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.

Standing some 200 feet above sea level (almost 63 metres), this rounded grassy hill, just to the north of The Regent’s Park proper, has long held a fascination for Londoners partly, at least, for the panoramic views it offers of the city skyline. 

Once part of a hunting ground used by King Henry VIII, the hill – which has also been known as Battle and Greenberry Hill – was purchased in 1841 from Eton College to provide more public space for Londoners.

It has served as the site of a famous unsolved murder (that of magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey whose mysterious death, exploited by anti-Catholic plotter Titus Oates, caused considerable uproar) as well as duels, prize fights, mass gatherings and mystic happenings.

The latter have included it being the location where Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) first organised a gathering of druids, known as a Gorsedd of Bards, in 1792, as well as it being the subject of a prophecy by 16th century ‘soothsayer’ Mother Shipton warning that the streets would “run with blood” if the hill should become surrounded by urban sprawl.

Around the summit of the hill stands a York Stone edging feature bearing an inscription from poet William Blake – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – while standing on the slope below is the famous Shakespeare’s Tree which was originally planted in 1864 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s birth (but was replaced in 1964).

The view over London is one of a number of protected views in the city (meaning you can’t build anything block it) and the trees below the summit are kept deliberately low so as not to impede sightlines.

The nearby residential district known as Primrose Hill is noted for being home to numerous famous figures including the likes of Jude Law, Kate Moss and the Gallagher brothers. It is also where the aliens in HG Well’s book, War of the Worlds, intended making their headquarters.

WHERE: Primrose Hill, The Regent’s Park (nearest tube stations are Chalk Farm, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood and Mornington Crescent); WHEN: Usually always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/things-to-see-and-do/primrose-hill.

PICTURE: Mike Rolls/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (taken in 2012).

Poet. Painter. Visionary? William Blake failed to find great success in his lifetime and died in relative obscurity but is now known internationally for his controversial and innovative works in the written word and visual arts.

Blake was born on 28th November, 1757, at 28 Broad Street in Soho, the third son of hosier James Blake and his wife Catherine (he was christened at St James’s Piccadilly). Little is known of his early life although accounts suggest he had some spiritual experiences – including a vision of a tree full of angels – as a young boy and also showed an interest in the visual arts at an early age.

William-BlakeAbout the age of 10, he started attending Henry Par’s drawing school before, at the age of 14, becoming an apprentice to James Basire, engraver to the Royal Society and Society of Antiquaries. Among his early assignments was to make drawings of the monuments and paintings at Westminster Abbey – interestingly, Blake’s earliest extant drawings are of the opening of King Edward I’s coffin on 2nd May, 1774.

In 1779, his apprenticeship completed, Blake enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts and at the same time, made his living as a copy engraver. His clients included the radical bookseller Joseph Johnson through whom he became introduced to people like Joseph Priestley. He also began producing original works on historical themes apparently with the aim of forging a career in the painting of history.

In 1782, Blake married Catherine Sophia Boucher and they took up life together at a property near Leicester Square, later moving to Lambeth. They were to have no children.

Experimenting with new methods of engraving, in 1788, he published the first of what he was to call his “illuminated books” – All Religions are One, and There is no Natural Religion – with his first illuminated book of poetry, Songs of Innocence, coming a year later (its sequel Songs of Experience was published in 1794). In 1789, he published The Book of Thel, combining his new method of engraving with “prophetic” verse.

Later works in prose and poetry – created while Blake was still working as an engraver – continued to explore his increasingly radical views on religion and politics. They included The Marriage of Heaven and Hell published in 1790, The French Revolution in 1791, America: A Prophecy in 1793 and Visions of the Daughters of Albion the same year.

In 1800, Blake moved to Felpham, West Sussex, thanks to his friendship with one William Hayley who engaged his skills on several projects. It was while living here that Blake began work on his epic poems Milton (printed in 1810-11) and Jerusalem (completed in 1820).

Following an incident in 1803 in which Blake removed a drunk soldier from his garden, Blake was charged with high treason but acquitted after a trial at Chichester.

Having meanwhile moved back to London, in 1809 Blake made a last effort to gain the public’s attention with his work and held an exhibition of his paintings and watercolours at his family home in Broad Street (now home of his eldest brother James). But the exhibition did not elevate his profile as he may have hoped and during his last years, Blake increasingly sank into obscurity amid tightening finances and, although he continued to produce poetry, paintings and engravings, he found it hard to find work.

Blake died on 12th August, 1827, at his home at 3 Fountain Court on the Strand and was buried in an unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields. The stone which now stands there (pictured above) was added later.

It was during the Victorian-era that Blake’s work made its way into the hands of a larger audience than it ever had while he was alive, thanks to Blake enthusiasts like his first biographer Alexander Gilchrist and people associated with the Romantic movement.

His work continued to gain attention into the 20th century (in particular around the centenary of his death in 1927) and by mid-century had become what Robert N Essick says in Blake’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “one of the cultural icons of the English-speaking world”. Interest in Blake and his works has continued both in the UK and around the world.

A new room dedicated to showing Blake’s works opened at Tate Britain in May.

Cabmen's-ShelterThe London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.

A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.

Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Westminster-Abbey3Sunday marks 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and Westminster Abbey – site of that event – is celebrating with a series of events. These include a special 60th Anniversary of the Coronation Service on Tuesday (4th June) to be attended by the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and members of the royal family as well as a public lecture to be given by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres on Friday night (7th June – booking is essential), a concert performed by the abbey choir (13th June), and a new exhibition in the chapter house featuring archive images of the 1953 coronation ceremony and of preparations which took place at the abbey. Meanwhile the Coronation Chair, used in most coronations since the 14th century and having just undergone conservation work, is the subject of a new display in St George’s Chapel, and two new commemorative stained glass windows have been installed in King Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – the first commissioned by the abbey for more than a decade, they have been designed by artist Hughie O’Donoghue. For more on the abbey’s celebrations, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

Composer Benjamin Britten is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Poetry in Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) looks at the poetic and literary influences on the work of the man often described as the greatest English composer since Purcell. In particular it examines his collaboration with WH Auden and the interplay of his work with authors such as William Blake, Wilfred Owen, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Shakespeare. As well as composition manuscripts, the exhibition features photographs, concert programmes and unpublished recordings of his music. There are a range of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

The Keats House 2013 Festival is underway this week with activities ranging from poetry readings to felt-making demonstrations, free family workshops and musical performances. The programme of events runs until 2nd June, all under this year’s theme of ‘Health is My Expected Heaven’: The Body and The Imagination. Poet John Keats lived at the house in Hampstead, not far from Hampstead Heath, from 1818 to 1820 and it is the setting for some of his most acclaimed poetry including Ode to a Nightingale. It was this house that he left to travel to Rome where he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. For more on the festival programme, follow this link.

On Now: Silver Service – Fine dining in Roman Britain. This free exhibition at the British Museum recreates the experience of dining late in the Roman era and uses the Mildenhall Great Dish, Britain’s finest late Roman silver dining service, as an example of the type of large platter on which food for sharing would have been presented. The exhibition, which runs until 4th August, is free (keep an eye out for our upcoming Treasures of London on the Mildenhall Great Dish). For more information, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• The Olympic Rings were unveiled on Tower Bridge yesterday to mark one month until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Games. Each of the rings weighs three tonnes and are 25 metres wide and 11.5 metres tall. A light show featuring thousands of LED lights brings them to life at night. The rings retract when the bridge is raised. Among those at the unveiling were Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of LOCOG, London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

• Several hundred images of London have been included in Britain from Above, a new website launched by English Heritage and the Royal Commissions on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and Wales. The website, which boasts more than 15,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 includes some of the oldest and most valuable images from the Aerofilms Collection, an archive of more than a million photographs taken between 1919 and 2006. A search for London brings up 283 results, among them stunning images of Tower Bridge, The Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. Users are encouraged to download images, customise their own themed photo galleries and share information to add to the knowledge behind each of the images. For more, see www.britainfromabove.org.uk.

• A quote from William Blake has been inscribed on stone on the summit of Primrose Hill, famous for its views of the London skyline. The quote – “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” – was selected, according to Nick Biddle, The Regent’s Park manager, “because it sums up so well the experience of standing on Primrose Hill in the early morning light”. “It is always a wonderful experience,” he says. The unveiling of the inscription signalled the end to a series of improvement works on the hill. For more, see http://www.royalparks.org.uk.

• On Now: V&A Illustration Awards display. Features works by the 14 artists short-listed for the V&A’s annual illustration awards. Drawn from more than 1,000 entries the panel – fashion designer Orla Kiely, broadcaster and cultural commentator Emma Freud and Moira Gemmill, V&A director of design – selected their favorite entries in three categories – book illustration, book cover and jacket illustration – while winners of last year’s award judged a fourth category for students’ work. Runs until 31st December. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/illustrationawards.

• On Now: Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye. This major exhibition at the Tate Modern reassesses the work of this Norwegian painter and aims to show how he engaged with the 20th century world, in particular his interest in the rise of modern media including photography, film and stage production. Organised in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Munch Museum in Oslo, the exhibition features more than 60 paintings and 50 photographs as well as Munch’s lesser-known work in film. They include different versions of celebrated works like The Sick Child and The Girls on a Bridge as well as his last work, a self protrait. Runs until 14th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

The London Stone was once considered to be one of the City’s most important relics with the very existence of the city depending on its survival. Yet, hidden away behind an iron grille set into the front of a building at 111 Cannon Street, the block of Clipsham limestone is these days all but forgotten, occupying an ignominious position opposite the gleaming new Cannon Street Station.

The stone’s origins lie shrouded in mystery but the legend, propagated in the 19th century, goes that it once formed part of an altar built by Trojan wanderer and founder of London, Brutus. Yet, according to the Museum of London, the saying often associated with the legend  – “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish” – was apparently invented in 1862.

It has been suggested the stone, which is a Grade II* listed structure, may be a relic of the city of the Roman city of Londinium, although no-one seems to know for sure. The earliest mention of it was apparently around 1100 AD and it was subsequently associated with some of London’s most famous characters.

It is said that Jack Cade, leader of the 15th century Kentish rebellion, struck it with his sword after entering London in a symbolic gesture designed to reflect his taking control of the city and naming himself ‘Lord of London’. The poet William Blake is said to have believed it to be associated with druidism – perhaps it was part of an altar? – and even the great 17th century architect Christopher Wren had a view on it – he thought it was part of a Roman ruin after seeing its foundations.

One widely believed and circulated theory was that it was the stone from which all distances from London were measured during Roman times. Its heritage listing says it may have been a Roman milestone. It has also been suggested it is the base of an Anglo-Saxon waymarker or cross.

The stone was located in its current position after World War II. Since the 18th century it had been set into the wall of a Wren-designed church, St Swithin London Stone, which had stood on the site where the stone now sits but which was demolished in 1962 after being bombed in the Blitz. Prior to being moved to the church, the stone stood upright on the south side of Cannon Street. It was moved to the church after becoming a traffic hazard.

There has been talk in recent years of moving the stone to a better home but for the moment it remains behind the grill by the footpath.

The British Library is to digitise 250,000 books and make them available on the internet under a deal with tech giant Google. The works, which are all out of copyright, date from between 1700 and 1870 and include printed books, pamphlets and periodicals. Among them are feminist pamphlets about the ill-fated French Queen Marie Antionette dating from 1791, blueprints of the first combustion engine-driven submarine dating from 1858, and a 1775 account which tells of a stuffed hippopotamus owned by the Prince of Orange. The works will all be available online via Google Books which has partnered with more than 40 libraries around the world. The project will include material published in a range of European languages and will focus on works not already freely available in digital form online. For more see www.bl.uk.

A series of events running under the banner of ‘Green Garden Lunchtimes’ will be held at the Bunhill Fields Burial Group (off City Road) in the City of London from next Monday until 1st July. The events include free yoga and tai chi classes, a bike repair workshop, a history tour from City Guides and a wildlife talk courtesy of the Natural History Museum. The Wren Clinic will also be providing free advice and treatments. Bunhill Fields is famous for its connections to the Nonconformists and contains the graves of writers William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan. For dates and times, follow this link.

• Six churches and a synagogue in London have been granted £582,000 to carry out repair works under the Repair Grants for Places of Worship scheme. The grants, which are administered by English Heritage and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, include £199,000 for the Church of St Augustine in Honor Oak Park – an early example of the Gothic Revival in the Early English style, £122,000 for Christ Church in Christchurch Park, Sutton, and £111,000 for the Golders Green Synagogue in Barnet. The grants were part of £8 million worth of funding given to 67 of England’s most important Grade II listed churches, chapels and synagogues. For more, see www.hlf.org.uk.

On Now: Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion at the British Museum. The museum’s major summer exhibition looks at the spiritual and artistic significance of Christian relics and reliquaries in medieval Europe. Among the highlights are: an arm reliquary of St George, which was housed in the treasury of St Mark’s in Venice following its capture in the sack of Constantinople in 1204; the British Museum’s bejewelled Holy Thorn reliquary, dating from 1390-97 and said to contain a relic from the Crown of Thorns; and, a 12th century bust of St Baudime from France, which once contained a vial of the saint’s blood and is being seen for the first time in Britain. Other exhibits come from the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore as well as from the Vatican. Runs until 9th October. There is an admission charge. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

A squirrel spotted playing among the tombstones of Bunhill Fields Cemetery in the Borough of Islington. The Dissenters’ graveyard – burial place of the likes of writers John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe, artist and poet William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of Methodist founders John and Charles Wesley – was recently given a Grade I listing on the national Register of Parks and Gardens. For more information on the cemetery, see our previous post here.

The London burial place of writers John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe and artist and poet William Blake has been recognised as one of the city’s most significant historic landscapes with a Grade I listing on the national Register of Parks and Gardens. The news, which was announced last month, also sees 75 tombs located within Bunhill Fields Cemetery individually listed. Bunhill, located between City Road and Bunhill Row, is one of 106 registered cemeteries in London (and now one of only seven Grade I listed cemeteries). It was established in 1660 and, thanks to its not being associated with Anglican place of worship, is viewed as the “pre-eminent graveyard for Nonconformists in England” . About 123,000 burials took place in its four acres before it was closed in 1869. The oldest monument is that of theologian Theophilus Gale, who died in 1678. As well as the tombs of Buynan, Defoe and Blake, others listed on the register include that of Dame Mary Page, who died in 1728 and whose tomb inscription talks of her stoicism in the face of 240 gallons of water being taken out of her prior to her death, and Joseph Denison, a banker who died in 1806 and was one of England’s wealthiest commoners at the time. The listing was made by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport following advice from English Heritage. For more on Bunhill Fields, follow this link

Kew Gardens has joined Google Streetview, meaning it’s now possible to navigate your way around the gardens from the comfort of your own home. More than 26 kilometres of paths and the interiors of some of the garden’s glasshouses – including the Palm House and the Temperate House – can now be seen on Streetview which offers 360 degree views. Professor Stephen Hopper, director at Kew, says the new technology is “bound to encourage people to visit us and experience Kew for themselves”. Follow this link to see the gardens on Streetview.

• On Now: Afghanistan’s heritage is on display in a newly opened exhibition at the British Museum. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World showcases more than 200 objects from the National Museum of Afghanistan as well as some items from the British Museum and includes sculptures, ivory inlays once attached to furniture, Roman glassware and Egyptian stone tableware, and inlaid gold ornaments once worn by the area’s “nomadic elite”. The objects were found between 1937 and 1978 and were preserved thanks to officials who kept them out of harm’s way during the Soviet and Taliban eras. The museum announced this week that they would be joined by carved ivory fragments that were stolen from Afghanistan’s national museum in the early 1990s and only recently presented to the British Museum by a benefactor with the idea that they will eventually be returned to Kabul. The exhibition runs until 3rd July. There is an admission charge. For more information, see www.britishmuseum.org.

What’s in a name? – Soho

September 6, 2010

The first in an occasional series looking behind some of London’s place names. To kick it off, we’re taking a look at the origins of the name of the inner metropolitan suburb of Soho.

The name was apparently taken from a hunting cry – ‘So Ho’  and is believed to have been first used to describe this area of London in the 1600s (the cry was also later used as a rallying cry by the James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth’s men when he tried to overthrow James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685).

The area was used as grazing lands before becoming part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds and then in the later 1600s started to undergo development, becoming known as a refuge for immigrants from Greece and France (the French Protestant Church on Soho Square is indicative of the diverse population who have lived there).

It later morphed into a somewhat seedy and bohemian entertainment district and became home to some big name writers, artists, intellectuals and musicians. Over the years, famous residents have included everyone from Karl Marx to poet William Blake.

These days, while elements of entertainment industry remain – in particular the film industry as well as some seedier establishments – the area, bordered by Oxford and Regent Streets, Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus to the south, is also home to large numbers of trendy cafes, pubs and restaurants and still boasts a healthy nightlife.