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 including visits to historic houses, museums, galleries and churches.

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.

Organised Group Events
Wednesday 8 May at 11am — a guided walk in Fitzrovia, exploring the area and spotting the ‘ghost signs’. The walk ends at the former chapel of Middlesex hospital which is open to visit on Wednesdays. (Sign up in April).

Friday 24 May at 11am — ‘Sailors, saints and Samuel Pepys’, a guided walk starting from Trinity Square near the Tower of London, exploring the area’s historic links and stories in more detail. (Sign up in April).

Wednesday 12 June at 11am — Jill Finch will repeat her walk from Aldgate East to Shadwell, which was rained off in the autumn. This walk complements her earlier Shadwell to Wapping walk. (Sign up in May).

Friday 28 June — the annual day trip to the seaside! This year it’s Broadstairs and Rob Smith has a guided walk ready for us. Signing up will open when we know the times of the summer train service to Broadstairs.

Monday 15 July, repeated on Tuesday 23 July, starting at 11am — Jill has a new walk for us, focussing on John Donne, poet and Dean of St Paul’s, by visiting London locations that were significant during his life. (Sign up in June). 

Other Events and Places Worth a Visit
'Exploring London' group members also receive emails from time to time, with sources of information on virtual and live Explorations which can be booked individually, venues which are open to visit, and other events and topics of interest.

Friday 5 January 2024 at 11am — It’s 5 January, the day Meeting Jan 2024before Twelfth Night, and Exploring London members get together to share drinks and treats and talk about the plans for the 2024 programme. The four events already scheduled were discussed (they are up on the webpage) and there were plenty of suggestions for other venues to visit and walks to follow — including Japan House in Kensington, a return visit to London Metropolitan Archives for members who couldn’t join in the popular visit in 2023, the Lloyds building in the City of London, a walk with Jill Finch focussing on John Donne and a ‘ghost signs’ walk in Fitzrovia. Offers to research and plan extra events were gratefully received by Liz, the group coordinator! Our photo shows Jean explaining how one can access amazing views over the City of London from two new skyscrapers in Bishopsgate. Since this meeting, Exploring London’s seaside day trip has been booked — Broadstairs on Friday 28 June so there’s plenty to look forward to in 2024.

Recent Visits
April: Wellcome Collection: Exploring LondWellcome Collection April 2024on has visited the Wellcome Collection on a couple of occasions in the past, to tour its permanent displays and see temporary exhibitions there. On 16 April we managed to fit in a visit before the current show ‘The Cult of Beauty’ finished its run at the end of the month. The building on Euston Road, opposite the mainline station, is an impressive space to visit, with library, shop and an excellent cafe — as can be seen from the photo of Explorers enjoying a cup of coffee and a chat before visiting the exhibition! It’s open every day, and offers — free — an impressive programme of events as well as exhibitions ‘exploring health and human experience’. Check it out on www.wellcomecollection.org.

The exhibition ‘The Cult of Beauty’ offered, as the notes accompanying it stated, ‘an invitation to widen and complicate our understanding of beauty beyond the binaries of beautiful or ugly, natural or artificial, physical or digital’. As a visitor, one explored the main themes: ‘The ideals of beauty’, ‘The industry of beauty’ and ‘Subverting beauty’ to discover art works, historical objects, pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures, the industrial mass-marketing of beauty and finally how ideas of what is beautiful are being challenged by contemporary artists. As one Explorer summed up her visit to this interesting exhibition: ‘Lots of talking points ... for example we were reminiscing about how we couldn’t wait to wear makeup and what we wore, now how times have changed ... ‘.

Japan House: Pauline F set up a visit foJapan House March 2024r Explorers to Japan House on Kensington High Street — it was so popular it was oversubscribed so we may have to persuade Pauline to arrange another visit some time! Judith B wrote an insightful report on the visit, which follows: Japan House is situated in High Street Kensington: when you enter it is into a world of calm and amazing gifts (you go through the Gift Shop and small coffee bar), the noise of the outside world disappears. Our guide from Japan House provided an excellent insight into Ainu culture, as it exists today and how it is now celebrating its history through younger members of this community. The Ainu are an indigenous people who have for centuries inhabited northern Japan, especially Hokkaido and the surrounding islands. Their distinct culture stems from their frequent trade contacts with people from different areas and in 1869 they were adopted by the Japanese government. This resulted in some of their traditions being discouraged and lost. However, more recently it has become a government policy to sustain and value the Ainu culture and heritage, hence the exhibition.

Through video interviews and displays of contemporary Ainu works, the exhibition explored different themes, including how the critically endangered language, originally only spoken, is being preserved in written form and how the area’s environment is preserved by using the traditional methods to grow and harvest food, with an emphasis on local plants occupying a central part of their cooking and being used for medicinal purposes. The traditional method of building homes or cise, built from locally sourced trees using specially designed tools, was also shown through film — no bricks, JCBs or cement in sight!

Our guide also talked about two key Ainu crafts which were on display: exquisite hand worn textiles are made from tree bark and woven on looms while Ainu wood carving is a deeply rooted tradition and is now reemerging in Nibutani, where the art of carving wooden plates or trays is flourishing again. Today the craftspeople express their creativity by devising new patterns for more modern items including cutting boards, pot rests and shoe horns, all of which were for sale in the shop.

March: The Linnean Society:
Luckily for us, Linnean Society March 2024the rain held off on Wednesday so we could take a group photograph of Explorers outside the Linnean Society’s building in Burlington House! Founded in 1788 by Sir James Smith, the Linnean Society is ‘the oldest active society devoted to natural history’, taking its name from Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus, whose collections and library the Society has housed since 1829. It has admitted woman as Fellows since 1904/1905! The current building was purpose built for the Society in 1873, when it joined the other ‘learned societies’ grouped around Burlington House. Incidentally we were delighted to hear that their presence at Burlington House has now been secured (March 2024) with a 999 year lease following an agreement with the government.

After an introduction to the history and current activities of the Society in the Meeting Room, overlooked by portraits of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, our group was divided into two smaller groups for our tours. Climbing the stairs up to the Library our guide explained the significance of the displays including Linnaeus’ own specimen cabinet, and there was time for a quick look at the current temporary exhibition Lovely as a tree. Downstairs, in the secure vault, books which formed Linnaeus’ own library were shelved and cabinets housed specimens of plants, fish, insects ... in their original packaging as Linnaeus stored them. The first edition of Linnaeus’ classification system of natural history included ‘mythical’ creatures such as the griffin and phoenix as we could see in the example we were shown. By the 10th edition in three volumes, homo sapiens was included as mammal — and there were no more unicorns to be seen!

More about the Society can be found on its informative website www.linnean.org. Much of their holdings has been digitised and the building is well worth a visit as there are monthly ‘treasures tours’. Thanks are due to our excellent guides for the visit, Isabelle and Andrea, and to fellow-Explorer Judith B who set up this visit for us.

February 2024: Two Temple Place: On Two Temple Place Feb 2024yet another wet day in London Explorers made their way to Two Temple Place (built for William Waldorf Astor and completed in 1895) for what is becoming an annual tradition — visiting to see the current year’s exhibition. In partnership with the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, the Stained Glass Museum in Ely and Stourbridge Glass Museum this year’s exhibition The Glass Heart: art, industry and collaboration aimed to show visitors key moments in English glass making history and contemporary artworks using the medium. On the ground floor there were displays of traditional stained glass from medieval examples to the Victorian era, etched glass, delicate ‘ships in bottles’ and examples of the manufactured glassware found in most kitchens. Who knew that I had a design classic in my Pyrex casserole and lid! Upstairs the displays featured modern artworks, including a large construction Judge and Jury from 2023. Quite by chance, the artist Chris Day was at Two Temple Place that afternoon and was happy to talk to visitors about his creation made from frames of microbore copper pipe and blown glass — and our photo shows him chatting to visitors!

This exhibition will be running until 21 April, with a programme of linked events, and is well-worth a visit (as is the building itself) www.twotempleplace.org

February 2024: Trinity House:
  We may be heTrinity House Feb 2024ading back there later in the summer for a guided walk so look out for details soon! In the meantime, Tim M has written this report:

Trinity House could be considered one of Trinity House 2 Feb 2024the most important headquarters in London for our island nation since even today over 90% of our imports come by sea. Henry VIII set up the Corporation in 1514 to care for the safety and supervision of our coasts, though not Scotland. Queen Elizabeth I gave the Brethren of the Corporation the right to build lighthouses and other navigation guides. The first lighthouse was built in 1609. In the grand entrance hall of Trinity House there are several beautiful models of lighthouses, and also of the later invention, lightships. Surprisingly the ships had no engines and so the last of them was swamped in a storm twenty years ago with several crew members drowned. But we saw on the models that they did have cannons, not to attack others, but to make a noise warning in fog.

The building has a stylish 18th century frontage in a grand City position directly opposite the Tower of London. Sadly it was bombed during the Blitz, so the interior is a rather bland reproduction. There is a fine stairwell to the grand second floor reception rooms. It has some huge pictures of the gathered Brethren of the Corporation in the style of a City livery company, who our guide Kate said were elected by each other mainly for the purpose of networking. Further research tells me that many have more useful skills, enough to advise on coastal security, or as expert witnesses into sea disasters. The main use of the building now is as administration base for a very important organisation that ensures our coasts are safe and straightforward to navigate; that all British sailors are properly trained; and that certain very busy waterways, such as the English Channel and the Thames are well-regulated.

Friday 5 January 2024 at 11amIt’s 5 January, the day Meeting Jan 2024before Twelfth Night, and Exploring London members get together to share drinks and treats and talk about the plans for the 2024 programme. The four events already scheduled were discussed (they are up on the webpage) and there were plenty of suggestions for other venues to visit and walks to follow — including Japan House in Kensington, a return visit to London Metropolitan Archives for members who couldn’t join in the popular visit in 2023, the Lloyds building in the City of London, a walk with Jill Finch focussing on John Donne and a ‘ghost signs’ walk in Fitzrovia. Offers to research and plan extra events were gratefully received by Liz, the group coordinator! Our photo shows Jean explaining how one can access amazing views over the City of London from two new skyscrapers in Bishopsgate. Since this meeting, Exploring London’s seaside day trip has been booked — Broadstairs on Friday 28 June so there’s plenty to look forward to in 2024.

December 2023, Guildhall in the City ofLondon Guildhall Dec 2023 London: 
Our visit was first planned for October, but in an attempt to be helpful as the Guildhall was apparently overwhelmed with visitors, we postponed our booking to December, which meant a last-minute change of City guides and only restricted access to parts of the building.

As Liz S was in York, Explorers Pauline and Brenda looked after the group, who met up on a chilly December morning at St Lawrence Jewry church. Inside the Guildhall itself, the visit was largely restricted to the impressive Great Hall but Christine the guide had a wealth of history at her fingertips and plenty of anecdotes to share! The medieval Guildhall (built 1411-1440) survived until major damage during the Great Fire of London in 1666; the Great Hall was the scene of civic functions and state trials, including that of Lady Jane Grey in 1553. The post-Fire building was added to and embellished — the current main entrance was designed by George Dance in 1788 — but on 29 December 1940 the roof was again destroyed in the Blitz and the today’s roof and ceiling are the work of Giles Gilbert Scott, completed in 1953. Our photograph shows the Hall, flanked by impressive monuments and overlooked by statues of the legendary guardians of the City, the giants Gog and Magog.

Our guide Christine added a visit to St Lawrence Jewry church to the programme. The medieval church was another victim of the 1666 Great Fire, rebuilt to the plans of Sir Christopher Wren, and then badly damaged in 1940, like much of the surrounding area. Recently reopened after major works, the interior is looking at its best as befits the official church of the City and the Lord Mayor of London!

East End WalkNovember, East End walk:
Jill Finch’s walks are extremely popular with Explorers, so there was a second group waiting to head off from Aldgate East with Jill for a repeat of the walk she had successfully led in October. Pictured by the Black Sheep Coffee stand outside the station, the group were ready to follow the route as planned, ending at Shadwell Station. But a downpour started shortly after leaving and although several members gamely plodded on, Jill decided it was just too horrible to keep going. She said later that in all the years she has been taking group walks, it was only the second walk she’d stopped before the final destination!

Jill kindly offered to repeat the walk in better weather — and she shared some other suggestions for 2024 walks for us — watch this space!

LMANovember, London Metropolitan Archives: The building housing the London Metropolitan Archives behind the old Finsbury Town Hall isn’t that easy to find, even if you’re locals like us, but 17 Explorers met there on 3 November for a visit organised by archives officer Jack Deeprose and colleagues. Our visit had been postponed from October so there would have been more Explorers in the group — but here they are waiting to start the visit.

Jack introduced the LMA and the range of archive materials it includes with a short video presentation, which also showed how materials could be researched online — though the website is not that intuitive! Moving into the public areas, the group saw the reference sections — freely available to enquirers during opening hours — and where holders of ‘History cards’ can work with original materials they have requested. Jack then took the group behind the scenes and into the parts of the LMA that visitors don’t usually see, miles of climate-controlled storage and the conservation studios where books and documents are repaired and conserved. Then it was back upstairs where a wealth of original documents, photos and other archived materials had been set out for Explorers to examine. They ranged from a collection of photos and drawings of old Islington to Charles Booth’s ‘poverty maps’, and maps showing bomb damage from the Second World War. Ecclesiastical records were also included: a volume from St Paul’s Cathedral with entries from the 1200s. And as a complete contrast, the LMA also houses records from companies originally based in London — there were packaging designs and adverts for Hornimans teas!

In their feedback to the visit, several Explorers said they’d be returning to the LMA for their own researches, ‘exploring’ another part of London that had been unfamiliar. With this positive feedback in mind, enquiries have already been made about a second visit in spring 2024 which will — hopefully — be convenient for Explorers who had to drop out of this visit because of the change of date. Further information about the LMA is on www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma

October, ‘Treasures of Gold and Silver Wire’ at the Guildhall Art Gallery: It’s safe to say that the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers is not amongst the most well-known of the City of London’s one hundred or so historic and modern livery companies, though since the Coronation we are more familiar with the product, the gold and silver wire and thread used to embellish religious and secular clothing, artefacts and precious jewellery and embroidery. Guildhall1The Company is marking 400 years since James I gave it its first Royal Charter in 1623 with an exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery and Explorers enjoyed a specially arranged visit on 26 October, with a tour led by the curator of the exhibition Dr Karen Watts.  Karen introduced us to the history of the livery company and the technology of making the wire or thread (scarcely changed since medieval times) in the first of the three galleries. Guildhall2Taking us through into the second gallery there were examples of royal regalia and other civic ceremonial outfits, ecclesiastical vestments, military uniforms and stage costumes. Within a relatively small space, there were varied themes to be followed through and individual items that caught one’s eye: the Bacton Altar cloth fashioned from a dress owned by Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary’s Coronation Dress from 1911 (with its hidden pocket), the suit designed for Charles Dickens's only attendance at court and Darcy Bussell’s tutu — going behind the display case one could spot several rows of hooks and eyes where it had been adjusted for different dancers! Then the final room was a showcase of contemporary jewellery and embroidery created by young artists and craftspeople, demonstrating that age-old skills are still being carried on and virtuoso pieces created. Karen was available to talk individually to Explorers as we moved around the exhibition at our own pace and as part of our visit we were each given a copy of ‘Treasures of Gold and Silver Wire’, published to accompany the exhibition. One Explorer said she had ’run out of Wow’s’ as she moved from one display to the next — a perfect way of summing up an unexpectedly interesting and impressive exhibition.

October 2023, East London walk:
‘Exploring London’ walk in East London, led by City of London guide Jill Finch to complement her ‘Wapping Walk’ held earlier this year. The photo shows the group waiting at Aldgate East station, ready to head off. The walk will be repeated — if there’s enough demand — on 14 November.
East London Oct2023‘On a cold sunny morning we left Aldgate East to walk to Shadwell, following a route that focused on places of historical and social interest and the changing use of some buildings into flats, pubs and offices. The first highlight was the Eastern Dispensary, on Leman Street, originally founded in 1782 by a group of City doctors, the present building from 1858-9,offered medical and surgical treatment for the poor, with evening surgeries and midwives on site! We then passed St George's German Lutheran Church, now closed although their small vestry serves as an office for the Historic Chapels Trust. En route to Commercial Street we went passed Goodman's Field, (Canters Way) originally a rural community used for stabling, now a new housing development. On the corner of Commercial Road, with its architectural diversity of old and new buildings, stands the Gunmakers Proof House, owned by the Worshipful Company of Gun Makers and still licensed by the government today to test new handguns in London, along with all imported guns. We turned into Henriques Street where we noted that the Tommy Flowers Centre, previously a school, is named for the man who helped build the decoding machine ‘Colossus’ at Bletchley Park. Opposite is the Bernhard Baron House, originally a Jewish Community Centre providing different health, education and social activities for the local Jewish community, now closed and converted into flats. From here we passed the Potter and Clarke warehouse, a company which were wholesale suppliers of herbs and Brown and Eagle, a wool storage company with its original warehouse cranes in situ. We then came to Wiltons Music Hall with its chequered history: an eighteenth ale house, then music hall, Methodist Mission soup kitchen, survived being demolished and now a vibrant Music Hall again. From here we went through Wellclose Square and gardens, previously a Scandinavia Quarter in Shadwell, we briefly heard about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders before going to see a Hawksmoor Church, St George in the East, badly damaged in World War II, then a new church was rebuilt within the ruins. To complete the walk we went round the church into St George's Gardens, passing the old Victorian mortuary which is now on English Heritage's ‘At Risk Register’. To the left of the Park is a secondary school where E R Braithwaite, was a teacher in the post-war years and wrote about his experiences in ‘To Sir with Love’, later filmed starring Sidney Poitier. The walk ended by the Cable Street Mural, created to commemorate the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. A fascinating walk full of facts, interesting stories and so many diverse cultures, communities and architectural gems. (Report by Judith B) 

September 2023 visits

We began ‘exploring’ after the summer break with two visits in September, both attracting small groups to Grenwich Queens Hallthe events. On Friday 1 September the destination was Greenwich, where seasoned Explorers know there is always plenty to see! The focus for this visit was the Queen’s House which has an impressive exhibition of paintings and drawings by the two eminent Dutch artists Willem van de Velde, father and son, who were invited to set up their studio in the Queen’s House by King Charles II. As a result, the Maritime Museum in Greenwich has the largest collection of sketches, drawings and paintings by the Van de Veldes outside the Netherlands and a selection were shown throughout the Queen’s House. Also on show for the first time since its conservation is a huge tapestry of the Battle of Solebay (1672) designed by Willem van de Velde the Elder – and you can see it in the photograph. The exhibition ‘Greenwich, art and the sea’ continues until 14 January 2024, and is well worth a visit — especially as it’s free! If you go, be sure to look closely at one of the large paintings ‘en grisaille’ as you’ll spot Van de Velde the Elder with his drawing board on knee, making sketches of the naval action taking place in front of him!

Kensington PalaceOn Thursday 14 September we headed west to Kensington to visit Kensington Palace while a temporary exhibition ‘Crown to Couture’ is running at the Palace (it’s on until October). This major exhibition ranges through the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments — the photograph shows King Charles I on horseback looking down on a typical gallery!  — and features an extensive collection of outfits for men and women from UK collections of historic dress and from contemporary  international designers who created visually impressive ‘special occasion wear’. Visitors can examine detailed embroidery and lace, shoes and corsets, learning about the rules and etiquette of court dress and can’t miss an 18th century dress with panniers which measures about 3 yards from side to side. Twentieth and twenty-first century dresses ranged from a modest white lace frock designed by Edith Head for Audrey Hepburn to stunning outfits for Beyonce and Lizzo — which were definitely not modest! This exhibition seems to have attracted different audiences to the Palace, those visitors who are interested in visiting the historic site and another group who are primarily interested in fashion and costume design — a clever bit of marketing. We had a fine afternoon to enjoy the Palace at its most attractive — and welcome afternoon tea in the café afterwards.…

Previous Visit Reports
A useful summary of our recent explorations is available here: 2021-22 Summary Report

July: RCP Gardens:
The Denis Lasdun bRCP Gardens July 2023uilding for the Royal College of Physicians close to Regent’s Park, is a ‘must-see’ for fans of 20-century architecture, but there’s another reason to visit — so a group of  Explorers (including two new members) headed there on 12 July for the last ‘exploration’ of the summer. The RCP boasts a medicinal garden, designed to surround the building and extend along the neighbouring Terrace and the John Nash-designed house named after William Harvey. Like the better-known Chelsea Physic Garden, the plants in it would have been grown for medicinal purposes for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and the RCP offers expert-led group tours so that visitors can find out more. Our group was taken round by Dr Sue Burge, formerly of Oxford University; she features in a couple of our photographs in the full report here of our entertaining and illuminating tour that afternoon. You can go round the garden on your own during the week — the building and museum are also open, or book one of the regular monthly group tours — highly recommended!

July: Whitstable:
The Exploring London group hasWhitstable July 2023 established several traditions in the nearly 10 years it’s been ‘exploring’ — and one of them is having a day trip outside London! We started quite locally with Hatfield House, but in recent years locations conveniently reached by trains from Kings Cross or St Pancras have proved popular and 2023 was no exception. Whitstable proved to be a popular destination on 6 July and all the places on our group walk led by Rob Smith were quickly taken up. Rob’s walks have always highlighted aspects of the venues that group members were unaware of — and this walk was no different. Whitstable is much more than picturesque oyster bars! We learned about early railways in the area and even earlier industries dating back to the 16th century. Even the local ‘Castle’ had a rather racy back story as the full report here shows. Our photo was taken by the harbour on a brief pause before group members headed off individually — some to have lunch, explore more of the town — or fit in another walk and a swim before returning to London!

June: Oval Cricket Ground:
Our Fellow-EOval June 2023xplorer Jill L regularly goes to watch matches at the Oval ground, home of Surrey Cricket Club, and she suggested going on one of the regular tours of the ground that are offered to visitors. So a group of Explorers bought their tickets and joined a tour on 23 June — with Jill in charge! Pauline took the group photo during the tour and Angela wrote … ‘You didn't have to be a particular fan of cricket to enjoy the tour of the grounds, although there was plenty for the true aficionados to be interested in. The actual ground, or pitch, was much more intimate than I expected and was, not surprisingly, a beautiful oval shape with of course the iconic gasometer in the background. It was easy to imagine walking down the steps into a packed ground, bat in hand, ready to score a useful set of runs or, indeed, climbing back up the steps having been bowled for a duck and having to face your team in the dressing room!’

Have a look at the photographs that Jill and Pauline took during the visit to whet your appetite for your own visit to this historic cricket ground.

June — Guildhall Art Gallery:
The afternooGuildhall Art Gallery June 2023n of 14 June was very warm and sunny, so it was a pleasure to get inside for a second opportunity to catch up with the latest temporary exhibition there, The Big City. The run of this popular exhibition had been extended to the end of July which gave more ‘Explorers’ a chance to explore London in a different way — by viewing very large paintings from the City’s collection which aren’t normally easy to see because of their size. From Greenwich in 1678, to south London in 2013, the exhibition ranges in both time and location — and you can search for mice in surprising locations too! This exterior photo was taken from the side of St Lawrence Jewry Church, which has recently reopened and is looking beautiful inside, across the sunny courtyard to the Guildhall Art Gallery building. The Guildhall itself is on the left — watch out for details of our proposed visit there in October as it’s bound to be popular.

May and June —
Covent Garden: Two grouSt Martin's exteriorps of Explorers headed to the Covent Garden area with our guide Jill Finch, to follow the second of her popular ‘Oranges and Lemons’ walks, which are themed around the well-known nursery rhyme. This time we started the walks at St Martin-in-the-Fields church — ‘I owe you five farthings, say the bells of St Martins’ — and it was pointed out that the area around this St Martins church was such a poor one that a debt as small as 5 farthings was much more likely to be significant than in the parishes of more wealthy City churches with the same dedication. Even in such a familiar area as Covent Garden, the groups saw locations that we had never noticed before, such as what must be London’s narrowest alley, and learnt fascinating stories about street muggings, murderous actors and how not to get into one of London’s newest small museums! Read the full report here for details of the walks and many more photographs taken in May and June, when the sunny weather showed London at its best …

April — Old St Pancras Church:
This visit hadOld St Pancras Church April 2023 been organized for us by fellow-Explorer Judith Birch. When she told us about it she said that the guide who would take us round, Lester Hillman, knew a tremendous amount about the church, the surrounding churchyard and the neighbouring area of Camden — and he certainly did! It was a grey and damp morning — as you can see from this photo — to start exploring a churchyard, so the coffee and tea that was offered in the church was very welcome. The group sat comfortably inside the church to hear Hillman’s discursive presentation about the building and then moved outside to learn more about burials in the churchyard, both those which survive to the present day and those which have been moved due to the several redevelopments in the area. While the ash-tree known apocryphally as the ‘Hardy Tree’ had fallen in the winter of 2022, there were still a few cheerful signs of spring to come in clumps of cowslips between grave stones … and the sun did come out as some of us continued exploring as far as the canal, Camley Street and Kings Cross. Thanks to Judith for arranging our visit, and for writing the report here too!

March, April — Wapping:
The walks that Jill Finch Wapping Mar 2023leads for Exploring London are always popular so we try to repeat them. Our walk around Wapping was no exception, so we had walks scheduled for 27 March and 13 April. The photo shows the March group ready to set off from outside Wapping Station. Spring weather has been variable — to say the least — but the groups were lucky, as both dates were chilly but bright and dry. The route enabled the groups to learn a lot about the social, economic and architectural history of the area with its strong maritime and trading links. Converted factories and warehouses, docks and canals, pubs and churches all featured in the tour, though the April group were unable to visit inside St Peter’s as the report here records. Happily, both groups did end their tours at the Prospect of Whitby for a well-deserved lunch! There are plenty of photographs in the full report and they may encourage more members of the Exploring London group to head to Wapping later in the year if you haven’t done so before.

March — The City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery:Guildhall Art Gallery March 2020
This is currently showing a temporary exhibition of huge paintings from the City’s collection — ones that are not normally on public display as they are so big that the gallery doesn’t have the wall-space to hang them! The exhibition is another way to ‘explore’ London as the images date from the late 17th century up to the early 21st century and show how artists have responded both to events in the City and to the urban landscape of London. A group of Explorers, led by Liz (who volunteers at the gallery as well as coordinating ‘Exploring London’) visited on 17 March and are pictured in the temporary garden that was installed outside the Guildhall in March. As the exhibition has been extended until July, there will be another chance to visit later in the spring/summer.

March — Leighton House:
On a chilly anLeighton House exterior March 2023d wet day, 19 Explorers, despite the weather, headed to Kensington for this visit. This photo of the exterior and hardy blossom tree was snatched between showers of rain! Leighton House, the former home of Lord Leighton, has recently reopened after a major development and refurbishment which has added a larger entrance and shop, a cafe and educational facilities to the building. Lord Leighton had bought an empty building plot in 1864 and over the next 30 years the house evolved into — as the handy guidebook says  — ‘a palace of art, combining domestic accommodation, a large painting studio, spaces for entertainment and a setting for his collections’. Group member and Explorer Rachel S has written a report here in which she reflects on this visit and her previous visits to Leighton House, and additional comments by other members and a selection of photographs give a good idea what can be expected if you visit too. Kensington’s website www.rbkc.gov.uk offers an excellent introduction to Leighton House and Sambourne House and the ‘Holland Park Circle’ of artists who lived there in the 19th century.

January and February 2023:
Exploring London started off 2023’s visits programme with two opportunities to ‘explore’ south and north of the river! On 27 January there was a chance to visit Greenwich and see Luke Jerram’s ‘Museum of the Moon‘ installation in the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall. The contrast between the impressive paintings by Sir James Thornhill on the walls and ceiling of the hall and the slowly revolving globe of the moon can be seen in the photographs in the PDF of the full report of our two visits and you can see the link here.

Just over a week later, on 8 February, a larger groDickens Museum Jan 2023up of Explorers set off on a bright but chilly morning to the Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. It was definitely a chilly day and for many of us, the first stop was the museum’s cafe as you can see from the photo! The museum, comprising two townhouses on Doughty Street, had plenty of interest whether one is a fan of Dickens or not. The photographs in the PDF above show some of the main rooms on view in this early Victorian interior. Furniture, pictures and other artefacts from the museum’s extensive collection are well-displayed and would reward return visits. One recommendation — pick a quiet time or day as the small houses can get pretty crowded when there are groups or events.

Islington’s ‘Exploring London’ group is forKew February 21 2023tunate in having a very active member in Pauline, who moved to west London but has kept up her membership of iU3A. On 21 February she took a group of Explorers for a visit to the National Archives in Kew and nine of the group are pictured here, outside the Archive’s building. The National Archives is free to visit and has a programme of temporary exhibitions, currently Treason: People, Power and Plot. It’s accessible by tube, Overground and SW trains from Waterloo, close to the Thames and Kew Gardens and the well laid-out grounds are proving to be a haven for bird-life, as the group spotted! There’s more information on the website www.nationalarchives.gov.uk if other iU3A members fancy a trip west! See the pdf of this visit here.

December — Royal Society:
Explorers visited the RoyRoyal Society December 2022al Society in its Carlton House Terrace headquarters on 6 December 2022, prompted by a temporary exhibition focusing on John Ruskin and his interest in contemporary scientific developments, especially ‘the science of sight’. Pre-booking for groups was required as there’s only a small exhibition space and, like many similar buildings, the Royal Society is heavily used for meetings and conferences. But when we contacted them, they remembered we had previously visited in 2016 and we were offered the opportunity for a guided tour of the impressive building and a visit to the library, where several of the Society’s treasures were out on display for the group. Our guide for the afternoon, the Library Manager, gave us a potted history of the Society and the building itself as we walked round, before the group spent time in the temporary exhibition at the end of the tour. If you read the report here you’ll get a good idea of the visit, with more photographs — and you’ll see that it looks as though we’d be welcomed back again!

November — Sutton House:
At last, ‘Exploring Sutton House November 2022London’ has finally caught up with all its planned pre-Covid programming. Fellow-Explorer Brenda had arranged for a guided tour of Sutton House, the NT-managed property in Hackney, before life closed down in March 2020 — and we’d even paid a deposit! Sutton House eventually re-opened for visits this year, initially for group tours only, so we were able to negotiate a date and Brenda led a group visit on Wednesday 23 November. The guide took our group all over the house, explaining about its history and stories and pointing out the interesting features which have survived the years. The full report here tells you more about the visit, and includes several photos to give you an idea of what to expect if you visit on your own, as the house will be open again for individual visits in February 2023 after its winter clean; there are concessions for NT members and Hackney residents.

November — Abney Park Cemetery, to leaAbney park November 2022rn more about the cemetery and nature reserve, and especially the Common Graves project ‘Abney Unearthed’.  We’re very grateful to Judith, who is an ‘Explorer’ and volunteers on the project, for making the arrangements for the group, and to Haydn who led the party on its exploration. Abney Park was one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries established in the nineteenth century to cope with the lack of space for burials in existing London cemeteries. Luckily for the group, the wet weather held off long enough for a walk through the cemetery, identifying where ‘common graves’ had been sited and researched: Judith’s report here with photographs gives more information and shows what it looks like in a mild and wet November! For more information, go to www.abneypark.org where you can learn more about Abney Park, development plans and events and opportunities for volunteering.

October — Visit to the Poppy Factory in RPoppy Factory Oct 2022ichmond (arranged by Pauline).
While the single poppies themselves aren’t made at the site any more, the special wreaths are assembled there. The Factory has a visitors’ centre where the history and manufacture of  the iconic red poppy is explained by means of full displays and installations and visitors can attempt to make their own poppies — using only one hand — or try making wreaths.  One group member remarked afterwards that both activities were pretty difficult — but our photo of some of the group shows that we did manage it! There are more photographs on the report here which Pauline wrote and we’re very grateful to her for setting up this October visit. As you can see, the visit did include tea and home-made cakes!


For a summary view of our visits over all the years, have a look here.

Details of our visits in iU3A year:
2021/22 here.
2020/21 here.
2019/20 here.
2018/19 here.
2017/2018 here.
2016/2017 here.
For a summary of 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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