This Week in London – Totally Thames turns 25; Muppeteer Jim Henson honoured; and, Beerfest-Lite…

One Night Light Show by Leo Villareall as part of Totally Thames. PICTURE: Totally Thames.

Totally Thames, the annual month-long celebration of London’s river, is celebrating its 25th iteration this month. Highlights this year include Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River which lights up the Thames every night (along with a special three-day celebration including guided tours, talks, sketching workshops and a one-off illumination event on 23rd September) as well as the chance to explore the foreshore with ‘Mudlarking’ at St Paul’s Cathedral, take a deep dive into the history of dockside communities with ‘The Islanders’ and see river-themed art from children across the globe
come together at the National Maritime Museum in Rivers of the World. More than 80 events are included in the programme which runs until the end of the night. For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/whats-on.

• Muppet creator Jim Henson was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Hampstead home this week. Henson lived in the home at 50 Downshire Hill between 1979 and 1982 and continued to use it as his base until his death in 1990. It stands opposite the former ‘Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’, where creatures from fantasy films including The Dark CrystalThe Storyteller and Labyrinth were created. Henson’s son Brian,  chairman of the board at The Jim Henson Company, said it was an honour to have the property recognised, “knowing that he so admired and respected the talent in London, and that this is the place he called home when creating some of his most memorable productions.” For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Beerfest-Lite takes place in Guildhall Yard in the City of London today. The event , which runs from noon to 9pm – features beers from the Meantime, Windsor and Eaton, Hook Norton and Shepherd Neame breweries and a street vendor menu including paella, hot dogs, souvlaki and Caribbean dishes as well as a jazz performance from the Alvar Tree Frogs and Bavarian Oompah band Würst Brass. For more, see www.citybeerfest.org.

Send all inclusions to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Famous Londoners – Sir Rowland Hill…

Famous for his reform of the postal system, Sir Rowland Hill was a national celebrity during the Victorian era.

Born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, on 3rd December, 1795, Rowland was the son of schoolmaster Thomas Wright Hill. Educated in his father’s school, Hill Top, in a Birmingham suburb, it was determined he would follow in his father’s footsteps at an early age and by the age of 12 had become a student teacher and in 1819 helped his family establish new model school, Hazelwood, in Edgbaston near Birmingham. In 1827, he was also involved with his family in establishing another new school, Bruce Castle School, in Tottenham, Middlesex.

Statue of Sir Rowland Hill in London. PICTURE: Julian Osley (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

That same year, Hill married Caroline Pearson, who originally came from Wolverhampton, and together they had four children – three daughters Eleanor, Clara and Louisa and a son Pearson.

In the following years, Hill became involved in campaigns to colonise South Australia and in 1835 he joined the South Australian Colonisation Commission as Secretary, a role which he held until 1839 (interestingly and perhaps not surprisingly given his interest, Hill’s sister Caroline would later emigrate to South Australia with her family).

Hill was in his early 40s when he became interested in reforming the postal system – what to be his life’s great work. In 1837, he published his influential pamphlet, Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, in which he argued for consistency in the system including pre-payment of standardised charges for sending mail.

Hill believed that if letters were cheap to send, more people – including the poorer classes – would send more and thus the profitability of the system would increase (a thought which proved true). It’s said, although whether it’s true or not is uncertain, that Hill became interested in reforming the postal system after he noticed a young woman who too poor to claim a letter sent to her by her fiancé (at the time it was usually the recipients who paid for the letter’s mailing).

Only three years later,  Parliament passed the Penny Postage Act which saw the world’s first official postage stamps – the penny black and the two-penny black – issued. Hill and his family had by then moved to Orme Square in Bayswater (there’s now an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the property).

After the new government of Sir Robert Peel took office in 1841, Hill was dismissed and, joining the London and Brighton Railway as a director in 1843, relocated to Brighton.

But Hill was able to resume his postal reform efforts in 1846 after another change of government saw him appointed Secretary to the Postmaster-General. In 1854, he was appointed Secretary to the Post Office, a job he held until his retirement in 1864 due to ill health.

Hill was knighted in 1860. He spent the last 30 years of his life at  Bartram House, Hampstead, and it was there he died 27th August, 1879 (a plaque now marks the house). He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

There are several public statues commemorating Hill include a bronze which, created in 1881, stands in King Edward Street in London (pictured).

Famous Londoners – John Keats…

This month marks 200 years since the death of Romantic poet and London resident John Keats – famous for poems including Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode to the Nightingale – at the age of just 25.

Born on 31st October, 1795, Keats was the eldest of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings’ four children. The story goes that he was born in the stable – owned by his mother’s father and managed by his father, located near Finsbury Circus.

John Keats by William Hilton, after Joseph Severn (based on a work of circa 1822) National Portrait Gallery (NPG 194)

At the age of eight, Keats attended the boy’s academy at Enfield (his brothers George and Tom would also attend). He had been at the school for less than a year when, on the night of 15th April, 1804, his father was seriously injured in a horse-riding accident and died the following day.

Within a couple of months, his mother entered an ill-fated marriage and eventually left her family to live with another man. She returned to her family by 1808 but, now ill, she died of tuberculosis in March, 1809. following his mother’s death, his grandmother appointed two London merchants including tea broker Richard Abbey as Keats’ guardians.

Keats, meanwhile, built up a close friendship with headmaster John Clarke and his older son Charles Cowden Clarke at Enfield and through them really began to foster a love of literature (in particular Edmund Spenser‘s Faerie Queene is said to have helped awakened his love of poetry).

But at Abbey’s instruction he left Enfield in 1811 and began to work toward a career as a surgeon, apprenticed to surgeon Thomas Hammond, in nearby Edmonton.

In October, 1815, he left his apprenticeship with Dr Hammond, apparently after a quarrel between them. Moving into London, he registered at Guy’s Hospital for the six-month course of study which was required for him to become a licensed surgeon and apothecary. Lodging with two older students at 28 St Thomas Street, he progressed quickly and was soon promoted to “dresser”, a role which saw him involved dressing wounds daily to prevent or minimize infection, setting bones, and assisting with surgery.

Poetry, however, continued to occupy his mind and his sonnet O Solitude! became his first published poem when it appeared in The Examiner on 5th May, 1816 (editor Leigh Hunt, who was introduced to Keats by Clarke later that year, also went on to publish other works including his sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Home).

Keats, who became a certified apothecary in late 1816 (he’d holidayed in Margate with his brother Tom after passing his exams earlier that year), now faced further studies to become a surgeon. But he instead decided to give up medicine and devote himself entirely to his poetry (a move which apparently infuriated his now sole guardian Abbey). About the same time he moved into lodgings at 76 Cheapside with his two brothers, George and Tom (there was also a sister Fanny), having previously lived with that at 8 Dean Street in Southwark.

His circle of artistic acquaintances – which included fellow Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and painter Benjamin Robert Haydon – now growing, in March, 1817, Keats’ first book of poetry – Poems – was published. It was also around that time that he moved with his brothers to a property at 1 Well Walk in Hampstead, no longer needing to be near the hospitals where he had worked and studied.

In May, 1818, Keats published his 4,000 line allegorical romance, Endymion, but it received a rather scathing reception including by Blackwood’s Magazine which apparently declared the work nonsense and recommended Keats give up writing poetry.

In summer that year, Keats went on a walking tour of Scotland, Ireland and the Lake District with his friend Charles (Armitage) Brown. Following his return to Hampstead, Keats nursed his brother Tom who was ailing from tuberculosis (George having by now left for America) and who died on 1st December.

Following his brother’s death, Keats accepted Brown’s invitation to move into his property at Wentworth Place, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath (now the Keats House museum).

Keats’ House in Keats Grove, Hampstead. PICTURE: Spencer Means (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

While living at Wentworth Place, Keats developed an intimate relationship with next-door neighbour Frances (Fanny) Brawne and the couple “came to an understanding” but his literary ambitions and failing health – by early 1820 he too had tuberculosis – meant it never came to marriage.

Keats third volume of poetry – containing his famous odes including Ode to a Nightingale and Ode to a Grecian Urn – was published in mid-1820 but now increasingly suffering from tuberculosis, he was advised by his doctors to head to a warmer climate. In September that year he left for Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn (who painted a famous posthumous portrait of Keats), knowing he would probably never see Brawne again.

In Rome – having had to spend 10 days quarantine after the ship arrived in Naples due to a suspected cholera outbreak, he moved into a villa on the Spanish Steps (now home to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House museum) but, despite medical efforts, his health continued to deteriorate.

John Keats died on 23rd February, 1821, and was buried in the city’s Protestant cemetery. His tombstone bears no name or date, just the words “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water” and an epitaph which speaks of a “young English poet”.

Keats, depicted in a 2007 bronze statue at Guy’s Hospital PICTURE: under_volcano (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Keats had only been a serious poet for some six years prior to his death and his three volumes of poetry had probably only amounted to some 200 copies. But his reputation continued to grow after his death with support from the likes of Shelley, Tennyson and the pre-Raphaelites, and he is now well-established in the literary canon as one of the greatest English poets.

As well as Keats’ House – which is managed by the City of London and which features an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade, Keats is memorialised with several other plaques in London and a famous statue at Guy’s Hospital which features him seated in a former alcove removed from London Bridge – see image above).

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…7. Fenton House and Garden…


Like other National Trust properties, Fenton House is now closed – please do not travel there. But we run this article in the hope you’ll be able to visit in the future…

This Hampstead property dates from the 17th century but its current name comes instead from Philip Fenton, a merchant who bought it in 1793, some 100 years after it was constructed.

The two storey brown brick property, which had previously been known as Ostend House (perhaps a reference to its unknown first owner’s Flemish links), was considerably altered by Fenton, a merchant from Yorkshire who had based himself in Riga. But despite that – and subsequent alterations, many original features remain.

The Grade I-listed property was acquired by Katherine, Lady Binning, in 1936. In 1952 she bequeathed it to the National Trust complete with her rather large collections of porcelain, needlework, furniture and artworks.

The Trust also moved in a large collection of early musical instruments. Assembled by Major George Benton Fletcher, these had been given them to the Trust in 1937 and include a harpsichord dating from 1612 which was probably used by Handel.

Located on an acre, the house features a notable walled garden featuring formal topiary and lawn, a sunken rose garden, a 300-year-old apple and pear orchard and kitchen garden.

Fenton House is now closed – but for more information on when it might reopen, keep an eye on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fenton-house.

PICTURE: Top – A view of Fenton House (It’s No Game/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Inside the property (Kotomi_/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

10 (lesser known) National Trust properties in London…3. 2 Willow Road…

Please note: Exploring London is aware that many sites have closed temporarily or considering doing so as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ll be continuing much of our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

This modernist home in Hampstead was designed by Budapest-born architect Ernö Goldfinger in 1939 for his family.

Goldfinger, who had emigrated to London in the early 1930s, decided to build the property in what was at the time something of an artistic hotspot. But his plan to build three residences in Willow Road – his home was the largest in the middle of the block of three terraced homes – was a controversial project.

Those who voiced their opposition included James Bond author Ian Fleming (who named a now famous villain after Goldfinger) and Lord Brooke of Cunmor, Secretary of the Heath and Old Hampstead Protection Society (and later MP for Hampstead as well as a Home Secretary in the 1960s), who said the proposed project was “disastrously out of keeping” with the character of the neighbourhood.

But, with the support of other local residents, Goldfinger defended his design, stating that it would respect both the surroundings and tradition of Georgian building in London.

The three storey, Grade II* property – which is built to appear as a single building along with its two neighbours – features a facade dominated by the use of red brick but also revealing exposed concrete bearing columns and a continuous strap of picture windows on the first floor.

It features a famous central spiral staircase designed by Danish engineer Ove Arup while Goldfinger himself designed much of the furniture. The house also contains a significant collection of 20th century art by artists including Bridget Riley, Man Ray and Max Ernst.

Goldfinger lived at the property along with his wife, artist and heiress Ursula (nee Blackwell, of the Crosse & Blackwell fortune), until his death in 1987 (his wife, whose money funded the project, died after him).

During their residency, the home hosted exhibitions in support of left-wing causes including one held in 1942 for the  ‘Aid to Russia’ Fund of the National Council of Labour.

Number 2 Willow Road was acquired by the National Trust in 1992 (it was the first modernist building acquired by the Trust). Numbers 1 and 3 Willow Road remain private residences.

WHERE: 2 Willow Road, Hampstead (nearest Tube station is Hampstead/nearest Overground is Hampstead Heath); WHEN: Temporarily closed – check website for times when it reopens; COST: £8.50 an adult/£4.25 a child; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road

PICTURE: Public Domain

What’s in a name?…Gospel Oak

Yes, the name of this inner north-west London district – which sits between Hampstead and Kentish Town – does originate with an oak.

Up until the early 19th century, the tree was apparently used as a marker between the parish boundaries of Hampstead and St Pancras. So that’s the oak part.

The gospel part comes from the use of the term to describe the medieval custom of ‘beating the bounds’ – an annual event in which residents would walk around their parish boundary and literally beat prominent boundary markers as a way of conveying to a then largely illiterate people where the borders were located. The oak, said to have stood on the corner of Southampton and Mansfield Roads, was one such marker.

As well as the beating part, the event would also involve the singing of hymns and, yes, the reading of sections of the gospels while standing under the oak. Hence Gospel Oak.

The oak was also apparently used as a site for open-air preaching at other times and it’s said that St Augustine, 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and fellow evangelist George Whitefield are among the many who preached under the oak (although many of these claims can be taken with a grain of salt).

The area was predominantly rural until the mid-1800s when local landowners  Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lismore began selling off the land for development. The houses built here were apparently at the more affordable end of the market, perhaps not surprising given the area became criss-crossed with railroad lines. Devastated by bombing during World War II, large parts of Gospel Oak were rebuilt in the mid-20th century.

The (now) London Overground station which bears the name Gospel Oak (pictured below) was opened in 1860, originally with the name Kentish Town (but quickly renamed Gospel Oak when Kentish Town was used elsewhere). Other landmarks include St Martin’s Church in Vicars Road (pictured above), which has been described as one of the “craziest” of London’s Victorian churches, and All Hallows Church in Shirlock Road.

One of the area’s more famous residents, Michael Palin, has lived in the area since the 1960s and reportedly planted a new oak in Lismore Circus in 1998 but the tree has apparently not survived.

PICTURES: Google Maps

Where’s London’s oldest…(unchanged) bus route?

London’s oldest unchanged bus route in London is commonly cited as Route 24 which runs over seven miles from Hampstead to Pimlico.

The route was first launched in 1910 but initially stopped at Victoria Station. It was extended to Pimlico just two years later in 1912 and has largely unchanged ever since (apparently with the exception of some minor adjustments due to one-way traffic schemes).

The route, which operates 24 hours a day, does take in some key landmarks of London – among them Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade and Parliament Square. In 2013, Transport for London, said some 28,000 people used the route each day.

In 1965, the double-decker buses on the route – which have always been powered by motors rather than horses – became the first to have front entry. In 1988, it became the first route through central London to be privatised when purchased by Grey-Green (the line is now operated by Metroline).

Mostly recently, in 2013, it became the first route to fully implement the curvaceous new ‘Routemasters’ (while they’ve commonly been called that, the new buses are actually just called the ‘new bus for London’).

PICTURE: One of the new buses on the route in 2014 (Aubrey Morandarte (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))

10 of the most memorable (and historic) views of London – 6. View from Parliament Hill…

Once apparently known as Traitor’s Hill, Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath offers stunning views of the City of London and surrounds.

The summit of the hill, the view from which is protected, features a plaque, donated by the Heath and Hampstead Society and installed in 2016, which identifies various London landmarks visible from the site (it updated a similar plaque installed in 1984). Among the landmarks visible from the hill, which lies some six miles from the City in the south-east of the heath, are The Gherkin (St Mary Axe), St Paul’s Cathedral, The London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.

The hill’s name is somewhat shrouded in mystery. According to one story, it relates to the fact it was defended during the English Civil War by troops loyal to Parliament (hence first Traitor’s, then Parliament, Hill). Another named-related story, generally deemed to be somewhat dubious, has it as the site where Guy Fawkes and co-conspirator Robert Catesby planned to watch the destruction of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Once part of a manor granted by King Henry I to a local baron, the hill was added to the public open space of Hampstead Heath in the late 1880s although manorial rights to the land persisted until the mid-20th century. The City of London Corporation has managed the hill since 1989.

Parliament Hill, these days a popular place for kite flying, is also the site of a short white pillar known as the ‘Stone of Free Speech’, once believed to have been a focal point for religious and political meetings (although its origins, like the hill’s name, are somewhat sketchy).

WHERE: Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath (nearest Tube station is Hampstead/nearest Overground stations are Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath); WHEN: Always; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/visitor-information/Pages/Parliament-Hill-Viewpoint.aspx.

London Pub Signs – The Flask, Hampstead…

This Grade II-listed pub owes its name to the fact it was from where “medicinal waters” taken from nearby springs were taken to be bottled before being sold to coffee houses and taverns across London at threepence a flask.

The business was established by the Wells Trustees which had initially intended the waters to be solely for the use of the Hampstead poor. That idea, however, soon developed into a lucrative trade in bottled water with distribution across the city apparently handled by an apothecary, a Mr Philips, from his base at a Fleet Street tavern.

Known initially as the Thatched House due to its roofing material (and later as the Lower Flask to distinguish it from The (Upper) Flask in Highgate), the pub was famously mentioned in Samuel Richardson’s novel, Clarissa.

The current premises at 14 Flask Walk was built in 1874 – designed by Cumming and Nixon – and among its public rooms are a grand saloon bar and a conservatory.

Part of the Young & Co’s chain since 1904. For more, see www.theflaskhampstead.co.uk.

The Flask in an image taken in 2014. PICTURE: Adam Bruderer/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

10 notable blue plaques of London – 9. A family affair…

Freud-Museum

The fact the properties can have many residents with the passing of the years means that there’s a select number of properties in London (18 to be exact) which bear more than one English Heritage blue plaque – among them 4 Carlton Gardens in St James’s (home to 19th century PM Lord Palmerston and where General Charles De Gaulle set up the headquarter of the free French forces in 1940).

But among that group is an even more select group – properties which bear two blue plaques with both of those people commemorated coming from the same family.  The home at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (pictured above) falls into this group.

Now a museum, the home’s celebrated occupants have included psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud, who lived here briefly in the final years of his life (between 1938 and his death on 23rd September, 1939), and his daughter Anna Freud, the youngest of his six children and herself a pioneering psycho-analyst, who lived here from 1938 until her death in 1982.

Both occupants have their own blue plaques on the property: Sigmund’s original London County Council blue plaque was unveiled on the site by his daughter Anna – then still occupant in the home – in 1956, the 100th anniversary of his birth. It had deteriorated and was replaced in 2002, at the same time a plaque to Anna herself was unveiled.

When Freud had moved to London from Vienna in June, 1938 – following the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, he had initially lived in Primrose Hill before settling in the property in Maresfield Gardens along with his family and a significant collection of furniture from his Vienna consulting rooms.

In 1986, four years after Anna’s death, property was reopened as the Freud Museum and the public can still go inside and see Freud’s study, including his famed consulting couch, just as it was when he lived there.

The Freuds aren’t, of course, the only family members commemorated by English Heritage Blue Plaques – others include suffragette mother and daughters Emmeline and Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst (the first two commemorated on a single plaque at 50 Clarendon Road in Notting Hill and the latter at 120 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea), and father and son Prime Ministers William Pitt the Elder and his son William Pitt the Younger (at 10 St James’s Square in St James’s and 120 Baker Street in Marylebone respectively).

WHERE: Freud Museum London, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage);  WHEN: Noon to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £7 adults; £5 seniors; £4 concessions (including children 12-16); children under 12 free; WEBSITE: www.freud.org.uk.

PICTURE: Rup11/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia.

This Week in London – Life after the pharaohs in Egypt; Days of the Dead; horrible histories at two royal palaces; and Dickin and Gombrich honoured with Blue Plaques…

 •untitled 276.tif The first major exhibition to explore the history of Egypt after the pharaohs opens at the British Museum today. Egypt: Faith after the pharaohs spans 1,200 years of history – from 30 BC to 1171 AD – with 200 objects showing how Christian, Islamic and Jewish communities reinterpreted the pharaonic past of Egypt and interacted with each other. The exhibition opens with three significant examples of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament and the Islamic Qur’an – the texts include the New Testament part of the 4th century AD Codex Sinaiticus, the world’s oldest surviving Bible and the earliest complete copy of the New Testament, which is now part of the British Library’s collection. All three are juxtaposed with everyday stamps associated with each of the three religions in an illustration of the relationship between the institutional side of religion and its everyday practice, both key themes of the exhibition. Other exhibits include a pair of 6th-7th century door curtains featuring classical and Christian religious motifs, a 1st-2nd century statue of the Egyptian god Horus in Roman military costume, and a letter from the Roman Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) concerning the cult of the divine emperor and the status of Jews in Alexandria. Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th February in Room 35. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/egypt. PICTURE: Codex Sinaiticus, open at John 5:6-6:23. Image courtesy of the British Library.

Still at the British Museum and a free four day festival of art, performance, storytelling and talks kicks off on Friday night to mark the Mexican tradition of the Days of the Dead. The annual celebration, which draws on both native and Catholic beliefs, is held on 1st and 2nd November and sees families gather to remember relatives and friends who have died. The festival, which is being conducted in association with the Mexican Government, includes a Friday evening event, a weekend of family activities featuring storytelling, films, music and dance, and a study day  on Monday featuring lectures, gallery talks and activities. The museum will feature elaborate decorations by Mexican artists – including Betsabeé Romero – throughout the festival with a particular focus on the Great Court and Forecourt. Events – which run from 30th October to 2nd November – are free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/dotd.

Horrible histories indeed! Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace are both hosting ghost tours from this weekend. The tours focus on some of the more grisly aspects of the history of the palaces with tours at Hampton Court featuring a visit to a shallow grave which was only uncovered in 1870 and those at Kensington Palace encountering the gruesome details of King William III’s fatal horse-riding accident and Queen Caroline’s horrific final hours. Admission charges apply. For more details, head to www.hrp.org.uk.

Animal welfare campaigner Maria Dickin (1870-1951) and art historian EH Gombrich (1909-2001) have been honoured with English Heritage Blue Plaques. The plaque commemorating Dickin – founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and of the PDSA Dickin medal, awarded to animals associated with the armed forces or civil defence who have shown conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty – has been placed on the Hackney house at 41 Cassland Road where she was born and spent the first few years of her life. Meanwhile the plaque to Gombrich was placed on the house at 19 Briardale Gardens in Hampstead where he lived for almost 50 years, from shortly after publication of his seminal work The Story of Art to his death in 2001. For more see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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This Week in London – Rare chance to see four Magna Cartas together; Covent Garden films; Raymond Chandler’s childhood home recalled; and Rembrandt at Kenwood…

Magna-Carta• The only four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta from 1215 will go on display together for the first time ever  at the British Library in King’s Cross next February – and you have a chance to be among the 1,215 people to see them. In an event to mark the 800th year of the creation of the document, the library – which holds two copies of the document – along with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral – each of which holds one copy – are holding a ballot with winners able to attend an event in which they’ll have the unique opportunity to see the documents side-by-side as well as be treated to a special introduction on its history and legacy by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. The ballot to see the documents is open until 31st October with winners drawn at random. It’s free to enter – head to www.bl.uk/magna-carta to do so. The four documents will subsequently feature separately in displays at each of the three institutions. One not to miss! PICTURE: Salisbury Cathedral’s Magna Carta/Ash Mills.

The Silent Swoon Free Film Festival kicks off in St Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden, next week. The courtyard will be transformed into an open air movie theatre showing a different movie each night – The Talented Mr Ripley on 14th October, Crazy, Stupid, Love on 15th October and Rebel without a Cause on 16th October. Most of the free tickets will be allocated through an online draw but a small number will be allocated each night on a first come, first serve basis. For those with tickets, a range of freebies will be available on the night (including popcorn!). For more information, head to www.stmartinscourtyard.co.uk/silent-swoon-cinema-festival.

Crime writer and film noir pioneer Raymond Chandler has been remembered with the placement of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his childhood home in Upper Norwood, south east London. Chandler, who received global acclaim for his Philip Marlowe novels and his work on movies like The Blue Dahlia, lived at the home from 1901 after emigrating from the US with his mother, aunt and grandmother at the age of 12. He remained at the double-fronted red brick villa until 1908 – the same year he published his first poem, The Unknown Love. In his early Twenties, Chandler worked as a freelance reporter for London newspapers but, disillusioned with writing, returned to the US in 1912. He spent the next decade working for an oil company before the loss of his job in 1932 pushed him to restart writing. He first novel was published in 1939, and he went on to write further books and movie screenplays to ongoing renown. For more on the blue plaques scheme, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Two early works of Rembrandt have gone on display at Kenwood House this month. Anna and the Blind Tobit and Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, both of which date from around 1630, will be seen in the Hampstead landmark until May next year. The two paintings replace Rembrandt’s Portrait of the artist which usually hangs in Kenwood and is on show at the National Gallery and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (from where the two paintings now at Kenwood have come). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/kenwood. An exhibition of Rembrandt’s works opens at the National Gallery next week – more details then!

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Famous Londoners – Sir Edwin Lutyens…

We’re looking at some of London’s World War I memorials so it’s only fitting we look at the life of acclaimed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the man credited with designing the Cenotaph – the UK’s national war memorial – in Whitehall (pictured below).

Lutyens was born in London at 16 Onslow Square, South Kensington, on 29th March, 1869, and – the ninth son and 10th of 13 children of soldier Captain Charles Lutyens and his wife Mary – was named for painter and sculptor Edwin Henry Landseer, a friend of his father’s. He grew up in London and Surrey and in 1885 commenced studying architecture at the South Kensington School of Art. In 1887, he left before completing the course, briefly joining the practice of Ernest George and Harold Peto before starting his own practice in 1889.

Cenotaph-in-LondonEarly commissions included country houses and it was during this period that he met with mentor and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a relationship which led him to design her home, Munstead Wood near Godalming in Surrey.

In 1897, Lutyens, known familiarly as ‘Ned’, married Emily Lytton – daughter of the late Viceroy of India and first earl of Lytton, Edward Buller-Lytton – and by 1908 the couple had five children. The family’s London addresses included 29 Bloomsbury Square (which also served as his office), 31 Bedford Square and 13 Mansfield Street, Marylebone, while his offices were located in numerous places including at 17 Queen Anne’s Gate.

Lutyens continued designing country houses – he eventually designed more than 35 major properties and altered and added many more – and among his commissions were Castle Drogo in Devon and the refurbishment of Northumberland’s spectacularly sited Lindisfarne Castle – both now National Trust properties. He was also involved in helping to plan and design Hampstead Garden Suburb in London, work which included designing two churches.

In 1912, Lutyens was invited to advise on the planning of the new Indian capital in New Delhi and his most important contribution was the design of the Viceroy’s House which combined elements of classical architecture with traditional Indian decoration. He was knighted in 1918 for his contributions in India and for his advice to the Imperial War Graves Commission.

It was his role in this latter effort which led to his becoming a national figure. He was involved in the creation of numerous monuments to commemorate the war dead, the best known of which are the Cenotaph in Whitehall – initially commissioned as a temporary structure (see our earlier post here) –  and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval in northern France as well as the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and the Anglo-Boer War Memorial in Johannesburg.

He also designed more than 100 war cemeteries in France and Belgium and other war memorials – including overseas in places like Dublin – as well as London’s Tower Hill Memorial (see our earlier post here). Other London buildings he designed included the headquarters of Country Life magazine in Tavistock Street, Britannic House in Finsbury Square, the head office of the Midland Bank in Poultry and the Reuters and Press Association headquarters at 85 Fleet Street (now home to the Lutyens Restaurant, Bar and Private Rooms).

Lutyens was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy in 1920 (he was later president) and in 1924 was appointed a founding member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. Even as he continued work in Delhi, he took on other commissions – such as the British Embassy in Washington, DC – and in 1924 he completed one of his most lauded – and smallest – designs: that of the one twelfth scale Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House which was shown at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and which can still be seen at Windsor Castle.

In 1929 Lutyens was commissioned to design a new Roman Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool but when he died on 1st January, 1944, this work was still unfinished with only the crypt completed thanks to the outbreak of World War II broke. Lutyens’ funeral was held in Westminster Abbey a few days later and his ashes were subsequently placed in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

For more information on Lutyens’ life and works, check out The Lutyens Trust, founded in 1984 to preserve and protect his legacy.

London Pub Signs – The Spaniards Inn…

Stories abound about this historic Hampstead pub – one of London’s oldest, not the least about the origins of its name.

Spaniards-InnTheories about the name include that it was named for a Spanish ambassador attending the court of King James I who sought shelter here during an outbreak of plaque. Others suggest it was named for a Spanish landlord – Francisco Perrero – or for two brothers who once owned it (that is, until one of them died in a duel they fought over a woman).

Whatever the truth, the atmospheric pub, located on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has apparently been around since 1585 and the stories about its connections with the famous (and infamous) number even more than those about its origins.

Highwayman Dick Turpin is associated with the pub (some stories suggest he was born here, although this seems unlikely) and the establishment  is known to have played an important role in sparing nearby Kenwood House, then the home of Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 – apparently it was the action of the landlord, Giles Thomas, in throwing open the cellars which diverted the attention of would-be rioters from the task at hand to one perhaps more enjoyable.

The pub also features in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula while among those who frequented it were painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron as well as John Keats who, the story goes, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the rather extensive garden.

Located in Spaniards Road, this Grade II-listed pub, as well as the main building, features an old toll house on the other side of the road which contains a horse trough (it has been suggested that Turpin stabled Black Bess there but take such claims with a grain of salt!).

Well worth a visit for refreshments after a stroll on the heath. For more, see www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk.

PICTURE: Philip Halling/Wikipedia 

LondonLife – ‘Belle’ and Kenwood House…

Belle3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in London – London’s architectural festival; Tower Bridge celebrates its 120th with gifts; and, unseen Nicholsons at Dulwich – plus late addition: this year’s Keats Festival…

The month long London Festival of Architecture kicked off this week with the first of more than 200 activities taking place right across the capital. Now in its 10th year, the festival features talks, exhibitions, film screenings, cycle rides, open studios and the chance to explore the city with experts at hand. Headline events include a gathering of international architects at Balfron Tower where they will come up with new ideas for the surrounding area of Poplar as they explore the influence of emigre architecture on London, a talk by Will Self on architecture, and an exploration of ‘The Death and Life of Great London High Streets’ with experts guided people around newly completed projects. Other highlights include the House of Muses, an architectural installation at the Museum of London, the rare chance to see a late 16th century model of country house Tyringham Hall in Buckinghamshire which was commissioned by Sir John Soane (and will be on display at the Sir John Soane Museum), and the art installation, The Pungent Subway which will see a 55-year-old subway in Elephant and Castle transformed by sweet-smelling herbs and flowers as well as GUN Architects Rainforest in Bedford Square. For a full programme of events, many of which are free, check out details on the website, www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.

London icon Tower Bridge celebrates its 120th anniversary this year and to mark the event, the Tower Bridge and its events partner Seasoned Events are giving away free tickets to special sunset event. To take place on its high-level walkway on 30th June, the night, which runs from 7pm to 9.30pm, will feature Victorian-themed entertainment in commemoration of the age in which the great structure was constructed. For your chance to win tickets, look out for special competition posts by Tower Bridge on Facebook (www.facebook.com/towerbridge) and Twitter (@TowerBridge) from 9th June and share them on social media by 19th June. As many as 120 lucky winners will be selected at random and notified by 5pm on 20th June. Each ticket includes entry for two and a drink token (and obviously you must be in London and available to attend on 30th June). Good luck! For those who don’t win, there is a consolation prize – entry to the Tower Bridge Exhibition is being dropped to just £1.20 (120 pence) on 30th June when buying tickets at the door. The exhibition will that day also be playing host to a range of ‘Victorian visitors’ – from policeman and tourists to engineers. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

• Featuring previously unexhibited or rarely seen works by important 20th century painters Ben and Winifred Nicholson, a new exhibition opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London yesterday. Art and Life: Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, William Staite Murray, 1920-1931 features more than 80 words with 16 being displayed for the first time including Ben Nicholson’s 1926-27 (still life) and Winifred Nicholson’s Flowers in a Glass Jar. The display is a rare opportunity to see works by the Nicholson’s different views of the same landscapes, seascapes, still-lives and portraits and has the works grouped by locations where they painted including London, Lugarno in Switzerland, Cumberland and Cornwall. Alongside works by the Nicholsons, the display also features the art of their fellow artists and friends including Christopher Wood, the self-taught marine painter Alfred Wallis, and potter William Staite Murray, and the exhibition is curated by the Nicholson’s grandson, art historian Jovan Nicholson. Runs until 21st September. Admission charge applies. For more see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Late addition: The annual Keats Festival kicks off at Keats House in Hampstead on Saturday, 7th June, with highlights including guided tours of the house, plenty of poetry readings and workshops, musical performances, a screen-writing workshop and a family day on 15th June. Other events at the Keats Grove house where the poet lived between 1818 and 1820 include an afternoon tea “in the company of Keats” and an offsite event held at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus next Friday – One Day in the City: A Celebration of London and Literature – which will feature performance poetry, a seminar on Keats and a contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales. Many events are free but many require pre-booking. For more information, check out www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/attractions-around-london/keats-house/Pages/Keats-Festival.aspx.

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

Famous Londoners – Dido Elizabeth Belle…

Having had an extended May Bank Holiday, Exploring London returns with our usual coverage this week…

The subject of the new film Belle, the life of Georgian-era Dido Elizabeth Belle was nothing short of extraordinary.

Belle2Born in 1761, Belle was the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and Maria Belle, an African woman who had apparently been captured from a Spanish ship when Havana was captured from the Spanish in 1762 (Lindsay had captained a ship in the fight).

Baptised at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, in 1766, Lindsay subsequently sent Dido to live with his uncle William Murray, the Earl of Mansfield – Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. Initially residing at the family house in Bloomsbury Square and later at Kenwood House in Hampstead, she was raised alongside her orphaned cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray who was also in the earl’s care.

She spent some 30 years living at the property and while her status remains something of a mystery, it is thought she was treated more as a companion to Lady Murray than a servant – indeed her familiarity with Lady Murray did prove somewhat shocking to some. Her presence in the house also led to some criticism of Lord Mansfield’s judgements in cases related to slavery.

Following the Earl of Mansfield’s death in 1793, Belle – who has acted as his secretary later in his life – was awarded £500 outright and a £100 annuity and had her freedom confirmed in Mansfield’s will. In December that year she married a Frenchman and gentleman’s steward (possibly at Kenwood House), John Davinier, at St George’s Hanover Square, London. The couple are believed to have had at least three sons and lived in Pimlico before Belle’s death in 1804. She was buried in St George’s Fields and her remains were later moved when the area was redeveloped in the mid-20th century.

A turbaned Belle is famously depicted in a portrait with Lady Murray which now hangs in Scone Palace at Perth in Scotland (property of the current Earl of Mansfield). The portrait was formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany but it’s now generally accepted it was not created by him.

Belle, which stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle, opens in the UK next month.

This Week In London – Kenwood House reopens; robot safari at the Science Museum; Kew Gardens illuminates for Christmas; Vivien Leigh at the NPG; and more…

Kenwood House in north London is being reopened to the public today following a £5.95 million restoration project which has seen the library returned to what Scottish architect Robert Adam had intended it to be. The project, which saw the Hampstead property closed since March last year, has also seen the restoration of three other Robert Adam-designed rooms – the entrance hall, Great Stairs and antechamber or entrance to the library – as well as the redecoration of four rooms in 18th century style, repainting of the exterior and the repair of the home’s roof – a job aimed at protecting the rooms and its stellar

Kenwood-House-Librarycollection of artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. English Heritage has also endeavoured to make the property more homely, replacing ticket desks and rope barriers with an open fire, warm rugs and leather couches on which visitors can relax. The library (pictured) was built and decorated to Adam’s designs between 1767 and 1770 as part of a wider remodelling of the villa for its owner Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Redecorated many times since, it was restored in the 1960s but this redecoration was later found to be inaccurate. The Caring for Kenwood restoration project, which has also seen restoration of the Kenwood Dairy, was funded by a £3.89 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as support from the Wolfson Foundation and other donors. To coincide with the reopening, a new app exploring Kenwood House has been released which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/. PICTURE: English Heritage/Patricia Payne.

Head out on a “robot safari” this weekend with a special free event at Science Museum in South Kensington. Robot SafariEU, part of Eurobotics week, features 13 biometric robots from across Europe including an underwater turtle robot, a shoal of luminous fish robots, a robotic cheetah cub and Pleurobot, a robotic salamander. Roboticists from across Europe will be on hand to help visitors interact with the bots. Suitable for all ages, the event kicked off on Wednesday night and runs again on the weekend. Admission is free but timed tickets are required. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RobotSafari.

A memorial to author, scholar and apologist CS Lewis was dedicated at Westminster Abbey last Friday – the 50th anniversary of his death. Conducting the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said Lewis was “one of the most significant Christian apologists of the 20th century” and the author of stories that had “inspired the imagination and faith of countless readers and film-goers”. Douglas Gresham, younger stepson of Lewis, read from the author’s book, The Last Battle, at the service. The memorial is located in Poet’s Corner in the abbey’s south transept. For more see www.westminster-abbey.org.

A Blue Plaque commemorating Al Bowlly – described as “Europe’s most popular crooner and famous radio and record star” – will be unveiled at his home in Charing Cross Road this week. Bowlly, who lived between 1899 and 1941, was the voice beyond songs like Goodnight Sweetheart and The Very Thought Of You. The English Heritage Blue Plaque will be unveiled at Charing Cross Mansions, 26 Charing Cross Road – his home during the pinnacle of his career. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Kew Gardens has opened its gates after dark for the first time with a “captivating show of lights, sound and landscape” this festive season. A mile long illuminated trail, created in partnership with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay, will take visitors’ through the garden’s unique tree collections, kicking off at Victoria Gate where a Christmas village (and Santa’s Woodland Grotto) is located. The gardens will be open every Thursday to Sunday until 23rd December and then be open every night from 26th December to 4th January from 4.45pm to 10pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org/Christmas.

VivienLeighActress Vivien Leigh is the star of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery. Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration tells her story with a focus on her Academy Award-winning role in 1939’s Gone With The Wind. The display features more than 50 portraits of Leigh by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean and Madame Yevonde – many of which have never been exhibited in the gallery before – and a selection of memorabilia including magazine covers, vintage film stills and press books. Among the photos will be a newly acquired image of Leigh and her husband, Laurence Olivier, taken by British photojournalist Larry Burrows at a garden party in 1949 (pictured), along with two rarely seen portraits of Leigh – one taken on the set of The School for Scandal by Vivienne in 1949 and the other by Paul Tanqueray in 1942. The exhibition will be held in Room 33 and runs until 20th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE:  Copyright – Larry Burrows Collection 2013.

10 fictional character addresses in London – 5. 17 Cherry Tree Lane…

This is one property for which there is no ‘real’ address – 17 Cherry Tree Lane doesn’t exist except in the pages of PL Travers’ books about Mary Poppins (and the many subsequent adaptions including the famous 1964 musical film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke).

Bank-of-EnglandBut we do know that the home of Mr and Mrs Banks – the couple who hired Ms Poppins as a nanny for their children Jane, Michael and baby twins John and Barbara – is believed to have been located somewhere in London – possibly somewhere to the north-west of the city close to The Regent’s Park and within an easy commute of the Bank of England (pictured) where Mr Banks worked.

While some of the locations featured in the book and the film – such as the Bank  and, of course, St Paul’s Cathedral (remember the lady who fed the birds?) – do exist – there is also at least one residential property related to Mary Poppins which does as well.

According to Ed Glinert, author of Literary London, the model for Admiral Boom’s house a little further along Cherry Tree Lane  – you may recall him firing his cannon on the 1964 film – can be found in Admiral’s Walk in Hampstead. The property was apparently once home to the nineteenth century architect George Gilbert Scott.

Treasures of London – Freud’s collection of antiquities…

Freud's-DeskThis group of antiquities sits upon the desk of Sigmund Freud – the “founding father” of psychoanalysis –  at what was his home in Hampstead.

It’s part of an extensive collection of around 2,000 items which is on display at house – now the Freud Museum – located at 20 Maresfield Gardens.

The antiquities – which include Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Oriental artefacts fill a series of cabinets and sit on almost every available surface in Freud’s study including the desk upon which Freud typically wrote until the early hours of the morning.

Collected by Freud from the 1890s onward, they include everything from a bronze statuette of the Greek goddess Athena (dating from the 1st or 2nd century AD – it’s mentioned in one of his manuscripts and, one of Freud’s favorite objects, was one of only three items he chose to have smuggled out of Vienna when his entire collection was threatened in 1938), a small bronze head of the Egyptian God Osiris believed to date from between 1075-716 BC, and a silver Roman ring featuring a blue glass intaglio depicting a pastoral scene which dates from between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD (it was given as a gift from Freud to German psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel in 1928).

The museum has launched a conservation fund to repair and conserve the most fragile of the items and is aiming to raise £40,000 for the work. It follows a successful campaign earlier this year to raise funds for the conservation of Freud’s famous couch, brought from his former home in Vienna (seen in the background of this image).

Freud and his family lived at the home after escaping from Austria following the country’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938. It remained the family home until the death of Freud’s daughter, Anna, in 1982. The museum opened to the public in 1986.

PICTURE: Courtesy of the Freud Museum.

WHERE: Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage);  WHEN: Noon to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £6 adults; £4.50 seniors; £3 concessions (including children 12-16); children under 12 free; WEBSITE: www.freud.org.uk.