Monthly Archives: February 2015

Wood Street Architecture

wood street city of london

From the left – Wren, Foster, Rogers

Stand with your back to the City of London police HQ in Wood Street and you can see the collision of old and new in the City’s architecture. The number of cranes that are visible and the noises of construction one hears as one walks around the square mile are testament to the sheer number of new buildings being built.

It was ever thus. In the years following the war concrete and glass square boxes dominated. They’ve now been largely replaced with glass and steel curves and other forms. This is a sign of the City’s strength – it has always been able to reinvent and rebuild itself. The new being constructed on and around the old. Continue reading

Wood Street 1

So I’m researching a short blog post on the architecture of Wood Street in the City of London, and Mr Google presents me with this from the BBC.

It’s nearly 20 years old, and ‘mannered’ in the way that ’90s BBC2 programmes always were, plus you have to endure a picture of Janet Street Porter before the thing starts, but it’s examination of a police station disguised as an Italian Palazzo is still worth watching. (If the embed function isn’t working below, the link is here.)

Caravaggio – The Supper at Emmaus


Caravaggio: The Supper at Emmaus: 1601

We’re looking at the painting of a scene described in the gospel of St Luke. The story is that two apostles were travelling from Jerusalem when they encountered a stranger on the road.

It was the morning of the third day after Christ’s crucifixion and it had been discovered that the tomb was empty and someone had seen a vision of angels announcing that Jesus was alive. This was – obviously – the talk of Jerusalem, so the apostles were surprised that the stranger seemed to know nothing about this.

Continue reading

Rubens – Het Steen


An Autumn Landscape with a view of Het Steen in the Morning:  Peter Paul Rubens: 1636

When we look at this picture we can tell it’s going to be a beautiful day. The sun is rising, it’s late summer/early autumn and the land is at its most productive. This is a view of the area around Malines, between Brussels and Antwerp in present day Belgium.

We can see a hunter and his dog at the front of the painting and the line of the hedge leads the eye to their quarry – a little flock of partridges. We’re then led over a little wooden bridge and a couple of dairymaids milking cows, and beyond that flat, green fields with the last of the early morning mist just hanging on. Continue reading

Leonardo da Vinci – The Virgin of the Rocks


697160Leonardo da Vinci: The Virgin of the Rocks: Late 1400s, early 1500s

There’s some imprecision about the date, which I’ll come to shortly.

We’re looking at a painting by one of the most celebrated of Renaissance artists – Leonardo da Vinci. He was a sculptor, inventor, engineer, anatomist, and the painter of some of the most famous works in history, the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. Continue reading

Titian – Bacchus and Ariadne


401295Titian: Bacchus and Ariadne:1520-23

After the static pictures we’ve just seen, this one explodes with life, as the god Bacchus leaps from his chariot to accost Ariadne, the mortal woman he has just seen and just fallen in love with.

The story comes from mythology, particularly their retelling by Roman poets such as Ovid and Catullus. One of the key aspects of the Renaissance in Italy was the rediscovery of these Latin texts, which became well known among the monied classes. Continue reading

Uccello – the Battle of San Romano



Paolo Uccello: The Battle of San Romano: About 1438-40 

We are looking at a battle scene – although quite a bloodless one. A large army of knights led by a man on a white horse, are coming to blows with a knight on the right hand side of the picture – although we get the impression that there are more of these soldiers just off the picture. Broken lances and bits of armour litter the field of battle, and in the background we can see more knights, men with lances and men with crossbows. Separating the foreground from the background is a hedge of some sort, with roses, oranges and pomegranates. Continue reading

The National Gallery

f1c4e14c9484fba1588477b5ff5d6ce6The entries below all come from another part of the Blue Badge guiding course that I started in September 2014.

As well as being able to guide people around sites in London, we have to be able to conduct tours of the National Gallery, talking for about 5 minutes on 20 paintings that are representative of the development of Western European art.

We have to be able to do this without notes, so it means learning quite a bit about the pictures and the artists, and being able to express this in a reasonably engaging fashion. This isn’t art history – it’s about trying to communicate information in an entertaining way with the hope that one’s listeners both learn something they didn’t know and enjoy the experience.

As I work my way through the 20 pictures I’ll post my notes up here. Once done I’ll link them so they follow the route that would be done in the Gallery (they’ll be posted here out of order).

All images are taken from the National Gallery website and link through to the larger images on their site.

The National Gallery was established in 1824 – relatively late compared to other major European cities. It came about when the artist and collector George Beaumont agreed to leave his collection to the nation, but only if the government purchased the collection of the banker John Julius Angerstein and provided suitable accommodation for the collection. In April 1824 Parliament voted to spend £57,000 for Angerstein’s collection and to take the lease on his old home at 100 Pall Mall to house it. Beaumont’s smaller collection joined this one in 1826. Continue reading

No. 1 Poultry

DSC_0051If you want to build anything in the City of London there are three hurdles to be overcome – first you have to be allowed to knock down what’s already there, then you have to planning permission for your new building, and third, you have to let the archaeologists in to dig up what’s been there before.

The classic example of this is the process for the development of Number One Poultry, the site opposite Bank junction and the Mansion House where Sir James Stirling’s post-modern construction now stands.

The story starts back in the 1950s when a developer called Rudolph Palumbo started buying the buildings on the site. He wanted to demolish the Victorian Gothic buildings that stood there, including the home of the jewellers Mappin & Webb. This project was picked up by his son Peter (now Lord) Palumbo who was given conditional planning consent to build a Mies van der Rohe-designed 18-storey bronze and glass tower on the site. (Many may not like Stirling’s design – Time Out readers voted it one of the five worst London buildings – but the block would have utterly changed the complexion not only of the junction, but of the entire City). Continue reading

The Wobbly Bridge

Since September I’ve been doing the ITG Course for London Blue Badge Guides; two years’ worth of lectures, visits, written exams and practical tests to allow me to take visitors around London. It’s a lot of work, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been neglecting the blog.

We’ve now moved onto a phase where we’re doing a number of presentations – five minute talks on particular spots in the city, or on the contents of the museums and galleries – so I thought I’d adapt these into short blog posts.

The first is on the Millennium Bridge:

wobbly bridgeSpanning the river from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern, London’s gallery of modern and contemporary art housed in the former Bankside power station , is the Millennium Bridge – known to Londoners as the ‘wobbly bridge’, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

Designed by the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro in association with Foster and Partners architects and Arup engineers, the Millennium Bridge is a 330 metre long steel suspension footbridge with aluminium decking. It was conceived as a ‘blade of light’ across the river and used an innovative new technique which gave it a much lower profile than traditional suspension bridges.

It cost £18 million and opened in June 2000 – a couple of months late, but no big deal – but then the problems started. It swayed when people walked on it. And once it started swaying a bit, everyone on it started walking in step to the sway, which made it sway even more. So two days after opening, it closed.

The architects blamed the engineers and the engineers blamed the architects, and it took nearly two years and another £5 million to sort out the problem. But even though it doesn’t sway any more, it’s still known as the ‘wobbly bridge’. And probably will be for ever.

The bridge is now owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates Trust, who took it over in 2002. The Trust can trace its origins back to at least the 13th Century when the City of London took over responsibility for old London Bridge. They are now own Tower Bridge, Blackfriars and Southwark, as well as the Millennium Bridge. Continue reading