New Paddington sculptures

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Some delightful new sculptures popped up recently in Paddington. A short stroll from the revamped canal areas around Paddington Basin, you can find these striking iron depictions of Michael Bond (and his famous creation, Paddington Bear), Alan Turing and Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole. Part of Sustrans’ nationwide Portrait Bench project, these new additions are well worth a quick diversion.

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And after visiting the Paddington Bear statue in Paddington Station, obviously you’ll be wanting more! While all three individuals lived in the area, Paddington creator Michael Bond is still a resident today. The Portrait Bench project sees the creation (along cycling paths) of groups of three life-size characters selected by the local community for the contribution they have made to local life, culture or history. They also provide a wooden bench, so you can stop awhile and admire the pieces.

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This series saw Sylvia Pankhurst, a towpath horse and a footballer immortalised in steel in Mile End Park in 2011, with Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B featuring among the freshly unveiled set outside Finsbury Park station. The sculptures themselves are two-dimensional, and made from Corten steel – the same material used for the Angel of the North – which is designed to rust nicely over time. Their style of outlined features reminds me of some street art, and I found the works often became better defined the further you moved away from them.

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Alan Turing was of course the computer science and artificial intelligence pioneer – generally heralded as the father of the computer – who also worked at Bletchley Park cracking German codes during the second world war. His country rewarded his immense talent by persecuting him for his homosexuality, leading to his suicide in 1954, aged just 41. He poisoned himself with cyanide – thought to be injested via an apple, and the day I visited someone had left several green apples at this feet (you can just make these out in the picture below). It’s fitting to see him immortalised here and standing proud against the ever-expanding skyline of modern London. The Science Museum is also currently holding an exhibition on Turing’s life and work.

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In a somewhat serendipitous moment, I just happened to notice some similar, silhouette-style sculptures across the road – which may soon be lost to London. These two figures below are languishing in a rather lonely state in the former campus of the City of Westminster College, currently a deserted development site. I can only assume they are former campus public art – and it seems a great shame they will probably be destroyed. If you want to see them while they are still there, take a peek through the fence along North Wharf Road, near the corner of Harrow Road. It may be a case of losing one set of sculptures just as we gain a new one…

The Sustrans’ Portrait Bench sculptures can be found in the small park to the east of the church of St Mary, Paddington Green.

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Orleans House Gallery

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If you’ve ever thought about visiting Twickenham’s Orleans House Gallery, now is a great time to go while it is hosting Arcadian Vistas: Richmond’s Landscape Gardens. Given that the English landscape garden movement was first nurtured here along the banks of the Thames, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting locale for this exhibition.

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Neatly divided into sections focusing on some of the more influential gardens, gardeners and garden designers of the movement – including Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, William Kent, Kew Gardens and Chiswick House – the exhibition features mostly illustrations and paintings from the Richmond Borough Art Collections, nicely supplemented by some loans. A smaller collection of objects is also on show, including John Serles’ guide to Alexander Pope’s garden and grotto, alongside A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole (describing nearby Strawberry Hill).

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Two large paintings depicting Arcadian Thames – Leonard Knyff’s A View of Hampton Court and Peter Tilleman’s The Thames at Twickenham – are also highlights. Don’t miss the gallery upstairs, where slightly more esoteric topics – follies, Chinoiserie, orangeries, water features and grottos – are featured, accompanied by some lovely examples of blue and white porcelain.

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Sadly, Orleans House’s beautiful Octagon Room, a few adjoining buildings and the Stable block out the back are all that remains of what was once an extensive estate built in the early eighteenth century for James Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland. The Octagon Room was actually a later addition, designed by James Gibbs (who also designed St Martin-in-the-Fields church) as a separate garden entertainment space for Johnston. The house acquired its name after it was rented to Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, during his exile from France.

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After passing through a number of hands, the main house was finally demolished in the 1920s by a firm of gravel merchants. They failed to find any gravel on the site. Today, Orleans House Gallery and its Octagon Room are worth a visit – their interesting program of exhibitions is free and open to the public on most afternoons except Mondays (check online here, as times vary throughout the year). Marble Hill House and Grotto are just next door, and Ham House is but a scenic ferry ride across the Thames.

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Death in the south west

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Surely the award for most unusual mausoleum in London goes to that of Sir Richard Burton (and wife) in Mortlake. Burton – the 19th century explorer and linguist, not the 20th century actor – has as his final resting place a 12 foot by 18 foot stone replica of a Bedouin tent, in the otherwise sedate graveyard of St Mary Magdalen Church. Burton spent much of his career in the Arab world, and features among his many claims to fame the penetration of the cities of Medina and Mecca, allowing him to secretly draw up plans of the latter’s Great Mosque.

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Hence the tent-like tomb, complete with its frieze of golden crescents and stars. But if that’s still not enough of a draw, step around the back for the big reveal. A metal ladder leads to a window in the mausoleum that allows visitors to see right into the ‘tent’ and take a look at the coffins of Burton and wife Isabelle Arundell in situ among some suitably Arabian artefacts. A mirror on the opposite wall reflects the Christian shrine along the wall directly below you.

St Mary Magdalen’s churchyard is open Monday-Friday 9-3.30, Saturday and Sunday 9-5, closing at dusk during winter. It is located just a few minutes walk from the Mortlake National Rail station.

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Within walking distance of Burton’s tomb is Old Barnes Cemetery, situated within Barnes Common – once a favourite haunt of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin. I can recommend a nice stroll between the two along the Thames Path. Not to be confused with the nearby Wandsworth Cemetery, Old Barnes Cemetery is located near the Rocks Lane Multi Sports Centre. Once described as more desecrated than the battlefield burial grounds at Flanders, it has certainly suffered from years of neglect and vandalism – surely a record number of beheaded angels linger here.

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The cemetery ceased to be used in 1966 when Richmond Borough Council purchased the site from the Church of England, demolished the chapel and lodge, removed the gates and railings, and left the place to fend for itself. I believe it has more recently had a bit of a clean up and is today a very atmospheric and eerie spot that is well worth a look; in some ways its overgrown state actually adds to its character. Due to the lack of fences around both the cemetery and the common, both are effectively open 24/7.

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I hope to bring you another unusual south west London mausoleum later in the year…

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