Jewellery brand of the month: Pandacat Productions

For May’s jewellery brand I’ve chosen another UK brand, the relatively new, Glasgow-based:

PANDACAT PRODUCTIONS

This brand is the brainchild of Jess Milne and was only started this year. I’ve bought one piece already – the Second Star to the Right Necklace, which I wore to a theatre performance of Peter Pan.

Second Star to the Right Necklace

I’ve also got my eye on this lovely Venetian Mask Necklace.

Venetian Masquerade Mask Necklace
Venetian Masquerade Mask Necklace

This lamp post brooch is very Narnia.

Winter Lamp Post and Robin Brooch
Winter Lamp Post and Robin Brooch

Christmas or not, it’s always a good time for a Mince Pie Brooch.

Mince Pie Brooch
Mince Pie Brooch

These baby dragon brooches are adorable.

Baby Dragon Brooch
Baby Dragon Brooch

Check out Pandacat Productions via the following links:

Etsy: etsy.com/uk/shop/PandacatProductions

Instagram: instagram.com/elpandacat (I particularly recommend following on Instagram for sneak peeks of new collections including a forthcoming Wizard of Oz range!)

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography – National Portrait Gallery

Victorian Giants exhibition

I went to an exhibition of Victorian photography at the National Portrait Gallery, Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography. The exhibition featured four photographers: Oscar Rejlander, Julia Margaret Cameron, Clementina Hawarden and Lewis Carroll. These four were pioneers in the world of photography in the 1960s, sharing ideas and inspiration and creating a body of work that still looks radical decades on.

I have some familiarity with the work of Cameron and Carroll, but I was previously unaware of Hawarden and Rejlander. I particularly liked Hawarden’s portrait of a woman by a mirror, in which we see both the woman and her reflection. I also enjoyed Rejlander’s composite photograph of decadent nudes, which resembled a dramatic painting.

There was lots to enjoy in the exhibition, from candid photographs of children (I loved the grumpy child photographed by Carroll) to portraits of important figures of the age and unknown sitters dressed up as mythological figures.

What Does the Antarctic Mean? – British Library

Exhibition banner

I went to a fascinating talk at the British Library, entitled What Does the Antarctic Mean?, part of the Cook’s voyages exhibition season. The talk was chaired by journalist Julia Wheeler, who has written books on both the Antarctic and the Arctic, and featured Jane Francis (Director of the British Antarctic Survey), Damon Stanwell-Smith (Executive Director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), Jane Rumble (Head of the Polar Regions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway University of London).

The talk began with a discussion on the significance of Antarctica. Jane Francis emphasised the importance of Antarctica to science, and explained how the continent influences the world: the climate, sea level rises and tides. Klaus Dodds said that 200 years ago, people tended to see as ice as sublime, awesome, terrifying, and now that relationship has been flipped on its head as we have become aware of the human power over ice. He also talked about the imaginative aspect of Antarctica, and mentioned the Antarctic Treaty, which inspired other treaties including those involving space.

Jane Rumble pointed out that 200 years ago no one knew Antarctica existed: its importance has increased in a very short space of time. It is the only place in the world with no wars, no territorial claims. Damon Stanwell-Smith confessed to amazement that a continent larger than North America hasn’t been colonised, and talked about how Antarctica is something you feel – there is nothing like being there.

The group then discussed the Antarctic Treaty. Dodds explained that this treaty was negotiated over 6 weeks in 1959, and involved the 12 parties who had participated in the International Geophysical Year 1957-58. This was during the middle of the Cold War – there was a worry that such collaboration would not continue.

There were many issues. The UK, Argentina and Chile claimed the same territory – could they come to blows? The Australian president was convinced that Russian communists wanted to establish bases in Antarctica, while the USA had seriously considered nuclear testing. The treaty nearly didn’t happen – especially thanks to Australia, France and Argentina. The treaty would only happen if all 12 countries passed it; there was a deliberate decision to avoid mention of mineral resources or there would have been no agreement.

Rumble then discussed the UK’s territorial claims in more detail, starting with the 1908 claim to the Antarctic peninsula region. There was some discussion on whether the UK should claim the whole thing; in the end they didn’t, but they did cajole the Commonwealth nations Australia and new Zealand to claim. France joined in, then Germany tried in the 1930s, following which the British supported Norway’s rival claim. As a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, was first to the South Pole, that country’s claim should really have been considered earlier, but at the time Norway was a small newly-independent nation and nobody really took them seriously.

Chile and Argentina placed their own claims during World War II. In 1943 the UK set up the first permanent presence in Antarctica – Operation Tabarin. The US put their base at the South Pole, while Russia put theirs in the Australian bit and refused to move. Despite all this, there is still one unclaimed sector, the most remote.

Rumble discussed the huge amounts of scientific collaboration taking place in Antarctica among scientists, who tend to ignore politics. Shared science programmes abound, including a new joint UK/US project investigating a glacier. If it melts, there will be a sea level rise of over 5 metres. Francis pointed out that when the climate changes, it changes at the Poles first, so Antarctica is the perfect place for this research.

Stanwell-Smith talked about the sometimes-controversial business of modern commercial tourism. This began in the late 1960s and has gone from strength to strength ever since. Most visitors are from North America and other anglophone countries, but there has been an increase in Chinese visitors. In the last year there have been more than 50,000 visitors (of whom 9,000 were on cruises – and did not get off the ship), a rise of 17% from the previous year.

Stanwell-Smith argued that allowing visitors is important, albeit in an appropriate way. Most people who visit have a fascination with Antarctica; perhaps they are older and have a long-held ambition to go. Visiting Antarctica also allows the importance of the continent to be emphasised. Francis pointed out that far more than these visitors, the main problem is people who treat the continent like an adventure playground: such as Guirec Soudee, a French man who is travelling around the world with his pet chicken, Monique. It sounds like a fun story, but there was a very real risk that the chicken could have passed on avian flu to the native penguin population.

Dodds spoke about the challenging relationship between tourists and scientists: some scientists see tourists as a distraction, but public outreach is now recognised as an important part of a scientist’s role. Dodds also pointed out that Antarctica still has a very small number of visitors for such a large place.

Finally, Rumble was asked about the most important aspect of Antarctica to the UK government, and responded, ‘Peace and stability.’ A strong treaty system is very important and science is a clear priority.

I really enjoyed this fascinating talk.

St Pancras Old Church

churchyard gateway
St Pancras Old Churchyard

I’ve been meaning to visit St Pancras Old Church ever since I moved to London, so when I walked past it while on my Fleet walk I just had to pop in.

History

The church is located in Somers Town, is dedicated to the Roman martyr Saint Pancras, and is believed by many to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England.

church
St Pancras Old Church

The church thrived until the 14th century, when the population largely moved to Kentish Town, possibly because the area was prone to flooding (the Fleet ran past). The church fell into disrepair but was rebuilt in the Victorian era. Now managed by the London Borough of Camden, it was restored at the beginning of this century.

Notable burials

Many French refugees who had fled the Revolution were buried in the churchyard, including the transgender spy Chevalier d’Éon. John Polidori, famous companion of Byron, is also buried here, as is the architect John Soane, whose tomb, designed by himself, was the inspiration for the famous red telephone boxes.

Sir John Soane's tomb
Sir John Soane’s tomb

The tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin is here, although their remains are now in Bournemouth. Their daughter Mary and her future husband Percy Shelley met here frequently.

Tomb of Mary Wollestonecraft and William Godwin
Tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin
The Hardy tree

As a longtime fan of the novelist Thomas Hardy I was keen to see this famous tree. The young Hardy was apprenticed to a London architecture firm in the 1860s. When a new train line was planned directly through the cemetery, Hardy was assigned the unenviable task of moving the dead bodies. Left with a pile of gravestones, he decided to place them in a ring around a tree near the church, where over the years they have been absorbed into the tree, forming an impressive spectacle.

The Hardy tree
The Hardy tree
The Church

The church was rebuilt in the Victorian era, but elements from its medieval past are still visible, including an entire section of wall.

Inside the church
Inside the church
Medieval wall
Medieval wall

I really wish I’d visited this churchyard before as it’s a beautiful place. There were lots of people just sitting about reading, which sounds like a great idea. It was lovely to be able to stop here and have a rest during my walk.

FACTS

Address: Pancras Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 1UL

Website: posp.co.uk/st-pancras-old-church

Prices: Free

Walk the Fleet

Everyone’s heard of the Thames, but surprisingly few people seem to have heard of its many tributaries – the most famous being the Fleet River. This is perhaps understandable, given that the Fleet (and many other minor rivers in London) are hidden away – but the signs are still there, if you know where to look. I’ve wanted to walk the Fleet for a while, and decided to go for it on Saturday: the weather was slightly cooler at the beginning of the Bank Holiday weekend.

Vale of Health Pond
Vale of Health Pond

I began my journey on Hampstead Heath, where the Fleet (the name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon flēot, ‘tidal inlet’) still flows overground, at the Vale of Health pond: this pond feeds the Hampstead Brook, the western arm of the River Fleet. You can follow the course of the brook through the woods of Hampstead Heath, though it was almost dried up on the hot day I visited. Further on, the stream flows into the public bathing ponds at the bottom of the Heath.

Hampstead Heath
The Fleet flowing through Hampstead Heath

(I should mention here that another branch of the river flows down from Highgate, but I chose the Hampstead branch, purely because it was easier for me to get to. One day I might go and check out the Highgate branch too).

Hampstead Ponds
Hampstead Ponds

The Fleet was a major river in Roman times, and its status was largely maintained into the Anglo-Saxon era, with wells, supposedly with healing qualities, built at Clerkenwell and Bridewell. As London increased in size, the river became notorious for filth and sewage, surrounded by prisons and slums. From 1680 the Fleet became the New Canal, lined with wharves frequently used by the coal trade from the North East of England; hence the street names Newcastle Close and Old Seacoal Lane. From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, parts of the river were gradually covered over, enclosed in brick-lined sewers, until the 1870s when the final section, up at Hampstead, was covered.

Prince Albert
Grating outside the Prince Albert pub

The two branches converge in Kentish Town, before heading down towards the centre of London. I walked away from the calming greenery of the Heath into the built-up and urban Camden, stopping at the Prince Albert pub, where the Fleet flows under an iron grating. It can be heard easily (but not so easily seen, in the sunlight). Sadly, my plan to stop for a drink in the pub was thwarted as it was closed (this also happened with the next pub on my route. Clearly the universe is conspiring against me).

Heading down towards King’s Cross, I passed St Pancras Old Church (another blog post to follow). I was fascinated to see a picture showing the Fleet rushing by the Church in the days before it was covered up. King’s Cross was originally named Battle Bridge, referring to an ancient bridge over the Fleet where Boudica’s army is said to have fought an important battle against the Romans. I hurried past the busy King’s Cross station and onto Gray’s Inn Road, before avoiding the traffic and heading into a quieter, more residential area. I passed a housing estate called Fleet Court – clearly I was going in the right direction. My route also took me past the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre and the new Postal Museum.

The Coach
Grating outside The Coach pub

My next encounter with the Fleet was in Farringdon, outside the Coach pub, where another grating covers the rushing Fleet, though I wasn’t able to hear anything this time. The Fleet’s presence here seems to be more well-known: I overheard someone pointing it out as I loitered. The original Hockley tavern, which stood on the site, was in the midst of an area known for gambling and bear-baiting and apparently, in 1709, a bear killed the landlord.

I walked down Saffron Hill, a small, sloping street, but couldn’t find any signs of the Fleet here although I’d heard that they exist. Never mind – I soon arrived at Holborn Viaduct, a bridge over a valley which was carved out by the widening Fleet over several years. This stretch of the river was once full of ships, loading and unloading their produce (including the stones for Old St Paul’s Cathedral). This part of the river was also known as the ‘Holbourne’.

Holborn Viaduct
Holborn Viaduct

Towards the end of my walk, I passed Ludgate Circus, which crosses Fleet Street, named for the river. It was originally the site of the Fleet Bridge river crossing. The King Lud pub occupied the building now used by Leon between 1870 and 2005, and it is rumoured that the Fleet could be seen flowing under a glass floor panel.

Ludgate Circus
Ludgate Circus

Finally, my walk came to an end as I reached Blackfriars Bridge. What remains of the Fleet flows out of Victorian sewers into the Thames underneath the bridge, although sadly I couldn’t view the exit as the area is currently undergoing building works. Still, I was very pleased to have finally got the chance to follow the Fleet.

Blackfriars Bridge
The Fleet flows into the Thames beneath Blackfriars Bridge

Where To See and Hear the Hidden River Fleet from Londonist and Going underground: Mile after mile of ornate brickwork and labyrinthine tunnels which reveal the beauty of London’s hidden River Fleet from Mail Online (I know, I know, but it was genuinely interesting) helped me to work out my route, spot the Fleet along the way, and learn about its history. There is also a fascinating article on Wikipedia.

Old Royal Naval College

Gateway to the ORNC
Gateway to the ORNC

The Old Royal Naval College dominates the centre of Maritime Greenwich, being sited not far from Cutty Sark DLR station and very close to the DLR itself. Some tourists initially mistake it for the National Maritime Museum. The site has a rich history. Greenwich Palace, the birthplace of Mary I and Elizabeth I, originally occupied the site; it was known as the Palace of Placentia. Having fallen into disrepair during the English Civil War, it was demolished in 1694. Designed by Christopher Wren, the buildings were conceived as Greenwich Hospital (established by Mary II), and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869, and between 1873 and 1998 it was the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Old Royal Naval College
Old Royal Naval College

Since 2002 much of the site has been open to the public. I’ve wandered around the grounds frequently, visited a couple of the buildings, and attended concerts, but I decided to take advantage of a free guided tour on the same day as I visited the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, which has lots of information about the site.

Monument to Bellot
Monument to Bellot

Our guide took us along the waterfront, pointing out the memorial to Captain Bellot, a Frenchman who perished searching for Franklin in the Arctic (there is a memorial to the Franklin expedition in the Chapel). As the Thames was at low tide, she also pointed out the remains of a pier established by Margaret of Anjou, who originally had the palace built.

Remains of the 15th-century pier
Remains of the 15th-century pier

Of course, you can wander around the grounds yourself, but on a tour you are shown things you probably wouldn’t have noticed, like the spot on which archaeological remains of Greenwich Palace were discovered. Apparently it is forbidden to put too much weight onto the grass, in case the site beneath is damaged. The iron gates by the river are where Nelson’s body was brought on shore for lying in state before he was taken to St Paul’s Cathedral for burial.

Gateway to the Thames
Gateway to the Thames

The tour guide also pointed out just how impressive Christopher Wren’s calculations were: commanded by Queen Mary to ensure the Queen’s House kept it’s view of the river, he ensured the buildings on either side were placed to keep the Queen’s House precisely in the middle.

The Queen's House viewed from the ORNC
The Queen’s House viewed from the ORNC

A statue of George II is also a notable landmark. The statue is made of one single piece of marble and the king is depicted in the guise of a Roman Emperor.

Statue of George II
Statue of George II

Today, the University of Greenwich leases Queen Mary, King William and Queen Anne Courts and Trinity Laban School of Music and Dance occupies King Charles Court. The latter also performs regularly in the beautiful Chapel. We also popped into the Painted Hall, painted between 1707-1726 by Sir James Thornhill. The Hall is currently undergoing restoration, and I was lucky enough to take part in a Painted Hall Ceiling Tour, which takes you up to the ceiling so that you can view the artwork close up.

The Old Royal Naval College is well worth a visit, and there are so many things to do, from learning about history in the Visitor Centre, taking a guided tour, or listening to a concert in the Chapel.

FACTS

Address: King William Walk, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NN

Website: ornc.org

Opening Hours: 10am-5pm

Prices: Free (charges for some concerts and for Painted Hall Ceiling Tours)