Before we move on, here’s a recap of our most recent Wednesday series…

1. Rainham Hall…

2. Morden Hall Park…

3. 2 Willow Road…

4. The Strand Lane ‘Roman’ Baths…

5. Sutton House…

6. 575 Wandsworth Road…

7. Fenton House and Garden…

8. Carlyle’s House…

9. Red House…

10. Petts Wood and Hawkwood…

We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series next week…


Located just 13 miles south-east of London’s centre, this 338 acre woodland is a haven of tranquility.

Petts Wood (the name is also that of a suburb) is believed to take its name from 16th century master shipbuilder William Pett – its first known mention was in 1577 when the wood appeared in his will. Pett had used oaks from Petts Wood in his ship-building yards located at Deptford and Woolwich on the River Thames.

The eastern part of Petts Wood – known as the Willett Memorial Wood – was given to the National Trust in 1927 in a bid to protect it from development while the remainder of the woodland, which had subsequently been purchased by Colonel Francis Edlmann and added to his neighbouring estate, Hawkwood, was donated 30 years later by Robert and Francesca Hall.

The Willett Memorial Wood is named for William Willett, leader of the movement which campaigned for recognition of British Summer Time (there’s a stone sundial memorial to him there). Willett lived nearby.

The western part of Pett’s Wood is known as the Edlmann Memorial Wood. It contains a stone memorial to the Halls and Colonel Edlmann which was unveiled in 1958.

The main house on the Hawkwood Estate and gardens, were acquired from Francesca Hall in 1975 with the proviso that farming would continue to preserve the area’s rural character.

There are a couple of marked walks around the woodlands. Among the activities which take part in the woodlands is the age-old practice of charcoal making. Made for barbecues, it’s sold in National Trust shops.

WHERE: Chislehurst (nearest train stations are Petts Wood, Chislehurst, and St Mary Cray); WHEN: Dawn to dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petts-wood-and-hawkwood

PICTURES: Top and Right – Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Somerset House is releasing a new virtual tour of its exhibition Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi so people can explore the world of the mushroom and its role in the world’s survival from home. The exhibition, which will go live online on Monday to mark International Museum Day, features highlights including Beatrix Potter’s watercolours of mushrooms, conceptual artist Carsten Höller’s spinning, solar-powered mushrooms, a psychedelic film by Adham Faramawy, Seana Gavin’s hand-cut collages of mushroom-human hybrids and, shoes and shades made from mycelium, the fungal mass which lies beneath the earth under mushrooms. The exhibition will be released online on 18th May at www.somersethouse.org.uk. PICTURED: Kristen Peters, Mycoshoen, courtesy of the artist.

The V&A are seeking homemade signs created during the coronavirus lockdown – everything from children’s rainbow signs to handwritten notes placed in public spaces – to add to its permanent collection. Noting the commonplace nature of such signs during the emergency, the V&A have said that “[w]hether they state temporary closure of a business, express messages of hope or critique, or raise awareness for a good cause, these signs have become a prominent way for us to communicate with the outside world during lockdown”. Through collecting the signs, the museum is aiming to “create and preserve a rich portrait of life under lockdown expressed through visual imagery.” Selected signs will be chosen to join the museum’s collections. Signs can be submitted to homemadesigns@vam.ac.uk while people are also encouraged to share signs they’ve come across on social media using #homemadesigns.

The National Trust is asking people to write letters to its Director General Hilary McGrady, about their lockdown experiences in order to add a selection of them to its collection of historic letters. People are asked to write about what they have most missed since lockdown began and about what solace they may have drawn from nature, art, creativity and any forms of social contact. The National Trust is asking writers to scan or photograph their letter and email it to lettersfromlockdown@nationaltrust.org.uk or share it via the National Trust’s social media channels using @nationaltrust to ease pressure on the postal service. The Trust says it will request postal hard copies from selected authors at a later date.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com


Like other National Trust properties, Fenton House is now closed – please do not travel there. But we run this article in the hope you’ll be able to visit in the future…

This Hampstead property dates from the 17th century but its current name comes instead from Philip Fenton, a merchant who bought it in 1793, some 100 years after it was constructed.

The two storey brown brick property, which had previously been known as Ostend House (perhaps a reference to its unknown first owner’s Flemish links), was considerably altered by Fenton, a merchant from Yorkshire who had based himself in Riga. But despite that – and subsequent alterations, many original features remain.

The Grade I-listed property was acquired by Katherine, Lady Binning, in 1936. In 1952 she bequeathed it to the National Trust complete with her rather large collections of porcelain, needlework, furniture and artworks.

The Trust also moved in a large collection of early musical instruments. Assembled by Major George Benton Fletcher, these had been given them to the Trust in 1937 and include a harpsichord dating from 1612 which was probably used by Handel.

Located on an acre, the house features a notable walled garden featuring formal topiary and lawn, a sunken rose garden, a 300-year-old apple and pear orchard and kitchen garden.

Fenton House is now closed – but for more information on when it might reopen, keep an eye on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fenton-house.

PICTURE: Top – A view of Fenton House (It’s No Game/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Below – Inside the property (Kotomi_/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


Only acquired by the National Trust in 2010, this property features a series of uniquely fashioned interiors created by Kenyan-born poet, novelist, artist and British civil servant Khadambi Asalache.

Asalache (1935-2006), who had trained as an architect, purchased the then dilapidated 1819 terraced house while working at the Treasury in 1981 (he apparently spotted it from a passing bus and ended up buying it for less than the asking price).

Confronted with a damp patch in the basement that resisted treatment, he initially covered it with wood and then, deciding that was bit drab, created fretwork to put over the top.

It was the beginning of a massive undertaking which saw the property transformed. Over the next 20 years, Asalache used a fretsaw to turn the home into an extraordinary work of art, eventually embellishing almost every wall, ceiling and door in the house with Moorish inspired fretwork patterns and motifs, hand-carved from reclaimed pine doors and floorboards which he’d found in skips.

The rooms, which are also influenced by African, Ottoman, and British design, are filled with Asalache’s handmade fretwork furniture and his eclectic collections of objects such as pressed-glass inkwells, pink and copper lustreware, postcards and his typewriter.

The Clapham property, which appears unassuming from the front, was left to the National Trust in Asalache’s will.

Only a select number of visitors can visit the property each year on pre-booked tours (although it’s currently closed due to the coronavirus outbreak). For updates on its opening status, head to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/575-wandsworth-road.

PICTURES: Interiors of the property (Shakespearesmonkey (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0))

We decided to continue with our Wednesday series. While the properties are all currently closed, we hope you’ll still enjoy exploring them with us online until the day they reopen…

Hackney property Sutton House –  originally known simply as ‘the bryk place’ – was built by Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), a courtier  who started out in the service of Thomas Cromwell but rose to become Principal Secretary of State to King Henry VIII. Sadleir, who had married a cousin of Cromwell, had the property constructed in 1535 as his family home.

Sadleir – who makes an appearance in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels and who, as well as being of service to King Henry VIII, also served King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – sold the property just 15 years later. The red brick house – now said to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Hackney – subsequently passed through numerous hands with its owners apparently including merchants, a sea captain and French Huguenot refugees. In 1751, it was divided into two residences – Ivy House and Milford House.

The property housed a boy’s school in the early 1800s – novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was among those who attended – and later became a girl’s school. The rector of Hackney bought the premises in 1891 and used it as a base for the St John at Hackney Church Institute, a social and recreational centre for young men.  His modifications included turning part of the cellars into a chapel.

Mistakenly named after the founder of the Charterhouse School, Thomas Sutton (he actually lived in a now demolished adjacent property), Sutton House was bought by the National Trust in the 1930s using the proceeds of a bequest made in memory of two men killed in World War I.

Among its various roles, the building served as a centre for fire wardens during World War II and, from the 1960s, serving as the offices of a trade union. After the union left in the 1980s, the house fell into disrepair and in 1982 squatters moved in and it was renamed ‘the Blue House’. Several murals from this period – when rock concerts were held in the barn – are preserved into the house.

The squatters were evicted and in the late Eighties, a society was formed with the aim of saving the house. Following renovations, the house opened to the public in 1994. These days the Grade II*-listed home is used as a museum and art gallery. There’s also a shop and cafe.

While the facade of the house underwent some changes during the Georgian era, the property’s interior remains essentially Tudor. Highlights include the kitchen, oak panelled chambers, carved fireplaces and, of course, the cellars.

The National Trust reclaimed some adjacent land to create an award winning garden known as the Breaker’s Yard. The name comes from the fact the land was once occupied by a car breaker’s yard.

There’s said to be a couple of ghosts who reside in the house including wailing dogs and a mysterious ‘blue lady’.

The property, which stands in Homerton High Street, is temporarily closed but for more information, check the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house-and-breakers-yard.

ALL PICTURES: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Located on the banks of the River Wandle in Morden, south London, Morden Hall was built for the Garth family in the 18th century on the site of an earlier manor house.

The manor, which had once been held by the abbot of Westminster Abbey, had been in the Garth family since it was purchased by Richard Garth, a clerk and son of a successful lawyer, following the Dissolution in the 16th century. At the time, the newly built manor house, apparently known as Growtes, stood just to the south of where the hall now stands.

The now Grade II-listed hall was built for the family in between 1759 and 1765 and over the next century a number of tenants occupied it – it was used at once point as a school for young gentlemen.

In 1867, the Garth family sold the altered house and estate to a tobacco merchant, Gilliat Hatfeild (Gilliat’s father, Alexander Hatfeild, had, since 1834, leased two mills on the site to ground tobacco from plantations in Virginia into snuff). Gilliat created a park from the land surrounding the hall, planting trees and demolishing cottages.

His son, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, took over the running of the estate on the death of his father in 1906. During World War I, the hall saw service as a convalescent home for the military and was later used by the Salvation as a home for women and children.

In 1941, Alexander’s grandson, Gilliat Edward Hatfield – who had closed the mills and snuff-making factory in the early 1920s – left the house and the core of the estate (the remainder was occupied by new housing and roads) to the National Trust. The hall itself has since been used as a restaurant and, following a 2015 renovation, is now a venue for weddings.

The 125 acres of grounds, which are open to the public, contain a variety of landscapes including the remains of a deer park, meadows and a wetland. The restored rose garden was first planted by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild in around 1921 in part of what had been his father’s deer park. It was laid out in two halves separated by a small stream with rose-covered bridges. The rose garden also features a massive Westfelton Yew which is believed to be hundreds of years old.

The snuff mills, which were built in 1750 and 1830, are still standing (the western mill contains an exhibition on the life of the Morden mill workers in the Victorian era) as are various workshops, the former stables and Morden Cottage, parts of which date from the 1750s and which was used by GE Hatfeild who preferred living there to the hall. Facilities in the park include the Potting Shed Café near the main entrance and a second-hand bookshop in the former stable yard.

WHERE: Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, Morden (nearest train station is Stableyard); WHEN: The rose garden is open from 8am to 6pm daily (check the website for other times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park.

PICTURES: Top – The White Bridge over the River Wandle at Modern Hall Park (Garry Knight/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right – Morden Hall from the park (public domain)

The National Trust is this year celebrating its 125th anniversary so we though we’d take a look at some of the lesser-known National Trust properties and gardens in London. First up, it’s Rainham Hall, one of the finest examples of an early 18th century merchant’s home in the UK.

Located at Rainham in the London Borough of Havering, the Queen Anne-style property was built in 1729 for sea merchant Captain John Harle. Harle came from a family South Shields that supplemented their farming income with shipping. He’d settled in London sometime after 1704 and in 1719 married a widow, Mary Tibbington (it’s speculated her name may have been the inspiration for his ship, the Mary).

Following his marriage, John went less to sea and handed command of the ship to a cousin while he managed the business in London becoming a frequent visitor to the Royal Exchange and coffee houses to gather information on shipping and make trading deals.

Harle moved to Rainham in 1728 and built the house the following year with a design more akin to a London townhouse than a country villa. After his wife died without any children in 1739, John remarried and his new wife, a widow named Sarah Gregory, gave birth to their only child – a son named John – in 1740.

Harle died in late 1742 and was buried in Rainham Church. Sarah died seven years later and their orphaned son John was cared for by family members – during this period the contents of the hall were auctioned and the building leased out.

The house remained in family ownership until 1895 when it was purchased by a clergyman and then, in 1917, by art historian and property developer Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner who never resided at the property but conducted significant restoration works including in the garden.

During World War II, the property was requisitioned for use as a nursery for children so mothers could go out to work – it remained a nursery until 1954. It was during this period – in 1949 – that both the house and gardens, of which almost three acres remain – were given to the National Trust.

Now Grade II* listed, the property recently underwent a £2.5 million restoration project and opened to the public for the first time in 2015. Current displays includeThe Denney Edition: Celebrating an icon of 20th century style, which celebrates the life and work of Anthony Denney (1913-90), Vogue photographer, interior designer and all round style icon who lived at the hall between 1964 and 1969, during which he set about an extensive programme of interior refurbishment (only some of which still remains).

The property has appeared in films and TV productions including, most recently the 2019 BBC production of A Christmas Carol. A cafe now occupies the stables.

WHERE: Rainham Hall, The Broadway, Rainham, Havering (nearest train station is Rainham); WHEN: 10.30am-4.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £9.50 adults; £4.75 children; £23.75 family (National Trust members and under fives free); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall.

PICTURES: Rainham Hall from the front (shirokazan/licensed under CC BY 2.0)/Right – Rainham Hall from the rear (David Merrett/licensed under CC BY 2.0).

This month (12th January to be exact) marks 125 years since the National Trust was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. So we’re taking a quick look at another, somewhat related, milestone – the acquisition of the Trust’s first London property.

Located in Barking, Eastbury Manor House, initially known as Eastbury Hall, was built between 1560 and 1573 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) for Clement Sisley on land which once belonged to Barking Abbey.

The H-shaped house and surrounding estate remained in the family until 1629 after which it passed through the hands of a number of well-to-do families, gradually falling into disrepair.

By the early 19th century, decay had led to one of the property’s unique octagonal stair turrets being pulled down and wooden flooring and fireplaces removed. The ground floor was being used as a stable and dairy.

The property struggled on into the early 20th century when it was threatened with demolition. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, recognising its significance as a rare example of mid-16th century brick built gentry house, lobbied for it to be saved and, working alongside the National Trust, ran a campaign to raise funds for its acquisition.

The house – and surrounding gardens – were acquired by the Trust for the nation in 1918 and then, in 1934, leased to Barking Borough Council. The following year the property became the home of Barking Museum.

It was awarded Grade I-listed status in 1954 and is now managed by the Borough of Barking and Dagenham. A restoration program in recent years has seen the addition of a permanent exhibition on the property’s history.

WHERE: Eastbury Manor House, Eastbury Square, Barking (nearest Tube station is Upney); WHEN: From 13th  February, 10am to 4pm Thursdays and Fridays and, from 22nd March, 11am to 4pm Sundays; COST: £5.20 adults/£2.60 children and concessions/£9.30 family (LBBD residents, SPAB and National Trust members free); WEBSITE: www.eastburymanorhouse.org.uk.

PICTURE: David Nicholls (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The rich and tapestried history of The India Club forms the heart of a new exhibition by the National Trust which opens at the Strand-based club this week. A Home Away from Home: The India Club is an audio-based exhibition – featuring interviews with everyone from former staff, freedom fighters, BBC reporters, artists and writers – and highlights the club’s history and its ongoing significance among the British South-Asian community. Borne out of the Indian League which had campaigned for India’s independence, the club was founded in 1951 under the leadership of Krishna Menon, the first High Commissioner to India, with founding members including Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and Lady Mountbatten. Originally located at 41 Craven Street, it moved to 143 Strand, the premises of the Hotel Strand Continental, in 1964. The club, site of what was one of the UK’s first Indian restaurants, remains an important hub for a range of Anglo-Indian organisations and the community of journalists, writers, artists, academics and students who regularly meet in the premises. The exhibition comes as more than 26,000 people have signed a petition to prevent the club’s redevelopment as part of plans to refurbish the building in which its located. Opening tomorrow and running until 1st March, the display is being accompanied by a programme of supper clubs, artist talks, screenings and conversations. The exhibition is free but ticketed. For more, see
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/a-home-away-from-home-the-india-club.

PICTURES: Top – Enjoying the new exhibition in The India Club (courtesy of National Trust); Below – The India Club sign (courtesy of Jake Tilson); the restaurant in The India Club (courtesy of The India Club); the Strand Continental Hotel in which the club is located (courtesy of Jake Tilson).

Fan-Bay-Deep-Shelter,-main-tunnel---credit-National-Trust,Barry-Stewart

A series of secret tunnels, built behind the famous White Cliffs of Dover on the orders of former British PM Winston Churchill, have opened to the public for the first time.

More than 50 volunteers along with archaeologists, engineers, mine consultants and a geologist, spent two years excavating and restoring the tunnels which, known as the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, were aimed at housing men manning gun batteries designed to prevent German ships from moving freely in the English Channel.

The shelter, which was personally inspected by Churchill in June, 1941, provided accommodation for four officers and up to 185 men in five bomb-proof chambers for use during bombardments as well as a hospital and a store room. It was originally dug by Royal Engineers from the 172nd Tunnelling Company in just 100 days.

The tunnels, which were decommissioned in the 1950s and then filled in during the 1970s, were discovered after the National Trust bought the land above in 2012. More than 100 tonnes of soil and rubble were removed during the excavation.

Specialist guides now take visitors on 45 minute, torch-lit, hard hat tours into the shelter – the largest of its kind in Dover, taking visitors down the original 125 steps into the tunnels 23 metres below the surface. Inside can be seen graffiti dating from the war which includes the names of men stationed there as well as ditties and drawings. Other personal mementoes include homemade wire hooks, a needle and thread and ammunition.

Back above ground, there are two World War I sound mirrors which were originally designed to give advance warning of approaching aircraft but which had become obsolete when radar technology was invented in 1935 (pictured in action below).

The tunnels complement those which are already open at Dover Castle (managed by English Heritage).

WHERE: Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, Dover (nearest train station is Dover Priory (two miles); WHEN: Guided tours only – from 9.30am daily until 6th September – tours then on weekdays only until 30th September); COST:£10 adults/£5 children (aged 12-16) (free for National Trust members); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover

 PICTURE: Top – National Trust/Barry Stewart/; Bottom – National Trust/Crown Copyright.

Example-of-sound-mirror-in-use,-Abbots-Cliff-near-White-Cliffs-of-Dover---Crown-Copyright

MoroniThe works of 16th century artist Giovanni Battista Moroni go on show at the Royal Academy of Arts this week. The exhibition will feature more than 40 works including portraiture as well as his lesser-known religious paintings. They include a number of altarpieces from the churches of Bergamo in northern Italy as well as portraits including Portrait of a Lady (c1556-60), A Knight with a Jousting Helmet (c1556), and The Tailor (1565-1570) – the first known portrait of a man depicted undertaking manual labour. The exhibition in The Sackler Wing, off Piccadilly, runs until 25th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURED: A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ, (c.1555-60) (Gerolamo and Roberta Etro).

This year marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the birth of modern Germany so it’s a fitting time for the British Museum in Bloomsbury to host an exhibition looking at Germany’s tumultuous history. Germany: memories of a nation features 200 objects reflecting themes ranging from ’empire and nation’ to ‘arts and achievement’ and ‘crisis and memory’ spanning a period from the 15th century to today. They include Tischbein’s iconic portrait Goethe in der Campagna, an early edition of Grimm’s fairy tales, a home-made banner from demonstrations in late 1989 and Ernst Barlach’s bronze figure Der Schwebende, designed as a World War I memorial for Gustrow Cathedral. The exhibition, sponsored by Betsy and Jack Ryan, runs until 25th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Britain’s 13 year involvement in Afghanistan is the subject of a new display at the Imperial War Museum London in Lambeth. Opening today, War Story: Afghanistan 2014 features new objects, photographs, film and video interviews and looks at the experiences of the Afghan national security forces and UK government and NGO workers as well as those of British troops. Objects, all collected between 2012 and this year, include a beadwork lamp made by Afghan prisoners in training workshops aimed at developing skills prior to their release and an Afghan dress and trousers. The display is part of the War Story project which started in 2009. Runs until 6th September next year. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

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

A former car breaker’s yard in Hackney has reopened as a “pocket park” of “installations and hidden spaces” following an extensive transformation project. Located next to the National Trust’s Tudor manor house, Sutton House, Breaker’s Yard incorporates elements from the site’s history including car tyres, a bus greenhouse, bespoke metal gates made out of more than 1,000 toy cars donated by celebrities, locals and artists, and a multi-storey caravan sculpture, The Grange, created by landscape designer Daniel Lobb who also designed the park in collaboration with arts-based educational charity, The House of Fairy Tales. The flower-filled park also features an ice-cream van, decorated by Rose Blake – daughter of Sir Peter Blake, which will act as a “playful shop”. The park is one of a 100 ‘pocket parks’ created under a $2 programme by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in this case in collaboration with the National Trust and a host of volunteers. Entry to the park is free but admission charge applies to the house. For more on the park and Sutton House, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house/.

A photographic exhibition, Exploring London’s First World War Memorials, is running at City Hall near Tower Bridge in Southwark. Organised by the Mayor of London with aid from the War Memorials Trust, English Heritage and others, the exhibition is centred on new images of war memorials by London-based photographer James O Jenkins. As well as more traditional monuments, the memorials take the form of everything from fountains to paintings, buildings and landscape features. Entry is free. Runs until 12th September. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events. Meanwhile, the Guildhall Library is showcasing images taken by photographer Simon Gregor for the Remembrance Image Project. Runs until 12th November and is part of a series of World War I commemorative events the library is running. Others include an installation by artist Rebecca Louise Law called Poppy made up of 8,000 paper poppies from the Royal British Legion. For more on World War I commemorative events at the Guildhall LIbrary follow this link.

Open House London’s programme is available for download from tomorrow (Friday, 15th August). The event, which will be held over the weekend of 20th and 21st September, will this year be conducted under the theme of ‘revealing’ and will feature more than 800 buildings, from Open House “favourites” like The Gherkin (aka 30 St Mary Axe) and the Foreign and India Office through to lesser known properties like Wandsworth’s Quaker Meeting House or the Butcher’s Hall in the City (some of which have to be booked before the weekend). There will also be a free programme of neighbourhood walks, engineering and landscape tours, cycle rides and talks by experts. To see the programme, head to www.openhouselondon.org.uk.

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

Today we’re taking a look at a couple of still extant London buildings which have strong associations with playwright William Shakespeare…

George-InnThe George Inn, Southwark. Located at 75-77 Borough High Street, the George Inn is London’s last remaining galleried inn. The current building has its origins in the late 17th century after the original inn, which can be traced back to at least the mid-1500s – was destroyed in a fire in 1676. Now owned by the National Trust, it is leased out and remains open as a public house – part of the Greene King chain. While its known for its connections with 19th century writer Charles Dickens – he was a patron of this establishment and mentions it in Little Dorrit (a fact we mentioned in our series on Dickens back in 2012), the inn (or at least the previous version of it) also has Shakespearean connections with its prime Southwark location meaning it’s quite possible Shakespeare himself may have visited. Whether that’s the case or not, it is known that the premises served at time as a theatre of sorts in his day with acting troops performing in the courtyard while audience members could stand in the courtyard and watch or pay extra for a seat in the gallery. For more on the inn, see www.gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-london/the-george-inn-pub/.

Middle-Temple-HallMiddle Temple Hall. Built between 1562 and 1573 by Edmund Plowden (memorialised with monuments in both the hall and nearby Temple Church), this magnificent Tudor hall has survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and continues to serve the legal profession today. It too was used as a theatre/concert hall in Elizabethan times and later as a site for Inigo Jones’ masques but in terms of the Shakespearean connection, it is known for being where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place – on the night of Candlemas (2nd February) 1602. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed the play and it is thought that Shakespeare himself was among the players. For more on the hall, which is only rarely opened to the public, you can visit our earlier posts here and (on ‘Drake’s Cupboard) here or the official website at www.middletemple.org.uk/home/.

For more on the George Inn, check out Pete Brown’s social history Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.

 

The_Rosebery_Tiara_QMA_Collection._Photo_c_SothebysA pearl-drop earring worn by King Charles I at his execution in 1649, pearl tiaras worn by European nobles and a pearl necklace given to Marilyn Monroe by Joe DiMaggio in 1954 are among the items on display as part of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A last Saturday. The V&A and Qatar Museums Authority exhibition traces the history of pearls from the early Roman Empire to now and features more than 200 pieces of jewellery and works of art. Other items on display include ‘Queen Mary II’ pearls dating from 1662-1664, a miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte wearing pearl jewellery and a set of buttons, finely enamelled and framed with pearls, worn by George III in 1780. There’s also the Dagmar necklace given to Princess Alexandra when she married the future King Edward VII in 1863. The exhibition is part of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Admission charge applies. Runs until 19th January. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Lady Rosebery’s pearl and diamond tiara (1878) © Christie’s Images.

The Big Brother house – located in Elstree Studios in north London – opens to the public tomorrow and on Saturday as part of a partnership between Initial – an Endemol Company, Channel 5 and the National Trust. Some two million people tuned in to watch the final night of the show this summer leading one TV critic to describe the property as “the most important house in Britain”. The opening is being preceded by an Opening Gala featuring housemates past and present as well as celebrities – but that’s an invitation only event. Sadly, tickets for the opening are already sold out – for returns and your last chance of getting in, follow this link.

The UK’s first aircraft manufacturers – Horace, Eustace and Oswald Short – have been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque placed on their former workshop in Battersea. Unveiled this week by Jenny Body – the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the plaque can be found at the railway arches near Queen’s Circus where the brothers, who lived nearby in the Prince of Wales Mansions, worked on ballooning and first made the transition to aircraft construction. Among their firsts was the construction of the first British powered aircraft to complete a circular mile of flight and the creation of Britain’s first ever purpose-built aircraft factory (it was located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent). For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Jonathan Yeo Portraits. New and previously unseen works including a six foot high portrait of controversial artist Damien Hirst and a portrait of Kevin Spacey as King Richard III feature in this exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. Other subjects featured in the painted works include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, model Erin O’Connor, artist Grayson Perry and actor Sierra Miller. Runs until 5th January. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Red-House-Wallpainting,-l-to-r---Adam-Eve-Noah-Rachel-Jacob

A remarkable Pre-Raphaelite painting has been found painted on the wall of a Bexleyheath house lived in by artist William Morris. The bedroom wall painting at Red House, which is believed to have been painted by Morris and other Pre-Raphaelites, was hidden behind a wardrobe and covered by wallpaper for years with only two figures from the painting visible. But following two months of conservation work by the National Trust – which acquired the property in south-east London in 2003 – a six by eight foot image has been discovered depicting Biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Noah, and Rachel and Jacob. Designed to resemble a hanging tapestry, the image also contained faded and incomplete lines of text which have been identified as being from the Biblical book of Genesis (chapter 30, verse six). Morris lived at the house between 1860 and 1865, during which time Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown were regular visitors. It is understood his friends helped decorate the property’s walls, ceilings and items of furniture with wall paintings and patterns. While it is thought Jacob was painted by Morris, Rachel possibly by Elizabeth Siddal and Noah by Madox Brown, further research is being undertaken to help identify who painted which image. For details on visiting times and how to get to the property, check out www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house/. PICTURES:  © National Trust / James Breslin and, © National Trust.

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This spectacular 14th century moated castle in East Sussex looks every bit the medieval fortress it was built to be. Yet at the same time, Bodiam was built as a residence with the comfort of its residents in mind.

The building of the castle took place in the latter part of the 14th century when in 1385 Sir Edward Dalyngrigge – an influential knight of Sussex – decided to put to use some of the booty he had amassed fighting in France and build the castle on an elevated position overlooking the River Rother – ostensibly to help repel any French who dared to invade (a very real threat – it was only eight years before that Rye had been burned to the ground, see our earlier entry here) – but no doubt also to enhance his own status.

Having obtained royal permission to “crenellate”, Sir Edward, who had obtained the Manor of Bodiam through his wife, set about the construction of the castle which featured rather simple defences including a moat and single perimeter wall studded with four corner round towers and a massive gatehouse (which still contains an original wooden portcullis).

The castle remained in the family until the Wars of the Roses when Sir Thomas Lewknor surrendered the castle to Yorkist forces having himself being attainted for treason by King Richard III for his support of the Lancastrian cause.

But the castle returned to the family after the accession of King Henry VII, eventually passing into the hands of the Earls of Thanet before, in 1644, it was sold to one Nathaniel Powell, a supporter of the Parliamentarian forces in the Civil War, so the then owner – Sir John Tufton, the second earl and a Royalist – could pay fines levied upon him by Parliament.

It is believed that it was after this that the castle was substantially dismantled and by the mid-eighteenth century it was depicted as an ivy-clad ruin.

It then passed through numerous private hands before undergoing some restoration in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was eventually purchased by Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, in 1916. He oversaw extensive restoration work before, on his death in 1925, the property passed into the care of the National Trust. They have since continued the work.

The castle these days is a shell of its former self, but with the outer walls and towers largely intact, is one of the most picturesque in the south of England. And there’s enough of the interior layout remaining to give a good sense of how it once operated as a house and fortress.

 

There’s also a tea-room and gift shop on site and the Trust regularly hold events there including this and next weekend’s hawking events and the upcoming ‘medieval Christmas’.

Bodiam Castle can be a little hard to reach without a car although you can a train to a nearby station and catch a taxi from there. You can also take a steam train from Tenterden to Bodiam but this only runs on limited days (see the Kent and East Sussex Railway website – www.kesr.org.uk – for more).

WHERE: Bodiam Castle, Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex; WHEN: 11am to 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday (times can change, so check before heading out); COST: £7 an adult/£3.50 a child/£18.60 a family (includes gift aid donation); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle/.
PICTURE: Matthew Antrobus/National Trust

Social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was honoured at a service at Westminster Abbey earlier this month when a new memorial stone to her was dedicated. Concerned about the impact of development and industrialisation, Hill, who died 100 years ago this year, founded the National Trust with Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley in 1895. A Londoner, Hill was also an important figure in the housing reform movement. Among those who attended the service were Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the Trust, and the organisation’s director-general, Dame Fiona Reynolds (pictured). The memorial stone, unveiled by Jenkins in the floor of the nave of the abbey, is made of Purbeck marble and was designed and made by Rory Young. For more on the National Trust, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk. For more on Westminster Abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org. PICTURE: National Trust Images.

Daytripper – Avebury…

October 12, 2012

One of Britain’s most significant pre-historic sites, the small village of Avebury in Wiltshire – to the west of London –  sits in the midst of a stunning series of standing stones, the remains of three vast stone circles built around 2,600 BC.

A World Heritage Site, the vast outer circle of stones – which contains two smaller circles of stones and other associated stones – is around 3/4 of a mile in circumference and about 1,115 feet across the middle. It stands inside a three to four metre deep ditch which despite, the millenniums of weathering, still looks impressive to the eye.

It remains a matter of speculation what the purpose of the ditch and the standing stones was, although some have suggested there was a religious purpose in their creation.

The stone circle (pictured) is now managed by the National Trust – see their website for opening times.

Stretching away to the south-east and south-west from the stone circle are two great “avenues” of pairs of stones, known as the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues – perhaps the last of what were originally four avenues. West Kennet is by far the best preserved of the two.

It’s worth having a car for there are several other Neolithic sites nearby including the stunning Silbury Hill (pictured below), located almost directly south of Avebury. At around 37 metres high it is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe (while you can’t access the site of the hill itself, you can get some stunning views from a carpark). Work on the hill is said to have started at about 2,400 BC but its not known conclusively when it was finished.

Further to the south (1.2 miles from Avebury village) is the West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the longest burial mounds in Britain. Dating from about 3,700 BC, remains of 36 people were placed in here soon after it was first built. The barrow is open for inspection. To the east stands The Sanctuary, once site of a double stone circle.

Back to Avebury village – which was originally founded in Anglo-Saxon times (a Romano-British settlement had stood further to the south) – and here, as well as exploring the stone circles, it’s worth taking the time to visit Avebury Manor.

The manor is the former home of Alexander Keiller, who was responsible for much of the excavation work that took place here in the early 20th century as well as the re-erection of many of the stones, and is also said to have once hosted Queen Anne for a meal. Now a National Trust property, it recently starred in the BBC series, The Manor Reborn. Check the National Trust website for opening times – an admission charge applies.

There’s also a museum, the Alexander-Keiller Museum, which was established by the man himself  in 1938 in the manor’s old stable to display some of his finds (it now also includes the threshing barn), and a cafe and National Trust shop.

While it is possible to reach Avebury by public transport, a car can be a good idea to get around to the various sites – particularly if under time constraints.

• If you’re not too exhausted after last weekend’s Diamond Jubilee festivities (or if you’re looking for something a little more sedate), this Saturday and Sunday London plays host to Open Garden Squares Weekend. Among the 208 gardens to be opened this weekend is the communal garden at Number 10 Downing Street, home of Prime Minister David Cameron. Laid out in 1736, the L-shaped garden at 10 Downing Street is shared by residents of both Number 10 and Number 11, including Larry, the Downing Street cat (tickets for this garden have already been allocated via a ballot process). Among the more than 200 gardens open to the public as part of the weekend are 24 new gardens and, for the first time, the event is being supported by the National Trust (along with the usual organisers, the London Parks and Gardens Trust). Downing Street aside, other gardens open to the public include the Regent’s Park Allotment Garden, the Royal College of Physicians’ Medicinal Garden, the Kensington Roof Gardens, and the gardens at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Tickets for the gardens are cheaper if bought online in advance of the weekend and picked up on Saturday or Sunday – it’s not too late to do so, so for tickets and more information, head to www.opensquares.org.

A new pair gates designed to mark St Paul’s Cathedral’s tercentenary were opened in Richmond Park for the first time last week. The gates, which now form part of the historic vista seen from King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park when looking toward’s St Paul’s Cathedral, were designed by 21-year-old blacksmith Joshua De Lisle and funded through a donation from the family of family of the late environmentalist and The Ecologist magazine founder Edward Goldsmith. Called ‘The Way’, the gates stand on the fence of Sidmouth Woods, and depict oak branches. Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St Paul’s, is acknowledged through the inclusion of a wren on one of the lower branches. For more on the Royal Parks, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

• Now On: Winning at the ancient Games. The British Museum is celebrating the London Olympics with a victory trail bringing together 12 “star objects” in its collection, united by the theme of winning. The ‘stops’ on the trail include a classical Greek statue of a winning charioteer on special loan from Sicily, a previously never exhibited mosaic showing Hercules, the legendary founder of the ancient Games, and the 2012 Olympic Medals. The trail is free. For more information, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Now On: Build the TruceDrawing on the idea of truce that was implemented during the ancient Olympic Games to allow athletes from Greece’s warring cities to compete, this new display at the Imperial War Museum features films, interviews and insights collected during a project investigating the concepts of truce, conflict and resolution and their relevance in the 21st  century. Highlights include excerpts of interviews with former IRA prisoner Seanna Walsh and former UDA prisoner Jackie McDonald -both now involved in peace initiatives in Northern Ireland, Courtny Edwards, who worked with a health service in displaced persons’ camps following civil war in Sierra Leone; and Professor Tony Redmond, who led aid teams in Kosovo following NATO attacks in 1999. Family activities are being run in conjunction with the exhibition on selected weekends. Entry is free. Runs until 23rd September. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.