This Week in London – Tower of London lowers drawbridge; other openings include Westminster Abbey and The Queen’s Gallery…

The Tower of London will officially lower the drawbridge in a symbolic ceremony this Friday morning to announce its reopening after a 16 week closure, the longest since World War II. A new one-way route has been introduced to allow for social distancing and while the Yeoman Warders, known as Beefeaters, won’t be restarting their tour immediately, they will be able to answer visitor questions. The Crown Jewels exhibition will also be reopening. Online bookings are essential. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

• Westminster Abbey reopens its doors to visitors on Saturday after the longest closure since it did so to prepare for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The abbey will initially be open to visitors on Saturdays and on Wednesday evenings, with a limited number of timed entry tickets available solely through advance booking online.

The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace as well as Royal Collection Trust shops reopened to the public this week. The Queen’s Gallery exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle has been extended until 1st November while Japan: Courts and Culture, which had been originally due to open in June this year, is now expected to open in spring 2022. Tickets must be booked in advance at www.rct.uk/tickets.

• Other reopenings include Kew Gardens’ famous glasshouses (from last weekend) and the Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery at Greenwich (from Monday 13th July).

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PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash.

 

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.

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LondonLife – New life at the Tower during lockdown…

The future of the Kingdom – which legend says will fall should the resident ravens leave the Tower of London – seems secure for now. Three new raven chicks have been born since the country went into lockdown, securing their presence at the Tower for years to come.

The offspring of Huginn and Muninn, who were named after the ravens of the Norse God Odin, the chicks have yet to be named. Born in secrecy, they spent the first couple of weeks with their parents but are now under the care of the Tower’s Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife.

The Tower is usually home to six ravens but with eight ravens already in residence, the new chicks will apparently be moving on from the Tower to live with raven breeders in the country, ensuring the future of the Tower ravens bloodline.

They’re not the first chicks to be hatched by Huginn and Muninn – they’re already the parents of Poppy, named for the Tower’s famous 2014 display commemorating the centenary of World War I, and George, who was born on St George’s day at the Tower last year.

The tradition surrounding the special place of the ravens at the Tower is generally attributed to King Charles II following a warning he received that the Kingdom and Crown would fall should they leave.

PICTURES: Top – One of the new chicks; Below – Ravenmaster Chris Skate attends to the birds (© Historic Royal Palaces)

LondonLife – A scaled down birthday celebration…

There will be no gun salutes to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday today thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. So here’s a gun salute from 2012 as we wish her Majesty a happy 94th birthday…

The Royal Gibraltar Regiment perform a 62 Gun Salute at The Tower of London on the 21st April, 2012, to celebrate the Queen’s 86th birthday. PICTURE: SAC Neil Chapman/Defence Images (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0).

A Moment in London’s History…The escape of Ranulf Flambard…

There’s been about 40 successful escapes from the Tower of London over the centuries but the first recorded one was of Ranulf Flambard. 

Flambard, the bishop of Durham, was the chief minister of King Willam Rufus (William II) (and, among other things, oversaw the construction of the inner wall around the White Tower at the Tower of London, the first stone bridge in London and Westminster Hall).

When William died in 1100, William’s younger brother Henry became king. William’s rule had been increasingly harsh and characterised by corruption and when Henry assumed the throne, Flambard was made a scapegoat for the previous administration’s failings. He was arrested on 15th August, 1100, and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement in the White Tower.

Flambard managed to escape on 3rd February, 1101. The story goes that he had lulled his guards into getting drunk by bringing in a barrel of wine for them to drink and then climbed out of a window and down a rope, which he’d had smuggled into the tower in the wine. It’s also said that the man charged with his care, William de Mandeville, allowed the escape.

Flambard subsequently escaped England to Normandy where he incited Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (and elder brother of Henry), to attempt an invasion of England.

The invasion was unsuccessful but the warring brothers reconciled and Flambard was restored to royal favour. He regained his bishopric, although he never again served as chief minister.

PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

This Week in London – British surrealism; The Prince of Wales’ coronet; and, David Hockney’s drawings…

An exhibition which traces the history of surrealist art in Britain has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Featuring more than 70 works, British Surrealism marks the official centenary of surrealism – which dates from when founder André Breton began his experiments in surrealist writing in 1920 – and features paintings, sculpture, photography, etchings and prints. Among the 40 artists represented are Leonora Carrington, Edward Burra, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Ithell Colquhoun, John Armstrong, Paul Nash and Reuben Mednikoff as well as lesser known but innovative artists like Marion Adnams, John Banting, Sam Haile, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe. Highlights include Armstrong’s Heaviness of Sleep (1938), Burra’s Dancing Skeletons (1934), Adnams’ Aftermath (1946), Nash’s We Are Making a New World (1918), Colquhoun’s The Pine Family (1940), Pailthorpe’s Abstract with Eye and Breast (1938) and Bacon’s Figures in Garden (c1935). Also featured are works and books by some of the so-called ‘ancestors of surrealism’ including a notebook containing Coleridge’s 1806 draft of poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a playscript for Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1859). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th May. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons,1934, (1905-1976). Photo © Tate

The Prince of Wales’ investiture coronet has gone on show in the Jewel House at the Tower of London for the first time. Made of 24 carat Welsh gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with a purple velvet and ermine cap of estate, the coronet – which was designed by architect and goldsmith Louis Osman – features four crosses patee, four fleurs-de-lys and an orb engraved with the Prince of Wales’ insignia. The coronet was presented to Queen Elizabeth II by the Goldsmiths’ Company for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Caernarfon Castle on 1st July, 1969. It’s being displayed alongside two other coronets made for previous Princes of Wales as well as the ceremonial rod used in the 1969 investiture which, designed by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John (1860-1952), is made of gold and is decorated with the Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto Ich Dien. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/.

The first major exhibition devoted to David Hockney’s drawings in more than 20 years opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. David Hockney: Drawing from Life features more than 150 works with a focus on self portraits and his depictions of a small group of sitters including muse Celia Birtwell, his mother, Laura Hockney, and friends, curator Gregory Evans and master printer Maurice Payne. Previously unseen works on show include working drawings for Hockney’s pivotal A Rake’s Progress etching suite (1961-63) – inspired by the identically named series of prints by William Hogarth, and sketchbooks from Hockney’s art school days in Bradford in the 1950s. Other highlights include a series of new portraits, coloured pencil drawings created in Paris in the early 1970s, composite Polaroid portraits from the 1980s, and a selection of drawings from the 1980s when the artist created a self-portrait every day over a period of two months. Runs until 28th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 8. The elephants of the Tower…

Sadly, we don’t know the name of this pachyderm – if it had one – but we do know that a couple of elephants lived in the Tower of London during the Middle Ages.

The first elephant to arrive was presented to King Henry III as a gift by King Louis IX of France.

The animal was apparently shipped across the Channel in 1255 and brought to the Tower of London by boat. A special 40 foot long wooden elephant house was built to accommodate it at the Tower.

It’s no surprise that such an exotic species attracted widespread interest. The medieval chronicler Matthew Paris was so intrigued he travelled from his monastery in St Albans to see it, noting that it was “the only elephant ever seen in England” (although it’s said that the Roman Emperor Claudius, when he arrived in Britain, came with elephants).

The elephant didn’t survive long – it died just two years after arriving in England and was buried in the Tower’s bailey. Its bones were apparently later dug up; it’s speculated this was so they could be made into receptacles for holy relics.

The elephant depicted could also represent one sent to King James I by the Spanish King in 1623 along with instructions that the poor creature should only drink wine between the months of September and April.

Made with galvanised wire, the sculpture of the elephant’s head – located in the courtyard between the Lantern and Salt Towers – is one of 13 representing some of the animal inhabitants of the Tower over the centuries. On display until 2021, ‘Royal Beasts’ is the work of artist Kendra Haste.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

Treasures of London – “Graffito” in the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower…

Part of the inner defensive wall built around the White Tower during the reign of King Edward I, the Tower of London’s Beauchamp Tower was used to house prisoners at various times in its history (in fact, it’s name comes from one of them – Thomas Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, who was imprisoned here by King Richard II at the end of the 14th century). 

Carved into the walls of the tower’s chambers are a series of inscriptions, known as ‘graffito’ (known to you and I as graffiti), which were carved by some of the prisoners, mostly between the years 1532 and 1672.

The include an elaborate family memorial carved for John Dudley, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. He and his three brothers (including a young Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester) were imprisoned by Queen Mary I for their father’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Interestingly there’s a simple inscription which just says ‘Jane’ nearby, one of a couple in the tower, although its not generally believed she carved this.

The name ‘Arundell’ is another of the inscriptions – it refers to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was imprisoned here by Queen Elizabeth I for 10 years. Along with his name are the words “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come”.

The name Thomas can be seen carved above a bell bearing the letter ‘A’. It’s believed to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, the ill-fated first wife of King Henry VIII. The king has Abel imprisoned here after he declared the King’s divorce of the Katherine unlawful.

The Beauchamp Tower isn’t the only location of graffiti in the Tower of London – in the Salt Tower, for example, can be found the image of a wounded foot, a Catholic symbol representing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

PICTURES:  Above – some of the graffiti seen on the Beauchamp Tower walls (David Adams); Middle – An ‘A’ carved on a bell with the word ‘Thomas’, said to refer to Thomas Abel, chaplain to Queen Katherine of Aragon (dvdbramhall – licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – The name Arundel (Pjposullivan1 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/imaged cropped)

This Week in London – Christmas at the Royal Palaces; Aldgate Lantern Parade; and, Dora Maar

Hampton Court Palace is once again holding its ‘Festive Fayre’ this weekend. More than 80 stalls will fill the palace’s historic courtyards serving Christmas-related treats like mince pies and mulled wine. Included in entry price. Hampton Court will also host carol singing in the courtyards between 6pm and 7pm, 8pm and 9pm on 16th, 22nd and 23rd of December. Meanwhile, Kensington Palace is offering the visitors on select dates between 7th December and 5th January to take part in Princess Victoria’s Christmas by assisting her in staging a Christmas panto, joining in the type of seasonal crafts she enjoyed as a child and discovering the history of the festive food Victoria would have enjoyed growing up at Kensington. Included in palace admission. And, of course, the ice rinks at Hampton Court Palace and in the Tower of London’s moat are now open. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

More than 500 lanterns made by local children and adults will feature in this year’s Aldgate Lantern Parade tomorrow afternoon. The parade will launch from Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School at about 4.45pm and through streets north of Aldgate High Street to the beat of the Barbican’s Drum Works ending in a festive fete in the new Aldgate Square. A Winter Fair will simultaneously take place between Aldgate Square and St Botolph without Aldgate, complete with an array of performances, art, food, drink and festive activities.

On Now: Dora Maar. The first UK retrospective of the artist Dora Maar (1907-97) whose provocative photographs and photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism is on at the Tate Modern. It features more than 200 works spanning the six decades of her career. Among highlights are The years lie in wait for you (c1935), Portrait of Ubu (1936), photomontages 29, rue d’Astorg (c1936) and The Pretender (1935), rarely seen works like The Conversation (1937) and The Cage (1943), and a substantial group of camera-less photographs that she made in the 1980s. Runs until 15th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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LondonLife – Skeletons in the Tower…

The remains of an adult female and a young child have been discovered beneath the floor of one of the entrances to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Discovered as part of early investigations aimed at enabling better disabled access to the chapel, the two skeletons – the first complete skeletons found at the Tower since the 1970s – were found lying face up with their feet facing east, typical of a Christian burial. The adult, believed to be aged 35 to 45, is believed to have been buried within a coffin (coffin nails were present) while the child, believed to be aged about seven, was simply wrapped in a blanket – typical of later medieval and early Tudor burials – and due to that and further materials and artefacts uncovers, it is believed the two people were laid to rest between 1450 and 1550, a period between the Wars of the Roses and the reign of King Edward VI. The remains were reinterred in the chapel in a special ceremony conducted by the Tower of London’s chaplain, Rev Canon Roger Hall. The Chapel Royal was completed in 1520 and is perhaps most famed for being the burial place of two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The discovery was explored in the the final episode of Inside the Tower of London which aired on Channel 5 in October.

This Week in London – Blake at the Tate; London’s scientific contributions explored; and, dining out in the Tower moat…

The largest survey of the work of visionary artist and poet William Blake to be seen in the UK in a generation has opened at the Tate Britain in Millbank. William Blake features more than 300 works with highlights including The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c1805-9) and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (c1805) which, in a bid to see them as Blake intended, have been digitally enlarged and projected onto the gallery’s wall, providing them with the sort of the scale he had envisaged for them but never realised. The actual works themselves are displayed nearby in a recreation of the artist’s only significant attempt to acquire a public reputation as a painter – his ill-fated exhibition of 1809 which took place in a room over his family’s hosiery shop. The exhibition also provides a focus on London, described as a “constant inspiration” for Blake, and highlights the vital role of his wife Catherine played in the creation of his engravings and illuminated books with illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress (1824-27) and a copy of the book The complaint, and the consolation Night Thoughts (1797) on display, both of which are thought to have been coloured by Catherine. Other highlights include what is thought to be the only self-portrait of Blake – exhibited in the UK for the first time, the work Albion Rose (c1793) depicting the mythical founding of Britain, illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) and some of his best-known paintings including Newton (1795-c1805 – pictured above) and Ghost of a Flea (c1819-20). The exhibition closes with The Ancient of Days (1827), a frontispiece for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy, which was completed only days before Blake’s death. Runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: William Blake (1757-1827) Newton 1795-c1805 (Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper, 460 x 600mm Tate).

A new gallery exploring how London’s scientists and artisans transformed our understanding of the world over 250 years spanning the period from the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington today. The 650 square metre gallery, known as ‘Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery’, features iconic objects such as Sir Isaac Newton’s famous work, Principia Mathematica, Robert Hooke’s microscope (pictured), and objects including an air pump and ‘Philosophical Table’ which were commissioned by King George III as the king conducted his own scientific investigations. There’s also a range of machine models including one of a pile driving machine used in the construction of Westminster Bridge in the 1740s. The gallery is free to visit. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.ac.uk. PICTURE: Microscope designed by Robert Hooke, 1671-1700 formerly in the George III collection, King’s College London © Science Museum Group

The Tower of London Food Festival is being held in the fortress’ dry moat this weekend. Culinary talents including Chris Bavin and Emily Roux are among those offering live cookery demonstrations while visitors can put their own skills to the test with masterclasses. There’s also wine and sherry tasting sessions, an expanded array of food and drink to sample, activities for kids including cookery classes, games and face painting, and the Bandstand is back with deckchairs to relax in. Admission is included with entry to the Tower. Closes on Sunday. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

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LondonLife – The Tower remembers…

Thousands of flames have filled the moat at the Tower of London as part of a moving light and sound display marking the centenary of the end of World War I. Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers evolves over four hours each night as the moat gradually fills with flames accompanied by a specially commissioned sound installation exploring the shifting political alliances, friendship, love and loss in a time of war. At the heart of the sound installation is a new choral work featuring the words of war poet Mary Borden taken from her Sonnets to a Soldier. The display, which can be seen at the Tower every night from 5pm to 9pm until Armistice Day on Sunday, 11th November, starts with a solemn procession led by the Tower’s Yeoman Warders who ceremonially light the first flame and then gains pace as volunteers slowly light up the rest of the installation. It’s free to view from Tower Hill and the Tower concourse. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/explore/the-tower-remembers/. PICTURES: © Historic Royal Palaces (click on the images to enlarge).

This Week in London – Sir Walter Raleigh’s “lost garden”; Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms; artworks celebrate women’s stories; and, Beast Quest at Hampton Court…

The “lost garden” of Sir Walter Raleigh opens at the Tower of London on Saturday, marking the 400th anniversary of the famous explorer’s death. Sir Walter, an adventurer who was a court favourite in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and enemy of King James I, was imprisoned in the tower on three occasions, at times living there with his wife and family, before he was eventually executed  on 29th October, 1618. Held in the Bloody Tower, he used the courtyard outside to grow plants from the New World and experiment with ingredients from an “elixir of life”. The gardens, which occupy the spot where the original apothecary garden once stood and are now a new permanent display at the tower, features a range of fragrant herbs, fruit and flowers. There’s also information on how they were used by Raleigh and his wife, Bess Throckmorton, to create herbal remedies and the chance for green-fingered families to concoct their own elixir. Meanwhile, the Bloody Tower has been revamped with a combination of film, sound, graphics and tactile objects to provide an insight into Raleigh’s times of imprisonment at the tower. Sir Walter and his wife Bess will also be present, entertaining crowds on Tower Green with stories of his adventures. Included in the usual admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon.

The Domesday book, the earliest surviving public record in the UK, forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition looking at the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England which opens at the British Library tomorrow. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War spans the six centuries from the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest. As well as the Domesday documents – last displayed in London seven years ago and on loan from The National Archives, among the 180 treasures are the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History as well as finds from Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard. The Codex Amiatinus, a giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716, returns to England for the first time in 1,300 years. The exhibition, which runs until 19th February, is being accompanied by a series of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see http://www.bl.uk. PICTURE: © The National Archives.

A series of 20 new works by London women artists go on display in public spaces across the city from today. The free exhibition, LDN WMN, is being curated by the Tate Collective as part of the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign marking the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK. It features large installations, paintings and digital graphics in bringing the hidden stories of some of London’s pioneering and campaigning women to life. They include that of reporter and activist Jackie Foster, suffragist Lolita Roy, SOE operative Noor Inayat Khan and the women who built Waterloo Bridge. The artworks, by artists including Soofiya, Manjit That and Joey Yu, will be displayed in locations from Canning Town to Alexandra Palace, Brick Lane to Kings Cross. For locations, head to www.london.gov.uk/about-us/mayor-london/behindeverygreatcity/visit-ldn-wmn-series-free-public-artworks.

Phoenixes, dragons, griffins and other fantastic beasts take over Hampton Court Palace this half-term, bringing the fantasy children’s book series and gaming brand Beast Quest to life. The interactive experience will see families pitted against strange and magical beasts in a quest which will require bravery, quick-thinking and new found skills. The Beast Quest experience is suitable for all the family and takes about one hour, 15 minutes to complete. Runs from Saturday to 28th October and is included in the usual palace admission price. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

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LondonLife – ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’ at the Tower…


The final days of Anne Boleyn are being brought to life in a new play running at the Tower of London. Written and directed by Michael Fentiman, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn tells the story of the last 17 days of the Queen’s life before her execution in 1536 following her spectacular fall from grace. The performance is staged on the site of the lost Tudor palace at the Tower where Anne spent her final days and is based on contemporary sources including letters to her husband, King Henry VIII, and her final speech on the scaffold in the moments before she was beheaded. The outdoor show (suitable for all ages) runs for 35 minutes with two performances a day – 11am and 2pm, from Friday to Tuesday until 28th August (weather permitting). Admission is included in the entry price. For more information, head here. PICTURES: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.

LondonLife – Cannons in snow…

Cannons in snow at the Tower of London.

LondonLife – Dawn by The Shard…

PICTURE: Tom Coe/Unsplash

A Moment in London’s History – The great flood of 1928…

It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.

Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.

The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.

The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.

Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.

Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.

While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).

Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).

This Week in London – ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’…

Christmas is looming and that means Christmas themed events are kicking off all over the city. Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

The world famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree will be lit next Thursday – 7th December – in an event that kicks off at 6pm. The 25 metre high tree is an annual gift from the people of Norway as a thank you for Britain’s support during World War II. Christmas carols will kick off in the square on 11th December while the Mayor’s Christmas Carol Service will be held in Southwark Cathedral on 18th December. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/events.

Sounds Like Christmas at the V&A. A month long musical celebration across the museum’s South Kensington and Museum of Childhood sites, it features choirs, candlelit concerts, pop-up performances, film screenings, decoration-making workshops, and special installations of objects relating to the music of Christmas, as well as, at the grand entrance to the South Kensington site, ‘The Singing Tree’ (pictured). A project conceived by leading stage designer Es Devlin, the tree features digital word projections that create a poem and comes with a layered polyphonic soundscape of human and machine-generated voices. The season runs until 6th January. For the full programme, see www.vam.ac.uk/Christmas. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Greenwich Winter Time Festival. The inaugural festival, set in the grounds of the World Heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, kicks off in December and features an alternative to the traditional seasonal market as well as a covered ice rink, entertainment including live music, theatre and children’s shows, and an “authentic” Father Christmas experience. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st December. For more, see www.ornc.org.

Christmas at the Historic Royal Palaces. As well as its ice rink, Hampton Court Palace is hosting the BBC Good Food’s Festive Feast and a Christmas Music Weekend while at the Tower of London, visitors can once again skate in the dry moat, join in medieval Christmas festivities and enjoy a treat for their ears with the Noel Noel concert in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Kensington Palace, meanwhile, is hosting Christmas festivities under a Victorian theme with a 25 foot tall Christmas tree, a display of illuminated Victorian scenes, live music performances and family friendly events including ‘Under the Christmas Tree’, ‘Funtastic Sunday’, and ‘Tasty Talks’. Check website for dates – admission prices apply. See www.hrp.org.uk for more.

Meanwhile, the final release of New Year’s Eve tickets goes on sale tomorrow (Friday) from noon. People can buy up to four tickets, priced at £10 each to be among the 100,000 spectators lining the banks of the River Thames. Those without a ticket can still watch it live on BBC One. Head to www.london.gov.uk/nye for tickets.

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Treasures of London – The Yeomen Warders…

Commonly known as Beefeaters (more on that in a moment), the Yeoman Warders have long been a presence at the Tower of London.

The Yeomen Warders, more properly known as the ‘Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’, are a distinct detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard.

With a history stretching back to at least the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83), they have formed the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509.

The Warders are nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, it is thought, due to the fact their privileged position meant they could eat as much beef as they liked from the King’s table.

These days, Yeoman Warders, most of whom live in the Tower with their families (part of their job has always been to guard the Tower at night), must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, have reached the rank of warrant officer, and been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (the current warders have served in Northern Ireland, during the Falklands War, in Bosnia, in the first and second Gulf conflicts and in Afghanistan).

There are usually around 40 Yeoman Warders at any one time under the command of four Yeoman Serjeants and a Chief Yeoman Warder (currently Alan Kingshott). They wear age dark blue and red undress uniform for everyday duties but also have a state dress uniform featuring the familiar heavy red coat (pictured above).

The first female to be appointed to the role of Yeoman Warder was Moira Cameron in 2007. The most recent person to join the Yeoman Warders is Gary Burridge who did so in August following 32 years in the Royal Navy.

One of the Yeoman Warders – currently Chris Skaife – serves in the role of Ravenmaster of the Tower of London and has the responsibility of caring for the tower’s famous ravens (important because, so they story goes, should the ravens ever leave the tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom). Other specialist roles include that of Yeoman Clerk.

Upon joining the Yeoman Warders, the new warders take an oath of allegiance (believed to date back to 1337) after which they drink a toast of port served in an 18th century pewter bowl.

Tradition holds that the Chief Yeoman Warder toasts all new recruits with the words “May you never die a Yeoman Warder”. The origins of this apparently lie in the fact that the positions of Yeoman Warder were in the past purchased from the Constable of the Tower for 250 guineas with most of the money returned to the warder when they retired and the Constable keeping the rest. But if the Yeoman Warder died in office, the Constable would keep all the money – hence the toast. The practice was apparently abolished by the Duke of Wellington in 1826.

Yeoman Warders, as well as participating in ceremonial duties like the daily Ceremony of the Keys and the annual Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, they also take tours of the Tower of London.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube is Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday/10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £21.50 adult/£9.70 child (Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

PICTURE: Yeoman Warders at the Ceremony of the Constable’s Dues, 2014 (Peter Rowley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

This Week in London – Queen Margaret arrives at the Tower; 500 years of working Londoners; butlers explored at Apsley House; and, marking the Russian Revolution centenary…

The Tower of London’s dry moat will be transformed into a 15th century medieval court gathered to welcome a new Queen, Margaret of Anjou, for the May bank holiday this long weekend. The world of 1445 is being reimagined in a series of festivities – under the banner of Go Medieval at the Tower – which will include sword-fighting knights, hands-on experiences for kids such as the chance to fire a real crossbow, the “scents, sights and sounds” of a medieval encampment, and the chance to witness trades such as armoury and coin-striking. As well as, of course, opportunities to meet King Henry VI and his 15-year-old queen, Margaret who, upon her coronation, was honoured with a lavish pageant from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in which she received extravagant gifts including a lion. Runs from 10am to 5pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces.

Working Londoners from the past 500 years are the subject of an open air exhibition opening in Guildhall Yard on Saturday. Londoners: Portraits of a Working City, 1447 to 1980 features a range of photographs, prints and drawings – many displayed for the first time – from the London Metropolitan Archives. The exhibition – which includes images of Jack Black of Battersea, Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher, and Charles Rouse, believed to be the last nightwatchman in 19th century London as well as pictures of Savoy Hotel page boys, a brick dust seller, a farrier in 1980s Deptford and a 15th century Lord Mayor – complements The Londoners exhibition currently running at the LMA in Clerkenwell which features 50 portraits not included in the Guildhall display. The free outdoor exhibition can be seen into 23rd May – for more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/thelondoners. The Clerkenwell display can be seen until 5th July – for more, follow this link.

The life of the butler will be up for examination at Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington, this long weekend in an event which will also see the duke’s Prussian Dinner Service laid out in all its glory. Butlers and Banquets will feature talks about the history of the service – commissioned by King Frederick William III of Prussia and presented as a gift to the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – with younger visitors also having the chance to meet the butler of the house and find out what running a grand home like Apsley House was like as well as learning skills such as how to lay a table. Runs between 11am and 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/apsley.

A new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution opens at the British Library in King’s Cross on Friday. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths tells how the revolution unfolded during the reign of the last tsar, exploring the growth of the revolutionary movements with a special focus on key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders such as Vladimir Lenin. Among the items on display is a letter Lenin wrote in April, 1902, applying to become a reader at the British Museum Library which he signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, to evade the tsarist police. Other items on display include a souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers propaganda along with posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, uniform items, recordings and films. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, follow this link.

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