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Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail at the Museum of London Docklands from 10th February to 3rd September 2017


Regular readers will know that I am often intrigued by tunnels and have written about the Thames and Blackwall tunnels. Therefore it was with a great deal of anticipation that I attended the preview for the latest exhibition at the  Museum of London Docklands. The exhibition is entitled Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail and explores the wide range of archaeological objects unearthed by Crossrail .

Many people may be aware of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure project, but few people will realise that since work began in 2009, the project has undertaken one of the most extensive archaeological programmes ever in the UK, with over 10,000 artefacts found covering almost every important period of the Capital’s history.


The construction of London’s newest railway, which will be known as the Elizabeth Line has sliced through London from East to West and gone through many layers of London’s history.

Some of the finds include:

Prehistoric flints found in North Woolwich, showing evidence for Mesolithic tool making 8,000 years ago

Tudor bowling ball found at the site of the Tudor King John’s Court manor house in Stepney Green

Roman iron horse shoes found near Liverpool Street Station

Medieval animal bone skates found near Liverpool Street Station

Late 19th century ginger and jam jars from the site of the Crosse & Blackwell bottling factory near Tottenham Court Road station

Human remains including one of the skeletons found near Liverpool Street Station from the 17th century Bedlam cemetery, which a DNA has shown died from the Plague.


Just before you enter the main part of the exhibition, there is a statue of St Barbara who is associated with explosives and lightning. She is the patron saint of miners and tunnellers and despite all the high tech equipment, the people on the Crossrail construction took the statue down one of the shafts for good luck.


The exhibition follows the trail of the Elizabeth Line and features highlights from each section. Of particular interest in our local area were the digs at Pudding Mill Lane that looked at some of the old industries on the River Lea, The old Thames Ironworks site near Canning Town was explored and a number of finds like iron chains and brickworks was found.


Digging under Canary Wharf, part of a woolly mammoth’s jaw bone was found and a fragment of amber that was estimated to be 55 million years old. Both items are currently being analysed at the Natural History Museum.


Some objects at Stepney Green are from the Tudor period when it was the location of many large mansions for the wealthy.


The exhibition illustrates some of the problems of archaeology with the mystery of the Walbrook skulls which are from different periods but were all found together.


As well as the archaeological finds, large screens show how the massive engineering project of Crossrail burrowed its way beneath the London city streets and beyond.

This fascinating exhibition is without doubt one of the biggest and most comprehensive exhibitions held at the Museum of Docklands and is well worth a visit. The exhibition is free and runs until September 2017.

A Visit to the Queen’s House in Greenwich


Like many people who live on the Island, I will occasionally take the short ride to Greenwich or walk through the foot tunnel. Greenwich is a favourite with locals and visitors who come to admire its many delights.

In the numerous times, visiting Greenwich I have never visited the Queen’s House located near the National Maritime Museum. Therefore I was delighted to be invited to a preview of the newly restored Queen’s House before it opens to the public on October 11th.


The House’s closure has given the Royal Museums Greenwich the opportunity to refurbish galleries, including the King’s Presence Chamber and the Tulip Stairs, as well as introducing new displays and colour schemes, bespoke lighting and new interpretation. The window-glazing and flooring of the Grade I listed building has also been upgraded.


The Queen’s House has a remarkable history and is considered one of the most important buildings architecturally in the country.  The famous architect Inigo Jones was commissioned to design the building in 1616 by King James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark , although she never saw Inigo Jones’s Classical design completed because she died in 1619 when only the first floor had been built. In 1629, James’s son Charles I gave Greenwich to his wife Henrietta Maria and work on the Queen’s House resumed to be finally completed around 1636. The house is considered one of the first fully Classical buildings in England and marked a distinct break from the traditional, red-brick Tudor style of building.


The Civil War  meant that Henrietta Maria had little time in the house before she went into exile, her husband was executed and his property seized by the state, although she did eventually return after the restoration in 1660. The house was then used by members of the royal family and for other purposes until 1805, when George III granted the Queen’s House to a charity for the orphans of seamen, called the Royal Naval Asylum. This remained until 1933, when the charity moved to Suffolk. It was taken over by the National Maritime Museum in 1934.


To celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2016, the Queen’s House has been refurbished to celebrate its Royal connections and the National Maritime Museum’s outstanding art collection.


Turner Prize winner Richard Wright has created a new artwork for the ceiling of the Great Hall which is inspired by the remarkable Tulip Stairs.


Visitors to the re-opened house will also be able to see Orazio Gentileschi’s Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife displayed in this iconic building for the first time since 1650. The painting, which is part of the Royal Collection, was one of a sequence commissioned for the Queen’s House by King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.


The King’s Presence Chamber and Queen’s Presence Chamber have been used to house paintings illustrating the kings, queens, consorts and courtiers associated with the House and Greenwich during this period.This helps to bring the history of the Queen’s House to life and illustrates the connection with the Tudor Placentia Palace that once stood near the site.

Walking around the remarkable house provides plenty of evidence of how Greenwich was at the centre of Royal life for centuries and how little remains to remind us of its Royal connections.


Standing on the balcony on the first floor gives you a wonderful view of Greenwich Park but when you walk outside you realise why so many people fail to visit the house, despite the grand entrances there are no large doors, entry is via the colonnade and it is easy to believe that the house is part of the larger complex not a standalone house.


There is another interesting element that is relevant to Islanders, Queen Mary stipulated that no building should block the view to the river, so when Christopher Wren designed the Naval College he left a gap in the building. When viewing from Island Gardens, the Queen’s House is nicely framed by the Naval College and offers a wonderful view of Greenwich Park behind.


I would highly recommend a visit to the Queen’s House to enjoy some of the wonderful features and the art collections which help you to understand the building’s history, and its considerable significance.

The Queen’s House is Free Admission

Bloom and Grow Garden Festival at Canary Wharf – 16th to 19th June 2016


After all the excitement in West India Dock last week, we can look forward to more sedate land based enjoyment with the arrival of the Bloom and Grow Garden Festival at Canary Wharf from 16th to 19th June 2016.

The four-day horticultural festival will feature over fifty events based around the twenty acres of outdoor space in Canary Wharf. If you are interested in horticulture there are plenty of talk, walks, workshops and number of children activities that will make the event attractive for families.


The event will be part of the London wide annual Open Garden Squares Weekend and many of the activities will be centred around the spectacular Crossrail Place Roof Garden. Although many of the events in Crossrail Place Roof Garden and Canary Wharf are free, if you want to visit other gardens and events featured in the Open Garden Squares Weekend you will need to buy a ticket.


Some of the highlights of the festival include :



THU 16 & FRI 17 JUNE / 1-2PM





FRI 17 & SAT 18 JUNE / 2-3PM





SAT 18 JUNE / 12-1PM





SUN 19 JUNE / 12-1PM






THU 16 & FRI 17 JUNE

11AM, 1 & 3PM (30 MINS)





THU 16 – SUN 19 JUNE

11.30AM, 12.30, 1.30, 2.30 & 3.30PM (30 MINS)





THU 16 – SUN 19 JUNE

12, 1, 2, 3 & 4PM (30 MINS)






SAT 18 JUNE / 10AM-6PM

SUN 19 JUNE / 12-6PM





SAT 18 JUNE / 10AM-6PM

SUN 19 JUNE / 12-6PM





SAT 18 JUNE / 10AM-6PM

SUN 19 JUNE / 12-6PM





SAT 18 JUNE / 12, 2 & 4PM (45 MINS)










THU 16 – FRI 17 JUNE / 7-8AM

SAT 18 – SUN 19 JUNE / 9-10AM





FRI 17 & SAT 18 JUNE / 11.30AM-6.30PM





SAT 18 & SUN 19 JUNE






SUN 19 JUNE / 1.30-2PM & 2.30-3PM



Events are FREE to attend unless otherwise stated. The Festival recommend you arrive early to some events with limited places to avoid disappointment.

If you would like further information about the Festival, visit the Canary Wharf website here


Bagpuss and the Clangers at the Museum of Childhood


Occasionally, I make the journey to Bethnal Green to the Museum of Childhood which is one of the best museums in East London. It is always quite nostalgic with lots of toys and games from different eras, however my visit coincided with the opening of a new exhibition about Smallfilms, the production company that made Bagpuss and the Clangers.


The exhibition is entitled The Clangers, Bagpuss & Co and is the first major retrospective of Smallfilms, the company  created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin.  The small exhibition looks like it is in a barn and that is intentional because Smallfilms was based in rural Kent and all the filming took place in a barn and an adapted pigsty.


The remarkable aspect of Smallfilms was that Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator) did almost all of the work themselves without much outside interference.


This  allowed Postgate and Firmin to create imaginary worlds that would captivate children for the next 50 years. The exhibition illustrates the sheer ingenuity of Smallfilms, one of the highlights is Oliver Postgate’s stop-motion film camera, adapted using a small motor and bits of Meccano. However, for all the mechanical ingenuity, it was the quirky and inventive programmes like Bagpuss, The Clangers, Pogles Wood, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine that captivated millions of children all around the world.


My first memories of Smallfilms was with Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog which became my particular favourites. When you watch the shows now, it is fascinating to notice that how the stories and the sets blend together to create  self contained small worlds. It is this attention to detail that is illustrated by the original puppets, archive footage, sets and storyboards, photos, scripts and filming equipment.


For all their early success, it was in the late 60s and early 70s when Smallfilms achieved their greatest hits with The Clangers and Bagpuss. The strange whistling aliens and the old cloth cat became firm favourites with generations  of children and the exhibition has plenty of the original puppets from the two shows.


Bagpuss and his entertaining friends have pride of place in the exhibition with even the dress worn by Emily who owned Bagpuss in the programme. Emily was played by Emily Firmin, the daughter of illustrator Peter Firmin.


If you want to look at animation before computer graphics then take a trip to the wonderful V&A Museum of Childhood and enjoy this small but fascinating free exhibition.

The Clangers, Bagpuss and Co at the Museum of Childhood – 19th March to 9th October 2016

Rule Britannia : The Royal Yacht visiting London in 1954


Regular readers will know that local collector, Eric Pemberton often sends postcards or interesting photographs about the Island which I feature on the blog.

This week, Eric has sent a postcard that celebrates the arrival of Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia into London passing through Limehouse Reach  in 1954. This was the first time, the royal yacht had made its way up the Thames and was watched by hundreds of thousands of people all along the riverside. People living on the Island joined the crowds when the yacht made its way around the Isle of Dogs and into London.

britt3 (2)

The 413 ft long HMY Britannia was built at the shipyard of John Brown & Co. Ltd on the Clyde and launched by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Britannia’s maiden voyage was on 1954 from Portsmouth to Malta before travelling to pick up the Queen and Prince Philip in Tobruk at the end of the royal couple’s Commonwealth tour. Also on board were the young Princess Anne and Prince Charles who had travelled to meet their parents.

The Commonwealth tour saw the royal couple travelling around the world visiting Bermuda; Jamaica, Panama Canal, Fiji, Tonga; New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Libya, Malta, Gibraltar before finishing in London.

brit 4

Most of the tour was undertaken by air or boat, but it was only in the Tobruk to London leg that the Britannia was used and would be the first opportunity for Londoners to see the royal yacht. A newspaper report of the time gives some insight to the excitement of the arrival.

The Queen’s Home in London

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II, tired, but happy, came home yesterday from her 6-months’ world tour to a London of pealing bells, marching bands and dense crowds roaring a welcome to her. As she drove into Buckingham Palace through a sea of waving flags a plump Cockney woman shouted, “We’ve missed you, duck. Don’t stay away so long again.

It summed up the mood of the millions who had lined the banks of the River Thames to cheer as she sailed triumphantly in the Royal barge through the heart of her capital. It was like last year’s Coronation all over again— except yesterday it did not rain.

Like they did then, Londoners had camped all night on the pavements to make sure of a place on the route.The Queen, the Londoners saw as she drove through the capital was a slimmer Elizabeth than the one who left in November, 1953.

The. day of the carnival began at the mouth of the River Thames where Britannia had anchored, for a few hours in the early morning. As soon as the: Royal yacht began to move on her 52 mile voyage up the winding river the clamour of welcome started. Guns boomed a salute and ships hooted their sirens, Everything that could float, bedecked with everything that was colourful enough to look like a flag, put to sea in the river estuary to follow the Queen. All along the banks, crowds stood on tiptoe to cheer and motorists sounded their horns.


At Woolwich, a large number of jet fighters of the R.A.F  and Royal Canadian Air Force screamed down to less than 1000 feet above the yacht.

On Britannia’s bridge stood the Queen waving to the crowds with her family and Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister beside her.Then came the end of Britannia’s voyage; The great bascules of Tower Bridge were raised and the yacht steamed through and came to a stop.

britt3 (1)

During her Commonwealth tour, the Queen had opened six Parliaments, unveiled three memorials, opened a road, planted six trees, inaugurated a dam, laid the foundation stone of a cathedral, dedicated a shrine, opened a school, made’ four broadcasts and held 11 investitures,attended 50 State balls, garden parties, lunches and dinners, 135 public receptions and presentations, 27 children’s displays and seven race-meetings. No wonder she looked tired and people began to question whether it was a good idea for royal visits to last so long. For all the obvious goodwill, there were questions asked if Britain which was still struggling economically could afford a ‘lavish palace’ of a yacht for their monarch. These were questions that would often reappear throughout the yacht’s service, eventually Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and is now permanently moored as a visitor attraction in the port of Leith near Edinburgh.

Many thanks to Eric Pemberton.



Winter Lights Festival at Canary Wharf – 11th to 22nd January 2016


Now the festive period is over and the Christmas lights and baubles have been packed away for another year, we are faced with some cold dark winter nights for the next few weeks. To brighten up this winter gloom, Canary Wharf are presenting a free Winter Lights Festival that will feature sculptures, structures and installations by some of the most innovative artists and designers around the world using a wide range of different forms of light technology.

The artists have developed light installations that will provide interactive, performance or visual spectacles that will appeal to a wide range of people both young and old.


Some of the pieces will use digital technology  signals in the air to create displays, Julius Popp’s bit.fall will use live news feeds to create a digital typography waterfall and Bitone’s Totem will interact with mobile phone signals in the air around it. Other installations such as Jen Lewin’s The Pool encourages viewers to physically touch and engage with it and create visual and audio reactions.


Here is a full list of the installations and where to see them.

On the Wings of Freedom, Aether & Hemera, Jubilee Park

On the Wings of Freedom is a radiant cloud of butterflies, viewers can interact with the installation by using their mobile phones activating the lighting effects in real-time.

Totem, Bitone Collective, Cabot Square

Totem responds to the presence of mobile phone signals in the air around it, active or passive. The stronger and more numerous the signals the brighter and more vivid the sculpture appears.

Chorus, Ray Lee, Columbus Courtyard

Chorus is a monumental performance-based installation of kinetic sound sculptures designed by Ray Lee for presentation in both urban and rural outdoor spaces.

Aura, Philips Lighting Design, Crossrail Place

Aura (2014) is an interactive experience that allows people to connect with light and sound in new ways.

Light Sphere I, Tom Wilkinson, Adams Plaza

Light Sphere I uses persistence of vision to create the illusion of light, magically sculpting a sphere in mid-air.

my light is your light…, alaa minawi, Jubilee Park

In today’s troubled world, my light is your light… was created as an act of solidarity with Syrian refugees. The silhouettes of a family of six hopelessly fleeing a conflict zone have been created in lines of neon light.

Fantastic Planet, Amanda Parer, Westferry Circus

An 18ft high illuminated inflatable figure lands at Canary Wharf especially for this year’s Winter Lights. This installation is inspired by the cult science fiction film Fantastic Planet [1973] that is set in the distant future in a world populated by gargantuan humanoids.

bit.fall, Julius Popp, Chancellor Passage

Live newsfeeds are the source for a waterfall of words cascading into Middle Dock. Using sophisticated technology a series of valves let illuminated droplets of water fall to form letters and words that appear in mid-air.

Globoscope, Collectif Coin, Jubilee Park

Tailored to suit each new location, Globoscope is an immersive installation composed of luminous spheres. Through a programme of digital sequences, using sound and light, the whole space becomes animated with each interconnected sphere representing a point or pixel in this digitised landscape.

Liquid Space 6.1, Daan Roosegaarde, Adams Plaza

Liquid Space 6.1 detects people approaching and rotates in their direction. Stand beneath its bulbous ’head’ and your bravery is rewarded by coloured light and sound emitted from the installation’s three sides which shift in shape and size.

Moon, Daniel Iregui, Crossrail Place

Moon is an interactive sculpture inspired by the enigmatic nature of lunar light. Through a window a moon is visible floating in the air. By touching the space outside the window the viewer can control the installation’s light creating mysterious visual effects.

A Parallel Image, Gebhard Sengmüller, Crossrail Place

A Parallel Image acts like an electronic camera obscura that explores an alternative means of electronically transmitting moving images by sending every single pixel through a separate line.

Flawless, Gonzalo Bascuñan & Perrine Vichet, Jubilee Park

Echoing the natural process of photosynthesis, this poetic installation encourages the viewer to contemplate how essential light is for human well-being as well as creating a place of fantasy and imagination.

The Pool, Jen Lewin Studio, Montgomery Square

Giant concentric rings of touch-sensitive circular pads create an interactive environment like a huge playground. Whirlpools of light, colour and movement are created as you run, jump, step or hop onto the pads.

We Could Meet, Martin Richman, Adams Plaza

Martin is interested in how art can improve the quality of life in cities, humanising and helping to give locations a sense of place.

Infinity Pools, Stephen Newby, Middle Dock

Five illuminated circular pools float on the surface of Middle Dock. Take a closer look and each pool appears to be an endless vortex of light plunging down into the depths of the water.

Lumen Prize Exhibition, Lumen, Crossrail Place

The Lumen Prize Exhibition, now in its fourth year, celebrates art created digitally around the world. Its goal is to celebrate the power and potential of this exciting genre through an annual competition and a global tour of works selected by a distinguished panel of judges.

The shortlisted works and winners which form the Lumen Prize Exhibition’s 2015/16 global tour reach Canary Wharf as part of its Winter Lights festival after visiting Canada, Shanghai and New York City.

The Luminous City, Nathaniel Rackowe, Lobby, One Canada Square

This exhibition complements the Winter Lights installations. Using industrial materials such as fluorescent tubing, breeze blocks and bitumen, Nathaniel creates large-scale installations examining the interplay of light and structure in the built environment.

Best seen after 4pm, all the installations and light effects will come alive throughout the evening until 9pm, the Winter Festival runs between 11th and 22nd January 2016.

If the Winter Festival whets your appetite for the bright lights, you can head into Central London between the 14th and 17th of January, where you will find more light displays in the Lumiere London festival.

For more information, visit the Canary Wharf website here

A Drink for the Empire : The Curious Story of Bow Brewery and India Pale Ale

Style: "Neutral"

Bow Brewery 1827

One of the major changes in beer production in the last few years is the growth of craft beers. Following the example of American small brewers, a number of small breweries have been created especially in London to produce craft beer. One of the most popular types of craft beer is IPA which stands for India Pale Ale. Remarkably, India Pale Ale has a long history and is intrinsically tied to the Isle of Dogs and the surrounding area.

The East End has a long tradition of brewing, however it was to be the small and relatively unknown Bow Brewery that stood on the banks of the River Lea at Bow Bridge that would play crucial part in the development of India Pale Ale. George Hodgson had acquired the Bow Brewery in 1752 where he began to brew porter for the surrounding district. Porter was a dark bitter beer which was the most popular London beer in the 18th century. It was in the 1780’s when George Hodgson’ s son , Mark, decided to brew a type of beer for export to India, which would use a pale malt and plenty of hops. Although there was a large British presence in India, the decision to export beer to India was still a risky undertaking for a small brewery.

(c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

View of Mr Perry’s Yard, Blackwall by William Dixon 1796 (National Maritime Museum) 
Blackwall Yard was privately owned and built merchant ships and warships. To the far right, one of the ships flies the East India Company flag.

However, the Hodgson’s believed they could use local knowledge to gain an advantage. A couple of miles from the Bow brewery was the docks of the East India Company and possibly a family member called Thomas Hodgson just happened to be a captain of the East India Company ships. One of the perks of being an officer in the East India Company was that you could fill the ship with exports on the outward journey which you could sell in India. The Bow Brewery offered generous credit terms to East India Company officers to take their beer to India to sell to the British stationed there.


Hodgson Advert 1835

The first trips confirmed that the combination of pale malt with a high proportion of hops produced a distinctive taste which quickly became a favourite brand of beer in India. In fact, Hodgson’s India Pale Ale dominated the market for a number of years creating almost a monopoly. Mark Hodgson died in 1810 and the running of the Bow Brewery was placed in the hands of a trust until 1819, when his son Frederick took control.   Frederick had developed a number of financial and commercial ventures before taking control at the Bow Brewery and passed the day to day running of the business to Thomas Drane, a brewer from Limehouse. In the 1820s, Frederick Hodgson maintained a virtual monopoly in the Indian market for his pale ale, however he faced accusations of price fixing by reducing supplies to get higher prices. Indian agencies began to look for suppliers who could provide a steady supply and large Burton breweries owned by Samuel Allsopp and Michael Bass took up the challenge to create their own India Pale Ale.

Allsopp beermat

Although there is no evidence that the Hodgson’s invented pale ales, Hodgson’s India Pale Ale developed into a brand known all over the world, but certain dubious business practices and the competition of the Burton breweries led to the business going  into decline and in 1843, Frederick Hodgson sold the brewery to another brewer, Edwin Abbott who carried on till 1862 when he was declared bankrupt and the Bow Brewery closed.

India Pale Ale was sold in Britain to many of those that had returned from India and had developed a taste for the drink. But over time, breweries developed their own pale ales and India Pale Ale gradually disappeared until its renaissance with craft beer brewers.


So the next time you are sipping your IPA, remember the origins of the drink is a small East London brewery that decided to quench the thirst of people that were building the British Empire nearly two hundred years ago.