The exchanging of gifts on Queen Elizabeth II’s official engagements both in the UK and overseas is the subject of a special exhibition at this year’s summer opening of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. Displayed throughout the rooms are more than 250 objects from more than 100 countries and territories and among the gifts on show is the Vessel of Friendship (pictured), a model of a 15th century ‘treasure ship’ sailed by Chinese navigator and diplomat Zeng He which was presented to the Queen by President Xi Jinping of China during a State Visit to Buckingham Palace in October, 2015. There’s also a colourful beaded Yoruba throne presented to the Queen by the people of Nigeria in 1956, a pair of baskets woven from coconut leaves given by Queen Salote Tupou III of Tonga during a visit by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1953, and a wooden totem pole presented to the Queen during a visit to Canada in 1971. Royal Gifts can be seen at the palace from Saturday until 1st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The lives of some of London’s most popular entertainers is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Life on the London Stage employs documents, prints and photographs to depict the lives of entertainers from the days of the Elizabethan theatre through to the 20th century. Among those whose lives are depicted are everyone from Edmund Keen and Dame Ellen Terry to Sir Henry Irving and Charlie Chaplin. Objects on show include documents recording the tragic life of William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund Shakespeare, Sir Laurence Olivier’s orders for bespoke boots and letters from Carry On actor Kenneth Williams to a young fan. Runs until 6th December. Admission is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

Three time British Open champion and perhaps the first ‘celebrity golfer’ Henry Cotton has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque, which was unveiled earlier this month, is located at the golfer’s former home at 47 Crystal Palace Road in East Dulwich. Cotton lived there with his family during his early years and developed the skills that would later lead to his success in the sport. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Head to the countryside at Kew Gardens as it hosts an ‘Insect Adventure Camp’ in its newly named ‘Natural Area’ of native woodlands this summer. The camp features bell tents, woodland houses, picnic tables and trails which will host a series of family-friendly activities including animation workshops, insect safaris and the chance to explore specimens under a microscope. Other attractions at the gardens this summer include a virtual reality climbing experience following head arborist Tony Kirkham as he scales at 150-year-old Giant Redwood, the return of the kitchen gardens, the Hive installation and the Kew Science Festival. Admission charges apply. Dates vary for different events, so head to www.kew.org for more information.

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• Join in the hunt for Lindt gold bunnies at Hampton Court Palace this Easter. The bunny hunt is just one of the many chocolate-related activities taking place at the palace over the Easter period – visitors can also explore the history of chocolate and discover how it was made in the palace’s 18th century ‘chocolate kitchen’ by Thomas Tosier, King George I’s private chocolate chef while attractions outside also include the reopened ‘Magic Garden’. An imaginative play garden first opened in spring last year, it invites visitors to explore the world of Tudor tournaments on what was the site of King Henry VIII’s former tiltyard. The Palace Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt runs until 17th April (the Magic Garden is open until 27th October). Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/. PICTURE: Lindt & Sprungli (UK) Ltd.

Joseph Dalton Hooker – dubbed the ‘king of Kew’ – is the subject of a new exhibition in The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in Kew Gardens. Joseph Hooker: Putting plants in their place explores the life of the botanist, charting his travels to many parts of the world – including  Antarctica and Mt Everest – and how he helped to transform Kew Gardens from a “rather run-down royal pleasure garden” into a world class scientific establishment. The exhibition features an array of drawings, photographs, artefacts and journals including 80 paintings by British botanical artists and an illustration of Mt Everest by Hooker, the earliest such work by a Westerner. Runs until 17th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now – The Private Made Public: The First Visitors. The first in a series of public events and exhibitions celebrating Dulwich Picture Gallery’s bicentenary year, this display features the first handbook to the gallery, a 1908 visitor book which includes the signatures of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Virginia Woolf, and James Stephanoff’s watercolour, The Viewing at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which depicts the gallery’s enfilade as it would have been in the 1830s. The exhibition also looks back at some of the gallery’s first visitors and features quotes from notable artists, writers and critics shown next to works in the permanent collection. Can be seen until 4th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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kewaMore than 60,000 lights are being used to illuminate Kew Gardens this Christmas in a mile long trail through the foliage. The trail features eight newly commissioned installations from UK and international artists including Bloom – a display of 1,700 swaying flowers by the group Squidsoup (above), and the roaring scented Fire Garden – a display themed around the Twelve Days of Christmas by And Now: (pictured below are three French hens from the installation). The trail also features Wolfgang Buttress’ bee-inspired installation, known as the The Hive (pictured second below), which has been lit with 1,000 LEDs that pulsate and glow against the night sky, and finishes with an “explosion” of brightly coloured laser beams across the Palm House Pond (pictured third below). There’s also a panto featuring Santa and his elves and a Victorian carousel. The night lights can be seen until 2nd January. Admission charge applies (and there’s timed entry). Kew is also running a program of family-oriented Christmas activities during the day across the period. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURES: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew.

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roman-mortarium-made-by-albinus The most prized archaeological finds from a 1975 excavation of the General Post Office on Newgate Street, one of the largest archaeological sites ever excavated in London, are on show in a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Delivering the Past, the free display features objects from across a 3,000 year period and include everything from Roman era finds such as a dog skull, a rare amber die, a spoon and mortar with the makers’ names of Albinus, Sollus and Cassarius stamped on the side (pictured) to floor tiles and architectural fragments from the medieval parish church of St Nicholas Shambles. There’s also a 17th century Bellarmine beer bottle (these were widely imported from Germany in the 1600s), the only 19th century twisted clay tobacco pipe ever excavated in London, and a 19th/20th century ceramic fragment showing General Post Office branding. The exhibition runs until 8th January. The museum is also offering free 45 minute walks to notable excavation sites around Newgate Street every weekday until the end of October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• Japan’s native flora comes to Kew from this weekend with a new exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Flora Japonica features paintings from 30 of the Asian nation’s best contemporary artists as they attempt to capture the beauty of everything from camellias to cherry trees and the delicate Japanese maple. The watercolours have been produced based specimens collected from across Japan as well as, in a couple of cases, specimens found within Kew Gardens. Also on display are works never before seen outside Japan including historic drawings and paintings by revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957), Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato (both Edo period artists), artefacts from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection including traditional Japanese lacquerware collected in the 1880s and wooden panels from 1874, and  illustrations from Kew’s collections such as a 17th century illustrated manual of medicinal plants. Runs from Saturday until 5th March after which the exhibition will move to Japan. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

An English Heritage blue plaque honouring late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was unveiled at his childhood home in Feltham, in London’s west, earlier this month. Mercury’s parents bought the house in Gladstone Avenue in 1964 after the family had left Zanzibar for the UK. He was still living in the home when he met Queen band mates Brian May and Roger Taylor. The new plaque was revealed on 1st September, on what would have been the singer’s 70th birthday.  For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Buckingham-PalaceBuckingham Palace will host a family festival in celebration of the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II this Saturday. The festival, which will be held in the Family Pavilion on the West Terrace, at the Royal Mews and in The Queen’s Gallery, will feature a 24 foot high, life-sized drawing of the Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant (BFG) by Sir Quentin Blake, story-telling sessions, arts and crafts activities including the chance to make hats inspired by the Queen’s outfits and a BFG ‘dream jar’, and a toy kitchen where under fives can decorate a birthday cake. There will also be dressing-up activities in the Royal Mews and a special family tour of current exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery while a selection of refreshments will be available. Admission charge applies. For more information, check out www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Kew Gardens holds it first Science Festival this weekend with a range if interactive activities for visitors to get hands-on with. The family friendly festival will celebrate the ground-breaking discoveries made by Kew scientists and allow visitors to explore how to use a DNA sequencer, clone a cabbage or pollinate orchids with tuning forks. The festival will also features a special display and talks about carnivorous plants and there’s special activities for younger “budding scientists” such as making their own mushroom spore print. The festival kicks off tomorrow and runs until Sunday. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Our Lives in Data. This free exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington explores some of the many ways in which our data is collected, analysed and used for a variety of purposes – from a toy that learns from a child’s personality to become a better playmate to new virtual reality tools created by game designers to help researchers understand vast collections of data. There is also the chance to test facial recognition software through an “intelligent mirror” and an exploration of some of the latest products developed to help people protect their data, including a Cryptophone and wi-fi blocking paint. Runs until September, 2017. For more, visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/data.

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The first of three weekends celebrating the creation of the world’s longest double herbaceous borders – known as the Great Broad Walk Borders – will be held at Kew Gardens this weekend. Made up of 30,000 plants, the borders run along 320 metres of the Broad Walk which was originally landscaped in the 1840s by William Nesfield to provide a more dramatic approach to the newly constructed Palm House (completed in 1848). The spirit of the formal colourful beds he created along either side of the walk have been recreated using a range of plants. To celebrate, Kew are holding three themed weekends, the first of which, carrying a history and gardens theme, is this Saturday and Sunday. As well as talks and drop-in events, there will be a range of family-related activities as well as craft workshops, tours, and shopping. Further weekends will be held on 13th and 14th August (around the theme of the excellence of horticulture at Kew) and the bank holiday weekend of 27th to 29th August (around the theme of a celebration of beauty). For more, head to www.kew.org.

A new exhibition centring on the experiences of UK citizens and residents suspected but never convicted of terrorism-related activities and the role of the British Government in the ‘Global War on Terror’ opens at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth today. Edmund Clark: War on Terror, Clark’s first major solo show in the UK, looks at the measures taken by states to protect their citizens from the threat of international terrorism and their far-reaching effects, exploring issues like security, secrecy, legality and ethics. Among the photographs, films and documents on display are highlights from five series of Clark’s work including Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition, created in collaboration with counter-terrorism investigator Crofton Black, and other works including the film Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday, photographs and images from the series Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out and Letter to Omar as well as the first major display of the work Control Order House. Runs until 28th August, 2017. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/edmund-clark-war-of-terror.

The only English football captain to win a World Cup, Bobby Moore, has become the first footballer to be honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque. The plaque was unveiled at the footballer’s childhood home at 43 Waverley Gardens in Barking, East London, this week. Moore is best remembered for leading England to a 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The camera is the subject of a new photography display which opened at the V&A in South Kensington last weekend. The Camera Exposed features more than 120 photographs, including works by more than 57 known artists as well as unknown amateurs. Each work features at least one camera and include formal portraits, casual snapshots, still-lifes, and cityscapes. Among the images are pictures of photographers such as Bill Brandt, Paul Strand and Weegee with their cameras along with self-portraits by Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander and André Kertész in which the camera appears as a reflection or shadow. The display includes several new acquisitions including a Christmas card by portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, an image of photojournalist W Eugene Smith testing cameras and a self-portrait, taken by French photojournalist Pierre Jahan using a mirror. Runs in gallery 38A until 5th March. Free admission. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/the-camera-exposed.

Sixty years of fanzines – from the development of zine-making back in the 1940s through to today’s – go on show at the Barbican Music Library in the City on Monday. FANZINES: a Cut-and-Paste Revolution features zines including VAGUE, Sniffing’ Glue, Bam Balam, Fatal Visions, Hysteria and Third Foundation among others. The exhibition, which runs until 31st August, is being held in conjunction with this year’s PUNK LONDON festival. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/libraries-and-archives/our-libraries/Pages/Barbican-Music-Library.aspx.

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An award-winning art installation exploring the world of the British bee has been installed at Kew Gardens in west London. Designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and created by BDP, Simmonds Studio and Stage One, the Hive was the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo and has become the first British pavilion to be brought home and reused. The 17 metre-high, 40 tonne installation, which has been set in a flower meadow, twists into the sky suggesting the shape of a swarm of bees. Inside, thousands of flickering LED lights create a sense of what life is like inside a beehive while a soundtrack inspired by the deep humming of the bees fills the air. Both sound and light inside the hive will change in intensity as energy levels in a real beehive located elsewhere in the gardens changes, providing a unique insight into life inside a bee colony. Between 2nd July and 30th October, the installation is being accompanied by a ‘Pollination Trail’ across the gardens which explores the relationship between bees and plants and a series of specially trained ‘hive explainers’ will also be on hand inside The Hive. The gardens are also hosting a series of special talks, films, workshops and ‘lates’ as well as special, family-oriented events. For more see, www.kew.org. PICTURES: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew.

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Kew-Palace-2 The education of the daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte is the subject of a new display which has opened at Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. The queen’s progressive approach to learning meant the princesses received a “thoroughly modern” schooling covering everything from geography to art, upholstery to tackling brain-teasers as well as botany and music. The latter, in particular the harpsichord, was a particular passion of Princess Augusta, and to instruct her and the other girls, JC Bach, son of world-renowned composer JS Bach, was employed as music master (the display features a hand-written copy of his father’s Well-Tempered Clavier – designed to train and test the skills of harpsichord players). Other items on show include a copy of Queen Charlotte’s own tortoiseshell notebook embellished with gold and diamonds, a letter the queen wrote to the princesses’ governess – reputedly the first letter she wrote in English, and a series of newly acquired satirical prints from the Baker Collection depicting Queen Charlotte and her daughters. The new display can be seen from today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kew-palace/. PICTURE: Newsteam/Historic Royal Palaces.

The lives of servants working in middle-class houses in London over the last 400 years are the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch earlier this month. Swept Under The Carpet? Servants in London Households, 1600-2000 illustrates the dynamic nature of the relationship between servants and their employers – from the intimacy of a maid checking her master’s hair for nits in the late 17th century to an ayah caring for an Anglo-Indian family’s children in the late 19th century and an au-pair picking up after the children in the middle of the 20th century. It explores their story through an examination of the places in which they worked – the middle class parlour, drawing room and living room. Entry to the exhibition, which runs until 4th September, is free. For more, www.geffrye-museum.org.uk.

On Now – Vogue 100: A Century of Style. This exhibition currently running at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square features iconic images of some of the 20th century’s most famous faces. Included are rarely seen images of the Beatles and Jude Law as well as portraits of everyone from artists Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon, actors Marlene Dietrich and Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Diana Spencer and soccer player David Beckham. There’s also complete set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss 1993 underwear shoot, Peter Lindbergh’s famous 1990 cover shot – said to define the ‘supermodel era’, a series of World War II photographs by Vogue‘s official war correspondent Lee Miller and vintage prints from the first professional fashion photographer, Baron de Meyer. The display can be seen until 22nd May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Get a taste of the tropics at Kew Gardens. The rare beauty of orchids is on show in the Princess of Wales Conservatory as part of the annual Orchid Festival which runs until 6th March. And as was the case last year, the festival once again features a series of late openings giving visitors the chance to experience the colourful display after dark. Admission charge applies – for more information on dates and times, see www.kew.org. PICTURES: Jeff Eden/RBG Kew.

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Key 59 Marigold NightThe first UK show dedicated to the works of Norwegian landscape painter and printmaker, Nikolai Astrup, opens at the Dulwich Picture Gallery tomorrow. Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) features more than 120 paintings, woodcuts and archive material – many of public display for the first time. Astrup is described as one of Norway’s finest 20th century artists and long with Munch, expanded the possibilities of woodcuts to capture the wild landscapes and traditional way of life in his western Norway home. Works on show include everything from the woodcut A Clear Night in June (1905-07), the many coloured masterpiece A Night in June in the Garden (1909), and the celebratory Midsummer Eve Bonfire (1915). Runs until 15th May. Admission charges apply. The gallery is also hosting a series of related events. For more, head to www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Marsh Marigold Night, c.1915 – The Savings Bank Foundation DNB/The Astrup Collection/KODE Art Museums of Bergen. Photo © Dag Fosse/KODE.

Bruegel the Elder’s only three surviving grisaille paintings have been brought together in a new exhibition opening at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House today. The works, painted in shades of grey, include the Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery as well as The Death of the Virgin (brought from the National Trust-managed Upton House) and Three Soldiers (borrowed from the Frick Collection in New York. They’re among the less than 40 works attributed to the artist (c1525-1569) and while The Death of the Virgin was owned by his friend, map-maker Abraham Ortelius, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery was one of few paintings kept by the artist himself. The exhibition Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited also includes replicas made by Bruegel’s sons as well as other grisailles while other works by Bruegel from the Courtauld’s collection will be displayed in the Butler Drawings Gallery. Runs until 8th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Head to Kew Gardens for a splash of colour as the annual Orchid Festival kicks off in the Princess of Wales Conservatory on Saturday. And, following the success of last year’s events, the conservatory will once again throw its doors open after dark on the 11th, 18th and 25th February and 3rd March for Orchid Lates at Kew Gardens (there’s also a special Valentine’s Late at Kew Gardens on 13th February). Admission charges apply. For more, head to www.kew.org.

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Kew-GardensIt was Queen Charlotte who first dressed the branches of a Christmas tree in Kew Palace in the 1790s and, drawing on that tradition, Kew Gardens is once again hosting a mile long winter light experience. Visitors can walk through ribbons of light, count the festooned Christmas trees and listen to a holly bush choir as well as see larger than life winter flora such as snowdrops and Christmas roses and pause at the scented Fire Garden for a moment of reflection. Santa and his elves are appearing on stage at the Princess of Wales Conservatory and a Victorian carousel and other rides are located at the White Peaks Cafe where visitors can sample goodies like mulled wine, spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.  The after-dark event runs from 5pm to 10pm on select dates until 2nd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: The Palm House at Kew Gardens lit up for Christmas. Courtesy Kew Gardens.

What’s in a name?…Kew…

September 21, 2015

Kew-PalaceFamed as the location of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a Thames-side suburb in London’s west.

It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).

While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).

But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).

While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.

Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).

As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.

It’s all about big masted ships at Greenwich this Bank Holiday weekend as up to 15 ships drop anchor at the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival. Two tall ships, the Dar Mlodziezy and Santa Maria Manuela, will be moored on Tall Ships Island in the river at Maritime Greenwich (accessed via MBNA Thames Clippers) while an additional 13 ships will be taking people on cruises from their base at Royal Arsenal Woolwich (tickets can be booked via Sail Royal Greenwich). On Saturday, a free family festival will be held in Woolwich Town Centre and at Royal Arsenal Riverside with music, roving entertainers, food and other activities including a fireworks display on the river at 10pm (fireworks can also be seen on Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights on the river at Maritime Greenwich at around 9.15pm). For more information – including how and where to book tickets, see www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/tallships2015.

An immersive art project allowing visitors to engage with paintings in a multi sensory experience opened at Tate Britain on Milbank yesterday. Tate Sensorium has won this year’s annual IK Prize, presented by the Tate and supported by the Porter Foundation, awarded for a project which uses innovative technology to enable the public to explore the gallery’s collection in new ways. The display features four works by celebrated figures in 20th century painting: Francis Bacon’s Figure in a Landscape (1945), David Bomberg’s In the Hold (c 1913-1914), Richard Hamilton’s Interior II (1964) and John Latham’s Full Stop (1961). As part of the experience, which has been produced by creative studio Flying Object in conjunction with a cross-disciplinary team, visitors are offered the chance to wear biometric measurement wristbands to record the emotional impact of the experience. Admission to exhibition in gallery 34 is free but tickets are limited. Runs until 20th September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/sensorium.

A series of detailed paintings of fruit, vegetables and edible plants from all over the world goes on show at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens on Saturday. Nature’s Bounty features works from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew collections including works from the 19th century text, Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Chosis de la Flore et de la Pomona de L’ile de Java drawn by botanical artist Berthe Hoola Van Nooten as well as works from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew collections. The exhibition runs until 31st January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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News this week that Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens are embarking on a two year project to restore eighty decorative dragons to the Kew Pagoda has led us to take a look at the history of the exotic tower set amid the trees.

pagoda15Designed by architect Sir William Chambers (one of his drawings is depicted here), the pagoda was built in 1762 during the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie and was probably commissioned by Princess Augusta as part of the ongoing works she undertook in the gardens after the death of her husband Prince Frederick, eldest son of King George II and Queen Caroline.

Standing 163 feet (or almost 50 metres) high, the 10 storey pagoda was originally decorated with eighty golden dragons. It was designed to be the high point of a world tour through the gardens which also took in Roman ruins and Arabic mosques.

While the pagoda remains, the dragons were only on the structure for some 22 years before being removed in 1784 during roof repairs. Thanks to rumours they were made of solid gold, it was suggested they were sold off to pay the debts of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), but experts say the wooden figures had simply rotted and so had to be removed.

Following their removal, the dragons subsequently disappeared and despite several attempts to find them – including one by Decimus Burton, architect of the famous Palm House (for more on that, see our earlier post), in 1843 – they have never been found.

Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Botanic Gardens have now decided to replace them with new ones, drawing on contemporary accounts and drawings and using a team of specialist craftsmen to create them.

The restored pagoda – complete with new dragons – will be open to the public in 2017.

It is one of several ornamental buildings still located in the gardens. Others include a Japanese gateway and a Japanese wooden house called a minka.

WHERE: The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 10am daily (closing times vary – see websites for details); COST: £16.50 adults/£13 concessions/children £3.50 (discounts apply for online bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.

PICTURES: RBG Kew

RickshawsThe botanical origins of the spices which continue to excite our palates have centre stage at a new festival which kicked off at Kew Gardens last week. The Full of Spice festival brings their stories to life through a series of interactive installations and exhibitions. Visitors are invited to come face-to-face with nutmeg, turmeric and tamarind in the Palm House, join in the bartering at a ‘Spice Exchange’, take part in hands-on sessions with Kew scientists and explore different parts of the world on ‘Spicy’ Saturdays and Sundays. You can also book a ride on a rickshaw, see the innards of giant inflatable spices, take part in the Strictly Spice Dance competition or simply hang out with a spiced No.3 gin cocktail at a pop-up ‘Botanical Bar’ on weekends. The festival runs until 6th September. For a comprehensive listing of events and activities (of which the above is just a portion), head to www.kew.org. PICTURE: RBG Kew.

On Now: All of This Belongs to You. This free exhibition at the V&A in South Kensington examines the role as a museum as a public space and that of public institutions in contemporary life. Distributed across both the physical and online spaces of the V&A, the exhibition comprises four site-specific installations, three displays, two online commissions as well as weekly events. More than 40 new acquisitions have been made for the project and loaned objects on display include hard-drives that held documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Runs until 19th July. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/allofthisbelongstoyou.

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Fringe-LoomThe fringe loom of Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – is among the objects on display at Kew Palace this year. Historic Royal Palaces is exploring some of the untold stories of the king’s daughters who once called the palace, which was originally built in 1631 for a Flemish merchant before it was acquired by King George II, home. Under examination are the pastimes of the royal women – from drawing and painting to weaving, paper cutting and even the decoration of a ‘Baby House’ created by the princesses as a showcase of their talents. Along with Kew Palace – located inside Kew Gardens in London’s west, also opened is the nearby rustic retreat built in 1770 known as Queen Charlotte’s cottage. Inside is the “Print Room”, hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, and the “Picnic Room”, decorated paintings of trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus – the work of Princess Elizabeth, an acclaimed artist. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/KewPalace/.
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces

Kenwood House in north London is being reopened to the public today following a £5.95 million restoration project which has seen the library returned to what Scottish architect Robert Adam had intended it to be. The project, which saw the Hampstead property closed since March last year, has also seen the restoration of three other Robert Adam-designed rooms – the entrance hall, Great Stairs and antechamber or entrance to the library – as well as the redecoration of four rooms in 18th century style, repainting of the exterior and the repair of the home’s roof – a job aimed at protecting the rooms and its stellar

Kenwood-House-Librarycollection of artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. English Heritage has also endeavoured to make the property more homely, replacing ticket desks and rope barriers with an open fire, warm rugs and leather couches on which visitors can relax. The library (pictured) was built and decorated to Adam’s designs between 1767 and 1770 as part of a wider remodelling of the villa for its owner Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Redecorated many times since, it was restored in the 1960s but this redecoration was later found to be inaccurate. The Caring for Kenwood restoration project, which has also seen restoration of the Kenwood Dairy, was funded by a £3.89 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as support from the Wolfson Foundation and other donors. To coincide with the reopening, a new app exploring Kenwood House has been released which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/. PICTURE: English Heritage/Patricia Payne.

Head out on a “robot safari” this weekend with a special free event at Science Museum in South Kensington. Robot SafariEU, part of Eurobotics week, features 13 biometric robots from across Europe including an underwater turtle robot, a shoal of luminous fish robots, a robotic cheetah cub and Pleurobot, a robotic salamander. Roboticists from across Europe will be on hand to help visitors interact with the bots. Suitable for all ages, the event kicked off on Wednesday night and runs again on the weekend. Admission is free but timed tickets are required. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RobotSafari.

A memorial to author, scholar and apologist CS Lewis was dedicated at Westminster Abbey last Friday – the 50th anniversary of his death. Conducting the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said Lewis was “one of the most significant Christian apologists of the 20th century” and the author of stories that had “inspired the imagination and faith of countless readers and film-goers”. Douglas Gresham, younger stepson of Lewis, read from the author’s book, The Last Battle, at the service. The memorial is located in Poet’s Corner in the abbey’s south transept. For more see www.westminster-abbey.org.

A Blue Plaque commemorating Al Bowlly – described as “Europe’s most popular crooner and famous radio and record star” – will be unveiled at his home in Charing Cross Road this week. Bowlly, who lived between 1899 and 1941, was the voice beyond songs like Goodnight Sweetheart and The Very Thought Of You. The English Heritage Blue Plaque will be unveiled at Charing Cross Mansions, 26 Charing Cross Road – his home during the pinnacle of his career. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Kew Gardens has opened its gates after dark for the first time with a “captivating show of lights, sound and landscape” this festive season. A mile long illuminated trail, created in partnership with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay, will take visitors’ through the garden’s unique tree collections, kicking off at Victoria Gate where a Christmas village (and Santa’s Woodland Grotto) is located. The gardens will be open every Thursday to Sunday until 23rd December and then be open every night from 26th December to 4th January from 4.45pm to 10pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org/Christmas.

VivienLeighActress Vivien Leigh is the star of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery. Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration tells her story with a focus on her Academy Award-winning role in 1939’s Gone With The Wind. The display features more than 50 portraits of Leigh by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean and Madame Yevonde – many of which have never been exhibited in the gallery before – and a selection of memorabilia including magazine covers, vintage film stills and press books. Among the photos will be a newly acquired image of Leigh and her husband, Laurence Olivier, taken by British photojournalist Larry Burrows at a garden party in 1949 (pictured), along with two rarely seen portraits of Leigh – one taken on the set of The School for Scandal by Vivienne in 1949 and the other by Paul Tanqueray in 1942. The exhibition will be held in Room 33 and runs until 20th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE:  Copyright – Larry Burrows Collection 2013.

City-of-London-FestivalThe City of London Festival kicked off last Sunday and runs for the next month in what is being billed as an “extravaganza of music, dance, art, film, poetry, family and participation events” in the Square Mile. Among the highlights of this year’s festival – the 51st – is a series of musical performances at St Paul’s Cathedral and a range of other locations including livery halls, churches and Mansion House – home of the Lord Mayor of London – as well as walks and talks including a two-day conference this Friday and Saturday, Worlds in Collision, which will explore questions surrounding the healing power of music in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders resulting from conflict. There’s also a range of free events such as a family day on Hampstead Heath celebrating Northern Irish culture and heritage and artistic installations such as that by artist Konstantin Dimopoulos which this week saw the trees of Festival Gardens near St Paul’s turn bright blue. Trees around Devonshire Square are also expected to be ‘coloured’ and both sites will form part of a ‘Tree Trail’ in the square mile which is aimed at revealing the ‘secret stories’ of some of the city’s trees and the locations they inhabit. The festival, which runs until 26th July, will be reflecting on a number of significant historical landmark anniversaries taking place this year, including the 400-year relationship between the City of London and the Northern Irish community of Derry-Londonderry, the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht and the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten. For more information and a full programme of events, see www.colf.org. PICTURE: London Symphony Orchestra at St Paul’s Cathedral, © City of London Festival/Robert Piwko

The next month represents the last chance to visit Kew Gardens’ historic Temperate House – the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse – for five years. The Grade I-listed building is about to undergo a five year restoration project, funded by a £14.7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is home to Kew’s rarest plant, the South African cycad Encephalartos woodii while other rarities include the St Helena ebony (Trochetiopsis ebenus). The Temperate House will close on 4th August and won’t reopen until May 2018. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure. Opened yesterday, this landmark exhibition at the National Gallery explores the motif of music in Dutch painting, in particular in the works of Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries. Displayed alongside actual examples of 17th century virginals, guitars, lutes and other instruments, visitors will be able to see for themselves how accurate the painters were and discover why they may have taken artistic liberties. At the centre of the exhibition are three works by Vermeer – A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (both of which form part of the gallery’s collection) and The Guitar Player (on loan from Kenwood House). A fourth Vermeer, The Music Lesson, has been loaned from the Queen. Other artists featured in the exhibition include Gerard ter Borch, Gabriel Metsu, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch and Godfried Schalcken. Live musicians from the Academy of Ancient Music will be playing at the gallery three days each week. Runs until 8th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Happy Easter! We’re taking a break over the Easter weekend…Our next update will be on Tuesday, 2nd April.

Mary-of-Modena's-bedA new exhibition exploring the secrets of the bedchambers of the Stuart and Hanoverian courts of the 17th and 18th centuries opened at Hampton Court Palace this week. At the heart of Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber are six royal beds which tell the story of why the bedchamber became the most important part of the palace and detail some of the events that took place there before an audience of courtiers, politicians and family members – from births and deaths to the consummation of marriages and the discussion of important affairs of state. It tells of why courtiers would fight for positions such as the ‘groom of the stool’ or ‘necessary woman’ and how beds which could cost the same as a London townhouse were sometimes never slept in. Among the beds on display is the ‘Warming Pan Bed’ (pictured), the State Bed of King James II’s queen, Mary of Modena, and scene of the royal birth that ultimately led to the end of the Stuart line, and the ‘Travelling Bed’ of King George II which travelled as far afield as Hanover and the battlefields of Europe. The exhibition also gives rare access into the Prince of Wales’ Apartments, designed by 17th and 18th architect Sir John Vanbrugh, and now open for the first time in 20 years.  Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd November. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: HRP

The Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum are the subject of a major exhibition opening at the British Museum today. Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum brings together more than 250 objects from the two cities which were buried in just 24 hours during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The objects include celebrated finds and recent discoveries, many of which have never before been seen outside Italy, and help explore what daily life was like for the inhabitants. Artefacts include a beautiful wall painting from Pompeii showing baker Terentius Neo and his wife, wooden furnishings including a linen chest, inlaid stool, and even a baby’s crib from Herculaneum, and casts of victims including a family of four and a dog who died at Pompeii. Runs until 29th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Find out more about the history of chocolate at Kew Gardens this Easter, from the ritualistic use of cacao in ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures to the arrival of chocolate in 17th century London, where it was a luxury item for high society to indulge in at newly fashionable chocolate houses. Running from tomorrow until 14th April, there will be a range of workshops taking place at the gardens around the chocolate theme along with a traditional Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday (31st March). The garden’s cocoa tree can be found in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Admission charge applies. See www.kew.org.

Harry Beck, designer of the innovative first diagrammatic Tube map, has been honoured by an English Heritage blue plaque – inscribed in the Underground’s new Johnston typeface – at his birthplace in Leyton in London’s east. Beck, who was born in a small terraced house at 14 Wesley Road in 1902, was working with London Transport as a draughtsman in the London Underground Serial Engineer’s Office, when, in 1931, he produced his first design for a diagrammatic map. He continued to update the map with new stations and lines even after leaving London Transport with the last version of his map published in 1960. Beck died in 1974. Meanwhile, a blue plaque commemorating railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley (1876-1941) has been returned to King’s Cross station following the completion of building work. It can be found on platform 8. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: The Underground. A commission from Art on the Underground, this exhibition of artist Mark Wallinger’s work at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery (60 Great Marlborough Street) features some examples of 270 labyrinth designs – one representing each of the Underground stations – which are being installed at the Tube stations themselves. Among those stations represented at this showing are Westminster, St James’s Park, Oxford Circus, Victoria, Embankment, Green Park, King’s Cross St Pancras, Baker Street and Tottenham Court Road. While labyrinths are already in place at these locations, the remainder of Wallinger’s labyrinth designs will be appearing at Tube stations over the coming months. Runs until 27th April. For more, see www.anthonyreynolds.com.

Chinese New Year celebrations will go off with a bang in Chinatown in the West End this Saturday. The festivities, which are the largest outside Asia, will include a lion dance, fireworks, and a variety of performers – all gathered to herald the start of the Year of the Snake. The celebrations will kick off with a parade which will leave Trafalgar Square at 10am and end at Rupert Street in Chinatown at 11am. At 12pm, dignitaries will gather in Trafalgar Square for the Dotting of the Eye ceremony which will bring the dragons and lions to life and performances will the take place until 5.30pm. At 5.55pm a fireworks display will mark the end of the day’s celebrations. For more, see www.chinatownlondon.org/page/chinese-new-year-2013/378.

Like orchids? Want to escape the gloom of winter? Kew Gardens are celebrating the exotic plant with a dazzling display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Thousands of orchids will be on show as part of ‘Orchids at Kew’ and the plants will be used to recreate the giant waterlily flower, Victoria amazonica, which can normally be seen in the conservatory in the summer months. There are special behind the scenes tours, food and an adult education course for the truly interested. Charges apply. Opening on Saturday, 9th February, the display can be seen until 3rd March. For more, see www.kew.org.

The late artist Lucian Freud has donated a treasured portrait – Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s L’Italienne ou La Femme à la Manche Jaune (The Italian Woman, or Woman with Yellow Sleeve) – to the nation in gratitude for the welcome his family received when they arrived as refugees from Berlin. The Corot has been allocated to the National Gallery by the Arts Council England and was done under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows people to transfer works of art into public ownership instead of paying inheritance tax.  The painting – which was last seen in a show at the Louvre, Paris, in 1962, and was previously owned by Hollywood Golden Age star Edward G. Robinson – is on display on Room 41 of the gallery. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

On Now: Man Ray Portraits. The first museum exhibition to focus on the photographic portraiture of the 20th century artist Man Ray, this display at the National Portrait Gallery features more than 150 vintage prints taken between 1916 and 1968. Subjects include everyone from Catherine Deneuve and Ava Gardner to Salvador Dali and Aldous Huxley. The majority of works have never been exhibited in the UK before. Runs until 27th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Like to tell others about your upcoming event in London? If you’ve got an event coming up, please send any press releases or details to exploringlondon@gmail.com.