Thames archaeology walks

Not content with being a river that has inspired artists and writers and other creative types across the ages, the Thames is also an amazing archaeological site – when the tide rolls back and allows its treasures to be revealed. In fact, at low tide it becomes London’s longest open-air archaeological site. As I am also a huge Thames-phile, doing a Thames archaeology walk has been on my to-do list for some time now, so last weekend I took the opportunity to go on the Thames Discovery Programme’s Rotherhithe Winter Walk.

Elliott Wragg led us on this ramble from Rotherhithe to Bermondsey – an area that was long associated with ships and ship building. And sure enough, we were immediately able to locate a number of nautical remnants, such as anchors, rudders, and ship timbers that have been re-used to form a slipway. Sadly, due to rapidly increasing erosion more and more of these items are being revealed – good for archaeology, not such a good portent for the environment.

Elliott also taught us how to ‘read’ the various areas along the river bed. When you look closely you realise that certain areas have a preponderance of say, glass, where there would have once been a glass foundry (or maybe just a pub!), or pieces of old leather and shoes where a shoe factory was based. You can also find a large number of bricks along the foreshore in this area that are actually the remains of bomb damage from the Second World War, when the dock areas were heavily hit.

Thames Discovery also have a Putney Winter Walk coming up on Saturday 11th February, which will explore the Putney foreshore (free but donations welcome). If a spot of mudlarking (i.e. hunting for treasures along the river bed) takes your fancy, you may prefer the Thames Explorer Trust’s Millennium Bridge Walks (suitable for families and £8 for adults, £5 children), where the hunt is on for pipes and pottery (dates are currently scheduled for March and April). Alternatively, London Walks run Thames Beachcombing sessions (also guided by an archaeologist), on weekends when the tide permits (dates are currently scheduled up until the end of April, places are £8).

The Thames foreshore was almost deserted apart from our group on this fine (but admittedly rather crisp!) winter morning. In the nineteenth century the Thames was London’s premiere playground, with people piling onto boats for cruises and parties. I think it’s time we re-claimed the Thames, so come summer let the river become your own walking trail, beach  – and archaeological site. In the meantime, there are always these walks to consider:

Putney Winter Walk:
http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/events/putney-winter-walk 

Millennium Bridge Walks:
http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/events/millennium-bridge-walks

London Walks Thames Beachcombing:
http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Thames_Beachcombing_/default.aspx#20695 

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 keatshouse@cityoflondon.gov.uk or 020 7332 3868.

http://www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk/

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.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/events/after-hours-at-the-churchill-war-rooms

http://www.theblitzparty.com/

The Map Room, photograph copyright IWM.

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 enquiries@towerbridge.org.uk, 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…

http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/TBE/EN/NewsAndEvents/Engineering+Tour.htm

Secret Cinema announces Secret Restaurant

'The Red Shoes', February 2011

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years you would have heard about Secret Cinema and their immersive film experiences around London. These events see patrons buy tickets for a secret movie to be shown in a secret (but relevant) location; a dress code is announced and performers help create a filmic atmosphere on the nights. Fancy seeing Blade Runner in an abandoned warehouse at Canary Wharf, or The Red Shoes in a fake Covent Garden Market in Wapping’s Tobacco Dock? Then Secret Cinema is just the ticket for you…

Anyhow, today the same team has announced that – no longer content with just exploring four senses – they are now running a Secret Restaurant in conjunction with their latest film offering (which is, of course, secret). The restaurant is located in the attic of the current venue, and the menu is also kept under wraps until the night. But seeing as this is being run in conjunction with the St. John crew (they have Michelin stars, don’t you know), presumably the food will prove a pleasant surprise.

Ticketholders of the current Secret Cinema event can email bookings@secretrestaurant.org to request reservations, and a new tranche of cinema tickets that also include the dining experience have just been released for the rest of December and January. For tickets see:

http://www.wegottickets.com/location/8439

UPDATE: And on January 4th Secret Cinema announced that the final round of January tickets will be released tomorrow, Thursday the 5th, at 12:00 hours. For these hot little numbers go to:

http://www.wegottickets.com/secretcinema

'The Red Shoes', Secret Cinema, Wapping