Seven Noses of Soho Walk

In short, anything that Peter Berthoud doesn’t know about London (or more specifically, Westminster) probably isn’t worth knowing. He’s a trained City of Westminster Guide and the person behind the wonderful Discovering London blog and – luckily for Londoners – your personal tour guide on his Seven Noses of Soho Walk.

So just what are these mythical noses? Some time ago people started noticing plaster noses affixed to walls around London. Inevitably a number of theories regarding their origins started doing the rounds. Taxi drivers in particular are said to have promulgated many of the myths surrounding the Admiralty Arch nose, which has been variously claimed as Wellington’s, Napoleon’s, et al….Most importantly, it was said that it you could locate all of the noses, infinite wealth would be yours. Or some such.

Then just last October artist Rick Buckley outed himself in the Evening Standard as the creator of said noses, which he revealed he had placed around London (not just Soho) all the way back in 1997 as a statement against the proliferation of CCTV (get it: nosey!). The noses vary from quite realistic looking ones to much larger, inflated protuberances, though all are apparently taken from a cast of the artist’s own nose. The high placement of some certainly suggest clandestine, night-time visits with a ladder. Needless to say, the buildings’ owners were not consulted, and not all of the noses have lived to tell the tale (Buckley claims he affixed 35 in total). Many are painted the same colour as the wall to which they are attached, making spotting these noses more of a challenge. And this is where the walk comes in…

However, Peter’s tour isn’t just about the seven noses. You will also get to see a fake nose, a missing nose, an ear and some fingers. And if all these body parts aren’t enough there is also a very tall door (with a singular purpose), a delightful community garden and a surprising amount of street art. Without giving away any of Peter’s secrets, I’m fairly confident that if you do the walk on a Wednesday you will see something at a large art institution that you have probably never seen before…

One of the joys of this walk is that Peter also weaves in snippets about Soho’s history and cultural life – but in a far less dry manner than a standard historical tour – so if you’ve always wanted to know more about this fascinating area of London this could be the walk for you. Upcoming walks that still have places available are on Sundays 5th and 19th February, at the very civilised hour of 2pm. But keep an eye on Peter’s website, as more dates are sure to be added:


The Rose Theatre

Back in Elizabethan days, the Rose Theatre was overshadowed by its newer, larger rival, the Globe. Sound familiar? Some 400 years on the Rose still languishes in its neighbour’s shadow, fighting for survival and public support.

The Rose was Bankside’s first theatre, built in 1587 on land that had been re-claimed from the Thames, pre-dating the Globe by 12 years. Its remains were discovered in 1989 during the development of a new office building. Around two-thirds of the theatre’s ground plan were eventually uncovered by archaeologists. This excavation revealed many details about the design of Elizabethan theatres – knowledge that was used in the reconstruction of the Globe. It is now the only complete Elizabethan theatre site still available for excavation.

The campaign to save the site created one of London’s many oddities – the office complex was eventually built suspended above the remains. Today red rope lights mark out the size (surprisingly small) and shape (that of a 14-sided polygon) of the original theatre, where Shakespeare once trod the boards. Its foundations are covered with a layer of water to prevent cracks developing. The Rose Theatre Trust is seeking funding and donations to complete a full excavation of this unique site.

You can see all of this for yourself as the Rose is open each Saturday from 10am-5pm (entry is free but donations are appreciated). They are about to embark on the 2012 season of plays – kicking off with The Merchant of Venice on 1st February – walks and events. Visit their website for full details:

City of London Police Museum

While presenting yourself at a police station may not immediately spring to mind as the precursor to an entertaining day out in London, think again. For the Wood Street police station is home to the little gem that is the City of London Police Museum. As its name would suggest, this museum focuses on the City police, whose remit covers London’s historic Square Mile, as opposed to their counterparts in the Metropolitan Police. And unlike the Met’s private Crime Museum (a.k.a. the Black Museum), anyone can drop by for a visit.

Although the City of London Police Museum is contained in just the one room – I’m told it may eventually be extended, so watch this space – it is richly furnished with memorabilia and historical items, and is well worth a look. My personal favourites include the top hat originally incorporated in the uniform that was so sturdy officers could stand on it to look over high walls, and their collection of seized weapons, which includes a very low-tech sock-in-a-rock.

Events such as the Houndsditch Murders and the Moorgate Tube disaster of 1975 are also covered, and there is a small section on Jack the Ripper as the Mitre Square killing fell within the City’s boundaries. Many of the museum’s volunteers are former officers themselves and as such have a wealth of information to impart (and can even point out former colleagues in more recent photos). This is what really brings the museum – and the stories it contains – alive. For example, did you know that the City Police significantly pre-date the Metropolitan force, and their Roman-style helmet reflects their early origins?

The Museum is currently open Wednesdays from 10am-4pm and Fridays from 2-6pm (and Tuesdays 10am-4pm from 1st February 2012). Just present yourself at the front desk at 37 Wood Street during these hours. Entry is free.

Keats House by candlelight

Regardless of how you feel about Valentine’s Day, one related event that you may wish to attend is the candlelight opening of Keats House, Every Truly Yours, on the evening of Friday 10th February. This Hampstead residence was the poet John Keats’ home from 1818-1820, and is where he met Fanny Brawne, the love of his life and (quite literally) the girl next door. These days it is a lovely house museum run by the City of London, with a strong series of events related to literature and Regency era history and culture.

Although film buffs may note that this was not the house used in Jane Campion’s Bright Star film about the ill-fated lovers (the celluloid version is predictably much larger and more grandiose), it has the immeasurable benefit of being the real deal. Attendees of Every Truly Yours can expect not only a candlelit tour of the house, but champagne and chocolate, and a creative writing challenge based on Keats’ letters to Miss Brawne. The event runs from 7-9pm, costs £10 (£8 concessions), and requires prior booking on or 020 7332 3868.

London Stone

London Stone - note the delightful rubbish accumulating in the grille

Having been meaning to photograph London Stone for the Londonphile for a little while, you can imagine my surprise when I visited recently only to discover a very official poster announcing plans to relocate it. (Obviously I missed Londonist’s article about this last year!). Due to the imminent redevelopment of the 111 Cannon Street site, it is now proposed that London Stone be relocated from where it has resided since 1557, to the front of the Walbrook Building, at 97-101 Cannon Street.

So just what is this London Stone? In short, it is a rather unprepossessing 53cm wide, 43 cm high, 30cm deep (i.e. not really all that big) slab of oolitic limestone. Despite its name, as this particular limestone does not naturally occur in London it clearly originally hailed from elsewhere. London Stone has had numerous myths attached to it over the centuries, and has variously been held to be the remains of Brutus’ temple, the stone which held King Arthur’s sword, a Druid’s altarpiece or a Roman milestone. It is as the remains of Brutus’ temple that the stone acquired its alleged link to the well-being of London: it is said that ‘so long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish’. The Victorian Society described the stone in their submission to the planning committee as ‘one of the most symbolically important objects in London’.

The first records of the stone place it on the south side of Cannon Street (opposite number 111). It was larger then and eventually became something of an impediment to traffic (apparently traffic was already proving problematic back in 1742!), so was moved to the northern side by St Swithin’s church and later placed into the south wall of the church. Although St Swithin’s was destroyed during the Blitz, the stone survived intact – luckily for London – and has remained outside 111 Cannon Street since, currently in front of a rather grim 1960s office block. Unsurprisingly, all of the objections to the proposal (which can be viewed online – see the links below) centre around the significance of this site to London Stone, which renders any relocation inappropriate.

Having said that, English Heritage do concede in their submission that the stone’s current setting and presentation could do better. On my own visit I found the stone hard to view through both the grille and the glass, and mostly ignored by passers-by; filled with litter, it has the appearance of little more than a random piece of neglected street furniture. The light that normally illuminates the stone somewhat appeared to be out. The low setting of the stone however – while not an aid to viewing – is actually in keeping with its originally low position in the street, and most submissions felt this should also be retained.

Currently the application to relocate the stone is still ‘pending consideration’. Hopefully this story will have a happy ending, with the stone able to remain in situ as part of the new building at 111 Cannon Street, and ideally in a way that also makes it easier to view, more celebrated and more cared for than it currently appears. Clearly, any developers would do well to keep in mind the stone’s link to the city’s safety when considering any plans…

You can view the planning submissions online at:

Chihuly at Halcyon Gallery

Looking for some colour to brighten up these grey winter days?  Then head to the Halcyon Gallery’s brand new flagship site at 144-146 New Bond Street for the Chihuly exhibition. Dale Chihuly – a master American glass sculptor – is possibly best known in London today as the creator of the spectacular chandelier in the foyer of the Victoria and Albert Museum. His 2005 exhibition Gardens of Glass: Chihuly at Kew was one of the Londonphile’s all-time favourite London events.

'Mille Fiori'

Chihuly’s pioneering work with colour and technique really does need to be seen first-hand to be fully appreciated – even the best photos cannot do it justice. The highlight of the Halcyon show is the 24-feet long Mille Fiori garden installation upstairs, which was built specifically for the space. You can also see several of the aforementioned chandeliers and some of Chihuly’s trademark Macchia (plant-like giant bowls) and Seaforms (shell-like creations) on show. As always with Chihuly’s work, the clever use of light and display really sets off the pieces.

This exhibition – which coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the International Studio Glass movement – is a selling one in a pretty ritzy commercial gallery, but don’t let that put you off as everyone is made welcome here. It has now been extended again until 21 April 2012 so you have even more time in which to get yourself there; entry is free.

After Hours at the War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms are opening up the bunker doors for an After Hours event on Friday February 10th. In addition to a curator-led tour of the fascinating underground war rooms, this evening event also features dance classes and live music of the time, a bar and a film screening. Visitors will also have the opportunity to have their photograph taken outside the original door from 10 Downing Street.

These secret headquarters of the War Cabinet was originally intended to be a temporary emergency government centre, but were soon commandeered by Churchill – and the hundreds of men and women who worked here during the Second World War. As staff dormitories and more luxurious bedrooms for Churchill and his wife were provided, many also slept in the War Rooms (although apparently Churchill generally slept off-site, and his wife’s room was mostly used by their daughter). You can view these sleeping arrangements – and more – at the After Hours event.

Due to the limited capacity of the secret wartime bunker, advance bookings are essential and cost £16.45. If you can’t attend this one, look out for future announcements as the War Rooms has held this event previously, and last year it was part of the Museums at Night annual event. I’ll keep an eye out too.

And if putting on your 40s finery and having a bop to the sounds of the day is just your thing, you may also be interested in The Blitz Party – semi-regular 1940s party events that are held under the railway arches in Shoreditch.

The Map Room, photograph copyright IWM.

‘Malicious Damage’ exhibition

'Malicious Damage' sign - with public library in background.

It’s true to say that playwright Joe Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell were big users of their local public library service. However, the form of use this mostly took not only landed them in prison and kick-started Orton’s career, but led Halliwell down a lost path that culminated in him murdering Orton and taking his own life. So the events covered by Islington Museum’s Malicious Damage exhibition – subtitled ‘The life and crimes of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in Islington’ – are powerful ones.

Finding the selection of books at their local Islington Public Library Service wanting, Orton and Halliwell took to producing ‘guerrilla artwork’, re-working the cover art with images removed from other library books. Often these images were risque ones, but not always – animals and figures from history and art also adorn their ‘new editions’, many of which are on view in Malicious Damage. Alternative text was also inserted into blurbs and pages ripped from books and used to jot down notes and creative ideas. The two would then loiter around the libraries to watch the reactions of outraged patrons on discovering their handiwork.

When the police finally turned up at Orton and Halliwell’s bedsit in 1962 with an arrest warrant (Halliwell’s classic reaction being, ‘Oh dear’), they also discovered that their home was adorned with collage-style wallpaper created from images stolen from library art books (there is a great photo of this in the exhibition). Of course, there is no happy ending to this story. While Orton thrived creatively in prison, Halliwell struggled throughout the ordeal and long afterwards. Events culminated in the murder-suicide of 1967.

Although the exhibition is only in the one room, I strongly recommend visiting to see the cultural ephemera that is Orton and Halliwell’s fascinating guerrilla artwork. It seems nothing short of a miracle that these rogue books have been preserved! The explanatory panels in the exhibition are also informative, relating the story of the two men’s lives and careers. It’s free and runs until 26 February (not open Sundays). The Islington Museum (ironically) can be found in the basement of the Finsbury Library – part of the Islington Public Library Service.

Mama Quilla at the Roundhouse

Ready for your one-minute of fame (sorry but due to the economic crisis this has now been cut-back from the standard 15)? Well then roll-up to the Roundhouse on Sunday 15th January for Mama Quilla’s Theatre of Protest: From the Streets of Revolution event, which features a choir workshop, open to all, leading to a one-minute performance later in the night.

This evening of linked events is based around responses to last year’s riots in both London and Libya. In addition to short plays about London, a live cross will update attendees on goings-on at the Occupy London site at St Paul’s. The entire event will be filmed by Lise Marker to create a new short film exploring protest.

Mama Quilla is a renowned political theatre group, described by The Guardian as showing ‘that theatre still has the capacity to address public issues’. For more information on how you can come along and help them do just that, visit:
Tickets are £10, or £5 for concessions, and the first act kicks off at 4pm.

Behind-the-scenes Tower Bridge tour

Ever wanted to see behind-the-scenes at Tower Bridge – you know, all those things mere mortals normally never get to see – and learn about how it all works? If so, the new year has rung in a real treat for you, as the good people at the bridge are opening it up for special engineering tours in January and March 2012.

Visitors will be able to see normally restricted areas, such as the bridge control room, the huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed, and the machinery room where the hydraulics that power the lifting of the bridge are found. And one lucky person will win a competition to raise the bridge at a future date (me, please).

I’m advised that the January tours have already sold out, so be quick for the March dates, which will run every Saturday and Sunday throughout the month. The tours, which will also include the normally accessible areas of the bridge, last 1.5 hours and cost £30. To arrange you must email, stating your name/s, full contact and address details and preferred dates.

The Londonphile is already booked in for the 4th March, so you’ll be hearing all about it after then…