The Courtauld Gallery, open to the public daily, is famous for its iconic Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, as well as numerous other important paintings and works of art from the Renaissance through to the 20th century. Patrons also enjoy the added bonus of lunchtime gallery talks, public lectures, short courses and summer school. One of the first art history institutions, Samuel Courtauld formed The Courtauld Institute of Art in 1932, with Sir Robert Witt and Viscount Lee of Fareham. The gallery is located at The Strand entrance of Somerset House.
The history behind London’s Garden Museum dates from the humble beginnings of a noted botanist to the present day. Its contemporary history begins in 1977, when the museum was founded to rescue the abandoned church, St. Mary-at-Lambeth, the burial site of 17th century royal gardener John Tradescant and his son. Born in obscurity, Tradescant became a royal gardener for King Charles I, exchanged specimens and stories with the great botanists of his day and sailed across the earth to collect new plants. In 1629 he came to live at Lambeth, close to where the museum now stands, and planted a botanical garden. Celebrating the uniquely British love affair with gardens, the facility’s permanent collection of 6,000 items includes tools, paintings, ephemera and artifacts. The site is next to Lambeth Palace, a 10-minute walk from Vauxhall, Waterloo and Victoria stations.
Just a 10-minute walk from the Putney Bridge Underground, Fulham Palace was acquired by Bishop Waldhere around the year 700 and served as a residence for the Bishop of London for over 12 centuries. Its stunning gardens boast a history no less episcopal. The most celebrated gardening bishop was Henry Compton (1632-1713), who developed a famous collection of hardy and exotic plants that gave the garden world significance. The first magnolia in Europe was grown at the palace, and other species were planted such as the cork oak, the black walnut and maples. But the most famous inhabitant (a Great Tree of London approximately 500 years old) is an evergreen oak purportedly planted in the 16th century by Bishop Grindal. The surviving layout is mainly 19th century with an earlier walled garden and some 18th century landscaping.
Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the London locale of the RAF Museum is re-opened after an extensive refurbishment. Visitors can test their flying skills, explore RAF stories, sit inside an iconic cockpit and enjoy a picnic on new landscaping. The facility (with another location in Cosford) is Britain’s only national museum dedicated to telling the story of the RAF and its people. Admission is free.
Part of Museum Mile, the Brunei Gallery is located on Russell Square opposite the main entrance to the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. A three minute walk from the British Museum, SOAS is the only higher education institution in the U.K. specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. One of the highlights of the gallery is its Japanese roof garden, a quiet haven amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. A place for contemplation and meditation, the garden is dedicated to forgiveness, which is the meaning of the Kanji character engraved on the garden’s granite water basin.
All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in the City of London, founded 300 years before the Tower of London by the Abbey of Barking in A.D. 675. Due to its proximity to the tower, it had handled (as one might suspect) many temporary burials for those beheaded at Tower Hill in bygone days. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and extensive bombing during World War II and witnessed happier occasions like the marriage of U.S. President John Quincy Adams. Later this month on Ascension Day the parish will participate in Beating the Bounds, an ancient custom still observed in many English parishes wherein they reaffirm their boundaries by processing round them at Rogationtide, stopping to beat each boundary mark with wands and to pray for protection and blessings for the land. Every third year the ceremony includes a “battle” with the Governor and Yeomen Warders of HM Tower of London at the boundary mark shared by the Tower and the church. The next (friendly) battle will be in 2020.
Located in the large, irregularly shaped island in the middle of the Hyde Park Corner roundabout, Wellington Arch offers panoramic views of the city from its balconies. Originally intended as an entrance to Buckingham Palace, it later became a victory arch proclaiming Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon. The facing masonry of Portland stone is capped off with the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, “Peace Descending on the Quadriga of War,” by Adrian Jones.