A dastardly murder in Pall Mall

If you’ve never been to Westminster Abbey (or it’s ages since you last visited), now is the perfect time to go.

The absence of foreign visitors and coach tours might be hitting some of us in the wallet, but the usually overcrowded cultural attractions – the Tower of London, the British Museum, our other museums and galleries, cathedrals – are suddenly oases of calm. You are unlikely to get this opportunity again, so go visit! You will come away refreshed and uplifted.

Continue reading “A dastardly murder in Pall Mall”

The Ascent of W1: the Marble Arch Mound

I actually thought it might be a good idea. It was certainly an idea worth exploring, and perhaps wacky/left field enough to work; plant a hill in the centre of the city, with flowers and trees. Bring a spot of the old rus to the very urbe Oxford Street. Give Nash’s poor, lost, isolated Marble Arch a bit of company.

Mind you, I thought it was going to be an actual hill – several thousand tons of soil compacted into a new knoll/tor/hillock. I didn’t think it would be just a web of scaffolding covered in rolls of sedum and sparse saplings. Nor did I know that the budgeted cost was £2 million (with an actual cost of £6 million: Six. Million. Quid).

Continue reading “The Ascent of W1: the Marble Arch Mound”

The 4500 year old Standard of Ur

Back in the British Museum for the first time since lockdown and prepping for a real life tour with a real life guest.

The Standard of Ur is an object I’ve walked past on numerous occasions, but until yesterday hadn’t ever really spent any time looking at. Its history and what it tells us about early city civilisations is remarkable.

It was discovered in the late 1920s during the British archaeologist Leonard Woolley’s excavation of the city of Ur. One of the most famous and earliest of the cities of ancient Mesopotamia (“between the rivers” of the Tigris and Euphrates; modern-day Iraq), Ur was a city-state of the Sumerians, founded about 3800 BCE.

Continue reading “The 4500 year old Standard of Ur”

American Memorials in London

Another map, this one done for my UKToursOnline talk, “Star-Spangled Capital”. That’s about statues and memorials to Americans in London, and includes presidents, Founding Fathers, authors, philanthropists, artists and more.

As always, this is an ongoing project, so if you know of something that should be included, just post the details in the comments and I’ll add it to the map.

Continue reading “American Memorials in London”

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

If you should come into the Abbey through the West Door and into the nave, you will walk over the memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, but  everyone, whether commoner or Queen, walks around the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

This is the last resting place of a British soldier, “known only to God” and is a commemoration of British war dead, conceived in the aftermath of WW1. The red flowers around it are paper poppies, a symbol of remembrance from a First World War poem – “In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row”. Poppies thrive in ground that has been churned up, so the bombed out land and the grave sites away from the front line encouraged their blooms.

Continue reading “The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior”

The Museum of the Home

To the reopened (after a 3 ½ year, £18m+ revamp) Museum of the Home, a London Society tour with the museum director Sonia Solicari, and Naila Yousuf, the lead architect on the project from the firm of Wright + Wright.

Way back in the dark ages of the 1980s I lived in Hoxton where the museum is based, close to the Regent’s Canal, just off Kingsland Road. Those were the days before Hoxton became “Hoxton”, stamping ground for the Young British Artists and the ‘bleeding edge’ of privileged urban lifestyles masquerading as slumming it.

The museum was then known as the Geffrye Museum, so named because it was sited in the alms houses built in 1714 that had been funded from the estate of Robert Geffrye (more on him later). It was a series of rooms that captured the furnishings and style of different periods, showing what the living spaces of (comfortably off) families would have been like from the mid-1600s through to the 1950s.

Continue reading “The Museum of the Home”

Eastcheap’s Camels

Eastcheap – from an old english word for market (and “east” to distinguish it from the original Westcheap, now ‘Cheapside’) – runs from Monument tube station towards the Tower of London; its name dates to at least anglo-saxon times.

At number 20 is a bar called Eastcheap Records, but look above the door and you will see a frieze of three laden camels being led by a Bedouin across a desert. The bones of a fourth camel might be made out in the centre foreground.

Continue reading “Eastcheap’s Camels”