Ian's quirky guide to cheap events in London updated daily, and regular blog about history, events and geeky interests. Learn about London's heritage, transport, architecture, and offbeat geeky events that are taking place. The more obscure the better.
After an absence of a few years, this September offers a chance to ride in the delightful little 1938 era tube train. The one with wooden windows, deep seats, art-deco lamp shades, and all those old fashioned adverts.
On Sunday 9th September, the 1938 Tube stock train will run trips on the Metropolitan line between Amersham and Harrow-on-the-Hill.
A retro housewife in 1940s garb will be greeting visitors at the station, helping to bring the era to life.
There are also free heritage bus rides from Amersham station to Amersham Old Town where the town’s annual Heritage Day will take place, with live bands and performances, market stalls and a children’s area and fairground.
Train tickets will soon be available for the following journeys:
Harrow on the Hill – Amersham (Single journey)
Amersham – Watford – Amersham (Return journey)
Amersham – Watford – Amersham (Return journey)
Amersham – Watford – Amersham (Return journey)
Amersham – Ealing Common OR Ruislip (Single journey) The destination of this train journey is yet to be confirmed.
Exact times for the above journeys are yet to be confirmed. Prices will start at £10 for adults, £7 concessions and £4 for children aged 4 to 14, while 3 year-olds and under go free on laps. 15 to 17 year-olds travel at the concession rate.
This is a piece of art outside the Museum of London that shows a horse surrounded by two discs, unsurprisingly, called Union – Horse with Two Discs.
A lot of visitors to the museum pass by, some with a curious glance, but few realise there’s a short description of the art on the wall near by.
This piece of bronze art is by Christoper LeBruin, who has a number of commissions and is noted for his horse related sculptures.
The imagery of horse and discs is common in his work, and he says that it suggests travel and passing from one place to another.
In an interview, the artist once said ” When you talk about horses and riders in my work it is important to me that they are not seen as real … I think of it as an entrance or key to the place I want to enter.”
The Horse with Two Discs is outside the entrance to the Museum, and while they are very real, the placement of the art is quite appropriate.
Just around the corner from St Paul’s can be found one of the City’s older churches, and one that’s unusually named after a French Saint.
The church of St Vedast-alias-Foster, is named after St Vedast, Bishop of Arras in northern Gaul around the turn of the 6th century. He was instrumental in the conversion of Clovis, the Frankish king to Christianity, and hence was was later to become France.
His name in England has been corrupted from St Vaast, by way of Vastes, Fastes, Faster, Fauster and Forster to Foster, the name of the lane at the front of the church, and the reason that the official designation of the church is St Vedast-alias-Foster.
It’s been suggested that the church may have been founded by the Flemish community in London in the 12th or 13th century.
In it’s long life it was nearly destroyed twice, once by the Great Fire of London, and then more recently in the Blitz.
It’s also notable for being the “church of 13 united parishes”, as it absorbed the parish worshipers of other churches that closed down as the City’s population shrank. Astonishingly, one of the thirteen parishes is in the USA, a curiosity of how the church of St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt in the USA in 1968.
Looking at the outside, it’s clear how the church has been built and expanded in phases over the centuries. Evidence of the original church has been found in the south wall, while in 1614, the church was expanded.
It seems to have been taken over the Puritans during the civil war, as the Rectors’ Board lists the years between 1643 and 1661 as being Foulke Bellers, a ‘Commonwealth Intruder’.
Although damaged by the Great Fire, it wasn’t included in the 50 churches to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. It later turned out that was optimistic, and maybe Wren was involved in the rebuilding, no one is entirely sure. It’s also possible that Robert Hooke and/or Nicholas Hawksmoor were involved.
The church suffered a second disaster on the 29th December 1940, the famous night that Winston Churchill ordered that nearby St Paul’s Cathedral be saved at all costs. The cost, being the absence of firemen to deal with the incendiary bombs that hit St Vedast-alias-Foster.
What we see today is the result of post-war restoration, and thanks to how good it is, unless you read the above before visiting, you’d probably not know that the “Georgian” interior is actually from the second Elizabethan age.
This being one of the few churches that is open all week — it does have 13 parishes to look after — on a hot day the doors were wide open and welcoming, even if the church itself was curiously empty.
I’d have thought a cool place to sit and rest on a blazingly hot day would be a blessing.
The seating was changed to reflect the smaller congregation, and a wooden wall that runs through the middle splits the church into two rooms. I had initially thought this was for the smaller space to be an old Ladys Chapel, but in fact it’s modern, being added during the WW2 repairs to reflect changing uses.
The walls are not actually perfectly square, which is noticable if you look up at the organ and how the ceiling behind doesn’t quite line up correctly.
There’s also almost imperceptible taper in the pews and floor pattern, to give a false perspective towards the altar, making the church look longer than it is.
The richness of the wood pews contrasts with the white walls, but look up heavenward for the richly decorated ceiling, which is based on 17th century designs from other churches.
This playful addition is itself part of a review of the image archive, of over 7.3 million items, that’s now underway as part of a wider plan to move much of the archive to a new facility being built in Wiltshire.
In 2023 the facility will become home to over 80% of the Science Museum Group collection, providing increased public access (both physically and digitally) and stable conditions for its long-term management and care.
Moving 320,000 collection items to the National Collections Centre provides the opportunity to digitise this major part of the collection – research and photography of these items has already begun – creating one of the most extensive online scientific collections in the world.
A review aims to re-examine the significance of these items and together with new research will provide a greater understanding of the collection. New insights into the collection will be published online, while the review will also identify priorities for future collecting and programming in the Group’s museums.
Like all major museums, the Group frequently adds to and occasionally removes items from its collection. As well as focusing on future collecting, the review may identify a small number of items, such as those that are duplicates or better suited to display or research elsewhere, that could be transferred to other public collections.
One of the periodic reports from TfL has been released with details of ongoing network upgrades across the networks it controls over the past few months.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on when the lines are closed at weekends, this will inform you.
They have laid track in the northbound running tunnel from Battersea station to Nine Elms station, and begun laying track in the southbound tunnel.
They’ve also started the installation of the cable management system, made up of thousands of heavy duty brackets fixed to the tunnel walls.
The closure of the interchange at Kennington has seen a 41 percent increase in Bakerloo line journeys and a 26 percent increase in local bus journeys.
TfL has fitted 10 more S-stock trains with the automatic signalling system this period, bringing the total to 100 out of a fleet of 192, plus added the kit to two more engineering vehicles.
Elizabeth line / Crossrail
The Crossrail project is now more than 93 per cent complete. Progress continues to be made, although schedule pressures remain.
The train depot at Old Oak Common is now in use.and will house and maintain up to 42 of the Elizabeth line’s 70 trains at a time.
The upgrade of the existing rail network for Crossrail, being undertaken by Network Rail, continues. There have been some further challenges on the timescales for the award of contracts for enhancement works on western stations, but Network Rail is still targeting completion by December 2019.
There’s been a shift in rush hour traffic on the Jubilee line.
Previously, demand during the morning peak time came from the west end of the line to Canary Wharf. Demand has now shifted; with the majority of journeys coming from the east end of the line between Canada Water and Stratford, as well as there being a large number of customers interchanging from c2c and London Overground.
(my note, as some eastbound rush hour trains stop at North Greenwich, this may need to be reviewed)
They’re evaluating bids submitted to supply 43 new trains which will start to enter service in 2022. A tender has also been issued for design work to expand Beckton depot.
New posters reminded people to use lifts when carrying luggage, at City Airport station, which led to a 60 percent reduction in escalator incidents.
Battersea Power Station
They have completed the ticket hall floor slab and constructed both platforms. Blockwork walls are being built which will create the public and back of house spaces.
The station box base slab has been completed and they have begun constructing the platforms. Breeze block walls are being built throughout the station to create the ticket hall and other spaces. At the platform level the secondary concrete-lined walls are being cast and encasement of columns continues.
Work is underway to construct four new cross passages between the Bank branch and Charing Cross branch platforms.
Tunnel works on the upgrade remain on schedule, and work continues on the moving walkway tunnel. They are hand-mining of tunnels at various interfaces with the existing station tunnels, and have started the construction of the walls and columns for the new station entrance.
Progress continues on the east and westbound link passages to the District and Circle lines and associated lifts. The fit-out is progressing in the remaining tunnels linking to the southern ticket hall.
Is now step-free, and is the 74th station to become step-free.
Following a trial of increased signs warning about safety on escalators at 10 stations generated a 29% drop in accidents, the new signage is being added to the rest of the Underground.
Another 60 stations have been earmarked for ‘DX3’ Cross Track Projection advertising — the videos that are played on the trackside of platform tunnels.
A recent two-week advertising take-over at Baker Street for the Sherlock Gnomes film generated £60,000 in revenue.
As part of the cost cutting, there have been projects deferred, such as asset resilience, as well as delays in letting the civils contract at Knightsbridge and Victoria line maintenance.
London’s newest Pocket Park opened a couple of weeks ago, replacing an ugly road junction that was a legacy of 1960s thinking.
The area now occupied by a park had been a road for a very long time, but in the 1960s clearance, the block including St Botolph’s Church and Aldgate Station was effectively turned into a giant roundabout.
Underpasses were added for pedestrians who were now cut off from the station and church by the busy road junction.
However, more enlightened thinking today sees little appeal in dank subways, and people had long abandoned them for darting across the road or walking along narrow pavements to get around the junction.
(c) City of London Corporation
Following a lot of consultations, for shutting off a major road junction is no easy matter, it was agreed to return some side roads into two-way traffic, and turn this 1960s road widening scheme into a park.
It’s cost £23 million to do the work, which seems a lot for a small park, but considering that much of it was to undo the 1960s damage, may look like a bargain.
Now that the park is open, it’s mostly paving space, with a currently very fashionable raised grass section in the centre. The elevated section effectively offering considerable seating along the edges without filling the space with wooden benches.
A total of 71 new trees have been planted, and around the edges are more decorative planting with wildflowers.
There’s a cafe inside the rather striking weathering steel building, and the toilets inside are available to the general public. The Portsoken Pavilion was designed by Make Architects, and echoes the City’s visitor centre by St Paul’s Cathedral.
It’s size is deceptive though, as they’ve made use of one of the old pedestrian subways for the public toilets and back-of-house facilities. These subway tunnels are also used to provide passive heating and cooling, measures topped up with low-energy VRF units.
Aldgate was one of the ancient gates into the City on the Roman Wall. The wall has gone, but this Pocket Park today acts as good as any as a gateway into the City.
Founded in 1552 for the education of poor children, the pupils of Christ’s Hospital have since become far more famous for their distinctive blue uniform.
Although 466 years old, an exhibition at the Museum of London celebrates the 350 years that they were based at Christ’s Hospital in Newgate Street.
In 1902 they moved out to Horsham, but come back to London annual for a parade.
The exhibition at the temporary display section by the entrance to the museum is a series of glass cases with curios about the school’s history and the life of a pupil there.
This display delves into the history behind the School’s creation, its famous blue uniform, historic practices, charitable benefactors, and some of its famous pupils including Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
There’s also a video display of the annual parade through the City of London, which takes place on the Friday closest to 21st September, St Mathew’s Day. They pass their old school site on the way to see the Lord Mayor of London.
This year, it happens to be the 21st September itself, so look out for lots of people in blue uniforms parading through the city.
There’s an exceptionally good exhibition on at the moment at SOAS in the centre of London all about the Empire of the Sikhs.
I think it would not be an unfair generalisation to say that many people see a Sikh with their turbans and think of them as just another Indian. But their culture and history is separate from the Muslims of Pakistan and the resurgent Hindu nationalism of India.
The Sikh Empire (1799–1849), which spanned much of modern day Pakistan and northwest India, was forged by the ‘Napoleon of the East’ Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) who became known as Sher-e-Punjab, the Lion of Punjab, over his forty-year reign.
Had history twisted ever so slightly differently, there would be a third country, a legacy of the Sikh Empire spanning both India and Pakistan, but it was lost in partition and the actions of the British Empire.
The exhibition opens with a beautifully decorated gun-howitzer, one of a pair of Sikh guns that were presented to the British at the end of the second Anglo-Sikh war and is the only piece known to exist in a private collection.
It’s a rare survivor as the British had a tendency to melt down captured armaments for their metal. In this case, to produce two statues of the men who defeated the Sikhs, which is rather rubbing their noses in it to say the least.
The main display is downstairs, where glass cases of mostly military objects are supplemented with a wide range of display boards telling the history of the Sikh Empire.
It opens with a drawing and painting representing the moment the peaceful Sikhs transformed from “sparrows to hawks”, and set their defining image thereafter — as fighters and warriors.
The man who largely forged the Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh established a powerful military meritocracy that included many European officers seeking their fortune. Many were from the army of Napoleon seeking work after his defeat, and were known as Firangis – or foreigners.
Despite that, the Sikh Empire initially had good relations with the British in India.
Ranjit Singh’s empire offered a crucial buffer state between the British and incursions via the Khyber Pass. The one-eyed king was a trusted ally of the British but also a potentially formidable opponent.
As a warrior country, much of the display focuses on the weapons and amour worn in battle, but all around the walls are paintings and portraits of the leading men in the army, and the distinct culture of the Sikh Empire.
Particularly colourful, even by the standards of the region, is the story of Governor Harlan, who tried to make himself a King — thought to be the real life inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s, The Man Who Would Be King.
The inevitable clash with the British came in the form of two bitterly fought Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845 amd 1848) in which British pre-eminence hung in the balance as they came within hours of a total surrender. But through treachery, victory was turned into defeat for the Sikhs whose territories, treasury and fighting men became incorporated into British dominion.
Despite the loss of independence, the Sikhs became a valuable ally to the British military, and it’s an often overlooked aspect that they served in large numbers in WW1 and WW2 on the Allied side.
By the advent of the European wars, nearly 20% of the British Indian army was Sikh, despite making up just 1% of the population.
Sadly, when India was gained independence, Punjab, the heart of the Sikh Empire was split and the Sikhs demand for a homeland was ignored in the turmoil that followed partition.
The centre of the exhibition is given over to that other aspect of the rulers, their love of jewels.
For many people, one of the defining icons, good and bad, of the British Empire in India is the Koh-i-Noor diamond which today sits in the Crown Jewels. No one really knows how the diamond was found, but it had many many owners, often changing hands by force, until it was set in a bazuband amulet on show here, with a rock crystal replica of the diamond.
When the Sikh Empire was taken over the British, one of the conditions of the surrender was that the diamond be handed over to Queen Victoria. It’s been a contentions object within the Crown Jewels ever since, and one that would never be satisfactorily resolved as many previous owners, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can all lay reasonable claims to it.
SOAS often puts on good exhibitions, but this one is exceptionally good, and probably their best since the Zoroastrian exhibition back in 2013. One slight irritant is that the small signs in the dark display at the back of the ground floor are very difficult to read in the gloom.
This is not just a chance to see a lot of interesting objects, but thanks to the detailed information boards, for many a chance to learn about an Empire they probably didn’t know had ever existed.
The exhibition, Empire of the Sikhs is open Tues-Sun 10:30am to 5pm until 23rd September at SOAS just behind the British Museum. It’s open late on Thursdays to 8pm.
There’s also a heavyweight book on sale that’s been reprinted for the exhibition.
Probably one of the most famous royal deaths in history, and still a mystery, the Science Museum is putting on an exhibition about the execution of the Romanov Royal Family.
To mark the 100th anniversary of their execution at Yekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks, the free exhibition opening later this year will investigate the role of science in the lives and deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
Set against a turbulent backdrop of the Russian revolution, the Science Museum aims to explore the significant influence of medicine on the private lives of the imperial family during this period and the advances in medicine and forensic science over 70 years later that transformed the investigation into their sudden disappearance.
From the treatment of their only son and heir Alexei’s life-threatening haemophilia B, a rare blood condition and infamous ‘royal disease’ passed down from Queen Victoria, to the Tsarina’s fertility and the Red Cross medical training of the Tsar’s daughters, this exhibition will explore the imperial family’s contrasting reliance on both the latest medical discoveries of the time as well as traditional and spiritual healers.
The Royal Family’s determination to keep Alexei’s illness a secret, as well as their unorthodox approach to providing relief, compelled them to take controversial measures that ultimately contributed to the fall of the 300-year-old dynasty.
The exhibition will show off objects such as the family’s personal diaries, private possessions and jewellery found at the scene of their murder, and an Imperial Fabergé Egg presented by the Tsar to his wife just a year before the fall of the imperial house.
For the first time, photographic albums created by an English tutor to the imperial family, and now part of the Science Museum Group collection, will be on public display, providing an insight into their daily lives.
The investigation into the disappearance of Tsar Nicholas II, his family and entourage, following the revolutions of 1917, started in July 1918 and the case remains open.
Formal identification of the remains of the last members of the imperial family is however expected to be announced this week, which will finally bring closure to this historic case.
The Science Museum exhibition opens on 21st September, and entry will be free, but needs booking in advance. Tickets are released today.
There’s a part of England’s green and pleasant land that’s rich in ancient stone works, and at one place, you can find a pub inside a giant stone circle.
This is Avebury, home to the world’s largest stone circle.
The best way to start a visit to Avebury, is not to go to Avebury. Which sounds odd, but there’s a long avenue of stones leading to the circle, and it’s better to start by parking in a small lay- by on the B4003 and have a preview of what’s to come.
One our visit, a woman was slowly walking along the avenue, arms outstretched in that “communing with the spirits” sort of way, but otherwise the avenue was totally empty.
It’s a space to contemplate the stones in their unnatural line heading up and over the hill. To ancient man it must have been an awesome sight, and no less to modern man, and a welcome one to know that they were close to their destination just out of sight.
A stone aperitif to the main action to come.
We spent time admiring the view, the stones, soaking up the emptiness of the landscape. It was only later when at home that I realised one of the stones was smiling back at us.
Head towards Avebury, and there’s a National Trust car park near the cricket ground, with a pathway to the stones themselves.
Avebury henge and stone circles are managed by The National Trust on behalf of English Heritage, and the two organisations share the cost of managing and maintaining the property.
The stone circle is in a way both ancient and modern. The earthworks, with the deep ditch and high wall are probably around 5,000 years old, and the stones added over the next thousand or so years.
Yet what you see today is also modern.
Until the 19th century, the stone circle was little known outside local lore, and thanks to puritan efforts, much was destroyed in part due to anti-pagan radicalism, and in part for the practical desire to have stone for building houses with.
Fortunately, the wealthy politician and archaeologist Sir John Lubbock bought much of the available land in the area and discouraged house building within the circle, and later, the even richer archaeologist Alexander Keiller managed to buy the entire site and conserve it.
It was Keller who in the 1930s restored Avebury to what we see today, re-erecting fallen stones, and in some places, uncovering stones that had been buried by 14th century Christians.
Today what we see at Avebury is the result of something that happened a mere 90 years ago.
Fortunately, it’s also pretty decent archeology, with stones put back where they originated from, and a number of concrete posts in the ground to show where they know there were stones in the past, but are low lost, or probably shattered into the walls of local houses.
They might also make up the walls of Avebury’s other famous landmark – the pub, which is the only one in the world inside a stone circle. A legacy of pre-19th century thinking when the stones were seen as a building material than an ancient relic to be preserved intact.
One of the great joys of Avebury is that despite its fame, it’s far less famous than Stonehenge, and hence an awful lot quieter. It’s also freely accessible to wander around the inside of the stones, go up to them, touch and caress them. Indeed, with a decent chunk of village and a main road running through the middle, it would be very difficult to seal the stones off from visitors.
The high earthen bank that runs around gives a good view across the circles, and on hot days, a solitary tree offers much needed shade.
There’s little in the way of interpretive signs, you are left to absorb the grandeur of the stones for yourself and make up your own mind about them.
One of the nice things is that you can do it however you want. No formal tours. Turn up, wander around, take in some stones, visit the weird new-age shop, visit the museum, have a pint, go back to the stones, wander around. Do it your way.
Of course, the mystery is why is it here at all. Digging the huge ditch and then piling the soil up to form the henge around the circle would have been a massive effort in itself, then to move the massive stones and place them here.
Many theories, ranging from decent archeological to space aliens have been suggested over the centuries.
In a way though, it doesn’t really matter.
We can all come to Avebury, be awed by the stones, their magnificence and antiquity, to be amazed at the effort taken to build them, and to relax in the sublime landscape.
We can all bring our own genius loci to the site and take away our own individual interpretations of the circle, knowing that for each of us, the stones are a very personal experience.