The life of literary icon Virginia Woolf is being celebrated in a new exhibition which opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision explores her life as novelist, intellectual, campaigner and public figure and features more than 100 works including portraits of Woolf by Bloomsbury Group contemporaries like her sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry as well as photographs by Beresford, Ray Man and Beck and McGregor who photographed the intellectual for Vogue. The display also includes works depicting her friends, family and literary peers and archival materials such as extracts from her personal diaries, books printed by Hogarth Press which she founded with husband Leonard Woolf and letters including one written to her sister shortly before her suicide in 1941. Runs until 26th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

The 52nd City of London Festival enters its final week today with numerous music, dance, spoken word and theatre events – many of them free – still on offer across the City. Events this week include a concert focusing on the history of the instrument known as the recorder and that of the office of Recorder of London (as St Sepulchre with Newgate tonight; tickets required), a showcase of musical talent from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (at St Stephen Walbrook at 1.05pm next Tuesday; free), and, the Cart Marking Ceremony, in which vehicles process into Guildhall Yard where they are marked with a red hot iron by the Master Carmen and Lord Mayor (next Wednesday at 10.30am, free). For the full program of events, see www.colf.org. This year’s festival also features the placement of “street guitars” at 12 locations across the Square Mile where you can turn up and have a strum – for locations, see www.colf.org/streetguitars.

A new gallery of items you might find in your own home has opened at the V&A. Gallery 74 now features items collected as a result of the museum’s “rapid response collecting” approach which sees them acquiring new objects relating to contemporary events and movements in architecture and design. Among the objects on display are a soft toy from IKEA, a pair of jeans from Primark (acquired soon after the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which 1129 workers were killed – the factory made clothes for a number of western brands including Primark), and the world’s first 3D printed gun, the Liberator, which was designed by Texas law student Cody Wilson. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

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

Henry-Moore-altar

A beautiful church in the round, St Stephen Walbrook has a rich history with one of its stand-out features is an altar designed by world renowned sculptor Henry Moore. 

The centrally located circular altar, carved between 1972 and 1983 of polished travertine marble (the marble was taken from the same quarry as that used in Michelangelo’s work), is eight foot across and weighs several tons.

It was commissioned  by property developer and churchwarden, Lord Palumbo, as part of a £1.3 million restoration of the church – built under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s, replacing an earlier church which burnt down in the Great Fire – which took place between 1978 and 1987.

It was deliberately designed to be placed at the centre of the church and didn’t take up its new position without controversy with objectors to it taking the matter to the Court of Ecclesiastical Cases Reserved (they ruled the altar was acceptable for use in a Church of England church).

WHERE: St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook (nearest tube stations are Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: 10am to 4pm weekdays (check website for changes); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ststephenwalbrook.net.  

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.