LondonLife – Tower Bridge crossing…

Crossing the Thames on a cold winter’s day. PICTURE: Lubo Minar/Unsplash

LondonLife – Back in lockdown…

The City of London, as seen from Tower Bridge. PICTURE: Claudia Owczarek/Unsplash

This Week in London – King’s maps go online; life at Tower Bridge; Wildlife Photographer of the Year; and, the Gruffalo at Kew…

• Treasures including a hand-drawn map of New York City presented to the future King James II in 1664, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural drawings for Castle Howard and some London churches, and Italian Jesuit Matteo Ripa’s massive 1719 Kangxi Map of China are among thousands of maps and views The British Library have placed online. The library is now nearing the end of the project to put 40,000 early maps and views online and most can now be accessed via the library’s Flickr Commons collection website. The documents are all part of the Topographical Collection of King George III, itself a distinct segment of the King’s Library which was donated to the Nation by King George IV in 1823. Other highlights to go online include Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s drawings of the town of Lucca, dating from about 1742, James Cook’s 1763 large manuscript map of the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, and watercolours by noted 18th century artists including Paul Sandby and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. PICTURED: Nicholas Hawksmoor, [An elevation and plan for St George, Bloomsbury]. London, between 1712 and 1730. Maps K.Top 23.16.2.a.

• A new exhibition celebrating the lives of those who work behind the scenes at Tower Bridge and the visitors who walk its floors opens in the iconic bridge’s Engine Rooms on Friday. Lives of a Landmark features images commissioned in 2019 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the bridge. Photographer Lucy Hunter spent several months at the bridge, recording daily life there and this display is the result. Admission charge applies. For more, head here.

Winning images from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year – including Sergey Gorshkov’s Grand Title winner, a rare glimpse of Siberian tigress – go on show at the South Kensington-based museum from Friday. The exhibition features the 100 images, selected from more than 49,000 entries, that were short-listed for the 56th annual competition, the results of which were announced in a virtual ceremony earlier this week. Runs until 6th June. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

The Gruffalo is the subject of a new “curated journey” taking place over the half-term break in Kew Gardens’ Arboretum. Visitors are encouraged to play the role of the “little brown mouse” and follow a trail to track down the Gruffalo, along the way encountering some of the other characters from Julia Donaldson’s famous book including Fox, Owl and Snake. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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

This Week in London – National Gallery – and other landmarks – to reopen while National Portrait Gallery remains closed to 2023…

Plans are afoot for the reopening of London’s iconic historic and cultural institutions with The National Gallery becoming the first national museum in the UK the first to do so when it reopens its doors on 8th July. Special exhibitions include Titian: Love, Desire, Death which had to close after just three days and has now been extended to 17th January, 2021, and Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age which has been extended until 20 September. Meanwhile, Room 32 – one of the gallery’s largest rooms displaying 17th-century Italian paintings by artists including Caravaggio, Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi, Guido Reni and Guercino – will reopen as the Julia and Hans Rausing Room after a 21 month refurbishment project while the Equestrian Portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck (about 1637/8) will be back on show in Room 21 after a more than two year restoration. There are also number of newly-acquired paintings on show including Liotard’s The Lavergne Family Breakfast (1754), Gainsborough’s Portrait of Margaret Gainsborough holding a Theorbo (about 1777) and Sorolla’s The Drunkard, Zaraúz, (1910). All visits must be booked online in advance and, of course, social distancing measures will be in place. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Tower Bridge is among landmarks reopening its doors in London. PICTURE: Javier Martinez/Unsplash 

Other landmarks opening include Tower Bridge (with a new one way route from 4th July), Eltham Palace (from 4th July) and the Tower of London (from 10th July). Openings later this month include interiors at Hampton Court Palace (from 17th July) the British Library Reading Rooms (from 22nd July), and Kensington Palace (30th July). We’ll keep you informed as more sites open.

And amid the openings, comes a closure with the National Portrait Gallery shutting its doors until spring 2023 to allow for a massive redevelopment project known as ‘Inspiring People’. The redevelopment project – the gallery’s biggest since the building in St Martin’s Place opened in 1896 – includes a comprehensive re-presentation of the gallery’s collection, spanning a period stretching from the Tudors to now, across 40 refurbished galleries along with a complete refurbishment of the building including the restoration of historic features, a new and more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt on the building’s north facade. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com

LondonLife – The silent city…

PICTURE: Rotana Ty (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

LondonLife – And so Brexit Day passes…an ending or a new beginning?…

PICTURE: Marcus Lenk/Unsplash

This Week in London – Inside the world of mushrooms; Tower Bridge ‘sings’; and, ‘La Ghirlandata’ restored…

The world of mushrooms is explored in a new exhibition opening tomorrow at Somerset House. Part of the Charles Russell Speechly’s Terrace Rooms Series, Mushrooms: The art, design and future of fungi is curated by writer Francesca Gavin and features works by more than 35 artists, designers and musicians in an exploration of “the rich legacy and incredible potential of the remarkable organism, the ideas it inspires in the poetic, spiritual and psychedelic, and the powerful promise it offers to reimagine society’s relationship with the planet, inspiring new thinking around design and architecture”. Highlights include watercolours by renowned author Beatrix Potter (one of which is pictured), American artist Cy Twombly’s quasi-scientific portfolio Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974), and a spectacular floral display, featuring mushrooms grown in Somerset House’s former coalholes, by the London Flower School. The free exhibition, which runs until 26th April, is accompanied by a series of events. For more, see somersethouse.org.uk/mushrooms. PICTURE: Beatrix Potter, Hygrophorus puniceus, pencil and watercolour, 7.10.1894, collected at Smailholm Tower, Kelso, courtesy of the Armitt Trust

A newly commissioned film which reimagines Tower Bridge as a musical instrument is at the heart of a new exhibition which opened in the bridge’s Victorian Engine Rooms this week. Created by internationally acclaimed artist, inventor and filmmaker Di Mainstone to mark the bridge’s 125th anniversary, Time Bascule draws inspiration from Hannah Griggs, one of the first women to work at the bridge (in her case as a cook for the Bridge Master and his family between 1911-1915). The display also includes behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards and early sketches, as well as the opportunity for visitors to play a range of specially created musical instruments. Runs until March. Included in admission to the bridge. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, La Ghirlandata, is being unveiled at the Guildhall Art Gallery today following a year-long restoration. William Russell, Lord Mayor of the City of London, is unveiling the portrait which was painted in 1873. Conversation work undertaken included cleaning the painting to reveal a “brighter, fresher scene with a cooler tonality”, repairing and cleaning Rossetti’s original frame, and replaced the deteriorating living canvas. The restoration was made possible thanks to a grant from the Bank of America.

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

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

Hoping you have a wonderful Christmas! PICTURE: johnc001 (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Tower Bridge…

This year marks 125 years since the opening of Tower Bridge.

The bridge, which took eight years to build and was designed by City of London architect Sir Horace Jones in collaboration with engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry, was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).

Others among the tens of thousands who turned out to mark the historic event were the Duke of York (later King George V), Lord Mayor of London Sir George Robert Tyler and members of the Bridge House Estates Committee.

A procession of carriages carrying members of the royal family had set out from Marlborough House that morning, stopping at Mansion House on its way to the bridge.

Once there, it drove back and forth across before official proceedings took place in which the Prince of Wales pulled a lever to set in motion the steam-driven machinery which raised the two enormous bascules and allowed a huge flotilla of craft of all shapes and sizes to pass under it.

The event was also marked with a gun salute fired from the Tower of London.

Plaques commemorating the opening can be found at either end of the bridge. The event was also captured in a famous painting by artist William Lionel Wyllie who had attended with his wife. The painting is now held at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Tower Bridge has been running a series of special events to mark the anniversary this year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Tower Bridge today. PICTURE: Charles Postiaux/Unsplash

 

LondonLife – Angles on an iconic bridge…

Tower Bridge marked its 125th birthday last weekend so to celebrate, here’s some different angles on London’s most photographed bridge. The Victorian Gothic bascule and suspension bridge, which spans the Thames just to the east of London Bridge (with which it’s not to be confused), took eight years to build and was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the then Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). For more on the celebrations taking place at the bridge over the coming weeks and months, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/.

 

This Week in London – Tower Bridge turns 125; Cindy Sherman at the National Portrait Gallery; and, Félix Vallotton at the RA…

•  Tower Bridge marks its 125th anniversary on Sunday and in honour of the event, there will be celebrations inside and outside the bridge right across the weekend. Entry to the bridge will be priced at just £1.25 and visitors will also receive a one-off souvenir bookmark as well as £5 off the official Tower Bridge book. Tickets cannot be booked in advance. Among the activities is a new photographic exhibition on the high-level walkways showcasing rare archival images and new photographs while costumed performers depicting historic figures – including the bridge’s first and only Indian engineer, divers who dug the foundations and the bridge’s first female employees – will be re-enacting scenes which (might have) happened during construction. Visitors can also join in the bridge architect Sir Horace Jones’ 200th “big birthday bash” in the Engine Rooms and view a new installation on the piers imagining some of the alternative river crossings that could have been built in place of the bridge. Special events will be continuing until the end of the year. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/. PICTURE: Paul Varzar/Unsplash

Contemporary artist Cindy Sherman’s ground-breaking series, Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) has gone on public display for the first time in the UK in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work. Hosted at the National Portrait Gallery, Cindy Sherman explores the development of the artist’s work from the mid-1970s to the present day and includes all 70 images from the Untitled Film Still series as well all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed while she was a student in 1976 and being displayed together for the first time. There will also be a range of source material from the artist’s studio to give insights into her working processes. Runs until 15th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

The work of Swiss artist Félix Vallotton (1865–1925) is being exhibited in a dedicated display for the first time in the UK since 1976. Opening in the The Jillian and Arthur M Sackler Wing of Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts on Sunday, Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet features about 100 works from public and private collections across Europe and the US and is organised in three sections spanning his career. Highlights include Self-portrait at the Age of Twenty (1885), The Sick Girl (1892), The Visit (1899), Gabrielle Vallotton (1905), Nude Holding her Gown (1904),  This is War! (1916), Red Peppers (1915), and Sandbanks on the Loire (1923). On show until 29th September after which the exhibition will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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

LondonLife – Victorian London in photographs…

Above is a view along Fleet Street in the City of London in 1890, looking east towards Ludgate Hill and St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s one of many early photographic views of London on show in a free exhibition which can be seen in Aldgate Square until Sunday (12th August). Presented by the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives, Victorian London in Photographs includes the earliest photograph in the LMA collection (see last Thursday’s entry for that). If you miss it at Aldgate Square, the display will be in Paternoster Square next to St Paul’s Cathedral from 14th to 23rd August. For more on the London Metropolitan Archives, follow this link. ALL PICTURES: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London Corporation

Above – Residents pose for the camera in Market Court, Kensington in 1868.

Above – Following the success of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, the Crystal Palace was relocated to Sydenham Hill. This photograph by Philip Henry Delamotte taken between 1852 and 1854 shows the South Transept during construction.

Above – Work progresses on the masonry and suspension chains during the construction of Tower Bridge in 1892. 

View of Iron Wharf and Bull Wharf, with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background. The photograph was taken from Southwark Bridge. Anonymous photographer, c. 1855.

LondonLife – Tower Bridge opening…

PICTURE: Sandy Kemsley (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Recap – 10 of the most memorable (and historic) views of London

We have finished our series on 10 of the most memorable (and historic) views of London. And while there’s plenty of views we didn’t mention (we’ll be featuring more in an upcoming series at some point), we think we have captured 10 worth seeing. So, in case you missed any, here they are again…

1. View from St Paul’s Cathedral’s dome…

2. The city skyline from Primrose Hill…

3. View from General Wolfe, Greenwich…

4. View from King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park…

5. View from the top of The Monument…

6. View from Parliament Hill…

7. View of the Houses of Parliament from across the Thames…

8. View from Point Hill, Greenwich…

9. High level views from Tower Bridge…

10. View of Maritime Greenwich…

We’ll kick off our new special Wednesday series next week…

10 of the most memorable (and historic) views of London – 9. High level views from Tower Bridge…


Another view which owes its existence to the Victorians is that from the walkways adjoining the twin towers of the iconic Tower Bridge.

Built between 1886 and 1894, the bridge, the most sophisticated bascule bridge then in existence, was designed with two open-to-the-elements high level walkways, located 42 metres above the Thames, which enabled pedestrians to cross the bridge even when it was raised.

But the walkways didn’t prove popular – people apparently preferred to wait until the bridge was lowered rather than climb the 200 or so steps up and then down to use the walkways. The absence of people meant the walkways became the haunt of some ‘disreputable’ people – prostitutes and pickpockets are the most commonly cited. In 1910, they were closed.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the walkways were opened up once again, allowing visitors to enjoy a view that had been barred to the public for some 72 years.

As well as providing panoramic views to the east and west down the River Thames, the walkways these days contain an exhibition on ‘Great Bridges of the World’ as well as, since 2014, the chance to walk on the 11 metre long glass floor (and, if it’s not doing so in real life, see the bridge raised below via the augmented reality ‘Raise the Bridge’ app).

And don’t worry, the steps have been joined by elevators for those who can’t make the stair climb.

WHERE: Tower Bridge (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm (until September); COST: £9.80 an adult/£3.90 child (aged five to 15)/£6.80 adult concession (family tickets also available as well as joint tickets to the Monument); WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk/walkways.

PICTURES: Top – Tower Bridge with its two high level walkways (David Adams); Below – View of the glass floor in the walkways (Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0/cropped image)

LondonLife – HMS Belfast marks 45 years on the Thames…

hms-belfast

The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.

This Week in London – Museums at Night; Roman London rediscovered; and, Pablo Picasso on show…

museums-at-night From tonight (and across this weekend), museums all over Greater London will be opening their doors after usual closing time as part of the annual Museums at Night event. Among those institutions taking part in the event, produced by Culture24, are such well-known icons as the British Museum, Tower Bridge and The National Gallery as well as lesser known establishments like Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford, Southside House on Wimbledon Common and the Grant Museum of Zoology in central London. The October event follows an earlier Museums at Night in May. For the full programme of events, see www.museumsatnight.org.uk.

Roman London is the subject of a new exhibition at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Library. Londinium AD43 features the work of photographer Eugenio Grosso who takes the visitors on a photographic journey through time from London’s foundations to its present. The display shows how much of London’s Roman settlement has been preserved and features photographs of locations once home to significant London sites. Runs until 31st March. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx

More than 75 portraits in all media by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso can be seen at the recently opened Picasso Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Including well-known masterpieces and some works never seen in Britain before, the works include a group of self-portraits as well as caricatures of Picasso’s friends, lovers, wives and children and images he created inspired by artists of the past. Runs until 5th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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

LondonLife – Capturing nearly 600 years of London’s past…

©-London-Met-Archives-Collage-59154

©-London-Met-Archives-Collage-323131Albury Street in Deptford, 1911. The image, taken by the London County Council, is just one of thousands which form part of a new free, online resource, Collage – The London Picture Archive. The world’s largest collection of images of London, the archive contains more than 250,000 images of London spanning the period from 1450 to the present day. It includes more than 8,000 historical photographs of life on the capital’s streets as well as major events – everything from the Great Fire of London in 1666 to the construction of Tower Bridge in the late 19th century. The photographs, maps, prints, paintings and films in the collection are all drawn from the collections of the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Other images shown here include (above right) ‘Street Life in London’, 1877 (taken by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, this image was an early use of photography); (below) ‘Construction of the Metropolitan Railway (the first tube line)’, 1862 (taken at King’s Cross Station); and (far below), ‘The Construction of Tower Bridge’, 1891-1892 (taken from Tower Embankment). Collage – The London Picture Archive is free to access and available at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

All images © London Metropolitan Archives (City of London).

©-London-Met-Archives-Collage-278766

©-London-Met-Archives-Collage-323343

LondonLife – Images of London past…

Tower_Bridge_1910_Alvin_Langdon_CoburnTower Bridge, here depicted in an image by Alvin Langdon Coburn, taken in about 1910. The image is one of more than 400,000 vintage prints, daguerreotypes and early colour photographs as well as other photography-related objects including the world’s first negative from the Science Museum Group’s 3,000,000 strong photography collection which is being transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum under an agreement between the two institutions. The images are joining the V&A’s existing collection of 500,000 photographs to create an International Photography Resource Centre, providing the public with a “world class” facility to access what will be the single largest collection on the art of photography on the planet. It’s a reunion for some of the images which were once part of a single collection housed at the South Kensington Museum in the 19th century before it divided into the V&A and the Science Museum. For more on the museums, see www.vam.ac.uk and www.sciencemuseum.ac.ukPICTURE: © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

 

Treasures of London – ‘Timepiece’, Thames embankment…

Sundial

In honour of the sun and the heatwave it’s brought this summer, here’s the giant “equinoctial” sundial on the north bank of the Thames, just east of Tower Bridge. Known as Timepiece, it is the work of London-based sculptor Wendy Taylor and was installed here, beside the lock that leads into St Katharine Docks, in 1973. Measuring more than 3.5 metres across, the dial is made from stainless steel and is supported by three chunky chain link cables. According to the plaque, it was commissioned by Strand Hotels Ltd. It’s now a Grade II-listed structure.