Posts Tagged ‘National Maritime Museum’

Another lovely evening online pub meeting last night. We kicked off with a short presentation by Joanna Moncrieff on Charles William Alcock – The Forgotten Father of English Sport. A wonderful story about a remarkable man whom few have even heard of.  Thanks, Jo!

Following from our last post, the topic for yesterday evening’s lockdown online pub meet-up was favourite London historic images. These could be paintings, illustrations, cartoons and even maps. Here I copy-paste from our Chat panel and today’s emails from participants and my own recollection. Apologies for any errors or omissions.

I’ll kick of with my choice which was William Hogarth’s engraving of the South Sea Bubble, 1720, the 300th anniversary of which is this year. The artist was about 23 at the time of the crash and made this engraving just a year later, a very early example of his satirical work. I’ll be writing a whole post on the bubble later.


One of our members chose another of my absolute Hogarth favourites. the March of the Guards to Finchley (1750), which lives at the Foundling Museum.


Other choices:

The Lord Mayor’s Show by Logsdail, in the Guildhall Art Gallery
Madness – Anybody for Tea, Vicar and Topolski
A street in Bermondsey with cottages
The Gipkyn diptych of Old St Paul’s (Society of Antiquaries), below
The Dust Heap at Kings Cross (Wellcome Institute), below

margaret 01

margaret 02

(thanks, Margaret!)

Anne Ramon chose Bury St Edmund by Sybil Andrews a linocut 1930s Dulwich Picture Gallery
Paul Blake: Work by Ford Madox Brown
Daniella King: Bus Stop by Doreen Fletcher

Diana Swinfield’s Group: “St Pancras Station (Rob Smith), Pisarro’s Lordship Lane Station (Diana), Demolition of Old London Bridge (Jen P) Blackfriars Bridge (Tina), Merrion’s 1638 Panorama (Doug H).

Stephen Coates chipped in with the only known map/illustration of a temporary bridge at Vauxhall from the very early 20C. It’s from the Museum of London.

aerial view of temporary bridge

Marilyn Green: ‘Constable Branch Hill Pond 1828 in the V&A ( and sketch from 1819).

Diane Burstein nominated The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale from the Geffrye Museum which is pointedly political, showing a very well-heeled man and woman observing the unemployed, hungry marchers from the comfort of a town house window.
Dugdale, Thomas Cantrell, 1880-1952; The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior

Tina Baxter nominated a remarkable painting from the Guildhall Art Gallery: Blackfriars Bridge & St Paul’s London by Anthony Lowe b 1957
blackfriars bridge

Probably my favourite of the evening was nominated by Claire Randall: The Royal George at Deptford Showing the Launch of The Cambridge, (1757), by John Cleverley the Elder from the National Maritime Museum. It’s gorgeous and when everything is open again I shall seek it out.

Another very lively and fascinating session. My thanks to all who attended, spoke, contributed and sent feedback. Apologies if I forgot stuff.

Special salaams to Dave Brown, our Zoom admin, or in this context, Landlord!

Our next online pub meet-up is Wednesday 3 June at 6.30 pm. The break-out discussion topic will be name three historical Londoners you’d invite to dinner (or dine out with). Our introductory speaker will be LH Member Peter Kennedy on Thames foreshore bomb damage during World War 2.


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200_Portrait of Samuel Pepys, Attributed to John Riley, c.1680, The Clothworkers Company

Pepys, Attr to John Riley, c.1680, © The Clothworkers Company

Can any Londoner have led a more interesting life than Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)? Violence, tragedy, pain and enlightenment. He experienced all in good measure and at very close quarters.

Pepys wrote what became a famous diary, he buried his cheese during the Great Fire and he canoodled with the maid. That is what most people know about this man. He was by no means great in the way Wellington, Nelson were great. Or hugely talented like Shakespeare, Hogarth and Wren. Or a great brain box like Newton. But he was an important and influential figure in his day, he mixed with the best, had the ear of kings, was a more than competent administrator. And from our point of view, he was a Londoner of great note. Literally.

A new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Plague, Fire and Revolution – celebrates the life of Samuel Pepys. But it is as much about his times as it is about the man himself. But what times they were!

The English Civil War; The regicide of Charles I; The Great Plague; The Great Fire of London; The re-building of London; The wars with the Dutch; The Glorious Revolution. Pepys directly influenced some: he was touched by them all.

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

These momentous events are here represented and celebrated. Portraits, panoramas, print, costume, pottery, armour and personal objects all combine to give you a strong sense of Pepys’s world, that is to say the world of the 17th century ruling class in London. The people Pepys rubbed shoulders with were kings and princes, scientists and admirals. Never has there been such a concentration of eminence, ambition and talent. But it wasn’t all blood, guts and distaster. The emergence of London as a world city. The era was characterised by the emergence of international trade and modern scientific discovery. Exotic consumer goods – tea, tobacco, coffee. All of these things are represented in this show which to sum up in a word: lavish.

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © The National Maritime Museum.

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © National Maritime Museum.

Pepys's tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Pepys’s tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

The curators have gathered together a group of objects from their own archives and combined them with material from the Royal Collection, Museum of London, livery companies and elsewhere to serve up a true feast. A very accessible, informative and enjoyable show.


Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich runs until 28 March 2016. Adult entry is £12. Free for Friends, half price for Art Fund members.

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In chronological order of publication, my top three:

London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing by Jerry White.
Having covered London in the 19th and 20th Centuries in earlier works, this is Professor White’s masterpiece. Over a decade in the making, published back in March and not yet reviewed by me, I’m ashamed to say. I probably wouldn’t know where to start: loved it.

The Day Parliament Burned Down by Caroline Shenton
Reviewed by me here.

Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly
Reviewed by me here.

One finished, don’t miss the other two which are still running. My top three.

Royal River at the National Maritime Museum

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men at the Museum of London
until 14 April 2013

The Lost Prince at the National Portrait Gallery
until 13 January 2013, treat as urgent!

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royal river greenwichThis exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – guest-curated by David Starkey – celebrates five hundred years of the London Thames and its relationship with our monarchs. The narrative sweep is partitioned neatly and chronologically. We see how Tudor and Stuart rulers mounted simply enormous royal processions, mainly for propagandistic purposes. Henry VIII did one for Anne Boleyn. Charles II introduced Catherine of Braganza to the London public with a huge river display for which Pepys himself could not get a berth on any boat for under eight shillings, leaving us to rely on John Evelyn’s account. The Queen’s procession on 3rd June will be the first in 350 years to rival these.

The next section – my favourite – shows us how livery companies, many of whom had their own barges, tried to outdo each other for opulence during the new Lord Mayor’s annual river procession. We have contemporary paintings and gorgeous barge objects – carved and gilded coats of arms, patron saints, uniforms and more.

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

Quirky. A 17C mascot statue belonging to the Company of Ironmongers. It was believed ostriches ate iron.

Later on we see how the royal centre of gravity moved west, particularly when George III moved the family to Kew. Objects on show include his telescopes, a microscope and an amazing breakfast table egg boiler (reminding one of Gillray’s cruel cartoon).

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

Poignant. Last known portrait of George III. Wigless, mad and not terribly happy.

By the early 19th Century, the Thames was sewage-infested and fast deteriorating. The golden age of barge processions as depicted by Canaletto was well and truly over. The exhibition perforce concentrates on new bridges, the embankment and pumping stations. Steam and engineers. We have portraits I had not seen before of hero engineers: Rennie and Bazalgette. And we have of course Barry and Pugin transforming the Westminster shoreline. The role of royalty was now opening bridges and pumping stations.

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

The overwhelming majority of objects brought together for this exhibition have been lent by other institutions; by livery companies; by private collectors; and not least by Her Majesty the Queen. Aside from those mentioned above we have original scores of Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks; 18C musical instruments; landscape paintings and original architect and engineering drawings; flags, livery and uniforms; royal souvenirs and gifts. My favourite: a huge carved Stuart coat of arms from the ship Royal Charles, captured by the Dutch and still in their possession!

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

royal river national maritime museum greenwich

Professor Starkey and the National Maritime Museum are to be congratulated for mounting this stunning and deeply absorbing exhibition.

The exhibition runs from 27 April to 9 September. Admission £11. Family tickets available.

More information, booking etc.

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Today it was announced that the Palace of Westminster would not, after all, be making an entry charge to the Clock Tower to visit Big Ben. Not until 2015, in any case. The House of Commons Commission seemingly backed down after protests from a group of MPs. The suggested ticket price was £15. Yes one-five pounds.

Instead of coming up with a sensible and fair price, the default position was immediately to fleece the punter. Why? Because they can, and there’s plenty of precedent. The Monument – a not dissimilar experience, I would suggest – charges a sensible £3, and I look forward to going up there soon. Most boutique museums and “lesser” historic sites tend to charge £5 – 7. Fair enough. My nearest, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, charges £10. A tad pricy, perhaps, but your ticket does at least last for 12 months. I wish more museums would do this.

Sites which were once free but have recently introduced entry charges are the Temple Church (£3, I think, info not available on their web site) and Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (£7). Not too bad, on the face of it, but again, once the charging principle has been established, price inflation is much easier to implement: the thin end of the wedge.

Remember Kew Gardens. It famously used to cost a penny to get in. When I first visited in the early 80s this had gone up to a few shillings, I can’t remember the exact amount. Today it costs a whopping £13.90. Other entry prices I find quite frankly shocking, include: Tower of London, £20.90; Hampton Court Palace, £16.95; St Paul’s, £14.50; Westminster Abbey, £16.00.

Now, I am a believer in the free market and the idea that you can price anything at what the market will bear, supply and demand and all that. But there are punters out there who will, for example, stump up £150 or more from a tout for a ticket to see, I dunno, let’s say U2 or Blur. Doesn’t make it right. No, my problem is that residents of this country, and Londoners in particular, are being priced out of big swathes of their heritage. And I include myself in this, incidentally. I strongly believe there should be a two-tier pricing system to take this into account.

Thankfully, many of our biggest museums and galleries are still free, and I congratulate them and the government for maintaining this situation. Long may it continue. My favourites are the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

What do you think about ticket pricing in our museums and heritage attractions? Do you know of other examples of charging being introduced?

*Prices cited here are from the relevant web sites of attractions themselves at time of writing.

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greenwich national maritime museum

View of the National Maritime Museum and London from the Royal Observatory

Yesterday I visited the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, for the first time in many years. The reason for the trip was to listen to a talk by historical writer Adrian Tinniswood on Sir Christopher Wren and his role in designing the observatory for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed in 1675.  Adrian is the author of the most recent authoritative biography of Wren, which has been widely praised. I bought two copies which Adrian signed: one for myself and one to use as January’s prize in our members’ newsletter.  The talk itself most fittingly took place in the octagonal observatory part of Flamsteed House and I have yet to enjoy a more enthusiastic presentation. Of course, St Paul’s and Wren’s restoration City churches were covered, but the real value was discovering the astonishing range of Wren’s other interests and contributions in the fields of medicine and astronomy (in particular), and his formative years during the Commonwealth.  He really could – and did – turn his hand to just about anything. 

greenwich time ball

The Time Ball in action


We were very fortunate with the weather, as you can see from the top picture: gorgeous. Many more photos were taken, here are just a few of them. I’ve always loved the idea of the Time Ball, which one can use to set one’s watch. The bright red ball creeps up the weather vane pole at the top of the observatory a few minutes before the hour and then drops promptly at 1pm. This service was actually for the benefit of sea captains on the Thames, who could set their ship’s clock before setting sail to far flung regions.

It’s always a pleasure to marvel at John Harrison’s sea clocks and to re-acquaint oneself with the story of the race to solve the “longitude problem”. Of course, the observatory is crammed with clocks, telescopes and navigational instruments of all descriptions, sheer heaven for the old instruments fetishist. Do treat yourself and visit the Royal Observatory soon.

john harrison clock h2

John Harrison's second sea clock, H2

cutty sark ship's clock

The ship's clock of the Cutty Sark: just beautiful

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