wards at night.

Visiting hospitals near and in Balaclava in 1855, Nightingale fell ill from “Crimean fever” but recovered and was able to return to Scutari and continue her work. The following March Nighingale returned to Balaclava and continued to work there until the hospitals closed in July. She returned to England and the family home at Lea Hurst the following month.

In September, 1856, Nightingale had an audience with Queen Victoria at Balmoral – she used the occasion to inform the Queen and Prince Albert of the reforms needed in the military hospital system (and subsequently met with the Queen many times). Backed by data she had collected in the Crimea, Nightingale also pushed for a commission into military hospitals – it was commenced in April 1857 and Nightingale’s written evidence was critical to its recommendations.

In 1860, the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses was established at St Thomas’ Hospital in London (it was funded with £50,000 raised through the Nightingale Fund which had been established in 1855). She as unable to take up the post of superintendent due to ill health and other reasons but continued to take an active interest.

Nightingale – who wrote more than 200 books, reports and pamphlets on hospital planning and organisation, including the famous Notes on Nursing (1859), and interestingly is also said to have invented the pie chart – was also involved in establishing the East London Nursing Society (1868), the Workhouse Nursing Association and National Society for Providing Trained Nurses for the Poor (1874) and the Queen’s Jubilee Nursing Institute (1890).

Her accolades included the German Order of the Cross of Merit and the French Gold Medal of Secours aux Blessés Militaires and the badge of honour of the Norwegian Red Cross Society. She was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit and the Freedom of the City of London.

Nightingale died at the age of 90 in South Street London (just off Park Lane – there’s a Blue Plaque marking the spot), on 13th August, 1910. She was buried in the family plot at East Wellow, Hampshire.

There is a memorial to Nightingale as part of the Crimean War Memorial at Waterloo Place and a chapel dedicated to her at Westminster Abbey which is involved in the annual service commemorating her held there on her birthday, International Nurses Day, every year. For more on the service, see our earlier post here.

Well worth a visit is the Florence Nightingale Museum, located within St Thomas’ Hospital.    Highlights include her pet Owl Athena and the Turkish lantern she used in the Crimean War and the museum archives include around 800 letters from Florence Nightingale. For more on the museum, see www.florence-nightingale.co.uk.

• 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/

A detailed history of Apsley House, the former home of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, has gone live online as part of a pilot project aimed at “deepening the public’s understanding of English history”. The property, known as Number 1, London, is one of 12 initially being profiled in depth in a pilot project on the new English Heritage online resource, Portico. Others include Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, located in Kent, as well as Beeston Castle, Brough Castle, Byland Abbey, Carlisle Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle, Easby Abbey, Kenilworth Castle, Lullingstone Roman Villa, Rievaulx Abbey and Wroxeter Roman City near Shrewsbury. Brief historical details are also provided for an additional 220 lesser known free sites including Dunster Yarn Market in Somerset. For more see www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/archives-and-collections/portico/.

The West Lawn of the British Museum Forecourt has been turned into an image of the Australian continent as part of a five year partnership programme between the museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The landscape moves from the vegetation of the eastern Australia’s coast through to the red centre and onto a rocky Western Australian outcrop. It showcases some of the continent’s unique and highly threatened flora. The  construction of the landscape, which follows one showcasing that of South Africa last year, is part of the museum’s ‘Australian season’. Runs until October. Admission is free. See www.britishmuseum.org.

• Dame Judy Dench was awarded the Freedom of the City of London for services to acting at a ceremony at the Guildhall last week. The winner of an Academy Award, nine BAFTAs and three Laurence Olivier Awards, Dame Judy is an icon of stage and screen. She is reportedly looking forward to driving her sheep over London Bridge and occasionally wearing a sword in public – both privileges of those awarded the Freedom of the City of London. The Freedom of the City’s origins are believed to date back to 1237 and enabled recipients to carry out their trade. Today people are nominated for or apply for the Freedom for the link with the City or are awarded it for a significant contribution to London life. Many of the traditional privileges – such as driving your sheep over London Bridge or being hanged with a silken rope – no longer exist.

Now On: Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it. The British Library’s first exhibition which explores science fiction through literature, film, illustrations and sound. Guest curated by Andy Sawyer, director of science fiction studies MA at the University of Liverpool, the exhibition traces the evolution of the genre from Lucian of Samosata’s True History, written in the 2nd century AD, through to the recent writings of Cory Doctorow and China Mieville. Highlights include a 1516 edition of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a 1647 edition of Lucian’s True History, and a 1906 edition of HG Wells text, The War of the Worlds. Runs until 25th September. For more see, www.bl.uk/sciencefiction.

London will celebrate Chinese New Year this Sunday as it once again hosts the largest celebrations outside of Asia attracting some 250,000 people from around the globe. The event programme, which celebrates 2011 as the Year of the Rabbit, kicks off at 11am on the main stage in Trafalgar Square with firecrackers at noon, a Lion and Dragon performance at 1.10pm and dance and song during the afternoon culminating in a finale just before 6pm. There will also be a stage in Shaftesbury Avenue with performances throughout the day. Roads in the area will be closed for the event.

You no longer have to be in London to walk through the galleries of the Tate Britain or the National Gallery. Both institutions are among 17 around the world taking part in the Google Art Project which allows web surfers to virtually “walk” around the museum using the organisation’s Street View technology and turn 360 degrees to view the artworks in situ on the walls. The project also allows viewers to look through images of more than 1,000 artworks and, in addition, each institution has selected one artwork which then captured in “super high resolution” and then placed on line (Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors‘ for the National Gallery, Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry for the Tate). See www.googleartproject.com for more.

Cyclists have ridden the distance to the moon and back 13 times – 10 million kilometres – since the launch of Mayor Boris Johnson’s cycle scheme. Transport for London released figures this week showing riders have made more than 2.5 million journeys on the “Boris bikes” since the scheme was launched six months ago. The TfL has announced plans to expand the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme to new areas of east London including all of the Borough of Tower Hamlets, North Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Bow, Canary Wharf, Mile End and Poplar by spring 2012. Almost 110,000 people are now signed up to the scheme. www.tfl.gov.uk.

The youngest Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain is to be granted the Freedom of the City of London in a special ceremony next month. Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in a front line squadron during the battle.