Kenwood-HouseThis is the case of a movie stand-in. While Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath in north London (pictured above) was the real life home of late 18th century figure Dido Elizabeth Belle, the subject of the 2014 Amma Asante-directed film Belle – the movie wasn’t actually shot there.

Thanks to the fact that parts of Kenwood House – in particular the famed Robert Adam interiors – were undergoing restoration at the time, the scenes representing the home’s interiors were instead shot at three other London properties – Chiswick House, Syon Park and Osterley Park, all located in London’s west (West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, meanwhile, was used for the exterior).

While some other scenes were also filmed in London – Bedford Square represented Bloomsbury Square where the London home of Lord Mansfield was located, for example, other locations were also used to represent London – scenes depicting Kentish Town, Vauxhall Gardens and the bank of the River Thames were all actually shot on the Isle of Man, for example.

When the real life Belle – the illegitimate mixed race daughter of an English naval captain who was raised by her great-uncle William Murray, Lord Mansfield (she was played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the film; Lord Mansfield by Tom Wilkinson)  – is believed to have lived at Kenwood, it was the weekend retreat of Lord Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England (for more on her life, see our previous post here).

Interestingly, the property was also once home to a 1779 painting (previously attributed to Johann Zoffany but now said to be “unsigned”) which depicts Belle and which was apparently the inspiration for the movie. While a copy of the painting still hands at Kenwood, the original now lives at Scone Palace in Scotland.

For more on Belle’s story, see Paula Byrne’s Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle.

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Where is it?…#57

February 15, 2013

Where-is-it--#57

Can you identify where in London this picture was taken (obviously out of season!)? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Mike, Visiting Houses and Gardens and Roberta Stimson (via Facebook) – this is indeed the Great Conservatory at Syon Park – London home of the Duke of Northumberland – located on the banks of the Thames in west London. The magnificent structure was commissioned by the third duke, Hugh Percy, and designed by architect Charles Fowler in 1826. Constructed of gunmetal, Bath stone and glass, it is said to have inspired Joseph Paxton in his designs for the Crystal Palace. For more on Syon Park, see www.syonpark.co.uk.

• The City of London today kicks off Celebrate the City – four days of mostly free music, art and cultural events.The events include musical performances in many of the City’s churches, walks and talks at various locations around the Square Mile, new exhibitions including Butcher, Baker, Candlestock Maker – 850 years of Livery Company Treasures at the Guildhall Art Gallery, Livery Hall and historic building openings, family entertainment at the Cheapside Street Fayre at Saturday (including free ice-cream and tuk-tuk rides for children) and activities at the Barbican Centre and the Museum of London. The celebrations start in Guildhall Yard (pictured) at 6pm tonight when musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama perform Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with firing cannons. Among the many other highlights will be the chance to play golden street pianos, to join in the Midsummer street part at the climax of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, to enjoy a sunset from the Tower Bridge walkways and to see the transformation of St Helen’s Square into a sculpture space. The weekend will also host the Open House Junior Festival, London’s first ever child-friendly City architecture festival. To see detailed listings of what’s on, head to www.visitthecity.co.uk/index.php/celebrate/.

• The Museum of London will next week launch its annual community and training dig at Syon Park in Hounslow. The dig, which will be open to school and community groups, will run from 25th June to 7th July and will focus on the area of Sir Richard Wynne’s house. A Parliamentarian, in 1659 he was implicated in a Royalist insurrection and was imprisoned. The house, which featured in the Battle of Brentford when Royalist troops advanced on Parliamentary forces in London in 1641, was later purchased by the Duke of Northumberland and demolished to extend Syon’s parkland. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• We couldn’t resist mentioning this one: Westminster City Council has released a top 10 list of the strangest objects people have dumped on London’s streets. They include an inflatable Margaret Thatcher and other inflatable dolls, wedding dresses, stuffed animals and a range of film props. The council say that, on average, enough litter is picked up off Westminster’s streets every two days to fill the entire 864 cubic metres of Marble Arch. They add that if just half of the annual waste collected off the street is recycled properly in the correct bins it would save them nearly £1million.

• On Now: Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. The major summer exhibition at the British Library, it explores how the last 1,000 years of English literature have been shaped by the country’s places. The exhibition  features more than 150 works with highlights including John Lennon’s original lyrics for The Beatles’ song In My Life, JK Rowling’s handwritten draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JRR Tolkein’s original artwork for The Hobbit and original manuscripts from the likes of Jane Austen, William Blake, Charlotte Bronte, Arthur Conan Doyle, JG Ballard and Charles Dickens. As part of the exhibition, the Library is inviting people to “Pin-a-Tale” on an interactive map of Britain, that is, take a literary work and pin it on the map along with a description of how the work links with that particular location – head to www.bl.uk/pin-a-tale to take part. The exhibition runs until 25th September. Admission fee applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Sitting on the bank of the Thames at Old Isleworth in the city’s west stands The London Apprentice public house.

The pub’s licence dates back to at least 1731 and it has been associated with the likes of such luminaries as King Henry VIII (it’s suggested he met Catherine Howard here – she was later imprisoned in nearby Syon House), King Charles I and King Charles II (the latter apparently cavorted with his mistress, actress Nell Gwynne, here), as well as the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Others whose names come up in reference to the pub include the ever-present author Charles Dickens (this is said to have been one his favorite pubs) and notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.

While there remain some doubts over its origins, the name of the pub – which stands opposite the small isle known as the Isleworth Ait – is said to stem from the fact that it was here that London apprentices, having faithfully served their masters, came to while away the hours in their downtime. They are said to have entertained themselves by playing about in decorated barges on the river.

There is said to be a tunnel, now blocked, which links the pub with the nearby All Saint’s Church – the story goes that this was used by smugglers to get their contraband into the pub’s cellars.

For more information or to pay a visit, see www.thelondonapprentice.co.uk.

One of the most significant events during the early year of King James I’s reign was the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.

The plot, which involved a group of Catholic conspirators including Robert Catesby and  Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes (you can read more about Fawkes in our earlier entry on Bonfire Night), centred on a plan to blow up the House of Lords in Westminster Palace during the State Opening of Parliament in November 1605, thus killing the king (who had aggrieved Catholics in a public denunciation at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604; it should also be noted that he was already aware of several other failed Catholic plots to kill him) and, presumably, many MPs and Lords.

It is believed they intended replacing James with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, whom they hoped could be made more amendable to Catholic worship.

But such a plot was hard to keep mum and an anonymous tip-off to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, not to attend the event, led authorities to eventually uncover the plot in a basement storeroom below the House of Lords where, at around midnight on 4th November, they found Fawkes guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Fawkes was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a sentence never fully carried out after he leapt off the scaffold and broke his neck – and the other plotters, who had fled from London soon after the discovery, were either killed during subsequent arrest attempts, imprisoned or executed.

So happy was King James I – that he had Act of Parliament passed which made the 5th November a day of thanksgiving – it remained in force until 1859. Celebrations of the plot’s foiling continue every year on Bonfire Night.

But what were some of the significant places in the event? The cellar where Fawkes was arrested no longer exists – it was destroyed during a fire in 1834.

The conspirators who had been arrested were subsequently taken to the Tower of London where King James I authorised the torture of at least Fawkes and perhaps others among the conspirators. Fawkes capitulated quickly and signed two confessions (which are now in The National Archives). Another of the conspirators, Francis Tresham, died of natural causes while in the Tower.

The eight surviving conspirators went on trial at Westminster Hall – still part of the Houses of Parliament complex today; the end of the hall is visible in the above picture – in late January 1606 and were all condemned to death for treason.

Four of them were executed on 30th January in St Paul’s Churchyard outside St Paul’s Cathedral while the remaining four including Fawkes were executed the next day outside Westminster Hall in Old Palace Yard. The heads of Catesby and Thomas Percy, both of whom had been killed during a shoot-out in Staffordshire, were set up outside the Houses of Parliament.

Arrests – and in some cases executions – of others believed to be associated with the plot continued in the following months.

Another place of note in the story of the Gunpowder Plot is Syon Park in the city’s west, now the London home of the Duke of Northumberland. The aforementioned Thomas Percy was a cousin of the then Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, and apparently dined with the Catholic earl at the house on the night of 4th November, before the plot was uncovered.

That association subsequently led to the earl’s arrest and he was confined to the Tower for the next 15 years on the order of the king.

An exhibition containing the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses has opened at the Imperial War Museum, housed in what is the museum’s first new major permanent gallery for 10 years. The Extraordinary Heroes exhibition – housed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery – contains his Lordship’s collection of 162 Victoria Crosses, awarded for parts played in wars stretching from the Crimean to the Falklands, displayed alongside the 48 Victoria Crosses and 31 George Crosses already held by the museum. As well as the awards, the new gallery will display many objects for the first time, including a badly damaged backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher when he leapt on a grenade during action in Afghanistan in 2008 to save the lives of his fellow soldiers (he survived as well), and the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis who won a VC for his role in placing limpet mines in the Johore Straits in World War II. The gallery was paid for with a £5 million donation from Lord Ashcroft. Admission is free. For more information, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The remains of a Roman settlement have been unearthed at historic home, Syon Park, in London’s west. Archaeological experts from the Museum of London have already removed around 11,500 pieces of pottery, jewellery and about 100 coins from the site on the Syon Park estate. Syon Park, the home of the Duke of Northumberland, sits on the northern bank of the Thames, opposite Kew Gardens. The site was excavated in 2008 in preparing for the construction of a new luxury hotel there. Some of the artefacts will go on display at the new hotel, the London Syon Park, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which will open early next year. The settlement, which includes a Roman road and burials, was discovered only half a metre below ground level. For more information on the property, see www.syonpark.co.uk.

Now on: From an early morning coffee in European cities to chewing betel nut in Asia, the Wellcome Collection’s major winter exhibition, High Society, traces the role mind-altering drugs have played in history and culture. The display includes more than 200 exhibits, from an 11th century manuscript written by monks in Suffolk detailing poppy remedies, to a 17th century account by Captain Thomas Bowrey describing his crew’s experiments with the cannabis drink bhang, and an account of NASA’s experiments with intoxicated spiders. Admission is free. The exhibition runs until 27th February. For more information, see www.wellcomecollection.org.