• The National Army Museum in Chelsea is joining with the Royal Air Force Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, this Saturday, 15th August, with a series of free events including online talks. Among those taking part are World War II veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, recently knighted by the Queen for his efforts in helping raise funds for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, author and explorer Levison Wood (who explores the story of his grandfather’s service in Burma), and Professor Tarak Barkawi, author of Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II, as well as General Lord Richards, Grand President of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League who’s involved in a conversation about the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers during the Far East campaign. For the full programme of events, head to www.nam.ac.uk/series/vj-day-75.

Steve McQueen is back at Tate Modern. The exhibition, which reopened last Friday following the reopening of all Tate galleries, spans 20 years of McQueen’s work and features 14 major pieces spanning film, photography and sculpture. The exhibition adds to the three visitor routes already in place at the Tate Modern and coincides with McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3, an epic portrait of London’s Year 3 pupils created through a partnership between Tate, Artangel and A New Direction which can be seen at Tate Britain until 31st January. Visitors must prebook. For more, head to tate.org.uk/visit.

Beyond London (a new regular feature in which we include sites around Greater London)
• The East Terrace Garden at Windsor Castle – commissioned by King George IV in the 1820s – has opened to weekend visitors for the first time in decades. Overlooked by the castle’s famous east facade, the formal garden features clipped domes of yew and beds of 3,500 rose bushes planted in a geometric pattern around a central fountain. It was originally designed by architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville between 1824 and 1826 on the site of an old bowling green made for Charles II in the 1670s. Plants, including 34 orange trees sent by the French King Charles X, were specially imported for the garden and statues were brought from the Privy Gardens at Hampton Court, including a set of four bronze figures by Hubert Le Sueur which  were made for Charles I in the 1630s and which remain in the garden today. Prince Albert is known to have taken a particular interest in the garden and the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret grew vegetables there during World War II. As well as the opening of the East Terrace Garden on weekends, visitors with young children on Thursdays and Fridays in August are being given special access to the Castle’s Moat Garden beneath the iconic Round Tower, thought to have dated from the period of King Edward III and believed to be the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, the first story in Canterbury Tales. Pre-bookings essential. For more, see www.rct.uk.

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It’s 169 years since the Crystal Palace served as the centrepiece of the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ in Hyde Park but for the first time you now have a chance to tour the building virtually. The Royal Parks, working in partnership with educational virtual reality company, Seymour & Lerhn, have recreated the grand glass and iron structure which hosted thousands of exhibits from across the globe at the 1851 exhibition which was spear-headed by Prince Albert. The building has been regenerated digitally using The Royal Commission for the Exhibition’s archive of plans and images, as well as The Royal Parks’ historical documents including old maps. The tour overlays this historic footage over the site as it is now and visitors can switch between the two as well as learn about some of the fascinating stories connected to the Great Exhibition including that of the construction of the first ever public toilets and that of the lady who walked from Cornwall to attend the display. The virtual tour is free to access at www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/the-great-exhibition-virtual-tour.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy, National Army Museum and Royal Air Force Museum are hosting their first tri-service celebration with a ‘Virtual VE Day 75 Festival’ to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. The festival runs from today until 9th May and kicks off with ‘Vying for Victory: Britain’s Navy, Army and Air Force in Myth and Memory’ featuring representatives from the museums discussing the service’s respective roles during the closing stages of World War II. Other events include a live webinar featuring historian and broadcaster James Holland speaking to the National Army Museum’s Dr Peter Johnston about ‘Why the Allies Won’, re-enactors sharing stories from real service personnel during the World War II, and an immersive walk-through of HMS Alliance which will provide insights into the isolation experience of submariners on VE Day.  For the full programme of events, head to Virtual VE Day 75 Festival.

The National Portrait Gallery is launching a new community photography project to capture a snapshot of the nation during the coronavirus lockdown. People are being encouraged to submit pictures responding to three themes – ‘Helpers and Heroes’, ‘Your New Normal’ and ‘Acts of Kindness’ – to the project which is called Hold Still. Launched by the Duchess of Cambridge, patron of the gallery, this week, the project is open to Britons of all ages and will see 100 short-listed pictures featured in a digital exhibition. The closing date for submissions is 18th June. Head to www.npg.org.uk/hold-still/ for more.

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FirefightersIt was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).

Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.

The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.

The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).

Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).

By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.

Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.

Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.

For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.

• The London Design Festival is in full swing in London this week with more than 250 events taking place across the city over its 10 days. Launched last Saturday, the festival runs until Sunday and there’s still plenty of time to get involved. Among the highlights is a series of events, workshops and talks being held at the Victoria & Albert Museum (where you can also see 12 specially commissioned installations, one of which sees the museum’s grand entrance transformed with a sculptural form), a series of shows focusing on design in six London “design districts” – Brompton, Pimlico Road, Covent Garden, Fitzrovia, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch, and a broad program of ‘partner’ and ‘international’ events – everything from a festival featuring African-Caribbean design through to an exhibition of experimental chairs by the Danish Cabinetmaker’s Association. To find out more, simply head to www.londondesignfestival.com.

The Museum of London has announced the purchase of a rare 18th century clay figure of London druggist and tea merchant Thomas Todd. The figure, which was acquired with the help of the Art Fund and MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund,  is one of only two known portrait works attributed to the Chinese artists Chitqua on show in Britain. The figure, which is made from unfired clay held together by bamboo and brightly painted, was acquired from Todd’s great, great, great, great grand nephew, Thomas Todd, and will appear shortly in the Expanding City Gallery in the Galleries of Modern London. Based in Fleet Street, Pat Hardy, the museum’s curator of paintings, prints and drawings, says Todd “epitomised the kind of business acumen which ensured the growth of Britain’s industrial, mercantile and commercial empire in the eighteenth century”. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk

The British Museum has opened an exhibition giving the public their first chance to see next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games medals. Medals have been awarded at the Olympic Games since the first modern games were held in 1896. The latest Olympic medals were designed by jeweller David Watkins, for many years Professor of Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery at London’s Royal College of Art, while the latest Paralympic Medals were designed by jeweller Lin Cheung, a senior lecturer for Jewellery Design at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The exhibition tells how, using minerals mined in the US and Mongolia (Rio Tinto is sponsoring the exhibition), the medals were produced at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. Mine to medals: the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games medals runs until 9th September next year. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• On Now: Brothers in Arms – Airmen of Poland and Czechoslovakia in the Battle of Britain & Beyond. The Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale, north London, is hosting an exhibition looking at the contribution of Polish, Czech and Slovak airmen in the Battle of Britain and their life afterwards. Curated in association with the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the exhibition features drawings, archival film footage and sculpture as well as uniforms, diaries and combat reports. Opened by Poland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sirkorski (who later attended the annual banquet held in honor of the Veterans of the Battle of Britain), it runs until 4th March, 2012. Entry is free. For more, visit  www.rafmuseum.org.uk.