Near London Bridge, looking over the Thames at The Shard. PICTURE: JJ Jordan/Unsplash
Near London Bridge, looking over the Thames at The Shard. PICTURE: JJ Jordan/Unsplash
The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.
We interrupt our regular programming this week to mark the day in which Queen Elizabeth II becomes the UK’s longest reigning monarch, passing the record reign of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
The milestone of 63 years, seven months and two days (the length of Queen Victoria’s reign) will reportedly be passed at about 5.30pm today (the exact time is unknown as the Queen’s father, King George VI, passed away in his sleep).
While the Queen, now 89 (pictured here in 2010), will pass the day in Scotland attending official duties, in London Prime Minister David Cameron will lead tributes in the House of Commons.
As we go to press a flotilla of vessels – including Havengore and Gloriana – will process along the River Thames between Tower Bridge, open as a sign of respect, and the Houses of Parliament. As they passed HMS Belfast, the ship will fire a four gun salute.
Today is the 23,226th day of the Queen’s reign during which she has met numerous major historical figures – from Charles de Gaulle to Nelson Mandela – and seen 12 British Prime Ministers come and go.
• The ancient Greek “preoccupation with the human form” is the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Defining beauty: The body in ancient Greek art features about 150 objects dating from the prehistoric to the age of Alexander the Great. Highlights include a newly discovered bronze sculpture of a new athlete scraping his body with a metal tool after exercise before bathing, six Parthenon sculptures from the museum’s collection including a sculpture by Phidias of the river god Ilissos, and copies of Greek originals including the Towny Discobolus (discus-thrower – pictured) – a Roman copy of Myron’s lost original – and Georg Romér’s reconstruction of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (spear-bearer) . Runs until 5th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/definingbeauty. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.
• London-based contemporary artist Hew Locke has transformed an entire deck of the HMS Belfast in a major new work, ironically titled work, The Tourists. The installation – which is on show until 7th September – depicts imaginative events in which the crew of the ship are preparing to arrive at Trinidad in time for Carnival in 1962 (the ship’s last international journey – to Trinidad – actually arrived three months after the celebration). Free with general admission charge. For more see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast. Meanwhile, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is hosting a free exhibition of Locke’s work in which he explores the idea of naval power through a series of ship sculptures. This free exhibition can be seen until 4th May. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london.
• Families are invited to take part in a new interactive experience on the “high seas of maritime history” which launches at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Saturday. The museum has joined with Punchdrunk Enrichment to take six to 12 year-olds and their families on an adventure, Against Captain’s Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted. Visitors don life jackets as they become part of the crew of the HMS Adventure and take on various seafaring roles as they navigate their way through the exhibition. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st August. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/againstcaptainsorders.
• See a real coral reef and take a virtual dive in new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea – which opens tomorrow on World Oceans Day – also features more than 200 specimens including coral, fish and fossils. These include examples collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, giant Turbinate coral and creatures ranging from the venomous blue-ringed octopus to tiny sponge crabs. For more see www.nhm.ac.uk.
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• Next year – 7th February to be precise – marks 200 years since the birth of celebrated 19th century novelist Charles Dickens and to mark the bicentenary, London institutions are among those across the country organising a raft of exhibitions under the banner of Dickens 2012. First up for us is a new exhibition launched this week at the British Library. A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural explores the way in which Dickens used supernatural phenomena in his works (remember the ghosts of A Christmas Carol anyone?), while at the same time placing them in the context of the “scientific, technological and philosophical debates of his time”. The exhibition includes a letter from Dickens to his wife Catherine written in 1853 (this alludes to a disagreement which arose between them after Catherine became jealous of the attention Dickens was paying to another lady; he apparently used mesmerism to treat Catherine’s “nervous condition”), an article in an 1858 Household Words magazine in which Dickens questions the motivation of the spirits who supposedly tapped out messages to spiritualists, and, a 1821 copy of The Terrific Register: or, record of crimes, judgements, providences and calamities, a publication which was one of Dickens’ favorite reads as a youth. There is a range of accompanying events including talks by Dickens’ biographer Claire Tomalin (author of Charles Dickens: A Life) and John Bowen, author of Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Admission is free. Runs until 4th March. For more, see www.bl.uk. Image: Courtesy of British Library
• The Art Fund has launched an appeal to have Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle, currently sitting atop Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, relocated to a permanant home outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The fund, which has kick started the campaign with a £50,000 grant, needs £362,500 to buy the work – a scaled down replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory – which has been on display in Trafalgar Square since May, 2010, but is due to be removed in January next year. The replica work features 80 cannon and 37 sails, set as on a day of battle, and is made out of materials including oak, hardwood, brass, twine and canvas. For more, see www.artfund.org/ship/.
• The historic ship HMS Belfast, moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, has been closed until further notice after a section of gangway which provides access to the ship collapsed earlier this week. Two contractors received minor injuries in the collapse and staff and visitors were evacuated by boat. The HMS Belfast is described as the most significant surviving Royal Navy warship from World War II and later served in places like Korea. It contains extensive displays on what life was like aboard the vessel. Keep on eye on www.iwm.org.uk for more information.
• Now On: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Hyde Park’s annual festival of all things Christmas is on again and this year’s festive offerings include, an ice rink, circus, giant observation wheel, rides and the chance for younger people to visit Santa Land as well as a plethora of opportunities to purchase presents at the Angels Christmas Market and warm-up with some of the fare available at eateries including the Bavarian Village, English Food Fair, and Spiegel Saloon. Winter Wonderland is free to enter and open between 10am and 10pm daily. Runs until 3rd January. For more, see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.
• London will this weekend celebrate the 15th annual Thames Festival, billed as the city’s “largest free festival”. The two day event includes a giant shipwreck sculpture outside City Hall (created with the aid of students from 100 London schools), barge races and a parade of more than 100 boats on the Thames, a wide array of musical and street performances (these include a mass choir of 700 school children and a performance in which the HMS Belfast is used as a percussion instrument) and an illuminated Night Carnival culminating in fireworks. More than 800,000 people are expected to attend the event which takes place at a range of venues stretching from the London Eye to Tower Bridge. Other highlights include the annual Feast on the Bridge on Saturday during which Southwark Bridge will be closed to traffic, Korean Taekwondo displays, a food market and an exclusive cruise on the Thames hosted by the likes of historian David Starkey and the creators of cult children’s character Rastamouse. River boat operators, meanwhile, are offering 2-for-1 tickets for the weekend to help people make the most of the festival. For more information on the festival, see www.thamesfestival.org. For more on the 2 for 1 tickets, see www.tfl.gov.uk/river.
• Regent Street and surrounds will be buzzing tonight with more than 40 shops, bars and restaurants taking part in Vogue Fashion’s Night Out. The event, which is running for its third year in London, will see many stores remaining opening until 11pm and feature special events and promotions. The night is part of a series of nights being held in countries across the globe – from Russia to Brazil, Australia to Spain. For more information, see http://fashions-night-out.vogue.co.uk.
• An art deco Tube train dating from 1938 and the Sarah Siddons, the last operational ex-Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive will be running between Harrow-on-the-Hill, Rickmansworth and Amersham this Sunday as part of the Amersham Old Town’s Heritage Day. Other activities include a best dressed competition showcasing retro fashions, a free heritage bus service, including rides on the Routemaster RM1, street performances including a Punch and Judy show and clowns, and “object handling sessions” at the Amersham Museum. For more information, see the London Transport Museum’s website here.
OK, so it’s not exactly small but HMS Belfast – an offshoot of the Imperial War Museum moored permanently on the Thames near Tower Bridge – does make a fascinating museum in which to spend a few hours.
Commissioned into the Royal Navy on 5th August, 1939 (just in time for the start of World War II), the HMS Belfast is a large light cruiser built, along with the HMS Edinburgh, as an improvement on the then existing ‘Southampton’ class vessels. It is now the only surviving example of the many big gun armoured warships which were built for the Royal Navy in first half of the twentieth century.
Assigned to the Home Fleet on the outbreak of war, the ship operated out of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Isles in far north Scotland and was charged with patrolling the northern waters as part of efforts to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. Striking a mine in November of that year, however, it was put of out action until two years later when it rejoined the Home Fleet and then began escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union – a mission which saw it take part in the Battle of North Cape off the Norwegian coast in late 1943 (this battle saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst).
The HMS Belfast later saw action on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy in 6th June, 1944, when it was employed to bombard German positions onshore before, heading to Japan where, after the end of the war, it was used to evacuate survivors of prisoners-of-war and internment camps in China.
The HMS Belfast saw action in the Korean War and then spent further time in the Far East before – under threat of being disposed of and broken up – it was acquired as a museum and moored in London. The first visitors were admitted on Trafalgar Day, 1971, and, as of last year, nearly 10 million people have taken up the chance to look at the ship.
These days there’s a well-defined route through the vessel, complete with audio guide (it’s included in the admission price), which takes visitors on an informative journey describing what life was like for those who served onboard the Belfast – including everything from the Arctic messdecks where ratings slept in hammocks to the NAAFI store where they could buy supplies, sick bay, the ‘modern’ laundry room, and chapel as well as the engine room, shell rooms and magazines, and , of course, the bridge.
Many of the rooms have been set up – some using life-sized manniquins – to show how they would have looked during a typical day. Particularly worth a look is the new Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story 1943, an immersive film, light and sound show which gives a glimpse into what life was like working inside one of the six inch gun turrets.
It can take a while to get around the whole ship (and parents are asked not to take small children into the boiler room) but it’s well worth taking the time to explore properly. In addition to the features of the ship itself, there are two exhibitions – one looking at the role of the ship in peace and war, and the other, an interactive experience in what life was like on board.
WHERE: HMS Belfast is moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Entry is from the south bank of the Thames near Morgans Lane (nearest Tube stations are London Bridge, Tower Hill or Monument); WHEN: 10am-6pm (last admission 5pm) daily until 31st October, then 10am to 5pm (last admission 4pm); COST: £13.50 adults/£10.80 seniors and students/children under 16 free (price includes a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: http://hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.
• Sixteen London Underground stations were this week listed as Grade II heritage buildings. The Tube stations – several of which were designed by Leslie Green, known for his pioneering use of ‘ox-blood’ red tiles on the exterior of stations to create a consistent brand for the stations – include the now-closed Aldwych (pictured) along with Oxford Circus (originally two stations), Covent Garden and Russell Square as well as Belsize Park, Brent Cross, Caledonian Road, Chalk Farm, Chesham, Perivale, Redbridge, St John’s Wood, West Acton and Wood Green. Three other stations – Arnos Grove, Oakwood and Sudbury Town – have had their status upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*. These three were all designed by modernist architect Charles Holden for the extension of the Piccadilly Line in the 1930s. The new listings were made by Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose on the advice of English Heritage.
• A new permanent exhibition showing would-be sailors what it is like to fight at sea opens at the HMS Belfast this weekend. Gun Turret Experience: A Sailor’s Story, 1943, is an immersive experience using lights, imagery, sound, smoke effects, movement and smell to recreate the atmosphere and conditions of a gun turret tower when a crew was at battle stations. Visitors are encouraged to follow the story of a young sailor on Boxing Day, 1943 when the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst is sighted leading to the Battle of the North Cape. The Gun Turret Experience, housed within the original triple gun turrets overlooking the quarterdeck, was developed with the help of Royal Navy veterans and eye-witness accounts from the Imperial War Museum (of which the HMS Belfast is part). Entry is included in normal admission price. For more information, see www.hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.
• Now On: See the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore when she was married to Prince William in April at this year’s summer opening at Buckingham Palace. The gown, which features a nine foot long train, will be displayed along with the Halo Tiara until 3rd October in the palace ballroom (the same room used for the newly married couple’s reception). The exhibition features video footage of designer Sarah Burton, explaining how the dress was made. This year’s summer opening also features a display of the work of Carl Faberge – including his magnificent jewel-encrusted Imperial Easter Eggs as well as bejewelled boxes and miniature carvings of favorite pets of the royal family. More than half a million people are expected to visit the exhibition. For more information, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=30
The SS Robin being towed to its new mooring in East London on a floating pontoon. PICTURE: James Spellane/SS Robin Trust.
The world’s oldest complete steamship, the SS Robin, made a dramatic return to the Royal Docks in East London earlier this month. Built in 1890 at the Thames Ironworks shipyard on the River Lea, the coastal cargo steamer was operational for more than 80 years, initially around the coast of Britain and the English Channel and later in Spain where it bore the name Maria. The 300 tonne vessel has just been through a three year restoration project spearheaded by the SS Robin Trust. It has now taken up a temporary mooring on a new floating pontoon while final conservation work is completed. It is anticipated that the steamship – which is listed on the ‘Core Collection’ of the UK National Historic Ships Register meaning it’s seen as historically significant as London’s two other maritime landmarks, the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast – will be opened to the public. For more information, see www.ssrobin.com.
• The Imperial War Museum has unveiled plans for a major rebuilding project at its Lambeth headquarters to culminate with the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I in 2014. Under a £71 million proposal, the size of the existing World War I galleries will be doubled and a new atrium will be created with further works – including a new sunken entrance – to be completed by 2019. The museum moved to its Lambeth location, formerly the Bethlem Royal Hospital, in 1936. Prince William is fronting the first £29 million appeal for funds. Meanwhile plans have reportedly been mooted to have the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the HMS Ark Royal, brought to London where it would be permanently moored in the Thames as a tourist attraction akin to the HMS Belfast.
• St Paul’s Cathedral has announced it will provide live outdoor broadcasts of its three most popular Christmas services for the first time to allow those who can fit in the cathedral to participate. A 25 metre screen will be set up in Paternoster Square, next to the cathedral, where ‘A Celebration of Christmas’ will be screen on 16th December at 6.30pm along with Christmas Carol services on the 23rd and 24th December at 4pm. See www.stpauls.co.uk.
• An historic 18th century mill in East London will undergo restoration after the granting of a £248,000 lottery grant. House Mill, which dates from 1776, is believed to be the largest tidal mill still in existence anywhere in the world. Built across the River Lea, the mill was used for flour-making and for a distillery located next door on Three Mills Island in Bow. The project, which is being managed by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust, involves the restoration of the mill as well as the adjoining Miller’s House and the creation of a visitor’s centre. The trust says it has also been given the “green light” for a further £2.65 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. See http://housemill.org.uk.
• A three year project has made documents drawn up for King Henry III in the 13th century available on the internet for the first time. Project partners Canterbury Christ Church University, King’s College London, and the National Archives in Kew have translated and digitised the king’s ‘fine rolls’, written to record money and favours owed to the king. The rolls consist of 56 parchments – one for each year of his reign which started in 1216 and ended in 1272 – and contain as many as 40,000 entries amounting to some two million words. Some of the parchments, the originals of which are held at the National Archives, measure up to three metres in length. See www.finerollshenry3.org.uk.
• On now: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Christmas festivity on a vast scale, Winter Wonderland includes the city’s largest open air ice rink, circus acts, a giant observation wheel, rides and eating places including the igloo-style E:Cube and the Spiegel Saloon. For more information see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.
• The HMS Belfast’s newly restored masts were unveiled to the public this week following an 18 month restoration project. Moored on the Thames between Tower and London Bridges, the ship is one of only a few surviving Royal Navy ships that served in Arctic convoys supplying Russia during World War II. The restoration was carried out for free by a team of more than 20 men and women from the JSC Shipbuilding plant, Severnaya Verf, in St Petersburg, Russia as a tribute to the British and Allied sailors who risked their lives on the convoys. The work involved removed and replacing all of the masts. For more information, see http://hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk.
• A record 413,000 people visited Buckingham Palace over the summer – the highest number in 16 years. The record numbers were partly ascribed to the new Garden Cafe which served 46,000 cups of tea. Meanwhile, the palace has announced the exhibition, Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, at the Queen’s Gallery has been extended until 5th December. For more information, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.
• The Worshipful Company of Plumbers has reportedly announced it will be installing a bronze statue of a plumbers’ apprentice outside Cannon Street station next year. The statue’s installation will mark 400 years since the company first received its Royal Charter from King James I. The station was the site of the company’s livery hall until 1863 when the site was compulsorily acquired to make way for the new railway.