The Sun: Living With Our Star

exhibition entrance

I managed to make it to the Science Museum‘s exhibition The Sun: Living With Our Star before it closed. The exhibition looks at the history of humanity’s knowledge and beliefs surrounding the Sun and the part it plays in our actual and our imaginative lives.

Early humanity’s belief in sun gods searched for explanations as to why the Sun appeared to rise and set every day; we see statues of sun gods from various cultures, including one of the Sun being pulled across the sky by a chariot. In the early sixteenth century, Copernicus challenged the idea that the Sun went round the Earth, supported by Newton 200 years later. From the earliest times, sundials were used to tell the time: there are examples from the Anglo-Saxon era on display. Later, the development of clocks made the Sun less important for telling the time, and nowadays standard time is taken from a network of atomic clocks.

From the earliest times the Sun has been associated with good health. Apollo was the Greek God of the Sun, light, truth and healing, while apothecary shops often had the Sun as their symbol. In the 1880s, scientists learned that ultraviolet light can kill TB bacteria: sunbathing was encouraged, and sanatoriums were opened, often in places like the Swiss Alps, emphasising fresh air, sunlight and good food. Later, suntans became fashionable, as holidays in the UK and abroad were seen as a sign of wealth.

tb poster

On the other hand, sun exposure has risks, many of which have always been known about. In recent times there have been campaigns to reduce sun exposure and lower levels of skin cancer. Inuit people have been using snow goggles to protect their eyes from the glare of the Sun for thousands of years; the first sunglasses as we know them were used by Venetian gondoliers in the 1700s. Sunglasses became fashionable in the 1950s but rarely offered ultraviolet protection; modern ones are usually UV-resistant.

The exhibition explored how we have taken power from the Sun, using it for heat and electricity. The Olympic torch from the 2012 Olympics was on display: each time the ceremony is held the torch is initially ignited by sunlight, with a curved mirror used to focus the flame. The Sun was responsible for one of our biggest energy sources, coal, which is made of plants and vegetation buried and transformed over millions of years. Interestingly, even in the nineteenth century some people were aware that resources such as coal were finite: a book from 1867 warns that coal will not last forever. More recently, solar power has been used as an energy source, and there have been attempts to recreate the Sun on earth with nuclear fusion: a project called ZETA aimed to do just that in the 1950s, though the claim of success in 1958 was later proved false.

sun

The final section of the exhibition looked at how we have observed the Sun over the years and discovered more about it. The Sun is made of hydrogen and helium, discovered by splitting light into a rainbow structure through the use of a prism; this conclusion was first put forward by astronomy student Cecilia Payne in 1925. More recently, the European Space Agency Solar Orbiter is one of the most ambitious solar missions ever attempted, aiming to fly closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury. It is hoped that the mission will help us understand the origins of the solar wind.

Jewellery of the exhibition

To this exhibition I wore my Eclectic Eccentricity Helios Vintage Sun Necklace, along with a pair of brass star earrings from the same store and a sterling silver sunstone ring from now-defunct jewellery store Cheap Frills.

jewellery I wore to the exhibition

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution – Science Museum

last tsar poster

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution is a free exhibition at the Science Museum, looking at the life and death of the Russian royal family during the Russian Revolution. It explores their family life in the years running up to Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication, the family’s murder in Ekaterinburg in 1917, and the eventual identification of their remains using DNA technology.

The science used to identify the remains of the Romanov family is the main point of the exhibition, but there is plenty of filler leading up to that, much of which I already knew having read up on Russian history and visited the St Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg where the family are now buried. However, there was a very interesting display showing how Queen Victoria passed on hemophilia to many of her children and grandchildren. The DNA section was also fascinating, showing how DNA from living royals including Prince Philip was used as a comparison to enable scientists to identify the remains.

In any case, it’s a free exhibition and well worth a visit.

Edward Burne-Jones: Pre-Raphaelite Visionary – Tate Britain

Burne-Jones poster

The exhibition Edward Burne-Jones: Pre-Raphaelite Visionary at Tate Britain looks at the career of Burne-Jones (1833-1898), taking a partly chronological and partly thematic approach to his life and work. There are sections on Burne-Jones as an apprentice and as a draughtsman, revealing another, humorous side to the artist. One room looks at the pictures Burne-Jones chose for exhibition, including some of his most famous works, such as King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid. Another explores the portraits he painted of family and friends, while one striking room displays his Briar Rose series of panels. Burne-Jones isn’t my favourite Pre-Raphaelite, but I enjoyed the exhibition.

Burne-Jones artwork

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War – British Library

Entrance to the exhibition

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is an exhibition at the British Library that I knew I definitely wanted to see. Though the Anglo-Saxon era is not my favourite, I did study history for my degree and to some extent all periods of history are interesting to me.

Anglo-Saxon settlers from northern Europe came to Britain in the 5th century, eventually forming several kingdoms that would one day become England. The exhibition brings together manuscripts and artefacts that help to illuminate this exciting period of history.

The exhibition has some amazing treasures on display, including Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Domesday Book, and artefacts from the Sutton Hoo burial ground. It takes a broadly chronological approach, looking at how the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms developed from the first arrival of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes to the Norman Conquest.

The Anglo-Saxon era was not static; different kingdoms gained and lost power over the centuries. Early in the era, the kingdom of Northumbria was in the ascendant, while later on, Mercia became the most powerful. By the tenth century, King Aethelstan was exercising power over most of what is now England and south-east Scotland.

The exhibition emphasises the multicultural links of the Anglo-Saxon world, with connections to Ireland and mainland Europe, and its literary, artistic and scientific developments. It is a fascinating exhibition, showing that even a world over 1,000 years old can still be relevant to ours.

The Lost World + Live Score at BFI Southbank

The Lost World (1925)
The Lost World (1925)

I’ve had dinosaurs on the brain since going to see a 25th anniversary screening of Jurassic Park at the Prince Charles Cinema a few weeks ago, so was very happy to have the opportunity to check out an even earlier example of dinosaurs in cinema. The Lost World, based on the Arthur Conan Doyle novel and directed by Harry O. Hoyt, was made in 1925; once thought lost, it has now largely been recovered, and was shown at the BFI Southbank with an accompanying live piano score from Lucky Dog Picturehouse.

I absolutely loved this movie; the animation was incredibly impressive for the time and I particularly loved the section which saw the diplodocus rampaging through the streets of London. I believe it’s available on YouTube, and it’s well worth a watch.

Canada Gallery

Canada Gallery

As well as Canada House itself, I’ve always wanted to visit the Canada Gallery, the art gallery attached to the main building that showcases art with a Canadian theme or connection. Unlike the House itself, which is only open on occasion for guided tours, the Gallery is open much more regularly, and you don’t have to book. The Gallery is probably overshadowed by its bigger and more famous neighbour, the National Gallery, but it’s well worth a visit in its own right; it’s small, the perfect size for whiling away a few spare minutes.

Barbara Rae artwork

Barbara Rae artwork

Exhibitions change regularly, so repeat visits are worthwhile. On this, my first visit, the exhibition consisted of work by Scottish artist Barbara Rae. Inspired by her namesake and fellow Scot, Dr John Rae, who explored Canada’s Arctic in the 1830s, Barbara set out to traverse the Northwest Passage herself, encountering dramatic icebergs, polar bears, native Inuit and the northern lights. I loved the resulting artwork, which seems infused with the magic of the changing colours of ice. Alongside these works, a selection of Inuit sculpture both complements the main exhibition and carries its own unique authority. This exhibition runs until 16 February, and no doubt more good quality exhibitions will follow in future.

Inuit sculpture

FACTS

Address: Canada House, Trafalgar Square, SW1Y 5BJ

Website: canadainternational.gc.ca/united_kingdom-royaume_uni/events-evenements/gallery

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat, 11-5.45

Prices: Free

Canada House

Canada House

I’ve wanted to visit Canada House for a while, but the tours were always booked up, until I got lucky and ended up on the website just as the new dates were announced. When the day arrived I made my way to Trafalgar Square and queued up with the others to go inside. You have to show photo ID and put your bag through an airport-style scanner; security is important here, though once you get in the atmosphere is much more relaxed.

Picture showing Canada House when it was two separate buildings
Picture showing Canada House when it was two separate buildings

The building dates back to 1824, when construction first began. It’s the oldest building on Trafalgar Square, with the exception of the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Originally two buildings, used by the Union Club and the Royal College of Physicians, it became Canada House in 1923, officially opened in 1925 by King George V.

King George V's throne
King George V’s throne

On display on the ground floor is the throne King George used, as well as a number of ceremonial keys. The various rooms of the house are named after either Canadian provinces or notable Canadian figures, and are often rented out to various groups for events. The rooms are full of Canadian art and it’s for this reason that the tours are really run; there are many impressive pieces to look at.

Canada House

We started on the ground floor and made our way up floor by floor; I absolutely loved the dramatic chandelier that dominates the staircase.

Chandelier

Along the way we saw some incredible artworks, carpets and sculptures, all with a Canadian connection. Finally, we ended up right at the top of the building.

At the top of Canada House
At the top of Canada House

Beehives are kept on the roof and honey is collected from the bees who live here. We were able to go out onto the roof and experience a fantastic view of Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.

View of Trafalgar Square from the roof of Canada House
View of Trafalgar Square from the roof of Canada House

Canada House is an amazing place to visit and I’d recommend a tour to anyone, whether or not you have a specific interest in Canada.

A piece of art on display in Canada House
A piece of art on display in Canada House

FACTS

Address: Trafalgar Square, SW1Y 5BJ

Website: canadainternational.gc.ca/…visiting_house-canada-maison_visiter

Opening Hours: Selected Friday afternoons at 3.30 pm (tours must be booked in advance)

Prices: Free

A piece of Canadian art
A piece of Canadian art

Unlocked Tour – Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

I’ve spent a lot of time at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich over the last couple of years or so, taking tours, exploring and learning more about the area. I was excited to sign up for the Unlocked tour, which promised to showcase even more of the complex.

Former governors of Greenwich Hospital

Inside the Admiral's House

Inside the Admiral's House

Table on which Nelson's body was laid out

Meeting at the Old Brewery pub, we were taken first to the Admiral’s House, with its lists of former governors of Greenwich hospital, and its rich decoration. One corner was bombed during the Second World War and has since been rebuilt, but much of it is original. One particularly fancy room was used in disciplinary cases, so wouldn’t have been too pleasing to the average sailor’s eye. The most notable artefact in this building was probably the long table which is supposed to be the table on which Nelson’s body was laid out in the Painted Hall after it was returned to England after the Battle of Trafalgar.

Undercroft

Model of Greenwich palace

Former location of disco ball

Carved faces

Next, we headed into the building now used by Trinity Laban – I’ve been here several times before for concerts, but had never noticed this particular entrance, leading into a sixteenth-century undercroft fomerly part of Greenwich Palace. Over the years it has been used as a wine cellar, a coal hole, and a bar – a hook left over in the ceiling was used to hold a disco ball in the Seventies. The creepy face carvings were originally planned to cover one of the seventeenth-century buildings, but that plan was scrapped as being too expensive, and they ended up down here, where most of them have lost their noses thanks to Navy recruits practising their swordsmanship.

Skittle Alley

Skittle Alley

Finally, we headed beneath the Chapel to the Victorian skittle alley, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit ever since I heard about it. This space used to form part of the hospital, the underground location handily muffling the cries of patients undergoing operations. In the nineteenth century, the retired sailors living here, bored with the lack of entertainment, asked permission to construct a bowling alley down here. The balls used were practice cannon balls made from extremely heavy wood; it was not unknown for sailors to make bets with people they met in the pub and get them to use a ball that was ever so slightly rugby ball-shaped, thereby ensuring that they would never hit a strike. When it came to the sailors’ turn to have a go, they knew at what angle to throw the odd-shaped ball to ensure they were successful.

Looking out onto the Thames

There ended my Unlocked tour (except for a free drink waiting back at the pub). I’d definitely recommend the tour: my guide was really friendly and knowledgeable and I was very excited to finally get the chance to see the skittle alley.

Wandering the Wandle

Yeah, sorry about that title. Anyway, after my enjoyable if exhausting walk following the route of the Fleet, I decided to walk the course of another London river and fellow Thames tributary – the Wandle. This river flows from Croydon to Wandsworth, and I began my walk, as this Londonist article suggests, in Morden.

The Wandle in Morden Hall Park
The Wandle in Morden Hall Park

The Wandle has in its time powered many working mills, despite its current appealing rural-lite setting. It has avoided the fate of becoming a covered sewer and instead is a haven for wildlife (although, with an exception of a few ducks and one perplexed-looking moorhen, I didn’t actually see any on my walk).

The Wetlands Boardwalk
The Wetlands Boardwalk

I got off at Morden Tube station and headed towards Morden Hall Park, across the Wetlands Boardwalk which is now, apparently, home to newts, frogs and herons. Beyond the park, across the tram line, I walked past Deen City Farm, a working urban farm which introduces young city kids to farm animals – an excited pair I passed on my walk were being taken there by their dad.

The Wandle just beyond Deen City Farm
The Wandle just beyond Deen City Farm

After a short walk taking in a housing estate I reconnected with the river as it flowed past Merton Abbey Mills.

Merton Abbey Mills
Merton Abbey Mills

Past Merton High Street, I ventured into Wandle Park, through which the river was diverted many years ago. Crossing the river I reached Wandle Meadow Nature Park, a former brickworks and sewage farm. This section of the walk was rather quiet and eerie, but I soon made it to the small River Graveney, passing numerous families out for a walk before reaching the Wandle once again.

The Wandle in Merton
The Wandle in Merton

I crossed Plough Lane, a busy road near the former Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, and embarked upon a fairly long section of path on the left hand side of the river. I was surprised to see anglers fishing on its bank, while the electricity sub-station loomed in the background. After a while I reached Earlsfield, passing the familiar Tara Theatre before venturing towards King George’s Park.

The Wandle in Earlsfield
The Wandle in Earlsfield

Once I’d reached the other side of the park, I found myself in Wandsworth.

The Wandle in Wandsworth
The Wandle in Wandsworth

I walked through the busy town centre and past the old Ram Brewery buildings before reaching a sluice gate containing a bell, on which is inscribed ‘I AM RUNG BY THE TIDES’. Just a little further and I had reached the island in the middle of the river as it flows into the Thames.

Tidal bell
Tidal bell

I enjoyed my walk and it was a lovely day for it – clear and cool and crisp. I found the signposts and directions to be somewhat lacking, and had to open my trusty Google Maps at several points, but this may just be because I have a terrible sense of direction. In any case, I was pleased to feel as though I’d accomplished something.

The mouth of the Wandle and the Fulham shore beyond
The mouth of the Wandle and the Fulham shore beyond

Myddelton House Gardens

Myddelton House

I went out to explore north London on Sunday and discovered a wonderful little gem in Enfield. Myddelton House Gardens cover eight acres and have been restored to reflect their fascinating origins as the work of Edward Augustus Bowles, a self-taught gardener, artist and botanist.

The Gardens

Myddelton House was built in around 1812 and named after Sir Hugh Myddelton, an engineering ‘genius’ who created the New River, which flowed through the grounds between 1613 and 1968. The Bowles family lived in the house for many years. Edward Augustus Bowles was born in 1865 and, apart from a few years away, lived in Myddelton House until his death in 1954. His work on the Gardens brought him fame, and his philanthropic actions made him a beloved local figure.

The Gardens

I reached the Gardens via Turkey Street Overground station followed by a short walk. There were a few other visitors around, but the place was pleasantly quiet. The house is beautiful, but not open to the public; a small museum recounts Bowles’ life and work, displaying some interesting artefacts. There is also a small cafe, which I spent some time in after exploring the Gardens.

The Gardens

There is lots to see: ornate lawns give way to wildflower meadows, yew and pine trees can be seen, despite the lateness of the year crocuses flower sporadically. There is a ‘Tulip Lawn’, which I imagine is impressive in the summer, and the wisteria apparently flowers beautifully in May. One corner of the Gardens is dubbed the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ as it is dedicated to unusual plants.

A glasshouse

Bowles liked to collect random artefacts to decorate his gardens, including stones from London Bridge, pieces from the original St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Enfield Market Cross. There are some beautiful Victorian glasshouses which are still used to grow fruit and vegetables.

Enfield Market Cross
Enfield Market Cross

I was very impressed by the Gardens and I imagine they are even more beautiful in the spring and summer. I would like to go back, and I’d recommend them to anyone in the local area.

FACTS

Address: Bulls Cross, Enfield, EN2 9HG

Website: visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/nature/gardens-heritage/myddelton-house-gardens

Opening Hours: 10am-5pm (or dusk if earlier)

Prices: Free