Totally Thames, the annual month long celebration of London’s river, is once again in swing with a host of events to join in on. The packed programme includes walks and talks such as Friday’s walk exploring the maritime heritage of Deptford, visual arts installations including Maria Arceo’s Future Dust (pictured), and on-river events such as this weekend’s Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks and the marathon Great River Race involving traditional boats as well as a host of musical performances, film screenings, exhibitions and pop-up festivals. Events run over September. For more information on the programme, visit totallythames.org. PICTURE: Courtesy of Thames Festival Trust. © Hydar Dewachi.

The role RAF Kenley Airfield played in the Battle of Britain will be highlighted in a “Sky Heroes” event at the site this Sunday. RAF Kenley Airfield, which is where Winston Churchill learned to fly, is the most intact fighter airfield from World War II and played a unique role in defending Britain from the German Luftwaffe. Celebrating its centenary, it was one of three main fighter stations, along with Croydon and Biggin Hill, charged with the air defence of London. The day, which is free to attend, will feature guided tours, museum and archaeology stands and replica Spitfire and Hurricane planes in which visitors can sit and have their photos taken. A free shuttle bus service will be operating from nearby stations. The day is being held under the auspices of the Heritage Lottery funded Kenley Revival Project, a partnership between the City of London Corporation, Kenley Airfield Friends Group and Historic England. For more, see www.kenleyrevival.org.

Win one of 20 London is Open for Summer posters signed by the artist Quentin Blake. The limited edition posters went on sale this week for £10 with all proceeds going to the Red Cross UK Solidarity Fund and to mark that event, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a social media competition, giving away 20 of them. For details of how to take part, head to www.london.gov.uk/londonisopen. The winners will be announced next week. To purchase one of the posters, head to www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/new-in.

The 16th tradition of still life meets modern art at the Guildhall Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Nature Morte. Featuring 100 words of art covering themes ranging from flora and fauna to domestic objects and food, the display features works by major international contemporary artists like Michael Craig-Martin and Gabriel Orozco as well as works by London-based artists and from the City of London’s own historic collection. The exhibition, which is being put on by MOCA London in partnership with the gallery, runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies and there’s a series of talks to accompany the display. For more, follow this link.

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This month marks 300 years since composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition (and one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world) Water Music – and it was in a rather fitting setting.

The first performance of the composition – which was deliberately created for
playing outdoors (and carrying across water) – took place at about 8pm on 17th July, 1717, aboard a City of London barge in the River Thames.

Some 50 musicians played the piece – using everything from flutes and recorders to trumpets, horns, violins and basses – with Handel himself fulfilling the role of conductor.

The barge was part of a rather grand flotilla which made its way up the river from the Palace of Whitehall to Chelsea, at the centre of which was a royal barge upon which King George I and members of the nobility, including various duchesses, rode.

Numerous other Londoners also turned out to hear the performance aboard all manner of watercraft and the king was apparently so impressed with what he heard that he requested several encores both on the trip to Chelsea and on the return journey.

The story goes that the somewhat unpopular king had apparently requested the concert on the river to upstage his son, the Prince of Wales (and future King George II), who was stealing the limelight by throwing lavish parties (the king and his son were famously at odds and it was therefore no shock when the prince didn’t attend the performance).

There’s another story, meanwhile, that suggested Handel composed the piece to regain the favour of the King which he had apparently lost when, seeking to capitalise on his growing fame, he left his employment as conductor at the court of the then Elector of Hanover (a position George held before he was king) and moved from Germany to London during the reign of Queen Anne (although some claim the future king knew he would one day follow Handel to London and actually approved of his decision to move there).

Water Music, meanwhile, has since become part of popular culture – it’s generally said that most people will recognise at least one part of it – but interestingly, no-one is said to be exactly sure how the music, which is generally broken into three separate suites, should be performed, given that the original score has been lost.

PICTURE: Edouard Hamman’s painting showing Handel (on the left) with King George I aboard a barge on 17th July, 1717. Via Wikipedia

 

For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

PICTURE: designerpoint/Pixabay


Another view which owes its existence to the Victorians is that from the walkways adjoining the twin towers of the iconic Tower Bridge.

Built between 1886 and 1894, the bridge, the most sophisticated bascule bridge then in existence, was designed with two open-to-the-elements high level walkways, located 42 metres above the Thames, which enabled pedestrians to cross the bridge even when it was raised.

But the walkways didn’t prove popular – people apparently preferred to wait until the bridge was lowered rather than climb the 200 or so steps up and then down to use the walkways. The absence of people meant the walkways became the haunt of some ‘disreputable’ people – prostitutes and pickpockets are the most commonly cited. In 1910, they were closed.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the walkways were opened up once again, allowing visitors to enjoy a view that had been barred to the public for some 72 years.

As well as providing panoramic views to the east and west down the River Thames, the walkways these days contain an exhibition on ‘Great Bridges of the World’ as well as, since 2014, the chance to walk on the 11 metre long glass floor (and, if it’s not doing so in real life, see the bridge raised below via the augmented reality ‘Raise the Bridge’ app).

And don’t worry, the steps have been joined by elevators for those who can’t make the stair climb.

WHERE: Tower Bridge (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm (until September); COST: £9.80 an adult/£3.90 child (aged five to 15)/£6.80 adult concession (family tickets also available as well as joint tickets to the Monument); WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk/walkways.

PICTURES: Top – Tower Bridge with its two high level walkways (David Adams); Below – View of the glass floor in the walkways (Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0/cropped image)

Located on the north bank of the River Thames at Chelsea, these 19th century pleasure gardens were only open for about 40 years.

The origins of the gardens go back to the 1830s when a mansion and surrounding estate – previously owned by Thomas Dawson, Viscount Cremorne (hence the name) – was sold to one Charles Random who went by the name of Baron de Berenger or Baron de Beaufain, a convicted stockmarket fraudster. Random established a sports facility called the Cremorne Stadium on the site where people could indulge in swimming, rowing, fencing, boxing and shooting (the ‘baron’ himself was apparently a crack shot).

The venture was not an immediate success however and so management began to diversify and provide other entertainments more synonymous with pleasure gardens including mock tournaments and pony races as well as dances and, of course, balloon ascents. Nonetheless, the venture failed and was sold off to a City coffee house owner of the name of Thomas Bartlett Simpson.

He sublet the 12 acre site to James Ellis who reopened the house and grounds as a pleasure gardens in 1845.  Ellis, however, went bankrupt within just a few years – an interesting side note is that he then went to Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria (part of what is now Australia) where he established another Cremorne Gardens beside the city’s Yarra River  – although like his London venture that, too, didn’t have a long life.

Back in London, Simpson then took over management of the gardens himself and  within just a few years the gardens had become popular among the fashionable.

The gardens featured a dazzling array of facilities including a banqueting hall, theatre, and American-style bowling saloon and provided all manner of entertainments such as balloon ascents, firework displays, dancing, and performances. The site could be entered from the grand entrance on King’s Road or at the Cremorne Pier on the river.

Alongside its regular entertainments, the gardens also hosted numerous spectacular events including, in 1861, being the site from where Madame Genevieve Young, the ‘Female Blondin’, crossed the Thames on a tightrope and where, in 1864, Mr Godard ascended in his Montgolfier Balloon. Other acts – such as a 1855 renactment of the storming of a fort at Sebastapol during which a stage collapsed, and another in which a balloon drifted onto the spire of a nearby church – were less successful.

The garden passed through the hands of several other managers over the ensuing years and but by the 1870s has acquired something of a bad reputation. While while then-manager John Baum, who had invested considerable sums in upgrading the gardens’ facilities, won a libel case against a local minister who had published a pamphlet condemning the gardens (in principle at least – he was apparently only awarded a farthing in damages), in 1877 he decided not to reapply for his licence and closed the gardens.

During its final years of operations, the gardens were captured on canvas by artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was a resident in nearby Cheyne Walk.

The modern Cremorne Gardens – located by the Thames near the Lots Road power station – were opened in 1982. Iron gates from the original gardens (pictured), which had been taken to a brewery, were restored and installed in the new gardens.

PICTURE: Above – The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons; Right – The Cremorne Gardens gates, Tarquin Binary/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

A smaller scale albeit spectacular view – in this one, the focus is on a particular building – but among the most splendid views of London is that of the Houses of Parliament (aka The Palace of Westminster) from across the Thames.

Featured in various ways in numerous films and TV shows (1980s sitcoms Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister among them) as well on bottles of HP Sauce, the iconic view from the east bank of the Thames, taking the facade of the building with the bookends of Victoria and Elizabeth Towers, has only been around its current form following the completion of  Sir Charles Barry’s gothic masterpiece in 1870 (although the Palace of Westminster and adjacent buildings have occupied the site for far longer).

The site, along with the neighbouring Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, is protected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, the official listing of which notes that the “iconic silhouette of the ensemble is an intrinsic part of its identity, which is recognised internationally with the sound of ‘Big Ben’ being broadcast regularly around the world”.

PICTURE: Cody Thompson/Unsplash

Looking over the River Thames from the Tate Modern at the dome of St Paul’s. PICTURE: Christian Battaglia/Unsplash

Another of London’s protected views is that from the Grade II-listed statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park.

The panoramic scene takes in much of the park itself as well as The Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College and across the River Thames to London’s Docklands and around to St Paul’s Cathedral (the key point in London when it comes to protected views).

The bronze statue, which stands on a terrace just outside The Royal Observatory (home of Greenwich Mean Time) atop a stone plinth, was created in 1930 and commemorates General James Wolfe (1727-1759), whose victory in the Battle of Quebec (also known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham) with the French secured Canada for the British.

Wolfe has local links – he and his father apparently lived in a house on the edge of the park and he is buried in St Alfege’s Church. The statue, unveiled by the Marquis de Montcalm, a descendant of the commander-in-chief of French forces who also died at the Battle of Quebec, was a gift from the Canadians and was designed by Dr Tait Mackenzie.

The statue’s plinth incidentally is pitted with bomb fragments from a bomb which exploded at the Royal Observatory during World War II.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

PICTURES: Views from the statue of General Wolfe via Flickr (top – Roman Hobler/CC BY 2.0/image cropped; bottom – Garry Knight/CC BY 2.0)

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Looking from across the River Thames. PICTURE: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

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No sign of Tube turmoil as we look south across the River Thames to The Shard and Southwark. The 95 storey high building is the tallest in London (and the fourth tallest in Europe). PICTURE: Fred Mouniguet/Unsplash

hms-belfast

The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.

fireOf course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 is only one of numerous fires which have occurred in London (although it was no doubt the greatest in terms of destruction). But among others was a fire in 1212 which has been described as London’s worst in terms of the death toll which some have put as high as 3,000 (although it’s generally believed it’s unlikely to have been that high).

The fire, which only came some 77 years after another great conflagration destroyed a stretch of the city reaching from Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1135, began in Southwark on 10th July (hence it’s also known as the Great Fire of Southwark). Crossing London Bridge, it went on to destroy a large part of the City itself.

As well as destroying buildings on London Bridge including houses and the chapel (the structure itself, having recently been rebuilt in stone, survived somewhat intact although it only remained in partial use for some time afterward), also destroyed the Southwark church known as St Mary Overie (precursor to today’s Southwark Cathedral) as well as many buildings around Borough High Street.

There were apparently numerous deaths – the story goes that many of them occurred when a mass of people poured onto London Bridge from the City as they attempted to cross to Southwark to help put out the fire (or perhaps just gawk at it).

They were trapped in the middle of the bridge when, with the south end was already ablaze, the north end caught fire from sparks. As well as suffering fatally from the effects of flames and smoke, people were apparently crushed in panic and others were pushed off the bridge to drown in the River Thames (along with some of the boat crews who tried to rescue them).

And, just as the Great Fire of 1666, the fire of 1212 did result in some building reforms including the placement of a ban on the use of thatch for rooves.

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Part of the Totally Thames festival, South Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang’s eye-catching installation, Floating Dreams, acts a memorial to the millions of people who were displaced and divided during the Korean War (1950-53) as well as symbolising the hopes that North and South Korea will once again be unified. The three-storey high installation, which sits on the river alongside Millennium Bridge, is constructed from 500 drawings created by the generation, now aged in their 80s and 90s, who had fled North Korea for South Korea during the war. Their images have been transferred on pieces of a traditional Korean rice paper known as Hanji and then compiled into the cube. The illuminated installation can be seen throughout the festival which runs until 30th September. For more on what’s happening throughout Totally Thames, see http://totallythames.org.

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totally-thamesIt’s September and that means Totally Thames, an annual month of events celebrating London’s great watery artery. Highlights among this year’s 150 events include this Saturday’s Great River Race in which more than 300 boats from across the UK and around the world compete on a course running from Millwall Slipway to Ham House in Richmond, Life Afloat, an exhibition looking at the evolution of the houseboat living on the Thames across the last 100 years, and the 8th annual Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks this weekend as well as walks, talks, performances, art installations and boat trips including a tour of Brunel’s London. Runs until the end of the month. For more information and the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org. PICTURE: Totally Thames/Barry Lewis.

The changes that swept across society in the late 1960s are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A this weekend. You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70 is divided into six distinct sections, and starts with a recreation of Carnaby Street as it was before moving on to subjects like clubs and counterculture, revolution on the street, revolution in consumerism, festivals and alternative communities. Among the objects on display are costumes designed for Mick Jagger, a Cecil Beaton portrait of Twiggy, Roger Corman’s 1967 film about LSD, The Trip, a wall of protest posters, film, sound and still footage from the 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos, a kaftan worn by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, and a rare Apple 1 computer. Runs from 10th September to 26th February at the South Kensington institution. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/revolution.

A new exhibition showcasing the British Museum’s holdings of French portrait drawings opens at the Bloomsbury establishment today. French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet offers the chance to see some well-known French portrait drawings alongside others that have never been exhibited before. Pictures on show include Francois Clouet’s portrait of Catherine de’Medici, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s chalk drawing of his infant daughter, and a ‘playful’ portrait of artist Artemisia Gentileschi by Pierre Dumonstier. The free display can be seen in Room 90 until 29th January.

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

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London blazed again on Sunday night when a 120 metre long wooden replica of the city as it was in Restoration times was set alight to mark 350th years since the Great Fire of London. London 1666 was designed by US “burn artist” David Best for London’s Burning – a festival of events in the City of London produced by Artichoke to mark the anniversary. It had been placed on a barge moored in the River Thames before it was lit up to ensure that the fire didn’t spread anywhere it wasn’t wanted. The actual Great Fire of London broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on 2nd September, 1666, and blazed across the city for four days, destroying more than three quarters of the old City of London as it render tens of thousands of Londoners homeless and devastated iconic structures like Old St Paul’s Cathedral. You can see a video of the burn herePICTURES: © Matthew Andrews.

 

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PutneyThis south-west London Thames-side district (and the bridge named after it), traces the origin of its name back to Saxon times.

Putney2Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).

Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.

The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.

Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.

The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).

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Now the name of a dock on Bankside (pictured below), St Mary Overie (also spelt as Overy) also forms part of the formal name of Southwark Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.

St-Mary-OverieThe simple version of the name’s origins is that it simply means St Mary “over the river” (that is, St Mary on the south side of the Thames) which was used in relation to a priory founded there in the Norman era by two knights (it’s to this foundation that what is now Southwark Cathedral owes its origins, something we’ll take a more detailed look at the nunnery in an upcoming Lost London post).

But there’s also another, more romantic version, of the name’s origins. That story, as it’s told on a plaque located at the dock (pictured above), goes back to before the Norman founding of priory, back to the days when, before the building of London Bridge, a ferry ran between the two banks of the River Thames.

The man responsible for the ferry was John Overs, a “notorious miser”, who decided to save money by feigning his death and thus plunging his household into mourning, saving that day’s provisions. As one may imagine, however, Overs was not a popular man and his servants, instead of fasting in their mourning, held a feast in celebration of his death.

In rage, the old master leapt out of his bed and a servant, terrified and imaging some sort of demonic manifestation, struck him fatally with an oar on the head.

Overs’ daughter, Mary, sent for her lover so that he may come and together with her claim her father’s inheritance but such was his haste, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. So overcome was Mary by her misfortunes that she founded a convent into which she subsequently retired (this was subsequently ‘refounded’ by the two Norman knights).

The dock, meanwhile, is today the berthing place of the Golden Hinde II, a sea-worthy replica of the flagship in which Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe (for more on the ship, see our earlier post here).

OK, so it doesn’t look like the most historic of pubs but the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney does boast an interesting history (as well as a much accoladed menu ales).

The-Bricklayer's-ArmsThe Waterman Street pub is apparently the oldest in the south-western riverside district, dating back to 1826 when it was constructed on the site of a former coaching house and blacksmith’s forge.

Then named the Waterman’s Arms, thanks no doubt to its Thames proximity and the fact that, as a result, most of the clientele were freeman and lightermen working on the river, it changed its name to the Bricklayer’s Arms around the turn of the 20th century when, thanks to the extension of the District line railway, there was a sizeable amount of construction going on in the area.

It was briefly known as the Putney Brick before the current owners – actress Becky Newman and her husband John – took over the pub just over 10 years ago, during which time it has won a swag of awards including being named one of the top 10 English pubs by National Geographic and winning the CAMRA National Pub of the Year Award in 2007 and 2009.

For more on the pub (and the plans to extend it), check out www.bricklayers-arms.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro-Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image has been cropped and brightened)

Richmond-Weir

Crossing the River Thames just downstream of Richmond and Twickenham Bridge, the Richmond weir and lock complex (actually it’s a half-lock and it also incorporates a footbridge) was built in the early 1890s to maintain a navigable depth of water upstream from Richmond. The Grade II*-listed structure, which is maintained by the Port of London Authority, was formally opened by the Duke of York (later King George V) on 19th May, 1894.