BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

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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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RoskildeThe Vikings come to the British Museum from today with the first major exhibition in more than 30 years. Vikings: life and legend, the first exhibition to be held in the new Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery, was developed with the National Museum of Denmark and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) and looks at the Viking period from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. Featuring many new archaeological discoveries and objects never seen before in the UK alongside items from the British Museum’s own collection, the exhibition is centred on the surviving timbers of a 37 metre long Viking warship excavated from the banks of the Roskilde fjord in Denmark (pictured). Other items include skeletons recently excavated from a mass grave of executed Vikings in Dorset, the Vale of York Hoard (discovered in 2007) and a stunning hoard of silver from Gnezdovo in Russia. A unique live broadcast event presented by historian Michael Wood taking cinema audiences around the exhibition will be shown in cinemas across the nation on 24th April. Admission charge applies. Runs until 22nd June. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/vikings.aspx. PICTURE: Copyright of the National Museum of Denmark. 

The commemorations of the World War I centenary have commenced at the National Portrait Gallery with The Great War in Portraits. The first of a four year programme of events and displays at the gallery, the exhibition features iconic portraits of figures such as Winston Churchill, Kaiser Wilhelm, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as well as major art works by the likes of Lovis Corinth, Max Beckmann, and Kirchner, whose painting Selbstbildnis als Soldat (Self-portrait as a Soldier) is featured, and Harold Gillies’ photographs of facially injured soldiers from the Royal College of Surgeons. Among the highlights are Jacob Epstein’s The Rock Drill, a contrasting pair of British and German films about the Battle of the Somme, and a press photograph of Gavrilo Princip, the student who sparked the flames of war when he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Elsewhere among the 80 works on display are portraits of war heroes such as VC winners are contrasted with those of soldiers disfigured by war, POWs and those shot for cowardice. Admission is free. Runs until 15th June. For more, see www.npg.org.uk/whatson/firstworldwarcentenary/exhibition.php.

Our fascination with ruins is the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain. Including more than 100 works from the likes of JMW Turner, John Constable, John Martin, Eduardo Paolozzi, Rachel Whiteread and Tacita Dean, Ruin Lust examines the craze for ruins that overtook creative types in the eighteenth century and the subsequent revisiting – and at times mocking – of this fascination by later figures. Works on show include Turner’s Tintern Abbey: The Crossing and Chancel, Looking towards the East Window 1794, Constable’s Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’ c 1828-9, Graham Sutherland’s Devastation series 1940-1 – showing the aftermath of the Blitz, Jon Savage’s images of London in the late 1970s, and Whitehead’s Demolished – B: Clapton Park Estate 1996, showing the demolition of Hackney tower blocks. Runs until 18th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ruin-lust.

The-Fighting-Temeraire,-tugged-to-her-last-Berth-to-be-broken-up,-1838-©-The-National-Gallery,-LondonA major exhibition on painter JMW Turner’s fascination with the sea opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Turner and the Sea is the first “full scale” examination of the artist’s relationship with the sea and features works on loan from some of the world’s greatest art institutions. Highlights among the oils, watercolours, prints and sketches on show include The Fighting Temeraire (1839) (pictured), Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842), Staffa, Fingal’s Cave (1832), Whalers (1845) and Calais Pier (1803) as well as Turner’s largest painting and only royal commission, The Battle of Trafalgar (1824). The works are being exhibited alongside works by other notable British and European artists including Thomas Gainsborough, Willem van de Velde, Claude-Joseph Vernet and John Constable. Runs until 21st April. Admission charges apply. See www.rmg.co.uk for more details. PICTURE: The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838 by JMW Turner, 1839, oil on canvas. © The National Gallery, London.

• The ‘new’ Tate Britain was unveiled to the public this week following a £45 million upgrade and refurbishment and the house-warming party is on this weekend. The work has seen the oldest part of the Grade II* listed building in Millbank transformed thanks to architects Caruso St John and sees the main entrance reopened as well as The Whistler Restaurant, new learning studios an a new archive gallery as well as a new cafe and bar for Tate members. It’s unveiling follows the opening in May of 10 new galleries and new BP displays including the chronological presentation of the Tate’s collection of British art. The house-warming party, a free event, takes place on Saturday from 3pm to 10pm and features music, the giving out of free limited edition prints and a series of talks, film screenings, workshops and even a treasure hunt. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland kicks off again tomorrow with highlights including the ice sculptures of ‘The Magical Kingdom’, the giant observation wheel, the ice rink and Santa Land. There will also be more than 200 chalets in the Angels Christmas & Yuletide Markets, the Bavarian village is back, and Zippo’s Circus will also be returning with a range of shows include Cirque Berserk for the evening crowd. Entry is free but tickets for various attractions can be bought at www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com. Runs until 5th January.

ON NOW: The Young Durer: Drawing the Figure. This exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery looks at the figure drawing of the young Albrect Durer (1471-1528), focusing on works created in his formative years between 1490-1496. Among the exhibition’s highlights is Mein Agnes (My Agnes), A Wise Virgin, and Three Studies of Durer’s left hand. The exhibition runs until 12th January.

• FURTHER AFIELD: Only a hop, skip and jump from London lies Down House, former home of naturalist Charles Darwin, in Kent. English Heritage are this weekend marking the anniversary of publication of his controversial book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (it was published on 24th November, 1859) with a range of specialist talks and tours at the property this weekend. For more on the weekend, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/events/origin-weekend-dh-23-nov/

Cabmen's-ShelterThe London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.

A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.

Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• A West End institution which has hosted a who’s who of Londoners – including the likes of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill as well as, more recently, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Princess Diana – has reopened its doors to the public after a four year redevelopment. Originally opened in 1865 by French wine merchant Daniel Nicholas Thévenon and his wife Celestine, Café Royal at 68 Regent Street – overlooking Piccadilly Circus – has been relaunched as five star hotel featuring more than 150 rooms, six historic suites and a variety of dining venues – including the spectacular Grill Room – as well as a private members club, meeting rooms and wellbeing centre. The redevelopment of this storied building, which centres on the original premises – retaining John Nash’s Grade I-listed facade, has seen the restoration of grand public rooms, originally dating from the 1860s and 1920s, as well as an expansion into neighbouring buildings – all under the watchful eye of David Chipperfield Architects and Donald Insall Associates. For more, see www.hotelcaferoyal.com.

 • One of six small hospitals set up by the Bloomsbury-based Foundling Hospital, the Barnet branch operated in Monken Hadley in west London from 1762-1768. It’s now the subject of one of two new exhibitions which opened at the Barnet Museum at the beginning of the month. The Barnet Foundling Hospital, Monken Hadley, 1762-1768, features a range of objects relating to some of the children placed in the hospital including identifying coin tokens left by mothers, and letters written by manager Prudence West. The exhibition initially runs until 14th January – after which objects will be replaced with prints – and then until 28th February. The second exhibition, Foundling Voices, is on tour from the Foundling Museum and features oral histories of some of the last people to be cared for by the Foundling Hospital in Berkhamsted which closed in 1954. This runs until 13th January. Admission to both is free. For more, see www.barnetmuseum.co.uk.

On Now: Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape. This exhibition, recently opened in the John Madejski Fine Rooms and Weston Rooms at the Royal Academy of Arts, features works of art by three “towering figures” of English landscape painting – John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner. The 120 works on display includes paintings, prints, books and archival material. Highlights include Gainsborough’s Romantic Landscape (c 1783), Constable’s The Leaping Horse (1825) and Boat Passing a Lock (1826), and Turner’s Dolbadern Castle (1800). There are also works by their 18th century contemporaries and artifacts including letters written by Gainsborough, Turner’s watercolour box, and Constable’s palette. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th February. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.au.

While there’s been a bridge over the River Thames near where London Bridge now stands since Roman times, the bridge which is currently there was built in the early 1970s. To find Greater London’s oldest surviving bridge across the Thames we have to head to Richmond in the city’s west.

The 300 foot long stone arch bridge, made from Portland stone, was built between 1774-77 and replaced a ferry crossing between Richmond to the east and East Twickenham to the west (this had apparently been in operation since shortly after the Norman Conquest and at the time it was discontinued consisted of two vessels – a passenger craft and a ‘horse boat’).

Designed by James Paine and Kenton Couse and built by Thomas Kerr, the bridge features five arches including a 60 foot wide central span which was big enough for larger watercraft and gave the bridge its rather humpbacked appearance. Its construction was privately funded with the £26,000 required to build the bridge partly raised via tontine schemes under which subscribers paid an agreed sum into a fund after which they each receive an annuity, the value of which increases as members of the fund die off.

Initially a toll bridge (the tolls – which were 1/2d for passengers and up to 2s 6d for coaches drawn by six horses – were ended in 1859 when the last tontine shareholder died), the bridge was widened in the late 1930s but – now a Grade I listed structure – remains essentially true to its original design.

It was the eighth bridge to be built across the the Thames in Greater London but is now the oldest still standing (among those which predated it but have been demolished are London Bridge, Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge) and has been featured in paintings by the likes of  Thomas Rowlandson, John Constable and JMW Turner.