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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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/.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

A Moment in London’s History…Greenwich is established as the prime meridian for all nations…

It was 135 years ago this month that the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, DC, declared the Greenwich meridian to be the prime meridian of the world.

The conference had been held at the request US President Chester A Arthur with the aim of finding a “common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world”.

Pressure to designate such a prime meridian had been building thanks to the need for navigation purposes as well as the need to create uniform train timetables.

Twenty-six nations were represented at the 1884 conference including Great Britain and the US as well as France, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire.

The resolution, fixing Greenwich as the Prime Meridian, was passed on 22nd October. The delegations voted 22 in favour to one against. San Domingo, now called the Dominican Republic, voted against while France and Brazil abstained.

As a result of the decision, the International Date Line was drawn up and the world’s 24 time zones were created.

North America and most European nations had aligned their clocks with Greenwich with 10 years.

The official mean time clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is known as the Shepherd Gate Clock.

PICTURE: The Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Observatory (Alvesgaspar/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

LondonLife – The beauty of space revealed…

A “creative and artistic” composition of the 35 phases of the total lunar eclipse that took place on 21st January has won the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year for 2019. The win, which carried a £10,000 prize for Hungarian photographer László Francsics, also means the image is now at the heart of an exhibition featuring all the competition’s winners, runners-up and highly commended, as well as 68 short-listed pictures running at the National Maritime Museum until 26th April. Competition judge Ed Robinson described the Francsics’ work as “nothing short of masterful”. “The colours of our atmosphere projected onto the Moon’s disc during the eclipse are not only artistically pleasing but also offer an understanding of such events that can reveal aspects of our own, thin, yet essential part of our atmosphere,” he said. “In a year that celebrates 50 years since the first lunar landings it is fitting that this year’s overall winning image captures such a dynamic and captivating view of our Moon.” Other images on display include German photographer Nicolai Brügger’s image showcasing the Aurora Borealis over the Lofoten Islands in Norway (winner of the ‘Aurorae’ category), an image featuring UK photographer Ben Bush and his dog Floyd surrounded by Mars, Saturn and the galactic core of the Milky Way galaxy (‘People and Space’), and a sequence of images by Australian Andy Casely following the progress of the great global dust storm on Mars (‘Planets, Comets and Asteroids’). The display also includes an image of the Rosette Nebula by 11-year-old Davy van der Hoeven, of The Netherlands, who won Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year. The Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year, now in its 11th year, is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich in association with Insight Investment and BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/astronomy-photographer-year/galleries/2019/overall-winners. PICTURES: Top – ‘Into the Shadow’ © László Francsics (overall winner); Below (from top down) – ‘The Watcher’ © Nicolai Brügger (winner of the ‘Aurorae’ category); and, ‘Shells of Elliptical Galaxy NGC 3923 in Hydra’ © Rolf Wahl Olsen (winner of the ‘Galaxies’ category) .

Famous Londoners – Nicholas Hawksmoor…

Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor was a key figure in the creation of the fabric of London as we know it, working alongside Sir Christopher Wren as well as alone, and responsible for numerous works with can still be seen in London today.

Hawksmoor was born into a yeoman farming family in Nottinghamshire in around 1661-62 but little else is known of his early life. He probably received a fairly basic education but is believed to have been taken on a clerk to a justice in Yorkshire before, thanks to encountering a decorative plasterer by the name of Edward Gouge, travelling to London.

There, Hawksmoor was introduced to Wren who, agreed to take on the young man as his personal clerk at just the age of 18. He moved through a number of junior positions in Wren’s household before becoming deputy surveyor at Winchester Palace – between 1683 and 1685 – under Wren.

He went on to work with his mentor on numerous further projects; these included Chelsea Hospital, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital as well as Kensington Palace where, thanks to Wren’s support, he was named clerk of works in 1689 (as well as deputy surveyor of works at Greenwich). He remained in these posts for some 25 years before he was removed thanks to political machinations (although he later returned to the secretaryship).

Hawksmoor also worked with Sir John Vanbrugh, assisting him in building Blenheim Palace, taking over command of the job in 1705. Vanbrugh made him his deputy and Hawksmoor later succeeded him as architect at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, designing a number of monuments in the gardens, including the great mausoleum.

Hawksmoor is described as one of the masters of the English Baroque style – Easton Nelson in Northamptonshire, which he designed for Sir William Fermor, is an exemplar of his work (and the only country house for which he was sole architect, although it remain uncompleted).

Hawksmoor also worked on buildings for the university at Oxford and while All Soul’s College was among buildings he completed, many of his proposed designs were not implemented for various reasons (as were grand plans he had for the redesign of central Oxford).

From 1711, Hawksmoor was busy again in London where, following the passing of an Act of Parliament, he was appointed as one of the surveyors to a commission charged with overseeing the building of 50 new churches in London.

The commission only completed 12 churches, but half of them were designed by Hawksmoor (and he collaborated with fellow surveyor John James on two more). Hawksmoor’s completed churches include St Alfege in Greenwich, St George’s, Bloomsbury, Christ Church in Spitalfields, St George in the East in Wapping, St Mary Woolnoth, and St Anne’s Limehouse (the churches he collaborated on include James are St Luke Old Street and the now demolished St John Horsleydown).

In 1723, following Wren’s death, he was appointed Surveyor to Westminster Abbey and, as well as aspects of the interior (some of which still survive to this day) designed the landmark west towers (although they weren’t completed until after his death).

Hawksmoor died at his home in Millbank on 25th March, 1736, from what was described as “gout of the stomach”, having struggled with his health for a couple of decades previously. He was buried at the now deconsecrated church in Shenley, Hertsfordshire.

Hawksmoor was survived by his wife Hester by a year, and a daughter, Elizabeth.

PICTURES: Top – The West Towers of Westminster Abbey; Right – St Anne’s, Limehouse. (David Adams)

This Week in London – Exploring the Moon; celebrating London’s green spaces; and, Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck at the RA…

Lunar samples collected during the Apollo 11 mission and objects that travelled to the Moon with the astronauts including Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s “Snoopy Cap” and the famous Hasselblad camera equipment are among items on display as part of a new major exhibition which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Friday. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Moon landing, The Moon explores Earth’s relationship with the Moon over time and across civilisations. Other items among the more than 180 objects from public and private collections on show include a rare lunar meteorite from the Natural History Museum’s collection (pictured), a Mesopotamian tablet from 172 BC and a series of contemporary and historical artworks including paintings by JMW Turner and John Constable. There’s also a new version of Christian Stangl’s film Lunar in which animated photographs from Apollo missions allow visitors to experience the Moon landings through the eyes of the astronauts. The Moon can be visited until 5th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/moon50. PICTURE: Lunar meteorite Found in the Sahara Desert, North West Africa, 2017 © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

London’s inaugural and free week long National Park City Festival kicks off on Saturday to celebrate the city’s green spaces, wildlife and waterways. Opening the festival – which is an initiative of the Mayor of London and National Park City Foundation as well as other partners – this weekend is a free cultural programme, run in partnership with the National Theatre, on its outdoor river stage on South Bank which features dance, theatre and music. Other highlights among the more than 300 events being held during the nine day event include the ‘National Park City Rooftops’ initiative – which sees people given free access to some of the city’s most beautiful garden rooftops and natural spaces including Crossrail Place in Canary Wharf, Barbican Conservatory and Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, the ‘National Park City Forest’ initiative which sees a unique audio installation, Living Symphonies, installed in Epping Forest, the ‘National Park City Wildlife’ – a photography competition and exhibition held in partnership with the London Wildlife Trust, and the multi-site ‘National Park City Splash’ initiative in which everybody can try their hand at activities like paddle boarding and open water swimming. The week runs to 28th July. For the complete programme of events, head to https://nationalparkcity.london.gov.uk.

The work of Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946) is being celebrated at the Royal Academy of Arts. Opening on Saturday, the first solo UK exhibition of Schjerfbeck’s works features some 65 portraits, landscapes and still lifes, and follows the development of the artist’s work from a naturalistic style, inspired by French Salon painters in the early 1880s, to what the RA describes as “a radically abstracted and modern approach from the turn of the 20th century onwards”. The exhibition is being shown in five sections with highlights including Two Profiles (1881) – the earliest work on display, The Convalescent (1888), My Mother (two paintings – one from 1902 and another from 1909), a series of self-portraits and later works like Måns Schjerfbeck (The Motorist) (1933) and Three Pears on a Plate (1945). Runs until 27th October in The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploring london@gmail.com.

Famous Londoners – Inigo Jones…

Born to humble origins in London, Inigo Jones rose to become the first notable architect in England and, thanks to his travels, is credited with introducing the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to the nation.

Jones came into the world on 15th July, 1573, as the son of a Welsh clothworker, also named Inigo Jones (the origins of the name are apparently obscure), in Smithfield, London. He was baptised in St Bartholomew-the-Less but little else is known of his early years (although he was probably apprenticed to a joiner).

At about the age of 30, Jones is believed to have travelled in Italy – he certainly spent enough time there to be fluid in Italian – and he is also said to have spent some time in Denmark, apparently doing some work there for King Christian IV.

Returning to London, he secured the patronage of King Christian’s sister Queen Anne, the wife of King James I, and became famous as a designer of costumes and stage settings for royal masques (in fact, he is credited with introducing movable scenery to England).

Between 1605 and 1640, he staged more than 500 performances – his first was The Masque of Blackness performed on twelfth night in 1605 – including many collaborations with playwright Ben Jonson with whom he had an, at times, acrimonious relationship.

His architectural work in England – heavily influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (his copy of Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura is dated 1601) as well as the Roman architect Vitruvius – dates from about 1608 with his first known building design that of the New Exchange in the Strand, built for Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

In 1611 Jones was appointed surveyor of works to Henry Frederick, the Prince of Wales, but, following the prince’s death on 6th November, 1612, he was, in 1615, appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works (having first accompanied Thomas Howard, the 2nd Earl of Arundel, on what would be his second visit to Italy).

Jones’ big break came in 1615 when he was made Surveyor-General of the King’s Works, a post he would hold for 27 years. He was subsequently was responsible for the design and building of the Queen’s House in Greenwich for Queen Anne (started in 1616 and eventually completed in 1635), the Banqueting House in Whitehall (built between 1619 and 1622, it’s arguably his finest work), the Queen’s Chapel in St James’s Palace (1623 to 1627) and, in 1630, Covent Garden square for the Earl of Bedford including the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

Other projects included the repair and remodelling of parts of Old St Paul’s Cathedral prior to its destruction in 1666 and a complete redesign of the Palace of Whitehall (which never went ahead). He’s also credited with assisting other architects on numerous other jobs.

Jones’ career – both as an architect and as a producer of masques – stopped rather abruptly with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the subsequent seizing of the king’s properties. Forced to leave London, he was eventually captured by Parliamentarians following a siege at Basing House in Hampshire in October, 1645.

His property was initially confiscated and he was heavily fined but he was later pardoned and his property returned.

Never married, Jones ended up living in Somerset House in London and died on 21st June, 1652. He was buried with his parents at St Benet Paul’s Wharf. A rather elaborate monument to his memory erected inside the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and later destroyed.

Jones’ legacy can still be seen at various sites around London where his works survive and also in the works of those he influenced, including Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, designer and builder of Chiswick House, and architect and landscape designer William Kent.

PICTURE: Bust of Inigo Jones by John Michael Rysbrack, (1725) (image by Stephencdickson/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)