This gallery contains 3 photos.
This year’s cylindrical structure will host live performances throughout the summer.
A bit of historical background and historic events
Anyone who crosses the River Thames at Blackfriars Bridge can’t help but notice the imposing, curved façade of Unilever House. The Art Deco structure has been looming over the Victoria Embankment for the past 90 years and is home to one of the biggest FMCG companies in the world.
Unilever House stands on the site of Bridewell Palace, which was originally built for King Henry VIII (1491-1547) in the early 16th century. Erected on the banks of the River Fleet, the Bridewell was used as a royal residence, orphanage, prison and poorhouse during its three centuries of its existence. After the Bridewell buildings were demolished in the 1860s, part of the site was acquired by Belgium hoteliers, the de Keysers. The family’s first hotel, the Royal Hotel, originally stood at No.s 6, 8, 9 and 10 Chatham Place (a row of houses in New Bridge Street), and was founded by patriarch Joost Constant Fidel Armand de Keyser (b.1801) in 1845. His son Sir Polydore de Keyser (1832-1898) took over management of the hotel around 1856 and acquired part of the Bridewell site for a new hotel in the 1870s. Then named De Keyser’s Royal Hotel, the new building featured 300-400 bedrooms and was designed by architect Edward Augustus Gruning (1837-1908), who also designed the German Gymnasium in King’s Cross. When the new, five-storey hotel opened in September 1874, it catered to a first-class, mainly continental clientele. By 1882, a second wing of the hotel had opened, making the hotel the largest in London.
The hotel was acquired by the Crown during World War I in 1916, renamed Adastral House and became the London HQ of the Royal Flying Corps until they moved further down the Embankment to the Hotel Cecil in 1918. The owners of the hotel sought compensation for loss of income during the forces’ occupation, with the government claiming it had prerogative power to take possession of buildings without compensating the owner. In 1919, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the hotel and granted the owners compensation. The battle has become an important case in constitutional law, which is still used today. Read the rest of this entry
This autumn, a new sculpture trail has popped up in several districts of London. Entitled ‘The World ReImagined’, a series of individually designed globes aim to educate and provoke conversation about the history and legacy of transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans.
As well as in other cities across the UK, four trails have been laid in the capital, in the City of London; Camden to Westminster; Southwark to Lambeth; and Hackney to Newham. In total nationwide, 103 globes have been each decorated by an artist, speaking to one of nine themes of the journey of discovery, including Mother Africa; the Reality of being Enslaved; Stolen Legacy – the Rebirth of a Nation; Abolition and Emancipation; a Complex Triangle; Echoes in the Present; Still We Rise; Expanding Soul; and Reimagine the Future. Each globe is perched on a stand with a QR code so visitors can scan to find out more.
Meanwhile, there will be a series of related events across the capital, including history tours, art and poetry exhibitions, evening courses, talks and more, for the duration of the exhibition.
This gallery contains 3 photos.
This year’s cylindrical structure will host live performances throughout the summer.
Situated at the junction of Aldgate, Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street stands a historic water pump. Although not the first iteration of the pump, the Aldgate Pump has long been symbolic as the start of London’s East End. For years, it was famous for being the starting point for distances between the City of London into Middlesex and Essex. It takes its name from nearby Aldgate, one of the original Roman gates into the City.
There has been a watering spot at the site since at least the 13th century, initially as a well during the latter part of King John’s (1166-1216) reign. Historian John Stow (1524-1605) lived near the Aldgate well in the tumultuous year of 1549 and recalls witnessing from his own doorstep the execution of the Bailiff of Romford for alleged ‘rebellion’. Stow wrote in his 1598 book, ‘Survey of London’: “The Bailiff of Romford, in Essex, was one, a man very well beloved. He was early in the morning of St Magdalene’s Day, brought by the Sheriffs of London and the knight-marshall to the well within Aldgate, to be executed upon a gibbet set up that morning.” The well appears on Braun and Hogenburg’s London map in 1574, as well as on The Agas Map of Early Modern London in 1633.
By the 18th century, developments in engineering meant the Aldgate well had now become a pump to accommodate the booming London population. What is believed to be the first illustration of the Aldgate pump appeared in 1798, depicting it as an obelisk erected on a plinth, topped by a lantern, with further lamps on each side. The pump was served by one of the capital’s many subterranean streams. Read the rest of this entry
Today, the City of Westminster is associated with royal residences, with Buckingham and St James’s Palaces and Clarence House located in the borough. Although it’s been some time since British monarchs resided in the City of London, there are still reminders of former royal abodes to be found within the Square Mile. While the Tower of London is an obvious historic relic of the royal City, there is also another less noticeable remainder just over a mile away.
Situated on the busy A201 road, leading north from Blackfriars Bridge, is Bridewell Court. It consists of a 19th century gatehouse, which forms an entrance to an office building, currently home to a law firm. If you look above the archway, you’ll spot a clue to the site’s fascinating history: a relief portrait of King Edward VI (1537-1553).
Bridewell Palace was built in the 16th century on the site of St Bride’s Inn, on the banks of the River Fleet. It was a huge site, spanning south from the existing gatehouse towards where the Unilever building on the Embankment stands today. The structure was the main London residence for King Henry VIII (1491-1547) during the early part of his reign in 1515-1523 after acquiring the site from Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530). The palace complex comprised of three-storey royal lodgings surrounding two courtyards. A bridge led from the palace over the Fleet to the Dominican priory of Blackfriars. Henry and his first wife Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) lodged at Bridewell while the validity of their marriage was being debated at Blackfriars when the King was hoping to re-marry Anne Boleyn. By the 1530s, it was leased to the French Ambassador. Following Henry VIII’s death, the property passed onto the ownership of his son, Edward VI.
During his short reign, Edward VI gave Bridewell to the City authorities in 1553 to be used as a women’s prison, workhouse and orphanage for homeless children. Many of the female prisoners sent to Bridewell were prostitutes. By 1556, the complex also included a hospital. In 1557, Bridewell was paired with Bethlehem Hospital (aka ‘Bedlam’) in Bishopsgate for administrative purposes. However, as with most buildings in the area, the Bridewell complex was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was rebuilt soon after. Read the rest of this entry
A century later, the decade of the 1920s continues to fascinate many of us. In between two World Wars, it was a time of great change, with many discovering new freedoms and exploring their creativity following the restrictive constraints of Victorian and Edwardian society. The fashion and architecture of the period remains popular today, with events and parties often opting for 1920s themes.
If you’ve ever wondered what life was like in the 1920s, particularly for your ancestors, the publication of the 1921 Census for England and Wales will answer some of those questions. To celebrate the release of the Census in January 2022, The National Archives are hosting a programme of events and activities, entitled 20sPeople.
The main part of the programme will be The 1920s: Beyond the Roar exhibition. Visitors can explore the decade’s politics, social changes, design and more as they happen upon a series of encounters walking down a typical 1920s street. Using the Archives’ vast collection of records and artefacts, you can find out the truth behind the era’s stereotypes and the turbulence, as women fought for the right to vote and people recovered from the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic. The exhibition will take visitors to a newspaper stand, polling station, draper’s shop, and typical 1920s home, before ending in a nightclub. A reimagining of popular Soho nightspot, The 43 club, tells the story of the venue, which was owned by Kate Meyrick and entertained film stars and gangsters of the day.
Along with the exhibition, there will be a series of events (both online and in-person), along with digital activities and access of learning resources. 20sPeople events, such as online talks, audio dramas and webinars on how to research your family history are already taking place from November 2021.
Fleet Street is one of London’s most famous streets – after all it has coveted spot on Monopoly board! However, it is also home to some of the capital’s most varied architecture; from the Neo-Gothic splendour of St Dunstan-in-the-West to the Art Deco temple of Peterborough Court. One of these interesting buildings is the Middle Temple Gatehouse, a grand 17th century entrance to the district of Middle Temple. Located across the road from the Royal Courts of Justice, it stands at the western end of Fleet Street.
Today, the Middle Temple is home to one of London’s legal districts. The name Temple comes from the Medieval group, the Knights Templar, who based their headquarters in the area from the 1160s until they were dissolved in 1312. Temple became synonymous with legal industry later in the 14th century, establishing accommodation and offices for lawyers and students.
The current building you see today is the second gatehouse on the site. The original was erected in the early 16th century by English official and soldier, Sir Amias Paulet (d.1538), who served as treasurer for Middle Temple. Although it’s not clear if it was damaged during the Middle Temple fire of 1678, it was certainly in bad condition by this stage and needed to be replaced.
When it comes to the architect of the current building, there has been much debate about who was responsible. Historic England, British Listed Buildings and architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) all state it was designed by Roger North (1653-1734). However, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Museum of London have cited the gatehouse as the work of Sir Christopher Wren. North was a lawyer who trained at Middle Temple and an amateur architect, as well as a friend of Wren. While it’s unlikely we’ll never know for sure, who knows… perhaps both men dreamt up the design over an ale or two in the pub?
The current red brick and Portland stone structure was built in 1684 and Grade I listed in 1950. The ground floor features a central carriageway sandwiched between two arched footways, all featuring black gates. Above the carriageway is the Agnus Dei symbol of the ‘lamb of God’, holding a flag of St George. The symbol can be spotted throughout the district and is part of the Middle Temple’s arms. As a gatehouse to London’s prestigious legal district, it is given an air of superiority with the classical details of four Ionic pilasters, with the top storey crowned by an entablature and pediment. The first floor features two full-length windows which open out to iron balconies, situated underneath a narrow stone band depicting the Latin phrase: ‘SVRREXIT . IMPENS . SOC . M . TEMPLI . MDCLXXXIV.’
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Aside from St Paul’s Cathedral, there isn’t much left in the City of London from the 16th and 17th century. Wars, fires and redevelopment have dramatically changed the architecture and even road layouts of the original Square Mile. With large-scale buildings being completely wiped from existence over the years, it’s impressive when a small piece of London’s heritage manages to survive.
The Panyer Boy is an ancient plaque in Panyer Alley, near the entrance to St Paul’s tube station. It depicts a naked child – likely a baker boy – sitting on a bread basket. Underneath the cherubic boy, are the words: “When ye have sought the City Round. Yet still this is the highest ground. August 27th 1688.” The quote is by English historian John Stow (1524/5-1605) and dates from 1598 – nearly a century earlier than the date below on the plaque. “This is the higher ground” refers to the long-held belief that Ludgate Hill was the highest hill in the City of London, however it’s actually Cornhill, which currently stands at 58ft (17.7metres) above sea level.
Despite the date stamp of the late 17th century, the mystery of the origins and original location of the Panyer Boy still continues. This stone effigy has been remounted from building to building as the surrounding environment has changed around him. Panyer Alley has existed for centuries and takes its name from ‘pannier’ – the basket or box from which the young baker boys would sell bread. Pannier is an Old English term deriving from the old French word ‘panier’. Some historians have speculated Panyer Alley was named after The Panyer inn, which stood nearby on Paternoster Row until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The carving of the child has somewhat eroded over time, making it even harder to work out what’s actually going on in the carving. Is the child holding a bunch of grapes or a loaf of bread? Stow certainly believed he was holding the fruit as he wrote in his Survey of London: “…a boy fitting upon it, with a bunch of grapes as it seems to be, held between his naked foot and hand, perhaps of Plenty…” This part of the City of London was known for its bakers, with nearby Bread Street the location of the capital’s bread market from Medieval times. Read the rest of this entry
The full programme of events and buildings for this year’s Open House Festival 2021 is now live. Previously known as Open House London, what was a weekend is now a nine day festival. For the uninitiated, Open House gives the public the opportunity to step inside some of the capital’s most interesting buildings, from heritage landmarks to modern creations. You’ll be able to see historical features, and dramatic design up close by looking in buildings that are usually off-limits the public. Among the variety opening their doors will be government departments to offices to private homes. As well opportunities to enjoy guided and self-guided tours, there are also walking tours, workshops and children’s activities.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, many participating buildings will be following a booking system and enforcing limited visitor numbers. Last year, many buildings were offering online tours, but fortunately a good chunk of those will be re-opening in 2021 for in-person visits. In previous years, some popular spots have seen long queues to gain access, so it’s worth planning in advance and checking which buildings are offering walk-ins.
On 11 September, the festival will host Open City Families at Canary Wharf, featuring a host of architecture and design-inspired activities and events for children.
As a seasoned Open House London visitor and an Open City supporter, here are some of Metro Girl’s recommendations for 2021:
Brixton Windmill, Windmill Gardens, Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, SW2 5DA. Nearest stations: Brixton or Streatham Hill. Built in the early 18th century, it’s the only surviving windmill in inner London. Open Sat 11 and Sun 12, guided tours at 1pm-5pm.
Caroline Gardens Chapel, Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SG. Nearest station: Queen’s Road Peckham. Ageing Georgian chapel now used as an arts centre and events space. Open Sun 5 10am-5pm.
Charlton House, Charlton Road, SE7 8RE. Nearest station: Charlton. London’s only surviving Jacobean mansion, originally built for the tutor of Prince Henry, son of King James I. Open Sun 5, guided tours at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm.
City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, SE1 2AA. Nearest station: London Bridge or Tower Hill. Step inside the London government building overlooking the River Thames. Open Sat 4, walking tours between 10am-4pm.
Dorich House Museum, 67 Kingston Vale, SW15 3RN. Nearest station: Norbiton, Putney or Kingston. Striking 1930s artists’ house, formerly owned by sculptor Dora Gordine and her husband, the Hon. Richard Hare. Open Sat 4 and Sat 11, self-guided visits between 9.30am-5pm. Read the rest of this entry
Without the River Thames, London wouldn’t be the city it is today. With the capital returning to life following the end of lockdown, why not head to this year’s Totally Thames? The annual festival returns for the 25th year from 1 – 30 September 2021, boasting a host of events celebrating the heritage, environment and culture of the Thames. From mudlarking to art exhibitions to light installations and walking tours, there’s a variety of events for all ages. While many events are in-person, there will also be plenty to enjoy online as well.
This year’s festival will feature a series of mudlarking events, including an exhibition of fascinating finds, portraits of mudlarkers, an immersive talk, an online writing workshop and Archaeological Foreshore Walks. Meanwhile, the riverside neighbourhoods of Silvertown and Woolwich will be the focus of heritage events, such as walking tours, a photography exhibition and history talks.
The Rivers of the World exhibition will return to the riverside by the Tate Modern with children’s artwork inspired by the river. Children and youth from Greenwich have teamed up with Ghanian schools and professional artists to produce a collection of artworks.
There will also be a series of events marking the completion of Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River project. The world’s longest public art installation sees the bridges of Lambeth, Westminster, Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark, Cannon Street and London lit up from sunset to 2am. Illuminated River will curate a three-day celebration from 23 – 25 September, including guided tours, talks and sketching workshops.
Find out what else is on in London in September 2021 here.