This Week in London – Christmas Tree lighting goes virtual; Ottobah Cugoano’s Blue Plaque; and, see ‘Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage’ online…

The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square in 2017. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

The traditional Trafalgar Square tree lighting ceremony has gone virtual for the first time this year due to coronavirus restrictions. The online event, which will be held at 6pm on 3rd December via YouTube and Facebook, will include messages from the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo as well as information on the history behind the gift of the tree, footage of its journey from the forests of Norway to London, and performances from the Salvation Army, the Poetry Society and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Choir. While the tree felling ceremony in Norway is usually attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, this year COVID restrictions meant he was represented by the British Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, who was joined by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and school children from Maridalen school in Oslo, to witness the tree begin its journey to London. A Norwegian spruce has been given by the people of Oslo to the people of the UK in thanks for their support during World War II in the lead-up to every Christmas since 1947. Once the tree arrives in London, it is decorated with Christmas lights in a traditional Norwegian manner.  For more on the tree, see westminster.gov.uk/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.

Eighteenth century anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano – a former slave himself – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located at Schomberg House at 80–82 Pall Mall, the property where he was employed as a servant by artists Richard and Maria Cosway. It was while living here in the 1780’s that Cugoano wrote the book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, one of the first black-authored anti-slavery books to be published in Britain. The house was actually mentioned in the frontispiece of the 1787 edition of Thoughts and Sentiments as one of the places where copies of the book might be obtained. It is, says English Heritage, “evidence of the Cosways’ support for their servant’s endeavours as an author and a campaigner”. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Somerset House is offering virtual tours of its exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of the work of Alaoui, a celebrated French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist who died in a terrorist attack at the age of 33 while working on a photography project promoting women’s rights in Burkina Faso in 2016. ​  ​Guided by award-winning broadcaster and cultural commentator Ekow Eshun, the tour of the exhibition takes in three of the artist’s defining series – No Pasara, which documents the lives of North African migrants trying to reach Europe; Natreen (We Wait), which follows families trying to flee the Syrian conflict, and Les Marocains, which, inspired by Robert Frank’s The Americans, meets the many individuals who make up the multifaceted fabric of contemporary Morocco.  The exhibition also includes an unfinished video project L’Ile du Diable ​(Devil’s Island) which Alaoui was working at the time of her death, featuring dispossessed migrant workers at the old Renault factory in Paris.  The free tour can be accessed at www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/virtual-tour-leila-alaoui-rite-passage.

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LondonLife: Those Christmas Lights (part two)…

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree – donated  by the people of Oslo each year since 1947 as a thanks for the support Britain gave to Norway during World War II. On the left is the Olympic countdown clock.

A giant hedge-like reindeer outside Covent Garden, a market since at least the 1600s but once the site of a large kitchen garden for the monks of the Convent of St Peter, Westminster (see our earlier post for more).

Christmas tree near the ice-skating rink at Somerset House, now an arts and cultural centre but originally built on the site of a Tudor palace in the late 1770s as a home for three “learned societies” – the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries – as well as government offices (including the Navy Board).

Christmas lights in Regent Street, one of the city’s premier shopping streets, in the West End. It’s current shape was designed by architect John Nash in the early 19th century.

Christmas decorations on the exterior of Cartier in Old Bond Street, Mayfair. The area takes its name from the May Fair once held there and is now one of the most expensive areas within London (see our earlier post for more).

Looking for a book about London? See The Exploring London Little List of Books for Christmas…

Around London – Dickens at the Museum of London; looking at Leicester Square’s past; Mr Chinnery’s art; and, Wellcome’s Miracles & Charms…

• Dickens fever is well and truly upon us in the lead-up to the bicentenary of his birth in February and tomorrow the Museum of London opens its own unmissable exhibition, Dickens and London. Displays centre on the relationship between Dickens and the city and visitors will be able to follow in the great novelist’s footsteps as they visit some of the places which sparked his imagination as well as confront some of the great social issues of the 19th century – including childhood mortality, prostitution and poverty – and be taking on a tour of some of the age’s greatest innovations – everything from railways and steamboats to the Penny Post. Among the objects on display will be Dickens’ writing desk and chair, his bank ledger, excavated items from Jacob’s Island, a notorious slum which was located near Bermondsey, and manuscript pages describing an East End opium den which was featured in Dicken’s unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (this, along with William Powell Frith’s celebrated portrait of the author, are being lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum). The exhibition also features a specially commissioned film looking at London after dark in Dickens’ time and today. Costumes from the upcoming BBC One drama series, Great Expectations, will also be on display and there is also a specially commissioned window display by acclaimed creative director and set designer Simon Costin showing a wintery London in the mid-19th century. The museum is also offering a new iPhone and iPad graphic novel app, Dickens: Dark London, which will take users on a “journey through the darker side” of Dickens’ London. Opens on 9th December (tomorrow) and runs until 10th June, 2012. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. For more on Dickens, see www.dickens2012.org. PICTURE: Dickens Dream by Robert William Buss (Courtesy Museum of London).

New hoardings have gone up at Leicester Square celebrating the area’s history as work continues on an £18 million plan by Westminster City Council to revitalise the Leicester Square streetscape. The more than 160 square metres of hoardings feature 11 images spanning a period of 250 years (and selected from thousands of archive images of the square). Meanwhile in Trafalgar Square, the famous Norwegian Christmas Tree was lit in a ceremony last Thursday. The tree is an annual gift from the people of Oslo as thanks for British support during Norway’s years of occupation in World War II. It will be lit from noon until midnight every day until 6th January.

And, briefly…..London’s Kew Gardens has been voted the top visitor attraction in Britain at the British Airways magazine travel award while the London Eye and Tate Modern came runner’s up…..Figures released to mark the 10th anniversary of free admission to England’s national museums show that visitor numbers to the museums have more than doubled over the past decade…..and, the first woman Tube driver, Hannah Dadds, reportedly died at the age of 70.

On Now: The Flamboyant Mr. Chinnery: An English artist in India and China. This exhibition at Asia House in New Cavendish Street in the West End, focuses on the work of 19th century artist George Chinnery and features landscapes and portraits he painted while in China and India. Runs until 21st January. Admission is free. For more, see www.asiahouse.org.

• On Now: Miracles & Charms. The Wellcome Collection is hosting this exhibition which features two shows – Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings, the first major exhibition of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico, and Charmed life: The solace of objects, an exhibition of unseen London amulets from Henry Wellcome’s collection. Runs until 26th February, 2012. For more, see www.wellcomecollection.org.