When in Mayfair, don’t reduce your time to shopping and restaurants only. There are more than 100 private galleries which are open to public and work later than regular museums. A most recent addition is the Eden Fine Art Gallery hailing from the New York art scene. It is now showcasing works by David Kracov which are an explosion of colour and happiness.
It’s been a hundred years since a revolution in Russia swept away the tsar, the country and turned the life of people on its head. Revolution 17 is a project which delves into the century that followed through music, theatre, performance, talks and films, exploring the story of Soviet and then post-Soviet Russia with a wide range of free events.
Dash Arts, set up by Josephine Burton and Tim Supple in 2005, is a unique platform which has since produced many events with artists from around the world. A lot of their work focuses on the countries from the Post Soviet states. Events from the past included tributes to singer-songwriter/ actor Vladimir Vysotsky and rock singer Viktor Tsoi, Ukrainian cooking demonstrations, Georgian film, living at a Russian dacha weekend and talks about sex in the Soviet Union. More details.
Embassies in London are not just about diplomatic stuff and visas. Some showcase their culture to general public in free exhibitions. Japanese Embassy is exhibiting comic short stories through the end of March. You cannot take pictures inside for security reasons. Details.
It’s round the corner from Barbican Centre in Charterhouse Square and started off as a priory next to a mass Black Death grave. Now it is often referred to as an Oasis in the City. And it is really. Spanning more than six centuries of sometimes tumultuous history, the Charterhouse next to the Barbican tube station and the Smithfield market and what will soon be a Crossrail hub, is a quiet abode for 45 male pensioners. Wind back to the 14th century, a Carthusian monastery was founded there following the plague in which thousands of people died, more than 50,000 of them burried in a pit. It is now a lovely garden in Charterhouse Square.
Reformation brought the end to monks’ peaceful life and in the 16th century it fell into the hands of aristocracy. Queen Elizabeth I stayed there before being crowned to sense out the sentiment. The place was bought by then richest man in England Sir Thomas Sutton, who gained wealth through coal trade, marrying well and renting money at 10 percent. He was also a philanthropist and donated the ex priory for it to become an almshouse for gentlemen pensioners, at the time soldiers and servants to the King. The community now consists of former teachers, musicians, writers and clergymen. Once a week, the brothers give tours of the Charterhouse. You will see pretty much everything but their flats including the Great Hall where breakfast, lunch, tea and supper are served daily. You have to pay for the tour and to be able to see most of the premises but its museum is free. The Chapel also hosts concerts.
At a museum dedicated to Michael Faraday in the Royal Institution and over 200 years of history-making science. From the odds and ends that became the first electrical transformer to the tube that told us why the sky is blue. The highlight of the museum is Faraday’s magnetic laboratory displayed as it was in the 1850s opposite a current nanotechnology lab.
From the early 17th century the docks in East London have been key to the history of its development. A former Georgian warehouse which is now Museum of London Docklands tells many a story of shipping and trade through interactive displays and hands-on activities . Hear stories from sailors, merchants and pirates, learn about the transatlantic slave trade, roam the alleyways of Sailortown and inhale the smells of East London’s past in a recreation of Victorian Wapping. More information.
It has seen many a head roll (not just cows’) including that of Scotland’s hero William Wallace who was hung, drawn and quartered there with his head then stuck on a pole above the London Bridge in 1305. It’s Smithfield market, the largest meat market in London. It survived through generations and iterations. In medieval times it was known for public executions when scenes of torture were commonplace. It was also the site for wife selling in the early 19th century when divorce was very difficult and men brought their unwanted wives along with other goods to the market to sell them. History has it that one woman’s fortune turned around there when she was picked up from the gutter by a wealthy passerby, remarried and propelled by her new husband to the world of the upper crust. In 1852 the Smithfield Market Removal Act was passed relocating the live market to Copenhagen fields in Islington, clearing the way for Sir Horace Jones to design the new market buildings that we know today. In 1873 the Poultry Market was erected to the west of the Meat Market and followed by two buildings further west known as the General Market and Annexe. The market itself was for the chop as part of those recent fancy kill-old-build-new redevelopments. But it was saved by the SAVE Britain Heritage.
The market is open from about 2 am to 7 am ish and is mainly catering to wholesale buyers but there are lots of bargains for individual buyers too. Families are known to use the night time and no congestion charge to stock up for weeks ahead at a third or even half of the price they would pay at their local. It’s better quality too. Visiting is free.
The City is the oldest part of London known in the Roman times as Londinium and was under Roman rule for a fifth of its history. The Romans built a wooden amphitheater, a Wembley Stadium of the times, accommodating more than 7,000 spectators to watch wild animal fights and execution of criminals, as well as gladiator combats. Over the centuries it was buried under layers of later buildings and was re-discovered in 1988 during site preparations for the new art gallery. The record of the finds from 13 years of fieldwork filled three volumes and the amphitheater was opened to public in 2002. It is six meters below the modern pavement. The circle of black paving stones in Guildhall Yard marks the original extent of the arena.
From the Roman times fast forward to the 12 century when the City became so important to the country as a trading center that the Crown granted the people their own form of local government. The government, formed before the Parliament, sits in the Guildhall, the City’s only secular medieval building . The City is divided into 25 wards and 125 members are elected to represent them. The Square Mile as it is also known counts 9,000 residents and around 400,000 workers. It is a city within a city and even has its own police with 700 officers. The City’s present-day links to its past through more than 100 livery companies that were created from the early trade practices in the 12th century: Merchant Taylors, Fishmongers, Drapers and Haberdashers. You can visit the Guildhall and the amphitheater for free. Also worth visiting is the Art Gallery which provides a portrait of the City through years. The changing display counts 250 artworks from its permanent collection including Victorian art and Dutch 17th-cenury masterpieces. The library also host various exhibitions and talks throughout the year. Free introductory tours of under 45 minutes are available on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15. They can be joined or left at any time and no booking is required.
That’s how this palatial building on the Strand was referred to once when housing the Register of births, marriages and deaths. Now, a place for free art exhibitions as well as open air cinema in the summer and a skating rink in the winter, the Somerset House has been used for many functions. A royal abode where young Elizabeth I lived while her half-sister Queen Mary I reigned, and Anne of Denmark, wife of King Charles I kept residence there, temporarily giving it a name of Denmark House.
The original name comes from the first owner Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector to young Edward VI, who commissioned its building in the 16th century. The Duke was executed in 1552 and the house went to the Crown. Initially used by the royals, it was given up for residence to people close to the Crown and suffered from neglect until it was demolished in 1775.
The current building designed by Sir William Chambers has since been home to the Admiralty, the Royal Academy and the Inland Revenue among many other functions.
Somerset house was the first building in England to have parquet flooring and hosted the first performance of an Italian opera in the country. It has also been a popular filming location and features in the James Bond and Sherlock Holmes films. And it once stood in for Buckingham Palace.
You can even be at the helm of the monetary policy for a few minutes … at the Bank of England museum. From hand written notes to sophisticated plastics, see the history of money evolve over more than 300 years and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street presiding over it. It’s free. The rest of the current building which is a joint effort by Sir John Soane and Sir Herbert Baker, including the inner garden, the rate room and Carney’s office is open to public on the Open House Weekend in September. Founded to raise money during a time of war against France from private investors, the bank was established by Royal Charter in 1694 and moved to its current location 40 years later. The earliest paper money was a form of receipt for deposits left with goldsmiths for safekeeping. The portrait of monarch first appeared on notes in 1960 and ten years later the first historical character to grace the face of banknotes was William Shakespeare on the 20 pound note. The first polymer notes that will be 15 percent smaller in size have already been introduced in the circulation. Sir Winston Churchill is on the five pound note and Jane Austen will adorn the 10 pound note later this year. You can lean a lot more including about how to tell a forged note from the genuine one at the BoE museum which is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm.