This iconic church on the edge of Trafalgar Square, known for its musical associations, is another of the works of architect James Gibbs and, as with St Mary le Strand, the current building was constructed in the first half of the 18th century to replace an earlier building.

St-Martin-in-the-fieldsThe first references to a church on the site of the present building date back to the 13th century when, constructed upon a Roman burial site, it was apparently used by monks from Westminster. It was replaced by King Henry VIII around 1542 and enlarged in 1602 before finally being demolished in 1721.

Gibbs’ apparently first suggested the design feature a round nave with a dome over the top but the proposal was rejected as too expensive and a simpler, rectangle-shaped church was subsequently agreed upon and eventually completed in 1726. Part of the design inspiration comes from Sir Christopher Wren, although Gibbs’ integration of the tower into the church was a departure from Wren’s designs (the church spire rises 192 foot into the air).

Among the features of the interior are ceiling panels in the nave which feature cherubs and shells and are the work of ceiling experts Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Other items of interest include Chaim Stephenson‘s sculpture, Victims of Injustice and Violence, remembering all victims during apartheid in South Africa (it was dedicated by Desmond Tutu in 1994), a statue of St Martin and the Beggar by James Butler, and, on the porch, Mike Chapman‘s sculpture marking the millennium, Christ Child. Paintings include one of James Gibbs himself by Andrea Soldi and dating from 1800.

Among those buried in the church are furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac and notorious robber Jack Sheppard (he’s buried in the churchyard). The crypt also contains a life-sized marble statue of Henry Croft, London’s first pearly king, which was moved there from St Pancras Cemetery in 2002.

As well as being the location of the first religious broadcast, its musical heritage includes performances by Handel and Mozart and being the location of the first performance of its namesake chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Since the early 20th century, the church has been noted for its work with the homeless (thanks in particular to the work of Vicar Dick Sheppard). Meanwhile, its connections with music – which date back to its rebuilding – continue in the concerts held in the crypt cafe. The crypt also hosts art exhibitions.

The church underwent a £36 million renewal project in the Noughties. Additions included the new east window by Shirazeh Houshiary.

WHERE: St Martin-in-the-Fields on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square (nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Embankment); WHEN: Open weekdays and weekends – times vary, see website for details; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org.

The Bard is back in Leicester Square with the announcement last week that restoration work on the square’s 19th century Grade II listed statue of William Shakespeare – the only full-length statue the playwright in central London – has been completed. The 11 month restoration was carried out as part of £17 million revamp of the square which has seen the installation of a new fountain. The statue, which was the work of James Knowles, has been in the square since it was completed in its current configuration in 1874. Meanwhile, in other sculpture-related news, Sorry, Sorry Sarajevo – a life-size statue of a man holding  a dead or badly injured man in his arms has been placed in St Paul’s Cathedral where it will remain for the rest of the year. The work by Nicola Hicks dates from 1993 – when the Bosnian war was at its height – and has been placed opposite Henry Moore’s 1983 sculpture, Mother and Child: Hood as part of the cathedral’s approach to next year’s World War I centenary.

Two new displays opened at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury last month. Hogarth and Copyright, which runs until 5th January, looks at the role the artist William Hogarth played in the passing of the 1735 Engravers’ Copyright Act (also known as Hogarth’s Act – it was the first law to protect artist’s rights over their work) while Handel and Lucretia, presented in conjunction with The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust and running until 26th January, shows Guercino’s painting Lucretia alongside two early manuscripts of Handel’s cantata La Lucretia. Entry is part of admission price. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A new exhibition tracing the history of attacks on artworks in Britain from the 16th century to today opened at Tate Britain in Millbank this week. Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm looks at why and how monuments have been damaged over the past 500 years. The display includes the remarkable pre-Reformation sculpture, the Statue of the Dead Christ (about 1500-1520), which was discovered in 1954 beneath the chapel floor at the Mercer’s Hall. Already damaged – most likely at the hands of Protestant iconoclasts – it may have been buried there to protect it. Also displayed are fragments of monuments destroyed in Ireland last century, paintings including Edward Burne-Jones’ 1898 painting Sibylla Delphica which was attacked by suffragettes in 1913-14, and Allen Jones’ 1969 work Chair – damaged in a feminist attack in 1986. Runs until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A controversial exhibition of sexually explicit Japanese works of art created between 1600-1900 opened at the British Museum this week. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese Art – which carries a warning of “parental guidance for visitors under 16 years – features 170 works including paintings, prints and illustrated books. Drawn from collections in the UK, Japan, Europe and the US, the exhibition of explores the phenomena of what are known as shunga (‘spring pictures’), looking at why it was produced and to whom it was circulated. Admission charge applies. Runs until 5th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Canaletto’s image of Greenwich Hospital from the north bank of the Thames (1750-52) is among almost 400 paintings, manuscripts and objects selected to be part of the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Royal River: Power, Pageantry & The Thames.

Curated by historian David Starkey, the exhibition, part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, focuses on the use of the river across five centuries covering events including Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession and Admiral Lord Nelson’s stately funeral through to the evolving Lord Mayor’s pageant and the ‘Great Stink’ of the mid-1800s.

Highlights include the oldest known copy of Handel’s Water Music, the sixteenth century Pearl Sword (which the monarch must touch on entering the City of London), a stuffed swan, treasures from the City’s livery companies, and another Canaletto work – this time his famous view of the river filled with boats getting ready for the Lord Mayor’s Day, seen as an inspiration for this year’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant and on show in the UK for the first time since its completion.

As well as celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, the exhibition also marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the National Maritime Museum by King George VI on 27th April, 1937. The king’s speech from that day and his Admiral of the Fleet uniform also feature in the exhibition.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (opening times may vary during the Paralympic and Olympic Games) until 9th September; COST: £11 adult/£9 concession/family ticket £24.50; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk.

PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London

An Ulster-Scots born physician, scientist and avid collector, Sir Hans Sloane served as doctor to no less than three British monarchs during the 17th and 18th centuries and during his life amassed a vast collection of natural specimens and curiosities which after his death were used to form the core of the British Museum’s collection.

Born on 16th April, 1660, at Killyleagh in County Down, Ireland, Sir Hans was the son of Alexander Sloane, a “receiver-general of taxes” who originally hailed from Scotland.

Even as a young man, he developed a keen interest in the natural sciences. Having suffered from some ill-health which, at the age of 16 is said to have kept him confined to a room for a year, in 1679, at the age of 19, he moved to London where he studied chemistry at the Apothecaries Hall and botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden – a period during which he befriended the botanist John Ray and chemist Robert Boyle.

Four years later, he travelled through France where he received his Doctorate of Physics. On his subsequent return to London in 1685, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1687 a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Given the chance to travel to Jamaica as physician to the new Governor, Christopher, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, he only spent 15 months there (the Governor died soon after arrival). But it was an important period during which not only did he document and collect a vast amount of flora and fauna (bringing some 800 specimens back to London), he also came up with the idea of drinking chocolate with milk after witnessing locals drinking the dark chocolate with water but finding the mix made him “nauseous” (back in England, his concoction was first sold as a medicine and was later manufactured as a drink by Cadburys).

Having returned to London in 1689, he published the information he had gathered in Jamaica, and in 1693 he become secretary to the Royal Society.

In 1695 he married a Jamaican sugar planter’s widow, Elizabeth Langley Rose (with whom he had several children but of whom only two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, survived) and, thanks in part to an ongoing association with the duke’s widow, was able to set up a fashionable medical practice at 3 Bloomsbury Place on the northern end of Bloomsbury Square.

The house, not far from where the British Museum now stands, become something of an attraction in its own right, filled with objects and specimens he had collected on his travels as well as those – in some cases complete collections – given to him by others including friends and patients (in fact, he had to purchase the property next door, number four, to find room for them all – this property is now marked with a Blue Plaque).

The composer Handel is said to have been among those who visited the property and there is a delightful tale that says Sir Hans was outraged when Handel placed a buttered scone on one of his rare books.

With his services as a physician highly prized, in 1696, he was appointed physician to Queen Anne, the first of the three monarchs he would serve. In 1712-13, with his collection still growing, he purchased the Manor of Chelsea to help house it (four acres of which were leased to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had been founded in 1673 with the idea of providing a training ground for apprentice apothecaries, in perpetuity).

He subsequently moved his collection out to this property and his connection with Chelsea is still celebrated in place names such as name Sloane Square (not to mention Sloane Street, Sloane Gardens, Hans Street, Hans Crescent, Hans Road and Hans Place). There is also a statue of the bewigged man in Duke of York Square (pictured), not far from Sloane Square – this is a 2007 copy of 1737 original by John Rysbrack, another (older) copy of which can be found in the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Following Queen Anne’s death in 1714, in 1716 Sir Hans was appointed physician to her successor, King George I (he was also created a baronet the same year, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title).

Three years later, in 1719, he become president of the Royal College of Physicians, an office he held for 16 years, and in 1727, he was appointed physician to King George II. The same year he succeeded Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society, an office which he held until 1741.

In 1742, Sir Hans retired to his property in Chelsea.

By the time of his death on 11th January, 1753 at the ripe old age of 93, Sir Hans had collected more than 71,000 objects including books, manuscripts, drawings, coins and medals and plant specimens which he bequeathed to King George II in exchange for a payment of £20,000 to his executors.

Parliament agreed, following a lottery to raise the money, his collection went on to form the basis of the British Museum, first opened to the public in 1759 in Bloomsbury. It was also to form the basis of the museum’s later offshoot, the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.

Sir Hans was buried at Chelsea Old Church with his wife Elizabeth who died in 1724.