Category Archives: Tourist Attractions

Tourist attractions of London

The giant Earth sculpture ‘Gaia’ is returning to the Painted Hall

Luke Jerram’s installation returns to the Old Royal Naval College in May 2021.

Gaia installation at Old Royal Naval College

Luke Jerram’s art installation Gaia returns to the Old Royal Naval College in the summer
© Colin B Mackenzie

The summer will kick off in Greenwich with the return of Luke Jerram’s stunning art installation ‘Gaia’. The recreation of Planet Earth will be suspended at the Old Royal Naval College from 30 May 2021 for one month. The exact scale replica of our planet is internally lit and created using 120dpi NASA imagery. Measuring seven metres in diameter, making it 1.8million times smaller than Earth, the sculpture will be on show in the Painted Hall.

Visitors will be able to stand back and gaze at the slowly rotating piece while listening to a surround-sound composition by composer Dan Jones. Jerram aims to give us an idea of astronauts’ vista of the Earth when travelling through Space.

During the month-long display, there will be a series of late night openings every Friday. Visitors will also be able to enjoy food and drink, as well as check out the Baroque and contemporary art at the hall.

  • Gaia is on display from 30 May – 1 July 2021. At the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN. Nearest stations: Greenwich, Cutty Sark or Maze Hill. Late night openings on Fridays 5.30pm-10pm. For more information, visit the ORNC website. For late night opening tickets, visit this link.
  • This article was originally published in December 2020, but updated in April 2021 to reflect the new dates following the cancellation of the original January 2021 launch due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

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Old Royal Naval College to reopen with workshops, history tours and foodie treats

Enjoy the grounds and retail offerings as the Greenwich landmark partially re-opens after lockdown, along with illustration workshops and guided tours.

greenwich Old Royal Naval College

Greenwich is reopening to the public following lockdown

It’s been a long, dull winter in lockdown so no doubt Londoners are crying out for their favourite spaces in the capital to reopen. Fortunately, one of the capital’s riverside gems, the Old Royal Naval College will be opening their gates again from 12 April 2021. Although indoor access will have to wait, there will be outdoor events and online experiences at the Greenwich destination, as well as reopening of the gift shops and café.

Ahead of the opening of illustrator Nick Ellwood’s physical exhibition ‘Mischief and Misadventure’ in May (or when guidelines allow), he will be hosting online drawing workshops for children and adults from April. Participants will be guided through assignments to hone their children’s book illustration skills, following by masterclass workshops in May for those who want to elevate their drawing to the next level.

Meanwhile, the iconic Old Royal Naval College will open its grounds to the public, who will be able to explore the history and the sights with guided and self-guided tours. The knowledgeable volunteers will be showing off the gorgeous features of the grounds and details of Sir Christopher Wren’s amazing architecture on small, socially-distanced guided tours (four dailt). Alternatively, families can download one of the free, self-guided tours from the Smartify app and enjoy a treasure trail around the outdoor space, while educating their children about the area’s history on the ‘Building Detectives’ tour. Or history buffs can learn more about the buildings with the Architecture tour.

While most of the indoor spaces of the ORNC are off-limits for a little while longer, the gift shops in the Visitor Centre and King William Undercroft will be open, while the Old Brewery will be serving outdoors from 12 April. Every weekend, the King William Lawn will host pop-up stalls serving hot and cold foods, drinks, afternoon teas and picnics for visitors to enjoy outside. Deckchairs and picnic blankets will be available for rent so you can have an alfresco feast while enjoying the views.

  • Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, SE10 9NN. Nearest station: Greenwich or Cutty Sark. For more information, visit the ORNC website.
  • Nick Ellwood workshops are taking place on 1, 8 and 15 April and 13, 20 and 27 May 2021. Tickets: £50. For tickets to the workshop and other events, visit the ORNC online booking tool. Ellwood’s ‘Mischief and Misadventure’ exhibition with run from 17 May – 6 September 2021 at the Old Royal Naval College.

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Guide to what’s on in London in December 2020

Find out what’s on in London over the Christmas period.

Christmas © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018Well, 2020 is nearly over, and I’m sure most of the country is glad to see the back of a very difficult year. While Christmas will undoubtedly be different to what we’re used to, plenty of London’s hospitality and entertainment businesses will be pulling out all the stops to offer a safe and entertaining social event. Expect social distancing, frequent cleaning and masks may be required so you can feel protected while enjoying the festivities. Among the events taking place are foodie fayres, film screenings, pantomimes and art exhibitions.

For December, London will be Tier 2, which means no mixing indoors with people outside your household or support bubble. Up to six people can meet outdoors in parks, private gardens and pub’s outdoor spaces.

20 Dec update: London is now in Tier 4 so a majority of events and attractions are likely to be cancelled or postponed. Please check the event website for further up-to-date information.

Look out for the 🐻 for family-friendly activities.

Look out for the computer symbol 💻 for online events.

  • 2 – 24 December : Borough Market’s Festive Kitchen

Enjoy cookalongs, masterclasses and talks from foodie experts and chefs streamed live from a special kitchen in the historic London market. Events take place Wed-Fri online. All live content will be streamed on the market’s Facebook page. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post on the event. 💻 

  • 2 December – 27 February 2021 : Connected by Light

Although the Winter Lights festival has been postponed, Canary Wharf’s contemporary streets have been lit by a series of light installations. Dusk until 10pm. Free. Installations dotted throughout Canary Wharf estate, E14. Nearest station: Canary Wharf. For more information, visit the Canary Wharf website. 🐻

  • 3 – 7 December : The Parking Lot Social @ Syon Park

A line-up of drive-in festive events, including Cinderella pantomime, film nights, car-a-oke, silent disco and festive food market, all from the safety of your car. Times vary. Tickets: £38.78 per car. Syon Park, Park Road, Brentford, TW8 8JF. For tickets, visit the Parking Lot Social website. 🐻

  • 3 – 20 December : Cinema in the Snow

Enjoy a festive cinematic experience. Enter through a magical wardrobe and walk through a winter wonderland to the screening room. Watch a mix of classic and recent favourites. Covid-19 safety precautions being taken, including cleaning and socially-distanced seats. Tickets from £19.50. Unit 8, Copeland Park, Peckham, SE15 3SN. Nearest station: Peckham Rye. For more information, visit the Pop up Screens website. 🐻

  • 4 December – 31 January 2021 : Dante’s In-Furlough

Step into the Underworld to see The Devil getting married. An immersive, theatrical show with dining options. Social distancing and mandatory face coverings. Thur-Sat: Entry times from 5.30pm-8.30pm, Sun: Entry times from 4.30pm-7.30pm. Tickets: From £25, Dining from £55. The Vaults, Launcelot Street (off Lower Marsh), Waterloo, SE1 7AD. Nearest station: Waterloo, Lambeth North or Waterloo East. For more information, visit The Vaults website.

  • 11 – 13 December : Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre

A celebration of festive food in the grounds of historic Hampton Court Palace. Featuring street food, pop-up bars, artisanal producers, live music, and more. 10am-5pm. Tickets (inc entry to courtyard and gardens): Adults £24.50, Children 5-15yr £12.20, Under 5s free. Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU. Nearest station: Hampton Court (36 minutes from Waterloo). For more information and tickets, visit the HRP Food Festivals website.

  • 11 – 13 and 18 – 21 December : Christmas @ Old Royal Naval College

A host of Christmas festivities are taking place at the Old Royal Naval College. Including the illuminated Christmas tree, festive market (12, 13, 18, 19 & 20 December), carol services, winter dining at the Painted Hall and a production of The Little Match Girl. Event timings and dates vary. Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, SE10. Nearest station: Cutty Sark, Greenwich or Maze Hill. For more information, visit the Old Royal Naval College website. 🐻

  • 13 – 19 December : We’re All Human exhibition @ Pi Artworks

Dutch artist Jade van der Mark presents an exhibition of her large-scale paintings on city life. Open 11am-6pm. Pi Artworks, 55 Eastcastle Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 8EG. Nearest station: Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Road. For more information, visit the artist’s website or the Pi Artworks website.

  • 17 – 20 December : Love Actually in Concert

Watch the iconic film’s soundtrack performed live by an orchestra accompanying the screening. Socially distanced seating. Times: Matinee 2pm, Evening 6.30pm (staggered entry times). Tickets: £65-£81. Eventim Apollo, 45 Queen Caroline Street, Hammersmith, W6 9QH. Nearest station: Hammersmith. For more information and booking, visit the Eventim Apollo website.

London’s largest LED Christmas tree @ Wembley Park
© Chris Winter

  • Now until 31 December : The Drive In

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. 🐻

  • Now until 3 January 2021 : United in Light @ Wembley Park

Wembley Park has unveiled a selection of light installations for the festive period, including London’s tallest LED Christmas tree, festive selfie spots and ‘United in Light’, a new Instagram artwork on the Spanish steps. Wembley Park, Wembley, HA9 0FD. Nearest stations: Wembley Park or Wembley Stadium. For more information, visit the Wembley Park website.

  • Now until 3 January 2021 : Summer Winter exhibition @ Royal Academy of Arts

The summer exhibition is now winter as it was delayed due to Covid-19. Check out new art from a mix of established and emerging artists and architects, including Tracey Emin, Rebecca Horn, Anselm Kiefer, Julian Schnabel, Gillian Wearing and Ai Weiwei. Open daily 10am-6pm. Tickets: £20-£22. Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the RA website.

  • Now until 3 January 2021 : Christmas at Kew

A glittering trail which weaves its way through Kew Gardens with stunning sights lit up upon the way. 4pm-10pm. Tickets (advance): Adults £19.50/£24.50, Children £14.50, Under 4 free. Select your entrance gate when booking. Kew Gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens), Kew, Richmond, TW9 3AB. Nearest station: Kew Gardens. For more information, visit the Kew Gardens website. 🐻

  • Now until 3 January 2021: The Magic of Christmas @ London Zoo

London Zoo are hosting a series of festive events alongside the usual animal enclosures. You can meet Santa, enjoy VIP Santa Breakfasts and Animal Gift Giving sessions. Open 10am-4pm. Ticket prices vary depending on activities. London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Marylebone, NW1 4RY. Nearest station: Regent’s Park or Camden Town. For booking, visit the ZSL website. 🐻 Read the rest of this entry

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

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

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

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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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The Elfin Oak | A whimsical visit to fairyland in Kensington Gardens

The story of how an ancient oak was given an artistic makeover to delight imaginative children.

Elfin Oak © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Elfin Oak, now protected by a cage, stands in Kensington Gardens

Like most of the Royal Parks, Kensington Gardens is home to several unique attractions and artworks. One of these is the Elfin Oak, in the north-west corner of the Gardens. Located near the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is an ancient oak tree with dozens of whimsical decorations.

Elfin Oak © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Get up close to check out the various characters

Now protected by a cage, the Elfin Oak was made from the trunk of an ancient oak tree which originally grew in Richmond Park. Politician George Lansbury (1859-1940) conceived the idea, with Lady Winifred Fortescue (1888-1951) funding the project in a bid of improve facilities in Royal Parks.

Scottish-born artist Ivor Innes carved and painted 74 miniatures of fairies, elves, goblins, witches and animals into the oak, said to be around 800 years old. Among the characters are Wookey the Witch, Hucklebery the Gnome, Mother Cinders, Harebell the fairy, and elves named Grumples and Groodle.

The Elfin Oak was unveiled in August 1930 by the Mayoress of Kensington, Mrs Robinson – wife of then-Mayor Henry Robinson (1877-1960). Located near the children’s playground, it was the perfect place to inspire young minds’ about far off fairylands. The same year, Ivor’s wife Elise published a short story called ‘The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens’.

Over the years, the Elfin Oak was exposed to the elements, with a lot of the figurines losing their colour, being damaged and some pieces even going missing. Late comedian and local, Spike Milligan (1918-2002) helped restore the oak in both 1964-1966 and 1996. The nineties restoration was unveiled by Prince Charles in June 1997 with Historic England declaring it Grade II listed the same year. It is now surrounded by a cage in a bid to preserve the oak for future generations.

  • The Elfin Oak can be found near the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in the north-west corner of Kensington Gardens, W2 4RU. Nearest stations: Queensway or Bayswater. For more information, visit the Royal Parks website.

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

Read Metro Girl’s art posts, click here.

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The forgotten milkmaids and cows of St James’s and Green Park

Cattle used to graze in these central London parks in the 18th and 19th century.

Green Park Milkmaids Passage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Milkmaids’ Passage

Today, the neighbouring St James’s and Green Park are small pockets of green in the centre of bustling Westminster. Dwarfed in comparison to other royal parks, the pair are a popular cut-through for tourists going between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. Standing in either park in the 21st century, you would be hard pressed to imagine of them covered in grazing cows. However, as little as 115 years ago, cows in the park were used to provide fresh milk for Londoners.

St James’s Park is the oldest of the two and was the first royal park in London. Originally set out as a deer park by King Henry VIII (1491-1547) in 1532, it was later landscaped by King James I of England (1566-1625). Meanwhile, Green Park originally started life as Upper St James’s Park when the land was surrendered to King Charles II (1630-1685) in 1668, who was also restoring nearby St James’s Palace. By 1746, the park was renamed The Green Park. Queen’s Walk, a pathway along the eastern fringes of the park (leading from Piccadilly to The Mall), was laid out by King George II (1683-1760) for his wife, Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737). Walking down Queen’s Walk, you may notice a small alley off to the east, in between Lancaster House and Stornoway House. Named Milkmaids’ Passage and leading to the Stable Yard of St James’s Palace, the small lane gives a clue to the park’s former life.

Up until the Georgian housing boom, the western fringes of the capital were incredibly rural, covered in fields and dotted with farms. As the London population grew throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th century, so did the number of dairies in the city. In an era before mass transport could bring in milk from the countryside, cows were required to live in and by the city so Londoners could access the calcium-rich drink. Two of these nearby rural-esque areas were St James’s and Green Park, which had grazing cows, accompanied by milkmaids to milk them. As early as 1710, buying milk from the cows at the ‘Lactarian’ in St James’s Park was documented by German traveller Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (1683-1734). The main area for buying milk was the Whitehall end of St James’s Park. Milkmaids paid half a crown a week for the right to feed and milk the cattle, rising to three shilling a week in 1772. Generally, the milkmaids tended to be servants of cow-keepers and were given permission to trade in the park by the Home Secretary. The cows would be driven twice a day – at noon and in the evening – towards the Whitehall corner of St James’s, where they would tied up and milked for a penny for a mug. Many of the customers were parents or nannies, buying milk for babies and children, as well as the sick, who had been recommended to get a calcium boost (see this 1790 print of a milkmaid in the park from the V&A collection). Some adults ordered a ‘Syllabub’, milk mixed with wine, sugar and spice. By 1794, the Board of Agriculture estimated there were 8,500 cows being milked in London. This 1801 painting by American artist Benjamin West (1738-1820) gives an idyllic depiction of milkmaid life in St James’s Park.

The Milk Fair in St. James’s Park in the 19th century.
© Wellcome Library, London.

Between the 17th and 19th century, a host of new roads and large houses were built in the district of St James, which is now a conservation area. Lancaster House (previously known as York House and Stafford House) was completed in 1840, with its neighbour Bridgewater House (now known as Stornoway) following in 1872. With a Portland stone wall separating it from Lancaster House and old paving stones, Milkmaids’ Passage likely dates back to the 18th or 19th century. While not dated exactly, it is recognised as one of the surviving alleys or lanes which are “an integral part of the historic fabric of the area” by Westminster Council. The passage would have provided the perfect access for maids to carry fresh milk from the park’s cows to the dairy of St James’s Palace and the other aristocratic homes of the district. Read the rest of this entry

Explore London’s art exhibitions and museums online during the lockdown

Enjoy virtual tours of the city’s museums and galleries as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps us home.

British Museum © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

You could enjoy a virtual tour of the British Museum

The continuing lockdown means our museums and galleries are still closed for the foreseeable future. If you’re missing your culture fix while stuck at home during the Coronavirus pandemic, why not enjoy some of London’s top exhibitions and galleries online?

Here’s where to find 10 virtual tours of London’s museum and galleries:

  • Andy Warhol @ Tate Modern

The Bankside museum closed its doors just days after its Warhol exhibition launched. However, the Tate swiftly put an online tour for art fans to enjoy, with commentary by curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran.

– To see the Warhol exhibition tour, visit the Tate’s YouTube channel.

  • Langlands & Bell: Degrees of Trust @ Sir John Soane Museum

The current exhibition at the Sir John Soane Museum has been put online for (virtual) visitors to enjoy. Contemporary artists Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell’s pieces have been showcased alongside the contrasting antiquities of the museum.

– To see the online exhibition, visit the Sir John Soane Museum website.

  • Harry Potter: A History of Magic @ British Library

The British Library’s 2017-2018 exhibition on Harry Potter was hugely popular and displayed the original drafts and drawings of JK Rowling and illustrator Jim Kay. Although the exhibition is long over and the BL’s doors are currently closed, you can enjoy the collection online.

– To see the online exhibition, visit Google Arts & Culture.

  • Picasso & Paper @ Royal Academy of Arts

The RA’s exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s works on paper opened in January and was due to run until April. Although real-life visits are on hold, you can enjoy a virtual exhibition tour on the RA’s website instead.

– Watch the video on the Royal Academy of Arts website.

  • Science Museum

There’s many ways for you to explore the Science Museum virtually, including a Google Streetview tour, curator gallery guides, collections and stories.

– For a virtual exploration of the Science Museum, visit the website. Read the rest of this entry