This Bloomsbury pub, not surprisingly, takes its name from its proximity to the British Museum (it’s directly opposite).

Located at 49 Great Russell Street, the Grade II-listed, four storey building was refurbished under the eye of theatre and music hall architect William Finch Hill (and possibly Edward Lewis Paraire) in the mid-1850s in modified French Renaissance style. Along with the exterior, the interior also contains some elements dating from this period.

There has apparently been a pub on the site since the 1720s – it was previously called the Dog & Duck, a reference to the rural nature of the location back then, and was renamed the British Museum Tavern in the mid-18th century before taking its current name when the refurbishment took place in the 1750s.

Famous patrons have apparently included Karl Marx, who frequented it while writing Das Kapital in the British Museum Reading Room. Other famous figures associated with it are Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JB Priestley.

Ah, and the sign itself (pictured right). It depicts Sir Hans Sloane, a royal physician and MP whose collections formed the basis of the British Museum when it first opened its doors.

Now part of the Greene King franchise. For more, see www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/museum-tavern/.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

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This West End thoroughfare obviously, now associated with London’s nightlife, owes its name to a windmill which once stood in the vicinity.

The windmill stood for at least 100 years before it was demolished in the late 17th or early 18th century – the rural land on which it stood was known as Windmill fields.

As the area now known as Soho was developed, the street, which runs between Brewer Street and Coventry Street (albeit split into two sections by Shaftesbury Avenue), was gradually constructed and by the early 1680s both sides of it had been developed.

Famous residents include the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter, who, built a large house at number 16 in 1767 which featured an anatomical theatre, dissecting rooms, library and museum. It now forms part of the Lyric Theatre and is recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

An upstairs room in the former Red Lion pub, located on the corner with Archer Street, is famous for being where Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were asked to write a program of action for the Communist League, published in 1848 as The Communist Manifesto.

Meanwhile, the former Windmill Theatre, which first opened in the 1930s and famously “never closed” during the Blitz, was known for its “Windmill Girls” in which nude girls posed motionless in what were known as “tableaux vivants”, has long been associated with risqué entertainment. The establishment was owned by Laura Henderson, the subject of the 2005 film starring Dame Judi Dench, Mrs Henderson Presents.

The street is also home to the Trocadero complex, originally built in 1896 as a restaurant by J Lyons and Co – of Lyon’s Corner Houses fame – to cater for theatre crowds on the site of what had been the Argyll Assembly Rooms, an establishment which become notorious as a meeting place for prostitutes and their customers. The Trocadero was redeveloped in the 1980s into a shopping and entertainment complex. There are now plans to build a hotel on the site.

Other landmarks include the Soho Parish School – the only school in Soho – which, located at number 23, traces its origins back to 1699 as well as St James Tavern, said to be built in the late 1890s on the site of an earlier tavern, The Catherine Wheel.

View down Great Windmill Street with The Lyric pub on the right and the former Windmill Theatre on the left (Pedro Szekely/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

roman-gardening-toolsRoman tools and other artefacts from the era including a stamp for metal ingots and pottery are among objects found in London’s ‘lost’ Walbrook Valley which have gone on display at the Museum of London. Working the Walbrook features objects excavated during the past 170 years of digs around the watercourse which once cut the city in half, running from Finsbury Circus to Cannon Street. Created as part of a PhD project being supervised by the Museum of London and the University of Reading, the objects on show include an iron stamp dating from the Roman period inscribed with the letters MPBR (understood to be an abbreviation for ‘Metal Provinciae Britanniae’ – “the mines of the province of Britannia”) which is believed to have been used by officials to stamp metal ingots passing through London on their way to the Continent. Other items include Roman farming and gardening tools, and a pot decorated with a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs which was found at the bottom of a well in Southwark and which may have been linked to worship of the god Vulcan. The free display is on show until March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURE: Gardening tools from Roman London. A pruning hook, bailing fork and shears © Museum of London

• A series of prints by Pablo Picasso spanning the period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s form the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The prints, which include 16 lithograph prints and three aquatint prints, were recently acquired by the museum in what represents the final part of the museum’s effort to more fully represent the artist’s work as a printmaker. Six of the lithographs were inspired by the beauty of Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot while others feature Bacchanalian scenes and portraits of German-born dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. On display from Friday in Gallery 90A, they can be seen in the free exhibition until 3rd March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The details of some 160,000 people buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London have been made available online. Deceased Online has announced that all records for the period from May, 1839, to August, 2010 – a total of 159,863 people, are now available, including digital scans of original registers, details of who is buried in each grave and location maps for most graves. Notable people buried at Highgate include author Douglas Adams, philosopher Karl Marx and chemist and physicist Michael Faraday. For more, see www.deceasedonline.com

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

An iconic location in one London’s most well-known Royal Parks, the history of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner as a site of public oratory dates back to at least the mid 1800s (although thanks to the site being located close to where Tyburn Tree once stood, its arguable that the tradition goes further back, to when condemned prisoners were able to have a final word on the gallows – but for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our previous post here).

Located near Marble Arch on the north-east corner of Hyde Park, the area was the scene of massive protests by the Reform League in the mid 1800s which were aimed at extending the voting franchise to the working class. In 1866, protestors tore up the railings and rioted for three days after they approached the area and found themselves locked out of Hyde Park. They returned en masse the following year in defiance of a government ban but were allowed to protest without intervention.

While there was some opposition to the idea of public protests in the area, in 1872, the passing of the Parks Regulation Act meant the park’s authorities could issue permits for speakers (while it didn’t enshrine the right to speak in law, it did establish the general principle of speaking in parts of the park). The area covered by the act is much larger than Speakers’ Corner but tradition has established that as the site where people gather to speak (and listen).

Anyone can now turn up to address the public at Speakers’ Corner whenever the park is open but tradition has meant most of the speaking happens on a Sunday morning (when you’ll certainly encounter some very regular speakers). The only condition is that the speech be considered “lawful”.

Among the more notable speakers who have attended are Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. The suffragettes also held meetings there in the early 1900s and, in 2003, it was the scene of a massive rally against the taking of military action in Iraq.

Numerous other countries have since adopted the idea and created their own version of a “speakers’ corner” including Australia, Singapore, Canada and the US.

London’s Speakers’ Corner has undergone a makeover in recent months (somewhat controversial to some) and was last month reopened by the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid who described Speakers’ Corner as a “deeply symbolic space that celebrates freedom of speech”.

The refurbishment included new trees and plantings, resurfacing and the installation of railings, designed by Royal Parks landscape architect Ruth Holmes and landscape architects Burns + Nice and carried out by award-winners Bowls and Wyer.

For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/hyde-park-attractions/speakers-corner.

Karl-Marx3

One of the highlights of any visit to Highgate Cemetery, the grave of Karl Marx is one of London’s most visited final resting places even though it didn’t attract a crowd at the time of his death.

Karl-Marx2Marx died in London on 14th March, 1883, having battled ill health for many months beforehand. He was buried at Highgate Cemetery just three days later and there were reportedly only between nine and 11 mourners at the funeral (his wife Jenny was not among them – she had died in late 1881 and is buried in the same grave). Among those who did attend was Friedrich Engels, who, in his eulogy, described Marx as “the greatest living thinker” and told of how he had “peacefully gone to sleep”.

While the original tomb was modest, the grander memorial which stands on the grave today was erected in 1954 by the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is inscribed with Marx’s words “Workers of all lands unite” and “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways – the point however is to change it” and topped with a larger-than-life bust of Marx created by Laurence Bradshaw.

As well as Marx’s wife, others buried in the tomb include Marx’s grandson, Harry Longuet, who died only six days after his grandfather at the age of four, Eleanor Marx, his daughter, who died in 1898, and Helene Demuth, the Marx family housekeeper.

The monument was attacked in 1970 by vandals using a home-made bomb, reportedly causing £600 of damage which was quickly fixed. There have been a couple of further attacks on the tomb.

WHERE: Highgate East Cemetery, Swain’s Lane (nearest Tube station is Archway); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday/weekends and public holidays 11am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm); COST: £4 adults/children under 18 free (tours additional); WEBSITE: www.highgatecemetery.org

What’s in a name? – Soho

September 6, 2010

The first in an occasional series looking behind some of London’s place names. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the origins of the name of the inner metropolitan suburb of Soho.

The name was apparently taken from a hunting cry – ‘So Ho’  and is believed to have been first used to describe this area of London in the 1600s (the cry was also later used as a rallying cry by the James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth’s men when he tried to overthrow James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685).

The area was used as grazing lands before becoming part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds and then in the later 1600s started to undergo development, becoming known as a refuge for immigrants from Greece and France (the French Protestant Church on Soho Square is indicative of the diverse population who have lived there).

It later morphed into a somewhat seedy and bohemian entertainment district and became home to some big name writers, artists, intellectuals and musicians. Over the years, famous residents have included everyone from Karl Marx to poet William Blake.

These days, while elements of entertainment industry remain – in particular the film industry as well as some seedier establishments – the area, bordered by Oxford and Regent Streets, Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus to the south, is also home to large numbers of trendy cafes, pubs and restaurants and still boasts a healthy nightlife.

Cemeteries can often provide a fascinating insight into past lives and among the most prominent in London is Highgate Cemetery, located in the city’s north.

With the population of London growing rapidly in the early 1800s, the 17 acre Highgate cemetery was first opened in 1839 with the first burial taking place in May that year.

The cemetery quickly became one of London’s most fashionable and was extended by 20 acres before the opening in 1856 of a new cemetery to the east. These days both are open to tourists although the West Cemetery can only be explored on a guided tour, thanks at least partly to vandalism.

The atmospheric East Cemetery is primarily known for being the resting place of Karl Marx but also features the graves of authors George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Douglas Adams, Australian painter Sidney Nolan and co-founder of Foyles – London’s famous Charing Cross bookstore – William Foyle.

Features at the West cemetery, meanwhile, include an avenue of Egyptian-style vaults and the vaults in an inner ring known as the Circle of Lebanon. Among those buried there are physicist Michael Faraday and the parents and brother of Charles Dickens.

The cemetery is now operated by a non-profit charity, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery.

WHERE: Swain’s Lane. Nearest tube is Archway; WHEN: Eastern Cemetery – daily from 10am (11am weekends) to 5pm (4pm between November and February), Western Cemetery – guided tours only (weekdays at 2pm with phone bookings required, weekends hourly from 11am to 4pm (3pm between November and February); COST: Eastern Cemetery – £3 adults/£2 students, Western Cemetery tours – £7 adults/£3 children aged 8-16; WEBSITE: www.highgate-cemetery.org