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Step inside Whitehall’s jewel: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office building

Exploring George Gilbert Scott’s stunning government offices in Westminster.

Foreign Office exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office building’s neo-classical exterior

Many UK Government buildings in Westminster date back to the Victorian era. It was an age when no expense was spared when it came to decorating buildings’ exteriors and interiors, when structures were created to ‘make a statement’ about the people within them. Although the Palace of Westminster gets most of the attention from Londoners and visitors to the capital alike, there is also another remarkable piece of architecture housing a government department. At the time it was built, Britain was at the height of colonial power, so had an extensive budget with which to impressive foreign visitors.

When it came to settling on the final design for what we know today as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Building, it was an arduous process to get there. As was (and still is) common at the time, a competition was launched in 1856 to choose the design for the Foreign Office and neighbouring War Office. English architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) ended up in third place in the competition with his original Gothic revival design (see the designs in the RIBA archives), which also incorporated the War Office. However, it was Scott’s former pupil Henry Edward Coe (1826-1885) and his then-partner HH Hofland’s French Visconti-type design which was chosen for the Foreign Office. However, Coe and Hofland’s plans were ditched the following year when Prime Minister Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), brought in the government’s favoured architect Sir James Pennethorne (1801-1871), who had originally designed plans for the Foreign Office a few years previously, but had not entered the competition. Lord Palmerston’s decision to dismiss the competition results outraged the architecture industry, with Scott leading the protest against it. In 1858, Lord Palmerston lost power and Scott was given the commission. It was around this time, the plans for the War Office were ditched in favour of the India Office, established in 1858 to take over the governing of India from the East India Company.

The dome topping the Grand Staircase depicts female figures representing countries of the world

 

The grand staircase is designed to impress

In June 1859, Lord Palmerston was re-elected and kicked up a fuss over Scott’s neo-Gothic design, demanding he redesign something neo-Classical, which the architect described as “a style contrary to my life’s labours”. Scott feared ditching his signature style would leave his reputation as one of the key Gothic Revival architects “irreparably injured”. However, Scott decided turning down the opportunity would be unwise, bought some books on Italian architecture and headed to Paris to study classical buildings, such as the Louvre. The India Office insisted he collaborate with their Surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877), who designed the interior of their office, leaving Scott to focus on the classical exterior of both offices. The plans were finally approved by the Government in 1861, with construction completed in 1868. The Foreign Office was located on the north-west corner of the building with the India office on the south-west corner, while the Colonial Office and Home Office were added on the eastern side in 1875. Fortunately, Scott’s fears about his reputation were unfounded, with support from his peers and the public. “Even Mr (John) Ruskin said I had done right,” wrote Scott in his Personal & Professional Recollections in 1879. As for Scott’s original Gothic vision of the Foreign Office, it was used as the basis for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras.

The Victorian ceiling stencils and gilding have been restored in the Grand Locarno Suite

On completion, it was the first purpose-built Foreign Office, which by that point had been in existence for nearly 80 years. The white, Portland stone façade features many classical elements, including balustrades, columns and pediments. Dotted around are sculptures of former monarchs and politicians as well as allegorical figures of Law, Commerce and Art by English sculptors Henry Hugh Armstead (1828-1905) and John Birnie Philip (1824-1875). Most enter the complex through the grand arched entrance on King Charles street leading to a large outdoor courtyard. Read the rest of this entry

‘Remembering a Brave New World’ lights up Tate Britain

The light installation by Chila Kumari Singh Burman is on display until the end of January 2021.

remembering a brave new world by Chila Kumari Singh Burman

‘Remembering a Brave New World’ by Chila Kumari Singh Burman on the façade of the Tate Britain

On the façade of the Tate Britain this winter is something a bit different from the typical festive lights. The front steps and portico of the neo-classical building have been lit up with a striking art installation. ‘Remembering a Brave New World’ by Chila Kumari Singh Burman was unveiled in November 2020 to coincide with Diwali, the festival of light. The collection of neon text and imagery is inspired by Hindu mythology, Bollywood, radical feminism, political activism and Burman’s childhood memories. Among the symbols and shapes on display include Hindu deities Lakshmi, Ganesh, Jhansi, and Kali. The pediment is lit up with inspirational and positive words, including love, shine, light, aim, dream and truth, while an ice cream van is perched on the steps.

  • ‘Remembering a Brave New World’ is on display until 31 January 2021. Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RG. Nearest station: Pimlico. For more information, visit the Tate website.

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Christmas cocktails to your front door with The Sun Tavern’s Quarantini kits

Top London bars The Sun Tavern (Bethnal Green) and Discount Suit Company are offering festive concoctions to drink at home.

Choose from Terry’s Chocolate Orange Negroni, Three Kings, Umbrella Buttered Brandy and Xmas Old Fashioned

Although we’re currently in Tier 2, not all Londoners can get to their favourite cocktail bars. However, two of the capital’s award-winning drinking spots are bringing some festive concoctions to your door. The Umbrella Project, the team behind The Sun Tavern and Discount Suit Company, have launched pre-bottled Christmas cocktail Quarantini Kits.

Cocktail fans can enjoy four exclusive bottled cocktails inspired by festive aromas and tastes, including:

Terry’s Chocolate Orange Negroni (Cacao Nib & Orange Peel Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Campari).

Three Kings (Gold Rum, Frankincense, Myrrh, Umbrella London Ginger Beer Syrup, Bitters).

Umbrella Buttered Brandy (Butter Washed Cognac, Rosso Vermut, Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Umbrella Brewing Apple Cider).

Xmas Old Fashioned (Bourbon, Pimento Spiced Liqueur, Douglas Fir & Jasmine Tea Syrup, Bitters).

Christmas Quarantini Cocktail Kits available with two (£30) or four (£50) bottles. Each bottle contains three serves. Can be drunk within three months.

  • The Umbrella Project’s Christmas cocktails are available for their online shop. National and international delivery available. Free delivery within a 3-mile radius of The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green. Click & Collect also available.
  • The Sun Tavern, 441 Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AN. Nearest station: Bethnal Green. For more information, check out The Sun Tavern website.
  • Discount Suit Company, 29A Wentworth Street, Spitalfields, E1 7TB. Nearest station: Liverpool Street. For more information, check out the Discount Suit Company website

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

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

Gaia installation at Old Royal Naval College

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

The new year 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 3 January 2021. 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. The dark winter nights will make the illuminated globe look even more spectacular. 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 3 January – 7 February 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 in January and 5 February 5.30pm-10pm. For more information, visit the ORNC website. For late night opening tickets, visit this link.

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‘Traditionally untraditional’ Christmas lights up King’s Cross with three spectacular trees

A trio of alternative Christmas trees are on display until the new year.

The Terrarium Tree © John Sturrock

The Terrarium Tree in Coal Drops Yard is one of King’s Cross’ Christmas installations
© John Sturrock

As we’re just a month away from Christmas, it’s time for London’s sights to be transformed with festive lights. Offering something different from the typical spruces are three alternative Christmas trees for the ‘traditionally untraditional’ Christmas at King’s Cross. After such an unusual year, why not take a different approach to festive decorations?

Unveiled on 23 November and on show until the new year are three different interpretation of the traditional Christmas tree. All the light installations have been dotted throughout the 67 acres of open space in King’s Cross so spectators can safely enjoy them while socially distancing.

The Electric Nemeton Tree in Granary Square has been designed by local architecture practice Sam Jacob Studio. The 36ft high tree is a futuristic metal construction inspired by the origins of the Christmas tree tradition. Surrounded by water fountains, the structure can be admired from the side and below.

The Terrarium Tree in Coal Drops Yard has been created by the Botanical Boys. The 28ft tree is comprised of 70 terrariums containing miniature gardens and 168 mirror baubles. Following the close of the festive period, the terrariums will be rehomed in the new year.

The People’s Tree at Battle Bridge Place is a multi-coloured, interactive tree. The lights are powered by people with censors picking up vibrations from nearby footprints or people’s movements. The dynamic light installation is located just moments from the popular IFO (Identified Flying Object), aka ‘the birdcage’.

  • The King’s Cross’ ‘Untraditional’ Christmas is on show now until 4 January 2021. Installations on show at Coal Drops Yard, Battle Bridge Place and Granary Square, King’s Cross, NC1. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras. For more information, visit the King’s Cross website.

 

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

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Find inspiration for your Christmas food and drink at Borough Market’s Festive Kitchen

Enjoy cookalongs, masterclasses and talks to make sure this festive season is a culinary treat.

Borough Market's Festive Kitchen

Borough Market’s Festive Kitchen runs from 2 December 2020

We all know Christmas will be rather different this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But one thing about the festive season that can’t be ruined is all the wonderful food and drink. In the run-up to Yuletide, the capital’s famous food market is giving Londoners plenty of ‘food for thought’ in a three-week digital pop-up. Borough Market’s Festive Kitchen will feature plenty of foodie events to inspire and entertain from 2 December 2020.

Streamed live from a special kitchen set in the market, chefs and food experts will be hosting cookalongs, masterclasses and talks. Running on Wednesdays to Fridays throughout December, the live activities and events will showcase the market’s fantastic produce and inspire festive recipes and Christmas food and drink. Whatever you fancy, from meat, baking, vegetable, chocolate, and even floristry, you can make sure your kitchen is ready for the celebrations, no matter how large or small we’re allowed to have.

Each week will be curated and compered by three hosts, including food author and presenter Angela Clutton, plant-based cooking expert and Bettina’s Kitchen founder Bettina Campolucci Bordi and GBBO’s first winner and author Edd Kimber. Wednesdays will kick off with a series of live cookalongs, with guest chefs – such as Ben Ebbrell and Olia Hercules – dropping by on Thursday evenings. Londoners can pre-order recipe produce boxes from the market so they can cook along at home.

Among the chefs, stallholders, and food and drink experts taking part in the pop-up include: Mei Mei, Shuk, Juma, Calum Franklin, Anna Jones, Gizzi Erskine, Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Chetiyawardana, Signe Johansen, Nina Parker, Alexandra Dudley, Ed Smith, Benjamina Ebuehi, Northfield Farm, Turnips, Bread Ahead, Rabot 1745, and The Gated Garden.

  • Borough Market’s Festive Kitchen runs from 2 – 24 December 2020. All events are free of charge. The full schedule and details on how to order recipe produce boxes can be found on the Borough Market website. All live content will be streamed on the market’s Facebook page.

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

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Ultimate London Quiz Part 2 | Questions and answers about the capital

Test your knowledge of London and its history in your next virtual pub quiz with these questions and answers.

St Pauls © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020Earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, Metro Girl published its first Ultimate London Quiz. It proved popular with many readers, so here’s a sequel! Although lockdown has eased (at time of writing), many people are still sheltering at home so quizzes can provide an opportunity for entertaining and socialising.

Next time you’re hosting a Zoom, Hangouts or House Party video quiz with your friends and family, why not test them on their knowledge of London?

Here’s a specially selected 20 questions and answers on the capital, If you don’t know all the answers, hopefully you may learn something new instead.

This second London quiz covers a wide range of trivia and history, from Roman Londinium, to Victorian train stations to The Shard.

London quiz questions

Q1) Britain’s oldest door can be found in which religious building in London?

Q2) Which English monarch brought in the rule that the Tower of London’s ravens should be protected?

Q3) Which London department store has a weathervane on the roof depicting The Mayflower?

Q4) What is the capital’s oldest mainline train station in zone one?

Q5) How many times has London hosted the Olympic Games?

Q6)  What year did the Romans found Londinium? A) AD72, B) 10BC or C) AD43.

Q7) Which European country donates a Christmas tree to the City of Westminster every year?

Q8) The Buxton Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens (beside the Houses of Parliament) commemorates which important law?

Q9) Which famous talk show host was born at Highgate tube station?

Q10) Which Soho street is named after a Charles Dickens character?

Q11) How many Premier League football teams are there in London?

Q12) Who was the first monarch to live in Buckingham Palace?

Q13) Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in which London attraction/building?

Q14) Great Ormond Street Hospital hold the rights to which famous children’s book?

Q15) What London street is famous for its medical clinics?

Q16) What is the shortest line on the London Underground network?

Q17) Six people climbed The Shard in 2013 to protest in the name of which charity?

Q18) What London park hosts a temporary pavilion every summer?

Q19) What do you call the Royal Navy equivalent of the Chelsea Pensioners?

Q20) Brunel’s Thames Tunnel connected the south London district of Rotherhithe with which East London district?

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