Written in Soap: Final

IMG_2821

So as the Written in Soap project nears its ends, just how well did the statue made from soap stand up to one of our most bitter winters on records? But just to recap slightly, artist Meekyoung Shin created a statue made of soap (with a metal armature) of the controversial Duke of Cumberland in Cavendish Square. The idea was to see how it would fare over the four seasons.

IMG_2830

Erected in July 2012, I first visited in August and by my second update in November not much had changed really, bar a bit of cracking. Almost twelve months on – and a lot of snow and rain later – it is a bit of a different story. The Duke has now lost his left leg below the knee, exposing a metal rod. Nearby, the horse on which he sits is losing some of the ‘skin’ on its left foreleg, exposing yet more metal.

IMG_2835

The Duke’s right hand is also separating from his jacket sleeve and looks to be dangling somewhat precariously. Needless to say, all the cracks are now much more emphasised – the Duke has also developed an unusual collar, whose rusting colour looks appropriately like blood (the Duke became known as ‘Butcher Cumberland’ after putting down the Jacobite Rising during the 1746 Battle of Culloden). So maybe history is showing through somewhat here…

Overall though, I’d say the statue has weathered the storms remarkably well. If you’d like to see it for yourself it will be in position in Cavendish Square until the 30th of June.

IMG_2849

IMG_2860

IMG_2827

Advertisements

The Diamond Street app

IMG_2553

I’ve had a number of serendipitous moments since I started the Londonphile, but one of my favourites occurred just last weekend when I was trying out Rachel Lichtenstein’s new Diamond Street app and stumbled across the author leading her own tour. There were others out and about in the streets of Farringdon’s Hatton Garden using the app too, which successfully brings to life – and back to life – a fascinating area and its history.

Bleeding Heart Yard

Bleeding Heart Yard

The Diamond Street app developed out of Lichtenstein’s latest book Diamond Street: The hidden world of Hatton Garden, the second part of a non-fiction trilogy exploring London streets, which commenced with 2007’s On Brick Lane. Hatton Garden is an area the author knows well, with her family having long-running connections with the diamond and jewellery trade that flourishes there. The focus on a small area translates well into an app – although Hatton Garden is a street name, ‘the Garden’ now refers to the wider area, bordered on its southern side by the boundary of the estate once owned by the Bishops of Ely.

St Andrew's Charity School, 1721

St Andrew’s Charity School, 1721

Not having explored Hatton Garden before, I can confirm that the app was very helpful with navigating a new area, as well as bringing the area to life for me. Crucially, it also brings back to life parts of the area that have been lost or changed beyond recognition over time – particularly through the use of interviews with former residents. I was interested to learn that part of the area was once known as ‘Little Italy’, and found it fascinating the way the app gives you pause to consider the origins of street names. Lovers of London’s lost rivers will also enjoy hearing about the now subterranean Fleet River.

Once home to some of London's most notorious rookeries - and Fagin's den.

Once home to some of London’s most notorious rookeries – and Fagin’s den.

By researching the area through old maps, Lichtenstein also managed to debunk a long-held myth that ‘the Garden’ had been a medieval jewellery quarter, discovering instead that it was mostly farmland. Today, two of these maps are included in the app’s timeline. I don’t want to give all of the app’s secrets away, but I have included here a few photos of my own personal highlights – you might well discover different ones for yourself…

The Diamond Street app is free and can be downloaded on iTunes or on Google Play for Android phones.

IMG_2538

Ely Place

Ely Place – once home to the Bishops of Ely

St Etheldreda's - chapel to the Bishops of Ely, 1580

St Etheldreda’s – chapel to the Bishops of Ely, 1580

Old Mitre Tavern, built in 1547 for servants at the bishops' palace

Old Mitre Tavern, built in 1547 for servants at the bishops’ palace

Orleans House Gallery

IMG_2060

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.

IMG_2088

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).

IMG_7805

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.

IMG_2080

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.

IMG_7720

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.

IMG_7804

Criminal London

Criminal LondonSurely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…

Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.

IMG_0213

As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.

IMG_0238

While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.

IMG_0170

Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.

WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

IMG_0196

IMG_0145

Museum of the Order of St John

IMG_0063

Anyone who has walked through the Tudor gate on St John’s Lane in Clerkenwell must have wondered just what it is and what treasures it might house. The answer is that – following a number of different incarnations over the years – it is now home to the Museum of the Order of St John and is the property of that order, whose history on this site can be traced back to the eleventh century. And if you visit the museum on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday at 11am or 2:30pm and take a guided tour, you can gain admittance to the upper chambers and see for yourself what lies above.

IMG_0047

The tours are a must as they also gain you entry into the Norman crypt and priory church across Clerkenwell Road – once part of the monastery that was locked away behind this entrance gate. Once upstairs in the gatehouse you get a good look around the Chapter Hall (pictured below), the Old Chancery and the Council Chamber (which sits in the middle of the gate), before descending a lovely Tudor spiral staircase to the Malta Room.

IMG_0023

Not to take anything away from the fascinating history of the Order of St John, but I was personally more interested in the gate’s (relatively) more recent history and its literary connections. Following the dissolution of the monasteries it served time as Henry VIII’s personal storage unit before becoming the office of the Master of the Revels in the sixteenth century. As no less than 30 of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed here it’s likely that the Great Bard himself was a frequent visitor.

IMG_0050

In the eighteenth century the gatehouse was transformed into a rather idiosyncratic coffee house run by one Richard Hogarth, father of William. His Latin-only rule probably accounts for its fairly swift demise. The gateway also played home to The Gentleman’s Magazine – which gave a young Dr Johnson his first taste of employment – and by the nineteenth century had become the somewhat disreputable Old Jerusalem Tavern, frequented by one Charles Dickens.

IMG_0087

The gateway was bought back by the Order of St John in the late nineteenth century and restored to its former glory. The museum benefitted from a major restoration on 2010. Its new galleries (which are on the ground floor and can be visited for free Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm) are well designed and blend in nicely with the old structure. I highly recommend timing your visit to coincide with one of the guided tours, which are also free though a donation of £5 is suggested.

Museum of the Order of St John

IMG_0013

IMG_0083

Stoke Newington Pumping Station

IMG_9784

When I visited Clissold House last year I was surprised to see a medieval-style castle looming over one end of the park. This architectural oddity is in fact the Stoke Newington Pumping Station – a Victorian era water pumping station built in the Scottish Baronial manner. Although it ceased to operate by 1942 – and is now home to a climbing centre – its turrets and battlements remain thrusting into the sky, a testament to the Victorian zeal for industry and development and a love of all things flamboyant.

IMG_9847

The 1852 Metropolis Water Act requiring drinking water to be filtered and covered prompted its construction by the New River Company between 1852 and 1856, at a cost of £81,500. Although the area was composed mostly of fields at this stage, it’s thought that residents were not keen on the idea of an industrial building in the neighbourhood – hence the magnificent castle design by engineer William Chadwell Mylne and architect Robert William Billings. Possibly based on Stirling Castle (Mylne was Scottish and Billings an expert on historic Scottish buildings) – it’s also been suggested that the design might have been inspired by that of nearby Holloway Prison.

IMG_9832

Its superb position is partly due to the fact that it was built on an artificial mound, to give the sense of a castle within a moat. Although its striking towers and turrets appear quite random, they were each designed with a specific practical function – one housing a chimney shaft, another a water tank – while the turret with the conical roof contains a spiral staircase leading to the roof. The three front buttresses are home to a section of the tower’s flywheels. In a nice touch, Mylne’s name and the date 1855 are spelt out on iron plaques on the side of the buildings (see image below).

IMG_9850

The building was saved from demolition in 1971 following an outcry by local residents, and was Grade II listed in 1974. Despite this, it found itself facing an uncertain future yet again by 1988 with the imminent privatisation of the water industries. In 1994, planning permission was approved for redevelopment by its current tenants – the Castle Climbing Centre – under the proviso that the general appearance and character of the building would be retained and any items removed stored safely for future use. I would highly recommend a peak inside – the day I visited (on a weekend) it looked deserted from the outside, but once through the doors you find yourself in another world of brightly coloured walls covered with enthusiastic climbers. The centre’s plans for further redevelopment of the interior are posted on one of the walls along the main staircase.

If you’d like to visit what must surely be one of London’s more unusual buildings, you can find it at 218 Green Lanes, N4 2HA. Manor House is the closest tube station.

IMG_9812

St Paul’s Triforium Tour

IMG_9921

Did you know that you can take a special behind the scenes tour of St Paul’s Cathedral, in which you visit its triforium area? After being whisked like a VIP through a locked door in the staircase that ascends the main dome, you will enter the triforium – an arched gallery that stands above the nave. This area includes a number of interesting sights not normally accessible to the public, including St Paul’s Library, the Geometric Staircase and Wren’s Great Model.

IMG_9878

But first the triforium leads down past some fascinating stone remains of the old St Paul’s – destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. These were excavated in the nineteenth century; their shelves boast unique labels, declaring ‘Norman’, ‘Gothic’ and so on. Next stop is St Paul’s Library, a wonderfully evocative old room, with its wooden bookcases full of beautiful old books. The library dates from 1709, although it was largely empty in its earliest days as most of the collection was lost in the Great Fire. Its holdings focus on theology, church history, classics and medical books (used to help the priests treat illnesses). You can contact the librarian if you wish to arrange to conduct research in these topics in this wonderful environment.

IMG_9936_2

The tour then takes in the Geometric Staircase, which will be familiar to film fans having featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the 2009 version of Sherlock Holmes. Next is the superb view down the nave from the west balcony – the very same as used by BBC camera operators on special occasions. The final stop is the Trophy Room, where you can see Wren’s Great Model of his favoured plan for the cathedral. This massive model was made in 1673-4 from oak and plaster at a cost of around £600 – which would have bought you a good house in London at the time. If you take the Friday tour you might also catch a glimpse of the cathedral’s seamstresses toiling away in their room next door.

IMG_9991

Tours also include entry to the rest of the cathedral, including the crypt and galleries. They are held on Mondays and Tuesdays at 11:30am and 2pm, and Fridays at 2pm, and cost £20. Given that full price tickets bought on-site cost £15, this seems a good deal. Tours must be booked in advanced and are for groups of five or more only, so round up a few friends. To book contact 020 7246 8357 or email admissions@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

IMG_9896

St Bride Foundation

IMG_9661

In the shadow of St Bride’s Church lies a gem of London’s printing history – the St Bride Foundation. The Foundation started life as an educational, social and cultural centre for local printers and students – and it would be hard to imagine a more fitting location given its proximity to Fleet Street. The 1894 red-brick Victorian building tucked away down St Bride Lane – no stranger to transformations while still retaining its print-based heritage, as we shall see – now contains a print workshop, library and theatre.

IMG_9730

As the door to today’s print workshop opens, you are swiftly transported back to the days of the dominance of the printing presses via the strong smell of ink that permeates the space. This is a most atmospheric place – once the Foundation’s gymnasium – with its old presses lining the room. The oldest is a Common Press machine, whose frame possibly dates back as far as the 16th century. A compositor’s case from Oxford University Press in the corner dates from 1668, the extensions attached to its legs a testament to the ever-growing height of the human race.

IMG_9695

Classes in traditional printing techniques are held regularly in this room, including in letterpress (Monday nights), wood engraving (Thursday nights) and the Adana platen press. The Saint Bride Foundation Institute Printing School later evolved into the London College of Printing, now the London College of Communication – today its students return to St Bride to learn the traditional forms.

IMG_9724

Upstairs, the St Bride Library’s storage area is a treasure trove of printing goodness. Surprisingly beautiful wood blocks and the Caslon Collection of type punches share shelf space with broadsheets, books and journals. The Library holds over 50,000 books, and specialises in printing, graphic arts and related fields. They also have a strong events programme. The Library’s small reading room, once the lithographic printing room, is open to the public each Wednesday, and individual appointments can be arranged on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

IMG_9775

A number of other rooms – including the lovely old Printing Library – are now available for events and conferences. Bridewell Theatre was built over the swimming pool – believed to be the first public pool in the area – which remains in situ today underneath the wooden flooring. Its towel laundry was converted into the bar. Other such transformations continue apace today, with a new book binding workshop and exhibition space currently being created near the print workshop.

IMG_9763

Guided tours of the Print Workshop and other parts of the Foundation are run on request on weekdays from 9am-5pm and cost £5; please book in advance for groups. Contact 020 7353 3331 or info@stbridefoundation.org

http://www.sbf.org.uk/

IMG_9766

IMG_9640

Painted Hall conservation tours

IMG_9448_2

Last week the Londonphile had a superb day out getting up close and personal to the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall. Right now this Baroque gem is getting a bit of a clean-up, with conservators tackling 50-plus years of accumulated grime. They’re working on the west wall first, with a deadline of the end of April. So while normal visitors to the Painted Hall will find that area covered over (with a very realistic-looking copy of the painting), those booked onto the conservation tours the ORNC is currently running can go behind the scenes, meet the conservators and get a truly bird’s eye view of James Thornhill’s masterpiece.

IMG_9562_2

The Painted Hall was designed by Wren and Hawksmoor in 1698 and was originally intended to be a dining room for the naval veterans who lived here at the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Thornhill took a staggering 19 years to complete the elaborate painting of its interior. It was soon decided that the hall was much too grand for its original purpose and it quickly turned into one of London’s first paying tourist attractions. Today you can visit the hall for free – and I personally believe that it is one of London’s most under-appreciated gems.

IMG_9494

Stepping behind the cover hiding the west wall on a Meet the Conservators tour, you first encounter the very large – and high – scaffolding which the conservators are using to restore this massive work. Work began on December 3rd – this is actually the tenth restoration of the hall, the first being just five years after it originally opened. The most recent restoration was undertaken in 1957 and saw 15 layers of varnish removed. The work was conducted to such a high quality that the thinly-applied varnish layer from that time will now be retained, while a thorough cleaning is undertaken, primarily using cotton wool swabs and water.

IMG_9488

It’s quite a thing to ascend the scaffolding and see the west wall up close. We first climbed six metres to the first visitor viewing platform, where we had a talk from a conservator and watched another at work at close hand. We then moved to the second platform, at ten metres high, which was almost within touching distance of the Painted Hall’s ceiling (see below). These tours provide such a unique opportunity – it’s hard to imagine when visitors will have another chance to see the hall from such a viewpoint. And they’re free!

IMG_9528

This is the first phase of the restoration only, with the hall’s main ceiling the next major area in line for a clean-up. So far the process has discovered all manner of dirt attached to the walls, including various pollutants, grease, dust, debris – and even some gravy. Ultimately, a new lighting scheme will also be installed in the hall, enabling a clearer view of Thornhill’s work. In the meantime, the ORNC is offering three types of conservation on selected dates until mid-April – Meet the Conservators (Fridays), Open Scaffolding Sessions (Tuesdays and Thursdays), and Conservation in Action (Saturdays and Sundays). All are free but require pre-booking on 020 8269 4799 or via boxoffice@ornc.org 

IMG_9506

Old Royal Naval College

Painted Hall

IMG_9556

IMG_9475

19 Princelet Street

IMG_8875

19 Princelet Street seems a fitting place for an immigration museum given its layers of history that follow patterns of immigration in the local area. Last week the house held two rare open days – due to its fragile nature it is not yet able to be open to the public on a more regular basis. Funding is desperately required for repairs to the Grade II listed property so that its Museum of Immigration and Diversity can be fully realised. The Londonphile attended the second opening, and the queue stretching all the way back to Wilkes Street would suggest that number 19 has a bright future.

IMG_8889

Originally built in 1719, this five-storey building was home to the Ogier family, French Huguenot silk weavers. A metal bobbin hangs outside the building today as a lasting reminder of the weavers’ presence in the house. After a number of years housing various workshops and lodgings, 19 Princelet Street underwent its most significant change with the building of a synagogue in 1870 by a group of mainly Polish Jews, working together under the banner of ‘Loyal United Friends Friendly Society’ to create a community centre. While the synagogue now comprises the major part of the building, this part of the structure was in fact where the Ogiers’ garden once stood.

IMG_8859

Metal vents in the synagogue floor allow glimpses down to the meeting room built below the synagogue – this downstairs area was also open, along with a kitchen underneath the original house. Upstairs we had access to some of the the women’s gallery in the synagogue, with its lovely views across the space. The floor above that was closed to visitors but now functions as a staff area, while the attic room of mysterious scholar/recluse David Rodinsky – made famous by artist Rachel Lichtenstein’s 1999 book Rodinsky’s Room – is well out of bounds due to structural issues. One of the volunteers told me she had been involved with the charity for ten years and still hadn’t seen it.

IMG_8880

Due to the property’s no-photography rule you will have to imagine the crumbling beauty of its interior for yourself. But it is beautiful, and hopefully the Spitalfields Centre charity will be able to generate the funds needed to preserve and restore this lovely building and turn it into the museum of their vision.

And the best news is that more open days are already planned for March 2013: on Sundays 17th & 24th March, 2-4pm, and what is sure to be a lovely evening opening on Thursday 21st March, 5-8pm. For more details visit 19 Princelet Street’s website.

IMG_8893

IMG_8835