ZSL London Zoo opened the gates to its new Zoorassic Park last weekend enabling families to step back in time to the Mesozoic era and experience life with the dinosaurs. Featuring life-size, moving dinosaurs ranging from a tyrannosaurus rex (above) to a triceratops (below), the exhibit, will provide insight into the lives of the extinct giants as well as the important work conservationists are doing now to help save today’s animals from the same fate Included in the price of entry into the zoo, the exhibit is only open until 3rd September. For more, see www.zsl.org. PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.

ice-skating-in-the-tower-moatLondon’s obsession with ice-skating is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Museum of London earlier this month. Skating on Ice looks at the history of the popular pastime, from the 12th century – when locals are described strapping animals bones to their feet to skate on ice at Moorfields – across the centuries (and the developments that went with them) to today. Among the artefacts on show is an 1839 oil painting by J Baber depicting skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, sketches from the London Illustrated News showing a rescue operation to recover the 40 of some 40 skaters who plunged beneath the ice in Regent’s Park on 15th January, 1867, a navy blue gabardine skirt suit from Fortnum & Mason dating from the 1930s and a series of skates, ranging from some made of animal bones through to a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners and a pair of ice skates used from the late 1930s by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena. Runs until 8th February. Entry is free. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk for more. (Pictured – ice-skating in the Tower of London moat).

• Christmas is looming and so, if you haven’t been out and about already, here’s five Christmas trees worth seeing over the coming few days (excluding the obvious one in Trafalgar Square):

  • Covent Garden. Always a glittering treat (this year complete with virtual prizes!).
  • St Pancras International. A rather odd design this year, this 100 foot tall tree is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil show Amaluna and lights up every time a donation is made to Oxfam.
  • Granary Square, Kings Cross. Looking like a Christmas tree frozen inside an ice-cube, this seven metre high installation – Fighting fire with ice cream – by British artist Alex Chinneck features some 1,200 lights.
  • Tate Britain, Millbank. An upside down tree, designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary.
  • Connaught Hotel, Mount Street, Mayfair. Designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley, this 57 foot tall tree features a trunk transformed into a pillar of light.

Prince Charles last week unveiled the foundation stone for a tower that will take visitors to Westminster Abbey into the institution’s new museum and galleries. The tower is being built outside Poet’s Corner – between the 13th century Chapter House and 16th-century Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – and will be the principal entrance to the medieval triforium, which has never before been opened to the public and which house the proposed The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. The tower and galleries, costing almost £23 million, will be the most significant addition to the abbey since Nicholas Hawksmoor’s west towers were completed in 1745. The galleries, which will be located 70 feet above the abbey’s floor, are due to open in summer 2018, and will display treasures from the abbey’s history as well as offering magnificent views of Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster. To help meet the cost of the new galleries, the abbey has launched a #makehistory campaign asking for public donations to the project. For more, see www.westminster-abbey-galleries.org/Content/Filler.

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

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We reintroduce an old favourite this month with our first ‘Where’s London’s oldest’ in a few years. And to kick it off, we’re looking at one of London’s oldest public clocks.

Hanging off the facade of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street is a clock which is believed to have been the first public clock to be erected in London which bears a minute hand.

The work of clockmaker Thomas Harris, the clock was first installed on the medieval church in 1671 – it has been suggested it was commissioned to celebrate the church’s survival during the Great Fire of London and was installed to replace an earlier clock which had been scorched in the fire. Its design was apparently inspired by a clock which had once been on Old St Paul’s Cathedral and was destroyed in the fire.

Like the clock it replaced, this clock sat in brackets and projected out into Fleet Street which meant it was able to be seen from a fair distance away (and being double-sided meant the black dials could be seen from both the east and the west). Like the Roman numerals that decorate it, the two hands, including the famous minute hand, are gold.

To the rear and above the clock dials are located the bells and striking mechanism. The bells are struck on the hours and the quarters by ‘automata’ – Herculean figures, perhaps representing Gog and Magog (although to most they were traditionally simply known as the ‘Giants of St Dunstan’s’), who do so using clubs and turn their heads.

Such was the attention these figures attracted that when the clock was first installed the area became notorious for pick-pockets who apparently went to work on unsuspecting passersby who had stopped to watch the giants at work.

This church was demolished in the early 1800s to allow the widening of Fleet Street and when it was rebuilt in 1830, the clock was absent. Having decided it couldn’t be accommodated in the new design, it had been auctioned off with the art collector, Francis Seymour-Conway, the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, the successful bidder.

He had it installed on his Decimus Burton-designed villa in Regent’s Park and there it remained until 1935 when Lord Rothermere, who had bought the villa in 1930, returned it to the church to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

There are numerous literary references to the clock including in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield and a William Cowper poem.

Cricket-game

A quintessentially English summer pastime in London’s inner north.

PICTURE: David Adams

OK, we’ve reached the last in our series of London film locations so this week we’re taking a quick look at three more…

Millennium-FootbridgeThe Millennium Bridge. Initially nicknamed the “wobbly bridge” due to its propensity to move underfoot, this footbridge over the River Thames first opened in June, 2000, for only couple of days before it was closed for almost two years so its movement could be fixed and eventually reopened again in 2002. But despite its young age, the bridge has appeared not just in a Harry Potter film – 2009’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – where it gets destroyed but also in the break-out 2014 Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy in which it plays the role of a bridge in the city of Xandar (embedded in the rest if the CGI-created city). Among other London locations featured in that film is the modern Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street (again, it makes part of Xandar).

The Regent’s Park. The 2010 film The King’s Speech features numerous London locations – among them is the Avenue Garden in the south-east corner of the park where speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) takes a stroll with Bertie, the future King George VI (played by Colin Firth), which turns a little uncomfortable. Other locations include 33 Portland Place (which plays the role of the Duke and Duchess’ Piccadilly home as well as that of the interior of Logue’s consulting rooms in the famous Harley Street), and the Draper’s Hall in the City, the interior of which plays the role of St James’s Palace.

The Temple Church. This famous – and beautiful – City of London church made its starring performance in the Tom Hanks movie of 2006, The Da Vinci Code. The church enters the movie when symbology professor Robert Langton (played by Hanks) and cryptologist Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou) come here in search for a knight’s tomb. Other London locations featured in the film (alongside those in France and Scotland), include Westminster Abbey (although the interiors were actually shot at Lincoln Cathedral). For more on the history of the church, see our earlier post here or on the tomb effigies, see our post here.

Our next special series kicks of next Wednesday.

gorillas2

Female infant gorilla Alika, who celebrated her first birthday at ZSL London Zoo in Regent’s Park last week, is pictured getting to know her two week old baby brother, Gernot. Named after the partner of a generous donor who has supported the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) international work for wildlife, Gernot (below, top) was born to 22-year-old female Effie and 17-year-old silverback Kumbuka on 25th November, both Western lowland gorillas, and can most often be found tightly snuggled in Effie’s arms (below, bottom). Gorilla keeper Glynn Hennessy said while Gernot had become the “centre of attention” at the zoo’s Gorilla Kingdom, “one-year-old Alika has embraced her new role of the doting big sister”. “Western lowland gorillas live in troops and learn how to act from observing each other’s behaviours and manners and here we can see Alika demonstrating some of the nurturing skills she’s learned from the adults.” This has included touching his head and stroking his face as  he sleeps in his mother’s arms. For more, see www.zsl.org. PICTURES: ZSL London Zoo.

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Regent's-Park

Flowers in Regent’s Park, north London. The park, which was designed by John Nash, was opened to the public in 1835. For more on the history of the park, see our earlier post here.

Designed by architect Decimus Burton (he of the Kew Palm House fame), the London Colosseum was a vast, 16-sided domed structure erected in the 1820s to the east of Regent’s Park to house a panoramic view of the city.

ColosseumSaid to be the largest ever painting created at the time, Thomas Hornor – a land surveyor – oversaw the creation of the work which was based on drawings he had made from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral (he had apparently sat in a special, temporary hut or “crow’s nest” positioned where the cross and ball would normally sit – but it was in the process of being replaced). Several artists – led by the renowned ET Parris – were involved in creating the work which took four years to make before it was completed in 1829.

The building – located where Cambridge Gate now stands – had been modelled on the Pantheon in Rome (not the Colosseum as the name would suggest) and was constructed from brick rendered with cement to imitate the appearance of stone. It featured a portico with Doric columns at the front and had inside an “ascending room” or lift to take people to see the panorama.

It’s opening was apparently delayed after Horner and his chief backer, MP Rowland Stevenson, took off to the US after running up rather large debts, leaving the property in the hands of trustees.

The Colosseum changed hands several times over the years and its purpose evolved. At one stage it was reinvented as a museum of sculpture displaying some 180 works while other attractions added to the great rotunda and its surrounding gardens over the years included a “Gothic aviary”, a Swiss chalet from which a visitor could look at a real waterfall and a stalactite cavern as well as a theatre and various other panoramas depicting everywhere from Paris to Lisbon.

Among visitors to the attraction were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The Colosseum was put up for auction in 1855 but failed to attract a bid of the size required and, having passed through several hands (with some of the owners at one stage flirting with the idea of turning it into a grand hotel), it was eventually was demolished in the 1870s.

PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Deckchair-dreams

Summer is fading fast but until the end of October, there’s still time to sit back and relax in one of the 550 “designer deckchairs” which have been placed in five central Royal Parks this summer. Designed by the likes of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, comedian Harry Enfield and actor Miranda Richardson and artists Michael Craig-Martin, Susan Stockwell and Maggi Hambling under the theme of ‘Nature’s Grand Designs’, the deckchairs can be found in Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’s Park, Kensington Gardens and the Regent’s Park. The chairs join the more than 6,700 deckchairs already in the five Royal Parks which are available for hire (they can also be bought at the Royal Park’s online shop). For more on hiring a deck chair in the Royal Parks, check out http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/facilities-in-hyde-park/park-deck-chairs.

LoveA free outdoor exhibition of nine artworks by world famous artists can be seen in the City of London from today. Works featured in this year’s Sculpture in the City exhibition – the third year the event has run – include Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture (found at 99 Bishopsgate), Shirazeh Houshiary’s five spiralling stainless steel ribbons String Quintet (St Helen’s Square), and three giant steel dinosaurs, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, made by the Jake & Dinos Chapman (30 St Mary Axe). Other artists whose work is featured include Antony Gormley, Keith Coventry, Richard Wentworth, Jim Lambie and Ryan Gander. The works will be on display in the Square Mile for the next 12 months. For more – including the locations of all nine installations – see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/sculptureinthecity. PICTURE: Robert Indiana ‘LOVE’ (1966)  ∏ Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Right Socienty (ARS), New York – DACS, London. Photograph – A et cetera

The 10th Taste of London festival – London’s biggest outdoor food festival – kicks off in Regent’s Park today and runs over the weekend. This year sees amateur BBQ enthusiasts going head-to-head in a “battle of the BBQs” on Saturday while professionals will hit the grills on Sunday with the winners crowned champions of the Weber BBQ Challenge. Meantime, visitors can experience the food of 40 of the city’s top restaurants, shop at 200 food and drink stalls, enjoy fine wine tasting and watch demonstrations by some of the world’s top chefs including three generations of the Roux dynasty – Albert Roux, Michel Roux Jr and Emily Roux – as well as Rene Redzepi, Raymond Blanc, Ben Tish, Pascal Aussignac and Bruno Loubet. For more, see www.tastefestivals.com/london.

The first ever Paddington Festival – an 11 week showcase of art and culture supported by the City of Westminster – kicks off this weekend. Events include a “puppet theatre barge” at Little Venice and a launch event featuring an appearance by Chucky Venn (Eastenders) and steelpan and performances from local dance group, The Phoenix Dancers, at the Maida Hill Market. For more on the festival and for the full programme, see www.paddingtonfestival.co.uk. Other festivals kicking off this weekend include Shubbak 2013 – an international festival of Arab culture (www.shubbak.co.uk).

On Now: Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the 20s. Opening today, this exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House features the gallery’s collection of works by the Post-Impressionist master Paul Gauguin. The most important collection of Gauguin’s works in the UK, it was assembled by Samuel Courtauld between 1923 and 1929 and includes major paintings and works on paper by  along with one of only two marble sculptures the artist ever created. The exhibition, the gallery’s “summer showcase”, also features two important works formerly in the Courtauld’s collection and now on loan – Martinique Landscape and Bathers at Tahiti. Runs until 8th September. Admission charges apply. Meanwhile, The Courtauld Institute of Art’s MA Curating the Art Museum programme is also launching its annual exhibition, Imagining Islands: Artists and Escape, in response to the gallery’s summer showcase. A “trans-historical” exhibition displayed in two rooms, it explores artists’ fascination with other worlds and the search for utopia. Works include a 1799 engraving of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in Paradise, Barbara Hepworth’s 1957 work Icon and John Everett Millais’ 1862 painting, The Parting of Ulysses. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.

Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.

John-NashBut he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.

Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.

Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.

Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).

He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.

Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).

In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.

In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.

Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).

Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).

Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.

Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.

He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.

For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.

• A new exhibition exploring the relationship between author Charles Dickens, the Foundling Hospital and its secretary and former foundling, John Brownlow, opened at the Foundling Museum today. Received, a Blank Child: Dickens, Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital looks at how Dickens supported the institution in various ways including helping a young mother petition for a place for her child and publicising the work of the hospital through his writing – in particular the 1853 article Received, A Blank Child (the phrase comes from the wording used on the hospital’s entry forms). Among the items on display are never before displayed letters from Dickens relating to the hospital. The exhibition, which runs until 16th December, is free with the museum admission. And if you haven’t yet had a chance to see it, there’s still time to catch Dickens and the Foundling, in which six contributors including actor Gillian Anderson and journalist Jon Snow, have chosen objects to be displayed. This ends on 28th October. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition have gone on display at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (which runs the competition in conjunction with Sky at Night Magazine). Among the winning images were The Whirlpool Galaxy taken by Martin Pugh of the UK/Australia, Star Icefall by Masahiro Miyasaka of Japan, and Venus-Jupiter Close Conjunction, by Laurent Laveder of France. The exhibition is free of charge and runs until February next year. For more (including an online gallery), see www.rmg.co.uk/visit/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/2012-winners/.

It’s Harvest Festival time at London’s Royal Parks and this Sunday, between 11am and 4pm, people are invited to attend the Kensington Gardens’ allotment to see the fruits of the gardeners’ labour including the “big dig” of the potato crop as well as seasonal vegetables. There’s also the chance for families to see the allotment chickens being fed and children’s activities run by Ginger Cat. This week’s event follows one last weekend at Regent’s Park. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

• On Now: Ritual and revelry: the art of drinking in Asia. This new free exhibition in room 91 of the British Museum features a display of objects which have been used in the consumption of liquids in various Asian contexts and the manner in which their use is intertwined with ritual, religious and otherwise. Among the vessels on display is a Tibetan skull-cap known as a kapala which is made from a human skull and used in religious rituals as well as a silver tea set from western India which features handles shaped like bamboo stems and a lacquered wooden sake bottle which was used as an altar piece. Runs until 6th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

While England and Australia played their first test match as far back as 1877 (at the Melbourne Cricket Ground), the origins of The Ashes go back to a game played at The Oval (now officially known as The KIA Oval) in Kennington in 1882.

Playing their only test of that tour, the Australians only made 63 runs in their first innings, giving England a 38 run lead with a total of 101. Australia followed this up with 122 leaving England just 85 runs to win. They were stopped just eight runs short of victory.

The English team were berated in the press for the loss and on 2nd September that year, a mock obituary for English cricket appeared in The Sporting Times stating that, having died at The Oval on 29th August, 1882, it will be “deeply lamented”. There was a note at the bottom of the obituary (picture right) which said that the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. And so the name, the Ashes, was born.

English captain Ivo Bligh subsequently promised that he would regain the ashes during the 1882-83 English cricket team’s tour of Australia while the Australian captain WL Murdoch vowed to defend them. It was during a social match played at Rupertswood Estate outside the city of Melbourne that Bligh was presented with the tiny terracotta ashes urn (today on display at the MCC Museum at Lord’s – see our earlier post for more).

The history of The Oval goes back to the mid-1840s when, following the establishment of the Surrey Cricket Club, it was granted a lease for the land from the Duchy of Cornwall (who still own it). The Ashes aside, memorable moments there have included the playing of the first match in the Australian Aboriginal team’s tour of England in 1868 (the first tour of England by a foreign side) and the first England v Australia test match to be played in England (1880). The Oval was also the location for the first international football match, played between England and Scotland in 1870, and the first FA Cup Final, played here in 1872.

Interestingly, The Oval also held a particular attraction for the US billionaire philanthropist,  J Paul Getty II, who built a replica of the ground at his estate at Wormsley Lodge in England’s south.

The history of Lord’s, London’s most famous cricket ground, meanwhile, goes back somewhat further. The current ground is the third to bear the name of Lord’s – the first was created on what is now Dorset Square in Marylebone at the behest of entrepreneur Thomas Lord (from whom it derives its name) and the first match staged there in 1787, the date on which the Marylebone Cricket Club was formed. Between 1811 and 1813, the ground was relocated to Marylebone Bank in Regent’s Park before moving to its current home in St John’s Wood (then the site of a duck pond).

Both grounds continue to host a range of cricketing and other events, such as the current Olympic archery competition being held at Lord’s.

WHERE: The Oval, Kennington Oval, Kennington (nearest Tube stations are Oval, Vauxhall and Kennington); WHEN: 90 minute tours of the ground are available (check website for booking details); COST: Tours cost £10 an adult/£5 under 16s/£25 a family ticket; WEBSITE: www.kiaoval.com.

WHERE: Lord’s Cricket Ground, St John’s Wood Road, St John’s Wood (nearest Tube Stations are Warwick Avenue, St John’s Wood, Marylebone and Maida Vale); WHEN: 100 minute tours of the ground (which include a visit to the MCC Museum) are available daily (check website for times – note that there are no tours during the Olympics, these resume on 21st August); COST: Tours cost £15 an adult/£9 concessions/£40 a family ticket; WEBSITE: www.lords.org.

PICTURE: Wikipedia

Ham House near Richmond in London’s south west is making a star appearance in the new Disney movie, John Carter. The 17th century mansion, located on the Thames, is doubling as a New York mansion on the Hudson River and the cast and crew spent six weeks filming there in January last year. The film is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 sci-fi comic-book John Carter of Mars, about a civil war veteran who is magically transported to a turbulent new life on the red planet. For more on Ham House, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house/. PICTURE: ©2011 Disney.

• North London born poet John Hegley has been appointed poet-in-residence at Keats House in Hampstead for this summer. Hegley, whose poetry collections include Glad to Wear Glasses, The Sound of Paint Drying and My Dog is a Carrot, will host workshops and readings during his residency which takes place from 1st May to 31st October. He will also host the launch and closing event of the Keats House Festival, held at the house between 1st and 10th June, and present a series of meetings, entitled Sunday Tea with John (Keats), on the last Sunday of each month. These will include music and a 20 minute lecture about a particular aspect of Keats’ life. For more, see www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

• Writers Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bowen have been commemorated with English Heritage blue plaques. Caribbean-born Rhys (1890-1979) lived at Paultons House, Paultons Square, in Chelsea in the 1930s and it was while here that she developed her career as a novelist and penned Good Morning, Midnight (1939), now considered one of her finest works. Meanwhile the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) lived at 2 Clarence Terrace, Regents Park, for 17 years and during her time there wrote her two most celebrated works, The Death of the Heart (1938) and The Heat of the Day (1949). Last month blue plaques were unveiled commemorating the home of singer Elisabeth Welch (1904-2003) – described by her biographer as “Britain’s first black star” – at Ovington Court in Kensington and that of florist to royalty Constance Spry (1886 – 1960) on the site of her Mayfair shop at 64 South Audley Street. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Now on: Mapping the London Blitz. This exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell centres on a series of bomb damage maps made during the dark days of World War II. Created by the London County Council, the 110 large maps used a color code to indicate the extent of damage in individual buildings and covered 117 square miles. Now in its last days – exhibition closes on 29th March. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

Queen Elizabeth II this week unveiled the final plaque marking the end of the 37 mile/60 kilometre Jubilee Greenway in front of Buckingham Palace. The circular Greenway – marked by 542 glass plaques – has been created to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It can be walked or cycled and takes in key sites around London, including Kensington Palace, Regent’s Park, the Thames Barrier and Olympic sites including Greenwich Park (equestrian events), the O2 Arena (hosting gymnastics, trampoline and basketball events) as well as the main stadium at Olympic Park. The Greenway is divided into 10 sections and you can download either the entire walk or brochures for one of the sections only here.

This weekend sees the Barbican Centre play host to the event known as ‘Barbican Weekender’ – two days of free art, dance, music, theatre and film at the Barbican Foyers. Part of London 2012 Festival, the event’s ‘Freestage’ programme features Roxxxan,Dizralie and the Small Gods, young drummers from East London and performance poetry by the Barbican Young Poets. There’s also street dance classes with Boy Blue Entertainment, the chance to make an Opera in a Day with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, a Digital Graffiti wall, street food stalls, the Wah Nails Pop-Up boutique and free running by Streets United. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/weekender.

• On Now – Measuring the Universefrom the Transit of Venus to the edge of the cosmos. Marking the 2012 transit of Venus, this exhibition at the Greenwich Observatory follows the story of man’s ongoing quest to understand the vastness of space, looking at the people and technologies involved in seeing farther than ever before – from the Astronomer Royal, Edmond Halley, to Captain James Cook and Edwin Hubble and through to the possibilities offered by the Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer. It’s accompanied by a series of talks, observing events – including this month’s Daytime Sky Watch sessions – and a planetarium show. Runs until 2nd September. Admission is free. For more information, see www.rmg.co.uk.

A new exhibition has opened at the Tower of London celebrating the Royal Menagerie which was located there for more than 600 years.

Over the years featuring everything from lions and leopards to elephants, camels, kangaroos and crocodiles, the menagerie was founded at the Tower of London during the reign of King John (1199-1216), although as far back as the reign of King Henry I (1100-1135) animals were being presented to the king as gifts. Some notable early animals included a ‘white bear’ believed to be a polar bear from Norway and an African elephant, a gift of King Louis IX of France, both of which were presented to King Henry III.

While the early location of the menagerie – which had a long history of attracting curious sightseers – remains unknown, during the rein of King Edward III (1327-1377) there is reference to it being in a position near the Middle Tower (now the main entrance to the Tower) which suggests it was then already located in what became known as the Lion Tower – a now ruined barbican built by King Edward I in 1276-77.

Animal accommodations in the Lion Tower were substantially upgraded during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) – James was noted to have enjoyed watching the lions fight other animals in the tower’s exercise yard). Further upgrades were made under the watchful eye of Sir Christopher Wren, then Surveyor of the King’s Works, between 1672 and 1675.

The office of the menagerie’s ‘keeper’, meanwhile, had been  formalised in the 1400s with the title awarded for life – it was subsequently held by some important officials.

While in 1687 some of the beasts and birds were transferred to new accommodations at St James’s Park, the menagerie remained at the Tower until 1830 when, following the death of King George IV, the decision to move the animals – then said to number 150 – to the recently founded Zoological Society of London’s zoo at Regent’s Park. Initially only some animals were sold to the zoo but by the end of 1835 the menagerie had been completely emptied with many of the remaining animals apparently sold to an American ‘showman’ Benjamin Franklin Brown who exported them to the US.

The new exhibition, Royal Beasts, is housed in the newly opened Brick Tower (entry via the Martin Tower, itself entered via the wall walk), and gives visitors views from a hitherto closed-off part of the north wall. There are also a series of life-size sculptures of various animals (see the three lions pictured), created by artist Kendra Haste, located around the tower. And, to gain a feel for how the menagerie was viewed during different eras, you can watch the short live action show featuring some of the “rarees” and “curiosities” which were housed within the tower (check with staff for times).

For more on the menagerie’s history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s guide, ‘The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London’, available for sale at the Tower (£3.99).

WHERE: ‘Royal Beasts’, Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 31st October); COST: Included in Tower of London admission – £19.80 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £17.05 concessions; £55 for a family (prices include a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

Opened in 1820 as a link between the Grand Junction Canal and the London docks in the east, Regent’s Canal remains a terrific way to see another, oft forgotten (at least in visitor terms), part of the city.

Once at the heart of London’s goods transportation system, the canal is now a recreational and residential precinct. There’s a terrific tow path which runs between Camden Lock, home of great markets including terrific food, and the pool of Little Venice in Paddington – taking in Regent’s Park, canal-side mansions, and the London Zoo along the way.

If you don’t want to walk, you can take a boat trip (among those offering trips between Little Venice and Camden Lock are the London Waterbus Company and Jason’s Trip; for kayaking, see Thames River Adventures) along largely the same route (although the tow path takes you over the top of Maida Hill while the boats head through a tunnel underneath).

John Nash, designer of Regent’s Park, was one of the proponents of the canal seeing it as nice addition to his park (he apparently originally wanted the route to run through the park but was convinced otherwise thanks to some fears over the language of those involved in steering boats along the canal).

He become one of the directors of the company which developed the canal following the passing of an act of parliament in 1812. It was named for the then Prince Regent, later King George IV.

You can find out more about the history of the canal at the London Canal Museum, located further to the east on the Regent’s Canal between St Pancras Lock and the Islington Tunnel.

WHERE: While the canal runs to the docks, the journey from Camden Lock to Little Venice is a walk of around 5 kilometres. Nearest tube stations are Warwick Avenue at the Little Venice end and Camden Town at the Camden Lock end; WHEN: Daily, tow path is open from dawn to dusk between Camden Lock and Little Venice (see the boating company websites for trip times); COST: The tow path is free, one way trips on boats between Little Venice and Camden Lock start at around £6.50WEBSITE: For more on the history of the Regent’s Canal, see www.canalmuseum.org.uk/history/regents.htm.