Cantonal-treeIn the hubbub of the West End, it’s easy to walk past the colourful monuments of Swiss Court without realising their significance is. 

Located between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, the area was formerly home of the Swiss Centre, completed in the late 1960s as a showcase and trade centre for Switzerland. The centre was demolished in the late Noughties and replaced by the building now housing the W London Hotel and M&M’s World.

It was named Swiss Court on 15th April, 1991 – the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation – by the then Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr David Avery – and has two monuments commemorating the friendship between Switzerland and the UK.

The first is a “cantonal tree” (pictured) which displays the coats of arms of 26 cantons of Switzerland and was presented as a gift from Switzerland to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in May 1977, “as a token of the friendship that exists between our two countries.”

The second is a glockenspiel featuring 27 bells and 11 moving figures which was originally attached to the front of the Swiss Centre after it was gifted to the City of Westminster by Switzerland and Liechtenstein in 1985.

It was removed when the building was demolished but, following a restoration and update (it’s now wirelessly controlled from Derby), returned to Swiss Court as a freestanding, 10 metre monument in late 2011. It now stands just a couple of metres from the cantonal tree.

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BusesAlmost 50 buses, from a horse-drawn model of the 1820s to the New Routemasters of today, will come to Regent Street on Sunday in celebration of the Year of the Bus. The ‘Regent Street Bus Cavalcade’ – which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and will see the iconic West End street closed to traffic – will also feature a variety of free family events including Lego workshops (there will be a bus shelter and bus stop made entirely out of Lego outside Hamley’s toy shop), children’s theatre performances, a pop-up London Transport canteen and the chance to have a personal message recorded by the voice of London’s buses, Emma Hignett. There will also be an exhibition – Battle Bus – which provides information about the B-type bus (a newly restored version of which will be on display) which was used during World War I to carry soldiers to the frontline as well as ambulances and mobile pigeon lofts while jewellery company Tatty Devine will feature a special range of bus-inspired jewellery and hold jewellery-making workshops on board a London bus. The cavalcade, supported by the Regent Street Association and The Crown Estate, is part of Transport for London’s celebrations marking the Year of the Bus, organised in partnership with the London Transport Museum and the capital’s bus operators. The free event runs from 11.30am to 6pm. For more information, see www.tfl.gov.uk/yearofthebus and www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

A new exhibition of materials showing how people coped at home and on the front during World War I opens at the British Library in King’s Cross today as part of efforts to mark the war’s centenary. Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour features personal objects such as letters, a handkerchief bearing the lyrics of It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary, Christmas cards, school essays about airship raids over London sit and recruitment posters, humorous magazines and even a knitting pattern for balaclavas. Highlights include a letter in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle expresses his concern over his son serving at the front, manuscripts by war poets such as Rupert Brooke as well as Wilfred Owen’s manuscript for Anthem for Doomed Youth, Vaughan Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony and Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen. A specially commissioned video and ‘soundscape’, Writing Home, features personal messages contained on postcards written to and from the front. A range of events accompanies the free exhibition. Runs until 12th October. For more on the exhibition, see www.bl.uk.

Armoured knights on horseback can be seen jousting at Eltham Palace in south London this weekend. The former childhood home of King Henry VIII will host a Grand Medieval Joust which will also include displays of foot combat, the antics of a court jester, medieval music performances and a series of children’s events including a knight’s school. Runs from 10am to 5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/events. Meanwhile, the Battle of Waterloo is being remembered at the Duke of Wellington’s home of Apsley House near Hyde Park Corner. Visitors will come face-to-face with Wellington’s troops and their wives, having the chance to take a look inside a soldier’s knapsack, see the equipment he used and the drills he performed as well as see the Battle of Waterloo recreated in vegetables. The Waterloo Festival – this year marks 200 years since Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba – runs from 11am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley/.

Nominations have reopened for English Heritage’s Blue Plaques scheme in London. In 2012 nominations were temporarily suspended while new funding for the scheme was found and thanks to one individual’s donation and the creation of a new Blue Plaques Club to support the scheme on an ongoing basis, they have now reopened. There are 880 official Blue Plaques on London’s streets – remembering everyone from Florence Nightingale to Fred Perry and Charles Darwin. For more and details on nominations, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

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

Lego-Tube-map

Six-year-old James Apps gets a close-up look at a map of the Tube as it will look in 2020, one of five LEGO Tube maps currently on display in London. The maps depict the evolution of the Tube network from 1927 through what it will look like in 2020, including Crossrail, and the proposed Northern Line extension and proposed Croxley Rail Link. The maps – each of which contains more than 1,000 bricks and took professional LEGO builder Duncan Titmarsh four days to build – can be found in the ticket halls of the following stations – South Kensington (1927), Piccadilly Circus (1933), Green Park (1968), Stratford (2013) and King’s Cross (2020). Visit the Transport for London website for more on the Underground’s 150th anniversary here (the website includes downloadable instructions for building your own Underground roundel out of LEGO bricks). PICTURE: Transport for London.

Tweed-RunThe Tweed Run London celebrated its fifth anniversary last Saturday with more than 500 taking part in the rather unusual annual event in which participants combine their passion for British fashion with their love for cycling. Among those taking part (entry was via a lottery system) on bikes of all shapes and sizes were people from as far afield as The Netherlands, Korea, Russia, Australia, Japan and even Afghanistan. The two hour ride took in Marylebone High Street, Savile Row, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and the Houses of Parliament before finishing at Trafalgar Square. The ride has been copied by other cities around the world including, Tokyo, Toronto and St Petersburg. For more on the Tweed Run, see www.tweedrun.comPICTURE: Selim Korycki, Tweed Run LLP.

Simon Murphy is a curator at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden – the museum is currently celebrating the 150th birthday of the Underground with a series of events including a landmark exhibition on the art of the Tube (Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs)…

Underground-2How significant was the construction of the London Underground in world terms? And how does it stack up 150 years later? “The Metropolitan Railway was a true world class pioneer, but like all pioneers it made mistakes that subsequent operators learned from. Similarly the first tube railways tested the ground for others to follow. But these pioneering lines are still part of today’s world class Tube network, and some of the original stations, like King’s Cross, are still amongst the busiest, so they must have been on the right track.”

I understand the initial stretch of line ran between Farringdon and Paddington. How quickly were other sections opened? “The Metropolitan Railway’s first extension was authorised by Parliament in 1861, two years before the original line even opened. The railway made a profit in its first year, so financial backing was relatively easy to find, and the extension east to Moorgate opened in 1865, with a westward extension to South Kensington following in 1868. The Met’s main competitor, the Metropolitan District Railway, opened its first section from South Ken to Westminster in 1868. The plan was for the two companies to work together to create an Inner Circle service, but their respective directors fell out and the Circle was not completed until 1884.”

How many miles of line is the Underground composed of today? “The first underground started with less than four miles of track and seven stations; today’s system has 250 miles of track, serving 270 stations.”

When were steam trains on the Underground replaced? “Steam trains worked in central London until 1905, but were still used on the furthest reaches of the Met until 1961.”

When did the Underground take on the name ‘Tube’? “The Central London Railway opened with a flat fare of 2d in 1900, and was promoted as the Twopenny Tube – the name caught on, although the Underground has only been referring to itself officially as the Tube since the 1990s.”

Underground1It’s fairly widely known that Underground stations and tunnels were used as air raid shelters during World War II. Do you know of any other different uses they have been put to? “The station at South Kentish Town on the Northern Line closed in 1924, but the surface building, still looking very much like a station is now occupied by a branch of Cash Converters. During the war unfinished tunnels on the Central line were occupied by a secret factory run by Plessey Components. Also during the war, paintings from the Tate Gallery were stored in  a disused part of Piccadilly Circus station for safe keeping.”

Stylish design has always been an important part of the Underground’s appeal. What’s your favourite era stylistically when it comes to the Underground and why? “Most people admire the golden age of the 1920s and 30s when the Underground’s corporate identity and personality reached its peak with Charles Holden’s architecture, the roundel, Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map and the amazing posters issued in that era, but personally I find the earlier period from 1908 to 1920 more interesting. You can trace the roots of each element of today’s brand being developed at this time, under Frank Pick’s critical eye, starting with the early solid-disc station name roundels, the joint promotion of the individual tube railways under the UndergrounD brand and the introduction of Edward Johnston’s typeface. You can see the company gaining confidence and momentum, especially in relation to the increasingly sophisticated posters and promotion that Pick commissioned.”

Can you tell us a bit about how the London Transport Museum is marking the 150th anniversary? “
We started the year by bringing steam back to the Circle line, after restoring an original Metropolitan Railway carriage and overhauling an original Met steam locomotive, and have just opened our fabulous overview of the 150 best Underground posters at the museum in Covent Garden, which runs until October. We are opening our Depot store, near Acton Town station in April for a steam weekend, and have a range of lectures and evening events at Covent Garden linking to the history of the Underground and its poster art heritage. There’s also our comprehensive new history of the Tube published last year and a wide range of new products and souvenirs in our amazing shop.”

Underground3What are some of your favourite Underground-related objects on display at the museum? “The Design for Travel gallery on the ground floor is the literal and metaphorical heart of the Museum for me. Packed with close to 300 objects including signs, posters, models, leaflets and other documents, it’s hard to single out individual items, but I love the simplicity of the small ‘Platform 2’ hanging sign (pictured right) – it’s a real example of the design consistency and attention to detail that I associate with the Underground.”

And lastly, can you tell us a couple of little-known facts about the Underground? History is more than a chronological list of facts, and what one person finds fascinating sends another to sleep, so it’s quite a challenge to choose something that is little known, but genuinely interesting, but I’ll try: I grew up near Brent Cross station so I might be biased, but I reckon that if there was a top trumps for Underground lines, the Northern line would win. It has the longest escalators (at Euston), the deepest lift shaft (at Hampstead), the highest point ve sea level (on a viaduct near Mill Hill East), the longest tunnels (between East Finchley and Morden – 17 miles) and has had more names than any other line – it only became the Northern line in 1937.”

IMAGES: Top: Steam engine at Aldgate (1902); Middle: Platform 2 sign, 1930s design; and Bottom, Angel Underground Station (1990s). © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. 

Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs runs at the London Transport Museum until October. Admission charge applies. For more (including the many events around the exhibition), see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/events-calendar#posterart150.

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

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

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

• It’s all about the Olympics in London this week and many of the events – like the Opening Ceremony and Torch Relay (see last week’s post) – are well covered elsewhere, but we thought we’d mention a couple of things in relation to the Games: 

The first is the ‘All the Bells’ project which will see bells across London being rung at 8:12am on Friday to “ring in” the first day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, is the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and will involve thousands of bells across the nation. Speaking of bells, the City of London has announced that some of the City’s churches will be ringing continuously during the three Olympic marathon events – the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic events. As many as 57 of the country’s most experienced bell ringers, co-ordinated by the Ancient Society of College Youths (a ringing society created in London in 1637) will be working for three to four hours continuously at churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary le Bow, St Lawrence Jewry, St Magnus the Martyr, St Vedast and St Katharine Cree. During the women’s marathon, an all-female band will be attempting a peal at St Paul’s, the first all-woman attempt on the bells. (Apologies, this article had originally had the time for the bell ringing at 8.12pm – it is in the morning, not the evening!)

A new exhibition exploring London’s Olympic history has opened at the British Library. Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games features a range of memorabilia including a swimming costume and the finishing tape broken by – later disqualified – marathon runner Dorando Pietri  from the 1908 London Games (see our earlier post for more on him) as well as posters and artworks, stamps, letters and postcards. The exhibition also features audio interviews with Olympians including William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. Presented by the British Library and International Olympic Committee, the exhibition runs until 9th September at the library in St Pancras. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Rare 1948 postcard by an unknown artist (c) Private collection/IOC

• A new free wifi network has been launched in London’s West End. Westminster City Council and telco O2 launched the network this week. It will initially cover Oxford and Regent Streets, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square with further areas in Westminster and Covent Garden the next to be included in the network. A once-only registration process is required to join.

• Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, The Arch, has been returned to its original home in Kensington Gardens. The six metre high work was presented to the nation by Moore in 1980 and was positioned on the north bank of the Long Water until 1996 when the structure became unstable and was placed in storage. In late 2010, the Royal Parks began a project with The Henry Moore Foundation to see if the work could be returned to the gardens. Work began to restore the piece – which consists of seven stones weighing 37 tonnes – to its original location earlier this year. For more on Kensington Gardens, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.

• On Now: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. This Royal Academy of Arts exhibition at Burlington House features 70 works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and includes works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Renoir as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, and ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. Runs until 23rd September. Admission charge applies. See www.royalacademy.org.uk for more.

A new statue of former US President Ronald Reagan was unveiled in Grosvenor Square near the US embassy on Monday, 4th July. The 10 foot tall bronze statue of the president, who died in 2004, was unveiled at a private ceremony by the Foreign Secretary William Hague – former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were also among the more than 2,000 people who attended along with current US ambassador Louis Susman (a frail Margaret Thatcher was reportedly too frail to attend). Commissioned by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the statue is the work of sculptor Chas Fagan. Its unveiling is one of a series of events marking the centenary of the birth of the former actor turned politician.

Pall Mall and St James Street in the West End were opened to two-way traffic this week for the first time in 50 years. The changeover came into effect last Sunday morning. The roads were made one-way in 1963 under a scheme to deal with increasing traffic in the area. But it has been reopened in the first stage of a £14 million overhaul of traffic around Piccadilly Circus – home to world-famous neon billboards and the Eros Statue. The area is visited by 200,000 every day.

Time to get your togs on. Scores of swimmers will be taking the plunge at the Hampstead Heath Lido tomorrow and Saturday to raise funds for the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, Bear Necessities. A 4,000 metre swim, the City Dip, will be swum by teams and individuals with every swimmer receiving a commemorative certificate and medal. The current Lord Mayor of London is Michael Bear. To sign up or for more information, see  www.lordmayorsappeal.org.uk/dip

On Now: Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century – Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, MunkácsiThis new exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts at Burlington House in Piccadilly, organised to mark the Hungarian Presidency of the EU, is dedicated to the birth of modern photography and features the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi. It comprises more than 200 photographs, dating from 1914 to 1989, which usually form part of the collection of the Hungarian National Museum of Photography as well as the National Museum in Budapest and other public and private collections in both Hungary and the UK. Runs until 2nd October. For more information, see www.royalacademy.org.ukPICTURE: Laszlo Fejes, Wedding, Budapest, 1965, Copyright Hungarian Museum of Photography.

On Now: Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture. London’s first ever celebration of contemporary culture from across the Arab world will feature more than 100 artists involved in 70 events at some 30 venues over the weeks until 24th July. The program includes visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture, lectures and discussions with many events boasting free admission. Highlights include A Girl in her Room, an exhibition of photo works by highly acclaimed Lebanese/American artist, Rania Matar, at the Mosaic Rooms, one of London’s leading centres for Arab contemporary arts (runs until 23rd July), Shopopolis, a series of collaborations with shoppers at Westfield Shopping Centre (runs until 24th July) and this weekend’s Interference, a series of free films, talks and workshops at the ICA curated by Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. For full details of all events, see www.london.gov.uk/shubbak.

Situated in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, the Eros statue has become an icon of London. Yet few of those who cluster around this iconic figurine realise that the aluminium statue (a rarity in itself) is actually a memorial, not to mention that it wasn’t intended to represent Eros at all.

The monument – which also features a bronze fountain below – was erected in the late nineteenth century to commemorate Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and a well-regarded Christian reformer and philanthropist of the Victorian era, and is formerly known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain.

Designed by Alfred Gilbert and unveiled in 1893, the winged figure holding a bow was apparently actually intended to represent Eros’ brother, Anteros – a Greek god associated with selfless love as opposed to his brother Eros, who is associated with erotic love – and, according to some, bore the name The Angel of Christian Charity, which makes sense given the man whom it is intended to commemorate.

While the statue attracted controversy when it was first unveiled thanks not least to its nudity, it has stood in Piccadilly Circus ever since (or at least mostly ever since – there have been a couple of brief periods such as when it was moved while Piccadilly Underground station was built and during World War II when it was moved for safe-keeping). It was restored in the 1980s.

A copy of the fountain and statue by Gilbert was later placed in Liverpool’s Sefton Park.

One of the principal thoroughfare’s of London’s West End – and lending its name to that most famous of intersections, Piccadilly Circus, the name Piccadilly derives from the stiff ruffs known as ‘piccadils’ which were widely worn by the fashionable during the 17th century.

The street was known as Portugal Street until the 17th century. While there are several different stories explaining the name, the most widely accepted story is that the name’s origins go back to a tailor by the name of Robert Baker.

He’d made a fortune from making and selling piccadils and used that money to purchase a large tract of land in the area, then largely countryside, and 1611-12 built a mansion there which became known, probably derisively, as Piccadilly Hall in reference to his trade.

When the area came to be developing in the years after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the name stuck.

Famous sights along Piccadilly include grocer Fortnum & Mason, founded in 1707 by one of Queen Anne’s footmen (pictured above), the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Ritz Hotel, which opened in 1906 and indicated a new level in luxurious hotels, the Wren-designed St James’ Church, and the entry to the 19th century Burlington Arcade.

What’s in a name? – Soho

September 6, 2010

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

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

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

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

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