Category Archives: Museums
London’s has some of the top museums in the world and many are free!
Long before planes dominated international travel, cruise liners were the way to go abroad. Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, huge swathes of Europeans crossed the Atlantic to start a new life or explore the Americas. Today, the cruise liner is stereotypically associated with pensioners on holiday and has been getting a bad rap in recent years for the ‘negative’ tourism it brings to port cities such as Venice, Barcelona or Dubrovnik. While current cruise liners are apparently very comfortable and have all the mod cons, we don’t quite associate them with the glamour they had in yesteryear. A current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum delves into their history, starting as far back as Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern in 1857, which revolutionised boat transport.
The exhibition kicks off with the advertising – with posters, brochures and flyers showcasing famous liners such as the Normandie, Olympic, Titanic and Mauretania. Like a would-be passenger of the time, this is usually the first impression you would have of a liner before seeing it in the flesh. The dozens of shipping companies in the 19th and early 20th century were incredibly competitive. New liners always tried to boast some new feature the others didn’t have, with the Titanic’s claim to being unsinkable proving horrifically untrue.
However, as in real-life for travellers, the advertising is simply a warm-up. We are then introduced to the first of 200 pieces of artefacts from cruise liners gone by, including furniture, uniforms, art work, film footage, panelling and more. As someone who has long been interested in the Titanic’s history beyond the film, it was amazing to see the ‘Honour and Glory crowning Time’ clock panel from the RMS Olympic – Titanic’s sister ship. Fans of the 1998 film will remember this was faithfully recreated as the meeting place for Jack and Rose on the grand staircase. The exhibition also features two artefacts from the Titanic – a deckchair and a panel from the first class lounge rescued from the north Atlantic after the ship went down in April 1912. The wooden panel is displayed at the end of the exhibition appearing to float at sea, just how it was found over 100 years ago. From around the same time period is furniture from the RMS Mauretania (1906). Run by Cunard, it was the world’s largest ship until it was overcome by the Olympic in 1911. On show is a bed from first-class cabin C23, designed by workers at the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson shipyard at Wallsend Tyne and Wear.
One liner that often appears throughout the exhibition is the Normandie, launched in 1935 by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Although not a huge commercial success, she is widely labelled as one of the greatest liners ever due to her stunning design and interiors and was the largest and fastest when she entered service. An Art Deco lacquer panel, designed by Jean Dunand for the first-class smoking room, is stunning and huge. Going back two decades is another example of a striking Gallic liner by the same company, the SS France (1910). The doors and panelling from the embarkation hall and communication gallery from around 1912 are joined by two armchairs from the first class dining room and they give you a good understanding of why the ship was nicknamed ‘the Versailles of the Atlantic’. However, as the exhibition progresses through the decades, the furniture and decoration rather deteriorates into more simple and bland designs by the 1950s and the 1960s. Looking back over 150 years of mass transit, it’s clear the Victorians and inter-war period were clearly leading the way in terms of style. Read the rest of this entry
We all know about the Victorian origins of the London Underground, which has been transporting commuters since 1863. However, did you know it’s not the capital’s only underground railway in existence? For eight decades, the Post Office ran their own subterranean train system to transport letters and parcels under the city’s streets. Affectionately known as the ‘Mail Rail’, it closed for good in 2003. However, in September 2017, the railway was brought back to life and adapted for human passengers as part of a new experience at the Postal Museum.
Road traffic has been a problem in London for centuries, stemming back to the days of horses and carts. For owners of the Post Office, the impact on their deliveries arriving late was not good for business so something had to be done. In 1909, a committee was set up to devise a traffic-proof delivery system, and by 1911 had settled on the idea of driverless electric trains. Construction began in 1914 with a trial tunnel in Plumstead Marshes, south-east London, with the main 6 1/2 miles of tunnels completed by 1917. By this time, World War I was in full swing so lack of labour and materials meant the project was put on hold. However, the tunnels did find some use during WWI as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate stored some of their artworks in them for safe-keeping. Following the end of the Great War, costs of materials had risen so much, it wasn’t until 1923 that work could finally resume. Finally, on 5 December 1927, parcels were transported underground between Mount Pleasant and Paddington for the first time.
The trains run in a single 9ft tunnel featuring a double 2ft gauge track. Approaching each station, the tunnel would split into two 7ft tunnels with a single track each. The railway’s deepest point was 70ft, although the stations tended to be slightly closer to street level. By 1930, the original rolling stock were knackered so they were replaced with new trains. These new ones featured a 27ft single car train with each container having a capacity for 15 bags of letters or six bags of parcels. These were used until they were replaced in 1980 by a new fleet. Over the decades, some of the stations came and went, including the Western Parcels Office and Western District Office, with the latter name being reused at a new station at Rathbone Place, which opened in 1965. In 1987, the train system was renamed ‘Mail Rail’ to mark its 60th anniversary. In 1993, the whole system was computerised so the trains could be controlled from a single point. By the end of the 1990s, only the stations at Paddington, Western Delivery Office, Mount Pleasant, and the East District Office were being used, carrying over 6 million bags of mail annually. However, as the system aged, Royal Mail decided it was becoming too costly to run the railway, claiming road transport was cheaper and its death warrant was signed. On 31 May 2003, the Mail Rail was closed for good.
However, now the Mail Rail had been resuscitated as an attraction at the Postal Museum. It took several years to restore the tunnels, convert the trains for passengers and to transform the space into a museum. We arrived 10 minutes before our time slot and headed downstairs to board the small train. The seats are reversible, but narrow so it could be a squeeze getting two adults seated beside each other. You’re protected from the tunnel atmosphere with clear, hard plastic windows and ceiling, although it can distort photography somewhat (admittedly, my accompanying photos aren’t too great). The 15-minute ride is accompanied by an audio tour, with sound effects and visuals and films projected on the walls of the various stations. To many who think the history of Royal Mail may not seem that interesting, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as the museum curators have done a great job bringing to life the story of our mail system and the Mail Rail. Following your ride, your ticket also covers entrance to the Postal Museum across the road, with many interactive exhibits for adults and children. I’d thoroughly recommend both the Mail Rail and the Postal Museum for families, history buffs or if you’re looking for something a bit different to spend your leisure time.
- Mail Rail, 15-20 Phoenix Place, WC1X 0DA. Nearest station: Angel or Russell Square. Mail Rail is open daily from 10am-5pm (last train departs at 4.30pm). Tickets: Adults £17.05, Children £10.45. For more information and booking, visit the Postal Museum website.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
This year marks 100 years since Russian overthrew its Tsarist autocracy. Following the forced abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917, Russia embarked on a turbulent period as different political and social groups battled to lead the country. To mark the Communist uprising, the British Library have curated a collection of propaganda and memorabilia from different sides of the battles.
Admittedly I didn’t know too much about the Russian Revolution before visiting this exhibition. I had been fascinated by the story of the ‘missing’ Grand Duchess Anastasia as a child, who has since been confirmed as murdered along with her family in 1918. The Russian Revolutionary period is convoluted and involves many different groups with different agendas and methods. The various parties were not only seeking power, but complete overhaul of society as a whole, so they needed to convert and influence the Russian people to their way of thinking… with propaganda.
In a bid to unravel this complicated period, the British Library have set out their exhibition in six stages – The Tsar and his People; Last Days of the Monarchy; Civil War; The Bolsheviks in Power; Threat or Inspiration?; and Writing The Revolution. The exhibition begins in the last days of the Russian Empire, featuring photos of the Imperial family juxtaposed against scenes of millions of Russians living in dire poverty. Peasants were being heavily taxed with little in return so it’s clear to see why there was rising resentment against the ruling classes. An amazing part of this initial section is a first-edition of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which was published in London in 1848. Other impressive pieces are a coronation album of Nicholas II and a 1902 letter from the then-future Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin asking to use the British Museum’s Library under a pseudonym ‘Jacob Richter’, which he was using to evade the Tsarist police. Russia’s brewing social discord wasn’t helped by World War I, with conscription leading to labour shortages. Many Russians were unhappy over Tsarina Alexandra when she was put in control over the Government while her husband acted as Commander-in-chief of the military. Many were suspect about her relationship with the faith healer Rasputin – who is seen in photographs and as a caricature in pamphlets and posters.
The sections of the exhibition centring on the revolution itself features a range of propaganda and memorabilia from the period, including handwritten notes from Leon Trotsky with annotations by Lenin and pieces of Red Army uniforms. I particularly liked the electronic map of the different groups’ movement around Russia – seeing the Red Army swell, then retreat, before eventually achieving national dominance. Finally, the exhibition concludes with how the Revolution was captured in past tense, with the ruling party using propaganda to keep the status quo.
Using a varied collection of objects, posters, film, photos and other memorabilia, the British Library has provided a fascinating insight into the motivations behind the Revolution and breaks down the myths of what it achieved. It’s certainly heavy stuff and requires a clear head, but is a worthwhile visit from Russian history aficionados or novices.
- Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is on now until 29 August 2017. PACCAR Gallery, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB. Nearest stations: Euston, King’s Cross or St Pancras. Open Mon, Wed-Fri: 9.30am-6pm, Tues 9.30am-8pm, Sat 9,30am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm. Tickets: £13.50 (free for members). For booking, visit the British Library website.
To win a pair of tickets to Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths at the British Library, like our Facebook page and fill out the form below. Closing date:
Monday 24 July 2017. (Competition is now closed!). The winner must live in the UK and be able to visit the exhibition before it ends on 29 August 2017. Only the winner will be contacted after the competition closes.
Charles Dickens Museum | Discover the man behind the books at the author’s only surviving London home
Review: A visit to Charles Dickens’ former home, which is now a museum.
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.
Read about the history of, Marshalsea Prison, where Charles’ father John was imprisoned for debt.
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.
Centuries of history at 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 Tudor 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.
The London Dungeon is a stalwart on the city’s tourism attractions and has long been on visitors’ places to see list during their trip. Now located near the London Eye and the Houses Of Parliament on the Southbank after decades down the river at Tooley Street in London Bridge, the new Dungeon has been reinvented as a scarier and more immersive experience for customers.
Having grown up in London, I visited the original Dungeon back in the ’80s when I was pretty young so my memory of it is pretty hazy. I had been intrigued to return as an adult to the new and improved Dungeon, so recently paid a visit with some family members ranging in age from 20s to 60s. Immediately upon entering the attraction at County Hall, you are plunged into near darkness, setting the scene for the creepy goings on. The tickets are time-slotted as you move through the experience as a large group. Stepping back in time centuries before, you are treated to the sights, sounds – and sometimes smells – of old London, through the Medieval, Georgian and Victorian periods. Essentially a history lesson brought to life, the Dungeon focuses on the most grim aspects of the capital’s past, such as its diseases, serial killers and cruel capital punishment methods.
The Dungeon is a walk-through attraction featuring a combination of special effects, live actors and rides to demonstrate the horrors of London. As we moved from the different zones, there was constantly a tension in the air and we found ourselves on edge, trying to prepare for something to suddenly jump out at us. Despite our attempts to pre-empt, we inevitably did end up screaming or yelping a few times with fear. As the audience, we were invited to participate in history, with my godmother being handed a note to deliver to a 17th century soldier hiding out in the basement of the Houses Of Parliament waiting for Guy Fawkes. I have to applaud the cast of live actors who appeared as executioners, victims and serial killers along the way. After a saucy introduction by Mrs Lovett in her pie shop, we had a particularly creepy experience in the pitch black barber shop as Sweeney Todd pondered over his next victim while we sat in chairs. Of course, no trip down London’s horror lane would be complete without Jack The Ripper, which was explained over several different rooms, including a meeting with one of his potential victims and a visit to the Ten Bells pub – where two of his victims were regulars. In the Victorian period of the Dungeons, we also ended up in court where several visitors ended up going on trial for a variety of bizarre cases. For me, this was the funniest part of the experience, with the crowd laughing our head off and the innuendos by the actors (which will go totally over the head of younger visitors so need to worry parents!).
For me personally, the rides were my favourite part of the Dungeon. The first ride was Henry’s Wrath, a fast-moving boat ride along ‘the Thames’ to the Tower for execution, which was incredibly dark and somewhat confusing as I didn’t know quite was going on and what direction we were travelling in. Jack The Ripper’s Whitechapel Labyrinth – essentially a hall of mirrors – was particularly good – it was confusing, disorienting and eventually left the whole group feeling helpless when we couldn’t find a way out (temporarily of course!). Drop Dead – a dark plunge ride which sees you drop three storeys – was a thrilling climax to the Dungeon experience.
Although it could be easily dismissed as a scary attraction for horror fans, history buffs will also find plenty to interest them as it lifts the facts and figures out of the text-book into reality. Overall, I did enjoy the experience. The actors and rides were brilliant and I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the attraction. As well as trying to scare you, the actors also provided plenty of humour to counteract the heebie-jeebies. My only negative was I would have preferred our group to be a bit smaller. I think families and teenagers will particularly enjoy the Dungeons and would definitely recommend it to visitors with an interest in the dark side of life.
- London Dungeon is located at Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB. Nearest tube/train: Waterloo or Westminster. Tickets start from £17.50 for adults or £15.94 for children, cheaper if booked online in advance. Opening times vary. For more information and tickets, visit the official London Dungeon website.
For a review of the nearby London Eye, 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 in the late 19th century. 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.
Learn about the history of Princelet Street and the museum’s neighbour No.4.
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…