February 20, 2017
Immortalised in a statue in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on South Bank last year, Mary Seacole is the first named black woman to have a memorial statue made in her image in London.
Mary Jane Seacole (nee Grant) was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1805, the daughter of a Scottish army lieutenant, James Grant, and a mixed-race Jamaican woman who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. She was taught traditional medicine by her mother from a young age and travelled extensively, visiting other parts of the Caribbean including Cuba and Haiti as well as Britain – staying in London for about a year around 1821, during which she added to her knowledge of medicine.
In 1836, she married merchant Edwin Seacole (he was the godson of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson – some rumours have it that he was actually his illegitimate son) but he died only eight years later in 1844. She subsequently spent some time in Central America – opening a ‘hotel’ there and aiding in the response to an outbreak of yellow fever – before returning to Jamaica where she apparently provided nursing services at the British Army HQ in Kingston.
In 1854, Seacole returned to England and, amid reports of the hardships soldiers were facing in the Crimean War which had broken out the year before, asked the War Office to send her to the Crimea as an army nurse. She was refused on multiple occasions (some say because of her race; others because she was too late to join the teams of nurses that were sent) and so she headed to Crimea herself.
There, she founded the British Hotel near Balaclava which provided food, quarters and medical care for sick and convalescent officers. She also apparently rode out to the front line of battle where she cared for the sick and wounded and such was her fame that Mary became known as ‘Mother Seacole’, earning a reputation said to rival that of Florence Nightingale.
Seacole returned to England after the war in ill health and poverty and apparently such was her renown that a benefit festival was held in her honour in July, 1857, to raise funds for her to live on. That same year she published her memoir, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.
Seacole returned to Jamaica in the early 1860s but was back in London by 1870. She died at her home in Paddington of ‘apoplexy’ on 14th May, 1881, and was buried in Kensal Green.
In 2004, Seacole was ranked the greatest Black Briton in an online poll. She has also been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (located on her one-time residence at 14 Soho Square) and a City of Westminster Green Plaque in George Street on the Portman Estate.
The three metre high bronze statue of Mary, built through funds raised in a public appeal and installed using money granted by the government, is the work of sculptor Martin Jennings. It was unveiled by actress Baroness Floella Benjamin in June last year before a reported crowd of some 300.
A disk behind the statue is inscribed with the words of The Times‘ Crimean War correspondent Sir William Howard Russell, who wrote in 1857: “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”
Seacole remains somewhat of a controversial figure with some saying her recent fame has unfairly come at the expense of contemporary Florence Nightingale.
This Week in London – London and the slave trade; a rare VC; and, Sir Elton John’s photo collection…
November 24, 2016
• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.
• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.
• Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.
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The National Theatre company had been founded 13 years before (although the concept was first proposed more than 100 years before) and was, until 1976, based at the Old Vic close to Waterloo Station.
The new (now Grade II*-listed) premises (which was originally also to house an opera house, although this plan was later dropped) was designed by architects Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softly and the structural engineers Flint & Neill. To this day the brutalist design provokes some strong opinions (Prince Charles once described it as “a way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”).
It contains three auditoriums: the Olivier (named for acting great Sir Laurence Olivier), the Lyttelton (named for Oliver Lyttelton, Lord Chandos, first chairman of the National Theatre) and the Dorfman (known as the Cottesloe until 2014, it was originally named for Lord Cottesloe, chairman of the South Bank board which oversaw the building of the theatre, before being renamed after businessman and philanthropist Lloyd Dorfman) and were opened progressively between 1976 and 1977.
While the first performances began to be held in the Lyttelton theatre from March, the complex was only officially opened by the Queen on 25th October with parts of the building still unfinished. Sir Laurence Olivier gives a speech of welcome in the auditorium which bears his name – it is his only appearance on the complex’s stages.
In 1988, the complex was granted the title Royal by the Queen – hence it’s officially the Royal National Theatre – in honour of the company’s 25th birthday.
More than 1,000 people now work on the five acre site which as well as the theatres, features rehearsal rooms, workshops where sets and scenes are created and painted and costumes and props are made.
Since it was founded, the National Theatre has presented more than 800 productions to an audience numbering well into the millions.
For more, see www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.
This Week in London – 70 years of British history in the spotlight at the Hayward; Napoleonic propaganda at the British Museum; pick the copy at the Dulwich Picture Gallery; and, Fulham Palace during World War I…
February 12, 2015
• The last 70 years of British history is under the spotlight at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank, in a new exhibition, History is Now:7 Artists Take on Britain. As the title suggests, seven UK-based artists – John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Horns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson – are each looking at a particular period of cultural history spanning the years from 1945 to today. The artists have selected more than 250 objects from public and private collections and have displayed these along with photographs, newspapers, films, domestic items and artefacts. The exhibition, which runs until 26th April, is part of the Southbank Centre’s Changing Britain 1945-2015 Festival which runs until 9th May. For more, see www.southbankcentre.co.uk.
• The use of Napoleon’s image in propaganda during the Napoleonic Wars is the subject of an exhibition which opened last week at the British Museum in Bloomsbury. Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon looks at how propaganda was used on both sides of the channel and includes works by both British and French satirists. Among British artists whose work is featured is that of James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, Richard Newton and George Cruikshank and the exhibition also features a range of objects – mugs, banners and even Napoleon’s death mask – drawn from the museum’s collection. The exhibition, which runs until 16th August, is free and can be found in Room 91. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Can you pick a copy? Visitors to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in the city’s south have the opportunity to test their skills with a new initiative which has seen a Chinese replica placed somewhere among the 270 Old Master paintings on display. Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project explores the nature and importance of the concept of the original versus that of the copy and the role of art as commodity. People have three months – until 26th April – to visit the gallery and find the replica painting before submitting their answers via an iPad in the gallery (those who correctly identify it will be entered into a competition to win a custom print from the gallery’s collection signed by the American artist Doug Fishbone). The replica will be revealed on 28th April when it will hang side-by-side with the original. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: © Stuart Leech/Dulwich Picture Gallery.
• The Talk: Isambard Kingdom Brunel – The man who built the world. Robert Pulse, director of The Brunel Museum, will give a free talk about the life and achievements of the great Victorian engineer Brunel at the John Harvard Library 211 Borough High Street on 17th February at 6.30pm. For more information, follow this link.
• On Now: Fulham Palace through the Great War. This exhibition at the former home of the Bishop of London on the Thames River in west London tells the story of the palace during World War I and examines the lives of those connected with the palace who died in the conflict, such as William Burley, son of Bishop Winnington-Ingram’s chauffeur. It tells how the bishop – described as an “enthusiastic” recruiter – visited the frontline in 1915 and how, in 1918, the palace was occupied by a Red Cross hospital. Runs until 16th April. Entry is free. For more, see www.fulhampalace.org/visiting-whats-on/exhibitions/.
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This Week in London – The Magna Carta at the new City of London Heritage Gallery; Tudor monarchs at the NPG; Mapping London; and objects with story at Pitzhanger…
September 11, 2014
• The 13th century’s finest surviving copy of the Magna Carta is taking centre stage at the new City of London Heritage Gallery which opens to the public this Friday. The 1297 document, which bears a superimposed memo reading ‘make it happen’, is being featured as part of the Corporation’s efforts to mark next year’s 800th anniversary of the signing of the landmark document. Other items on display in the new permanent, purpose-built exhibition space at the Guildhall Art Gallery include the medieval Cartae Antiquae, a volume containing transcripts of charters and statues covering laws enacted between 1327 and 1425 – a period which includes the reign of King Richard III, a poster for a World War I recruitment meeting held at the Guildhall in 1914, and a series of paintings depicting the 25 City Aldermen who were in office in the mid-1400s. The gallery, admission to which is free, will in future feature a rotating selection of rare documents from the City of London Corporation’s archives including the purchase deed William Shakespeare signed on buying a home in Blackfriars in 1613. For more, including opening times, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/heritagegallery. For more on events to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta next year, see www.magnacarta800th.com. PICTURE: Copyright London Metropolitan Archives.
• Rare depictions of Tudor monarchs will be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in the most complete presentation of their portraiture to date. The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered features the gallery’s oldest portrait – that of King Henry VII – displayed alongside a Book of Hours inscribed by the king to his daughter, six portraits of King Henry VIII along with his rosary (on loan from Chatsworth), portraits of King Edward VI and a page from his diary in which he relates his father’s death, five portraits of Queen Mary I along with her prayer book (on loan from Westminster Cathedral) and several portraits of Queen Elizabeth I displayed alongside her locket ring (on loan from Chequers, the country residence of the PM). There will also be a discussion surrounding the search for a “real” portrait of the ‘nine days queen’, Lady Jane Grey, alongside a portrait of her that dates from the Elizabethan period. With many of the portraits newly examined as part of the gallery’s ‘Making Art in Tudor Britain’ project, visitors to the gallery will also be able to access a specially created app which allowing them to access the new research while looking at the portraits. The display, which will form the core of a larger exhibition in Paris next year, can be seen until 1st March. Admission to the gallery, off Trafalgar Square, is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• An exhibition of rare maps from London, dating from between 1572 and last year, at gallery@oxo on South Bank, is closing on Sunday. Part of the Totally Thames festival, the Mapping London exhibition shows how the landscape along the River Thames as it passes through the capital has changed over the years. It features the first available map of London, which dates from 1572, as well as a 2013 map of underground London, monumental wall maps, and even a map of London that doubles as fan. The free exhibition at Oxo Tower Wharf is being curated by Daniel Crouch, one of the world’s leading map dealers. For more, see www.totallythames.org/events/info/mapping-london.
• A Crafts Council touring exhibition showcasing the work of 12 contemporary artisans and design studios – each of which uses objects as a means of storytelling – has opened at Pitzhanger Manor House and Gallery in Ealing – its first stop – this week. Crafting Narrative: Storytelling through objects and making explores the potential of objects to reflect on history, culture, society and technology through a combination of new and commissioned works, film text and photography. Works include Hilda Hellström’s The Materiality of a Natural Disaster which consists of food vessels made of soil from a field belonging to the last resident inside the Japanese Daiichi nuclear plant exclusion zone, Onkar Kular and Noam Toran’s archive of objects belonging to the fictional Lövy-Singh clan – an East London family of mixed Jewish and Sikh descent, and Hefin Jones’ The Welsh Space Campaign which features objects such as astronaut boots in the form of traditional Welsh clogs in an attempt to show how Wales has the capacity to explore space. The free exhibition is at the manor until 19th October. For more, see www.pitzhanger.org.uk.
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This Week in London – A rare chance to walk through a Thames tunnel; Matisse at the Tate; and, Spitting Image on show…
April 24, 2014
• It’s a rare chance to walk the historic Thames Tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe – the first tunnel ever dug under a navigable waterway. Transport for London and London Overground are offering the chance to purchase tickets to walk the tunnel – built by Marc Brunel, it’s now used by the London Overground – over the May Bank Holiday weekend on 24th to 26th May. Tickets, which cost £18 plus booking fee, go on sale today at 10am via the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and are strictly limited (with no on the day admissions allowed). Proceeds from the day will go to the Railway Children’s Charity and the Brunel Museum. Also, worth noting is that the London Transport Museum is offering tours of its depot this Friday and Saturday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• The paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse are the focus of a landmark exhibition which opened at Tate Modern last week. Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs features about 130 works created between 1937 and 1954 with many seen together for the first time. Highlights include maquettes featured in the 1947 book Jazz, The Snail and its sister work Memory of Oceania (both 1953) and the largest number of the Blue Nudes ever shown together. The display takes an in-depth look at the methods and materials Matisse used in the production of the cut-outs. Runs until 7th September (and keep an eye out for the accompanying film, Matisse: Live in cinemas). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Henri Matisse, Icarus 1946, Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947, Digital image: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM–CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet, Artwork: © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014.
• On Now: Spitting Image. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury centres on the partnership of three dimensional artists Peter Fluck and Roger Law and their key role in the creation of what became known as Spitting Image. It features caricature drawings and photographs created for magazines in the 1970s and 1980s of the likes of Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Kate Moss, Saddam Hussein, Billy Connolly, Rupert Murdoch, Jo Brand and John Paul II as well as members of the Royal Family and politicians including Margaret Thatcher. Also present are some of the puppets used in the TV show which ran for 18 series between 1984 and 1996 – these include those of Thatcher, The Queen, Princess Diana and Mr Spock. Runs until 8th June (with selected late opening nights). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
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March 25, 2014
A website launched last year – Britain from Above – boasts some unique perspectives on London among its more than 61,000 images including this one above of the South Bank site of the Festival of Britain – a national exhibition held at various venues across Britain as a post-war “tonic” for the nation – under construction, taken on 14th August, 1950. The website features images taken as part of a collection of aerial photographs taken between 1919 and 1953 by pioneering air survey company Aerofilms Ltd. It has been created by English Heritage, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales following their joint purchase of the company’s collection of more than 1.26 million negatives and 2000 photo albums and forms part of a four year project which aims to conserve and digitise some 95,000 of the oldest and most valuable photographs in the collection. Under the project, the general public is invited to share and record their knowledge and memories of the photographs featured. To get involved, head to www.britainfromabove.org.uk. Below can be seen an image of the FA Cup Final being played between Sheffield Wednesday and West Bromwich Albion (Sheffield were 4-2 victors) at Wembley Stadium on 27th April, 1935. PICTURES: © English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection EAW031792/© English Heritage. Aerofilms Collection EPW046905.
December 3, 2013
In a reminder of the summer’s past, here’s an image of Londoners enjoying the sun in the shadow of London’s Eye. The EDF Energy London Eye this year officially welcomed its 50 millionth visitor, some 13 years after the 135 metre high wheel first commenced operation. It was originally anticipated the Eye would only exist for five years but such has been its success that it’s been granted lifelong permission to remain at its South Bank site. For more on the Eye, check out www.londoneye.com.
Around London – Prehistoric life on show at Wellington Arch; Your favourite Michael Caine movie; Lichtenstein at the Tate; and, looking at Classical Greece through 19th century eyes…
February 21, 2013
Apologies for missing our series on Great Victorian Projects yesterday. It will resume next week. In the meantime…
• Fourteen rare Victorian paintings of life in prehistoric times have gone on display at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner. The watercolors – which were commissioned by MP and archaeologist Sir John Lubbock in 1869 and have never before been displayed in public together – form the centrepiece of a new English Heritage exhibition, The General, The Scientist & The Banker: The Birth of Archaeology and the Battle for the Past. The “ground-breaking” works were painted by animal illustrator Ernst Griset and were ‘informed’ by then-recent archaeological finds including stone tools and fossils. The exhibition, which also includes rare artefacts, drawings and manuscripts tells the story of archaeological pioneers who fought to bring about recognition and legal protection for Britain’s ancient monuments and looks in detail at the achievements of three men – scientist Charles Darwin, archaeologist General Pitt-Rivers and banker Sir John Lubbock. The exhibition is the first of five being held in the arch’s Quadriga Gallery to mark the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. Runs until 21st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.
• Get Carter or The Ipcress File? Alfie or Educating Rita? The Museum of London is asking fans to vote for their favourite Michael Caine movie ahead of the opening of their new free exhibition on the actor next month. Voting for Caine on Screen can be found by following this link and closes at 5pm on 14th March after which the top four films will be revealed. A full list of Sir Michael’s movies – and there’s more than 100 – is available on the voting form. More on the exhibition to come.
• On Now: Lichtenstein: A Retrospective. This exhibition on level two of the Tate Modern on South Bank is the first major retrospective on the Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) for 20 years and brings together more than 125 of his most definitive paintings and sculptures as it reassesses his work and legacy. Key works include Look Mickey (1961), Whaam! (1963) and Drowning Girl (1963). Co-organised by The Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern, it runs until 27th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
• On Now: In search of Classical Greece: Travel drawings of Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi, 1805-1806. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at Greece through the eyes of classical late eighteenth and early nineteenth century scholar Edward Dodwell and his Italian artist Simone Pomardi and features works produced during their travels in 1805-06. Lent by the Packard Humanities Institute, the works have never been seen in public before. See them in Room 90. Runs until 28th April. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
January 29, 2013
Says the photographer, Ben Bibriesca: “Instead of spending another lazy weekend in, my flatmate and I decided to plan a trip to the Tate Modern. Unfortunately due to the snow, all our friends dropped out. We decided to still go but spent more time outdoors taking photos in the snow then at the actual museum. This shot was taken right before we crossed the bridge to get to our destination. I just loved the way everything was snow covered and white.” For more of Ben’s work, see www.flickr.com/photos/benbibriesca/.
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October 29, 2012
Perhaps not so much a sign as a pub name, the strangely monikered Doggett’s Coat and Badge in South Bank is named after a rowing race – said to be the oldest continuous sporting event in the country – in which apprentice waterman traditionally competed for a prize consisting of waterman’s coat and badge and named after Irish-born actor and theatre manager, Thomas Doggett.
The race – which is held in July and runs over a course of four miles and seven furlongs from London Bridge to Chelsea (the starting and finishing points were originally both marked by pubs called The Swan) – was first held in 1715 when it was first organised by Doggett who financed it up until his death in 1721 after which he left instructions in its will for it to be carried on by The Fishmongers’ Company (which it still is today).
While there’s a nice story that Doggett, who managed the Drury Lane Theatre and later the Haymarket Theatre and carving out a name for himself as a ‘wit’, started the race as thanks to Thames watermen for rescuing him when he fell off a watercraft while crossing the Thames, Doggett – a committed Whig – actually started the race to commemorate the ascension of King George I – the first ruler of the House of Hanover – on 1st August, 1714, following the death of Queen Anne.
This year’s race winner was Merlin Dwan (London Rowing Club) who beat four others to finish in 24 minutes, 28 seconds.
The pub, one of the Nicholson franchise, is located in a multiple storey modern building complex and sits along the course of the race in South Bank. It features a range of bars including Thomas Doggett’s Bar and the Riverside Bar as well as a dining room and other function rooms.
For more on the pub, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/doggettscoatandbadgesouthbanklondon/. For more on the race (which we’ll be mentioning, along with more on Thomas Doggett, in more detail in upcoming posts), see www.DoggettsRace.org.uk.
May 29, 2012
Like your Royal Family large? The largest ever photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their four children has been displayed on South Bank building, Sea Containers, in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The iconic picture of the family – which also includes Earl Mountbatten, uncle to Prince Philip, and Princess Anne’s then husband Mark Phillips – was taken during 1977’s Silver Jubilee by an unknown photographer. The 100 by 70 metre image, which weighs nearly two tons, took eight people more than 45 hours to put into place on the building’s facade overlooking the Thames. It was erected by the owner of Sea Containers as a tribute to be seen during this weekend’s Jubilee Flotilla (and also to hide development work taking place behind as the building is transformed into a Mondrian hotel – Europe’s first – and office space.
The first in a regular section of tips to make the most out of your time in London…
South Bank Walks. Five free online walking guides, each of which comes with maps and detailed descriptions of points of interest along the way, are available on the South Bank Walks website, created by the South Bank Employers’ Group . The walks take in more that just South Bank – one starts in Soho and finishes in South Bank; another starts at St Paul’s and ends up at Borough Market – and include a guide specifically designed for young people. The website also has a terrific building and street search feature. www.southbankwalks.com