LondonLife – Superbloom at the Tower of London…

The Queen’s Garden, part of the Superbloom as seen near the Tower’s entrance on 22nd May. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces
A Yeoman Warder in the transformed moat with Mehrdad Tafreshi’s swarm of insects. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

Twenty million seeds have been sown into the Tower of London’s moat to create a floral display known as ‘Superbloom’ as part of the celebrations surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Paths, walkways and viewing points have been installed throughout and in a first at the Tower, a four lane slide has been installed to provide an unusual entrance to the display.

Those visiting the display – which features wildflowers such as red poppies, yellow corn marigolds and blue cornflowers as well as garden plants including sunflowers, cosmos and rudbeckias – will hear a score by Scottish composer Erland Cooper – Music for Growing Flowers – while other attractions include a willow sculpture by artist Spencer Jenkins and a swarm of intricate copper insects by sculptor Mehrdad Tafreshi.

The centrepiece of the display is the “Queen’s Garden” which has been installed by Grant Associates – the lead designers for the Superbloom project – in the Tower’s historic Bowling Green.

A willow sculpture by Spencer Jenkins. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

Inspired by the Queen’s Coronation gown, this garden features a combination of meadow flowers, topiary and summer-flowering perennials, bulbs and ornamental grasses and draws on the colours, shapes and motifs used by designer Norman Hartnell in the 1953 gown.

Rising above the garden are 12 cast glass forms by glass artist Max Jacquard which represent the national emblems featured in Hartnell’s design and in their centre sits a glass crown, a reminder of the Tower’s role as home of the Crown Jewels.

Tower Wharf, meanwhile, has been transformed into a food and drinks venue, with street food and bars from KERB and fine dining available riverside in ‘The Glass Rooms’. The flowers are expected to gradually bloom in June and will continue to evolve until September. For more, including how to purchase tickets, head here.

The slide entrance to the Superbloom as seen on 22nd May. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces
Mehrdad Tafreshi’s swarm of insects as seen on 22nd May. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

10 historic stairways in London – 9. ‘Two Princes Staircase’, Tower of London… 

The White Tower with external staircase – they’re not the stairs we’re talking about, a remnant of them is located in the niche you can see about half way up the external staircase. PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash.

A truncated staircase – really just a few steps – located near the entrance to the White Tower is famous – or perhaps infamous is a better word – for its connection with the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’ – the 12-year-old King Edward V and his nine-year-old brother, Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared after entering the Tower of London in the late 15th century.

While the princes are believed to have been held in the Bloody Tower, their connection with the staircase, which is located in a doorway niche halfway up the main outer stairway into the White Tower, dates to 1674.

King Charles II had ordered the demolition of what was left of the royal palace to the south of the White Tower and during those works a wooden chest containing two skeletons was discovered beneath the foundations of a staircase which had led up to St John’s Chapel.

Many have subsequently believed the skeletons to be those of the two princes.

A plaque located near the staircase remnant at the Tower of London. PICTURE: Ian McKellar (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The princes had been taken to the tower in April, 1483, following the death of their father, King Edward IV, on the 9th of that month. Their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (and the Lord Protector of his nephews), had done so, ostensibly for their protection, while Edward’s coronation was initially scheduled for June.

The last recorded reference to them being in the tower dates from 16th June when they were seen “shooting [arrows] and playing in the garden of the Tower sundry times”.

There has since been much debate over their fate with many believing Richard, who in July of that year was crowned King Richard III, had them murdered to ensure his own ascension to the throne.

The two skeletons found almost 200 years later were put on display for several years following their discovery before King Charles II ordered that they be placed in an urn and reburied in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. In 1933, they were disinterred and forensically examined by LE Tannery and W Wright who concluded they were the skeletons of two boys, aged 10 and 13. They were subsequently reinterred and have remained buried since. They have never been tested for DNA.

Historic Royal Palaces Chief Curator Lucy Worsley and special guests will look at the question of whether the urn should be opened and the bones tested using modern forensic methods in an online event on 16th March at 7pm. Follow this link to register for this event.

WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm (last admission), Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm (last admission) Sunday to Monday; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children 5 to 15; £24 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

A Moment in London’s History – The execution of Catherine Howard…

It’s 480 years this month since Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, was executed for treason inside the Tower of London.

Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger (oil on panel, late 17th century/NPG 1119 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Catherine, who it has been suggested may have been just 17-years-old when she died, was beheaded on the morning of 13th February, 1542, less than two years after her hastily arranged marriage to the King, just three weeks after his prior marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.

Catherine, also spelt as Katherine, was condemned to death after a young noble named Francis Dereham admitted, under torture, to having a sexual relationship with her prior to her marrying the king, and, more importantly, Thomas Culpeper, a Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber, who admitted to having an affair with her after her marriage.

Both men were executed at Tyburn following their admissions and their heads were displayed on London Bridge. Catherine sailed under it aboard a barge as she was taken to the Tower on 10th February, 1542.

She is said to have spent the night before her execution practising placing her head on the block – which was brought to her at her request.

Catherine was beheaded with the single stroke of a headsman’s axe on Tower Green – King Henry did not attend but some of her cousins, including the Earl of Surrey, were among the witnesses.

She was said to have been composed, although she needed help mounting the scaffold. It’s often said that her last words were “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper” but there’s no eyewitness report which suggests this and instead she is believed to have stuck to a more traditional script, saying her punishment was just for her crimes and asking forgiveness.

Her maid – Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford – followed her to the block for her role in facilitating the affair while Henry was away from court. Catherine had apparently spent the night before practising how to lay her head upon the block.

Catherine was buried in an unmarked grave at in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula next to Tower Green – there’s a memorial to her in the church. The Queen’s ghost is famously said to be present in what’s known as the ‘Haunted Gallery’ at Hampton Court Palace – it is here that, when she was arrested, she apparently broke free from her guards and ran to the doors of the Chapel Royal where she believed the king was at prayer. Needless to say, her cries for mercy went unanswered.

Memorial stone set in the floor of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. PICTURE: VCR Giulio19/Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Famous Londoners – John Flamsteed…

Memorialised in the name of the house where he once lived at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, John Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal.

Flamsteed was born in Denby, Derbyshire, on 16th August, 1646, and was the only child of Stephen Flamsteed, who among other things was involved in the brewing industry, and his first wife Mary (who died when John Flamsteed was still quite young).

A bust of John Flamsteed at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

He was educated at local schools but left off his studies at the age of 15 due to his own ill health and his father’s need for his assistance in the household and with his business.

His poor health meant he pursued some more sedentary activities and it was during this period that he established interest in astronomy, writing his first paper in 1665. Flamsteed did briefly attend Jesus College in Cambridge in the early 1670s, although it’s not thought he ever took up full residence.

Flamsteed was ordained a deacon and was preparing to take up a living in Derbyshire in 1675 – having by then obtained an MA from Cambridge – when his patron Jonas Moore, whom he’d met in the summer of 1670 during a visit to London and then visited again in mid-1674, invited him to return to the city, ostensibly to establish an observatory which Moore, who was Surveyor-General of the Ordnance, had offered to pay for.

Flamsteed arrived in February, 1675, stayed with Moore in the Tower before, after meeting King Charles II, was made an official assistant to a Royal Commission which the king had established charged with examining the merits of a proposal – put forward by a “le Sieur de St Pierre” to find longitude by the position of the Moon.

The commission decided the proposal wasn’t worth taking further but did recommend the establishment of an observatory from which the movement of the stars and Moon could be mapped in the hope of developing a method of finding longitude. Flamsteed was subsequently appointed “The King’s Astronomical Observator” – the first Astronomer Royal – on 4th March, 1675, by royal warrant, and in June that same year, another royal warrant provided for the founding of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Flamsteed laid the foundation stone on 10th August.

He was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Society in February the following year and in July he moved into the observatory, now known as Flamsteed House (it contains famed Octagonal Room with large windows from which celestial events could be watched), which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was to serve as Flamsteed’s home for next decade or so.

Flamsteed House, Royal Greenwich Observatory, its named after John Flamsteed. PICTURE: Dmitry Djouce.

Flamsteed’s achievements as an astronomer included the accurate calculation of the solar eclipses of 1666 and 1668 and recording some of the earliest sightings of Uranus which he mistakenly thought was a star. He was also in regular contact with many other scientific luminaries of the day and famously fell out with both Sir Edmond Halley (his one-time assistant and future successor as Astronomer Royal) and Sir Isaac Newton.

Flamsteed’s own catalogue of almost 3,000 stars wasn’t published until after death in 1725 thanks to the effort’s of his wife Margaret – whom he had married on 23rd October, 1692 (they were to have no children although Flamsteed’s niece, Ann Heming, did live with them). Margaret also published his star atlas, Atlas Coelestis, posthumously in 1729.

In 1684, Flamsteed was elevated to the priesthood and made rector of the village of Burstow, near Crawley in Surrey – a post, which, along with that of Astronomer Royal, he held until his death on 31st December, 1719.

He was buried in Burstow and there is a plaque on the wall of the church there marking his grave (which was added long after his death). Aside from his earthly honours – which includes the name of Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, a crater on the Moon is named after him as is an asteroid.

London Explained – Historic Royal Palaces…

The Tower of London is one of the palaces under the care of Historic Royal Palaces. PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Visitors to several of London’s landmark royal properties will across an organisation known as Historic Royal Palaces.

HRP, as its sometimes shortened to, is a self-funding charity charged with the management of palaces which are owned by the Crown (technically by Queen Elizabeth II ‘in Right of Crown’ meaning she holds them in trust for the next monarch and by law cannot sell or lease them). The palaces are generally no longer used as royal residences.

These include the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House (once part of the Palace of Whitehall). Buckingham Palace, which remains the official London residence of Queen Elizabeth II and a working royal palace, is not one of them nor is St James’s Palace, home to several members of the Royal Family and their households.

All five of the properties in London which are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces ceased being regularly used by the Royal Court in the 19th century and were opened up to the public. The government became responsible for their care under the Crown Lands Act 1851.

In 1989, the government established Historic Royal Palaces as part of the Department of the Environment to oversee care of the five palaces. Six years later it became part of the Department of National Heritage (now known as the Department for Culture, Media & Sport).

In April, 1998, Historic Royal Palaces became an independent charity by Royal Charter. It is governed by a board of trustees who include the director of the Royal Collection Trust and the Keeper of the Privy Purse from the Royal Household as well as the Constable of the Tower of London.

Historic Royal Palaces now oversees management of the palaces under a contract with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport (as well as the five London properties, since 2014, it has also been responsible for the care of Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland).

Perhaps the most well-known faces of Historic Royal Palaces are joint curators – Tudor historian Tracy Borman, and architectural and social historian Lucy Worsley.

HRP collects revenues through entries to the palaces but also offer an annual membership through which you can have unlimited entry.

For more, head to www.hrp.org.uk.

LondonLife – A Christmas menagerie at the Tower…

ALL PICTURES: © Historic Royal Palaces.

The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London has been decked out for Christmas with an array of glittering decorations. Animals including a polar bear, elephants and lions were kept at various times in the Tower’s menagerie which started thanks to a royal penchant to giving exotic animals as gifts to fellow monarchs. King Edward I created the first permanent home for the menagerie which, after hundreds of years, closed for good in 1835. The Christmas display the Tower, which centres on the Tower Green Christmas tree, can be seen until 3rd January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

Famous Londoners – St John Houghton…

St John Houghton is remembered as the first Catholic Englishman to have been executed for refusing to take the oath prescribed by King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy.

Stained glass depicting St John Houghton in St Etheldreda’s Catholic Church in Ely. PICTURE: Lawrence OP (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Houghton was born around 1487 and is believed to have been educated at Cambridge, becoming ordained around 1511 before he entered the London Charterhouse in 1515 or 1516. By 1523, he held the position of sacristan and in 1528 that of procurator before, in 1531, he was transferred to Beauvale Priory in Nottinghamshire to serve as its prior.

But he returned to London in November that same year when he was unanimously elected Prior of the London Charterhouse. The following year was named Visitor of the English Province for the Carthusian Order.

When the King’s agents visited in April, 1534, requiring the community to take an oath as required under the 1534 Act of Succession (which excluded Katherine of Aragon’s daughter Mary in favour of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth), Houghton asked that the community be exempted.

Such a request was not looked upon kindly and Houghton, along with his procurator, Humphrey Middlemore, was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Subsequently convinced that the oath was consistent with their Catholic faith by fellow clerics, the two returned to the Charterhouse in May, and there, in the presence of an armed force, the whole community eventually took the oath.

But in 1535, the community was again required to take an oath – this time recognising King Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church of England as required by the 1534 Act of Supremacy. But Houghton, along with  the heads of the other two English Carthusian houses – Robert Lawrence, Prior of Beauvale, and Augustine Webster, Prior of Axholme – sought an audience with Thomas Cromwell and asked for an exemption. All three were sent to the Tower.

The three men were interrogated by Cromwell on 26th April and then, a few days later, were called before a special commission and sentenced to death.

Houghton was among five clerics – along with the other two Carthusian priors as well as Bridgettine monk Richard Reynolds and John Haile, the parish priest of Isleworth – who were dragged through the streets to Tyburn on 4th May. There, Houghton – wearing his religious habit – is said to have embraced his executioner as he recited the words of the 31st Psalm before he was the first to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Catholic tradition says that when Houghton’s body was cut open to remove his heart, he said to have prayed: “O Jesus, what wouldst thou do with my heart?”

Pieces of Houghton’s body were then displayed around London – his head was displayed above London Bridge and his arm was nailed to the gate of the Charterhouse,

Houghton was beatified on 9th December, 1886, and canonised in 25th December, 1970. He is considered one of the 40 Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales, all of whom were executed between 1535 and 1679 during the English Reformation.

Treasures of London – Traitor’s Gate…

PICTURES: David Adams

Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.

The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)

Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.

LondonLife – Changing of the Guard returns…

The full Changing of the Guard ceremony returned to Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and the Tower of London on Monday after the longest pause in its taking place since World War II. The ceremony, usually a popular tourist drawcard, had been absent from London since March last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The return to the ceremonial duty was carried out by the Number 3 Company from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards based in Windsor, accompanied by the Band of The Coldstream Guards. PICTURES: Sergeant Donald C Todd, RLC (UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021/published under the MOD News Licence).

A Moment in London’s History – The last execution at the Tower of London…

The Tower of London. PICTURE: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the last person to be executed at the Tower of London for treason.

Injured when he was shot in the chest while serving as a conscript in the German army during World War I, Josef Jakobs worked as a dentist after the war (and was briefly imprisoned in Switzerland for selling counterfeit gold). Following the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany during the 1930s, he was arrested in 1938 by the Gestapo for selling black market passports to Jewish people fleeing the country and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

After two years, Jakobs was released after he agreed to work as a spy in England for the German military intelligence.

Having flown from Holland, Jakobs parachuted into England at a located near Ramsey in what was then Huntingdonshire, in late January, 1941. Breaking his ankle during the landing and in pain, he fired his pistol into the air early on February 1st and was subsequently apprehended by members of the Home Guard.

Among the items he was found with were a wireless transmitter, a small torch with a flashing device, a map marking positions of nearby RAF airfields and a German sausage.

Jakobs was taken to a local police station before being transferred to London where he was subsequently interrogated by MI5 during which he claimed he had escaped to England with the intent of securing passage to America. He was later taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

His court martial before a military tribunal was held at the Duke of York’s headquarters in Chelsea on 4th and 5th August. After hearing from eight witnesses in a closed court (due to intelligence sensitivities), he was convicted of spying and sentenced to death.

Jakobs’ execution was carried out at the miniature rifle range at the Tower of London – the same place where death sentences had been carried out on 11 spies executed during World War I – on 15th August.

Jakobs was blindfolded and tied to a chair (which can still be viewed in the White Tower) with a white target pinned over his heart. A firing squad of eight – all members of the Scots Guards – carried out the sentence at 7.12am (five of those in the squad had live rounds). He is said to have died instantly.

Jakobs was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.

Jakobs was the only spy executed at the Tower in World War II and the last person to suffer such a sentence there.

London Explained – Beefeaters…

A nickname for the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, its origins are somewhat obscure but apparently related to a penchant for beef and was presumably meant as an insult (hence they prefer being called by their proper title). It was apparently first used of the English population in general and is said to have first been applied to the Yeoman Warders in the second half of the 17th century.

A Yeoman Warder in everyday “undress” uniform. PICTURE: PRA (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/image cropped)

The Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London (not to be confused with the Yeomen Warders of The Guard, the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, who are also referred to as “beefeaters”), are charged with guarding of the Tower of London and its contents including the prisoners of state who were formerly held within its walls (the last was during World War II).

With a history dating back to the reign of King Henry VII and first present at the Tower during the reign of King Henry VIII, they were made extraordinary members of the Sovereign’s Bodyguard during the reign of King Edward VI in 1552 (meaning they wear scarlet livery and carry partizans on state occasions).

The Chief Yeoman Warder is their commander and second-in-command is a Yeomen Gaoler (who still carries an axe on state occasions). There are also three Sergeant Yeoman and a Yeoman Ravenmaster. A Yeoman Warder (along with a detachment of soldiers) carries out the Ceremony of the Keys every night – formally locking the Tower.

These days (drawing on innovations introduced by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower between 1826 and 1852), the Yeoman Warders must be warrant officers who have served at least 22 years (and have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal) in the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines.

The Yeoman Warders – and there were 38 (although we’re not sure how cutbacks due to COVID may affect this) – live within the Tower under the authority of the Resident Governor. They wear the red state dress uniform on state occasions and a dark blue “undress” uniform for everyday use. Moira Cameron became the first female Yeoman Warder in 2007.

As well as carrying out state duties, since Victorian times the Yeoman Warders have conducted towers of the Tower and assisted visitors with their inquiries.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

Famous Londoners – Old Martin…

A grizzly bear (not Old Martin). PICTURE: Joshua J Cotten/Unsplash

A large, fully grown, grizzly bear presented to King George III by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811, Old Martin was one of the scarier residents of the Tower of London’s menagerie.

The bear, who was apparently named after a famous bear in Europe (the “old” was added because he spent so long in resident at the Tower), is said to have been the first grizzly in London.

He was not, however, the first bear to live there – King Henry III had been given a polar bear by King Haakon IV Haakonsson of Norway in 1251 (George, however, was apparently unimpressed with his gift, said to have commented in private that he would have preferred a tie or pair of socks).

Despite his many years in the menagerie, Old Martin apparently refused to be tamed and remained fierce towards both strangers and his keepers alike.

When the Duke of Wellington closed the menagerie in the early 1830s (King William IV apparently had little interest in the animals), Old Martin was moved to the London Zoo in Regent’s Park. He died there in 1838.

His skin and skull were subsequently sent to the Natural History Museum and rediscovered there in 1999 for an exhibition at the Tower.

There’s a rather odd story associated with Old Martin. It’s said that in 1816 – when Old Martin was living in the Tower’s menagerie – a Yeoman Warder saw a ghostly bear while on night duty near the Martin Tower. He apparently attempted to run it through with a bayonet but the blade went straight through and struck the door frame behind it. The somewhat dubious story goes that the poor Yeoman Warder died of shock just a few hours later.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 5. The Tower of London…

Thomas left the employ of Theobold, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1154 when he took up the role of Chancellor for the newly crowned King Henry II (on Theobold’s recommendation).

The new role meant he wasn’t much in London over the next eight years – King Henry II spent less than two-and-a-half years in England during that period and Becket’s new role meant he was expected to be with the King.

The Tower of London (the expansive St Thomas’s Tower is on the front left). PICTURE: flicksmores (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One London connection during this period came about, however, when King Henry II awarded him the custody of the Tower of London (the role which is now known as Constable of the Tower and was apparently then referred to as Keeper of the Tower).

Interestingly, Becket is just one of four Archbishops of Canterbury who held the post (although he was Archbishop later) but is the only saint to have done so.

During his time as Constable of the Tower, Becket did carry our substantial repairs on the complex (while Chancellor he also oversaw repairs to other buildings including the Palace of Westminster).

There is a further connection between Becket and the Tower – King Edward I, during his rather dramatic renovations and expansion of the fortress, included a chapel dedicated to the martyred St Thomas in the royal quarters. To this day, the tower which fronts the Thames is known as St Thomas’s Tower (the naming of Traitor’s Gate, formerly known as Water Gate, under it occurred much later and had nothing to do with him).

This Week in London – The ‘Queen’ is missing from the Tower; and, ‘Unreal City’ online…

Merlina and Christopher Skaife in 2014. PICTURE: Megan Rosenbloom (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The ‘Queen’ is missing from the Tower of London. ‘Merlina’, who is one of seven ravens in residence at the Tower under the care of raven master Christopher Skaife, reportedly hasn’t been seen at the fortress for several weeks. A spokesman for the Tower said it was feared Merlina, who joined the flock in 2007, had died. “Merlina was our undisputed ruler of the roost, Queen of the Tower Ravens,” he told the Evening Standard. “She will be greatly missed by her fellow ravens, the ravenmaster, and all of us in the Tower community.” Legend states that there must be six ravens at the Tower or the Kingdom will fall.

An exhibition of augmented reality art (often known as AR art) is available to be viewed online. Unreal City, described as London’s biggest public festival of AR art, was launched back in December and involved 36 digital sculptures by the likes of Olafur Eliasson, Cao Fei, Alicja Kwade, Koo Jeong A, and Marco Brambilla, arranged in a walking tour along the Thames. The festival, which is  a partnership between Acute Art and Dazed Media, has now made the works available to be seen online via the via the Acute Art app. Also to be seen are works by artists KAWS, Bjarne Melgaard, and Tomás Saraceno.  The works can be seen for free via the Acute Art app until 9th February.

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

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).

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

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