Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events are kicking off all over the city. Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

The world famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree will be lit next Thursday – 7th December – in an event that kicks off at 6pm. The 25 metre high tree is an annual gift from the people of Norway as a thank you for Britain’s support during World War II. Christmas carols will kick off in the square on 11th December while the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service will be held in Southwark Cathedral on 18th December. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.

Sounds Like Christmas at the V&A. A month long musical celebration across the museum’s South Kensington and Museum of Childhood sites, it features choirs, candlelit concerts, pop-up performances, film screenings, decoration-making workshops, and special installations of objects relating to the music of Christmas, as well as, at the grand entrance to the South Kensington site, ‘The Singing Tree’ (pictured). A project conceived by leading stage designer Es Devlin, the tree features digital word projections that create a poem and comes with a layered polyphonic soundscape of human and machine-generated voices. The season runs until 6th January. For the full programme, see www.vam.ac.uk/Christmas. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Greenwich Winter Time Festival. The inaugural festival, set in the grounds of the World Heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, kicks off in December and features an alternative to the traditional seasonal market as well as a covered ice rink, entertainment including live music, theatre and children’s shows, and an “authentic” Father Christmas experience. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Christmas at the Historic Royal Palaces. As well as its ice rink, Hampton Court Palace is hosting the BBC Good Food’s Festive Feast and a Christmas Music Weekend while at the Tower of London, visitors can once again skate in the dry moat, join in medieval Christmas festivities and enjoy a treat for their ears with the Noel Noel concert in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Kensington Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Christmas festivities under a Victorian theme with a 25 foot tall Christmas tree, a display of illuminated Victorian scenes, live music performances and family friendly events including ‘Under the Christmas Tree’, ‘Funtastic Sunday’, and ‘Tasty Talks’. Check website for dates – admission prices apply. See www.hrp.org.uk for more.

Meanwhile, the final release of New Year’s Eve tickets goes on sale tomorrow (Friday) from noon. People can buy up to four tickets, priced at £10 each to be among the 100,000 spectators lining the banks of the River Thames. Those without a ticket can still watch it live on BBC One. Head to www.london.gov.uk/nye for tickets.

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pagoda

News this week that Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens are embarking on a two year project to restore eighty decorative dragons to the Kew Pagoda has led us to take a look at the history of the exotic tower set amid the trees.

pagoda15Designed by architect Sir William Chambers (one of his drawings is depicted here), the pagoda was built in 1762 during the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie and was probably commissioned by Princess Augusta as part of the ongoing works she undertook in the gardens after the death of her husband Prince Frederick, eldest son of King George II and Queen Caroline.

Standing 163 feet (or almost 50 metres) high, the 10 storey pagoda was originally decorated with eighty golden dragons. It was designed to be the high point of a world tour through the gardens which also took in Roman ruins and Arabic mosques.

While the pagoda remains, the dragons were only on the structure for some 22 years before being removed in 1784 during roof repairs. Thanks to rumours they were made of solid gold, it was suggested they were sold off to pay the debts of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but experts say the wooden figures had simply rotted and so had to be removed.

Following their removal, the dragons subsequently disappeared and despite several attempts to find them – including one by Decimus Burton, architect of the famous Palm House (for more on that, see our earlier post), in 1843 – they have never been found.

Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens have now decided to replace them with new ones, drawing on contemporary accounts and drawings and using a team of specialist craftsmen to create them.

The restored pagoda – complete with new dragons – will be open to the public in 2017.

It is one of several ornamental buildings still located in the gardens. Others include a Japanese gateway and a Japanese wooden house called a minka.

WHERE: The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 10am daily (closing times vary – see websites for details); COST: £16.50 adults/£13 concessions/children £3.50 (discounts apply for online bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.

PICTURES: RBG Kew

Fringe-LoomThe fringe loom of Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – is among the objects on display at Kew Palace this year. Historic Royal Palaces is exploring some of the untold stories of the king’s daughters who once called the palace, which was originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant before it was acquired by King George II, home. Under examination are the pastimes of the royal women – from drawing and painting to weaving, paper cutting and even the decoration of a ‘Baby House’ created by the princesses as a showcase of their talents. Along with Kew Palace – located inside Kew Gardens in London’s west, also opened is the nearby rustic retreat built in 1770 known as Queen Charlotte’s cottage. Inside is the “Print Room”, hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, and the “Picnic Room”, decorated paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus – the work of Princess Elizabeth, an acclaimed artist. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KewPalace/.
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces

Dr-Johnsons-HouseIt’s #MuseumWeek on Twitter and museums all over London are among the more than 2,000 institutions worldwide already tweeting away. Among those, large and small, taking part in London are the @hornimanmuseum, @ExploreWellcome, @JewishMuseumLDN, @BFHouse@HRP_Palaces, @NMMGreenwichand @drjohnsonshouse (pictured). Each day of the week they’ll be tweeting on a different theme until Sunday (today’s is #souvenirsMW). For the full stream, head to @MuseumWeek.

Gardens1

Historic Royal Palaces has reopened Hampton Court Palace’s royal kitchen garden, having recreated it according to a plan dating from 1736. The  six acre garden – constructed on the site of King Henry VIII’s tiltyard on the orders of Queen Anne in 1702 – was used to supply the table of monarchs from the early 1700s through to the 1840s. The recreated version showcases rare and heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables including Italian celery, borrage, skirret and swelling parsnips as well as apricots, nectarine and peaches while on site displays showcase some of the techniques used by the royal gardeners. The gardens are open to the public free-of-charge and it’s hoped that as they mature, vegetable growing classes will be held there. The gardens have been opened as part of celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession. For more on Hampton Court Palace, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURES: Courtesy Historic Royal Palaces.

Gardens2

Gardens3

Chocolate-kitchen

Once making chocolate for kings including William III, George I and George II, a special royal chocolate-making kitchen has opened at Hampton Court Palace – the only surviving example of its kind in the country. The opening – which is part of Historic Royal Palaces’ celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession – comes after research identified the exact location of the kitchen which, having been used as a storeroom, was found in a “remarkably well preserved” state with original fittings such as the stove and furniture intact. Among those known to have worked in the kitchen is Thomas Tosier (pictured above), personal chocolatier to King George I, and it was in here he prepared special chocolate drinks. (Interestingly, Tosier’s wife Grace apparently traded on her husband’s royal association to promote her own chocolate house in Greenwich). A new display in the kitchen explores how the chocolate was made for the king and features copper cooking equipment and bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linens from the 18th century. The Royal Chocolate Kitchen will also play host to live Georgian chocolate making sessions. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea Hair.

WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 4.30pm until 29th March after which it’s open to 6pm); COST: Adult £18.20, Concession £15.40, Child under 16 £9.10 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE:www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.

Line-of-Kings

The Tower of London’s iconic exhibition, the Line of Kings, has had a makeover. Described as the “world’s longest running visitor attraction”, the Line of Kings features more than 500 objects including historic suits of armour – such as those worn by King Henry VIII, King Charles I and King James II – as well as life-sized wooden horses and individually carved king’s heads, many of which were made between 1685 and 1690. The exhibition was originally created following the Restoration in 1660 and was used as propaganda to promote the king’s rule (interestingly omitting queens and featuring only those deemed “good kings”). Rearranged and dispersed over the centuries, it’s been brought back together in the White Tower and reopened last month. Entry to the exhibition – a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Armouries – is free as part of general admission to the Tower. For more, check out www.royalarmouries.org/line-of-kings. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

Four cameras mounted on top of St Paul’s Cathedral’s Golden Gallery have captured a 360 degree time lapse video of the capital. The video, which was shot in early July, captured 36 hours in the life of London and is the work of specialist photographer Henry Stuart who previously completed two projects from the Golden Gallery – a GigaPixel image of London and a Day Meets Night image. The latest project captured some 8,000 panoramic images. The time lapse video, which is set to Kyrie from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Missa in C major ‘Missa solemnis’ K337 being sung by the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, can be found at http://visualise.com/videos/london-360-time-lapse-from-st-pauls-cathedral.

• On Now: London Cycles. This free exhibition at the Museum of London looks at cycling in the capital with highlights including 10 large scale portraits by Ugo Gattoni, bikes including an 1880s “boneshaker”, a penny farthing, an 1930s Enfield cycle and a ‘Boris’ bike as well as head cam footage from riders including from the annual Tweed Run bike. The free display runs until 22nd September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Given this week’s release of English Heritage’s The London List 2011 – which lists all properties given a new or upgraded heritage listing last year, we thought it was only appropriate to look at one of the properties listed, in this case the Royal Kitchens in Kew Gardens.

Upgraded to a Grade I listing in 2011, the kitchens were opened to the public for the first time in May this year following a £1 million restoration. The origins of the kitchens go back to the 1730s when they were built to the designs of William Kent to serve the White House, the grand mansion of Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son and heir of King George II).

While the White House was demolished in 1802, the Georgian kitchens – built in a separate building to mitigate the risk of fire – were kept to serve the nearby premises of Kew Palace (formerly known as the “Dutch House”, it had been originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant).

But after the death of Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) in 1818, members of the Royal family only stayed occasionally and so the kitchen fell into disuse. While the upper floors were given over to accommodation, the lower floor remained untouched, allowing it to survive in a considerable degree of intactness.

The kitchens centre on the double storey ‘Great Kitchen’ featuring three charcoal stoves as well as a rare cooking range with “smoke jack” and fan. Other rooms include a scullery, a bakery, larders and stores for silver and spices while among the surviving furnishings is a preparation table or dresser, cupboards, shelves and baking ovens. Upstairs, the office of the clerk who oversaw the feeding of the Royal Household has been restored.

Historic Royal Palaces, who look after the kitchens, have installed a new permanent exhibition at the site which focuses life on the 6th February, 1789, the date when King George III, having suffered his first bout of ‘madness’ (believed to be porphyria), was given back his knife and fork. William Wybrow was the Master Cook at this time and William Gorton the Clerk of the Kitchen.

WHERE: The Royal Kitchens, Kew Gardens, Kew (nearest Tube Station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 11am to 5pm daily until 30th September, then Thursday to Sunday until 28th October, then daily again until 4th November; COST: Kew Gardens tickets must be purchased – £16 adults/£14 concessions/children under 16 free – and then tickets to Kew Palace – £6 adults/£4.50 concessions/children under 16 free (or free with annual Historic Royal Palaces membership); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/kewpalace/stories/palacehighlights/royalkewkitchens.

PICTURE: Forster/HRP

For more on Kew Palace, check out Kew Palace: The Official Illustrated History.