Another historic City of London view, this one dates from 1677 when construction of this memorial to the Great Fire of London was completed.

Located just a stone’s throw from the site where the fire of 1666 apparently started (more on that in our earlier post), the 61 metre high Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke with a platform viewing platform set just below a stone drum and gilt copper urn from which flames emerge in a symbolic representation of the fire.

The viewing platform was intended as a place where Wren and Hooke could conduct experiments for the Royal Society (to this end, the Monument also features a laboratory in the cellar while its hollow shaft was designed to accommodate experiments with pendulums, its staircase steps measure exactly six inches high so they could be used in experiments on pressure and there is a trapdoor in the top of the orb to facilitate use of a telescope).

Vibrations caused by the traffic on Fish Street Hill, however, caused problems and so the idea was abandoned and the platform, located at a height of about 48.5 metres, was left to the public.

A mesh cage was added to the top in the mid 19th century, apparently as a preventative measure after a number of people had leapt from the top. The cage was replaced in 2008 as part of a major, £4.5 million, 18 month-long restoration of the Grade I-listed structure.

While people are welcome to climb the 311 steps to the top on a circular staircase that winds its way up the inside of the pillar to take in the views over the City and Thames (and about 100,000 d0 so each year, gaining themselves a special certificate for their efforts), for those who can’t make the climb, equipment enabling the streaming of live video images, taking in a 360 degree panorama from the top of the Monument, was installed as part of the restoration. These images can be accessed via the Monument’s website. The images, which take in the city, are updated every minute.

WHERE: The Monument, junction of Fish Street Hill and Monument Street (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm daily (until October); COST: £4.50 adults/£2.30 children (aged five to 15)/£3 seniors (joint tickets with Tower Bridge available); WEBSITE: www.themonument.info

Top – Panoramic view from the top of The Monument taken in 2006; Below – The Monument. PICTURES: Top – Piotr Zarobkiewicz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/Below – David Adams

cummings-barograph1Acquired last year by the Science Museum, this rare Georgian clock records changes in air pressure and is one of only four of its type made by London clockmaker Alexander Cumming.

cummings-barograph2Dating from 1766, the clock (pictured) sits in a seven foot tall decorated case, believed to have been made by London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Inside is a barograph – comprised of two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes and the data is recorded on the clock dial which rotates once a year.

Scottish-born Cumming, who constructed his first barograph clock on the orders of King George III a year before this one in 1765, designed this clock based on ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke.

Following Cumming’s death in 1814, the clock was purchased by meteorologist Luke Howard – known as the ‘father of scientific meteorology’ – who used it to observe atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth. The data gathered was published in his book Barometrographia  in 1847.

While it has previously been loaned for display at the museum, it now forms part of the permanent collection.

WHERE: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

PICTURES: Courtesy of the Science Museum.

Kensington-Palace-garden-partyJoin Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP

The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.

 Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

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

Montagu-HouseThe first home of the British Museum, Montagu House was originally built on what is now the site of the museum in Great Russell Street for courtier and diplomat Ralph Montagu, the 1st Duke of Montagu (among other titles), in the late 1670s.

The Bloomsbury property, which was designed by Robert Hooke and had both French and Dutch influences, had a central block and two service blocks built around a courtyard and featured murals by the Italian artist Antonio Verrio and wall paintings by Frenchman Jacques Rousseau.

In 1686, only a few years after it was completed, the house was gutted in a fire. But the duke had it rebuilt to the designs of French architect Pierre Pouget. It featured a prominent Mansard roof, had interiors created by French artists and formal, much admired, French-inspired gardens (see picture).

In the early 1700s, the 2nd Duke, John Montagu, relocated to the then more fashionable district of Whitehall where he constructed a more modest residence which was later replaced with a mansion.

In 1754, the now neglected Montagu House in Bloomsbury was sold to the trustees of the British Museum and both the gardens and house were restored. The museum, which was officially founded by an Act of Parliament in 1753, opened to the public in the property on 15th January, 1759, with free entry to “all studious and curious persons” (the gardens had opened two years earlier).

The collection was initially based on that of physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (see our earlier post here), who has bequeathed the 71,000 objects he had collected to King George II (in return for a payment of £20,000 for his heirs).

Montagu House remained the museum’s home until it was replaced by the current museum building, designed by Sir Robert Smirke, which was completed in 1850s.

PICTURE: Wikipedia/James Simon c 1715

While higher education may something we generally associate with more recent historical eras, London’s oldest higher educational institution in fact was founded in the dying years of the 16th century.

Thomas-GreshamGresham College was founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham (pictured, right) – son of Lord Mayor Sir Richard Gresham and the man behind the construction of the Royal Exchange (see our earlier post on Sir Thomas Gresham here) – according to instructions in his will (Sir Thomas died in 1579).

Under the terms of the will, part of his estate was left to the City of London Corporation and the Mercer’s Company and it is these who founded the organisation according to his request and still operate via the Joint Grand Gresham Committee.

According to the will’s terms, the corporation were to appoint professors in divinity, astronomy, geometry and music while the Mercer’s Company were given the responsibility of appointing professors in law, physic and rhetoric (a chair in commerce was added in 1985). There are also currently a number of visiting professorships.

The college – which was founded to provide free public lectures on subjects of scientific interest – is  governed by a council with the Lord Mayor of London as its president.

Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (now the site of what was formerly known as the NatWest Tower) was the college’s first home. Professors, whose salaries were met by rental income from the Royal Exchange, continued giving lectures there until 1768.

Various locations around the city were later used for the college before the opening of a new college building in Gresham Street in 1842. It moved again in 1991 and is now based at Barnard’s Inn Hall in Holborn.

Among the professors who have held chairs at the college are architects Sir Christopher Wren (astronomy) and Robert Hooke (geometry) as well as Richard Chartres, current Bishop of London (divinity).

The college, which doesn’t enrol students as such and doesn’t award degrees, continues to provide more than 100 free public lectures every year and is also involved in running seminars and conferences and other initiatives.

For a detailed history of Gresham College, check out Richard Chartres’ and David Vermont’s book on the college’s history – www.gresham.ac.uk/greshamftp/historygreshm_bk2.pdf. For more on the college and its programme of events, see www.gresham.ac.uk. Lectures are available online.

One of the most famous painters of his age, Dutchman Sir Peter Lely – currently the subject of an exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery – rose to become the foremost portrait painter at the English Court during the latter half of the 17th century.

Born to Dutch parents on 14th September, 1618, in Westphalia (now part of Germany) where his father was serving as an infantry captain, Peter – originally named Pieter van der Faes – studied art as an apprentice in Haarlem in what is now The Netherlands. While there he is believed to have changed his name to Lely based on a heraldic lily which appeared on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.

Lely appeared in London in the early 1640s and, while he initially devoted himself to the sort of narrative-style paintings inspired by classical mythology, the Bible and literature he had been working on in Haarlem but having found no great success there, soon turned his hand to portraiture.

The death of court portraitist Anthony van Dyck in 1641 had left a vacuum he stepped into the gap, soon becoming the most in-demand portrait painter at the Royal Court, his sitters including none other than King Charles I himself.

However, Lely, who was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers Company in London in 1647, managed to straddle the political divide and after the beheading of King Charles I and the end of the English Civil War in 1651, was able to continue painting portraits of the most powerful people in the land including Oliver Cromwell – whom he painted “warts and all” as per the Lord Protector’s request – and his Cromwell’s brother Richard.

Already renowned as the best artist in the country, following the Restoration in 1660, Lely became Principal Painter of King Charles II, placed on an annual stipend as van Dyck had been before him during the reign of King Charles I.

Lely’s workshop was large and its output prolific, with his students and employees – who at one stage apparently included scientist and architect Robert Hooke – often completing his paintings after he sketched out some details, only painting the sitter’s face in any great detail.

Among his most famous works are a series of 10 portraits known as the Windsor Beauties (currently at Hampton Court Palace), a series of portraits of senior naval officers who served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the Flagmen of Lowestoft (most of the works at are the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) and Susannah and the Elders (currently at Burghley House in Cambridgeshire) as well as some of the paintings in the current Courtauld exhibition including Nymphs by a Fountain (usually found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Boy as a Shepherd (also the Dulwich Picture Gallery).

Lely was also known as an avid collector of art and is credited as being the first artist in England to do so in any serious manner – among his purchases were works which formerly formed part of King Charles I’s collection. At the time of his death, he is said to have owned more than 500 paintings, although more than half of these were works of his or his studio.

Sir Peter, who never married but had two children who survived him with a common-law wife Ursula, lived at a house in the north-east corner of Covent Garden from about 1650 until his death in 1680 (some sources have him knighted in this year, others in 1679) but also had a house at Kew and owned property outside of London including in Lincolnshire and The Hague.

He was apparently working at his easel in the studio of his Covent Garden house when he died on 30th November, 1680. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The monument to him, the work of Grinling Gibbons, was destroyed by fire in 1795.

Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision – which focuses on some of his early non-portrait works – runs at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January. For more on the exhibition, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2012/peter-lely/index.shtml. Running alongside the exhibition is a display of some of the drawings from Sir Peter’s own collection, Peter Lely: The Draughtsman and His Collection.

Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for designing more than 50 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. We’ve already touched on a couple in this series – St Paul’s, of course, and St Bride’s in Fleet Street – and while we won’t be looking at all of rest in detail, here are three stars that have survived…

• St Stephen Walbrook, which is the parish church of the Lord Mayor and was that of Wren himself, is a little gem of a church and is generally thought to be the finest of Wren’s city churches from an architectural perspective. Tucked away behind Mansion House in Walbrook, the church as we know it was built between 1672-79 (although there may have been a Christian church on the site as early as 700 AD) and features a beautiful coffered dome (a sign of what was to come when Wren built St Paul’s). These days the chairs are arranged around white altar stone by sculptor Henry Moore which has been placed under the centre of the dome. Other features worth noting are Wren’s original altar screen and a glass-encased telephone which was the first dedicated help-line in London for the suicidal established by the charity Samaritans. These days the church is home to the London Internet Church. For more information, see http://ststephenwalbrook.net.

• St Mary-le-Bow, which is named for the bow-shaped arches in the Norman-era crypt, was rebuilt by Wren in 1670-80 after the Great Fire. In keeping with the church’s name, he designed a steeple with arches resembling the ‘bows’ below. While the church, located in Cheapside, was badly damaged when bombed in World War II, the steeple – topped by an original 1674 weathervane shaped like a dragon – remained standing along with the outer walls. The church was restored in the mid-Twentieth century and the bells, destroyed in a German air raid, rehung. It’s said that only those born within the sound of St Mary’s bells can be said to be true Cockneys (the Bow bells were also those Dick Whittington apparently heard when leaving London, leading him to turn around and embrace fame and fortune). For more information, see www.stmarylebow.co.uk.

• St Mary-at-Hill, which has served the parish of Billingsgate for almost 1,000 years, was one of the first to be rebuilt after the Great Fire. Both Wren and his assistant Robert Hooke were believed to have been involved in building the church, which was completed in 1677 and lies in Lovat Lane, just off Eastcheap. It was designed as a Greek cross with a dome at its centre  – Wren later put forward a similar design for for St Paul’s which was rejected. Overhauled in the late 1700s and a couple of times in the 1800s, it survived World War II only to be damaged extensively by fire in 1988 after which it was restored. The church’s connection to Billingsgate – the site of London’s former fish market lies just down the road – means that the fish harvest is still celebrated here every October. For more information, see www.stmary-at-hill.org.

Leaving Wren’s churches momentarily, we turn this week to another of Wren’s designs, that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London’s east.

Commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II, the first part of the observatory – Flamsteed House, named for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed – was designed by Wren with, it is believed, the assistance of architect and scientist Robert Hooke.

Built using second-hand materials including stone brought from a Tudor fort at Tilbury, Flamsteed House was located on the former site of Greenwich Castle which had been previously used as a guest house and hunting lodge by Henry VIII. It is said to be the first purpose-built scientific research facility in the country.

The turreted building includes the Octagon Room from which Flamsteed made observations of events in the skies (although its position meant its use for this was somewhat limited), as well as living quarters for the astronomer. On top of the house is a red time ball which, since it was first used in 1833, has marked the time by falling at 1pm each day.

These days part of the National Maritime Museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, the site also hosts the Prime Meridian and is the place from where Greenwich Mean Time, since 1884 the basis for all world time, is calculated.

WHERE: Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory/