Though it’s these days associated with a Brutalist housing estate and performing arts centre based in the north of the City of London, the name Barbican has been associated with the area on which the estate stands for centuries.

BarbicanThe word barbican (from the Latin barbecana) refers to an outer fortification designed to protect the entrance to a city or castle. In this case it apparently referred to watchtower which may have had its origins in Roman or Saxon times (or maybe both). The City of London website suggests it was located “somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street”.

When-ever it was built, the watchtower was apparently demolished on the orders of King Henry III in 1267, possibly as a response to Londoners who had supported England’s barons when they had rebelled against him. One source suggests the tower was rebuilt during the reign of King Edward III but, if so, the date of its subsequent demolition remains unknown.

Later residents of the area – which become known as a place to trade new and used clothes – included John Milton and William Shakespeare.

The area known as Barbican was devastated by bombing raids in World War II. Discussions on the future of the site started in 1952 and for more than 10 years plans for redeveloping the area were debated until finally, in the early 1960s, work began on what is now the Barbican Estate including three tall residential towers (part of the residential estate is pictured above). Completed in the mid 1970s, the Brutalist design of the complex, which features buildings named after historical figures associated with the area, means it meets with strong reactions from those who encounter it whether love – or hate.

Construction of the arts centre – known as the Barbican Centre – the largest performing arts centre in Europe and home to the London Symphony Orchestra – was started in the early 1970s. The £156 million centre was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.

Other buildings within the Grade II listed complex include the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA.

Advertisements

On Saturday the annual Lord Mayor’s Show will crawl its way across London’s Square Mile in a three mile long procession that will involve 123 floats and 6,200 people. The show (a scene from last year’s procession is pictured) is held each year as the first public outing of the newly elected Lord Mayor – this year it’s David Wootton, the City of London’s 684th Lord Mayor, who officially takes up his new office tomorrow (11th November). Organisers have said the procession will follow its usual route despite the protestors currently encamped outside St Paul’s. Leaving Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor, at 11am, it will make its way down Cheapside to St Paul’s Cathedral, where the new Lord Mayor will be blessed, before heading onto the Royal Courts of Justice, where the Lord Mayor swears an oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, and then returning to Mansion House. The the procession, the origins of which date back to 1215, will feature representatives of livery companies, educational and youth organisations, military units and other London-associated organisations and charities like St Bart’s Hospital. There will be a fireworks display at 5pm on the Thames between Blackfriars and Waterloo. For more information, see www.lordmayorshow.org.

• Organisers have unveiled plans for the London 2012 Festival, a 12 week nationwide cultural celebration of music, theatre, dance, art, literature, film and fashion held around next year’s Games. We’ll be providing more details in upcoming weeks and months but among the highlights in London will be a British Museum exhibition on the importance of Shakespeare as well as “pop-up” performances by actor Mark Rylance – both held as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, a musical tribute to the history of jazz at the Barbican by the London Symphony Orchestra and Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, an exhibition of the work of artist Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern and another on Yoko Ono at the Serpentine Gallery, and ‘Poetry Parnassus’ at the Southbank Centre – the largest poetry festival ever staged in the UK. The festival is the finale of the “Cultural Olympiad” – launched in 2008, it has featured a program of events inspired by the 2012 Olympics – and will see more than 10 million free events being held across the country. For more details, see www.london2012.com.

In a tradition which dates back to the late 1800s, three “poor, honest (and) young” women have been awarded a dowry by the City of London Corporation. Susan Renner-Eggleston, Elizabeth Skilton, and Jenny Furber have each received around £100 under the terms of a bequest Italian-born Pasquale Favale made to the City in 1882. Inspired by the happiness he found is his marriage to his London-born wife Eliza, Favale bequeathed 18,000 Lira to the City in 1882 and stipulated that each year a portion of the money was to be given to “three poor, honest, young women, natives of the City of London, aged 16 to 25 who had recently been or were about to be married”. To be eligible the women must have been born in the City of London or currently reside there.

• On Now: Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. Billed as the year’s blockbuster art event in London, this exhibition at the National Gallery focuses on Da Vinci’s time as a court painter in Milan in the 1480s-90s and features 60 paintings and drawings. Thanks to a collaboration between the National Gallery and the Louvre, they include two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks (it is the first time the two versions are being shown together). Other paintings include Portrait of a Musician, Saint Jerome, The Lady with an Ermine (an image of Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of Milan’s ruler at the time – Ludovico Maria Sforza, ‘Il Moro’) and Belle Ferronniere as well as a copy of Da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper, by his pupil Giamopietrino. Runs until 5th February and an admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.