• It’s all about the Olympics in London this week and many of the events – like the Opening Ceremony and Torch Relay (see last week’s post) – are well covered elsewhere, but we thought we’d mention a couple of things in relation to the Games: 

The first is the ‘All the Bells’ project which will see bells across London being rung at 8:12am on Friday to “ring in” the first day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, is the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and will involve thousands of bells across the nation. Speaking of bells, the City of London has announced that some of the City’s churches will be ringing continuously during the three Olympic marathon events – the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic events. As many as 57 of the country’s most experienced bell ringers, co-ordinated by the Ancient Society of College Youths (a ringing society created in London in 1637) will be working for three to four hours continuously at churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary le Bow, St Lawrence Jewry, St Magnus the Martyr, St Vedast and St Katharine Cree. During the women’s marathon, an all-female band will be attempting a peal at St Paul’s, the first all-woman attempt on the bells. (Apologies, this article had originally had the time for the bell ringing at 8.12pm – it is in the morning, not the evening!)

A new exhibition exploring London’s Olympic history has opened at the British Library. Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games features a range of memorabilia including a swimming costume and the finishing tape broken by – later disqualified – marathon runner Dorando Pietri  from the 1908 London Games (see our earlier post for more on him) as well as posters and artworks, stamps, letters and postcards. The exhibition also features audio interviews with Olympians including William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. Presented by the British Library and International Olympic Committee, the exhibition runs until 9th September at the library in St Pancras. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Rare 1948 postcard by an unknown artist (c) Private collection/IOC

• A new free wifi network has been launched in London’s West End. Westminster City Council and telco O2 launched the network this week. It will initially cover Oxford and Regent Streets, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square with further areas in Westminster and Covent Garden the next to be included in the network. A once-only registration process is required to join.

• Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, The Arch, has been returned to its original home in Kensington Gardens. The six metre high work was presented to the nation by Moore in 1980 and was positioned on the north bank of the Long Water until 1996 when the structure became unstable and was placed in storage. In late 2010, the Royal Parks began a project with The Henry Moore Foundation to see if the work could be returned to the gardens. Work began to restore the piece – which consists of seven stones weighing 37 tonnes – to its original location earlier this year. For more on Kensington Gardens, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.

• On Now: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. This Royal Academy of Arts exhibition at Burlington House features 70 works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and includes works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Renoir as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, and ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. Runs until 23rd September. Admission charge applies. See www.royalacademy.org.uk for more.

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London’s oldest manufacturing company is the same as Britain’s oldest and is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

The company was established in 1570 (although founders have been discovered operating in the area as far back as 1420) and, according to its website, still concentrates solely on the manufacture of bells and their fittings with large church bells accounting for 80 per cent of the company’s business. The remainder of the business is involved in manufacturing handbells and other smaller bells.

The foundry’s current buildings, apparently originally used as a coaching inn named The Artichoke, date from 1670 and are presumed to have replaced structures consumed in the Great Fire of London. The foundry had earlier been located in smaller premises on the other side of Whitechapel Road.

The foundry has typically operated under the name of the master founder and owner but since 1968 has apparently operated under its current name.

The most famous bells cast at the foundry include the Liberty Bell (1752) – the symbol of American independence which cracked when first rung and was recast in Philadelphia, the Great Bell of Montreal Cathedral, ‘Great Tom’ of Lincoln Cathedral, and, of course, Big Ben (1858) – at 13,760 kilograms, the largest bell ever cast at the foundry.

Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral also feature bells cast at the foundry and replacement bells for St Mary-le-Bow and St Clement Danes made here following their destruction in World War II and bells from the foundry have been sent as far afield as Australia and India.

Among the most recent bells to be cast at the foundry are the Royal Jubilee Bells, used in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and now housed at St James Garlickhythe in the City of London (each of the bells, which bear the Royal Arms, is named after a member of the Royal Family – Elizabeth being the largest with others named Philip, Charles, Anne, Andrew, Edward, William and Henry.)

There is a small exhibition on bell-making in the foundry shop looking at the history of the foundry and bell-making in general, and one-and-a-half-hour tours of the foundry run Saturdays (booking well in advance is usually required). Additional tours are being held every day during the Olympics.

WHERE: 32/34 Whitechapel Road; WHEN: Tours are usually held on Saturdays when no work is being undertaken – see website for dates – but special tours are being held daily from 10am to 5pm, 28th July to 12th August, 2012; COST: The exhibition/museum is free but tours are usually £12 a head for over 14s (Olympic period tours are £10 a head/£25 a family – children under 14 not admitted without adult supervision) – see website for more details on purchasing tickets; WEBSITE: www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk.

 • Cambridge took the line honours over Oxford in this year’s Boat Race on the Thames in what has been billed as one of the most dramatic races in its 158 race history. The race was interrupted when a swimmer, described as an anti-elitist protestor, was spotted in the water and, following a restart near the Chiswick Eyot, the boat crews clashed oars and one of the Oxford crew lost his oar’s spoon. Cambridge pulled steadily ahead with Oxford an oar down and was declared the winner by four and a quarter lengths. The presentation ceremony was subsequently not held after Oxford’s bow man collapsed and was rushed to hospital where was reported to be recovering well. The win takes Cambridge’s victories to 81 compared to Oxford’s 76. For more, see http://theboatrace.org. (For more on the history of the Boat Race, see our entry from last year).

Epping Forest’s bluebells are out in force and to celebrate the City of London Corporation is holding a series of events including an art exhibition at The Temple in Wanstead Park. The exhibition, Out of the Blue, celebrates the bluebells of Chalet Wood and features a “miscellany of bluebell images, artwork, folklore and fairies”. A free event, it runs until 27th May. This Sunday the Temple will also host an art afternoon with local artist Barbara Sampson and on 29th April photographer Robert Good will hold a course on photography around the forest. Both are free events. For more details, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/epping.

• “Porky pies” (lies) is the most used Cockney phrase, according to a survey of Britons on their knowledge and use of Cockney. The Museum of London survey of 2,000 people, including 1,000 from London, also found that “apples and pears” (stairs) was the most well-known Cockney phrase and that while a majority of people knew what common phrases like “brown bread” meant (in this case dead), only small percentages of people used them. And while 63 per cent of respondents believed Cockney slang was crucial to London’s identity, 40 per cent were convinced it is dying out and 33 per cent were sad at its passing. Strictly speaking, a ‘Cockney’ is someone who was born within the sound of bow bells at the church of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, but according to Alex Werner, head of history collections at the museum, “people from all corners of London identify themselves as being Cockney”. He said that while for many people “Cockney rhyming slang is intrinsic to the identity of London”, the research the Cockney dialect “may not be enjoying the same level of popularity”. The research found that among the least known Cockney rhyming slang phrases included “white mice” (ice), “donkey’s ears” (years), and “loop de loop” (soup). For more from the museum, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• The life of influential newspaper editor and Titanic victim, William Stead, will be celebrated at a two day conference next week. Hosted by the British Library, in association with Birkbeck College and the University of Birmingham, the conference will feature 40 speakers from around the world. Stead, who was editor of The Pall Mall Gazette, was a controversial figure who is credited with being one of the inventors of the modern tabloid. He died on the Titanic‘s maiden voyage – the 100th anniversary of which is being marked this month. W.T. Stead: A Centenary Conference for a Newspaper Revolutionary takes place from 16th to 17th April, 2012. Tickets (£45 for one day or £85 for two days) can be booked by visiting the box office in the St Pancras building or phoning 01937 546546. The programme for the conference can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/stead2012/.

• On Now: Titian’s First Masterpiece: The Flight into Egypt. The National Gallery is hosting a new exhibition focused on the then young artist’s creation of the magnificent painting The Flight into Egypt in the 16th century. The artwork, lent to the National Gallery by the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, has recently been restored and the exhibition represents the first time the painting has been seen outside Russia since 1768 when Empress Catherine the Great purchased it in Venice. Admission is free. Runs until 19th August. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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.