This gallery contains 6 photos.
Expect to see dancing fountains, talking trees, fairies and interactive light experiences.
Tourist attractions of London
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.
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 even going missing. Comedian 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.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s many ways for you to explore the Science Museum virtually, including a Google Streetview tour, curator gallery guides, collections and stories.
Most Londoners would agree they often take the city for granted normally, let alone now. As our ongoing lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic continues, many of us are looking lustfully over #throwback photos on social media wondering when we’ll be able to explore the capital again. Or perhaps, you’re a would-be tourist whose trip to London was postponed or cancelled.
During the current Coronavirus crisis, I’ve put a lot of my usual events and ‘what’s on’ content on hiatus and have instead been focusing on London history and architecture. While researching the background of some of the capital’s most iconic buildings, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find how many of their websites provide virtual tours.
So if you’re feeling bored and missing walking around the capital, why not enjoy a virtual stroll around some of these iconic London sights.
Check out Metro Girl’s round-up of 10 art and museum exhibitions you can view online.
Explore the striking Victorian government offices of Whitehall, which were built in the 1860s. Gaze at George Gilbert Scott’s designs, such as the Grand Staircase, the Locarno Suite and Durbar Court. Although usually off-limits to the public, you can usually get a peek during Open House London in September.
– For a virtual tour, visit the FCO website.
The public rarely gets to step inside the 16th century hall in the Temple legal district. This historic building has an impressive hammerbeam roof and is said to have hosted the first ever performance of William Shakespeare‘s Twelfth Night in front of Queen Elizabeth I.
The ‘Walkie Talkie’ is the nickname for the City of London skyscraper 20 Fenchurch Street. Its top floors are home to a garden, bar, restaurants and viewing platform, giving wonderful views of the capital.
The multi-space arts and entertainment venue has a contrasting mix of old and new architectural features inside the 18th century riverside building.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) spent most of her years living in Hampshire and Bath, but visited London frequently throughout her adult life. Her favourite brother Henry Thomas Austen (1771-1850) lived in the capital for a lot of his life, while publishing houses were another incentive for the author to visit London.
As well as being a frequent visitor to London, the city also served as inspiration for Austen’s novels. Some of her wealthier characters had homes in the capital, while it often poses as a location for many scandalous scenes. Who can forget Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickham eloping to London and being made to marry in a City church? Or Marianne Dashwood realising Mr Willoughby is engaged to another woman while in the capital with her sister Elinor? While London is full of adventure for some of Austen’s characters, one in particular wasn’t so fond. In ‘Emma’, the title character’s father Henry Woodhouse laments London’s pollution, declaring: “The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.”
Jane and her brothers are believed to have slept at an inn on Cork Street in Mayfair on her first visit to London in 1796. Cork Street was a short walk from White Horse Cellar on Piccadilly (the present site of the Burlington Arcade) – where Jane was likely to have disembarked as it was a popular coach drop-off for travellers from the south and west of England.
– Cork Street, Mayfair, W1S. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park.
Jane’s older brother Henry and his wife Eliza moved from nearby Brompton (where they lived in 1808) to Sloane Street by the time Jane visited in 1811. Henry was a banker at the time so could entertain his sibling with parties and trips to the theatre. Jane returned for another visit in 1813. Today, the building is Grade II listed and is home to an investment bank, with its façade dating back to a redevelopment by Fairfax Wade in the late 19th century. The original house inside dates back to 1780.
– 64 Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, SW1X 9SH. Nearest station: Knightsbridge or Sloane Square.
Jane lived with her brother at Henrietta Street during summer 1813 and March 1814. In 1813, Henry was devastated by the death of his wife Eliza. Soon after her passing, Henry moved to rooms above Tilson’s bank on Henrietta Street. Jane and their niece Fanny Knight visited him there in the spring of 1814.
– 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8PS. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Charing Cross.
Henry moved round the corner from Sloane Street to Hans Place in 1814 – a year after his wife Eliza died. Jane stayed at the house during her visits in 1814 and October-December 1815. Jane was fond of the building and the square’s garden. The author travelled to London in 1815 while she was preparing her novel ‘Emma’ for publication. While there, her brother became seriously ill so Jane remained in the city to nurse him back to health. It is believed this was Jane’s last visit to ‘town’, as she died in Hampshire 19 months later. Today, No.23 has been redeveloped, but No.s 15, 33 and 34, as well as the garden from the original period, still exist. A blue plaque commemorates Jane’s time at the residence.
– Hans Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X. Nearest station: Knightsbridge.
During her visit to London is 1815, Jane was invited to the Prince Regent’s (the future King George IV) library at Carlton House by the royal librarian James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834). The latter suggested Jane dedicate ‘Emma’ to the prince, and despite her disdain for the royal, she was in no position to refuse. Carlton House was demolished the following decade, with Carlton House Terrace being erected on the site in the 1820s.
– Carlton House Terrace, St James, SW1Y 5AH. Nearest stations: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus.
The oldest tea shop in London has been trading on Strand for over 300 years. The Austen family, including Jane, visited the shop to buy their tea. Jane wrote in her diary that her mother Cassandra (1739-1827) had asked her to pick up some Twining’s tea to bring back west. She also refers to the price of tea going up in a March 1814 letter to her sister Cassandra (1773-1845), written from Henrietta Street.
– 216 Strand, Aldwych, WC2R 1AP. Nearest station: Temple. For more information, visit the Twining’s website.
Jane was entertained at Astley’s Amphitheatre during a trip to London and referenced the location in ‘Emma’. The performance venue was opened by Philip Astley in 1773 and is considered the first modern circus ring. Although the Amphitheatre is long gone, a plaque on the site remains today. It makes an appearance in ‘Emma’, as the location of Robert Martin and Harriet Smith’s reconciliation and subsequent engagement.
– Cornwall Road, Waterloo, SE1 8TW. Nearest station: Waterloo. Read the rest of this entry
Coming to London this winter and spring is a special, immersive art experience. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam’s hit attraction Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience will run in the capital for nearly four months. Launching on the South Bank on 7 February 2020, the interactive and multi-sensory experience will allow art lovers to step into the legendary Dutch painter’s world. It recreates van Gogh’s life through his own words thanks to the Van Gogh Museum’s research and the artist’s personal correspondence.
The experience will open on the South Bank in the borough of Lambeth – the same borough where van Gogh resided for about a year in 1873-74 in Hackford Road, Brixton. It aims to bring van Gogh’s original works to audiences around the world who cannot see them in the Van Gogh Museum. Visitors will be treated to a fully-automated, audio-guide experience, where they can enjoy stunning projections and interactive installations. People can stand on Vincent’s doorstep or sit on his bed in the state-of-the-art set work. Follow his life story from his childhood in the Netherlands to his Paris studios; from the inspiring Arles countryside to the St. Rémy asylum, and finally, the sombre wheat field where he shot himself in July 1890, before dying of his injuries two days later.
The popular experience comes to the UK following 2019 tour stops in South Korea and Spain, where it attracted 400,000 visitors. Along with London, the Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience will also stop in Lisbon, Portugal this year.
I’m a fan of immersive theatre and virtual reality experiences and had previously visited DotDotLondon’s first outing Somnai in spring 2018. When I heard they had created an immersive experience of Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, I was very intrigued. I vaguely knew the rough plotline of the original H.G. Wells’ novel from the 1890s which inspired Wayne’s album. I went along recently with a group of friends. While waiting for our time slot, we took a seat under a Martian in the steam-punk themed pub and restaurant, with sensational newspaper headlines and sinister changing paintings around us giving a hint of what’s to come.
At the beginning of our experience, we were taken to a ravaged room and were introduced to the characters of George Herbert and his fiancée Carrie projected as holograms. After describing the scene of the Martian invasion of 1898, we heard the familiar beats of Wayne’s theme song as our journey began. We were taken to a Victorian observatory and introduced to Ogilvy, the astronomer. Looking through the vintage telescopes, we spy a mysterious green light coming towards the Earth. It isn’t long before ‘something’ has crash-landed in Woking and Ogilvy appears to be burned alive in front of us by a ray beam – an effective, but quite horrifying bit of special effects. The scene really gets your heart racing and sets you up ready to flee.
The experience lasts 110 minutes and features a mix of virtual reality, holograms, pyrotechnics and immersive theatre. You’ll need to be active and be prepared to hide under a table, crawl through a tunnel and slide your way through tight spaces. You get to wear a virtual reality camera on about four occasions, including a haphazard boat trip escaping the Martians (complete with real water splashes!) and a balloon ride. Occasionally, the VR headset could be a bit glitchy, but it certainly transported you to another space. One VR scene in a confessional booth was a little scary, so much so I kept bending down and hiding, prompting an unseen staff member to encourage me to stand up! Seeing some of the men in my group transformed into Victorian women in the VR set was particularly humorous. Along the way, you have many encounters with castmembers in character, with one giving me some money to bribe a boatman, which was a successful transaction! One of the most memorable moments was crouching under a table in a shaking room in the pitch black, anticipating some awful creature about to come into the room. Halfway through your journey you get to stop off in the Red Weed Bar for a cocktail. Read the rest of this entry
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Expect to see dancing fountains, talking trees, fairies and interactive light experiences.
It’s December! When it comes to events on around town, you can be guaranteed most of them will have a festive feel. At this time of year, a host of venues are hosting festivals and activities for both children and adults to enjoy as a family. Fans of Friends, Stranger Things or The Wolf Of Wall Street will also have a chance to live for real with special immersive experiences. Of course, there will be plenty of Christmas themed fun on around town.
For a guide to London’s Christmas markets and fairs, click here.
To find out where London’s Christmas pantomimes, ballets and shows are on, click here.
Discover London’s winter terraces, and Christmas cocktails menus.
Three-day event celebrating illustration, featuring artist-led stands, talks, workshops, music, DJs, live signings. Fri-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-6pm. Entry: £10 in advance, £12.50 on the door, Children under 12 free. Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bankside, SE1 9PH. Nearest station: Blackfriars or Waterloo. For more information, visit the London Illustration Fair website.
William Blake’s ambition of having his art exhibited on churches is realised as his masterpiece ‘Ancient of Days’ is projected on the dome of St Paul’s to mark his 262nd birthday. 4.30pm-9pm. Free. St Paul’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s Churchyard, City of London, EC4M 8AD (best vantage point from the Millennium Bridge). Nearest station: St Paul’s or Mansion House. See Metro Girl’s blog post for photos and video.
Exhibition of 400 years of London architecture. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-4pm. Tickets: Adults £10, concs £7. Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard, City of London, EC2V 5AE. Nearest station: St Paul’s, Bank or Moorgate. For more information, visit the City of London.gov website.
Follow an illuminated trail through the gardens and arboretum of Syon Park. Lighting will transform the trees, plants and lake. Hot food and drinks available for sale. Open Fri-Sun, entry times every 20 minutes from 5pm-7.40pm. Tickets: Adults £10 (Fri), £12 (Sat-Sun), Children £5. Syon Park, London Road, Brentford, TW8 8JF. Nearest station: Syon Lane. For more information, visit the Enchanted Woodland website.
Watch your favourite movie on ice while cosying up with blankets and hot toddies. Screening on Saturday and Sunday evenings at 5pm (family films)or 8pm (adults films). Tickets: Ice skating + film (no seats) – Adults £12, Children £11. Ice skating + film (with seating) – Adults from £16, Children from £13. Skate hire £2.50. QUEENS, 17 Queensway, W2 4PQ. Nearest stations: Queensway or Bayswater. For tickets, visit the Big Screen on the Ice website. or the QUEENS website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post for more information.
One of the Britain’s most famous living artists displays a series of large-scale artworks in this interactive exhibition. Open daily 10am-6pm, late opening on Fri until 8pm. Tickets: £18-£22. Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Royal Academy of Arts website. Check out Metro Girl’s review of the exhibition.
Annual beer festival in conjunction with CAMRA, featuring over 230 real ales plus ciders, perries and bottled beers, food stalls and unique festival brews. Opening hours TBC. Tickets: (check the website). Round Chapel, Glenarm Road, Hackney, E5 0LY. Nearest station: Hackney Downs or Hackney Central. For more information, visit the Pig’s Ear website.
Explore the light installations of the Baker Street Quarter, telling the story of famous people and places from the district. 6pm. Free. Meet at 55 Baker Street, Marylebone, W1U 7DA. Nearest station: Baker Street or Marylebone. For more information, visit the Baker Street Quarter website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post on this year’s lights.
A festive evening of live music, activities, workshop, a free cocktail at the 108 Brasserie and exclusive discounts at the area’s retailers. 5pm-8pm. Free. Marylebone Lane, Marylebone, NW1. Nearest station: Bond Street. For more information, visit the Marylebone Village website.
Late-night opening of Tower Bridge, featuring an illustrated talk by British Film Institute curator Simon McCallum presenting clips from the BFI National Archive’s collection of footage about London, with a particular focus the Thames. Arrive at 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets: £20pp (includes a welcome drink and a return ticket to visit Tower Bridge within 12 months). Tower Bridge Learning Space, Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP. Nearest stations: Tower Hill, Tower Gateway or London Bridge. For booking, visit the Tower Bridge website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post on the 125th anniversary of Tower Bridge.
Evening of science and engineering, with live demos, workshops, interactive experiments and inspiring talks. Accompanied with drinks from the bar and liquid nitrogen ice cream. 6pm-9pm. Free. Imperial College London (Main Entrance), Exhibition Road, South Kensington, SW7 2AZ. Nearest station: South Kensington. For tickets, visit Eventbrite. Read the rest of this entry
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Find out why one of William Blake’s artworks was projected on London’s iconic dome.