SimpsonExplore your city with visits to places of interest in or near London. We'll walk a bit as well, and learn about the history, architecture, topography and people that make London the fascinating place it is.

Group Coordinator: Liz Simpson (click to contact)

At least one visit a month, on different days and times, to avoid always clashing with the same iU3A groups.

Visits cover all of Greater London.

Monthly trips include visits to historic houses, museums, galleries and churches. Please email me (see above) to join the group.

Members are advised of forthcoming visits by email and sign up (by responding to the email) for each visit in advance on a first come, first served basis. Individual visits may be limited to 10-20 members depending on the destination. To keep things simple (!) for me, I'll open booking for each visit about a month before the date and if numbers are limited I'll let you know.

Please note that many visits require payment of entrance charges. Some events are free, but many require a payment for an entry fee or guided tour. When an event is 'pay on the day' please have the correct money with you, in an envelope with your name on it as this is the best way of checking who has paid and who has not! If I ask for payment in advance it should be by cheque made payable to ‘Islington U3A’ and sent to me, or by electronic payment direct to iU3A’s account. Email me if you need more information. If the visit is ticketed, I will ask for a stamped, addressed envelope from you so I can send you your ticket/s.

Help wanted!  Our group is getting larger, and I'd be grateful for any offers of assistance with event planning, and group leading, especially as we seem to need repeat visits now to accommodate as many 'Explorers' as possible. If any of you would be free to join me for a cup of coffee, tea or a glass of something stronger, depending on when we decide to meet (!) to 'brainstorm' about this, it would be great. Just email me if you are willing and we’ll come up with a day/time to meet.

Our Next Visits
Programme for October 2018 to January 2019
see the PDF file HERE for details.

Other Places Worth a Visit
Currently at the Foundling Museum (until 20 January) ‘Ladies of quality and distinction’ is an exhibition focussing on the hidden histories of the women who were prominent in the establishment of the home for orphans and abandoned children at Coram Fields. Portraits of the ‘ladies’ have replaced the portraits of the male governors in the Picture Gallery. Go to www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk for full information.

At Keats House a programme of events is beginning to mark Keats’ moving into the house and culminating with the 200th anniversary of his death in 1821. You’ll find links to the Keats House info via www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

If you are still in the mood, the exhibition at the Dickens House Museum is ‘Food glorious food: dinner with Dickens’ and it’s on until April 2019! www.dickensmuseum.com.

And there’s still time to catch the exhibition of photographs ‘East End Suffragettes’ at the Four Corners Gallery, on Roman Road near Bethnal Green. I’ve not been there before but it does look an interesting exhibition of photographs taken by Norah Smyth www.fourcornersfilm.co.uk for full info.

The ‘Gentle Author’s’ blog on Spitalfields Life is fairly well-known as a great source of ideas of places to ‘explore’ but I’ve also found another blog ‘A London Inheritance’ recently and I’d recommend that one too. It’s not a daily posting, but has some great pieces to read. Just google it and you should find where to sign up — I did!

Recent Visits
The December visit, with a festive touch, was Dennis Severs House Dec 2018to the Dennis Severs House on Folgate Street in Spitalfields while it is decorated for Christmas — a popular choice with many Explorers, some of whom had been hoping to visit for years. Our party were let into the house in groups of 10 — here’s the last group waiting patiently outside in the cold! Read Judith's report here.

November was a busy month for Explorers: on the 20th, 23 Explorers, in two groups, visited the Victorian premises of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum on Southwark Street just behind the Tate Modern. Run entirely by volunteers, it’s a venue well-worth visiting on its open days. See www.testingmuseum.org.uk, and read Jill’s report here.

On November 5th we visited Goldsmith's Hall. Report by Norman Willson with photos by Gilbert Vieri here and you can also see Rachel's blog here.

A group of 34 Explorers visited the CharterhThe Master's Court Oct 2018ouse site in Clerkenwell in October. We split into two smaller groups for a 'Brother's Tour';

Rachel's blog here is from the group led by Brother Mansel (in the red jacket!);

Molly's report with photos shows Brother Brian with his group here. There are regular tours if you didn't manage to come with us — click here — and there's a very pleasant café and shop too!

The second of September’s visits was to Kenwood House in Hampstead Kenwood1Sept18and ‘Explorer’ Sue Lamble, who volunteers there, led the group tour. Her report here is a personal take on the morning’s visit — and everyone did enjoy it very much, especially as we had another fine Autumn day to see the House and Heath at its best.

Docklands MuseumSeptember for the first of September's visits, 'Explorers' headed to the Museum of London Docklands again. This year the focus was the temporary, free, exhibition 'Roman dead: death and burial in Roman London' which had been prompted by the unique discovery of a complete Roman stone sarcophagus in Southwark last year. Rachel's blog here tells more about the exhibition and there's also more information here. Several group members took the opportunity to visit other parts of the Museum and some of us came back by boat, cruising along the Thames in the September sun!

August — Strawberry Hill
, where Horace Walpole’s hStrawberry Hill Aug 2018ouse is still delighting visitors. Our tour was led by two knowledgeable guides and the report here is by Anne Wilkinson, with photos by Pauline Frost, Sue Lamble (who originally suggested and researched the visit) and Gilbert Vieri — the portrait is Walpole himself!

HackneyJuly — in this month we had two interesting walks, the first around Hoxton and Haggerston, the second around Hackney. A full report of both with photographs can be seen here.

June — Chatham on the Medway. We spent HMSGannetJun2018a glorious summer day in the ‘Historic Dockyard’, which was, for more than 400 years until the 1980s, an important centre for building and repairing Britain’s warships. The site includes over 100 buildings and structures, including 47 ‘Ancient Monuments’ and one visit hardly does it justice. Luckily, the entry ticket is valid for a year, allowing return visits (and you can get in for free with an Art Card!).

For many of us, the highlight of the visit was the spectacular Ropery or ‘rope-walk’, where we had a guided tour and watched rope being made. The quarter-mile-long 18th century building is still a commercial factory, supplying ropes of varying sizes and raw materials. Other buildings are set out to display the range of crafts needed to build and maintain the ships in Chatham and to show the history of the town and the Navy.

Three historic ships are in dry-dock: HMS Gannet, a sloop launched in 1878; HMS Cavalier (1944), a CA-class destroyer; and the submarine HMS Ocelot, the last warship built for the Royal Navy at Chatham and launched in 1962. All three can be visited, and some intrepid Explorers made it on to the Ocelot (I didn’t!). Keen-eyed explorers could spot where sequences of ‘Les Miserables’ were filmed … and where the dockyard has featured as Poplar in TV’s ‘Call the Midwife’!

For more information, there’s a very detailed Wikipedia article on Chatham Dockyard, and an excellent book by Philip MacDougall — Chatham Dockyard: The Rise and Fall of a Military Industrial Complex. Also, for additional information, have a look at Rachel's blog here.

JuneWalthamstow Wetlands, easily accessibleWalthamstowWetlandsJun2018 by public transport from Islington and Hackney. We all met up in the Engine House, built in 1894, which has been converted into a visitors’ centre and café and after our organiser’s initial worries that we might not have enough guides (!), we were divided into two small groups and set off to explore the site. Our walk routes took us round the reservoirs, which still contribute to the supply of London’s water.

The first reservoirs were low level but as the population of London increased during the Victorian period with the subsequent increasing demand for clean water, the later reservoirs were high level and around 15 feet deep. The development of the site since 2012 has included additional planting to encourage wildlife and while parts of the site are accessible to walkers, joggers, fishermen and ‘twitchers’, some areas are still restricted to maintain conditions which have encouraged both resident and migratory birds. We passed the ‘Copper Mill’, an interesting industrial building which had milled both flour and gunpowder, using water power, and had also been adapted to hammer out sheets of copper which were then transported down to the Thames-side ship yards to ‘copper-bottom’ ships built there.

This combination of London’s industrial history with a 211-hectare wildlife reserve makes the Walthamstow Wetlands an ‘exploration’ well-worth repeating — our photo shows one of the groups heading off to explore the site, led by our expert volunteer guide. Thanks to Liz Dare for making the initial arrangements for this visit and adding it to our programme.

Cinema MuseumMay a group of London Explorers headed to south London to find the Cinema Museum, hidden away off Kennington Lane (the visit is repeated on 23rd May).  The Museum's core is the private collection of enthusiasts Ronald Grant and Martin Humphries, and since 1998 has been housed in the 'Master's House', the administrative hub of the former Lambeth Workhouse. Our visit started in the small, ground-floor 'cinema' with a lengthy, but lively, introduction to the history of cinema and the collection, the establishment of the workhouse in Lambeth and the links with Charlie Chaplin, which the founders and volunteer guides are keen to emphasise. Chaplin was briefly resident in the workhouse as a child, when his mother was admitted, and drew much of the inspiration for his films from his early life in Lambeth.
Outside the building (where our group photo was taken, with our entertaining guide for the day in his commissionaire's uniform) we saw the remaining buildings of the complex, while inside the rooms and corridors were packed with projectors, display boards, staff uniforms, art deco seating and other artefacts associated with the cinema. There are hundreds of books, an estimated 1 million photos and 17 million feet of film in the archives. Upstairs, in what was the workhouse's chapel where regular film screenings now take place, we enjoyed reviving teas and coffees as the group listened to the last of our guide's stories; the full visit ended with a programme of five short films in the downstairs cinema. The Museum is currently under threat from development and any support is welcomed go to www.cinemamuseum.org.uk for more information about this fascinating collection and building.

Markham Beam EngineMay
— Markfield Beam Engine: this visit was led by Anne Wilkinson — thanks Anne. You can see Gilbert Vieri's full visit report here.

Another really interesting and unusual visit.


Spenver House 1April — Spencer House: on a chilly, wet and windy morning our group of 30 visited Spencer House at 27 St. James`s Place, London (although the photo shows Spencer House from Green Park in the sun, when Liz returned three days later). Braving the weather was worth it as, on arrival, we had a warm welcome from both our knowledgeable and entertaining guide Jenny Mitchell and the roaring fire in the grate of the reception room.

Built between 1756 and 1766 for the first Earl Spencer it is London`s only 18th century Town House to survive intact. Designed by John Vardy and James Stuart the State Rooms are amongst the first neo-classical interiors in Europe. From its conception the house was recognised as one of the most sumptuous private residences ever built in London and a building of unique importance in the history of architecture. The Spencer family lived there continuously until 1895 and again for a short while in the first quarter of the 20th century. The house was then let out as offices or clubs.

Spencer House 2During the Blitz of WW2 the few remaining treasures, specially made furniture and fireplaces were stripped out and taken to the Spencer home, Althorp, for safekeeping. Today the house remains in the ownership of Charles Spencer, the current Earl. In 1986 the family company of Jacob Rothschild (4th Baron Rothschild) secured a 120 year lease on the property and, in a highly acclaimed restoration project, returned the state rooms and garden to their late 18th century appearance. All the principal rooms were painstakingly restored. Their missing original features, including chimneypieces, doors, skirting mouldings and architraves were carefully copied from the originals which had been moved to Althorp during the Blitz and gradually incorporated there over the years. Paintings, sculptures and furniture have been bought to furnish and enhance the State Rooms. Other works of art have been borrowed from various sources including the Royal Collection, the Royal Academy, the Tate Gallery and Temple Newsam House, as well as private owners and dealers.

The eight State Rooms open to the public are a delight and enhanced by the views over the gardens to Green Park. No photography is allowed inside the house so go to www.spencerhouse.co.uk to have a look.  Report by Pauline Pitt.

April — The House Mill, Three Mills,Three Mills Apr18 Bromley-by-Bow.
Our group of 33 hardy Explorers gathered in what had been the entrance hall of the Miller’s House, reconstructed after bomb damage during WW2 to form the café and shop for the ‘House Mill’, part of the Three Mills site. Over a very welcome hot drink we were introduced to our guides, volunteers Eleanor and Christine, and heard about the 500-year history of milling on this site and along the River Lea — see photo.

The House Mill property was originally owned by Cistercian monks, then passed on through various private owners including the Bisson family until the last owners, Nicholson Breweries, who kept it going until the 1940s. Over the years grain has been milled for flour and for distilling gin. At one point in its history gunpowder was also milled. The current Grade 1 listed building — the mill is the oldest tidal mill in Britain — dates from 1802. Standing outside we could also see the adjacent Clock Mill which was rebuilt in 1812 and now houses the East London Science School; all the properties stand on a man-made island formed by damming the river.

Inside the House Mill building we were taken over three of the four floors, where the milling process was explained in detail; we were able to see the surviving machinery on site, the water wheels, mill-stones, chutes and pulleys. We also learned about the working practices in the mill, including shift-work based on the tidal cycles. The uneven floors and partly-rotting timbers clearly indicated the challenges ahead for the trust and volunteers running the exciting project of keeping the House Mill open for visitors like us.

Thanks are due to Explorer Kate Wark for arranging the visit; and to House Mill trustee Beverley Charters, as well as volunteers Eleanor, Christine and Tony for making it so enjoyable — and for preparing an excellent lunch! There’s a very good book A Short History of Three Mills by Brian Strong, which is obtainable from House Mill (www.housemill.org.uk) and there are more open days for visitors this year: do go along!
Report & photo by Liz Simpson, draft by Natalie Teich; read more detail about the visit on Rachel’s blog here.

— Two Temple Place. Having entered the grand TwoTemplePlaceMar18Elizabethan style mansion and found ourselves in rooms decorated in the style of the French Renaissance it felt, at first, somewhat surreal to hear the jolly strains of Dixieland Jazz, and to see the viewing public gently swaying or tapping their feet in time to the syncopated beat as they wandered round the exhibition. However, on reflection it wasn’t so out of place. This mansion, Two Temple Place, was built only in 1895 for Lord Astor, and many of the elements of the building and decoration were created to symbolize the linking of America and Europe. An exhibition on the coming of the Jazz Age therefore seemed actually very appropriate in this building. 

I love jazz, particularly Dixieland and the style of jazz which developed soon after that. In fact it was this kind of music which prompted me to take up the clarinet — though sadly I had never quite managed the soaring improvisations which we heard as we went around looking at the exhibits on the two floors of the building. It wasn’t an extensive exhibition, but it was very interesting to see how jazz fitted in so well with the exciting new developments in technology, art, and changes in society. Pathé News footage in both main exhibition rooms showed jazz musicians hanging from biplanes, bands playing to elephants and giraffes in the zoo, dancing waiters in cafés, and the development of large dance halls like the Hammersmith Palais. In the magnificent Grand Hall, with its stained glass windows and hammer beam roof there were swathes of Art Deco furnishing fabrics and pottery in ‘Jazz’ style. And we read and saw how the West Indian influence brought jazz over and popularised it in England and Europe.

It was a very enjoyable visit — short enough to leave us time for a good cup of coffee in their café too — a prerequisite of any Exploring London trip!  Well worth popping in (it’s free) if you’re around the Embankment before it closes on 22nd April. For more detail have a look at Rachel's blog here. (Report by Margaret & Lawrie Pattinson.)

March — a group of Explorers mWappingPoliceStationMar18ade the first of three visits (repeated on 22 March and 5 April) to the River Police Museum at Wapping Police Station and Molly Turner wrote the following report on the visit.  Photographs show the interior of the Museum and the view across the Thames when the doors are opened up!

The Thames River Police Museum is located in what was once the carpenter’s workshop at Wapping Police Station. On a very wet morning we were welcomed by the Curator, Robert Jeffries, himself a retired police officer with many years' experience of policing the river. He gave a very interesting and entertaining talk about the origins of, and some of the major incidents in, the early history of the Thames Police, which goes back to the 18th Century, making it the first policing body ever to be set up.

The new force began operating on the 2 July 1798 in Wapping High Street, thirty years before the Metropolitan Police began. At that time importers, especially from the West Indies, were suffering losses of £500,000 annually, and the government was losing import dues, because cargoes were unloaded from ships on the river by gangs of “lumpers”, who were not paid but helped themselves to goods to sell. Mr. John Harriott and Mr. Patrick Colquhoun convinced the West India Merchants to finance the first preventative policing of the Thames, and they became the first Magistrates, holding trials in the same building.

The first six months were particularly difficuWappingriverviewmar18lt, as the river thieves were losing their good living: a riot took place outside the Office when some 2,000 men arrived intending to burn it to the ground. Mr Jeffries told us about the first officer to be killed in the line of duty, Gabriel Franks, who was shot in a riot and died later in hospital, the first recorded police death. We were also told about The Ratcliffe Highway Murders of December 1811 and the terrible loss of life when the Paddle Steamer Princess Alice sank on the evening of 3rd September 1878. Then we looked around the Museum itself, where exhibits include uniforms and documents, and a fine collection of the everyday “Hardware” of policing from handcuffs to cutlasses. The door at the rear of the room was opened so we could go out on to the river and look to our right to see the original building where the Magistrates tried the culprits. 

I found this a very interesting visit, especially having read the historical novels of Patrick Easter, who was a police officer and served with the River Police for a time. Although works of fiction, they give an authentic picture of what life and crime were like in Wapping and how the River Police began. More information about the subject can be found at the website www.thamespolicemuseum.org.uk. As always many thanks to Liz for organising the visit.

Museum of BrandsFebruary — a group of 27 ‘London Explorers’ visited the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, in Ladbroke Grove (cleverly avoiding the snow, some of the group are pictured in the Museum’s shop!). It all started with a packet of Munchies in 1963, when Robert Opie (son of Iona and Peter — well-known for their work with children’s songs, games and folklore) started his collection of advertising and packaging ephemera. His first Museum opened in Gloucester in 1984 and since 2015 the Museum has been located in its current premises, the former ‘London Lighthouse’.

How have brands, packaging and advertising affected our lives and lifestyle over the last 200 years? This fascinating museum looks at the evidence in the shape of tins (like Colman’s Mustard), bottles (H.P. sauce), confectionery (Nestlé’s Milky Bar), etc., the games we play, like Monopoly; the magazines we read, from Women’s Weekly to Radio Times; and the things we collect, like coronation mugs, or biscuit tins celebrating the Festival of Britain.

A late 19th century Wills tobacco and cigarette advertisement displays two pretty harem inmates, one lying seductively on a Persian carpet, the other lazily smoking a cigarette. This was a period when well-brought up ladies didn’t smoke — but Wills obviously believed that exotic ladies smoking in a harem would show off their brand’s sophistication. And it worked. By the 1920s, smoking was pretty well ubiquitous for men, and women who smoked were seen as modern and liberated.

As the 20th century came in, so did more and more branding, like Kiwi boot polish and Heinz baked beans, and adverts were ever more assiduous in selling a lifestyle with the goods. A poster shows a clean child whose mother has washed him with Sunlight soap being cooed over by admiring older women. And the sudden plunge into things American after World War II is very noticeable: the merchandise for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Mickey Mouse was everywhere.

I found this museum both fascinating and disturbing. For most of the 20th century, gender roles were noticeably differentiated: women knew their place and exclaimed over the whiteness Persil brought to their weekly wash; and real men smoked. There was much covert pressure to conform to what advertisers needed their customers to want — there probably still is. An interesting and thought-provoking visit. (Report by Rachel Summerson.)

Temple of Mithras TapestryJanuary the group made two visits, led by Roberta (January) and Liz (February), to the newly opened Temple of Mithras. Group member Rachel Summerson has given us this link to her blogsite here
which has more photographs from the visit.

The reconstruction of the third century A.D. Roman Temple of Mithras, 7 metres underneath the Bloomberg SPACE, in Walbrook, sits on the same footprint as the original temple and uses, as far as possible, the original stones and bricks. The visitor experiences an atmospheric invocation of what it might have been like to attend a Mithraic ceremony. We know very little about what actually happened. The cult, which was secret and exclusively male, came originally from Persia and spread quickly to all parts of the Roman Empire, and was especially popular in the army. Mithras is always depicted wearing a Phrygian cap and he is about to sacrifice a bull. He seems to have been associated with the sun god, and he came to be regarded as a saviour who offers his followers rebirth into an immortal life.
The religion has been seen as having Christian elements and the invocation we saw and heard in the Mithraeum certainly had a ‘Christian’ tinge, with the priest invoking Mithras and the worshippers responding, to the accompaniment of horns and sistrums.
WalbrookUpstairs, on the ground floor, there is a beautifully arranged display of over 600 of the 14,000 artefacts discovered during the various excavations, both the original one in 1952 and the recent excavations when Bloomberg re-excavated the site. On the other side of the room, a vibrant tapestry by Isabel Nolan called Another View from Nowhen, 19.45 meters long, offers the viewer her personal take on the 2000 years of history beneath our feet. I enjoyed the whole experience.

February’s group also spent time in St Stephen Walbrook, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, which is opposite the Bloomberg SPACE and is where the Samaritans were first launched by the Revd Chad Varah – see photograph.

Annual gathering 2018January annual get-together and tea. Upwards of forty Explorers met for tea and discussions (and the traditional cake exchange!) on 5 January.  Looking back over our record of past Explorations since spring 2014 was particularly satisfying and several exciting suggestions were made for visits in the year to come. Already on the programme were the Mithraeum, the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, Wapping Police Station & Museum and Three Mills – to which were added Two Temple Place (an annual tradition!), Spencer House, Crossness Pumping Station, Chatham Historic Dockyard with several more as Explorers contributed their researches. The popularity of our programme, and the size of the group, mean that speedy replies to booking invitations are essential now! The photo shows the group beginning to settle down for the meeting at the Walter Sickert Community Centre. Thanks again to Liz for another successful year for the Exploring London group!

Fleet St pubsDecember 2017 and January 2018 Historic Pubs on Fleet Street two groups of hardy Explorers completed ‘historic pubs’ walks in horrible weather. The first photo (on the left) taken by Jo Potter shows the group outside the Blackfriar in December.

Julia Rountree’s photo (on the right) with her report shows the January group rewarding themselves in the Old Bank of England!
Olde Bank of England
Julia writes: On a rainy January day we were taken on a fascinating walking tour of some historic Fleet Street pubs by the excellent Jill Finch, a City of London Guide. Highlights included the first pub we visited, The Blackfriar. This pub, built in 1875, has a spectacular art nouveau interior, and only survives now because of an outcry against its proposed demolition in the 1960s. The other seven pubs, some Grade II listed, had similar stories including several claiming regular patrons like Dickens, Twain, Pepys and journalists from the Punch magazine — in their case resulting in the renaming of a Gin Palace in the 1840s to the Punch Tavern, as it is known today. The final pub we visited, and had a drink at to mark the end of our tour, was the astonishing Old Bank of England which sits in the former Law Courts branch of the Bank of England. The internal architecture befits its grandeur with a very high ceiling. A great end to the walk, and all the pubs are well worth a return visit.
Mail Rail
November —  Several Explorers booked tickets to visit the newly opened Postal Museum and take the ‘Mail Rail’ ride. It proved a very interesting, if cramped, ride. The actual ride was a highlight but the exhibits on display and the clever audio-visuals made it a wider experience. Apart from the Mail Rail building on one side of Phoenix Place the ticket price also gets you into the Postal Museum on the other side of the road. You can easily spend a couple of hours just in this building. Again, clever exhibits and good audio-visuals in the Postal Museum made the collection very informative and brought back memories of days gone by. Well worth an independent visit if people missed this organised trip.

November — We stepped back into the pasMuseum of London November 2017t with a fascinating visit to the Museum of London's archaeological archive at Mortimer Wheeler House near Old Street. It is the largest archaeological archive in Europe with 11 kilometres of shelving housing approximately 100,000 cardboard boxes full of intriguing artefacts uncovered through excavations from across London. We took a look at the contents of some of the boxes and gained first-hand experience of repackaging and labelling finds from the old Fulham Pottery. And, after touring the corridors of the building on Eagle Wharf Road, we had a brief look at the reserve collection of pottery, glass and ceramics. It's all here: from prehistoric to more recent times, from Roman pots to Victorian toothbrushes ..... (a second group visits on 30 November). Report by Mary Harris, photo of the group at work by Isabel Dickson.

— 37 London Explorers arrived at the FrancisCrickOctober2017 Crick Institute on 25 October, ready to have a look at the publicly accessible spaces and hear an introduction to the research institute’s work from Hannah Camm, the Community Engagement Manager. The location wasn’t ideaI for our large group but in her wide-ranging talk she described the ethos behind the Institute, based on collaboration and sharing information. Funding has come from Wellcome, the MRC and Cancer Research UK, while the researchers (200-300 of them) are from UCL, Imperial and KCL. The impressive architecture of the new building features open-plan labs and offices, with break-out spaces for meeting and writing — a far cry from the traditional closed laboratory — and it is felt that it reflects the changes in science and research.

Explorers asked about how this collaborative process is working in reality and how information is being shared and disseminated. The involvement of the immediate community was emphasised, included a local Health and Wellbeing Centre and work with Camden schools. Explorers were encouraged to sign up for regular emails about outreach events, including ‘Crick Chats’ and an upcoming ’Science on Screen’ season, so it’s to be hoped that this will be the first of several visits for members of our group as the café and gallery are open to all, during working hours. Click here for more information.

Kensal Rise CemeteryOctober —
As this proved a popular event, we had to book for two groups of Explorers to head to Kensal Green on 4 and 6 October to visit the cemetery there. It’s one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries established in the 19th century, which also include Highgate and our local Abney Park.  Our tours on both days were led by Signe Hoffos, chair of the Friends of Kensal Green (www.kensalgreen.co.uk), and she kept us entertained with a wealth of stories about the cemetery and its ‘residents’! Certainly on the 4th it was a bit too chilly to be G K Chesterton’s ‘Paradise by way of Kensal Green’ as can be seen from the photo … the weather cheered up a bit on the 6th, when Explorer Rachel visited and wrote the blog which gives much more detail of the tour. Blog 

Lambeth PalaceSeptember — Friday 1 September was a perfect sunny day for a garden-themed visit to Lambeth. First of all we met up at the Garden Museum, which was originally established as the Museum of Garden History in the 1970s in the redundant church of St-Mary-at-Lambeth by Rosemary Nicholson. Searching for the tomb of the Tradescants (father and son were both notable gardeners and plant collectors) she was horrified to discover the state of the church and its graveyard and determined to revive the location and set up a museum. The latest redevelopment has enhanced the church's interior, increased the exhibition display areas and built new visitor attractions including a well-reviewed cafe/restaurant — and loos. Sadly the original knot-garden designed by Lady Salisbury has been lost, though it has been replaced by a garden by Dan Pearson; the tombs of the Tradescants and Admiral Bligh (of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' fame) can still be seen. We spent an hour or so looking at the displays with one 'Explorer' heading up the church's tower, for magnificent views of Lambeth and the river, and then joined the queue for entry to Lambeth Palace Gardens for the last public opening of the summer. Some 'Explorers' signed up for a tour led by the head-gardener, while others viewed the gardens independently — but we all took advantage of the refreshment tent! The Great Hall and Library of the Palace and the Crypt Chapel were also open, which added to the experience.  Rachel's blog on the visit here gives a detailed report on the afternoon in the Palace's gardens, with plenty more photos.

GreenwichAugust — Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall. ‘London Explorers’ headed to Greenwich this time focussed on two architectural gems, Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House — recently reopened after a major restoration project — and the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, part of Wren’s buildings for the Hospital for Seamen, to see the ceiling being cleaned and conserved. The reports here by Janet and Maggie give an excellent idea of what we achieved after coffee in the Maritime Museum! This photo shows the group in hard hats and high-viz jackets ready to climb the scaffolding in the Painted Hall! Fellow-Explorer Rachel’s personal blog on the visit can be read too here.

St AlbansJuly London Explorers ventured outside Zone 6 for a full day exploring St Albans. Rob, our guide, promised us the Wars of the Roses, the beginnings of film-making, an Art-Deco cinema and the story behind the Ryder Cup, plus the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans … and Roman Verulamium! We weren’t disappointed as the report shows — here is the group starting our visit with an introduction to the history of St Albans from our guide Rob. Read on for more here.

Musical Museum June London Explorers headed to Kew to visit the Musical Museum in its purpose-built HQ near Kew Bridge. The collection was founded more than 50 years ago by the late Frank Holland, and now ranges from the smallest musical box to a ‘mighty Wurlitzer’. Volunteers play an essential role in the Museum, acting as guides and working behind the scenes: as our group can attest, we were extremely lucky to be taken on our tour by 86-year old Roy (who was an example to us all!). Thanks to fellow-Explorer Vivienne who suggested this visit — and was then on holiday when we went and so missed it! See also info here: blog

Crossrail ExJune the Exploring London group went to The Museum of London Docklands, to see "Tunnel — The Archaeology of Crossrail". The exhibition is fascinating and well worth a visit. Like the rest of the museum, it is free and housed in a former sugar warehouse at West India Quay. (Their exhibition on London, Sugar and Slavery is also very interesting.)

Crossrail are constructing the Elizabeth Line from Reading and Heathrow in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, tunnelling under central London at a depth of 30 or 40 metres. Most of the tunnels were too deep to disturb the archaeology, which is usually found within the top 9 metres below ground level, but where new stations and structures were built, and where the line connected with existing stations, or reached the surface, there was a unique opportunity to uncover London's past. The exhibition included information, maps, video and photographs of the process itself, the huge boring machines and how the tunnels were constructed, avoiding (sometimes quite narrowly) all the other tunnels, sewers and services which lie beneath our feet. The displays take us from east to west through London's history from the Stone Age to the 20th Century. The city's Roman, Medieval, Victorian, industrial and domestic history are all represented by the material that was excavated, much of it from burial grounds and rubbish pits.

The finds themselves include flint tools from the Mesolithic period found near Abbey Wood, mammoth bone and amber at Canary Wharf, evidence of a moated manor house at Stepney Green, and 16th century leather shoes preserved in the soil at Moorfields. Particularly interesting are Roman skulls, coins and other objects from the Walbrook area of the City, the skeletons and objects found at the cemeteries from the Black Death in the 14th century at Charterhouse and the Great Plague in the 17th century at the New Churchyard, discovered at Liverpool Street. (As a genealogist, I was especially struck by the work going on at the London Metropolitan Archives to record the burial registers for the New Churchyard, which was in use for 170 years until 1739.) Evidence of the industrial past, including the Thames Iron Works at Canning Town, and Crosse & Blackwell in Soho, all add to our knowledge of how ordinary people lived, worked and died in London.

Many thanks to Liz, for organising the visit to one of the best exhibitions in London just now. It will run until 3 September 2017, and it's free! (Report by Molly Turner.)

Marx MuseumOn May 2 and 4, four small groups of ‘Explorers’ visited the Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School on Clerkenwell Green: the building is so cramped that only small groups can be accommodated so we had to schedule four visits to cope with the demand — the photo shows the first group, enjoying the sun before going in! The Grade II Listed building was opened in 1738 as a charity school and was later used as workshops, a pub, a coffee and meeting house and printing press before the Library and Workers’ School was established in 1933, marking the 50th anniversary of Marx’s death. Guides led the groups down into the basement tunnels which predate the current building and now house archives, and up to the Reading Room with its fresco by Jack Hastings (1934) and the Lenin Room — where he edited 17 issues of ‘Iskra’ during 1902-3 while in exile in London. The archives and collections are significant, including a large collection on the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Every inch of wall-space appears to be covered with photographs, posters, commemorative plaques and china, marking significant episodes in labour history … appropriately for Clerkenwell, the ‘headquarters of republicanism, revolution and ultra-nonconformity’ according to a CityPress correspondent in 1871!

Fleet RiverApril the ‘Explorers’ followed the route of the lost Fleet River starting from outside the Blackfriar Pub. Photo by Pauline Frost. The report by Lindsay Wakeman follows here.

Whitechapel Bell FoundryMarch the ‘Exploring London’ group took the last public tour of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which will be closing its Whitechapel premises in May. The visit report with photos is a joint effort by Rosie Walden, Alison Taggart, Rachel Summerson, Pauline Frost and Liz Simpson and available here.

There is also a blog link about the visit here.

Two Temple 2017March it's becoming an annual tradition for London Explorers to visit Two Temple Place when it opens each spring, and on 8 March eighteen of us spent an enjoyable couple of hours inside the spectacular building, built for William Waldorf Astor in the late 19th century and now maintained by the Bulldog Trust. This year's exhibition focusses on 'Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion' with more than 120 items chosen from collections such as Farley Farm and Charleston and galleries including Pallant House, Chichester and the Towner in Eastbourne. Compared with previous years, personally I felt that the displays rather overwhelmed the building, as they necessitated erecting false walls and putting a very large sofa — designed by Salvador Dali and based on Mae West's lips! — in the entrance hall. However, the richness of the exhibition means that I, for one, will certainly be returning before the show closes on 23 April and I thoroughly recommend it.

Leighton House February we headed west to Kensington where we visited two contrasting artists’ houses, both managed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: 18 Stafford Terrace, the modest family home of Edward Linley Sambourne in the morning, and then in the afternoon, Leighton House, the home, studio and exhibition space of Frederick, Lord Leighton. Some of us also managed to fit in a quick lunch in the new Design Museum … a possible future ‘Exploration’ in its own right!
Picture: some of our group members leave Leighton House.
A more detailed report for 18 Stafford Terrace is here (Tim Maby), and for Leighton House here (Julie Howell).

February This was a repeat of the below visit to Guildhall due to the high demand.

GuildhallhallWren Window January This visit was to the City’s Guildhall, including the Guildhall itself, the Art Gallery and Roman Amphitheatre, St Lawrence Jewry and the new City of London Police Museum in the Guildhall Library. So much history in such a small area. Again City of London Guide Jill Finch proved to be a very knowledgeable guide. For full report see here.

Read on for Rachel’s blog with more about one of the paintings the group saw in the Guildhall Art Gallery here.

Planning Meeting 2017 January 2017 — More than 30 Explorers joined in the annual review and tea-party at the Walter Sickert Community Centre on 5 January. Our photo shows one of our reasons to get together. We pooled our left-over Christmas cakes and other treats! We shared ideas for additions to 2017’s programme of Explorations — and there were plenty forthcoming which will be researched and publicised. We were especially keen to include visits which are free or low-cost and will be keeping our eyes open for these. (Email the group co-ordinator if you have any suggestions for visits in the future and if you’d be willing to make some of the arrangements).

Forman's Christmas 2016 December Our biggest group ever (40 people booked places!) ventured to Fish Island, next to the Olympic site, for a visit to H. Forman and Son for a seasonal visit! Forman’s is a fourth-generation company, founded in 1905 …  and the last of the dozens of salmon smokehouses to survive in East London. In the new premises, built when the company was relocated in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, the company now has a production area, exhibition and function space and a full-service restaurant.

We were greeted with tea and coffee as we donned our overalls for a visit to the factory. Fresh salmon were being prepared for smoking, and then sliced and packaged, but as it was such a busy period, our time in the factory was limited and after chatting to the skilled staff (and discovering how many layers of clothing you need to wear to keep warm while preparing large, wet fish!) we went back to the function area where we learned more of the history of the company and how it has diversified in recent years. Our ‘host’ for the morning, Darren, demonstrated both his skill in hand-slicing a side of smoked salmon and his gift for spontaneous and entertaining repartee! As it was so near the festive season it seemed appropriate to finish with generous tasters of Forman’s salmon, mulled wine … and a chance to shop early for Christmas! 

November — Twenty five Explorers enjoyed visits to two King's College Chapelchapels hidden away on the Strand. At King's College Chapel we were given an excellent talk on the history and design of this Grade I listed building by one of the chaplains, the Revd Tim Ditchfield. First completed in 1831, it was reconstructed to a design by the Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott in 1864 and has since undergone several developments up until the latest restoration in 2000-2001, which have ensured that the design of the Chapel remains sensitive to tradition while being relevant to the current generation of users. New stained glass windows designed by Joseph Nuttgens include the east window which combines Scott's original ideas of scenes from the life of Christ with modern representations of the various faculties within the college. Following the talk we had time to explore the Chapel before a short walk along the Strand brought us to the Grade II listed Queen's Chapel of the Savoy. Here we were greeted with a very welcome spread of tea, coffee and cakes while listening to a Christmas CD of the Chapel choir. The steward of the Chapel, Thomas Leyland, then entertained us with an informative talk on the history of the Savoy estate from the 13th century to the development of the present day Chapel, which originally formed part of the Hospital of Savoy. Highlights include the striking ceiling, restored in 1999, and the stained glass windows, including one dedicated to the D'Oyly Carte family and another commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1937 the Chapel became the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order and the coats of arms of the recipients of the Order are displayed on the Chapel walls. Two very enjoyable and informative visits in one morning! (Report by Brenda Dardelin, photo by Mary McMinn). Our Explorer's blog focusses on the Savoy Chapel building, with its putative links to John of Gaunt — and several more excellent photographs. For this blog click here.

RCN November — ‘Exploring London’ visited the HQ of the Royal College of Nursing at 20 Cavendish Square. Our large group was divided in two for the tour and we discovered a gem in one of the oldest buildings in the area, largely ignored by busy shoppers heading for Oxford Street. ‘Explorer’ Rachel’s blog on the visit here gives a detailed introduction to the history of the RCN, the building, and the displays which can be examined in the museum and library areas … and reminds us that there’s a very useful ‘off-the-beaten-track’ café to find!

For our other recent visits (January 2016 to October 2016) click here.
Or if you are interested in reading about our even earlier visits in 2015 then have a look at our archive here.

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