Winterfest returns to Wembley | Light installations bring joy for the festive season

Wembley Park are hosting a collection of light installations from November 2020.

Wembley Park – Winterfest 2020

Winterfest returns to Wembley Park this autumn

As the pandemic continues to change our lives, it will undoubtedly be a different winter this year. With indoor and large activities restricted, we are looking to the great outdoors for our entertainment. One such alfresco event set to light up the dark wintry nights is Winterfest 2020.

Following the inaugural event in 2019, the free, immersive light festival is returning to Wembley Park on 26 November 2020. The theme for this year is ‘United in Light’ and hopes to bring joy to the local community and visitors over the festive period.

Among the pieces on show will be the new ‘Reflections of the Future’, a 100 metre long corridor of lights and mirrors, which alters perception of distance and space. The tallest LED Christmas tree in London returns following last year, adorned with a new digital art commission. The walk-through tree stands tall at 25 metres and features 100,000 LED light display. Along with other light installations, there will also be an outdoor photography exhibition in Arena Square during December.

  • Winterfest runs from 26 November 2020 – 17 January 2021. At Wembley Park, Wembley, HA9 0FD. Nearest stations: Wembley Park or Wembley Stadium. Installations will be on from 12pm-10pm daily. For more information, visit the Wembley Park website.

Find out what’s on in London in October 2020 here.

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New artwork inspiring hope unveiled at King’s Cross

Famous authors have teamed up with local schoolchildren to create a positive artwork to inspire during these uncertain times.

Children from King’s Cross Academy created a display wall inspired by ‘Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth’ by Oliver Jeffers

A new art exhibit by London schoolchildren has been unveiled in King’s Cross. ‘Words For The World’ shares hope for the planet and reflections on the pandemic through art and words. The 180ft piece was created by pupils at the King’s Cross Academy, along with authors including Oliver Jeffers and Konnie Huq.

The project is part of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s national campaign, #CLPEWordsForTheWorld in partnership with King’s Cross and HarperCollins Children’s Books. The campaign was part of the recovery curriculum as children returned to school in September following months of lockdown. Inspired by Jeffers’ 2017 illustrated book, ‘Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth’, children were asked to share their thoughts on the planet and their feelings about the Covid-19 pandemic. Taking part in the campaign were 374 pupils from local primary school, the King’s Cross Academy.

The new artwork comprises 300 entries from the Academy, alongside contributions from Jeffers, former Blue Peter presenter and children’s author Huq, author and activist Hiba Noor Khan, and poet and children’s writer Tony Mitton. The piece is on display at Lewis Cubitt Square until the end of the year and shares positive thoughts as we continue to adapt to these uncertain times.

  • Words to the World exhibition is on display from 8 October – 31 December 2020. At Lewis Cubitt Square, 11 Stable Street, King’s Cross, N1C 4BT. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras. For more information, visit the King’s Cross website.

Find out what’s on in London in October 2020 here.

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Trading, theatre and Tudor merchants | The story of The Royal Exchange

The current Royal Exchange is the third iteration to stand on the site at Bank.

Royal Exchange exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Royal Exchange on Cornhill is the third building on the site

Today, an exchange building is generally utilised for telecommunications or foreign currency. However, as a commercial building, exchanges date back to at least the 13th century. In London, many of the capital’s former exchanges are long gone, and if they do still exist, conduct business using different methods. However, one of the London’s oldest exchanges still exists, albeit not the original building.

Royal Exchange clock tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The eastern side of the Exchange

Standing at the Bank junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle Street is The Royal Exchange, which dates back to the 16th century. It was founded by Tudor merchant Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), who had been trading in Bourse of Antwerp, the world’s first commodities exchange. He obtained land and permission from the City of London’s Court of Alderman to establish a centre of commerce. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) opened the first exchange in January 1571 and gave the building a royal title, along with a license to sell alcohol and valuable goods. Gresham later added two additional floors above the trading floor, with units leased out for retail. This savvy move essentially created Britain’s first shopping mall. Originally, stockbrokers weren’t allowed into the Royal Exchange because of their reputation for being rude, so conducted their trading in the nearby coffee shops.

Gresham’s original Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September 1666. Its replacement was designed by architect Edward Jarman (1605-1668) and opened in 1669. It was a stone, Baroque building with piazzas, arched entrances to the inner court and a 178ft high tower with clock and bells. The second Royal Exchange was full of merchants and brokers. In 1713, Lloyd’s of London acquired two rooms in the building. However, the building followed the fate of its predecessor and burned down in January 1838. It is believed the blaze may have been caused by an overheated stove in Lloyd’s Coffee House in nearby Lombard Street. Read the rest of this entry

Fine dining, drinks and drama as immersive experience ‘The Murdér Express’ returns

Enjoy an evening of immersive theatre along with a four-course meal and cocktails.

Pedley Street Carriage Shot © Funicular Productions

Dine and drama on board The Murdér Express

With many Londoners starved of theatre and foodie experiences in recent months, why not combine both as the capital’s fabulous immersive production returns this October. Climb onboard ‘The Murdér Express’, a luxury rail service making its maiden journey from London to the fictional town of Murdér in France. A 19th century train carriage is the setting for an evening of food, drink and drama.

Enjoy a four-course feast

Guests are invited in their ‘bubbles’ up to six to arrive at Pedley Street Station, where they can refresh ahead of their trip at the Seven Sins Bar. As the train chugs into motion, passengers of ‘The Murdér Express’ will be joined by East End Costermong Frank, music hall star Tilley, widow Vera and antique dealer Cliff, as some strange scenes unfold. Visitors can relax in a plush booth as they are served a four-course meal designed by MasterChef 2017 finalist Louisa Ellis.

Funicular Productions, the team behind the experience, have implemented plenty of Covid-19 safety precautions to keep diners and staff feeling comfortable in their surroundings. There are temperature checks, reduced capacity, Perspex screens, sanitiser stations, staff wearing PPE, with guests asked to follow social distancing guidelines. The set menu features a meat, vegetarian or vegan options.

  • ‘The Murdér Express’ runs from 2 October 2020 – 31 January 2021. Tickets: From £60. Located at 63 Pedley Street, E1 5FB. Nearest stations: Bethnal Green, Shoreditch High Street or Whitechapel. For more information and tickets, visit Funicular Productions.

Find out what’s on in London in October 2020 here.

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Guide to what’s on in London in October 2020

St Augustine church tower autumn © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Although lockdown rules are constantly in flux and subject to change, London’s attractions, exhibitions and festivals have been gradually returning (albeit adapted to be Covid-19 safe as the pandemic continues). While physical events are continuing in adapted ways and for smaller attendees, many festivals are going online this year so you can experience the fun from the safety of your home. This month, there is Black History Month and Halloween, so expect to see many events inspired by these annual celebrations. October has plenty of boozy events on, including a month-long London Cocktail Week, Oktoberfest, Rum Week and The Whisky Show. Half-term is taking place towards the end of the month, so no doubt parents will be looking for some safe activities to entertain the kids.

Events, dates and rules are subject to change or last-minute cancellations, so always make sure you keep up to date with the relevant websites to avoid disappointment. Many events require or suggest booking in advance as they have reduced and limited availability.

Look out for the 🐻 for family-friendly activities.

Look out for the computer symbol 💻 for online events.

  • 30 September – 8 October : London Craft Week

Week long event celebrating British and international designers, makers, brands and galleries. Various events (physical and virtual) on around town, including art tours, talks, fairs, installations, walking tours, demonstrations, open studios, craft trails, wine flights and more. For more information, visit the London Craft Week website. 💻

  • 1 – 11 October : Kensington & Chelsea Art Week

A celebration of culture in the exclusive Zone 1 neighbourhoods, including exhibitions, workshops, talks, public art displays and more. At various venues in the district, including The Muse Gallery, Museum of Brands, Goldfinger Factory, Serena Morton Gallery. Find out more on the Art Week website.

  • 1 – 31 October : London Cocktail Week

This year’s ‘week’ is extended to a whole month to give London’s bar scene a much-needed boost. Hundreds of bars across the capital will be taking part, offering £6 special LCW cocktail week concoctions for those with a wristband. There will also be self-guided bar crawls, masterclasses, bar takeovers, pop-ups and cocktail dinners. Sadly, the cocktail village won’t be open this year due to the pandemic. Tickets: £15 (valid for entire month). For more information, visit the London Cocktail Week website.

  • 1 – 31 October : London Restaurant Festival

Support London’s amazing restaurant industry by sitting down to a fine meal or foodie experience. Enjoy small-scale in-restaurant experiences, Chef’s tables, feasts-at-home, drinks masterclasses, tasting menus and foodie masterclasses. For more information, visit the London Restaurant Festival website. 💻

  • 1 – 31 October : Mayfair Sculpture Trail

Existing Mayfair artworks will be joined by new installations for one month only. Walk along the iconic streets of Mayfair and spot creations by Lawrence Holofcener, Henry Moore, Antony Gormley, Patrick O’Reilly and Manolo Valder, among others. You can also download accompany audio commentary on Smartify. Free. For more information, visit the Mayfair Art Weekend website. 🐻

  • 2 – 9 October : Whisky Show – Virtual Show

This year’s whisky event is going online, bringing together whisky connoisseurs with the distillers of their favourite and yet-to-be-discovered brands. You can order tasting packs in advance to taste with the virtual tasting sessions, as well as attend workshops, demos, talks and meet the brands. Tickets: £20. For more information, visit the Whisky Show website. 💻

  • 2 October – 31 January 2021 : Dub London – Bassline of a City

A new exhibition explores dub reggae and its influence on the capital. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-3.30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm. Free entry, but book a time slot in advance. Museum Of London, 150 London Wall, Barbican, City of London, EC2Y 5HN. Nearest stations: Moorgate or Barbican. For more information, visit the Museum of London website.

  • 2 October – 31 January 2021 : The Murder Express

Enjoy an immersive fine dining experience on board a 19th century train carriage. Enjoy a four-course meal cooked by a Masterchef finalist, while sipping on cocktails and watching a murder mystery unfold. Times vary. Tickets: From £60. Located at 63 Pedley Street, E1 5FB. Nearest stations: Bethnal Green, Shoreditch High Street or Whitechapel. For more information, visit Funicular Productions. Check out Metro Girl’s post for details.

  • 3 – 4 October : Fun Palaces Weekend

Fun for the family through online and in-person experiences, artworks and workshops exploring arts, science, craft, technology, heritage and sports. At libraries and other venues. For more information, visit the Fun Palaces Weekend website. 🐻💻

  • 3, 10, 17 and 24 October : The Official Camden Oktoberfest

Celebrate Oktoberfest in a socially-distanced festival of beers on Saturdays in October. Featuring live music, DJs, German meat and plenty of beer. Entry in timed sessions (12pm-4.30pm or 5.30pm-10pm). Tickets: From £20.00. Electric Ballroom, 184 Camden High Street, NW1 8BP. Nearest station: Camden Town. For more information, visit the Camden Oktoberfest website. Read the rest of this entry

Explore the unlocked city as Open House London 2020 returns with a difference

Find out what’s on at Open House London this year, including event types, safety measures and changes due to the pandemic.

Brixton Windmill © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Brixton Windmill is one of the buildings taking part

With the Covid-19 pandemic still continuing, “normal life” is still a way off from returning. So this year, Open House London is expanded to the Open House Festival, with additional events taking place over a longer period than the usual weekend. This annual event is essentially a festival of architecture and history, where some of London’s most interesting buildings open their doors to the public for free. From private homes to government buildings to offices and hidden historical sites, it’s a great opportunity to explore the capital beyond what is usually accessible. Open House London is one of my favourite weekends of the year and I’ve seen inside some amazing buildings in previous years. It’s also an opportunity to visit some London attractions, such as museums (that you would usually have to pay for) for free. The main weekend takes place 19-20 September 2020, with more activities taking place up to 27 September. As part of the festival, Open House Families will be hosting various events around the capital for children to discover the city’s architecture and history.

Is Open House London different this year because of Covid-19?

Yes. Many buildings that usually take part are unable to open safely this year, so many are offering virtual, online experiences instead. Those venues that are allowing physical visits will be subjected to typical safety requirements, including social distancing, restrictions on group sizes (rule of six applies), one way systems and requirements to wear a face mask and bring hand sanitiser. You will also be required to give your information as part of the Government’s Test and Trace scheme. Open City is advising Londoners to stay local to their homes so travelling long distance and using public transport is kept to a minimum. In addition to virtual and physical building visits, there will also be guided and self-guided walking and cycling tours.

Do I need to book in advance?

For the buildings that are allowing physical visits, some are requiring people book in advance, while others are allowing walk ups. However, at the walk ups, you should be prepared to wait depending on the capacity already present. Organisers will be prioritising safety so will ensure visitors have enough space to socially distance while inside the building. Those who have pre-booked tickets are advised to have a digital copy on their phone, unless otherwise advised by the ticket provider.

Be aware, government restrictions and advice could change at any time so keep visiting the Open House website frequently for the most up to date information.

Metro Girl’s favourite Open House London posts

Check out MG’s blog archives of previous Open House London visits to buildings taking part in this year’s festival:

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Step into a neon wonderland at Gods Own Junkyard in Walthamstow

This year, there will also be podcasts, Open House films and publication of a new book, The Alternative Guide to the London Boroughs. Wherever you explore – be it virtually or in person – I wish you a safe and fun Open House London experience!

  • Open House London 2020 takes place 19-20 September, while the Open House Festival runs from 19-27 September 2020. For more information, visit the Open House London website.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

For a guide to what’s on in London in October 2020, click here.

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Tower Subway | The story behind London’s lost underwater railway

This short-lived river tunnel provided a test run for the engineering used to build the world’s first deep-level railway, aka London’s tube.

Tower Hill Subway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The 1920s reconstruction of the subway entrance on the Tower Hill side

Situated just a few hundred metres from the Tower of London is a remnant of a lost transport system. A short circular building near the junction of Petty Wales and Lower Thames Street commemorates the former Tower Subway, which briefly transported passengers under the river in the 1870s. Although it closed 150 years ago, this 20th century reconstruction of its northern entrance reminds us of a pioneering piece of Victorian engineering.

The population of London swelled hugely during the Victorian era, prompting widespread building of bridges and transport to move the masses around the capital. The Thames Tunnel, which originally opened to pedestrians in 1843, was converted to train use by 1869. Meanwhile, the first tube, the Metropolitan Railway, opened in 1863. Keen to capitalize on the growing demand for these new transport methods, London-born engineer Peter W Barlow (1809-1885) patented a new method of tunnelling, in the hope of creating a network of tunnels to carry people under the city. City bosses were wary of the cost after the spiralling budget, deaths in construction and the 18 years it had taken to build the Thames Tunnel. However, Barlow’s pupil James Henry Greathead (1844-1896) said he could make the first cylindrical tunnelling shield (patented by Barlow) and use it to build a transport tunnel system under the Thames for £9,400.

Greathead’s project kicked off in February 1869, with the cast iron shield used to dig through the London clay – the first time this construction method had been used. The tunnel was 1,340 ft long, connecting Tower Hill on the north of the River Thames with Vine Lane near Tooley Street on the south. Inside the tunnel was a 2ft 6in gauge railway, which carried up to 12 passengers under the river in a cable-hauled wooden carriage in about 70 seconds. The lifts from street level to the tracks, as well as the cable car, were powered by a 4hp stationary steam engine on the London Bridge side of the tunnel. The rapid construction proved the tunnelling shield was a success and it was later used to build the City and South London Railway, the world’s first deep-level underground railway.

The Tower Subway carriage in the Illustrated London News 1870

The tunnel was completed in less than a year with it taking its first passengers in February 1870. It appeared to have a ‘soft launch’ in April 1870, before being opened to the public four months later. Robert Miles commented in the British Almanac that the brief journey wasn’t exactly pleasant: “The temperature of the Subway is certainly rather high, but it only has to be borne with for a brief space. The passage is somewhat rough, the movements of the omnibus being jerky, especially at starting.” Initially, there were plans for similar tunnels at Gravesend, Woolwich and Greenwich, Cannon Street and Borough. However, by 7 December that year, the Tower Subway cable car ceased after the company ran into financial problems. Just a few weeks later, the tunnel was converted for pedestrian use, with customers paying a halfpenny to use it. The lifts were removed and replaced by a flight of 96 stairs, with gas lights being placed throughout the tunnel. At the height of its popularity, 20,000 people a week were using the tunnel, despite its reputation for being dark and claustrophobic.

As the end of the century approached, the Tower Subway’s fate was sealed when Tower Bridge opened locally in 1894. The latter was not only free to use, but pedestrians had the choice of crossing the river at vehicle level or by using the high-level walkways – a much more pleasant option than a dark, cramped tunnel. By 1897, the Tower Subway company applied to dissolve the company and closed the tunnel the following year. It sold the tunnel for £3,000 to the London Hydraulic Power Company (LHPC), who used it for power mains.

The original Tower Hill entrance to the Subway was later demolished, with the LHPC building a reconstruction in 1926, with lettering commemorating the original construction date. The tunnel was damaged by a Nazi bomb in December 1940, but amazingly its lining wasn’t penetrate and it was able to be repaired. Meanwhile, the original Vine Lane entrance on the south side of the Thames was later demolished around the 1980s-1990s.

  • Tower Hill Subway, Tower Hill, EC3R 5BT. Nearest station: Tower Hill, Fenchurch Street or Tower Gateway.

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Totally Thames 2020: Celebrate the capital’s lifeblood with an outdoors and digital festival

This year’s festival will feature a mix of online and socially-distanced outdoor events.

Aïcha El Beloui Totally Thames

Moroccan artist Aïcha El Beloui took part in the Rivers of the World project at this year’s Totally Thames festival

Although many popular London festivals have been postponed until next year, one of my favourite ones – Totally Thames – is fortunately returning in September (its usual slot). However, the 2020 edition of the annual festival will be a mix of digital and outdoor events, so people can take part safely through social distancing or the comfort of their own home.

Now in its 24th year, Totally Thames is a celebration of the River Thames which flows through our capital. Kicking off on 1 September, the month-long festival will include arts events, activities, environmental initiatives, heritage and education programmes. Some of the outdoor events include paddlesports (kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding), angling competition, public art walks, workshops, boat trips, guided walks, art exhibitions and more. Meanwhile, there are plenty of digital offerings, including storytelling, audio and virtual tours, kids’ choir and more.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is Rivers of the World, with artists working remotely with over 2,000 13 and 13-year-old students around the world to create river-themed art. The participating students created art from home during the Covid-19 lockdown thanks to digital briefs and short films by the artists teaching them new skills and about the importance of the river. The artworks will be displayed on boards and flags by the river alongside the Tate Modern this September.

  • Totally Thames 2020 takes place from 1 – 30 September 2020. At various locations (physically and online) including the South Bank and the Totally Thames website.

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Travel to the ancient world with the Crystal Palace dinosaurs

The history of the Victorian life-sized models of prehistoric dinosaurs and mammals in Crystal Palace Park.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Iguanodon © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Victorian sculptures of Iguanodons at Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace is famous for many things – its football club (actually located in Selhurst), its telecommunications tower (South London’s very own Eiffel Tower) and for being the site of the actual Crystal Palace building. However, it is also famous for another unique sight – the world’s first dinosaur statues.

Following the success of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, the building was such a success, it was erected permanently on a huge site on Sydenham Hill in 1854. The Crystal Palace was sort of a theme park-cum-museum for Victorians, bringing attractions, antiquities and experiences most had never seen before. To accompany the palace, the surrounding land (in what is now the park) was landscaped with many features added, including lakes, a maze, and rides. Towards the south-west corner of the park, a dinosaur park was created by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894), with landscaping by architect (and creator of the Crystal Palace) Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) and Professor David T Ansted (1814-1880).

In the mid 19th century, Victorians were further behind in their knowledge of dinosaurs than we are today. Palaeontologists and archaeologists of the time were still trying to piece together exactly what the prehistoric creatures looked like by studying fossils. When you visit the dinosaur sculptures of Crystal Palace today, you may well find it humorous to see how the Victorians’ believed they appeared. However, it’s important to acknowledge the people who made them just didn’t have the science we have today.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Megaloceros © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Megaloceros


Crystal_Palace Great Exhibition © Wellcome Images

An engraving of the sculptures, the Crystal Palace itself and other attractions in the grounds by George Baxter (1804–1867). Year unknown.
© Wellcome Images

Thirty sculptures from the prehistoric world were placed across three islands, grouped in species and following a rough timeline of their existence (Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras). The park made history as Hawkins’ creations were the first full-scale models of the extinct creatures in the world. The new Crystal Palace Company commissioned him to sculpture the ancient creatures, with advice from palaeontologist and biologist Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892). Hawkins set up a studio in the park and spent months creating replicas of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric mammals in 1853-1855. Using the scientific advice of Owen and other experts, the dinosaurs’ skin, claws and how they stood was mostly due to guess work by Hawkins. Read the rest of this entry

THE END finally lands on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth

Heather Phillipson’s sculpture of whipped cream is the 13th commission on the Fourth Plinth.

The End Heather Phillipson © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

THE END by Heather Phillipson on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

The latest artwork to adorn the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square was at last unveiled on 30 July 2020. Artist Heather Phillipson‘s THE END is the 13th project to take its place in the central London setting since the programme began in 1998. The unveiling was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown and replaces the previous piece, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz.

THE END’s unveiling has been a long time coming for Phillipson, whose piece was selected for the commission back in 2017. However, it’s themes around dystopia and chaos seem more apt than ever right now as the world remains drastically changed due to the ongoing pandemic.

Standing tall at nearly 31ft, the artwork conveys the focus of Trafalgar Square as a location for celebration and protest. It features a giant dollop of whipped cream, topped with a cherry, fly and a drone. The latter transmits a live feed of the square via http://www.theend.today website, giving visitors a unique perspective of the Westminster landmark through the ‘eyes’ of the artwork.

The fourth plinth was originally designed as part of a quartet by architect Sir Charles Barry when he designed Trafalgar Square in the mid 19th century. It was originally scheduled to showcase an equestrian statue of King William IV, but the plan was never realised due to austerity cuts.

  • THE END by Heather Phillipson is on display from 30 July 2020 until further notice. At the Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.
The End Heather Phillipson © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The End is the 13th commission on the Fourth Plinth

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