A cold lunchtime tinkle on the ivories

Just as I was wondering what I was going to stick in the blog today, I bumped into Piano Around London’s James Tofalli happily tinkling the ivories outside Sainsbury’s in Holborn. He has a lovely sound, a nice little set-up and a great sign too! It would have been nice if someone had donated a portable heater to him as it was bitterly cold this lunchtime. Keep up the good work James!

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Roaming around roman remains

The other Saturday at 10.30am myself and ten others found ourselves queueing at an unmarked door outside a drab office block at 101 Lower Thames Street. It was a lovely sunny morning not that it was going to make a lot of difference to us as for the next two and a half hours we would be spending it mostly underground.

We’d all signed up for From the private to the public: life in Londinium a tour of two important sites of Roman interest; The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths and The Roman Amphitheatre under the Guildhall (pic above and also featured a few years ago here). I won’t give too much of the game away but if you like Roman remains then these two sites (and the soon to be reopened Temple Of Mithras) are for you.

The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths were originally a small amount of stand-alone buildings that were developed over a couple of years into a villa complex with a private bathhouse and the remains on show include parts of the original flooring and the hypocaust (underfloor heating) system underneath. There’s even a part of the heating system where the pilae stacks (the pillars which the flooring stood on as part of the hypocaust) have been “bodged” by unscrupulous builders of the time; there were rogue builders around even then. The visit lasted about an hour the two guides who showed us around certainly knew their stuff and we all left the underground car park-like basement as pleased as punch.


The second part of the tour was picked up by another guide who funnily enough told us while walking the ten minutes or so up to the Guildhall that his mum queued up (with hundreds of others) to see the original Temple of Mithras excavation in 1954 (as mentioned in our post here). On the way there we popped into the excellent St Dunstan in the East church, bombed in the 1941 blitz and now a public garden which I reckon I’ll visit at a later date as it looked interesting. At the time we passed at 11.30ish there were a German scout troop sitting having elevenses, a jazz dancer being photographed by a random tourist and a couple of cycle couriers sitting on a bench enjoying one of those cannabis-infused cigarettes. 

At the Guildhall we were taken to one of the stairwells in the gallery to see Londinium Romanum a painting of what Roman London would have looked like as imagined by the archaeological painter Alan Sorrell.

On the way to see it we passed a very large painting of the Queen sitting at a long table at a banquet and were told by our guide that this piece was to commemorate her jubilee back in 1977. I overheard a couple there who mentioned that the art critic Brian Sewell got into a bit of trouble at the time when he reviewed it and supposedly said “Ghastly! They’ve made the Queen look like a Pink Blancmange!” I cannot find anything about said painting and nothing about the Brian Sewell comments either but it did make me laugh!

Downstairs in the basement the Amphitheatre is displayed rather futuristically, in the words of when he reviewed it a few years ago here “you get to a large room done out like a Tron backdrop” (Above: his pic from then). He was the only one there when he visited it and I imagine it was creepy to say the least but last weekend I wasn’t alone and having a guide talking you through everything helped too. I wouldn’t have known anything much apart from guessing what the remains were and I certainly would have missed the wooden drain (under the glass on the floor) going into the arena with the original planks still there preserved through the damp London clay.

At 1pm I walked back out into 2017 feeling a bit “roman-ruined out” at the time while my eyes got used to the daylight. Looking back it was a great morning, £12 well spent if you like that kind of thing. Here’s to Londinium! #RomanLondon #Guildhall #Londinium

NEWS EXTRA: We were told last week that the Museum of London was planning to move in a few years time and the site of the Smithfield Meat Market might be the location.

Billingsgate Roman Villa & Bathhouse
101 Lower Thames St,
London EC3R 6DL
£8 for adult/£6 concessions
Book in advance only here

London’s Roman Amphitheatre
Underneath The Guildhall Art Gallery
off Gresham Street
London EC2V 5AE
FREE
Monday – Sat 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12pm – 4pm

Watch the cloth moth

Today on my lunchtime jaunt to Waitrose in Bloomsbury to pick up some halloween novelties I spotted a mythical character not usually seen around these parts. The guy was in his mid 60’s, grey hair styled into a compact quiff and had on a pair of chunky brothel creepers. The leather biker’s jacket he wore had a selection of patches (a few shaped like Iron Crosses) on the back and he looked me straight in the eye as if I was his enemy and gave me such a scowl. This was a genuine teddy boy/greaser hybrid that once frequented English seaside towns or drove buses in the Midlands in the 1970’s.

I automatically assumed that he’d just come out of the Rebel Threads – Clothing of the bad, beautiful & misunderstood exhibition at The Horse Hospital. The exhibition is free and until Saturday 4th November it features a small selection of what is on offer upstairs in The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection. So if you like “yer vintage threads” well this one is for you! P

Rebel Threads – Clothing of the bad, beautiful & misunderstood
The Horse Hospital

Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD
Until Saturday 4th November Wed-Sat 12pm-6pm
Admission Free

The Bloomsbury set

Cutting through Barter Street on my way to purchase cheap headphones at Richer Sounds, Holborn I usually pass the side entrance of Swedenborg Hall and up until this week I never really gave it much thought. On Monday while passing I noticed on the railings in front of the building a poster for an evening there with David McKee, the creator of the children’s TV programme from yesteryear Mr Benn (complete with screenings of all the episodes of the show) which looked great but sadly took place the week before.

The front entrance of the building is at 20-21 Bloomsbury Way and is the London HQ of the Swedenborg Society that promotes all things to do with the great Swedish scientist, philosopher, inventor (and a whole heap of other things too) Emanuel Swedenborg.

The society is a registered charity and also a publishing house. The building houses a bookshop, library and museum and regularly hosts a broad section of events Swedenberg-related (more on the events here). Next month they have an exhibition of ceramic art inspired by Wiliam Blake and Swedenborg called The Humble Servant which looks well up our street and is free to boot! How good is that? P

The Humble Servant
Ceramic art inspired by William Blake and Swedenborg | Diane Eagles
18 October-30 November 2017 | Mon-Fri 9.30 am – 5.00 pm daily |
Swedenborg House Bookshop,
20-21 Bloomsbury Way
London WC1A 2TH
020 7405 7986
Free entry

I’ve got those K2 phone box blues

k2-close-up

I noticed this customised Giles Gilbert Scott designed K2 telephone box art gallery at the end of Bedford Row the other day after getting some cheap fruit  at Leather Lane Market to stick into our new juicer.

inside-the-box

It took me a few minutes to get to grips with the ghostly burnt plastic sheet hanging from where the light bulb should be. What does it all mean? Answers on a postcard, please. P

An aptly priced book bargain

London Free and Dirt Cheap

I found a great bargain in the Holborn Library 20p book sale this week, “London Free and Dirt Cheap” by Joe Fullman (Frommer’s.)

The copy I obtained was an edition from 2007 but I am sure you’ll be able to find an up-to-date version quite cheap (prices from £3 inc p+p on amazon!)

There’s some classic cheap London moments here and loads of stuff we didn’t know about, e.g. Best Free Hidden Gem: The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, lots of cheap eats ideas including somewhere with the great name of Porky’s Pantry (now sadly closed,) free oddities to visit like The London Stone, free music and concert ideas and free tickets to TV shows too.

Go out and get a copy and get ideas for having fun for (next to) nothing! P

Singing their hearts out for Mr Wren

christopher-wren

On the way home from work tonight I bumped into a friend Mark, who told me that the choir he sings in, will be performing next Saturday (27th June 2015) in the Wren Choral Marathon.

“The Wren Choral Marathon, what’s that?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s an event comprising of a series of concerts by 17 different choirs in 17 Wren churches in a single day, starting at 8am at St Michael, Cornhill and finishing with a late one at St Stephens, Walbrook. How good is that if you like a bit of singing?

There’s even a bonus for the choir listening hardcore who make it to all 17 concerts, a chance to be added in a draw for a super special prize.

Sounds like a different way of spending a Saturday, seeing some great architecture while listening to some quality choirs. And furthermore it’s Free! More details here. P