Category Archives: London

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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Step into Picasso’s studio with an immersive art experience at BASTIAN gallery

A new London exhibition features Pablo Picasso’s furniture, sculpture, ceramics, drawings and prints.

Picasso’s studio in La Californie à Cannes, © André Villers

Femme assise (Dora Maar) by Pablo Picasso, 1955

An exciting new exhibition is bringing Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) Cannes studio to London for an immersive art experience. The Bastian gallery in Mayfair has delved into the Spanish artist’s huge collection of objects, including furniture, sculpture, ceramics, drawings and prints, to recreate his creative space.

Picasso moved to the south of France in 1946 and filled the surfaces and floors of his studio with source material and original works. This new exhibition, ‘Atelier Picasso’, will feature photographs of the artist in his studio by close friend André Villers.

Among the Picasso pieces on show will be the ‘Complete Set of 20 Visage plates’ from 1963, which features different sizes of plates depicting a smiling face motif. His ceramic ‘Wood Owl’ (1969) and his ceramics of female and male faces will also be displayed, including the beautiful Carreau Visage d’Homme (1965). Among his ink drawings include ‘Deux nus et têtes d’hommes’ and ‘Le Voyeur’. The artworks will be displayed alongside furniture from his famous Villa La Californie, making the visitor feel like they are stepping into the artist’s studio.

  • Atelier Picasso runs from 3 September – 31 October 2020. At BASTIAN, 8 Davies Street, Mayfair, W1K 3DW. Nearest stations: Green Park or Bond Street. Tel: 020 3940 5009. Open: Tues-Sat 10am-6pm. For more information, visit the Bastian Gallery website.

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Adelaide House | The story of London’s first skyscraper

The history of the City’s pioneering, art deco office block and the hotel which came before it.

Adelaide House London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Adelaide House stands on the north side of London Bridge

Standing on the north side of London Bridge, two impressive buildings form the unofficial gateways to the City – Fishmongers Hall on the western side and Adelaide House opposite. While the Hall dates back to 1830s, Adelaide House is a 20th century, Modernist construction. Although Adelaide House has only been standing a little shy of a century, its name has origins dating back to the same period as the current Fishmongers’ Hall.

In 1831, the New London Bridge opened slightly west of the original location of the Old London Bridge. Opening the capital’s iconic crossing were King William IV (1765-1837) and Queen Adelaide (1792-1849), with the monarch  honoured with the road approaching the bridge being named King William Street. The old London Bridge Waterworks had been demolished to make way for Adelaide Place and a neo-classical block, the Adelaide Hotel. With four storeys visible on the London Bridge side, the building featured Corinthian pilasters and a ornamental balustrade on the roof level. Looming over the London Bridge Wharf, it was a perfect location for a hotel. The wharf guaranteed a regular hotel clientele as it was busy with cargo and passenger steamships. One company operating out of the Wharf was the New Medway Steam Packet Company, which offered cruises down the Thames to the Essex and Kent coastline. The Adelaide Hotel was open by 1835 and had expansive views over the river, as well as typical amenities such as a restaurant and ladies’ coffee room. The Handbook of London, published in 1849, describes the Adelaide as a “third-class hotel”, although Adams’s Pocket London guide two years later is more complementary: “A spacious establishment in high repute”. Despite the handy location, the Adelaide Hotel wasn’t a huge success and was converted into offices in the 1850s and renamed the Adelaide Buildings.

Adelaide Hotel London Bridge

A photo of the Adelaide Hotel (circled) and the ‘New London Bridge’, (both since demolished) in the mid 19th century.
(Close-up from J Davis Burton image on Wikimedia Commons)

The Adelaide Buildings were home to various companies over the decades, but one dominant tenant was the Pearl Insurance company. Originally started in the East End in 1857, the company expanded and moved to the Adelaide Buildings in 1878, where it remained until 1914 when it headed west to High Holborn. (See a London Metropolitan Archives photo of the building in 1913).  Read the rest of this entry

Austin Friars | The history of one of London’s lost monasteries

This City of London road was named after a 13th century religious order.

Austin Friars road © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The winding road of Austin Friars

 

Austin Friars gateway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Victorian gateway to Austin Friars

Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, the City of London was home to several monastic orders. Although a few buildings were preserved in existing churches, others were demolished and their legacy today is often only a street name. After King Henry VIII established the dramatic religious change so he could marry Anne Boleyn, he swiftly closed a succession of London monasteries. Those shuttered include the Bermondsey Abbey, Blackfriars, Charterhouse Priory (Smithfield), Crutched Friars, Grey Friars, Holywell Priory (Shoreditch), St Bartholomew’s Priory, St. Helen’s priory (Bishopsgate), St Martin’s le Grand, Whitefriars (Fleet Street), among others.

One order within the City of London boundaries was Austin Friars – located in between the present stations of Bank and Liverpool Street. The Austin Friars was an Augustinian order, believed to have arrived in England in the 1260s. They acquired land from two older churches, with St Olave Broad Street apparently being demolished to make way for the friary. Over the years, the friary’s wealth grew, allowing them to gain more land, eventually covering 5.5 acres. The complex was surrounded by a high wall, bordering London Wall, Throgmorton Street and Broad Street. Within their boundaries were a church, accommodation, garden and other buildings for dining and studying. The complex was entered by at least three gates, the main entrance being on Throgmorton Street. The friary was home to about 60 friars by the 13th century and was popular with London’s elite.

Drapers Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Drapers’ Hall was built on the site of Austin Friars

On the western edge of the friary, courtier Thomas Cromwell, Earl Of Essex (1485-1540) began leasing a home from the friary in the 1520s. It was a three-storey building with 14 rooms and a garden. By 1532, Cromwell’s power and influence at Henry VIII‘s court had grown so he expanded his Austin Friars home to reflect his rising status. He ended up with a huge property covering 2 acres with another 1.5 acres of garden. A few years later, Austin Friars came to an end in November 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester (1483/5-1572), took over the Friars’ house and cloisters and erected a townhouse on the site, which was later demolished in 1844. Two years later, Cromwell’s days at Austin Friars were also over after he was imprisoned and executed for treason and heresy. His house was acquired by the Crown and sold three years later to the Drapers’ Company for their hall, but was burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and rebuilt. Read the rest of this entry

Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich reopens for summer 2020

Visitors can safely check out the grounds, Painted Hall, and other buildings of the iconic Greenwich attraction.

greenwich Old Royal Naval College

The grounds of the Old Royal Naval College is Greenwich are reopening to the public following lockdown

The historic heart of Greenwich, the Old Royal Naval College, is reopening to the public this month following lockdown. Implementing safety measures in line with government guidance, the iconic 17th century complex will be opening its doors to its building and grounds from 13 July 2020. Londoners and tourists alike will be able to safely visit the stunning Painted Hall, King William Undercroft and interpretation gallery. The safety of visitors and staff will be prioritised with people advised to book in advance, with limited tickets available daily to ensure social distancing. As well being able to check out some of the college’s famous sights, there will also be special events and entertainment for the remainder of the summer season.

The Painted Hall Old Royal Naval College

The Painted Hall is re-opening to visitors

The Old Royal Naval College’s buildings were designed by Sir Christopher Wren and date back to the 17th century and early 18th century. Its glorious Painted Hall, painted by James Thornhill, re-opened late last year following several years of restoration. (Read about Metro Girl’s visit to see the ceiling up close during the project).

Visitors to the Old Royal Naval College can learn about its centuries of history with a new smartphone tour, free on the Smartify app. Families will enjoy the Building Detectives treasure trail tour for children aged 5-12 years.

Kicking off on 28 August – 12 September is the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, with plenty of events taking place within the grounds. This year’s festival will celebrate the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic – the NHS, along with the strength of community spirit and the environment. Roaming film club Luna Cinema will also be pitching up for alfresco cinema screenings in August. Meanwhile, Amber Markets are also planning to return later this year with global street food.

To mark Black History Month in October, the ORNC will launch a new exhibition exploring the history of the black sailors in the British Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries, curated by black British historian S.I. Martin.

  • Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN. Nearest stations: Greenwich, Cutty Sark or Maze Hill. For more information, visit the ORNC website.
  • The grounds will be open daily 7am-7pm. The Painted Hall, King William Undercroft, Visitor Centre Shop and Ticket Desk will be open daily from 10am–5pm. The Chapel will be open from 10am–2pm for private prayer. (The Victorian Skittle Alley remains closed). Spaces must be booked in advance for tours and the ORNC recommends visitors bring their own headphones for use with the multimedia guides. Guided tours will be limited to a maximum of five people. Groups larger than 25 will not be permitted to visit the site. No cash payments will be accept: Card and mobile payments preferred.

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A Jacobean tavern, waxwork museum and Victorian barbers | The many guises of Prince Henry’s Room

The history of 17 Fleet Street, a 17th century building that survived the Great Fire of London.

Prince Henry's Room © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Prince Henry’s Room on Fleet Street dates back to the 17th century

Standing on a Fleet Street is a rare piece of Jacobean London. Thanks to the Great Fire of London of 1666, hardly any buildings originating prior to the mid-17th century exist within the confines of the Square Mile. Among the few exceptions are 41 – 42 Cloth Fair in Smithfield, a handful of City churches, the Tower of London and St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse. Another one of these survivors is a Jacobean townhouse at 17 Fleet Street.

Prince Henry's Room © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Prince Henry’s Room stands opposite the Royal Courts of Justice

The site was originally part of an estate owned by the Knights Templar, an order of Catholic soldiers. Following their dissolution in 1312, the land passed to their rivals, the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Among their tenants were lawyers, who established the legal district of Temple which still exists today. With its origins as a Roman route, Fleet Street was named and established as a residential road in the Middle Ages. By the early 16th century, one of the Hospitallers’ tenants was the landlord of an inn called The Hand at 17 Fleet Street. After the Hospitallers was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1540, a lot of the Temple district passed into the hands of the Crown and other landowners.

In 1610, the owner of 17 Fleet Street rebuilt the tavern, by then named the Prince’s Arms. Some have claimed the tavern was named in honour of the investiture of Henry Frederick Prince of Wales (1594-1612) – son of King James I of England – while others claim the tavern’s name dates back to before his birth. Another theory suggests No.17 was built for the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall and that first floor had been reserved for Prince Henry’s use. The building features a three feathers motif on the façade – the symbol for the Prince of Wales. This symbolism appears again in the large room on the first floor, which boasts one of London’s best examples of Jacobean ceiling plaster. It contains the three feather motif, along with the initials P.H. Read the rest of this entry

Mary Queen of Scots House: This Neo-Gothic building is younger than you think

The story behind a Neo-Gothic office building-turned-holiday let on Fleet Street

Mary Queen of Scots House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 202

Mary Queen of Scots House dates back to the early 20th century

Fleet Street has its fair share of striking architecture – from the bold Art Deco design of the Express Building to the old Tudor frontage of Prince Henry’s Room. However, one particular building’s design suggests it’s from an earlier age that it actually is – the Mary Queen of Scots House at 143-4 Fleet Street. The building is situated just two doors down from the temple-like Peterborough House and next door to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. The Mary Queen of Scots House has two entrances – the eastern one accessing the upper storeys, while the west is the shop door (currently a Pret a Manger). Just to the left of the shop entrance is Cheshire Court, a small alley previously known as Three Falcon Court.

Mary Queen of Scots House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The carver of the Mary Queen of Scots statue is unknown

Long before Pret A Manger arrived, and indeed, even the current building was erected, the site had a varied history. In the 1770s, a publisher named Joseph Wenman was operating out of his premises at 144 Fleet Street, producing mostly theatrical reprints. By 1833, No.143-144 was owned by a Sir John Marshall, with one of his tenants being a baker, according to an insurance policy taken out at the time. In the 1840s, wood engraver Edwin Morrett Williams and cutler/hardwareman William Sutton worked on-site. By 1882, 143 had become a restaurant. Nine years later, optician Samuel Poole was operating out of 144.

In the early 20th century, Scottish landowner and liberal politician Sir John Tollemache Sinclair (1825-1912) acquired the land of 143-144 Fleet Street. He commissioned architect Richard Mauleverer Roe (1854-1922) to design an ornate, Neo-Gothic office building in 1905. At the time, Gothic revival was steadily falling out of fashion in architecture, although the new dawn of Modernist design was still a way off. The building has five storeys, one of which being a roof storey. The ground floor is surrounded by a stone arch with zigzag mouldings.

Read the rest of this entry

London’s outdoor and drive-in cinemas | Summer 2020 guide

Details of outdoor and drive-in cinemas in and around London, including ticket prices, locations and more

This summer, our social lives have been changed beyond all recognition due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the lockdown is gradually easing in stages, going to the cinema is a more complex activity as we practice social distancing. However, film fans missing their big screen experience can now book a ticket for one of London’s outdoor or drive-in cinemas. For those with a car and don’t mind travelling a bit further, there are also drive-ins appearing outside the capital in the home counties.

Key: 🧘 Seated viewings only (bring a blanket/cushion)

🚗 Can only attend in a car

  • 3 – 19 July : Celestial Drive-In Cinema

Boasting London’s largest LED screen, Celestial Cinema are screening classic and modern favourites for drive-in audiences. Food and drink available. Daytime and evening screenings available. Tickets start from £29.50 for one car with two people. Flamingo Park, Sidcup By-Pass Road, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 6HL. For more information, visit the Celestial Cinema website. 🚗

  • 4 July – 26 August : Rooftop Film Club

This summer, the Rooftop Film Club are launching a drive-in experience for those with cars while their usual rooftop experience is on hold. Food and drink will be available, delivered to your car by roller-skating servers. Daytime and evening screenings available. Tickets: One vehicle £27.50-£29 (depending on screening time). Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY. For more information, visit the Rooftop Film Club website. 🚗

  • 4 July – 23 September : The Drive In

A new drive-in cinema offers film screenings and live experiences (e.g. musical performances, theatre, etc) in Enfield. With refreshments available, social distancing guidelines and the audio beamed in through your car stereo. Tickets: One car £35. The Drive In, Troubadour Meridian Water Harbet Road, Enfield, N18 3QQ. For tickets and more information, visit The Drive In website. 🚗

  • 5 July – 1 August : Sunset Cinema

Enjoy a US-style, vintage drive-in experience. Food and drink available to pre-order, as well as on the night. Movies include Rocketman, Dirty Dancing, La La Land, Mamma Mia!, Grease, Knives Out, Back To The Future, and more. Tickets: £50 (1 car and 2 passengers), £15 for each additional passenger. Twyford Avenue Sports Ground, Twyford Avenue, Acton, W3 9QA. For more information, visit the Sunset Cinema website. 🚗

  • 5 July – 31 August : The Drive-In (from Secret Cinema and Goodwood)

Enjoy a drive in experience in Chichester, West Sussex (80 miles from London). The famous Goodwood Motor Circuit is teaming up with Secret Cinema and Häagen-Dazs to host screenings of classics and family favourites, such as Toy Story, Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, The Incredibles and more. Tickets: £50-£57.50 (1 car and up to 5 passengers). Discounts available for NHS workers. Goodwood Motor Circuit, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 0PX. For more information, visit the Secret Cinema website. 🚗 Read the rest of this entry

Egyptian Hall | The story behind Piccadilly’s lost hall of wonders

Long demolished, this West End venue was home to a museum, art exhibitions, Victorian ‘freak shows’ and magic shows.

Egyptian Hall A. McClatchy, 1828 Wellcome Images

The Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly in 1828.
Engraving by A. McClatchy, 1828. Wellcome Images

Over the centuries, many London landmarks have come and gone. Sometimes bombs or fire were to blame, but others have fallen victim to changing tastes. One these lost London buildings was the Egyptian Hall, a piece of architectural pastiche that was home to many attractions and exhibitions during its 93 year history.

The Egyptian hall was originally a museum on Piccadilly, built in 1811-1812 on the site of the original Hatchards book shop (now at 187 Piccadilly) and the White Horse Inn. Following Horatio Nelson’s (1758-1805) victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1799, public interest in Egypt began to grow. By the early 19th century, wealthy Europeans were desperate for a genuine piece of Egyptian history. For those who couldn’t afford it, seeing millennia-old antiquities in an exhibition would have to suffice. English traveller and naturalist William Bullock (1773-1849) commissioned architect Peter Fredrick Robinson (1776-1858) to design a museum to house his collection. Erected on a budget of £16,000, the Egyptian Hall was the first English building to be influenced by Egypt architecture. It took inspiration from the Egyptian room at collector Thomas Hope’s (1769-1831) house in Marylebone. He filled his Georgian terrace in Duchess Street with antiquities from ancient Greece, Egypt, Italy and Turkey and opened it to the public.

The Egyptian Hall’s Great Hall in 1819.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The hall’s grand façade outshone the simple Georgian terraces surrounding it. Many of its details were copied from the Dendera Temple complex in Egypt, such as the winged mundus, scarabreus, columns and hieroglyphics. Above the entrance were two huge Coade stone figures of Isis and Osiris by either sculptor Lawrence Gahagan or his son Sebastian (1778-1838). Inside, was a Grand Hall, lecture rooms, a bazaar and a large central room called ‘the Waterloo Gallery’. Over its lifetime, the hall was also known as Bullock’s Museum or the London Museum. In 1816, an exhibition of Napoleonic relics was a big success. Bullock made £35,000 from the 220,000 visitors to the display, which included Napoleon’s field carriage from the Battle of Waterloo. In 1819, Bullock sold off his collection of objects in an auction lasting 26 days and embarked on more adventures.

The building was then converted into an exhibition hall. Italian adventurer and strongman Giovanni Battista Belzoni, aka ‘The Great Belzoni’, (1778-1823) showcased his collection from May 1821, acquired from his extensive travels. Four years previously he had taken the white sarcophagus of Seti I from his tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. A year later, Belzoni put up his collection for auction. English architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) bought the sarcophagus (now found in the Sir John Soane Museum) for £2,000 – the most expensive item in his collection. Over the next few years, the hall was used for exhibiting art by the Old Water-Colour Society and the Society of Painters in Water Colours, costing only a shilling to enter. Paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) were among those displayed in the early 1820s. Read the rest of this entry