This gothic drinking fountain located in the centre of the Broad Walk in The Regent’s Park takes its name from Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, whose nickname, thanks to his business success, was ‘Readymoney’.

A wealthy industrialist from Bombay, Sir Cowasjee donated the four-sided fountain to the park in 1869 as a thank-you for the protection he and fellow Parsees received from British rule in India (hence why the fountain is also sometimes called the Parsee Fountain).

Made from 10 tonnes of Sicilian marble and four tonnes of red Aberdeen granite, it was designed by Robert Keirle – architect to The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association – and made by sculptor Henry Ross (at a cost of £1,400).

Set on an octagonal stepped base, it features a basin on each of the four sides. Decorative elements above the basins include carved marble panels featuring a lion and a Brahmin bull.

Three of the gables feature a small bust – one of Queen Victoria, another of Prince Albert and another of Readymoney himself. The fourth has a clock instead.

The now Grade II-listed fountain was erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association and unveiled by Princess Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary, wife of King Edward VII) on 1st August, 1869 (she also has some gardens in the park named after her).

The fountain was restored in 1999-2000 and again in 2016-17. The water no longer flows but it remains as a memorial to Sir Cowasjee’s story.

PICTURES: Top – Peter Smyly (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – Chmee2 (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) Images cropped.

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Adorned with giant beasts and topped with a statue of King George I, the steeple of this 18th century Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed English Baroque church is a sight to behold.

The unusual spire, which has topped the church since it was completed in 1731, is stepped like a pyramid and was apparently inspired by Pliny’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).

At its base can be seen four heraldic creatures – two 10 foot tall lions and two similarly-sized unicorns. They’re actually recreations of the originals by sculptor Tim Crawley based on drawings by Hawksmoor. The originals were removed – and subsequently lost – in 1870 amid fears they were about to topple off.

It’s suggested that lions and unicorns – which look as if they are in conflict over the crown in the middle – symbolise the tussle for the Crown as seen in the several Jacobite risings which took place in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The statue on top has King George I dressed in Roman attire and standing on an altar as a symbol of St George – as clear a PR exercise as you’ll find on a steeple. It even featured in a verse by Horace Walpole:

“When Henry VIII left the Pope in the lurch,
The Protestants made him the head of the church,
But George’s good subjects, the Bloomsbury people
Instead of the church, made him head of the steeple.”

The steeple did prove controversial when it was completed – the church commissioners initially refused to pay Hawksmoor, apparently deeming the spire too frivolous for such a serious building. But it was soon recognised as an important part of the landscape – it can be seen in the background of William Hogarth’s 1751 engraving Gin Lane.

In the mid-Noughties, the church and steeple, which had fallen into a state of dishevelment and was apparently on the verge of closure, underwent a major renovation. Funded by American Paul Mellon and the Heritage Lottery Fund, it saw the long-lost (albeit recreated) beasts returned to their place on the steeple (the project was recorded in detail by Harris Digital).

PICTURE: Right – Amanda Slater (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – image cropped and straightened); Below – Londres Avanzado (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – image cropped and lightened).

 

Originally built as a dining hall for King Edward IV in the 1470s, the Great Hall is a survivor of the medieval royal palace that once stood on the site and later become incorporated into the Art Deco home created by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s.

The hall, which is comparable in size to that of Hampton Court Palace, was designed by Thomas Jordan, chief mason to the king, and Edmund Graveley, his chief carpenter.

It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide and has a magnificent oak roof described as a ‘false’ hammerbeam construction (the ‘false’ because the posts are morticed into the ends of the hammerbeams rather than resting on them).

The hall would have once had a raised dais at one end while the other end joined to the rest of the would have featured a screen behind which doors led to a buttery, pantry and kitchen. A hearth was located near the dais end of the hall.

The windows, which are set high in the walls, would have been of stained glass (the stained glass there now was added in 1936 and is the work of George Kruger Gray) and the walls below them would have been decorated with tapestries.

Eltham was a favourite residence of King Edward IV and one of the most lavish feasts ever held there was at Christmas, 1482, when some 2,000 people were fed (it was the king’s last visit to the palace before his death the following April). The hall would have also been familiar to King Henry VIII who spent much of his childhood here but later in his life rarely came to Eltham.

King Charles I was the last king to visit the palace and in 1651 it was sold off by Parliament to Colonel Nathaniel Rich who, as well as demolishing many buildings, stripped the lead off the hall’s roof. The property was later used as a farm and the hall became a barn.

In the early 19th century a campaign was launched to save the hall from demolition which saw the roof propped up and during the latter half of the 1800s it was used as an indoor tennis court.

Further repairs were made in the 1890s and again between 1911 and 1914 when the roof was dismantled and reassembled under the direction of the Office of Works.

The Courtaulds, who had their spectacular adjoining property built in the 1930s, apparently intended to use the hall as a music room and carried out a number of repairs – including to the roof – and additions including a minstrel’s gallery (there is no evidence of such a feature in the original).

After World War II, the Ministry of Works assumed responsibility for the Great Hall (and other palace remains) – opening the hall to the public for three days a week – before in 1984 English Heritage took over management of the Great Hall (and later the entire site).

PICTURE: David Adams

WHERE: The Great Hall, Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich (nearest train station is Mottingham); WHEN: 10am to 6pm Sunday to Friday; COST (without Gift Aid): £15 adults/£9 children/£13.50 concessions/£39 family (English Heritage members free); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/.

 

A memorial stone commemorating Nelson Mandela was dedicated at Westminster Abbey on the centenary of his birth this week.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in South African prisons and played a key role in bringing an end to apartheid before serving as President between 1994 and 1999, died in 2013.

The stone, which is located in the floor of the abbey’s nave, was dedicated in a ceremony on 18th July attended by Nomatemba Tambo, the High Commission for South Africa, and Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela.

The stone, made of black Belgian marble, was designed and cut by Nicholas Stone. It bears an inscription reading ‘Nelson Mandela 1918-2013’ encircled by the words ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’.

Mandela is the first South African to be commemorated with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey. But a statue of South African martyr Manche Masemola stands over the church’s western entrance and Joost de Blank, former Archbishop of Cape Town, is buried outside St George’s Chapel.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Mandela was held at the Abbey on 3rd March 2014.

Other monuments to Nelson Mandela in London include a bust located in South Bank and a statue located in Parliament Square.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Dean & Chapter of Westminster

This week marked 20 years since the British Library’s St Pancras building was officially opened, so we thought it timely to take a look at this London ‘treasure’.

Located on Euston Road, the building, complete with rather grand piazza, was designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long.

The largest public building to be constructed in the 20th century in the UK, it was designed specifically to house the British Library collections – which itself had only been created in 1972 when an act was passed by Parliament.

The building – which did draw some criticism over its design when it was completed but has been embraced by the public – was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 25th June, 1998.

Grade II-listed since 2015, it’s comprised of 112,000 square metres spread over 14 floors – including five below ground – and features 11 reading rooms specialising in various subject areas including one for ‘manuscripts’, another for ‘maps’ and another for ‘rare books and music’.

The centrepiece of the building is the King’s Tower which is home to the library of King George III and the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The collection housed at the library includes more than 150 million items. Highlights – many of which are housed in the Treasures Gallery – include a copy of the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook as well as a first edition of The Times (18th March, 1788), manuscripts by everyone from Jane Austen and James Joyce to Handel and the Beatles, and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book.

The library, which also hosts temporary exhibitions, is also home to a restaurant, cafe and several coffee shops as well as its own retail shop.

There are now plans to further develop the campus by expanding onto a 2.8 hectare site at its northern end with the aim, among other things, of creating more exhibition spaces, new learning facilities and a permanent home for the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. A joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), won a competitive process to undertake the development last year.

WHERE: British Library, 96 Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square); WHEN: 9.30am to 6pm (includes Treasures Gallery – exhibition times can vary); COST: Free (but admission fees may be charged for exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.bl.uk.

PICTURE: Top – Aerial view of the St Pancras building (Tony Antoniou); Below – One of the reading rooms (Paul Grundy).


Excavated in a dig in Southwark during the summer of 2017, this Roman sarcophagus is now at the centre of a new exhibition, Roman Dead, at the Museum of London Docklands.

The site of the find, on the corner of Harper Road and Swan Street in Borough, is located in what is known as the ‘Southern Cemetery’, one of a number of distinct burial grounds located on the outskirts of the Roman city of Londinium. Some 500 Roman burials have been found in the southern site but the stone sarcophagus was the first discovery of its kind there.

The 1,600-year-old sarcophagus measures approximately 2.4 metres long, 75cm wide and 65 centimetres high. The lid of the coffin had been partly pushed to one side, indicating that it may have been disturbed by grave robbers during the 18th century. The interior was left partly filled with soil and small bones and a damaged Roman bracelet were found nearby – a possible indication that it was a child buried there.

Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark Council, told the BBC at the time of the find that the grave owner must have been “very wealthy and have had a lot of social status to be honoured with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum”.

The sarcophagus is only the third to be discovered in London – one was discovered at St Martin-in-the-Fields near Trafalgar Square in 2006 and another in Spitalfields in 1999.

Roman Dead is running at the Museum of London Docklands until 28th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands.

PICTURE: Top – The sarcophagus being prepared for display; Side – The sarcophagus as it was found (© Southwark Council).

 

 

Celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, The Royal Academy of Arts opens its “new” expanded £56 million campus on Saturday.

Designed by Sir David Chipperfield, the new two acre Royal Academy campus features 70 per cent more public space than the RA’s original Burlington House blueprint which will enable the institution to expand its programs of exhibitions and events and create new free displays of art and architecture.

One of the key features of the redevelopment is the new Weston Bridge between the institution’s landmark property, Burlington House, and the RA’s formerly “unloved” building at 6 Burlington Gardens which unites the two-acre campus and creates a new route between Piccadilly and Mayfair.

The Grade II-listed building on Burlington Gardens, which the RA bought in 1991 and which was previously home to, among other things, the Museum of Mankind, has been refurbished and a 250 seat lecture theatre, the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, inserted along with a new architecture studio within The Dorfman Senate Rooms – restored by architect Julian Harrap – for free architectural displays.

A new public route through the campus has integrated the Royal Academy Schools into the visitor experience with the new Weston Studio, a public project space for students and alumni, and provides views of the Schools’ Corridor and the newly landscaped Lovelace Courtyard, providing visitors with a “greater insight into Britain’s longest established art school”.

It also takes visitors through the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, a suite of three day-lit galleries for temporary exhibitions (Tacita Dean’s LANDSCAPE, the inaugural display, opens Saturday) and past the new Royal Academy Collection Gallery where works by the likes of Michelangelo, Reynolds, Kauffman, Thornhill, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner can be seen. There’s also a new Clore Learning Centre.

New places to eat and drink within the complex include the Senate Room bar and restaurant, and cafes and shops located on either side of the Burlington Gardens entrance.

The Royal Academy was founded by King George III in 1768 after he was presented with a petition by architect Sir William Chambers which had been signed by 36 artists and architects seeking to “establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design”. Initially based in Pall Mall, the institution’s first official home was in the new Somerset House. In the 1830s, it moved to Trafalgar Square where it shared premises with the newly created National Gallery and in 1867, the institution has moved to Burlington House where it’s been located ever since.

To celebrate the opening of the “new” Royal Academy, there will be a weekend-long “art party” this weekend with free workshops, tours, displays, late-night performances and DJs. Highlights will include performances by The Uncollective and Rachael Plays Disco; collaborative mural drawing, party hat making, architectural model making, RA Collection gallery tours, and a family printmaking workshop in the new Clore Learning Centre. The Annenberg Courtyard will host street food and cocktail bars.

For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk/plan-your-visit.

PICTURES: Top – The Weston Bridge and The Lovelace Courtyard/Below – The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre. (Both images by Simon Menges).

Now located just outside St Paul’s Cathedral at the eastern end of Carter Lane Gardens, this Gothic Victorian drinking fountain once stood near the Church of St Lawrence Jewry close by Guildhall. 

Designed by architect John Robinson and featuring bronze sculptural work by Joseph Durham, the now Grade II-listed fountain was paid for jointly by the parishes and St Lawrence and St Mary Magdalene.

One of many fountains erected from the 1850s onwards to provide free, clean water to the city’s residents, it features statues of both St Lawrence – holding the grid iron on which tradition holds he was martyred – and of St Mary Magdalene – holding a cross with a skull at her feet – set in two of four niches in an elaborate canopy. The remaining two niches, now empty, are believed to have once held the names of past benefactors of the churches.

Below the canopy is another niche, from the back of which water streams out into a dish when a button is pushed. The water stream brings an extra dimension to a relief carving depicting a scene from the Biblical book of Exodus in which Moses is striking a rock at Horeb to bring forth water while, beside him, a woman holds a cup to the lips of her child.

The fountain was originally installed to the north of St Lawrence Jewry in Church Passage in 1866 and remained there for more than a century until, in 1970, the redevelopment of Guildhall Yard meant it had to be moved. It was dismantled into about 150 pieces and put into storage in a barn in Epping with the idea that it would be re-erected.

But it wasn’t until 2010 that it underwent an extensive restoration and was placed in its current location.

PICTURE: Top – Another Believer (image cropped); Right – Jordiferrer. Both licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

An intriguing feature at St Pancras Church are the eight female figures known as caryatids employed to support the rooves of two pavilions standing above the north and south entrances to the crypt.

The caryatids are modelled on those on the Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens – Henry William Inwood, who designed the church with his father William Inwood, apparently brought plaster casts of the original back to England to help with their plans for the building.

The caryatids, which were modelled by John Charles Felix Rossi, are made of terracotta constructed around cast iron cores. An original from Athens can be seen in the British Museum.

Unlike the caryatids on the Athens’ structure, however, each of the Inwoods’ statues carries an extinguished torch or empty jug, a reference to their position over the entrance to the crypt – a place of the dead.

The entire building, which is also known as St Pancras New Church to distinguish it the original St Pancras Church which is located to the north, was built between 1819-1822 and is an early example of the Greek Revival style. Other features of the church which also reference this style include its octagonal tower, modelled on the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

The church (we’ll take a more in-depth look at the building as whole in an upcoming post) now has a Grade I listing.

WHERE: St Pancras Church, Euston Road (nearest Tube stations are Kings Cross/St Pancras and Euston Square); WHEN: 8am to 6pm, Monday to Thursday (see website for Sunday times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: http://stpancraschurch.org

PICTURE: Tony Moorey (licensed under CC BY 2.0) Top image cropped. 

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)

Wednesday marked the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, so we thought it an appropriate week to feature one of the most moving displays in the Museum of London Docklands’ ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’ gallery.

The permanent gallery, which opened the museum at West India Quay in 2007 to mark the bicentenary of abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, features a wall bearing a list of the many ships that sailed from London to trade in enslaved Africans over what was just a 10 year period.

In what was known as the ‘Triangular Trade’, the ships on leaving London would sail to West Africa where they would bought enslaved Africans before travelling to the Caribbean to sell them and fill their ships with sugar before returning to London.

Among details recorded on the wall are not only the name of each ship, but the captains, owners and destinations of the ships as well as the number of enslaved Africans carried (but not their names; these were not recorded).

A sad record of a shameful time.

WHERE: ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’ Gallery, Museum of London Docklands, No 1 Warehouse, West India Quay (nearest DLR is West India Quay); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands

PICTURE: Top – © Museum of London; Below – J D Mack/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Restored and altered as part of the creation of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s £54.5 million Exhibition Road Quarter project, the screen was originally built in 1909 to conceal the museum’s boilers. 

Named for renowned architect Sir Aston Webb, who designed the screen as part of his masterplan of the V&A conceived in the last 1800s (but who is perhaps most famous for designing the facade of Buckingham Palace), the screen originally featured a solid stone wall along Exhibition Road on the museum’s west side topped with a colonnade (through which glimpses of the buildings behind could be seen) and featuring a central arch through which to enter the museum.

The screen, which was damaged during World War II by shrapnel, later had black metal gates fitted in the arch for security. They were topped by a large coat-of-arms.

Under the guidance of architect Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A, the work – which actually involved moving the screen off-site in 2013 and then reassembling its 1375 stones last year – has seen the removal of the wall so that people now have 11 entrances into the courtyard beyond (now redesigned as the porcelain-tiled Sackler Courtyard).

Which means the screen that was once designed to hide what was beyond it has been recast to reveal it instead.

The screen – and the Exhibition Road Quarter project as a whole – is being unveiled to the public today. The V&A is hosting a week long event to celebrate the completion of the project.

WHERE: Aston Webb Screen, Exhibition Road entrance, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington (nearest Tube station is South Kensington); WHEN: Anytime; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

PICTURE: The Aston Webb Screen, the V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow

 

 


Located in Old Palace Yard outside the Palace of Westminster, this Grade II-listed equestrian statue of 12th century crusader-monarch King Richard I, known as the “Lionheart” or Coeur de Lion, is the work of 19th century sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti. 

The nine metre high statue was originally exhibited as a clay work at the Great Exhibition of 1851 – it was located outside the west entrance of the Crystal Palace – and, despite the tail falling off soon after it was display, it was well enough received by the crowds attending the exhibition (as well as the critics) that a public subscription was raised to cast the statue in bronze. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among those who subscribed.

It was initially proposed that the statue be placed on the site of the Crystal Palace as a memorial to the exhibition (along with a statue of Prince Albert), but this plan was put aside and, after numerous other sites were considered, the current location was settled on.

The statue was erected on the site, facing south, in 1860, although it wasn’t completed with the addition of two bronze bas relief panels until 1867. These depict Richard on his death bed pardoning Bertran de Born, the archer whose arrow caused his death, and Richard fighting Saracens at Ascalon during his crusade in the Holy Land. Two other proposed panels were never made.

The statue was peppered with shrapnel when a bomb landed only a few metres away in 1940 during the Blitz, leaving Richard’s sword bent and damaging the tail and granite pedestal. The sword was fixed soon after. Further conservation works were carried out in 2009.

Italian-born Marochetti had worked in Paris as a sculptor before following King Louis-Philippe to London after the revolution of 1848 and largely remained in the city until his death in 1867. He was created a baron by the King of Sardinia.

His statue of Richard is one of few artworks created by non-British artists in the Parliamentary estate and while Marochetti had plans to create another equestrian statue, this one of Edward, the Black Prince, to face his statue of Richard across the entrance to the House of Lords, it never eventuated. Plans to install the second statue are, however, once more being talked about.

PICTURES: Above – The statue in Old Palace Yard (David Adams); Below – Detail of the panel depicting the death of the king (Prioryman/CC BY-SA 4.0)

This tribute to Sir Isaac Newton by artist Eduardo Paolozzi shows him in the unusual pose of being seated and leaning over with compass in hand. Installed in the British Library‘s courtyard off Euston Road in 1997, the 12 foot high bronze is based on a large watercolour by Romantic Age poet and artist William Blake, one of a series of 12 he produced in Lambeth in the 1790s. It’s on show at the Tate Britain. The statue was given a voice in 2014 as part of the Talking Statues project. PICTURE: British Library.

Recently acquired by the British Museum, this 14th century alabaster figure of the Virgin and Child is the best preserved of its kind on display in any UK national collection. The sculpture, which was probably created in the Midlands, is a rare survivor of the Reformation when almost all religious imagery was lost or destroyed. It is speculated that it escaped destruction by being exported to the Continent, whether shortly after its creation or when imagery of its kind was no longer permitted. The work of an unknown master, the figure bears the marks where people have repeatedly touched or kissed it as an act of devotion with the face of the Virgin and the foot of Christ both worn as a result. Having suffered no major breakages, it still bears large portions of the original decoration including imitation jewels on the chest of the Virgins and traces of the original red and green painting and gilding. Kept at the Redemptorist monastery in Saint-Truiden, Belgium, for many years, it was purchased by a famous collector, Dr Albert Figdor, in the late 19th century. Sold at auction after his death, it entered a European private collection where it remained until it was sold to Sam Fogg from whom the British Museum, thanks to support from the Art Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund and private donations, acquired it. The sculpture is on display in the Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe. PICTURE: Alabaster Figure of the Virgin and Child, 14th century, England, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

WHERE: British Museum (nearest Tube stations are Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm, daily (open to 8.30pm Friday); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.britishmuseum.org

This sculpture by London-based Scottish artist David Mach can be found in Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It depicts 12 K6 red phone boxes falling onto one another like a row of dominoes and was commissioned from the Royal Academician by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 1988. Unveiled the following year, it was renovated in 2001. There’s been talk in the past of it being removed (and of the end phone being connected, so it works) but the iconic sculpture remains in situ near the Old London Road gateway (and unconnected). PICTURE: Jim Linwood/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped)

cummings-barograph1Acquired last year by the Science Museum, this rare Georgian clock records changes in air pressure and is one of only four of its type made by London clockmaker Alexander Cumming.

cummings-barograph2Dating from 1766, the clock (pictured) sits in a seven foot tall decorated case, believed to have been made by London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Inside is a barograph – comprised of two tubes of mercury in which a float rises and falls as atmospheric pressure changes and the data is recorded on the clock dial which rotates once a year.

Scottish-born Cumming, who constructed his first barograph clock on the orders of King George III a year before this one in 1765, designed this clock based on ideas first outlined by Royal Society founding member Robert Hooke.

Following Cumming’s death in 1814, the clock was purchased by meteorologist Luke Howard – known as the ‘father of scientific meteorology’ – who used it to observe atmospheric pressure at his homes in London and Ackworth. The data gathered was published in his book Barometrographia  in 1847.

While it has previously been loaned for display at the museum, it now forms part of the permanent collection.

WHERE: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

PICTURES: Courtesy of the Science Museum.

nonsuch-palaceThe earliest and most detailed depiction of King Henry VIII’s famed Nonsuch Palace, a watercolour by the celebrated Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel, has been recently acquired by the V&A. 

The painting, made in 1568, is the most faithful only six surviving images of the palace which was located in Cheam, Surrey. The fanciful building was commissioned by the king in 1538 and featured a facade decorated with elaborate plasterwork in Franco-Italianate style with the aim of rivalling the Fontainebleau residence of French King Francois I.

One of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance period, it was unfinished when the king died in 1547 and was subsequently purchased from Queen Mary I by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, in 1557 – it was he who finished the building and most likely commissioned the Antwerp-born Hoefnagel to paint it. Later acquired by Queen Elizabeth I, it became one of her favourite residences and was eventually demolished by King Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, between 1682 and 1688 to pay off gambling debts.

Nonsuch Palace from the South, which is the first major work of Hoefnagel to enter the collection, can be seen in the museum’s British Galleries in South Kensington. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

PICTURE: Nonsuch Palace from the South, Joris Hoefnagel, 1558, Watercolour © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A fixture of London’s Christmas festivities since 1947, the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is given annually to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo as gift thanking them for their support of Norway during World War II.

christmas-treeThis included hosting the Norwegian Government-in-exile and the Royal Family during the Nazi occupation of the country between 1940 and 1945.

The tree is harvested from forests near the Norwegian capital and the selection process for the giant, known by forestry workers as the “Queen of the Forest”, starts in May.

The tree is typically a Norway spruce aged somewhere between 50 and 60 years and stands at least 20 metres high. This year’s tree – the 70th – is said to be 116-years-old, stands 22 metres tall and weighs

In keeping with tradition, it was cut down on 16th November in a special ceremony attended by the Mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cr Steve Summers, along with various local school children so it can shipped to Britain ready in time for its unveiling at the start of December.

The tree is adorned with lights – in more recent years these are energy efficient light bulbs – in Norwegian style and these are turned on at a special ceremony on the first Thursday in December. The tree remains on display until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas when it is taken down and recycled as mulch.

The tree now has its own Twitter account.

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The Design Museum’s new home in Kensington finally opened this week and it’s already been getting some rave reviews, hence why, despite its freshness, we thought we’d mention it in our Treasures of London feature.

The museum, which moved to its new premises after 25 years in Shad Thames, now occupies the former Commonwealth Institute building, which dates from 1962 and was designed by Robert Matthew. The building has recently undergone a £83 million makeover with the interiors designed by architect John Pawson.

The new museum has three times the space of the previous premises and features the only collection in the UK devoted exclusively to contemporary design and architecture. At the heart of the building is the Designer Maker User exhibition which, as the museum’s first free permanent display, occupies the top floor of the museum, and includes more than 1,000 items of 20th and 21st century design. At its entrance can be found a wall featuring more than 200 items from 25 countries nominated by the general public including a Bible, Coca-Cola can and a £5 banknote.

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Inside, the Designer section focuses on the thought-processes of designers and features a full-sized production of a gerberette used in the Richard Rogers-designed Centre Pompidou in Paris as well as models and images of the works of the late architect Zaha Hadid, David Mellor’s traffic lights, Kinneir and Calvert’s British road signage system and a full scale prototype for a new London Tube train designed by PriestmanGoode as well as Moulton bicycles and London Underground maps.

The Maker section, meanwhile, traces the evolution of manufacturing from Thonet bentwood cafe chairs and Model T Ford cars to robotic arms and 3D printing and includes objects at different stages of production – from tennis balls to the London 2012 Olympic Torch.

And in the User section, visitors will be led to explore the interaction between the consumer and brands that have become household names – Braun, Sony, Apple and Olivetti – as well as the impact of design on politics, fashion and music. Displays in the latter part include Gucci tennis shoes, the fashions of Vivienne Westwood and Christian Louboutin and the pioneering magazine The Face.

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As many as 500,000 people are expected to visit the museum in its first year. Along with permanent displays, also unveiled this week was the new exhibition, Fear and Love, featuring 11 new installations by world leading designers. They include The Pan-European Living Room by architecture practice OMA, Room Tone by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, Pittsburgh-based designer Madeline Gannon’s “mechanical creature” Mimus, and a series of death masks called Vespers created using 3D printing technology Neri Oxman.

And running until 19th February is the Beazley Designs of the Year, a celebration of design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year past. Categories include architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, product and transport.

WHERE: The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, Kensington (nearest Tube stations are Kensington High Street. Earl’s Court and Holland Park); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free (admission charges to special exhibitions); WEBSITE: http://designmuseum.org

PICTURES: Top – Gravity; Middle – Gareth Gardner; Bottom – Helene Binet. Courtesy The Design Museum.