A Moment in London’s History – The martyrdom of St Alphege…

This month marks the 1010th anniversary of the murder of Alphege, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by Vikings in Greenwich.

St Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, is asked for advice in this early 15th century manuscript from Paris.

Alphege, also known as Ælfheah and Alfege, had been kidnapped from Canterbury during a Viking raid in September, 1011. Alphege’s captors were said to have been seeking a huge sum for his ransom – some 3,000 gold marks, reports the monk Osbern – but that, knowing such a sum would bring starvation upon the people under his care, he refused to allow himself to be ransomed – for money or anything else – and this drew the anger of his captors.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one day, seven months after his kidnapping – on 19th April, 1012, the Vikings were drunk and, had the elderly archbishop brought before their assembly. Then, in an act of execution, they began throwing ox bones and heads at the unfortunate archbishop before one of them struck him on the back of the head with the butt of an axe, killing him.

According to tradition, the murder took place on the site of St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. A contemporary account also tells that a Viking lord named Thorkell the Tall, a Christian convert, had tried to save the archbishop’s life – offering everything he owned except his ship in exchange for the cleric’s life – but failed (interestingly, so appalled was Thorkell at the murder that he switched sides and fought for the English king Ethelred the Unready following Alphege’s death). There is also an account that the fatal blow was actually delivered by a Christian converted named Thrum as an act of mercy.

Alphege’s body was recovered and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. In 1023, the body was moved by King Cnut to Canterbury in a gesture of goodwill to the English. The first Archbishop of Canterbury to meet such a violent end, he was canonised in 1078.

There is a memorial stone to the saint set in the floor in front of the altar in the Greenwich church.

LondonLife – Climbing the rigging…

PICTURES: @NathanTurner

Visitors to the Cutty Sark now have the opportunity to climb the ship’s rigging for the first time since the ship arrived in Greenwich in 1954. The ‘Rig Climb Experience’, which was launched last weekend, sees those bold enough to do so stepping up from the main deck onto the ship’s ratlines, climbing up its shrouds and traversing one of the ship’s lower yardarms  to reach the tops platform where they’ll be able to take in magnificent views over Greenwich and The Thames. One of the fastest tea clippers of its day, the Cutty Sark – which was built in Dumbarton in 1869 – had more than 11 miles of rigging, 32 sails with an original sail area of 32,000 square feet, and a 152 foot main mast. Prices start at £41 for adults and £26 for children for a ‘Standard Rig Climb’ and £51 for adults and £36 for children for the Rig Climb Experience Plus. For more, head to www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark.

This Week in London – Canaletto at the National Maritime Museum; the story of the postcode; Easter hunts at royal palaces; and, superheroes and orphans…

Canaletto, ‘View of the Grand Canal from the Palazzo Bembo to Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi‘ © From the Woburn Abbey Collection

Twenty-four of Canaletto’s Venetian views which are normally found at Woburn Abbey form the heart of a new exhibition opening at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Friday. Canaletto’s Venice Revisited explores some of the most iconic view paintings of Venice and how tourism, which helped establish Canaletto’s career, today threatens Venice’s future. The views from Woburn Abbey were painted by Canaletto for Lord John Russell, the 4th Duke of Bedford, in the 1730s and this is the first time the paintings, which are thought to be Canaletto’s largest single commission, will be on display in their entirety outside of the abbey. As well as 22 smaller views of Venice depicting iconic landmarks such as Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal, as well as campi, palazzi and churches, the works include two monumental views, A Regatta on the Grand Canal and The Grand Canal, Ascension Day: The embarkation of the Doge of Venice for the Ceremony of the Marriage of the Adriatic. Runs until 25th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/canaletto.

The story of the postcode is the subject of a new exhibition at The Postal Museum. Sorting Britain: The Power of Postcodes charts the journey of postcodes in the UK, from the post postal districts in London, Liverpool and Manchester and the first trial of postcodes in Norwich in 1959 to how postcodes are used today as an indicator of social standing. Highlights in the display include ELSIE, one of the only original 1950s Electronic Letter Sorting Indicating Equipment left in existence, images of ‘Poco the Postcode Elephant’ – one of the biggest advertising campaigns of the 1980s and unseen maps of London from the 19th century. Runs until 1st January. Included in admission ticket. For more, see www.postalmuseum.org.

• The Lindt GOLD BUNNY Hunt is returning to both Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace this Easter for the first time since 2019. Children aged four to 12 are invited to use a trail map to explore each palace and gardens and find the Lindt GOLD BUNNY statues while learning about people from the palaces’ past and, on successfully completing their mission, claim their chocolatey reward. Check the website for details of dates. The hunt is included in palace admission. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

The representation of foundlings, orphans, adoptees, and foster children in comics and graphic novels comes under scrutiny in a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Opening Friday, Superheroes, Orphans & Origins: 125 years in comics looks at traditional orphan superheroes ranging from Superman and Batman to Spider Man and Black Panther along with characters from early newspaper comic strips, Japanese Manga and contemporary graphic novel protagonists. The display includes historical newspapers, original artwork and contemporary digital work as well as examples of international comics rarely exhibited in the UK. There are also three new artistic commissions specifically made for the exhibition. Can be seen until 28th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/event/superheroes-orphans-origins/.

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Famous Londoners – John Flamsteed…

Memorialised in the name of the house where he once lived at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, John Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal.

Flamsteed was born in Denby, Derbyshire, on 16th August, 1646, and was the only child of Stephen Flamsteed, who among other things was involved in the brewing industry, and his first wife Mary (who died when John Flamsteed was still quite young).

A bust of John Flamsteed at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

He was educated at local schools but left off his studies at the age of 15 due to his own ill health and his father’s need for his assistance in the household and with his business.

His poor health meant he pursued some more sedentary activities and it was during this period that he established interest in astronomy, writing his first paper in 1665. Flamsteed did briefly attend Jesus College in Cambridge in the early 1670s, although it’s not thought he ever took up full residence.

Flamsteed was ordained a deacon and was preparing to take up a living in Derbyshire in 1675 – having by then obtained an MA from Cambridge – when his patron Jonas Moore, whom he’d met in the summer of 1670 during a visit to London and then visited again in mid-1674, invited him to return to the city, ostensibly to establish an observatory which Moore, who was Surveyor-General of the Ordnance, had offered to pay for.

Flamsteed arrived in February, 1675, stayed with Moore in the Tower before, after meeting King Charles II, was made an official assistant to a Royal Commission which the king had established charged with examining the merits of a proposal – put forward by a “le Sieur de St Pierre” to find longitude by the position of the Moon.

The commission decided the proposal wasn’t worth taking further but did recommend the establishment of an observatory from which the movement of the stars and Moon could be mapped in the hope of developing a method of finding longitude. Flamsteed was subsequently appointed “The King’s Astronomical Observator” – the first Astronomer Royal – on 4th March, 1675, by royal warrant, and in June that same year, another royal warrant provided for the founding of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Flamsteed laid the foundation stone on 10th August.

He was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Society in February the following year and in July he moved into the observatory, now known as Flamsteed House (it contains famed Octagonal Room with large windows from which celestial events could be watched), which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was to serve as Flamsteed’s home for next decade or so.

Flamsteed House, Royal Greenwich Observatory, its named after John Flamsteed. PICTURE: Dmitry Djouce.

Flamsteed’s achievements as an astronomer included the accurate calculation of the solar eclipses of 1666 and 1668 and recording some of the earliest sightings of Uranus which he mistakenly thought was a star. He was also in regular contact with many other scientific luminaries of the day and famously fell out with both Sir Edmond Halley (his one-time assistant and future successor as Astronomer Royal) and Sir Isaac Newton.

Flamsteed’s own catalogue of almost 3,000 stars wasn’t published until after death in 1725 thanks to the effort’s of his wife Margaret – whom he had married on 23rd October, 1692 (they were to have no children although Flamsteed’s niece, Ann Heming, did live with them). Margaret also published his star atlas, Atlas Coelestis, posthumously in 1729.

In 1684, Flamsteed was elevated to the priesthood and made rector of the village of Burstow, near Crawley in Surrey – a post, which, along with that of Astronomer Royal, he held until his death on 31st December, 1719.

He was buried in Burstow and there is a plaque on the wall of the church there marking his grave (which was added long after his death). Aside from his earthly honours – which includes the name of Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, a crater on the Moon is named after him as is an asteroid.

This Week in London – The ‘RRS Sir David Attenborough’ at Greenwich; the Amazon explored at the Science Museum; and, Christmas at The National Gallery…

The RRS Sir David Attenborough in Liverpool. PICTURE: By Phil Nash from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 & GFDL.

Find out what it’s like to live and work in the Earth’s polar extremes at Greenwich from today. The three day ‘Ice World Festival’ centres on the British Antarctic Survey’s vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, which is visiting Greenwich before beginning its first mission to the Antarctic. Visitors will also be able to meet real polar scientists and explorers and see the Boaty McBoatface submersible as well as treasures from the National Maritime Museum’s polar collection including relics from HMS Erebus and Terror and items belonging to Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton. While the ship can be seen from the dockside, a limited number of tickets are available for walk-up visitors to the festival (advanced booking tickets have sold out). Runs from today until 30th October. Admission is free. For more information, head here.

More than 200 images – captured by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado over seven years – explore the rich diversity of the Amazon in an exhibition at the Science Museum. Amazônia provides a close-up look at one of the most unique environments on the planet through Salgado’s eyes, including panoramic scenery and the Indigenous peoples of the region (Salgado spent time with 12 different Indigenous groups over his period in the Amazon). Runs until March next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/amazonia.

Father Christmas with return to The National Gallery for selected dates in November and December. The gallery’s Christmas experience will provide children with the chance to have their photo taken with Santa in his grotto, listen to an elven story in the winter forest set and receive a special token which they can exchange for a gift at the Elven Sorting Office. Meanwhile, Hendrick Avercamp’s painting A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle (about 1608–9) will be enlarged and reproduced on a canvas to provide a scenic backdrop for the activities. Admission charge applies. Bookings are now open. For more, head to www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/meet-father-christmas.

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This Week in London – The Northern Lights come to Greenwich; Sir Kenneth Clark honoured; and, Phyllida Barlow at the Tate…

Borealis, Dan Acher. PICTURE: Courtesy GDIF

The Northern Lights come to Greenwich this Bank Holiday weekend. The Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, promoted as London’s “leading festival of free outdoor theatre and performing arts”, features two major installations in the Old Royal Naval College grounds – the Borealis and We are Watching – from artist Dan Acher as well as the Greenwich Fair on Sunday. There’s also dance and theatrical performances – including Family Tree, a performance inspired by the life of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were harvested and cultivated without her consent after her death from cervical cancer in 1951, and Future Cargo, Requardt & Rosenberg, a contemporary sci-fi dance show – and pop-up events in neighbourhoods across the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The festival opens tomorrow and runs until 11th September. For the full programme of events and for more information, see https://festival.org/gdif/whatson/. For bookings for Borealis, head here.

Art historian and broadcaster, Sir Kenneth Clark, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Marylebone home. Clark (1903-1983), who is probably best known for the landmark 1969 BBC TV series Civilisation, lived in the property at 30 Portland Place between 1934 and 1939 – the period when he became director of The National Gallery and when he was knighted. Sir Kenneth and his wife Jane hosted parties at the property where guests included Winston Churchill and Vanessa Bell. Sir Kenneth, who also headed organisations including the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Independent Television Authority, is noted for having saved some of the nation’s most valuable artworks during World War II by having more than 800 paintings evacuated to rural Wales. He was also responsible for many of the Ministry of Information’s wartime films and sponsored emerging artists including Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

A celebration of Phyllida Barlow’s art has opened at the Tate Modern on South Bank. ARTIST ROOMS: Phyllida Barlow spans the British artist’s 60 year career and features some of her large-scale sculptures as well as more than 30 works on paper. Highlights include Object for the television (1994), the only surviving work from Barlow’s 1990s series Objects for… and major installations such as untitled: brokenstage/hangingcontainer, 2012/2013 and untitled: upturnedhouse2, 2012. The exhibition is free to enter. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Royal portraits in Greenwich; Sir Roger Bannister to be honoured; and, drawing on the Tate’s Turbine Hall floor…

King Henry VII by unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505 (oil on panel) © National Portrait Gallery, London

More than 150 of the finest portraits of royal families over five dynasties are on show at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, which is being run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery, features famous paintings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, medals and stamps from the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Windsor dynasties. Highlights include the earliest known portrait of Henry VII (also the oldest artwork in the exhibition) which was painted in 1505 by an unknown artist, Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, portraits of Charles II and his mistresses, early 19th century domestic photographs of Queen Victoria and her family, and a selection of paintings and photographs of Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz. Runs until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/TudorsWindsors.

Westminster Abbey has announced a new memorial to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run under a mile in four minutes. The abbey said the memorial ledger stone to Bannister, who later became a neurologist, will be placed in what is known as ‘Scientists’ Corner’ in the building’s nave, close to the graves of scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as well as the ashes of Stephen Hawking. “Throughout his life Sir Roger Bannister reached out for that which lay beyond,” said the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, in a statement. “As a sportsman, pushing himself towards a prize some considered beyond human reach, as a scientist ever eager for deeper understanding of neurology. We are delighted that his memory and his achievement will be set in stone in the Abbey. He ran the race set before us all.” Bannister is famous for having run a mile in three minutes, 59.4 second at Oxford on 6th May, 1954 – a record which stood for almost nine years.

Be among those transforming the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into an “ever changing work of art”. Visitors are invited to join in covering the hall’s floor with their own jottings using coloured drawing materials as part of artist Ei Arakawa’s interactive installation, Mega Please Draw Freely. The installation, which can be contributed to until 29th August, kicks off UNIQLO Tate Play – a new free programme of playful art-inspired activities for families, being in partnership with UNIQLO, at the Tate Modern. The project, which has seen the Turbine Hall floor covered with a temporary surface allowing it to be drawn upon, is inspired by the Gutai group, radical Japanese artists who wanted to change the world through painting, performance and children’s play and, in particular, the group’s ‘Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition of 1956’ in which Yoshihara Jirō created the groundbreaking work Please Draw Freely, a large board on which people were free to draw and paint. Visitors can access Mega Please Draw Freely by booking a free collection display ticket online at www.tate.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and, a new sculpture trail in Greenwich…

The 18 day meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France in 1520, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, is the subject of an exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, which is being held to mark the 500th anniversary of the event (having been rescheduled from last year), is being held in rooms in Hampton Court Palace that were once used by the architect of the summit, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and features objects from the actual meeting as well as treasures from the courts of the two kings. They include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments – woven from cloth of gold and chosen by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais, Wolsey’s Book of Hours, and a unique tapestry which, manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, depicts a bout of wrestling at the event with a black trumpeter shown among the brace of royal musicians. The display can be seen until 5th September. Admission charge applies. For more information and tickets – prebooking is essential, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A free sculpture trail, featuring works by artist Josie Spencer, has opened on the King William Lawns at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Fragments in Time features life-sized bodies captured in dramatic positions, including fractured figures, which demonstrate the beauty and resilience of the human spirit while highlighting the fragility of life. The artist says the works have been chosen from a group of pieces that treated the figures as if they were the “archaeology of our time found in another century, in the future, when those then looking at them can see the fragility of our life now”. The trail can be seen until 6th August.

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London Pub Signs – The Pilot…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The former sign of this Greenwich pub made the origins of its name pretty obvious – it depicted the orange boat of the Thames pilot, one of the navigators who helped ships make their way down London’s great river (the current sign is a bit more subtle, depicting a gull flying over the river).

But there is an alternate theory for the pub’s name. William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801 and then again from 1804 to 1806, is said to have once owned the land on which the pub was built. His nickname? The “Pilot”.

The timing for the latter fits, given that the pub dates from 1801 when it opened under the name ‘The Pilot Inn and Ferry’ (and is thus believed by many to be the oldest surviving building on the Greenwich Peninsula).

The front of the pub bears a plaque which features the names Ceylon Place and New East Greenwich and the date 1801 – Ceylon Place refers the row of terraced houses to which the pub is joined and New East Greenwich which was the name given to this development overall when it was built (in the apparently unrealised hopes that it would be at the heart of a much larger estate).

This atmospheric pub, which features exposed beams and a rear terrace, can be found at 68 River Way, a short walk from the O2 Arena. Acquired by the Fuller’s chain in 2006, it offers accomodation as well as meals. For more, see www.pilotgreenwich.co.uk.

10 London hills – 6. Shooter’s Hill…

Sunset from Shooters Hill. PICTURE: matbickle (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The highest point in the Borough of Greenwich in London’s south-east, Shooter’s Hill rises to 433 feet (132 metres) above sea level and provides views over the Thames to the north and London to the west as well as Kent and Essex.

Severndroog Castle. PICTURE: Public Domain

The name, which is also that of the surrounding district, apparently comes from the fact that archery was practiced there in the Middle Ages.

But the area – which still is reasonably well wooded – was also the haunt of highwaymen (in response, there was a gallows at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill and a gibbet on the summit where bodies were displayed).

The modern road known as Shooters Hill Road, part of the A2 and later the A207, follows part of the route of the ancient roadway known as Watling Street.

Landmarks on the hill include a Gothic revival water tower dating from 1910 and a rather impressive folly known as Severndroog Castle which was built in in 1784 by Lady James in honour of her husband, Commodore Sir William James, who captured a pirate fortress at Suvarnadurg on India’s west coast in 1755.

Other landmarks include Christ Church Shooters Hill which features a Grade II-listed milestone and a Bronze Age mound known as Shrewsbury Barrow.

Literary mentions include one in Samuel Pepys’ famous diary – he rode past a body on the gibbet in 1661 – and in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

This Week in London – Take One Picture images hit giant screens; Old Royal Naval College to reopen; and, women at the Jewish Museum…

‘Take One Picture’ exhibition artwork displayed on Ocean Outdoor’s screen at Holland Park Roundabout, London. PICTURE: © The National Gallery, London

Artworks created by primary school children have taken centrestage on giant screens around the country including in London. The gallery’s 25th annual ‘Take One Picture’ exhibition, being run in partnership with Ocean Outdoor, sees the artworks appear on the large format screens until 15th March. Each year schools taking part in the initiative are invited to have students respond to a particular National Gallery collection work in creating their own works. This year’s focus painting is American painter George Bellows’ 1912 work Men of the Docks which depicts a group of longshoremen waiting to unload an ocean liner against the backdrop of a wintry river landscape in New York. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk/take-one-picture.

The grounds of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich will be open from 12th April in line with government guidelines. Meanwhile, a route through the college grounds – along College Way via the East and West Gates – will continue to be open to pedestrians and cyclists between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday and 8am and 4pm over the weekends.

The Jewish Museum has announced a new virtual tour focusing on the pioneering women whose stories are told in its collection. The tour, which will be delivered via Zoom on 8th March to mark International Women’s Day (as well as later dates), looks at the various ways women have contributed to Jewish history and culture in Britain over the centuries. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/event/women-of-worth/.

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This Week in London – National Maritime Museum, London Transport Museum reopen; and, Picasso at BASTIAN gallery…

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich opens its doors this Monday, 7th September. Those who visit in the first week will be able to see all the winning images in the ‘Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ competition.Entry is free but tickets must be booked in advance. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

• Other reopenings include the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden which also throws back its doors on Monday. Along with displays including historic vehicles and iconic posters, the reopening includes the ‘Hidden London’ exhibition revealing London’s ‘abandoned’ Underground stations. Tickets must be booked in advance. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

Picasso’s Cannes’ studio has been recreated in an immersive experience  at the BASTIAN gallery in Mayfair. Atelier Picasso is an installation-style exhibition and features furniture, sculptures, ceramics, drawings and prints. Highlights include portraits of the artist taken by his friend André Villers, ceramic works such as Wood Owl (1969) and Carreau Visage d’Homme (1965), lithograph and linocut posters and books including Gallieri Jorgen Expose Le Lithographies de L’atelier Mourlot (1984), and the masterpiece Minotaure caressing une dormeuse from the artist’s Vollard Suite. Admission is free. For more, see www.bastian-gallery.com. PICTURE: Courtesy of Luke Andrew Walker.

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This Week in London – Rare Hebrew manuscripts at British Library; British Museum to reopen; and art at the Old Royal Naval College…

The launch of a new exhibition looking at Hebrew manuscripts marks the next phase of the British Library reopening. Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word explores the history, culture and traditions of the Jewish people around the world and features rarely seen treasures including a letter to King Henry VIII written by an Italian rabbi in 1530 regarding Biblical laws that could support Henry VIII’s claim to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as well as the earliest dated copy – 1380 – of Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, a rare uncensored copy of the Babylonian Talmud dating from the 13th century, and a 15th century illustrated copy of Abraham bar Hiyya’s Shape of the Earth, one of the first Jewish scientific works written in the Hebrew language. Also reopening is the library’s free permanent gallery – the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library – with a new one-way route taking in treasures including Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks and handwritten manuscripts by the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. For more on the exhibition and the library’s reopening, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: David Jensen.

The British Museum reopens to visitors from today after the longest closure in its 261 year history. Tickets must be pre-booked online or over the phone and visitors will be able to access the ground floor galleries through a new one-way route. The museum has also announced that Grayson Perry’s work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – an elaborate, cast-iron coffin-ship originally created for his British Museum exhibition of the same name in 2011 – is returning to the museum. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

A “celestial choir of spinning sound machines” can be seen at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich this weekend. Positioned in Lower Grand Square, Chorus is the monumental work of award-winning artist and British Composer of the Year Ray Lee. It features a series of giant metal tripods supporting rotating arms, at the end of which are loudspeakers which emit finely turned musical pitches. It can be viewed from Friday through to Monday. Meanwhile, the Painted Hall is hosting Luke Jerram’s artwork Gaia which features NASA imagery in creating a virtual, 3D small scale Earth. Gaia can be seen from tomorrow until 6th September (admission charge applies).  For more, see www.ornc.org.

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10 disease-related memorials in London…8. Former site of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases…

A blue plaque on a building in Euston marks one of the former sites of the  Hospital for Tropical Diseases – a short-lived episode in the life of a hospital which started life aboard a ship on the Thames.

The hospital, the idea for which originated with the Seamen’s Hospital Society and was funded by public subscription, was founded in 1821 aboard the former naval ship, the HMS Grampus for the relief of ill seamen with none less than King George IV himself as patron.

It was moved aboard the HMS Dreadnought in 1831 and then to the HMS Caledonia, renamed the Dreadnought, in 1857, before finally moving into a section of the Royal Greenwich Hospital in 1870 which in turn became known as the Dreadnought Hospital.

In 1919 the hospital moved to the Endsleigh Palace Hotel at the corner of Endsleigh Gardens and Gordon Street in Euston which was at the time being used as a hospital by the Red Cross. There it was joined by the School of Tropical Medicine which had been founded at the Albert Dock Seamen’s Hospital in 1899 (although this merged with the School of Hygiene in the 1920s and moved out).

It only remained there, however, until the start of World War II when it was temporarily relocated back at the Dreadnought Hospital where it remained for the war’s duration.

After the war – with the hotel damaged during then Blitz, the hospital relocated to 23 Devonshire Street in Marylebone before, in 1951 it became part of the National Health Service and moved into the then vacant St Pancras Hospital as part of the University College of London Hospital group.

It remained located there until 1998 when it moved to new purpose-built premises in Capper Street in Bloomsbury and then in 2004 made the move to its current location in the University College Hospital Tower in Euston Road. The hospital remains the only dedicated institution of its kind within the NHS.

The plaque on the Gordon Street property (the blue dot seen in the image above) was erected by the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

PICTURE: Right – Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0/image cropped)

This Week in London – V&A reopens; institution reopenings; and, ZSL London Zoo looks for volunteers…

The V&A in South Kensington reopens its doors to visitors today in the first phase of a staged reopening strategy. All of the ground floor galleries are reopening including the Medieval & Renaissance Gallery, the Cast Courts, The Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art and Fashion Gallery, as well as the Europe 1600–1815 galleries on lower ground floor. The first and second floor collection galleries including The William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery, Theatre & Performance Galleries, and the Photography Centre as well as the museum’s Paintings, Tapestries and Silver Galleries are all scheduled to open on 27th August as well as the exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, which had closed just two weeks into its run.  For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: M.chohan (Public domain). 

Other recent and upcoming reopenings include: the Horniman Museum, the Foundling Museum, the National History Museum, The Queen’s House in Greenwich (Monday, 10th August) and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (exhibitions only; galleries coming later).

ZSL London Zoo is calling for volunteers to help assist visitors as they make their way around the zoo via three new one-way trails. The move, which follows a successful fundraising effort fronted by Sir David Attenborough, is aimed especially at people still furloughed and students forced to cancel gap year travel plans. Those interested in volunteering are asked to commit to a minimum of half a day each fortnight. For more, see  www.zsl.org/volunteering.

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Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 70 and 69…

The next two entries in our countdown…

70. 10 of the most memorable (and historic) views of London – 8. View from Point Hill, Greenwich…

69. The Royal Wedding – London’s Royal Wedding venues

This Week in London – English Heritage sites online; and, The Painted Hall in virtual reality…

With historic properties and cultural institutions closed across London, we’re showcasing some of the online opportunities that are available to continue your explorations of the city…

London’s Eltham Palace and Kenwood House (pictured above) are among 29 English Heritage sites around the country which are being showcased on the Google Arts & Culture platform. English Heritage, which first announced the partnership with Google Arts & Culture, was the first heritage organisation and multi-site installation to do so and the Google site now contains a plethora of information and immersive experience about the English Heritage properties. To explore the site, head to https://artsandculture.google.com/project/english-heritage. And for those looking for more online experiences, the organisation is also pointing to its Stonehenge Skyscape site which allows visitors to experience a live sunrise over Stonehenge as well as see the journey of the stars and the moon from within the stone circle and learn about the monument’s design and how its builders may have understood their place in the cosmos. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/skyscape/. PICTURE: It’s No Game (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Reopened in 2019, The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich following a two year conservation project. To celebrate the reopening – and the new life given to Sir James Thornhill’s 40,000 square feet of painted walls and ceilings – a virtual, 360 degree online tour was also launched so people could visit from the comfort of their own home. You can access the tour by following this link.

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This Week in London – ‘Woburn Treasures’ at the Queen’s House, and, Steve McQueen at the Tate Modern…

Significant works from the private art collection of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford – including art by Anthony van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough – goes on show at the Queen’s House in Greenwich from today. Woburn Treasures will see more than 20 works from the collection hanging alongside the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich with highlights from the Woburn collection including a full-length portrait of Anne of Denmark – the Queen Consort of King James I and the person who commissioned Inigo Jones to build the Queen’s House – by Flemish artist Gheeraerts the Younger (the painting is pictured). There’s also a full-length portrait of Lady Elizabeth Keppel by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Canaletto’s large-scale Regatta on the Grand Canal, one of 24 paintings by the Italian artist commissioned for Lord John Russell, the fourth Duke of Bedford, following his visit to Venice in 1731. The paintings are accompanied by a selection of sculptures, ceramics and a silver-gilt toilette set from the Woburn collection, spanning the period from the 17th to 19th centuries. The display has been made possible due to the 18 month closure of Woburn Abbey, seat of the Earls and Dukes of Bedford since the 1620s, as a result of the biggest refurbishment and conservation project since the property first opened to the public in 1955. The exhibition can be seen at The Queen’s House until 17th January, 2021. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/woburntreasures. PICTURE: Anne of Denmark 1611-14 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger Oil on canvas From the Woburn Abbey Collection.

The work of Turner Prize-winning British artist Steve McQueen is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Tate Modern today. Steve McQueen features 14 major works spanning film, photography and sculpture and includes his earliest film shot on Super 8 camera – Exodus (1992/97) as well as 7th Nov. (2001), in which the artist’s cousin Marcus recounts the tragic day he accidentally shot and fatally injured his own brother, large-scale video installations such as Western Deep (2002) and Static (2009) and the two-channel video installation Ashes (2002–15). Also on display is End Credits (2012–ongoing), McQueen’s homage to the African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898–1976) and the exhibition, which coincides with the display of McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3 at Tate Britain, also features Weight (2016), a sculpture first exhibited by Artangel at the recently closed Reading Gaol, where Oscar Wilde had been imprisoned and wrote De Profundis in 1897. Runs until 11th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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What’s in a name?…Blackheath…


Lying just to the south of Greenwich Park, this famous common apparently derives its name from the colour of the soil (although some suggest it was the colour of the bracken or even the “bleakness” of the location).

On the route from Canterbury and Dover to London, the sometimes windswept locale has seen its share of historical events over the centuries. As well as hosting remains dating to both the Saxon and Roman eras, Blackheath was where the Danes set up camp in 1011-13 (it was during this time that they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege, probably on the site where St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich now stands).

It’s also where Wat Tyler assembled his peasant army during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, where Jack Cade and his followers camped in 1450 during the Kentish Rebellion, and where King Henry VII defeated Michael Joseph and his Cornish rebels in 1497.

As well as uprisings, the heath has also seen its share of more joyous events. King Henry IV apparently met Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos here in 1400 before taking him back to Eltham Palace, King Henry V was welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London and aldermen here after his momentous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and King Charles II was welcomed here on his return to London during the Restoration. Less happily, in 1540 King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves here for the first time.

During the 18th century, both John Wesley and George Whitefield preached to crowds on Blackheath. Meanwhile, legend has it that King James I founded England’s first golf club here in 1600s (the club joined with the Eltham Golf Club in the 1920s).

The heath, which also had a notorious reputation for highwaymen prior to residential development of the area in the late 18th century, has also been the site of fairs since at least the late 17th century.

But it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the “village” of Blackheath really formed, attracting the moderately well-to-do. The area received a significant boost as a residential locale close to London when the railway opened in 1849.

Significant buildings include All Saints’ Church which dates from 1857 and the entertainment venue known as the Blackheath Halls, built in 1895. The Georgian mansion known as the Ranger’s House – which parks on to Greenwich Park – is just to the north.

Notable residents have included early 20th century mathematician and astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, 19th century philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne lived at 4 Pond Road in 1856.

Correction: Wesley and Whitefield  preached in the 18th century, not the 19th as originally stated. Apologies for any confusion!

PICTURES: Top – Aerial view of Blackheath (foshie; licensed under CC BY 2.0; image cropped); Below – Looking towards All Saints (Herry Lawford; licensed under CC BY 2.0)

LondonLife – A Greenwich streetscene…

Greenwich with the masts of the Cutty Sark in the background. PICTURE: Robert Likovski/Unsplash