This Week in London – ‘Westminster Elves’; a song for Nelson; and, Caribbean-British art…

Christmas is fast approaching and, to add to the festivities, Westminster City Council has created an augmented reality experience for families to enjoy at four landmark locations. Under the ‘Westminister Elves’ initiative, families are invited to scan a QR code at Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch Mound, Soho Square and Hanover Square which will lead them to a microsite which, in turn, will transport them into the elves’ world. There, they can throw snowballs, share a moment with Santa’s reminder and glimpse inside Santa’s workshop as well as, of course, seeing the man himself. Those taking part are also invited to take a selfie or picture of a family member or friend alongside the elves at one of the four locations and post it on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the #WestminsterElves and tagging @CityWestminster. They’ll then be entered into a competition to win a £50 Love to Shop voucher. The competition closes at midnight next Wednesday with the winner announced on Christmas Eve. For more, see www.westminster-elves.co.uk.

A recording of old sea song paying tribute to Horatio Nelson was released by the Museum of London this week. The song, which was  thought to have been sung after the battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797 and subsequently transcribed by Nelson, was brought to life by musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. The recording marked the first performance of the piece in more than 200 years. While th song’s existence had previously been known about – it was referred to in a letter from Nelson to William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry, which was was sold at auction in 2013 – it was one of four rediscovered last year among songbooks belonging to Nelson’s lover, actress and model Emma Hamilton. “The song was written by Nelson’s crew in one of his early victories,” said Lluis Tembleque Teres, the Museum of London librarian who found the songs. “It is fascinating how, some four years later and already a national hero, he recovers the lyrics and sends them to the Duke of Queensberry, almost as if showing off his early successes. The Duke then adds music and a chorus, and gifts the manuscript to Emma Hamilton, thus allowing us exactly 220 years later to relive Nelson’s fame while performing it.” The song’s release follows a special one-off live performance of all four songs at the Museum of London Docklands on 11th December, which will be available to watch in full as an online event – DIGITAL Emma’s Songbooks: rediscovered music for Nelson – next Tuesday, 21st December. Admission charge applies. For more, see museumoflondon.org.uk 

Denzil Forrester Jah Shaka, 1983. Collection Shane Akeroyd, London © Denzil Forrester

A landmark exhibition exploring the extraordinary breadth of Caribbean-British art over four generations can be seen at Tate Britain. Life Between Islands  spans 70 years of culture, experiences and ideas expressed through art and features more than 40 artists, including those of Caribbean heritage as well as those inspired by the Caribbean, such as Ronald Moody, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, Peter Doig, Hew Locke, Steve McQueen, Grace Wales Bonner and Alberta Whittle. Highlights include Neil Kenlock’s Black Panther school bags (1970), Denzil Forrester’s Death Walk (1983) – a tribute to Winston Rose who died in police custody, Lisa Brice’s After Ophelia (2018) – a work inspired by her time on Trinidad and new works including designs by Grace Wales Bonner evoking the brass bands and parades of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Runs until 3rd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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London Pub Signs – The Gun…

This Docklands pub – the site of which has hosted a public house for more than 250 years – is located in an area where iron foundries were once employed to produce cannons for the Royal Navy’s many ships of the line.

The-GunBut according to the pub’s website (and a plaque outside the building), the name comes from something much more specific – the cannon which was fired at celebrations surrounding the opening of the West India Import Docks in 1802.

And that’s not only historical link this Grade II-listed pub (seen here from the Thames) has with the navy. Heroic naval figure Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who lived just up the road and was a frequent visitor to the docks, was apparently a regular at the pub where he was secretly meet with his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton (the room they met in is now called The River Room).

There’s also a history of smugglers operating out of the pub and a still present spyhole is said to have been used to watch for revenue officers.

In 2001 much of the interior of the pub was destroyed in a fire. It remained closed for three years before brothers Tom and Ed Martin bought the building and undertook a painstaking restoration in consultation with English Heritage, reopening the building’s doors in 2004.

As well as its historical associations, The Gun now boasts a couple of bars and dining rooms and  riverside terrace. During summer, the pub also opens a second terrace area under a Portuguese barbeque theme – A Grelha at the Gun.

For more on The Gun (located at 27 Coldharbour in the Docklands), see www.thegundocklands.com.

Treasures of London – Nelson’s Column

Towering over Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column was constructed in the 1840s to commemorate the man many believe to be Britain’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson.

Parliament started discussions on a monument commemorating Nelson only 10 years after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, but it wasn’t until 1838 that the Nelson Memorial Committee was finally formed and public subscriptions called for to raise funds for the monument.

The government agreed to provide the location and, following a controversial competition (which had to be run twice), William Railton’s designs showing a Corinthian column topped by a statue of Nelson (which it was stipulated had to be made by EH Bailey) with four lions at its base, was adopted.

The column was completed in 1843. It featured a bronze capital, made from old cannons taken from the Woolwich Arsenal and shaped in the form of acanthus leaves, and Bailey’s 5.5 metre (17 foot) tall statue of Nelson (made from Craigleith sandstone quarried in Scotland and donated by the Duke of Buccleuch). The four bronze identical lions, made by sculptor Sir Edwin Landseer and said to be modelled on a dead cat from a zoo, were not added until 1867.

On the column’s pedestal are four bronze relief panels showing Nelson’s four great victories – the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen and the Battle of Trafalgar, the scene of which depicts the admiral in the throes of dying (he was killed by a musket bullet fired from the French vessel Redoubtable and was carried below decks where he died). They were apparently made from French guns captured at each of the battles.

The Grade I-listed column, which cost £47,500 to build, was refurbished in a four month exercise costing £420,000 in 2006, during which it was discovered that it was actually 16 foot shorter than had previously been thought (its total height, to the tip of Nelson’s hat, is actually 169 feet instead of the 185 feet previously supposed). It had previously been refurbished in 1986 and in 1968. You can see a gallery of images taken during the most recent restoration here.

Interestingly, it is reported that just before Bailey’s statue was raised to the top of the column in 1843, 14 stonemasons who had worked on it during construction held a celebration dinner party on the plinth at the top.