Stuart-masque-at-Banqueting-HouseThe sights and sounds of the elaborate masques of the early Stuart Court – described as a cross between a ball, an amateur theatrical, and a fancy dress party – are being recreated at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Historic Royal Palaces have joined with JB3 Creative to create an “immersive theatrical experience” for visitors to the building – one of the last surviving parts of the Palace of Whitehall – with the chance to try on costumes, learn a masque dance and witness performance rehearsals for Tempe Restored, last performed in the building in 1632. Inigo Jones will be ‘present’ as masque designer to talk about his vision for the performance. Weekends will also see musicians performing period music and on 27th July there will be a one-off evening event at the Banqueting House based on Tempe Restored. Admission charge applies. Performing for the King opens tomorrow and runs until 1st September. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/. PICTURE: HPR/newsteam.

A new exhibition looking at how some of London’s great Georgian and Victorian buildings were lost to bombs and developers before, after and during World War II – and how people such as poet John Betjeman campaigned to save them – opened in the Quadriga Gallery at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner yesterday. Pride and Prejudice: The Battle for Betjeman’s Britain features surviving fragments and rare photographs of some of the “worst heritage losses” of the mid-20th century. They include Robert Adam’s Adelphi Terrace (1768-72) near the Strand, the Pantheon entertainment rooms (1772) on Oxford Street, and Euston Arch (1837). The English Heritage exhibition runs until 15th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.

IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) will be ‘uncovered’ in a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the National Army Museum. Unseen Enemy will tell the stories of the men and women in Afghanistan who search for, make safe and deal with the impact of the IEDs through personal interviews, images and mementoes. The exhibition has been developed with “unprecedented access” from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and will include a range of equipment used in detecting and disarming the devices, such as bombsuits and robots as well as medical equipment used to help those injured in explosions. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

On Now: Club to Catwalk – London Fashion in the 1980s. This exhibition at the V&A explores the “creative explosion” of London fashion during the decade and features more than 85 outfits by designers including John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett as well as accessories by designers such as Stephen Jones and Patrick Cox. While the ground floor gallery focuses on young fashion designers who found themselves on the world stage, the upper floor focuses on club wear, grouping garments worn by ‘tribes’ such as Fetish, Goth, High Camp and the New Romantics and featuring clothes such as those worn by the likes of Boy George, Adam Ant and Leigh Bowery. The exhibition also includes a display of magazines of the time. Entry charge applies. Runs until 16th February, 2014. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. Meanwhile, tomorrow (Friday) night the V&A will celebrate the 25th anniversary of designer Jenny Packham with a series of four free catwalk shows in its Raphael Gallery. Booking is essential. Head to the V&A website for details.

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Wilton’s Music Hall  seems to be regularly making news these days so the revelation that it’s London’s oldest (in fact, according to the venue’s website, it’s the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world) probably comes as no surprise.

The hall, located in Graces Alley, Whitechapel, started out life as a pub which stood in the middle of a row of terrace houses. Named the Prince of Denmark, it is said to have had the first mahogany counters in London (hence the ‘Mahogany Bar’ at the front of the music hall today) and incorporated a concert room built at the rear of the ground floor.

The building was taken over by John Wilton in the 1850s. He also bought up the neighbouring terrace homes and subsequently built the grand music hall which still stands today – one of what were then a new generation of large music halls which appeared in London in the mid to latter part of the 19th century but had all but disappeared by 1900.

Wilton’s Music Hall opened on 27th March, 1859, and continued to operate under Wilton’s management for the next couple of decades. In 1877 it was badly damaged in a fire an rebuilt the following year.

Ten years later, however, the Wesleyan Mission took over the building and used it as a hall – dockers were served meals here during their first ever strike in 1889, it was used as a safe house during the so-called Battle of Cable Street of 1936 in which police clashed with protestors opposing a march by the British Union of Facists, and during World War II it was used as shelter for people bombed out of their homes.

The Methodists left in the 1950s and in 1964, the building was scheduled for demolition. Thanks to the intervention of poet John Betjeman, however (he led a campaign to prevent its destruction), the hall was saved. While it’s been undergoing restoration work ever since, more work is still required and the hall is still looking for donations to help fund it.

As well as operating once again as a music venue, it has since appeared in numerous films including Chaplin, The Krays, and the latest Sherlock Holmes film – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

There is a more detailed history of Wilton’s Music Hall at www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Wiltons.htm, a music hall and theatre site. Wilton’s website can be found here.

Daytripper – Oxford

September 16, 2011

The “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is a delight for the student of historic architecture, boasting an impressive array of medieval and later, classically-inspired, buildings.

Only about an hour from London by train (leave from Paddington Station), Oxford was established as a town in the 9th century and rose to prominence during the medieval period as the location of a prestigious university, an institution which remains synonymous with the city today.

Major development followed the Norman Conquest the castle was constructed, the remains of which were included in a £40 million redevelopment several years ago of the area in which it stands and which now houses the Oxford Castle Unlocked exhibition which looks at some of the key figures in the castle’s past (you can also climb St George’s Tower for some great views over the city).

The university first appears in the 1100s and gradually expanded over the ensuing centuries gradually evolved to encompass the many medieval colleges which can still be seen there today.

Something of a hotbed of activity during the Reformation, Oxford saw the burning of three bishops – Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer at a site marked by a memorial in Magdalen Street. Constructed in the 1840s, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who drew inspiration from the Eleanor Crosses King Edward I had erected in honor of his deceased wife, Eleanor of Castile, following her death in 1290.

Oxford was also the site of the headquarters of King Charles I during the English Civil War after the king was forced to leave London (the town eventually yielded to parliamentarian forces after a siege in 1646) and was later home to the court of King Charles II after he fled London during the Great Plague of 1665-66.

Canals arrived in the late 18th century and the railways followed. Industrialisation came – in particular, in the 20th century, in the form of a large car manufacturing plant at the suburb of Cowley – and with it an increasingly cosmopolitan population. But at its heart Oxford remains a student city and it’s the students that continue to provide the lively atmosphere in the city centre.

Look for Carfax Tower to get your bearings – formerly the tower of a 14th century church, this lies at the heart of the town and can be climbed for some great views over the surrounding streets. Some of the colleges are also open to the public (see noticeboards outside the colleges for times) – particularly worth visiting is Christ Church which dates from 1524 and, founded by Cardinal Wolsey, was initially known as Cardinal’s College. It features the Tom Tower, home of the bell Great Tom, which was designed by former student Sir Christopher Wren. The college, which is unique in that the college chapel is also a cathedral, is also home to the Christ Church Picture Gallery.

Other colleges of note include the beautiful Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin, it was founded in 1458 – alumni have included writers John Betjeman, CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde), All Souls (founded in 1438 with King Henry VI its co-founder), and Merton College (the oldest of Oxford’s colleges, it was founded in 1264 and is home to Mob Quadrangle, the oldest quadrangle in the university).

Other university buildings which are a must include the Radcliffe Camera – now the reading room of the Bodleian Library, this Baroque rotunda dates from 1748 and was built as a memorial to 18th century physician Dr John Radcliffe, the Sheldonian Theatre – another of Wren’s designs, it was built in the 1660s as the university’s principal assembly room, and St Mary the Virgin Church – the official church of the university, the present building partly dates from the 13th century and boasts terrific views from the tower.

Make sure you also take the time to wander through the water meadows along the River Cherwell (there are also punt rides) and walk along the River Thames, known as the Isis as it passes through Oxford. Keep an eye out also for the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, similar in design to the Venetian landmark, it spans New College Lane and joins two sections of Hertford College.

Other sites in Oxford include the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Considered of the UK’s best, the original Ashmolean was the first purpose built museum in England, opening in 1683. It now houses treasures include art and antiquities with the late ninth century Alfred Jewel, said to have been made for King Alfred the Great, among its prized objects. Other museums include the Pitt Rivers Museum which cares for the university’s collection of anthropology and world archaeology and includes exhibits brought back to Britain by explorer Captain James Cook.

Take the time also to wander through the covered market off high street which has some interesting shops selling everything from clothes to fresh food and flowers and gifts. Fans of Inspector Morse, meanwhile, may also enjoy seeing some of the sites of particular significance in the TV series – there’s an interactive online map here.

A vibrant city redolent with history, Oxford remains of England’s jewels. Perfect as a day-trip destination from London.

Like many in our series on London’s oldest, this one is a little subjective. But based on our survey of the data out there, we’re opting for 41-42 Cloth Fair, right beside St Bartholowmew the Great, in the City.

The only house to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, this five bedroom property – which we can confirm is still up for sale with a guide price of more than £5.9 million following a major restoration – was apparently completed around 1614.

It was originally constructed as part of a development initiated by Robert, Baron Rich, which featured 11 houses around a courtyard and was known as Launders Green (being located on what was the former laundry ground of the monastery at St Barts).

The red brick house, which was awarded a City Heritage award in 2000 for the sensitive restoration work, retains many of its original features.

Interestingly, windows on the second floor contain autographs of some of the famous people who have been to the property over the years including Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, former PM Winston Churchill and Poet Laureate John Betjeman.

For a city packed with restaurants of all shapes and sizes catering to all sorts of tastes, this title remains apparently undisputed with Rules in Covent Garden generally agreed to be London’s oldest restaurant.

Founded in 1798 by Thomas Rule, the restaurant has only been owned by three families – the Rules, the Bell family and that of the current owner, John Mayhew, who purchased the restaurant in 1984.

Those who have dined there include literary luminaries such as HG Wells, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Graham Greene (it features in his novel, The End of the Affair – only one of a number of books in which the restaurant makes an appearance), John Le Carre, and poet John Betjeman, actors including Clark Gable, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman and Joan Collins, politicians including Michael Heseltine, John Prescott and William Hague, and even royalty – Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, was known to meet his mistress Lillie Langtry here.

Originally opened as an ‘oyster bar’, the restaurant at 35 Maiden Lane is these days known for its game dishes.

For more information, see www.rules.co.uk.