This narrow City of London passageway which runs between Whitefriars Street and Salisbury Square, just south of Fleet Street, is located in what was the precinct of the former Whitefriars monastery (what later became part of a somewhat lawless area known as Alsatia).

The name of the alley, which can be traced back to the mid-16th century, apparently relates to a hanging sign depicting a sword – hence “hanging sword” – and probably refers to a fencing school (the area was known for them) but it’s also been speculated the name could refer to a public house or brothel.

The alley was previously known as Blood Bowl Alley, a moniker derived from Blood Bowl House, a house of ill repute which once stood in the laneway (and featured in a William Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness series, in a plate depicting the Idle Apprentice, betrayed by a prostitute, being arrested).

The alleyway does get a mention in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – it was here that he located the lodgings of Jerry Cruncher, the messenger for Tellsun’s Bank who makes money on the side as a ‘resurrection man’.

PICTURE: Google Maps

A once forgotten collection of watercolour paintings and drawings owned by Empress Catherine the Great of Russia has gone on show at Hampton Court Palace as part of commemorations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The Empress and the Gardener exhibition features almost 60 intricately detailed views of the palace and its park and gardens during the time when Brown worked there as chief gardener to King George III between 1764 and 1783. The works came to be in the collection of the Empress – a renowned fan of English gardens – after Brown’s assistant, John Spyers, sold two albums of his drawings of the palace to the her for the considerable sum of 1,000 roubles. The albums disappeared into her collection at the Hermitage (now the State Hermitage Museum) and lay forgotten for more than 200 years before they were rediscovered by curator Mikhail Dedinkin in 2002. As well as the collection – on public show for the first time, the exhibition features portraits of Brown and the Empress, previously unseen drawings of her ‘English Palace’ in the grounds of the Peterhof near St Petersburg, and several pieces from the ‘Green Frog’ dinner service, created for the Empress by Wedgwood, which is decorated with some of the landscapes the prolific Brown created across England. Runs until 4th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

A house in Chelsea has become only one of 19 homes in London to bear two official blue plaques. Number 48 Paultons Square has the honour of having been home to two Nobel prize winners (albeit in different fields) – dramatist Samuel Beckett, who lived there for seven months in 1934 while writing his first novel, Murphy, and physicist Patrick Blackett, noted for his revolutionary work in U-boat detection during World War II, who lived there from 1953 to 1969. Other ‘doubles’ include 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (home to Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud) and 29 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia (home to George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the blue plaques scheme. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The rise of the British graphic novel is the subject of a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. The Great British Graphic Novel features works by 18th century artist William Hogarth as well as Kate Charlesworth, Dave Gibbons (one of the creators of the ground-breaking Watchmen), Martin Row, Posy Simmonds (creator of the Tamara Drewe comic strip) and Bryan and Mary Talbot. It runs until 24th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

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V&A

Eighteenth century artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds gaze down from the facade of the V&A in South Kensington. The Victoria and Albert Museum was established in 1852 – capitalising on the success of the Great Exhibition the previous year – and moved to its current site in 1857. The foundation stone for the current building was laid by Queen Victoria herself in 1899 and it was to mark this occasion that the museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum after the queen and late Prince Albert (although the queen really just wanted it to be the Albert Museum). For more on the V&A, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Famous for its associations with London’s theatreland, Drury Lane takes its name from the Drury family who once owned a mansion here.

Drury-LanePreviously known as the Via de Aldwych (apparently for a stone monument the Aldwych Cross which stood at the street’s northern end), Drury Lane – which runs between High Holborn and Aldwych – was renamed after Drury House which was built at the southern end of the street.

Some accounts suggest it was Sir Robert Drury (1456-1535), an MP and lawyer, who built the property around 1500; others say it was his son, Sir William Drury, also an MP and a Privy Councillor, who did so  in around 1600 – which may mean there were two versions of the one property.

The street, meanwhile, is said to have been briefly renamed Prince’s Street during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) but, following the Restoration in 1660, the name Drury once more gained supremacy.

The origins of the street’s famous theatre (London’s oldest), the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from the same year (see our earlier post here). Other theatres in the street included the Cockpit Theatre which had been designed at one stage by Inigo Jones.

The street is also famous for being the site of the worst outbreak of the plague in London – the Great Plague of 1665, burned away the following year by the Great Fire – and by the 18th century was a slum noted for its seediness, in particular for prostitution (it features in William Hogarth’s work The Harlot’s Progress).

This didn’t change until the second half of the 19th century – author Charles Dickens had been among others who had commented on the poverty he had seen there – when gentrification took hold. Among the shops opened there during this time was the first Sainsbury’s, founded at number 173 in 1869.

Alongside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (although the main entrance is in Catherine Street), other theatres in the street today include the New London Theatre and the London Theatre.

The-George-and-Devonshire

The last remaining pub in old Chiswick village in west London, The George and Devonshire has a history dating back to the 1650s.

The-George-and-Devonshire2Initially known simply as The George (like so many taverns and pubs, apparently after England’s patron saint), by the 1820s the name had changed to The George and Devonshire – the Duke of Devonshire’s former showpiece property, Chiswick House, can still be found nearby (for more on Chiswick House, see our earlier post here). The coat of arms of the Dukes of Devonshire now hang over the door.

The Grade II-listed building at 8 Burlington Lane, which is conveniently located just metres from a Fullers brewery, dates from the 18th century.

There was apparently once a secret passageway which led from the pub under the nearby St Nicholas’ Church (burial place of artist William Hogarth) to an opening located among a group of small cottages near the Thames – it is said to have been used by rum and spirits smugglers in the 1700s. The remains of the entrance can still apparently be seen in the pub’s cellar.

For more, see www.georgeanddevonshire.co.uk.

The works of famed 18th century chronicler of London, William Hogarth, are on show at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. Marking the 25oth anniversary of his death on the night of 25th/26th October, 1764, the display Hogarth’s London features more than 50 of the artist’s best known satirical prints including A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress, The Four Times of Day, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane and Beer Street. A series of events – including an evening of Baroque dance & music, gin, beer and cartooning on 28th November – accompanies this exhibition which runs until 18th January and is supported by The William Hogarth Trust. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/hogarth-s-london.

Nineteenth century Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell has been honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque as his former London home. Known as ‘The Liberator’, O’Connell was an abolitionist who successfully campaigned for civil and Catholic rights – including the right for Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. The first popularly elected MP since the Reformation, he lived in the property at 14 Albermarle Street in Mayfair with his family for several months in 1833 – a year in which a number of his supporters were elected to the House of Commons and in which the act to abolish slavery was given royal assent. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Peder Balke. The first ever UK exhibition focused on the paintings of this 19th century Norwegian artist is underway at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Held in conjunction with the Northern Norway Art Museum, the exhibition features more than 50 paintings, the majority of which have never been seen in the UK before. The display includes works from across Balke’s career, including The Tempest (c 1862), the only painting by a Norwegian artist in the gallery’s collection. This free exhibition runs in the Sunley Room until April. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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Following on from our post last week, we take a look at a couple more of London’s buildings that had some sort of association with William Shakespeare…

St-John's-Gate St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell (pictured): This former gatehouse into Clerkenwell Priory was at the time of Shakespeare home to the Master of the Revels and where the playwright would have had to have brought his plays for official government approval. Thirty of the Bard’s plays were licensed here and the Master of Revels during all but the final few years of Shakespeare’s career was Edmund Tilney (or Tylney), who served in the post under both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The gatehouse was later used as a coffee house and pub among other things and is associated with everyone from artist William Hogarth (his father Richard ran the coffee house), Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. These days, the gatehouse is part of the Museum of the Order of St John (for more on that, see our earlier post here).

Staple Inn, Holborn: OK, there’s no direct link at all between Shakespeare and this building on High Holborn but it was built during his lifetime – in 1585 – and as such is one of very few surviving examples of buildings of his era. Its name comes from the fact the site where it stands was originally a covered market where wool was weighed and taxed (the word ‘staple’ apparently relates to the duty on wool introduced in 1275). It later became an Inn of Chancery – a medieval school for lawyers which fed students through to the Inns of Court (in this case mostly Gray’s Inn), and it was members of the Society of Staple Inn who built the new building here in the 1580s. The building – which still boasts a grand hall – survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and, albeit with considerable damage, the Blitz. Since the late 1800s, it has been home to what’s now known as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The building, which was restored in the 1990s, is a great example of an Elizabethan-era structure and gives some sense of what Shakespeare’s London was like.

A new permanent gallery looking at how the Royal Navy shaped individual lives and the course of British history over the 18th century opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Monday 21st October, Trafalgar Day. Nelson, Navy, Nation charts a course from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and provides a setting for the museum’s many artefacts related to Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. Among the 250 objects on display in the gallery are the uniform (with bullet hole) Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar, artworks likes William Hogarth’s Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, a seven barreled volley gun and grim items like a surgeon’s tools including an amputation knife, bone saw and bullet forceps. There is also the last letter Nelson wrote to his daughter Horatia and mourning rings worn by close friends and family at his funeral. Entry to the new gallery is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.

The first major exhibition dedicated to the American-born artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s time in London between 1859 and his death in 1903 opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this week. An American in London: Whistler and the Thames features paintings, etchings and drawings produced by the artist and more than 70 objects related to Whistler’s depiction of the Thames and Victorian London. Highlights include Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873) and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge (1859-1863), the oil painting Wapping (1860-64) and the etching Rotherhithe (1860). There are also a series of portraits of Whistler and his patrons. Runs until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Composer Eric Coates has been honoured with the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home at Chiltern Court in Baker Street. Coates, who created “some of the best known and loved pieces of English light orchestral music”, lived in a flat at the property between 1930-39. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

On Now: Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics. This exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library takes a look at 10 of the most iconic children’s books of the 20th century – from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, Peter Pan and Wendy, and The Iron Man as well as Just So Stories, The Hobbit, The Borrowers, The Secret Garden and The Railway Children. On display is at least four illustrated editions or artworks of each title with Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Peggy Fortnum and Lauren Child among the artists whose works are being shown. The exhibition also features five specially filmed interviews with four illustrators and Paddington Bear author Michael Bond. Runs until 26th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk.

The Bard is back in Leicester Square with the announcement last week that restoration work on the square’s 19th century Grade II listed statue of William Shakespeare – the only full-length statue the playwright in central London – has been completed. The 11 month restoration was carried out as part of £17 million revamp of the square which has seen the installation of a new fountain. The statue, which was the work of James Knowles, has been in the square since it was completed in its current configuration in 1874. Meanwhile, in other sculpture-related news, Sorry, Sorry Sarajevo – a life-size statue of a man holding  a dead or badly injured man in his arms has been placed in St Paul’s Cathedral where it will remain for the rest of the year. The work by Nicola Hicks dates from 1993 – when the Bosnian war was at its height – and has been placed opposite Henry Moore’s 1983 sculpture, Mother and Child: Hood as part of the cathedral’s approach to next year’s World War I centenary.

Two new displays opened at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury last month. Hogarth and Copyright, which runs until 5th January, looks at the role the artist William Hogarth played in the passing of the 1735 Engravers’ Copyright Act (also known as Hogarth’s Act – it was the first law to protect artist’s rights over their work) while Handel and Lucretia, presented in conjunction with The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust and running until 26th January, shows Guercino’s painting Lucretia alongside two early manuscripts of Handel’s cantata La Lucretia. Entry is part of admission price. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A new exhibition tracing the history of attacks on artworks in Britain from the 16th century to today opened at Tate Britain in Millbank this week. Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm looks at why and how monuments have been damaged over the past 500 years. The display includes the remarkable pre-Reformation sculpture, the Statue of the Dead Christ (about 1500-1520), which was discovered in 1954 beneath the chapel floor at the Mercer’s Hall. Already damaged – most likely at the hands of Protestant iconoclasts – it may have been buried there to protect it. Also displayed are fragments of monuments destroyed in Ireland last century, paintings including Edward Burne-Jones’ 1898 painting Sibylla Delphica which was attacked by suffragettes in 1913-14, and Allen Jones’ 1969 work Chair – damaged in a feminist attack in 1986. Runs until 5th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A controversial exhibition of sexually explicit Japanese works of art created between 1600-1900 opened at the British Museum this week. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese Art – which carries a warning of “parental guidance for visitors under 16 years – features 170 works including paintings, prints and illustrated books. Drawn from collections in the UK, Japan, Europe and the US, the exhibition of explores the phenomena of what are known as shunga (‘spring pictures’), looking at why it was produced and to whom it was circulated. Admission charge applies. Runs until 5th January. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The 2013 Hampton Court Palace Festival kicks off tonight. Highlights include a performance by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and fireworks on Saturday night while other artists featured include Jools Holland, Lisa Stansfield, Frank Valli and the Four Seasons, Imeda May, Bjorn Again, Russell Watson, Cliff Richard and Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart. For the full programme of events over the next couple of weeks, check out www.hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com.

It’s all about good deeds at the Foundling Museum. Opening at the museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow, a ceramic artist Clare Twomey’s exhibition – Exchange: 1,000 Good Deeds at the Foundling Museum – features more than 1,000 cups and saucers with each cup hiding instructions for a good deed underneath. The instructions are only revealed when a visitor selects a cup – they either agree to do the good deed, leaving it exposed and taking home the cup, or, if they’re not able to, can return the cup to its saucer. There is a limit of 10 cups available for exchange each day – ring or check the website for times when the exchanges may take place. Entry is free with museum admission. Runs until 15th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

A memorial ledger stone to former Labour PM, Harold Wilson (later Lord Wilson of Rievaulx), was dedicated in Westminster Abbey this week. Lord Wilson (1916-1995) was PM from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976. The stone is placed near where Earl Attlee’s ashes were interred at a memorial service attended by Lord Wilson when Prime Minister in 1967. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

On Now: Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2013. Coordinated by Royal Academicians printmaker Norman Ackroyd and Eva Jiricna, this year’s exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly features more than 1,000 artworks with many going on display for the first time. Among the works on display will be Grayson Perry’s series of six tapestries entitled The Vanity of Small Differences – inspired by Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, it tells the story of Tom Rakewell. Other highlights include a room dedicated to portraiture – including photographs and works on paper – and a new large scale sculpture by Anthony Caro. Runs until 18th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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.

In the first of a new Wednesday series looking at historic London garden squares, we take a look at what next to Trafalgar Square, is the most famous square in the entire city – Leicester Square.

Located in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square’s history finds its origins back in the 17th history when Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester acquired property on the site where the square now stands. Then known as St Martin’s Field and located within the parish of St Martin’s, Sidney purchased four acres in 1630 and constructed Leicester House on land now located at the square’s northern end.

Leicester-SquareThe earl raised the ire of locals, however, when – having subsequently fenced off the land to prevent people from wandering on to his property – he enclosed what had previously been common land.

The people appealed to King Charles I who appointed three members of the Privy Council to look at the issue. Their decision? That the earl keep a section of his land open for the use of the parishioners of St Martin’s.

First known as Leicester Field, it was this land which later became known as Leicester Square. Fine homes were built around the square (its proximity to the Royal Court and centre of government made it a desirable place to live for the well-to-do and those seeking influence) with the centre enclosed with rails (it’s pictured here in 1750).

The square’s reputation also had a royal boost when, in 1717/1718, Leicester House became home to Prince George (later King George II) and his wife Princess Caroline along with their court after the prince fell out with his father King George I and was banished from St James’ Palace (this story is recounted in marvellous detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court).

The prince remained at the house for 10 years and was proclaimed King George II after his father’s death at its gate. Interestingly, King George II’s eldest son, Prince Frederick, also lived here for a time after he too fell out with his father (King George II). Apparently their relationship was even worse than the previous generation’s had been.

Despite its royal attractions, even at this stage the square apparently had it’s darker side with some less than savoury characters attending the hotels and livery stables that were built there. But things were to get worse as the wealthy moved out – a situation not helped when Leicester House was demolished in the 1790s.

Leicester Square became known as an entertainment venue in the 19th century (among attractions was the short-lived Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which showcased the best in science and art and Wyld’s Great Globe which contained a gigantic model of the earth) and received a new injection of life when theatres and music halls moved in, bringing the crowds back with them.

Shakespeare-StatueMeanwhile, the status of the square – and whether it could be built upon – remained a matter of debate well into the 19th century. That ended in 1874 when businessman Albert Grant bought the freehold of the land, had the garden created upon it and then donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift to the city.

Responsibility for the management of the square now rests with the City of Westminster. The square area – which is now known for hosting film premieres as well as the tourists who inevitably gather there – was pedestrianised in the 1980s and has just undergone a redevelopment and modernisation which was unveiled last year.

Meanwhile, work to restore the 19th century Shakespeare statue and fountain in the square’s centre is about to be completed (pictured). The square also contains a statue of actor Charlie Chaplin in the square as well as busts of scientist Sir Isaac Newton, painter and first president of the royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century pioneer surgeon John Hunter, and painter William Hogarth.

The tradition of the entertainment continues in the modern era through the cinemas which now stand in the square and regularly host film premieres (an interesting, if oft-repeated, film-related anecdote connected to the square is that it was in a phone booth located at the square that during the 1960s a young actor Maurice Micklewhite saw a poster for The Caine Mutiny and decided to change his name to Michael Caine).

PICTURES (top) Wikipedia and (below) City of Westminster.

Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.

Prince-Henry's-RoomsFirst sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).

The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.

Described in a handbill published soon after its initial move to Fleet Street, the exhibitions were said to include a scene of King Charles I upon the scaffold, another of the ill-fated Queen Boudicea, and more exotic tableaux including one showing Canaannite ladies offering their children in sacrifice to the god Moloch, another of a Turkish seraglio, and another of Margaret, Countess of Heningbergh with the 365 children she is said to have given birth to (all at once!). There was also a mechanised figure of the “famous English prophetess” Old Mother Shipton, who is said to have given a boot to visitors as they left.

While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.

Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.

This is the first in our new special series looking at 10 of the best of London’s small museums. We’re not including houses once lived in by famous people (that will be the subject of a later series), but rather those museums which contain some of the city’s most eclectic collections yet still tend to fly a little under the radar when it comes to the crowds…

First up, we take a look at the Museum of the Order of St John. The museum – which was reopened in late 2010 following a £3.7 million redevelopment – is located in St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell (pictured), the Tudor era gatehouse of the order’s once substantial London priory.

Told inside is the story of the order, from its founding in the 12th century as the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem with the aim of caring for sick pilgrims who had travelled to the Holy Land through to its later role as a military order and its Middle Ages moves – following the capture of Palestine by Muslim forces in 1291 – to Cyprus, then Rhodes, and eventually Malta, along with its current work through the charitable foundation of St John Ambulance.

Exhibits include weapons and armour, paintings and illuminated manuscripts (such as the Rhodes Missal of 1504), coins, furnishings, ceramics, silverware and textiles. There is also a 16th or 17th century bust of Jean de la Valette, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller from 1557 to 1568 and famed for leading the order to victory in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 (he is remembered still in the name of the island nation’s capital, Valletta).

As well as the gatehouse (which, following the Dissolution, was used for various purposes including being the childhood home of 18th century artist William Hogarth and, at another time, housing a printing press used by famed lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson), the museum’s assets also encompass the 12th century crypt under what was once the priory church (it’s located just to the north across Clerkenwell Road). It’s well worth a visit for the stunning 16th century tomb effigies alone.

WHERE: The Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday (tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday); COST: Free (a small donation for guided tours); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

London’s oldest hospital – St Bartholomew’s Hospital in what is known now as Smithfield – was founded in the 12th century.

The hospital owes its foundations – like the neighbouring Priory of St Bartholomew (London’s oldest church – see our previous story on this here) – to Rahere, a courtier (possibly a minstrel or jester) at the court of King Henry I who, tired with triviality, may have become a priest.

In any event, after the death of Henry’s son William – he is believed to have drowned when the White Ship foundered in November 1120 – and that of his wife Queen Matilda, Rahere went on pilgrimage to Rome. He did so but contracted malaria while there and, while under the care of  monks, he vowed to found a hospital for poor men if he recovered.

He did recover and on his return journey had a vision of St Bartholomew who informed him that it was he who had helped him to recover and now desired him to found a church in Smithfield (then known as Smedfield).

Back in London, Rahere as he’d promised and, after petitioning the king, was granted a royal charter in 1122 to found the priory of Augustinian canons and the hospital.Work began in March 1123 and it was completed by 1145 when Rahere died (his tomb can still be seen in the church).

The hospital – one of a number in London at the time – was probably little more than a single hall with a chapel at one end. Other buildings and some cloisters were added later as was the Church of St Bartholomew the Less.

Under a charter of 1147, it was open to the needy, orphans, outcasts and the poor as well as sick people and homeless wanderers. In the 14th century, the definition was honed to include the sick until they recovered, pregnant women (until delivery) and for the maintenance of children born there until they were seven-years-old.

As well as the master (Rahere was the first), other ‘staff’ at the hospital initially included eight Augustinian brothers and four sisters but the hospital gradually became independent of the priory and by 1300, the hospital has its own dedicated master. By 1420, the two institutions had apparently become completely separate.

Following the Dissolution in 1539, the hospital was refounded in the 1540s thanks to a deal brokered between King Henry VIII and the Corporation of the City of London. Along with Bethlem, Bridewell and St Thomas’, St Bartholomews was one of four Royal Hospitals administered by the City.

The first regular physician – a Portuguese man by the name of Roderigo Lopez – was appointed around 1567 (he was later hung, drawn and quartered for an allegedly plotting against Queen Elizabeth I). Among the most famous physicians to serve at St Barts in later years was William Harvey, renowned for having ‘discovered’ the circulatory system.

The hospital survived the Great Fire in 1666 but in the 1700s most of the medieval buildings, with the exception of the tower in the Church of St Bartholomew the Less, were demolished as the hospital was rebuilt to the design of James Gibbs. The new design featured a central courtyard with a Great Hall contained in the north wing, reached by a ‘Grand Staircase’ decorated with images of the Good Samaritan and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda by celebrated artist William Hogarth.

The famous Henry VIII gate (pictured above) dates from 1702, slightly before Gibb’s rebuilding project. Other buildings have been added in more recent times.

In more recent times, the hospital was amalgamated with The Royal London and the London Chest Hospitals in 1994 with the establishment of The Royal Hospitals NHS Trust (now known as the Barts and The London NHS Trust). St Barts is now a specialist cancer and cardiac hospital.

There is a museum at the hospital which houses exhibits including a facsimile of Rahere’s grant of 1137 (now in the hospital’s archives), amputation instruments dating from the early 1800s once used by surgeon John Abernathy and a display on William Harvey. Hogarth’s paintings are visible from the museum.  There are also guided tours of the hospital.

WHERE: Museum at St Barts Hospital (nearest tube station is Barbican); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Friday ; COST: Free (donations welcomed); WEBSITE:  www.bartsandthelondon.nhs.uk/about-us/museums-and-archives/st-bartholomew-s-museum/

Sir John Soane’s Museum is still unknown to many but that is starting to change as growing numbers of tourists descend upon the property at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (as evidenced by the queues you can now often find waiting patiently outside).

The museum is housed in the former home of noted architect and collector, Sir John Soane, who left it to the nation after he died in 1837 by an Act of Parliament with the caveat that it be kept “as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state” it was on his death.

Sir John, born the son of the bricklayer in Oxfordshire in 1753, rose to become a famous – and somewhat controversial – architect, his most famous contribution being the Bank of England.

Having married into money – his wife, Elizabeth Smith was the daughter of a wealthy builder whose fortune he inherited, Sir John bought 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1792 and subsequently demolished and rebuilt it. In the early 1800s, he bought the property next door, number 13, and again demolished and rebuilt it, and, in the 182os bought number  14, which received the same treatment, eventually creating the delightfully odd and expansive home which now occupies the site.

Sir John was an avid collector of statues, furnishings, paintings and curiosities and the uniquely designed house remains filled with his collections – ranging from the Sarcophagus of Egypt’s Seti I (dating from around 1370 BC) to Sir Robert Walpole’s desk, medieval European stained glass, and William Hogarth’s famous series of paintings, A Rake’s Progress.

This is a museum worth visiting for its sheer eccentricity but it should be noted that it’s not really a place for young children – many of the rooms are small and crowded with artefacts that may just prove too tempting.

WHERE: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Nearest tube is Holborn. WHEN:10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday; COST: Free to enter (there is a museum tour on Saturdays for £5); WEBSITE: www.soane.org