Superposition, Canal Museum

IMG_3847_2

I must admit that a big part of the attraction for me of the art installation currently being hosted by the London Canal Museum was the opportunity to climb down into the underground ice wells and take some pretty photographs. But like many such things, it turned out to be about so much more than that, and I found myself exploring a fascinating interplay between art and science – with a little bit of London history thrown in for good measure…IMG_3898 This installation was created by artist Lyndall Phelps in collaboration with physicist Dr Ben Still, who have been working together since 2012 exploring particle physics. You can read more about their work on their blog. This piece, Covariance, is actually the first instalment of the Institute of Physics’ Superposition series, which brings together artists and physicists to create new works of art. IMG_3943 And yes, you do get to climb down some ladders into the usually fenced-off ice wells that sit beneath the museum building. Built in around 1863, it was originally a warehouse for Carlo Gatti, who as well as being a restaurateur was also an ice importer and ice cream maker. At the time, ice was imported in blocks from Norway, then driven along the canal from what is now Limehouse Basin. The smaller pieces in the first well represent this history, with light boxes that mirror the shape of these ice blocks. IMG_3884 But the main work is in the second well, underneath the front of the building. This dark, circular space is now home to the striking work shown here in these photographs. These colourful disks were inspired by various ways in which data from particle detectors is visualised. I’m no scientist – but fortunately the knowledgable guides can explain more, and show you photographs (also contained in the exhibition guide) of the various inspirations, such as Ben’s own coloured dot diagrams, the women who used to process data from the early detectors, and Japan’s Super-Kamiokande particle detector. IMG_3922 The work is created from everyday materials, including over one kilometre of brass rods (representing the history of science), and beads and diamantes (representing women’s contributions to physics). The space itself also informed the work’s design – and its dark, silent and rather cold environment is well-suited to it. This is one of those works that you really need to see for yourself, but suffice it to say that I could have spent another twenty minutes down there quite happily! IMG_3919 Superposition runs until 20 October at the London Canal Museum (closest tube: King’s Cross). Tours should ideally be booked in advance here, run on Thursday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays, and cost £4, which covers entry to the museum. There will be a free conversation event with Lyndall Phelps and Ben Still on the evening of Thursday October 17th. IMG_3894 IMG_3899

God’s Own Junkyard

IMG_3718

The imminent closure of God’s Own Junkyard‘s Walthamstow home – with the developers champing at the bit to move in – has been garnering a lot of press attention lately. The Londonphile dropped by on its second-last weekend at its current location to document this unique site.

IMG_3705

The railway-side site that the business has inhabited since 1978 is overwhelming, to say the least. Bright neons designed by owner Chris Bracey jostle for space with old movie props, reclaimed vintage signs and lettering. The yard area has items literally piled on top of each other – not to mention trains regularly thundering by.

IMG_3671

IMG_3756

The Bracey family has owned the business for more than six decades and Chris has been designing neons for almost forty years. His designs have featured in numerous shops, fashion shoots, sets and films – many of these have been salvaged by their creator and are today on display (and sometimes for sale) at the Walthamstow site. The ‘Hotel’ sign below, for example, was used in Tim Burton’s version of Batman.

IMG_3762

IMG_3791

The good news is that it looks like Chris’ neon gems will find a new home in Walthamstow’s Wood Street Indoor Market. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine that a market stall can have the overwhelming impact and atmosphere of the current site.

IMG_3819

IMG_3824

You have one last week to visit God’s Own Junkyard in its current location – it will be open Friday 19th and Saturday 20th from 10:30am – 5pm and have its final day on Sunday 22nd, from 11am – 4pm.
It can be found at 97 Vallentin Road, E17 3JJ. Wood Street National Rail station is just around the corner.

IMG_3812

IMG_3835

IMG_3785

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare

IMG_2161

Undoubtedly one of the prettiest sites that The Londonphile has visited, Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare stands alongside the Thames at Hampton. This Palladian temple was built in 1756 by actor-manager David Garrick in the riverside gardens of his home, Garrick’s Villa, as a monument to the Bard.

IMG_2105

While the original life-size statue of Shakespeare by Huguenot sculptor Roubiliac moved to the British Museum some time ago under the terms of Garrick’s will, a reproduction was installed as part of the major restoration of the temple that took place from 1997-1999. Also found inside the structure today is an exhibition about Garrick himself, featuring a number of reproductions of works by major 18th century artists, including Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth and Zoffany.

IMG_2127

Even in Garrick’s time, his villa (pictured below) was separated from the temple by the road – though it was presumably much less busier back then… A tunnel under this road was used by the Garricks to gain easy access to their garden – it still exists but is not accessible to the public. Today, the villa – which narrowly avoided demolition at the start of the twentieth century – has been converted into apartments and was badly damaged by fire in 2008.

IMG_2185

The riverside land surrounding the temple was sold off by the villa’s owner in 1923, separating temple and villa. The temple’s new owner built a house directly adjoining it – happily, this was demolished in 1932 following a public outcry that caused the council to purchase the land. It is still owned today by Richmond Council.

IMG_2126

The garden – originally designed with assistance from Capability Brown and now known as Garrick’s Lawn – has also been restored along 18th century lines and includes many plants that would have been seen in Garrick’s time. It also features a serpentine path that reflects Hogarth’s line of beauty (seen below). Bring a picnic and sit awhile and watch the rowers pass…

IMG_2190

The temple is open to the public – free of charge – on Sunday afternoons (2-5pm) from April to October, and will also feature in the year’s Open House event on Sunday 22 September from 11am – 5pm. From Hampton Court Station take the R68 bus, from Hampton the 111 or 216, or from Hammersmith the 267 (from May to September only).

http://www.garrickstemple.org.uk/

IMG_2146

IMG_2119

Summer Pavilion

IMG_2927

One of my favourite annual London events is the emergence of a brand new Summer Pavilion each year in the grounds of Kensington Garden’s Serpentine Gallery. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto provides the 13th iteration of this project, with his cloud-like grid of white steel poles arising from the green grass. But this a cloud you can sit in, with transparent steps creating seats and producing an interactive feel to his installation  – and also making visitors appear as if they are suspended in space.

IMG_2891Fujimoto has spoken of how his installation contrasts the natural environment of the park with a ‘constructed geometry’ – and there is a decidedly digital look to the grids of which it is composed.

IMG_2906

This is the fourth Summer Pavilion that I have visited and photographed – to celebrate, this post will also look back briefly to the last three designs in this unique series.

IMG_2049

The 2010 Summer Pavilion by French architect Jean Nouvel (shown above and in the following two images) holds a special place in my heart given that it is pictured across the top of The Londonphile’s website. Yes, that green and red image I use everywhere was taken looking through the bright red, transparent walls of the pavilion through to the gallery beyond. Like this year’s version, Nouvel’s design included a cafe inside the pavilion itself.

IMG_2042

IMG_2064

The black, almost forbidding exterior of the 2011 pavilion (shown in the three images below) – designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor – belied the fact that it contained a very pretty surprise on the inside, in the form of a fully planted garden. The garden was surrounded by seats, so visitors could soak up the tranquility.

DSC01154

DSC01113

DSC01117

The 2012 design (pictured in the following three images) also boasted some pretty unique qualities. Ai Wei Wei designed the pavilion in conjunction with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron via Skype whilst under house arrest in China. The design itself referenced all the previous pavilions by integrating their outlines and contours into the design of the floorplan, which was clad in cork. It also featured a rather lovely floating platform roof built across the structure.

IMG_1828

IMG_1818

IMG_1838

To return to the present day, the 2013 Summer Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto is open until 20th October. It can be found in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, and is free to visit.

IMG_2914

IMG_2947

IMG_2879

Raising Tower Bridge

IMG_3048_2

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be asked to ‘open’ Tower Bridge – that is, to perform what is known as a bridge lift. Ian Visits has also written about what a surprisingly exciting experience this is and I thoroughly agree – I was on a real high afterwards.

I’d had this idea that opening the bridge would involve pressing only one button, but no, numerous buttons and a lever were involved. The buttons operate functions such as the traffic lights, the pedestrian gates and generally getting the bridge ready to be opened. The lever is surprisingly small and looks suspiciously like one you might find on a 1980s games console. You actually have to hold this lever down until the bridge fully opens, then hold it up for it to close. Such a small lever with such power!

IMG_3071

IMG_3119

The more high-tech computer pictured below was also involved, changing screens to track the progress of the bridge lift:

IMG_3170

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I took a real pleasure in holding up both pedestrians and traffic. You can see them all queuing up here:

IMG_3109

IMG_3129

Bridge lifts are booked in advance by writing (though email is also acceptable these days) for boats whose height means the bridge must be opened to allow them through. They can take place at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, and are free of charge. I was happy that the two boats I was opening the bridge for were lovely multi-masted, vintage sailing yachts, SB Will and SB Kitty. You can see them approaching from the East below:

IMG_3131

IMG_3134

Many thanks to the City of London and Chris Earlie for organising my lift, and Bridge Driver Peter Brown in the cabin for his patient instructions and friendly conversation. Although you may not get a chance to open Tower Bridge yourself, you can always visit Tower Bridge and its incredibly scenic walkways. I also highly recommend their Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which normally runs several times a year between October and March, on which you will get to visit an old control cabin and descend into the bascule chambers that lie below the Thames.

Finally, here is the lovely certificate I received to commemorate my bridge lift:

IMG_3186

IMG_3142

Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse

IMG_2980

Tucked away in the basement of the most unprepossessing 1960s office block at 101 Lower Thames Street are the remains of a Roman house and baths dating from the 2nd-3rd century AD. The Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse site is only open to the public a couple of times a year – I took the opportunity to visit last weekend as part of the Museum of London’s Festival of Archaeology.

IMG_3027

These remains were uncovered in 1848 during the construction of the Coal Exchange on the site. Our guide shared a lovely story of the Victorians who discovered it building a spiral staircase (now long gone) down to access the ruins, which strikes me as a particularly lovely piece of Victoriana…The site was to become the first designated protected heritage site in London, forming part of the first Ancient Monuments Act of 1882.

IMG_2964

In fact, we are lucky to have it at all. As our guide also explained, the Saxons were more than a little fond of ‘recycling’ old Roman materials. Luckily, those making up the Billingsgate Bathhouse site were saved in part because the area was later covered by a wash of black dirt (some of which can still be seen today on the northern part of the site, pictured above), and also partly by the otherwise destructive force of the Great Fire of 1666, which saw the site further buried under debris pushed down from the hill above.

IMG_2984

The baths themselves were thought to be attached to hotel or inn – or possibly a private residence, though no mosaics (usually a sign of an elite residence) have been found to date. These buildings would have faced directly on to the Thames itself. While the ruins today – which feature part of the bathhouse and part of the East Wing of the Roman house – are indeed quite crumbly, parts of the flues for underfloor heating of the house (seen above), and segments of the bathhouse, in particular the hot room (seen below), are clearly evident.

IMG_2997

Interestingly, I learnt that a much larger public bathhouse – the Huggin Hill Bath House – still remains preserved, but unaccessible, in a shallow basement on nearby Upper Thames Street. It is possible that future redevelopment of that site might allow for public access. Similarly, it is also possible that the 1967 building directly above the Billingsgate Bathhouse site may be demolished, allowing for a better display of these remains, which are currently punctuated by 1960s concrete columns.

In the meantime, the Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse will be open to the public again for the Open House weekend, on Sunday 22nd September 2013.

You may also like to check out David Fletcher’s amazing 3D model of the site – which you can see online here, along with plenty more photos of the site.

IMG_3003

Kilmorey Mausoleum

IMG_2669

I think I may have found a mausoleum that tops even Richard Burton’s in its uniqueness: the Kilmorey Mausoleum in Twickenham’s St Margarets. This £30,000 tomb – a fortune when built in 1854 – was a memorial for the mistress of the 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, Priscilla Hoste, who just also happened to be his ward. Today, the tomb lies in a small garden, no longer connected to the house to which it was originally attached, and on rare occasions you can visit and inspect the contents – including the coffins – for yourself.

IMG_2664

Originally erected in Brompton Cemetery, the Egyptian-style tomb – which thanks to Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was very on-trend at the time – was actually re-located twice as the Earl moved around various properties in London. The Earl never allowed either of his two wives to be buried in the tomb, and finally joined his lover in 1880 at the grand age of 92.

IMG_2799

Its final site here was attached to nearby Gordon House, where a tunnel was built under the road to connect the mausoleum to the house. The Earl was said to use this tunnel is his later years, when he would get his servants to wheel him through it – wrapped in a shroud, lying in his coffin – to his tomb, in what some believe was a bizarre practice ritual for his own funeral.

IMG_2776

The mausoleum’s design is impressive – created by Henry Edward Kendall Jr in the Egyptian Revival style, it features cast bronze doors and pink Scottish granite. It is covered with Egyptian motifs, including the the winged sun disc of the god Ra. The skylight stars in the ceiling of the mausoleum allow the sun to project these stars across the coffins at certain times of the day. A large white marble relief carved by Lawrence MacDonald hangs  on one wall, showing Priscilla on her death bed with the Earl at her feet and their son Charles at her side.

IMG_2795_2

The coffins of the Earl and Priscilla are still very much present on either side of the mausoleum – son Charles refused to take up his allocated shelf. It seems amazing that you can actually enter this small space and stand right next to them. Unlike the rest of the mausoleum, the coffins are very much in Victorian funerary style, with both covered in red velvet. This has very much faded over time, but I was surprised to learn that they had been preserved in a near-perfect state until 1987, when a storm resulted in water damage.

IMG_2792

IMG_2802

The Kilmorey Mausoleum is only able to be visited on special open days; it is next open as part of the Open House Weekend on Sunday 22nd September 2013. Openings, events and location details are listed on their website.

IMG_2717

IMG_2685

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

Garden Barge Square

IMG_2638

Last weekend I visited some floating gardens on the Thames, as part of the annual Open Garden Squares Weekend. Garden Barge Square – also known as the Floating Barge Gardens – is built across the top of a number of boats on the Downings Roads Moorings, which boasts a pretty spectacular backdrop in the form of Tower Bridge.

IMG_2647

There have been moorings in this area – close to the old Jacob’s Island site – for around 200 years or so, though the gardens themselves are a relatively new innovation having first appeared in the late 1990s. I was surprised to learn that the moorings’ continued existence is only due to a vigorous fight against moves by Southwark Council to shut it down in 2003 and 2004. But clearly that’s another story…

IMG_2636

I regularly catch boats past these gardens but had no idea just how extensive they were until I ventured onboard. There are trees up here! Much of the gardens are built across the top of the barges in metal trenches on either side of central pathways. The various boats are then connected via a series of walkways and bridges. It’s very easy to forget that you are walking right across the top of someone’s boat – which is often their home as well, with over 70 people residing or having a studio on the 30+ boats moored here.

IMG_2591

The waters along the Thames here are very rocky – much more so than on canals or marinas. You will definitely find yourself swaying with the motion for some time after you get back to dry land. The good news is that once you get over the initial narrow walkway that leads to the barges you feel much more secure in the garden areas themselves.

And it’s worth it to visit this unique environment, though you’ll have to wait for the next Open Garden Squares event, scheduled for June 14th and 15th 2014. In the meantime, a good view of the barges can be gained from the Thames Path around Bermondsey Wall West.

IMG_2622

IMG_2575

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