Union Jacks daub Regent Street in the West End in honour of the wedding in Windsor last weekend of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. PICTURE: Pete (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

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Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

• London’s Chinatown will come alive this Sunday to mark the Year of the Dog. The biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia feature a parade – which kicks off at 10am with a dragon and lion dance in Charing Cross Road before making its way through Chinatown where between noon and 6pm people get up close to lion dances,  take selfies with Chinese zodiac animals and enjoy traditional Chinese food. Festivities in Trafalgar Square, meanwhile, kick off at 11am with the Lions’ Eye-Dotting Ceremony at noon while there’s entertainment including live performances, family-friendly entertainments and martial arts displays at a series of West End locations including Charing Cross Road, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue between noon and 5pm. For more, check out the Visit London guide. Meanwhile the Museum of London Docklands is also celebrating the Year of the Dog with a range of free cultural events on Friday (the actual date of the New Year) including everything from ribbon dancing classes to taekwondo taster lessons, calligraphy and a spectacular dragon dance. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: Paul (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The works of one of Canada’s greatest modernist painters, David Milne (1882-1953), have gone on show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. David Milne: Modern Painting follows Milne’s career chronologically, charting his development as an artist as he moves from New York to the war ravaged landscapes of Europe and back to the fields and open skies of North America. Highlights include Fifth Avenue, Easter Sunday (1912), the watercolour Bishop’s Pond (1916), Montreal Crater, Vimy Ridge (1919) – one of his most famous war paintings, White, the Waterfall (1921) and Summer Colours (1936). Runs until 7th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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Reflections at Trafalgar Square. PICTURE: Raphaël Chekroun (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0).

 

Carnaby Street ‘Carnival’. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (image cropped).

 

Flying high in the West End. PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

Thrills at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

 

Outside St Paul’s at Covent Garden. PICTURE: Kevin Oliver (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Designed by Witherdon Young, this 24 metre long arcade on the Strand was built in 1830 and was famously topped with glass domes. 

Named after Lord Lowther, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, when this section of the Strand was improved, the arcade’s 24 small shops initially sold luxury goods and various items but by the mid 19th century they were nearly all toyshops, making this a popular place for children (and particularly so, one might assume, at Christmas time!).

The northern part of the arcade was initially home to the Adelaide Gallery, described as a “National Gallery of Practical Science, Blending Instructions with Amusements” – this part of the building later became an amusement hall and then a puppet theatre.

The arcade was demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of Coutts Bank.

PICTURE: Lowther Arcade as seen in an engraving published in a periodical in 1832.

Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Seventeenth century politician, diplomat and royal courtier, Henry Jermyn’s influence can still be seen in London’s West End today.

Jermyn was born as the fourth, but second surviving, son of courtier Sir Thomas Jermyn, of Rushbrook, Suffolk, and his wife Catherine, in early 1605. He was baptised soon after at St Margaret’s Lothbury in London in late March of that year.

Having already been among several diplomatic missions, he entered the political world at about the age of 20 in 1625, when he was elected member for Bodmin in Cornwall – the first of several seats he (and his brother Thomas) would hold around the country.

He joined the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, in 1627, becoming her vice-chamberlain in 1628, and Master of the Horse to the Queen in 1639 (although he apparently spent a couple of years in exile in France during this period when he refused to obey the King and marry another courtier).

An ardent royalist, in 1641, he participated in a plot against Parliament and was forced to flee to France. In 1642, he joined the Queen in The Hague and returned to England with her in 1643 as the Civil War raged.

His loyalty was rewarded on 6th September that year when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Jermyn of St Edmundsbury (he was apparently wounded just 10 days later at the Battle of Aldbourne Chase). He was made the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain in early 1644 and in April that year accompanied the Queen to France where he helped her raise money for the Royalist cause.

He was made Governor of Jersey in 1645 (a post in which he succeeded his father), although it was a role he apparently had little interest in, at one point proposing selling the island to France.

In 1649, it was apparently Jermyn who had to give the Queen the news of King Charles I’s execution. Her closest advisor, it was subsequently falsely rumoured that he had secretly married the Queen – some even went so far to suggest he had fathered her children.

Jermyn became a member of King Charles II’s Privy Council in 1652 and, in 1659, just before the Restoration, he was created the Earl of St Albans. Created ambassador to France in 1661, he would go on to play a key role in helping King Charles II negotiate the secret 1670 Treaty of Dover with the French King Louis XIV.

In the early 1660s he was rewarded with land grants including land located to the north of St James’s Palace in London. He encouraged the development of the area, centred on St James’s Square and surrounding streets including Jermyn Street – such was his impact on the area that he became known as the “Father of the West End”.

He returned to France with Queen Henrietta Maria in 1665 and was present when the Queen died on 31st August, 1669, at Colombe in France. He subsequently returned to England and served as Lord Chamberlain to King Charles II between 1672-74 as well as, in 1672, being invested as a Knight of the Garter.

Jermyn, who never married, was generally said to have been a prolific gambler (and, some said, a glutton) and while he attempted to retire more than once to Rushbrook, the lure of London’s gaming tables proved too strong.

He died in his house in St James’s Square on 2nd January, 1684, and was buried at Rushbrook. While his earldom became extinct, his barony passed to his nephew Thomas Jermyn.

PICTURE: A City of Westminster Green Plaque located at the site of Henry Jermyn’s former home in St James’s Square.  (Simon Harriyott/licenced under CC BY 2.0

The Ship & Shovell just off the western end of the Strand takes its name from Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who lived nearby in May Street.

Shovell (1650-1707), like the more famous seaman Horatio Nelson, was a rare achiever – he joined the navy at the age of 13 as a cabin boy and rose to earn a commission, an unusual accomplishment at a time when most were purchased.

Described as the “best officer of his age”, he was eventually made Commander in Chief of the English Fleet having taken part in the capture of Gibraltar as well as Barcelona, but was killed after a disastrous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly in 1707.

The story goes that when his flagship, the Association, foundered, he had washed up on St Mary’s Island and was killed by a woman for the emerald ring he was wearing – she apparently later confessed (we’ll take a longer look at Sir Cloudesley’s fascinating life in an upcoming Famous Londoners).

The pub itself, located at 1-3 Craven Passage close to Charing Cross and Embankment, originally dates from around 1740 but has been updated several times since, most latterly after, having been left derelict for more than 15 years, it was restored and reopened in 1996.

Another part of the pub was opened across the street a couple of years later, making this a rather unique set-up in that it’s apparently the only London pub with two sections facing each other from either sides of the laneway.

Part of the Hall & Woodhouse group. For more on the pub, see http://shipandshovell.co.uk.

PICTURE: Andrew Bowden/CC BY-SA 2.0

London was agog. Gathering at what is now the Theatre Royal in Haymarket on the evening of 16th January, 1749, the city’s inhabitants were ready to experience a most amazing spectacle as a man would not only play a “common walking cane” as if it were any instrument but, apparently shrinking himself, step inside a common, ordinary sized wine bottle placed upon a table.

Spurred on by newspaper advertisements promising a night of “surprising things” (which also included the promise of the performer taking on the likeness of any person, living or dead), it was with great expectation that the crowd, which included the Duke of Cumberland, settled into their seats in the theatre, having willingly paid at least two shillings (and some substantially more) for the privilege of being present.

When the time came for the curtain to rise and nothing happened, there were no doubt some who thought it merely a tactic of the performer to build suspense. But the crowd was getting restless and soon after began booing and stamping their feet in their annoyance.

One of the theatre’s staff then appeared on stage to inform them the performer had not arrived and that all entrance fees would repaid  – his comments were apparently answered by a wit who claimed they would pay double if the magician could enter a pint bottle instead of a quart bottle. Further catcalls followed and before long someone apparently threw a candle, setting the stage curtains on fire. Panic broke out among those in the theatre as people sought to escape but for some rage took over as they realised that they had been the victims of a hoax.

The theatre was destroyed as people tore up the seats and smashed the scenery, carting what they could out into Haymarket where it was burnt in a bonfire. The theatre manager called out the guards but the rioting was largely over by the time they arrived. There were apparently no casualties, apart from the theatre itself, although the Duke of Cumberland did, it was said, lose a jewelled sword.

Apparently a bizarre hoax, attention quickly turned to who was behind it. It was commonly believed that it had been the 2nd Duke of Montagu, a notorious practical joker, who had placed the advertisement in order to win a bet that he could fill a theatre by promising something impossible such as a man being able to step inside a bottle. Yet to this day, the identity of the hoaxer remains something of a mystery and the case went on to be cited in reference to the gullibility of the London populace.

PICTURE: Kbthompson at English Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.

Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.

In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.

Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.

The dualistic nature of the property fits with that of Jekyll and Hyde and while Leicester Square isn’t usually considered part of Soho, it’s at the least very close by.

“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”

He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.

“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.

Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.

The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).

PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0

 

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
regent-street

Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

west-end

Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

carnaby-street

Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

oxford-street

Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

st-katharines

A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Debenhams’ origins go back to 1778 when a draper’s store started trading at 44 Wigmore Street in London’s West End. Soon run by Thomas Clark and his partner Mr Flint, the shop sold fabrics, bonnets, gloves and parasols. 

debenhamsThe Debenhams name entered the story in 1813 when William Debenham, still young but having already learnt something of the trade at a hosiery in Nottingham, invested in the firm, now known as Clark & Debenham.

Success followed (apparently they expanded into a store across the road, calling one Clark & Debenham and the other Debenham & Clark) and in 1818, the firm opened its first store outside London – an exact replica of the Wigmore Street store in fashionable Cheltenham. This was followed by stores in other locations across England. (The original Debenhams store, which was rebuilt as a department store in the Edwardian era, is now largely occupied by offices).

The firm prospered in the coming years thanks to the demand for mourning attire in the Victorian age and in 1851 underwent another name change when Clement Freebody, brother of Debenham’s wife Caroline, invested in the firm, becoming Debenham, Son & Freebody and later just Debenham & Freebody (when William Debenham retired, it was his son William, Jr, who entered into partnership with Freebody) . At this time a wholesale business was established selling cloth and other items to dressmakers and other large retailers.

The company continued to expand and offices opened in various countries around the world – from Australia and South Africa to Canada and China. It’s said that in 1899, the store even had its own fire brigade and constabulary and around the start of the 20th century it became one of the first businesses to get a telephone.

In 1905, Debenhams Ltd was incorporated and in 1919 the business merged with Marshall and Snellgrove. Knightsbridge retailer Harvey Nichols was acquired in 1920 and seven years later the Debenham family’s involvement ended as the company went public.

Famous faces associated with the store in the early part of the 20th century included King Edward VII, for whom the business supplied coronation robes.

By 1950, Debenhams had become the largest department store group in the UK, owning 84 companies and 110 stores. Between 1985 and 1998, it was part of the Burton Group and it was during this period that it launched the Designers at Debenhams initiative as well as, in 1997, opening the first international franchise store in Bahrain. Debenhams listed on the London Stock Exchange following its demerger with the Burton Group and remain so until 2003 – when it was acquired by Baroness Retail Ltd – before returning to the London Stock Exchange in 2006.

It acquired nine stores from Roches in Ireland in 2007 and in 2009 acquired Danish department store chain Magasin du Nord.

As well as its flagship store in Oxford Street (refurbished for Debenhams 200th birthday in 2013), these days Debenhams owns and operates more than 18o stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark (these include Browns of Chester which, following its acquisition in 1976, was allowed to keep its name). There are also some 60 franchise stores in more than 25 other countries.

For more, see www.debenhams.com.

PICTURE: Debenhams flagship Oxford Street store dressed up for Christmas.

shaftesbury-avenue-london

Looking down Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of London’s Theatreland, in the West End. PICTURE: Pedro Szekely/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Battle-of-the-SommeThe Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is holding a free late night opening tonight featuring live music, film screenings, immersive theatre and poetry to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Highlights of Night Before the Somme, which runs from 8pm to midnight tonight, include slam poet Kat Francois’ critically acclaimed play Raising Lazarus, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan’s show Magic Lantern Tales, and extracts from the immersive production Dr Blighty – which tells the story of the million Indians who travelled to fight in the war. Visitors will also have the chance to watch the film, The Battle of the Somme (filmed and screened in 1916, it was the first feature-length documentary about war), listen in to a series of Q&A’s with experts on the battle, and preview the major exhibition, Real to Reel: A Century of War Movies. Real to Reel, which officially opens on Friday, explores how film-makers have found inspiration in compelling personal stories and the real events of wars from the past century. As well as audio-visual installations, the display features film clips, costumes, props, scripts, sketches and designs from films such as The Dam Busters, Where Eagles Dare, Apocalypse Now, Battle of Britain, Das Boot, Casablanca, Jarhead, Atonement and War Horse along with original archival material and artefacts from the IWM collections. The exhibition, which is divided into five sections, runs until 8th January. Admission charges apply. See www.iwm.org.uk for more. PICTURE: © IWM (Q 70164. Staged scene from The Battle of the Somme film, 1916 British troops go ‘over the top’ into ‘No Man’s Land’. This scene was staged for the camera at a training school behind the lines.

• Don’t forget tonight’s vigil at Westminster Abbey to mark the 100th anniversary (as mentioned in last week’s entry here).

Still on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and a new exhibition opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week focusing on the innovations in medical practice and technologies developed as a result of the new kind of industrialised warfare seen in the battle. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care has at its centre a collection of historic objects from the museum’s World War I medical collections including stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches and made-to-measure artificial arms fitted to the wounded in British hospitals as well as lucky charms and personal protective items carried by frontline soldiers. There are also artworks from the period including Henry Tonk’s famous pastel drawings of facial injuries and a 1914 painting by John Lavery that depicts the arrival of the first British wounded soldiers at the London hospital. Admission is free and the exhibition can be seen until early 2018. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

Regent Street will be transformed on Sunday, 3rd July, with the Transported by Design Festival featuring transport designs which have shaped and will shape London. The festival, which will stretch from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus Tube stations, will see the street divided into three zones – past, present and future. Among the objects on show in ‘past’ section will be a horse-drawn bus and other heritage buses, a 1927 train carriage and an exhibition of classic advertising posters and signage while the ‘present’ section will feature ‘Cycle Spin Fun’ by Santander Cycles, Moquette Land – a showcase of fabric used across the transport network, and, a ‘design a bus’ competition, and the ‘future’ section will feature a range of technologies, including virtual reality headsets, exploring what transport could look like in 2040. The free festival, part of the ‘Summer Streets’ program which sees Regent Street closed to traffic on Sundays over summer, runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.tfl.gov.uk/campaign/transported-by-design/event-calendar?intcmp=40582.

• The work of artist Winifred Knights, the first British woman to win the Prix de Rome scholarship, is the subject of a recently-opened exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The display, the first major retrospective of the work of Knights (1899-1947), brings together more than 70 preparatory studies and her most ambitious works including The Deluge (1920), The Potato Harvest (1918) and Leaving the Munitions Works (1919). Winifred Knights (1899-1947) runs until 18th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.

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

BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

TheatreLondon’s West End “Theatreland” and New York’s Broadway are jointly the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the V&A this week. Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York takes visitors on an immersive, behind the scenes look at how award-winning plays, musicals and productions are made as well as the history of theatrical awards and life on the red carpet. Objects – taken from the V&A collection and that of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre – on display include Maria Bjornson’s original costume designs from The Phantom of the Opera (1986), one of the longest-running West End musicals and the longest running Broadway production in history as well as a selection of golden top hats from A Chorus Line which won both the Tony Award and the inaugural Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1976, a tunic worn by Rudolf Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet, winner of the Olivier Award in 1977, and a dress designed by Bob Crowley and worn by Dame Helen Mirren in The Audience, a production which earned the actress both an Olivier award in 2013 and a Tony Award in 2015. The free exhibition, organised in partnership with the Society of London Theatre as part of a year long celebration of 40 years of the Olivier Award, runs until 31st August in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries before touring to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre later this year. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/curtainup. PICTURE: © Victoria and Albert Museum.

A visually stunning exhibition highlighting the talents of Leonardo da Vinci opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington yesterday. Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius takes a look at some of the unique mechanical concepts dreamt up by one of “history’s greatest minds”. The display features 39 historical models of designs da Vinci drew – including those of flying machines, diving apparatus and weapons – which were made in Milan in 1952 to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/leonardo.

Kensington Palace is taking you even further into the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, in a new display of dresses as part of the Fashion Rules exhibition. The new display continues the exhibitions exploration of how each of the three women have navigated the fashion ‘rules’ defined by their royal duties in their own unique style. Among the dresses on display is a candy-striped dress in the “Parisian style” created by Norman Hartnell in the late 1940s for Princess Margaret – on show for the first time at the palace, as well as formal dresses worn by the Queen on state visits to France and the Middle East, and a bottle green silk velvet halterneck worn by Diana which was later made famous in images by photographer Mario Testino. The new display goes on show today. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace.

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Covent-GardenA quiet moment in one of Covent Garden’s covered arcades. For more on the history of Covent Garden, see our earlier post here.

195 Piccadilly

Last weekend saw London transformed in a blaze of colour and light as the city hosted its first Lumiere light festival. More than a million people hit the streets over the four nights of the event – developed by creative producers Artichoke and supported by the Mayor of London – to take in the 30 artworks. Above are some of images of British screen stars and directors which were projected on 195 Piccadilly in an installation by Newcastle-based studio NOVAK. Below are some more images from the rather spectacular event. For more on the event, check out www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.

Les-Voyageurs

Above is Les Voyageurs (The Travellers) by French artist Cédric Le Borgne (located in St James) while below is Litre of Light by Mick Stephenson and Central Saint Martin’s students in Kings Cross.

Litre-of-Light

binaryWaves

Above is binaryWaves by LAB[au] while below is Ron Haselden’s Diver depicting an illuminated figure plunging into the water of the King’s Cross Pond Club.

DiverAll images courtesy of Lumiere London.

Australia HouseNews this week that scientists have confirmed an ancient sacred well beneath Australia House in the Strand (on the corner of Aldwych) contains water fit to drink. The well, believed to be one of 20 covered wells in London, is thought to be at least 900 years old and contains water which is said to come from the now-subterranean Fleet River. Australia’s ABC news was recently granted special access to the well hidden beneath a manhole cover in the building’s basement and obtained some water which was tested and found to be fit for drinking. It’s been suggested that the first known mention of the well – known simply as Holywell (it gave its name to a nearby street now lost) – may date back to the late 12th century when a monk, William FitzStephen, commented about the well’s “particular reputation” and the crowds that visited it (although is possible his comments apply to another London well). Australia House itself, home to the Australian High Commission, was officially opened in 1918 by King George V, five years after he laid the foundation stone. The Prime Minister of Australia, WM “Billy” Hughes, was among those present at the ceremony. The interior of the building has featured in the Harry Potter movies as Gringott’s Bank. PICTURE: © Martin Addison/Geograph.