The-Leadenhall-Building• Open House London is finally here with some 800 buildings across the city – some of them rarely accessible to the public – open for free this weekend, from grand historical institutions and modern skyscrapers through to ‘green’ schools, engineering projects, parks and gardens, and private homes. The weekend – which is being run this year under the theme of ‘revealing’ – also includes a programme of walks, engineering and landscape tours, cycle rides, a bus tour, childrens’ activities and expert talks as well as a moonlit ‘culture crawl’ through London on Friday night and into Saturday morning (a fundraiser for Maggie’s Centres). Among the buildings opening their doors in the festival – created by London-based architecture organisation Open-City – are the ever popular 30 St Mary Axe (aka ‘The Gherkin’), the Foreign and India Office in Whitehall, the Bank of England, Portcullis House and City Hall along with everything from The Leadenhall Building (aka ‘The Cheesegrater’ – pictured), and Temple Church in the City to the Admiral’s House in Greenwich, the Dutch Embassy in Kensington and the steam coaster, the SS Robin, in Tower Hamlets. As mentioned in a previous week, some visits required pre-booking so make sure you check the programme before heading out. For a full copy of the programme of events, see www.londonopenhouse.org. PICTURE: © R Bryant.

A major new exhibition focusing on China during the “pivotal” 50 years of Ming Dynasty rule between 1400-1450 opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Ming: 50 years that changed China features some of the finest objects ever made in China – loaned from institutions in China and elsewhere – as it explores some of the “great social and cultural changes” that saw Beijing established as the capital and the building of the Forbidden City. It includes objects from the imperial courts along with finds from three regional “princely tombs”. Four emperors ruled during the period and the display will feature the sword of Yongle Emperor, “the warrior”, the handwriting of the Hongxi emperor, “the bureaucrat”, the paintings of the Xuande emperor, “the aesthete”, and portraits of the regents who ruled while the Zhengtong emperor was a boy. The exhibition runs until 4th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The work of 19th century artist John Constable and its debt to 17th century masters is the focus of a new exhibition opening at the V&A on Saturday. Constable: The Making of a Master – which features more than 150 works including celebrated pieces by Constable like The Hay Wain (1821), The Cornfield (1826) and Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831) as well as oil sketches, drawings, watercolours and engravings – will juxtapose his works with those of 17th century landscape masters like Ruisdael, Rubens and Claude. Among those of their works on display will be Rubens’ Moonlight Landscape (1635-1640) and Ruisdael’s Windmills near Haarlem (c.1650-62). The exhibition runs until 11th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/constable.

And don’t forget, Totally Thames continues to run throughout this month which an extensive programme of river-related events. Those on during the coming week include Londonist Afloat: Terrific Tales of the Thames, a series of discussion sessions on aspects of the River Thames being held aboard the HMS President and London’s River – The City’s Ebb and Flow, a guided walk along the river (held on every Saturday and Monday during September), and Hospital and Troop Ships – Transporting the walking and wounded in the First World War, an exhibition held aboard the HQS Wellington (open Sundays and Mondays in September). For the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org.

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Tomorrow is the Lord Mayor’s Show and once again the great procession will make its through London’s streets so the Lord Mayor may swear their loyalty to the Crown. So, to celebrate, we thought we’d interrupt our regular programming and bring you 10 facts about the Lord Mayor’s Show…

1. The origins of the Lord Mayor’s Show go back to 1215 when King John granted the city the right to elect their mayors but only on condition that they made their way to Westminster to swear their loyalty each year. There is evidence that by the late 14th century, the journey had turned into something of a procession.

2. Lawyer Fiona Woolf is the 686th Lord Mayor, formally taking on the job when outgoing mayor Roger Gifford hands the City insignia to her in what is known as the Silent Ceremony held at Guildhall today. She is only the second woman to ever hold the post; Mary Donaldson was the first to do so in 1983.

3. The person responsible for organising the day is the Pageantmaster. The current Pageantmaster is Dominic Reid – he gets to travel in a ceremonial Landrover.

4. The day was originally held on 28th October, the Feast of St Simon and St Jude, but was moved to 9th November in 1751 when Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Because this meant it call be held on any day of the week, to simplify matters in 1959 it was decided that the Show would be held on the second Saturday in November.

5. Effigies of Gog and Magog, seen guardians of the City of London, have appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show since at least 1554, during the reign of King Henry V. For more on Gog and Magog, see our Famous Londoners post.

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6. Since the early 15th century the Lord Mayor had travelled to Westminster via a pageant on the River Thames. This was dropped in favour of travelling on horseback. The magnificent State Coach used in tomorrow’s procession, meanwhile, was first used to convey the Lord Mayor to Westminster in 1757 (the mayors had ridden in coaches since 1712 after Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off his horse in 1711). For more on the State Coach, see our Treasures of London article. As happened last year, before the Show starts, the Lord Mayor will once again travel upriver in the QRB Gloriana accompanied by a procession of 24 traditional Thames boats from London’s livery companies and port authorities. The flotilla will leave Vauxhall at 8.30am and travel past Tower Bridge to HMS President.

7. The modern route of the show – which takes in Cheapside, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street going out from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice and then returns back along Queen Victoria Street – was fixed in 1952 (although occasionally it has been disrupted due to things like roadworks). It apparently features 3,500 manholes, all of which have to be checked before the big day.

8. The modern Lord Mayor’s Show parade, which kicks off at 11am, is three-and-a-half miles long. This year’s procession features more than 7,000 participants.

9. Among those in the parade are representatives of the livery companies including that of the “great 12” –  the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers – as well as other companies including some distinctly “new world”.

10. The fireworks display was canceled last year but is back for this year’s festivities. It kicks off at 5pm.

For more on the show – including a downloadable timetable and map – head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.

We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.

Albert-EmbankmentAs mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.

Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.

Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.

The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit  by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).

The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).

Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).

Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.

• The 2012 Lord Mayor’s Show is just about upon us and while you may not have a grandstand seat, there’s still plenty of places you can stand and watch the parade of more than 6,500 people pass by. Saturday’s parade – which celebrates the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – leaves Mansion House at 11am and travels via Poultry and Cheapside to St Paul’s Cathedral where it pauses for the Lord Mayor and his officials to receive a blessing – before continuing on via Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice, arriving there at about 12.30pm. There the Lord Mayor gives his oath of loyalty to the Crown (while in the surrounding streets the participants and 125 horses are fed and watered) before the parade reassembles and sets off from Embankment at 1pm, heading back to Mansion House via Queen Victoria Street – the Lord Mayor arrives sometime between 2pm and 2.30pm. (The website has a terrific one page map of the route you can download and print). There’s no fireworks display after the parade – although there’s a host of other activities taking place in the City of London – but if you’re up and about early enough, you may want to watch the Lord Mayor as he boards the barge QRB Gloriana at the Westminster Boating Base in Vauxhall at 8.30am and, escorted by a flotilla, makes his way up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, arriving at about 9.35am after Tower Bridge opens in salute. For more, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.

• The annual Remembrance Sunday service – commemorating the contribution of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts – will take place at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am this Sunday. While no tickets are required to watch the event, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who organise the service, advise arriving early if you wish to secure a good viewing space (and leave time for security checks at the entrance to either end of Whitehall). Whitehall opens at 8am. For more details, see www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/honours/3333.aspx.

A new exhibition of the work of US photographic pioneer Ansel Adams opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow (Friday). Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea, which comes from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, will feature more than 100 original prints, many of which have never been exhibited before in the UK. It is said to be the first exhibition to focus on his “lifelong fascination” with water and the display features some of Adams’ finest images based on this subject including what are some of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. Highlights include the first photograph Adams’ ever image – taken at age 14 – which features a pool located at the Panama Pacific Exhibition at the 1915 World’s Fair, the three American Trust murals produced in the 1950s on an “unprecedented scale”, Adam’s favorite work – Golden Gate before the Bridge – which hung above his desk, and iconic images such as Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite and Stream, Sea, Clouds, Rodeo Lagoon, Marin Country, California. There is an admission charge. Runs until 28th April. For more details on the exhibition, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Also opening tomorrow (Friday) is the British Library’s major autumn exhibition – Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. The exhibition focuses on the Mughal dynasty – which once ruled over much of the Indian sub-continent – and is the first to document the period spanning the 16th to 19th centuries. Featuring more than 200 manuscripts and paintings, most of which come from the library’s own collection, highlights include Akbar ordering the slaughter to cease in 1578 – a work attributed to the artist Miskina in 1595, Abu’l Hasan’s early 17th century painting Squirrels in a plane tree, the historically important illustration Prince Aurangzeb reports to the Emperor Shah Jahan in durbar, and a portrait of Prince Dara Shikoh, favorite son and heir-apparent of 17th century Emperor Shah Jahan. Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more on the exhibition and accompanying events, see www.bl.uk.

• The first ever exhibition focusing on Henry Stuart, older brother of King Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart features more than 80 exhibits including paintings, miniatures, manuscripts, books and armour gathered from museums and personal collections around the UK and abroad – with some of the objects being displayed in public for the first time. Opened on 18th October – the 400th anniversary of the Prince’s death, among the paintings displayed in the exhibition are works by Holbein, Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver as well as Robert Peake as well as masque designs by Inigo Jones and poetry  by Ben Jonson. Henry, Prince of Wales, was the eldest son of King James I and Queen Anne of Denmark, and died at the age of 18 of typhoid fever. As well as looking at his short life, the exhibition covers the extraordinary reaction to his premature death (and the end of hope that King Henry IX would sit next upon the throne). The exhibition runs until 13th January. An admission fee applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE:  Henry, Prince of Wales by Isaac Oliver, c. 1610-12; Copyright: The Royal Collection Photo: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

The Lord Mayor’s Show – the largest unrehearsed procession in the world – will be held on 10th November. This year’s procession – celebrating the election of the 685th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford – will feature more than 6,500 people winding their way through the City of London in a three-and-a-half mile-long display including 22 marching bands, 125 horses, 18 vintage cars, 21 carriages, an original American stagecoach, a Sherman tank, a steamroller and a Japanese Taiko drum band. While there will be no fireworks after this year’s parade, following the success of last year’s trial there will be an early morning flotilla with the Lord Mayor conveyed in the barge QRB Gloriana from Vauxhall up the Thames to HMS President, just below St Katharine Docks, from where he will make his way to the Mansion House to join the procession as it heads first to St Paul’s and then on to the Royal Courts of Justice before returning (via a different route). There are no grand stand seats left but plenty of places you can watch it for free (for a chance to win free Grandstand tickets, head to the Lord Mayor’s Show Facebook page and ‘like’ it). We’ll be talking about this more next week, but in the meantime, for maps and details of a new smart phone app, head to www.lordmayorsshow.org.

Two prehistoric Japanese pots have gone on display at the British Museum. Loaned from the Nagaoka Municipal Science Museum, the pots date from the Middle Jomon period (3,500-2,500 BCE) and consist of a ‘flame’ and a ‘crown’ pot which were excavated in Nagaoka city. The pots form part of the Asahi Shimbun Displays in room 3 and will be there until 20th January. Meanwhile, continuing the Asian theme, an exhibition of more than 100 contemporary carved Chinese seals by artist Li Lanqing is on display in room 33 until 15th January. Admission to both is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• On Now: Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present. The National Gallery’s first major exhibition of photography, the display looks at the relationship between historical paintings and photography, both its early days in the mid-19th century and the work of contemporary photographers – in particular how photographers have used the traditions of fine art to “explore and justify” their own works. Almost 90 photographs are displayed alongside a select group of paintings for the show. Admission is free. Runs until 20th January in the Sainsbury Wing. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

UPDATED: Excitement has been building for months ahead of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations which include a 1,000 boat flotilla which will sail down the Thames on Sunday, the Diamond Jubilee concert on Monday and National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday which will be followed by a ceremonial procession back to Buckingham Palace.

• First to the flotilla. The formal river procession will be held between 2pm and 6pm, starting upriver of Battersea Bridge and finishing downriver of Tower Bridge. The Queen and her family will be boarding the Royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, near Albert Bridge at 2.30pm and will travel upriver at the centre of the flotilla with the aim of pulling up alongside HMS President, near Tower Bridge, at 4.15pm.

The flotilla will be one of the largest ever assembled on the river and feature rowing, working and pleasure boats of all shapes and sizes decked out for the occasion. In addition as many as 30,000 people will be aboard passenger boats and there will also be music barges and boats spouting geysers as well as specially constructed craft like a floating belfry. It is estimated that it will take the flotilla around 75 minutes to pass any static point along the route.

Downriver of London Bridge, near the end of the pageant’s seven mile (11 kilometre) course, a gun salute will be fired and the procession will pass through an ‘Avenue of Sail’ formed by traditional sailing vessels, oyster smacks, square riggers, naval vessels and others. For more on the pageant (including the location of large viewing screens – these positions will be regulated from 8am onwards – and road closures as well as an interactive map of the route), head to www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.

• Diamond Jubilee Concert and Beacons. To be held outside Buckingham Palace, close to the Victoria Memorial, on the evening of Monday, 4th June, the concert – which starts at around 7.30pm and features everyone from Elton John to Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey – will be televised live by the BBC (unless you’re lucky enough to have one of the 10,000 balloted tickets meaning you get to have a picnic in the palace gardens and see the concert). For those who can’t go but would like to experience some of the atmosphere, Royal Parks are setting up screens along The Mall, in St James’s Park and in Hyde Park.

At 10.30pm that night, the Queen will light the National Beacon outside Buckingham Palace, the last in a network of beacons to be lit across the country. More than 4,000 beacons will be lit by communities across the UK and in Commonwealth countries around the world between 10-10.30pm that night (for more on the beacons, see www.diamondjubileebeacons.co.uk).

• National Service of Thanksgiving and Carriage Procession. On Tuesday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will leave Buckingham Palace at 10.15am and travel by car to St Paul’s Cathedral via the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, down the Strand and Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s. There they and the 2,000 invited guests will attend the National Service of Thanksgiving, conducted by the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Rev Dr David Ison (the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach).

At 11.30am, the Queen and Duke will then head to Mansion House for a reception (via St Paul’s Churchyard and Queen Victoria Street), hosted by the Lord Mayor of London David Wootton, Court of Aldermen and Court of Common Council. Other members of the Royal family will attend a reception at Guildhall. At 12.30pm, the  Queen and members of the Royal Family will then head to Westminster Hall (via Queen Victoria Street, St Paul’s Churchyard, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, the Strand, Whitehall and Parliament Square), entering through the Sovereign’s Entrance of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) at 12.40pm. There, they will attend the Diamond Jubilee Lunch.

At 2.20pm, the Queen and Prince Philip will lead a carriage procession from the Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace (via New Palace Yard, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Mall), riding in a 1902 State Landau. They will be followed by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in a State Landau, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate) and Prince Harry in another State Landau. If it’s raining, these will be replaced by the Australian State Coach, Queen Alexandra’s State Coach and the Glass Coach. Military personnel will line the route, a 60 gun salute will be fired and a Guard of Honor will await them in the Buckingham Palace forecourt.

At 3.30pm, the Queen and members of the Royal Family in the carriage procession will appear on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to wave to the crowds and witness an RAF flypast and a Feu de Joie – a celebratory volley of rifle fire – which will be given as a salute in the palace forecourt.

There’s plenty more happening over the weekend including many local street parties – far too much for us to record here. So for more, head to the official Diamond Jubilee site, www.thediamondjubilee.org (or The Big Lunch for local lunches – www.thebiglunch.com). You can purchase a copy of the official souvenir programme online at www.royalcollectionshop.co.uk/diamond-jubilee-1/diamond-jubilee-official-souvenir-programme.html or download it at www.itunes.co.uk.

Reckon you can take a good photo? We’re looking for great images of this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (just email us at exploringlondon@gmail.com).

Want to read more about the Queen? Why not check out Sixty Glorious Years: Queen Elizabeth II, Diamond Jubilee, 1952-2012, Queen Elizabeth II: A Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Album, or Debrett’s: The Queen – The Diamond JubileeFor related music, check out Diamond Jubilee: A Classical CelebrationThe Diamond Jubilee Album or Gary Barlow & the Commonwealth Band’s Sing EP (featuring Prince Harry).