News this week that scientists have confirmed an ancient sacred well beneath Australia House in the Strand (on the corner of Aldwych) contains water fit to drink. The well, believed to be one of 20 covered wells in London, is thought to be at least 900 years old and contains water which is said to come from the now-subterranean Fleet River. Australia’s ABC news was recently granted special access to the well hidden beneath a manhole cover in the building’s basement and obtained some water which was tested and found to be fit for drinking. It’s been suggested that the first known mention of the well – known simply as Holywell (it gave its name to a nearby street now lost) – may date back to the late 12th century when a monk, William FitzStephen, commented about the well’s “particular reputation” and the crowds that visited it (although is possible his comments apply to another London well). Australia House itself, home to the Australian High Commission, was officially opened in 1918 by King George V, five years after he laid the foundation stone. The Prime Minister of Australia, WM “Billy” Hughes, was among those present at the ceremony. The interior of the building has featured in the Harry Potter movies as Gringott’s Bank. PICTURE: © Martin Addison/Geograph.
• Celebrate the Diamond Jubilee next Tuesday in Richmond Park as it hosts ‘Wild London’, the borough’s “first festival aimed at celebrating London’s woodlands, parks and gardens”. The event, which is being put on by Richmond Council and Royal Parks, will mark the Queen’s first visit to the borough in 23 years. It will showcase the conservational, recreational and inspirational role that parks and gardens play in London and will include hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, displays and performances. The event will be the first in a series celebrating the Diamond Jubilee held in Royal Parks. For more information, see www.richmond.gov.uk/home/leisure_and_culture/diamond_jubilee.htm
• The National Trust has launched a new photography competition aimed at celebrating green spaces and the life of the Trust founder Octavia Hill. The competition, called Your Space, is running in conjunction with National Trust Magazine and is open for entries until August. The competition was launched by internationally acclaimed photographers – Mary McCartney, Joe Cornish, Arnhel de Serra and Charlie Waite – with a new collection of pictures at National Trust places. One of the three Trust founder, Octavia Hill was a leading environmental campaigner in the Victorian Age and campaigned to save places in and around London like Parliament Hill. Entries in the competition, which aims to capture images of everyday green spaces, could include pictures from the local park or countryside. For details on how to enter, follow this link…
• The author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, received the Freedom of the City of London this week. The books have sold an estimated 450 million copies worldwide and have been made into films. The Freedom ceremony took place at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. Speaking before the ceremony on Tuesday, Rowling was quoted as saying that both her parents were Londoners. “They met on a train departing from King’s Cross Station in 1964, and while neither of them ever lived in London again, both their daughters headed straight for the capital the moment that they were independent. To me, London is packed with personal memories, but it has never lost the aura of excitement and mystery that it had during trips to see family as a child. I am prouder than I can say to be given the Freedom of the City, which, on top of all the known benefits (and few people realize this), entitles me to a free pint in The Leaky Cauldron and a ten Galleon voucher to spend in Diagon Alley.” For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
• On Now: Royal Devotion. This exhibition in the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace is being held to mark both the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the 350th anniversary of the revised Book of Common Prayer. The display charts the relationship between Crown and Church and its embodiment in the history of the Book of Common Prayer, one of the most important books in the English language. As well as the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, highlights include a 1549 printing of the Book of Common Prayer, medieval illuminated manuscripts, including the Book of Hours of King Richard III, Queen Elizabeth I’s personal prayer book and a copy of the book of private devotions compiled for Queen Elizabeth II in preparation for her coronation, the Book of Common Prayer used at the wedding of Queen Victoria, and King Charles I’s own handwritten revision of State Prayers. Admission fee applies. Runs until 14th July. For more, see www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/
• A new exhibition in which visitors can experience life during the Second World War through the eyes of a London family opens today at the Imperial War Museum in London. A Family in Wartime explores the lives of William and Alice Allpress and their 10 children at their South London home during the war as the face events such as the Blitz and the evacuation of the city. The display includes firsthand audio accounts from members of the family, photographs and a detailed model of the family home at 69 Priory Grove. Two of the family’s sons served in the military during the war while three of the daughters joined the Women’s Voluntary Service. Artefacts on display include many everyday household items such as cookery books which gave advice on cooking with limited rations and stirrup pumps which people were encouraged to wear in case of incendiary bombs as well as newspaper clippings, propaganda posters and film footage. There will also be artworks depicting wartime living by artists including Henry Moore, Wilfred Haines and Leila Faithful. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.
• Hogwarts has come to London’s north with the opening of the new Warner Bros Studio Tour in Leavesden. The tour, which was launched this week, features sets, costumes and pros from the Harry Potter series of films and reveals how special effects and animatronics were used in the movies. Highlights include the chance to visit Hogwarts Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office and Diagon Alley as well as see Harry’s Nimbus 2000, the flying Ford Anglia owned by the Weasleys and Hagrid’s motorcycle. For more information, see www.wbstudiotour.co.uk.
• The Kew Bridge Steam Museum in London’s west has been awarded a £1.84 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a restoration project that will see new visitor facilities and more modern displays as well as new outdoor water-based actvities. Project Aquarius will also see outstanding repairs to the Grade I and Grade II listed buildings – described as the most important historic site of the water supply industry in the UK – completed. The museum, which opened 37 years ago, features four giant working Cornish steam pumping engines as part of its displays telling the story of London’s water supply and attracts some 15,000 visitors a year. For more, see www.kbsm.org.
• On Now: British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age. The V&A’s major spring exhibition, this is a showcase of British design from the 1948 ‘Austerity Olympics’ to present day and features more than 300 objects – from the 1959 Morris Mini Minor to a model of the recently completed Zaha Hadid-designed London Aquatics Centre. Highlighting significant moments in British design, the exhibition looks not only at 60 years worth of fashion, furniture, fine art, graphic design, photography, ceramics, architecture and industrial design but also investigates how the UK continues to nuture artistic talent and the role British design and manufacturing plays around the world. Admission charge applies. Runs until 12th August. For more see www.vam.ac.uk.
We’re taking a break over Easter – posts will resume next Tuesday. In the meantime have a great Easter!