Category Archives: Museums
London’s has some of the top museums in the world and many are free!
Charles Dickens Museum: Discover the man behind the books at the author’s only surviving London home
Charles Dickens is without a doubt one of our greatest authors. Although he was born in Portsmouth and died in Kent, he spent an awful lot of his life in London. During his decades in the capital, the writer lived in many residences, most of which no longer exist.
Today, the only remaining home is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The author and his wife Catherine (1815-1879) moved to 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury in March 1837 – just a few months before Queen Victoria came to the throne. Previously they had been living in rented rooms at Furnival’s Inn in Holborn, but the birth of their first son Charles Jnr (1837-1896) meant they required more space. He signed a three-year lease on the five-floor Georgian terrace, costing around £80 a year. Built in 1807-9, the building is now Grade I-listed.
During the Dickens family’s three years in Doughty Street, Catherine gave birth to their eldest daughters Mary (1838-1896) and Kate (1839-1929), as well as raising their son Charles Jnr. Mrs Dickens’ 17-year-old sister Mary Hogarth also lived with the couple to help them with their expanding brood. Charles became very attached to his sister-in-law and she died in his arms following a short illness in May 1837. She is believed to have inspired several of his characters, including Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist and Little Nell Trent in The Old Curiosity Shop, among others.
While living at the Bloomsbury terrace, Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers (1836), wrote Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39) and started on Barnaby Rudge (1840–41). As he became more successful in his career and his family expanded, Dickens and the family left Doughty Street in December 1839 and moved to the grander 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone. They lived at Devonshire Terrace until 1851 before moving on to Tavistock House, where the family remained for a further nine years. One Devonshire Terrace was demolished in the late 1950s and now an office block called Ferguson House stands on the site on Marylebone Road.
While most of Dickens’ London residences are long gone, the Doughty Street premises nearly ended up consigned to the history books as well. By the 1920s and 1930s, demolition of Georgian properties was becoming popular with the government, the majority of those being part of the ‘slum clearance’ programme. Many homes from this period had not been maintained well over the decades, providing unsanitary and unsafe living quarters for predominantly poor Londoners. Forty-eight Doughty Street was ear-marked for demolition in 1923, but was fortunately saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded 21 years earlier. They managed to buy the property and renovate it, opening the Dickens’ House Museum in 1925. In 2012, the museum was re-opened following a £3.1million restoration project and now encompasses neighbouring No.49.
After having it on my ‘to do’ list for some time, I finally paid a visit recently and really enjoyed it. Upon entry you are given an audio tour which guides you around the five floors, including the kitchen and the attic. The museum really brings to life the man behind the books – his complicated private life, his feelings about his tough childhood and his many inspirations. The rooms have been decorated as the author may have known it, in a typical Victorian style and often with his actual furniture – many of which had been bought from Gad’s Hill Place – the Kent home where the author died in 1870. If you’re a fan of Dickens or history, I highly recommend a visit.
- Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 2LX. Nearest station: Russell Square or Chancery Lane. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Tickets: Adult £9, Child 6-16 years £4. For more information, visit the museum website.
For a guide to London’s Dickens landmarks, click here.
For generations, the tales of Alice In Wonderland have captivated millions of readers (and viewers of film adaptations) around the world. For me, I was first introduced to the story as a young child when I watched the 1951 Disney animated film adaptation and was enthralled by this upside down, magical world. I soon read Lewis Carroll’s original Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and the sequel Through The Looking Glass.
2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Carroll’s masterpiece, originally written for a girl named Alice Liddell. To commemorate such a timeless and enduring story, the British Library have curated an exhibition of Alice memorabilia, featuring various publications, adaptations and illustrations.
The exhibition takes place in the Entrance Hall at the British Library with a step-by-side mini refresher of Alice’s adventures using different illustrations from across the decades on mirrors and 3D pop-ups of boxes, drinks and houses. Of course, one of the most familiar depictions of Alice is by Sir John Tenniel, who was commissioned by Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) to illustrate his novel.
Once you’ve passed through this, you enter the main exhibition (where you must put away your camera) and follow the history of the story’s conception to more recent re-tellings and illustrations. I was particularly stunned to see Carroll’s handwritten manuscript for the story, which he presented to young Alice Liddell for Christmas. To see his handwriting, the familiar plotline and his own illustrations (which he didn’t think were that great but looked pretty impressive to me) was really special. I was also interested to see a clip of a silent movie adaptation of the story from the early 20th century, which came out nearly 100 years before the last modern film adaptation I saw starring Johnny Depp.
For anyone that has loved the Alice stories as a child or an adult, I thoroughly recommend the exhibition. It was a real trip down memory lane to see those Tenniel illustrations I knew so well as a child. In fact, I think maybe now I should re-read the novel again. Also on site for the duration of the exhibition is an Alice In Wonderland pop-up shop, featuring books, memorabilia and other Alice-inspired gifts.
- The Alice In Wonderland exhibition is on from now until 17 April 2016. The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB. Nearest station: Euston, King’s Cross or St Pancras. Opening hours vary. Free entry, but donations welcome. To find out more, visit the British Library website.
Visit this stunning, south-east London gem.
Eltham Palace is one of South London’s best kept secrets. After visiting the stunning palace and gardens for the first time last summer, I was surprised that the palace isn’t higher up on visitors’ to do lists when it comes to the capital. Unlike many palaces across the country, what makes Eltham unique is the amalgamation of two different, iconic periods of architecture – late Medieval and Art Deco. It sounds like an unusual mix, but thanks to the Courtaulds, who were responsible for the restoration of the original buildings and the creation of the 1930s home, they complement each other.
Located just four miles from Greenwich, the original Medieval palace was initially a moated manor house which was given to King Edward II (1284-1327) in 1305. During the 14th to 16th centuries, the house was used as a royal residence. King Edward IV (1442-1483) added the Great Hall in the 1470s, which still stands today and has the third largest hammerbeam roof in England. The hall was frequently used by a young King Henry VIII (1491-1547) – then Prince Henry – during his childhood.
When the riverside Greenwich Palace was rebuilt in the late 15th century, Eltham’s popularity with the royals began to drop. After the royal family ceased to use Eltham as a royal residence from the 16th century onwards, the Medieval and Tudor buildings went into decline. The estate was ravaged during the English Civil War, stripping the land of trees and deer. Following the Restoration, King Charles II (1630-1685) bestowed the ruined palace on Sir John Shaw (1615-1680) in 1663, who went on to build a separate dwelling, Eltham Lodge in the Great Park. The old palace buildings were then used as a farm, with livestock actually living in the Great Hall. In 1793, artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) painted the Hall full of haybales. In 1828, the Great Hall was lined up for demolition, however a campaign to save it resulted in a restoration, despite it continuing to be used as a barn. The estate remained in the Shaw family until the 1890s, by which time only the ruined Great Hall, the 15th century bridge across and the moat and some walls remained. By the 19th century, Eltham’s estate had been greatly reduced, with only two small areas of 21 hectares and 29 hectares featuring parkland.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that the fortunes of Eltham Palace turned around. The estate was acquired by the wealthy Sir Stephen Courtauld (1883–1967) and his wife Virginia (1883-1972) in 1933. A new private house was built on the site of the original adjoining the Great Hall. The new house was designed in the Art Deco style with Swedish architect Rolf Engströmer (1892-1970) creating the stunning Entrance Hall, featuring wood panelling and a domed roof. They also restored the Great Hall and added a minstrels’ gallery, as well as extensively relandscaped the grounds. The Coultards remained at Eltham during World War II, with Stephen firewatching from the Great Hall’s roof. Like much of south London, the Hall was bombed in September 1940 – with some of the scars still visible in the woodwork today. The Courtaulds ended up leaving Eltham before the war ended in 1944, with it then being acquired by the Royal Army Educational Corps, who remained on site until 1992. Some of the upstairs quarters in the house today are as they were during the Army’s residence, while the ground floor and master bedrooms have been restored in the style of the Courtaulds.
Having been taken over by English Heritage in 1995, Eltham Palace and gardens are now open for the enjoyment of the public. The audio tour of the palace and grounds is really informative and, I believe, essential for any visit. There’s also a good café on-site when you need a rest, we had a really good lunch there.
- Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, SE9 5QE. Nearest station: Eltham or Mottingham. For more information, visit the Eltham Palace website.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
I have seen or visited museums of immigration in various cities abroad and found them fascinating places. However, it’s astonishing that we don’t have a permanent museum dedicated to it in London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The word ‘immigrant’ can conjure up negativity in the media and I have been astounded to hear people I know – who are first generation British born to immigrant parents – talking about immigrants in a bad way, despite their family history. London itself was built by immigrants after all – the Romans! I myself am a daughter of immigrant parents, who came from Ireland in the 1970s. While the Irish are greeted with open arms nowadays, 40 years ago they were often unwelcome in Britain, with signs being placed in pubs and shops reading ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’. My parents faced racism from some areas of society when they first arrived, but fortunately they stayed and I am proud to be a Londoner and of my Irish roots.
While London is noticeably lacking a permanent museum of immigration, this is where, hopefully one day, 19 Princelet Street comes in. This unique building in Spitalfields is a window on the past and an insight to different waves of immigration which shaped our city. Princelet Street is a lovely road off Brick Lane full of 18th century terraced houses which have been mostly restored. At No.19 is the unrestored, Grade II-listed Museum of Immigration and Diversity, which is open only a few days a year.
Two weeks ago, a team of volunteers opened the doors of No.19 to the public for a few hours on three separate days. Despite the biting freezing temperatures, I ventured out on a Sunday afternoon, joining a growing queue along Princelet Street. Although I anticipated waiting for over an hour, it was actually only about 30 minutes (although, I did arrive 15 minutes before opening). No.19 is a three storey (not including the basement) Georgian house which started life as home to French Huguenots, who were fleeing persecution in France. Over the years, the building was divided into separate lodgings and workshops for weavers. As the years went by, No. 19 housed other trades. After the Huguenots moved on, the Irish came to Spitalfields, fleeing the potato famine, then the Jewish. Over their decades at No.19, the Jewish residents built a hidden synagogue in the garden in 1869, which is the main draw of the museum today. The light streams into the synagogue through the coloured glass roof, lighting up the names of those who donated to the synagogue inscribed on the wood panels of the ladies’ balcony.
Within the building are exhibitions prompting the visitors to think about their ancestry and what they think about culture and diversity today. ‘Leave to remain’ by three contemporary artists looks at asylum in Britain, while ‘suitcases and sanctuary’ is a look at immigration through the eyes of local schoolchildren. For me, my visit was a mix of indulging my love of history by seeing an old house in its ‘natural’ state and also giving me food for thought. No.19 is slowly crumbling, hence why it isn’t open all year round. While the faded wallpaper and creaky floorboards are undeniably charming, the building is in need of restoration, with a team trying to raise money to save it and develop it as a museum. I hope they reach their aim, it really is a special place which should be preserved for future generations.
- 19 Princelet Street, Spitalfields, E1 6BH. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street, Aldgate East or Shoreditch High Street (overland). Check out their website or follow them on Twitter to find out about the next open days or how to donate.
Find out about another unique Georgian building in the area, the Dennis Severs’ House.
For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.
Like most women, I love shoes and have a range of heels, many impractical, which sadly spend more time in their shoe boxs than on my feet.
French designer Christian Louboutin has been creating shoes for 20 years, but it is really in the past few years, that his brand has really come to the fore and has been attracting more column inches and A-list feet than rivals Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo.
With his current collection retailing between £375 and £3,795 on Net-A-Porter, I admit I’m not a regular customer of Louboutin’s gems, but have come to be a fan of his sleek curved footwear and that famous red sole.
So when Louboutin decided to do an exhibition of his designs at London’s Design Museum (1 May – 9 July 2012), I knew I had to go. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Unsurprisingly, the exhibition has proved a huge draw for the Museum, located a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge on Shad Thames. The two-month exhibition actually broke records for the compact museum’s attendance, attracting on average 910 visitors a day.
The display rooms for the exhibition have been transformed into a dark, neon-lit pleasure palace of footwear with lots of lights and colours to stimulate the mind. The glamorous setting perfectly complemented some of the more theatrical heels on show. Dotted around the rooms were 200 shoes – predominantly heels, but also boots, trainers and loafers – with the year and season of their debut. Any fashionistas or celeb-watchers will indeed recognise many of the shoes from red carpet photos of the stars.
One of my favourite shoes on show were the ballet point heels, which Louboutin has described as ‘the ultimate heel’. The simple nude ballerina pump was transformed with a red sole and eight-inch heel – only the most experienced ballerinas would dare wear these! He said: ‘The heel which makes dancers closer than any other women to the sky, closer to heaven.’
As well as being a retrospective of Louboutin’s two decades of shoe-making, the exhibition also gives us a look at Louboutin the man, where he came from and what inspired him. Having started out his career at the Folies Bergère nightclub in Paris in the early ’80s, he used to draw shoes for the dancers, before starting an apprenticeship with Parisien footwear brand Charles Jourdan, before going on to work for Roger Vivier, his mentor.
Interestingly, Louboutin always designs his Autumn/Winter collection in a cold climate – often retiring to his château in rural France – but then jetting south to hot Egypt to create his Spring/Summer collection. He says one of the most important things to him when designing shoes is that the lines and curves are correct. Louboutin has said of the exhibition: ‘It’s been a real pleasure to see a lot of my “babies” featured all together for the first time. It’s not only an entire collection of shoes that I saw there but for me a huge collection of souvenirs, precious moments, and very rarely sorrows.’
Although he admits his shoes aren’t always comfortable, many requiring a taxi or limousine ride directly to the door of wherever the wearer is going, his Fetish collection goes to extremes. It is more art than anything else. A separate dark room features Louboutin’s most eccentric creations yet – a small collection of heels which would require the wearer to be in a lot of discomfort to wear them or unable to stand. The shoes, protected under bell jars, are accompanied by striking photography of nude models wearing them, taken by acclaimed auteur David Lynch.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is the 3D hologram performance by burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese, in a pair of Louboutins of course. Visitors to the museum come to a standstill as ‘Dita’ showcases her moves in front of a centrepiece of the most glamorous showgirl heels from Louboutin’s archives.
Overall, the vivid and colourful exhibition is a feast for the eyes for any woman – or man- with a shoe fetish… or just a simple appreciation for beauty. Now I’m off to start up a Louboutin savings account so I can expand my footwear collection…
- Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames, Bermondsey, SE1 2YD. Nearest stations: London Bridge, Tower Hill or Bermondsey.
N.B.: As photography wasn’t allowed in the actual exhibition (the photos in this blog were taken in the stairwell leading up to it), here’s a video of the exhibition by the Design Museum…