A Medieval Citole in the British Museum

Up in Room 40 of the British Museum you will find one of the most stunning bits of medieval carving to survive – a citole (an early type of guitar) that dates from around 1300.

It’s carved from box (a slow-growing shrub that produces dense, hard wood). When it was nearly 300 years old, someone decided that citoles were so last year and converted it into a violin, but the neck and main structure were retained (the finger board and top of the sound box are ‘new’).

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The Cabinet Room at the Churchill War Rooms

My Instagram Live talk from today about the Cabinet Room in the Central War Rooms and how it was used in WW2.

“This is the room from which I shall direct the war” said Winston Churchill in May 1940. Click on ‘play’ to hear about the set up, the atmosphere, the tense meetings and arguments that took place beneath the streets of Westminster, and to see some of the incredible artefacts that have been preserved in the space.

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Churchill War Rooms

With us all locked down it’s impossible to do tours at present, so I’ll be experimenting with some online tours. This is the first effort (at the risk of underselling it, I’m hoping they’ll improve with practice) – an introduction to the Churchill War Rooms.

I’ll do a couple more on the Cabinet Room and the Map Room in the next couple of weeks, but this one attempts to set the context for their creation and introduce a couple of characters that you may not have heard of.

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Lewis Chessmen

Lewis-chessmen08One of the most famous of the early medieval exhibits from the museum is the Lewis chessmen. 93 separate pieces, in a variety of sizes, were discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis, hidden, presumably, by someone who was trading the sets. These 93 are now split between the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

They’re exquisitely carved, with some wonderful details and are made mainly of walrus ivory – from the tusks of the walrus – with a few that are carved whales’ teeth.

[Here’s an online talk I did recently about the chess pieces\

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Victorian London on Film

The very first moving pictures of London were taken by the cinematographic pioneer William Friese-Green in January 1889. He filmed Apsley Gate near Hyde Park Corner – the first moving picture in the world to use celluloid, but not (quite) the world’s first movie; Louis le Prince had filmed Roundhay Park and Leeds Bridge the previous year.

Friese-Green’s film does not survive, but Yestervid.com have included the oldest-surviving footage (ten frames of Trafalgar Square) from 1890 in their compilation below. It was shot by the splendidly named Wordsworth Donisthorpe on a film camera of his own invention. This was obviously an incredible time for cinematographic pioneers – we’ve already mentioned three inventors with their very different processes and in the US Edison had patented his Kinetograph, to be followed in 1895 by the Lumiere brothers and their Cinématographe. Continue reading “Victorian London on Film”

Wood Street Police Station

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 an archive programme from the BBC, part of their ‘Building Sights’ series of shorts from the mid-90s.

Because it’s over 20 years old, it is ‘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 its examination of a police station disguised as an Italian Palazzo is still worth watching.

(Click on the link is here.)