Last week I did a Zoom talk for 40 or so people as a fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK.
Called “a history of London in eight (and a bit) structures” it looks at bridges, churches, walls and other constructions, tracing the history of the city from the Romans through to the 21st century. On the way there are stories about the monarchy, the Reformation, the rise of parliamentary democracy and the growth of London as one of the great centres of trade. There are invasions, conquests, eccentrics, geniuses and some of the world’s most recognisable buildings.
Continue reading “A History of London – free talk recording”
Dig a hole in the City of London and a few metres down you will hit Londinium, the original city, because before the Romans there seems to have been no major settlement.
For nearly 400 years from around 45CE this was a major Roman centre, and although it declined from the late 2nd century onwards (and was destroyed at least twice, the first time in 60CE by Boudicca, and then by a huge fire around 125) it boasted temples, a forum (the biggest north of the Alps), a governor’s palace, nearly 4km of wall, an amphitheatre that could 6,000 spectators and, because the Romans loved bathing, a number of bath houses.
Continue reading “Londinium: the Billingsgate Roman Bath House”
WHAT: Henry Fawcett Memorial
WHERE: Victoria Embankment Gardens (map)
BY WHOM: Mary Grant
There are numerous late Victorian statues and memorials in Embankment Gardens, the very pretty public park that occupies the land reclaimed from the Thames by Bazalgette that lies between the Adelphi and the river.
Walking through there recently (admiring the extraordinary beds of tulips) I was intrigued by the memorial to Henry Fawcett because a) the subject is obviously blind and b) it is inscribed “erected … by his grateful countrywomen”.
Continue reading “The Henry Fawcett Memorial, Embankment Gardens”
The British and other foreign fighters travelling to Ukraine to resist Putin’s invasion are an echo of 85 years ago, some 35,000 non-Spaniards (2,500 from Britain) joined the ‘International Brigades’ to go to Spain to fight for the Republican forces against Franco’s Nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
Some 50 years later, in October 1985, a memorial to the British members of the International Brigade was unveiled in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank by the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot.
Called ‘No Pasaran’ (“they shall not pass”, the call to arms in a speech at the start of the Battle of Madrid in 1936) it is a bronze by the sculptor Ian Walter. On one face of the plinth is an inscription honouring “The 2100 men and women who left … to fight side by side with the Spanish people” (526 of these were killed) and on another “they went because their open eyes could see no other way”, and adaption of a line from Cecil Day Lewis’s poem ‘The Volunteer’.
Continue reading “No Pasaran! The Jubilee Gardens Memorial”
Fall asleep on a Go-Ahead bus and you might just be lucky enough to wake up in the depot – the soaring, concrete cathedral that is Stockwell Bus Garage. (It’s 100m or so from Stockwell station.)
Opened in 1952, at the time it had Europe’s largest unsupported roof span, the vast space inside (6,800 sq metres, or roughly ten football pitches) able to house 200 buses.
Continue reading “Stockwell’s concrete cathedral for buses”
Hard by St Paul’s at the entrance to Paternoster Square, is Temple Bar gate.
Like the Cathedral, this is the work of Sir Chirstopher Wren, and it is also built from the same Portland Stone. It was constructed between 1669 and 1672 as part of the general improvement works to the City of London following the Great Fire of 1666.
Continue reading “The Temple Bar Gate”
One of the loveliest and most peaceful spaces in London is literally in the centre of one of the busiest. The Tower of London gets some two million visitors a year, and in high season one can wait several hours to shuffle past the Crown Jewels, and the space in the White Tower around the armour of Henry VIII and Charles I is as jammed as Selfridges on the first day of the sale.
But walk up to the next level of the Tower and you go through an absolute architectural gem – the Chapel of St John the Evangelist – which manages to be utterly tranquil despite the hordes.
Continue reading “The Chapel of St John the Evangelist”
Along the Albert Embankment wall of St Thomas’ Hospital, directly over the Thames to the Houses of Parliament is an incredible piece of public guerrilla art.
Hand painted on the wall are thousands upon thousands of red and pink hearts, each one representing a victim of the Covid pandemic. Some have the names of individuals written in, there are other hearts drawn by family members, messages have been appended.
Continue reading “National Covid Memorial Wall”
Hyde Park Gate is a cul de sac off the Kensington Road, a stone’s throw from the Albert Hall and Albert Memorial. It’s a mix of houses from the second quarter of the 19th century and some fairly dreadful modern additions.
Wander down the street and you’ll pass blue plaques to Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, to the author Enid Bagnold, Sir Leslie Stephen (father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, both of whom were born here) and the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein*.
Continue reading “The House Where Churchill Died”
Another free online talk for you. Me and the rest of the gang at UKToursOnline did one of our ‘chats’ yesterday evening where we talked ghosts, witches, the supernatural and other bits of London lore and legends.
You can see me discussing the Battersea Poltergeist, Tim Barron talks about haunted theatres, Rachel Pearson looks at witches, Emma Matthews visits haunted pubs and Leo Heaton introduces us to the Black Dog of Newgate.
For more like this, follow UKToursOnline on our Facebook page.
Continue reading “Ghost stories! Spooky London tales for Hallowe’en”