07.04.2015
14:15

Spencer House

Address:

27 St James’s Place, SW1A 1NR

Phone:

020-7514 1958

Website:

www.spencerhouse.co.uk

Opening times:

Guided tours at regular intervals throughout the day. Doors open at 10:00. Last tour is at 16:45.

How to get there:

Tube: Green Park

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Sales counter

Spencer House was designed by John Vardy, a pupil of William Kent, as a palatial Neoclassical mansion for John, 1st Earl Spencer, great-grandson of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. The work began in 1756, the year after Earl Spencer had secretly married Georgiana Poyntz. The house was intended to establish their reputation in London society. After two years, once he had completed the shell and ground floor rooms in austere Roman style, Vardy was replaced by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, irrepressible compiler of the The Antiquities of Athens (1762), partly funded by the Society of Dilettanti, of which Spencer was a member. This group of Whig grandees believed in emulating at home the classical styles they had admired on their Grand Tours. For the next eight years Stuart was given free rein; the result is the earliest purely Greek Neoclassical interior in Europe. He himself undertook some of the work in the Painted Room, which remains his masterpiece and the most complete surviving example of his designs. Relatively untouched by a succession of tenants, the room was damaged by a bomb blast in 1944, destroying the ceiling. In 1985 the house was bought by Lord Rothschild’s bank, RIT Capital Partners, which has completed a thorough and detailed reconstruction of the interiors of most of the 18th-century rooms on the ground and first floors. Viewable on guided tours on Sundays only, the house now provides an insight into mid-to-late-18th-century aristocratic taste, and is an outstanding example of the craft of period replication, largely designed by David Mlinaric and carried out by Dick Reid and his workshop.

 

Tour of the House

The tour begins in the Anteroom, originally the family’s private dining room but altered to suit its current role by Henry Holland, architect of Brooks’s Club, for the Second Earl Spencer. The ceiling, dating from the 1750s, is original. Paintings from the period hanging here include a small Virgin and Child by Jan Gossaert or Mabuse and an Allegory of Art by Carlo Maratta and Giuseppe Chiari from around 1706, showing the Genoese banker and patron of the arts Niccolo Pallavicini having his portrait painted as he is guided into the Temple of Fame by Apollo. Next door, the Library was also altered by Holland, now restored with replica Vardy bookcases, and a meticulous reproduction of the original marble fireplace. Six hand-coloured Italian engravings by Antonio Giuseppe Barbazza (1752) depict the spread of Christianity through stone, marble and metal. Figures on the mantelpiece originally came from Castle Howard. The Dining Room features scagliola columns designed by Holland in imitation of Siena marble, and Vardy’s original ceiling has been restored, the design based on Inigo Jones’s at Banqueting House. Paintings include three by Benjamin West, on loan from the Royal Collection, originally commissioned by George III as inspiring models of stoical fortitude. They are The Death of Wolfe (1771), The Death of Chevalier Bayard (1772), and The Death of Epaminondas (1773). The Palm Room is the most extraordinary room on the ground floor, designed by Vardy as the gentlemen’s retiring room. Lavishly decorated in white, gold and green, Corinthian half- and quarter-columns double as palm trees, symbolizing marital fertility. The original furniture has been reconstructed.

On the first floor, the Music Room gives little indication of Stuart’s exuberant designs beyond. A set of 24 hand-coloured Italian engravings published in 1781 record the paintings found in Nero’s Golden House in Rome, an inspiration to Raphael when first discovered in the 16th century. Lady Spencer’s Room is a faithful reconstruction of her private drawing room, where Stuart’s ceiling was based on the Baths of Augustus in Rome, with the frieze adapted from the Erechtheion in Athens. The paintings in this room include some by Benjamin West and also Sir James Thornhill. The Great Room follows, the largest state room in the house, with a coffered ceiling and frieze based on the Temple of Concord and Victory in Rome. The monumental paintings Oedipus at Colonus (1781) and Philoctetes on Lemnos (1781), by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, have been reframed here in copies of Stuart’s original design to match the door and window architraves derived from the Erechtheion. Other paintings here include Mrs Trecothick and Lady Frances Wyndham by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and L’Allegro (1770) and Il Penseroso (1780) by George Romney. The Painted Room provides the climax of the tour, a room decorated in celebration of the Triumph of Love. Restoration in the 1950s painted the walls’ background green darker than the original, but otherwise the work of three artists depicting exuberant classical scenes remains well preserved on every flat surface, including the designer James Stuart himself on the pilasters.

07.04.2015
14:12

Southside House

Address:

3–4 Woodhayes Road, Wimbledon Common, SW19 4RJ

Phone:

020-8946 7643

Website:

www.southsidehouse.com

Opening times:

Easter–end Sept Wed, Sat, Sun and bank holidays for 60-min guided tours. Tours at 14:00, 15:30. No need to pre-book, but phone to check house open, as it is often hired for private events

How to get there:

Station: Wimbledon, then bus 93 or 200

Entry fee:

£ 9 per person

Additional information:

Disabled visitors should phone ahead

In a semi-rural corner of Wimbledon, on Woodhayes Road, off the south side of the common, is Southside House with its late 17th-century Anglo-Dutch façade, usually dated to 1687 (the date carved on one of the chimneypieces inside). Robert Pennington, a Chancery official, bought the property in 1665: the substantial new entrance front brought a fashionable regularity to the old farmhouse behind. Descendants of the Pennington family have been in ownership ever since. In 1910 Hilda Pennington Mellor married the Swedish doctor and philanthropist Dr Axel Munthe, author of the bestselling The Story of San Michele, and the house is now run by the Pennington Mellor Munthe Trust.

The house is seen by guided tour only, an eccentric but entertaining experience. En route are fine Stuart portraits mainly from the collection of Philip, Lord Wharton (connected to Southside through his daughter’s marriage into the Kemeys family of Cefn Mably). Most of Wharton’s van Dycks, an exceptional collection of at least 32 works, were sold in 1725 to Sir Robert Walpole and thence to Catherine the Great and are now in the Hermitage, but the full-lengths at Southside, in the Dining Room, by-passed the sale and came to the house in the 20th century (not with the other Wharton heirlooms). In the same room is Burne-Jones’s St George. A number of trophy relics with colourful and elaborate provenances can be seen, among them Anne Boleyn’s vanity case, which she had with her in the Tower before her execution; Marie Antoinette’s pearl necklace which she wore at the guillotine and which was presented to John Pennington by Josephine Bonaparte; and the emerald and gold ring of the last King of Serbia, whose proposal of marriage Hilda Pennington Mellor declined. The Hall, with its Baroque embellishments, was badly bomb-damaged: its painted ceiling was restored and repainted by Hilda and Axel Munthe’s artist son, Viking. Other pictures by him are hung throughout the house. The platform, upon which Emma Hamilton performed her classical ‘attitudes’, and ceiling hooks for curtains, is in the Music Room, as is her portrait by Romney. She, Lord Nelson and Sir William Hamilton were guests at Southside when they were living at nearby Merton Place (demolished) in the years before Trafalgar.

07.04.2015
14:07

South London Art Gallery

Address:

65 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH

Phone:

020-7703 6120

Website:

www.southlondongallery.org

Opening times:

Tues–Sun 12:00–18:00, Wed 11:00-21:00

How to get there:

Bus: 12 from Trafalgar Square; 36 or 436 from Victoria; 171 from Waterloo Road (Tate Modern)

Entry fee:

Free

The South London Art Gallery, the first London gallery to be open on Sundays (for the ‘convenience of the artisan and poorer classes of South London’), evolved from the 1868 exhibition space opened by a local tradesman, William Rossiter. After several moves and with the private backing of artists and wealthy benefactors, including Lord Leighton, Burne-Jones and G.F. Watts, a new gallery opened in Peckham Road in 1891 (with a fine marquetry floor designed by Walter Crane), independent of the South London Working Men’s Club with which it had been connected. The library, lecture room and exhibition space followed in 1893, funded by J. Passmore Edwards. The gallery’s foundation was part of the lofty Victorian ideal of bringing improving culture to the working class. In 1898 Camberwell College of Art opened next door and a new façade, by Maurice Adams (1902), was built physically to unite the two. The permanent collection has Victorian paintings (over 40 donated by Leighton, and others by Ford Madox Brown, Ruskin and Millais) as well as earlier works dating from the 17th century onwards. Its 20th-century collection of paintings was begun in 1953; that of prints in 1960, with examples by John Piper, Duncan Grant, Patrick Heron and Graham Sutherland. All these are rarely on show, but can be seen by appointment. The gallery’s exhibition space concentrates mainly on contemporary art, both international and British.

07.04.2015
14:04

The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)

Address:

The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

Phone:

020-7848 2526

Website:

www.courtauld.ac.uk

Opening times:

Daily 10:00–18:00

How to get there:

Tube: Temple

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Café, restaurant and shop

Part of the Courtauld Institute of Art, one of the colleges of the University of London, the Courtauld Institute Gallery is made up of a series of private collections, the first and arguably most important being the superlative Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection of its founder, Samuel Courtauld (1876–1947). Now removed from Woburn Square, the Gallery’s intimate but hard-to-find home since 1958, and installed in the elegantly decorated 18th-century interiors of the Strand block of Somerset House, these masterpieces can be appreciated in an atmosphere of calm and restrained luxury.

07.04.2015
14:01

Sir John Soane's Museum

Address:

13 Lincoln Inn’s Fields, WC2A 3BP

Phone:

020-7405 2107

Website:

www.soane.org

Opening times:

Tues–Sat 10:00–17:00 (first Tues in the month 18:00–21:00 by candlelight)

How to get there:

Tube: Holborn

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Shop

This extraordinary house on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest square in central London, was the home of Sir John Soane (1753–1837), one of England’s most important and original architects. The façade, of Portland stone and red brick, with its projecting loggia and incised lines representing pilasters, daringly modern in its day and considered by many a ‘palpable eyesore’, and with two large standing Coade Stone caryatids, based on those from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, hides the most unexpected interior in London. Designed by Soane to house his ever-growing collection of antiquities, marbles, plaster casts, porcelain, paintings, watercolours, books and an enormous array of architectural drawings, the unusually-shaped rooms are crowded with works of art. Cunning use is made of surprise vistas and changes of level. Carefully positioned mirrors reflect light and judiciously placed possessions; ceilings are punched through to admit shafts of light at desired angles, dramatically falling on walls encrusted with sculpture and architectural fragments. Windows of rooms overlook courtyards packed with sculpture, and in the basement are solemn Gothic cloisters and cells, originally lit by light faintly penetrating through stained glass. The whole creates an overwhelming labyrinthine effect. In March 1825 Soane threw a three-day party to celebrate his most magnificent purchase, the sarcophagus of Sethi I. Eight hundred and ninety guests, among them J.M.W. Turner, Coleridge, Robert Peel, Lord and Lady Liverpool and Sir Thomas Lawrence, viewed his home-cum-museum by lamp and candlelight, the flickering light shimmering in the mirrors and illuminating the spaces with dramatic chiaroscuro. The drama of the presentation was deliberate, and the museum today is open for evening candlelight viewings.

 

The House

Soane’s house is in fact spread over three. In 1793 he purchased No. 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which he demolished and rebuilt to his own design, converting the back to house his architectural office. Here he and his wife Eliza and their two children lived until 1813, when they moved next door, to No. 13, which Soane had purchased in 1807 and architecturally transformed in 1812. No. 13’s long-suffering sitting tenant, George Booth Tyndale, moved to the front portion of No. 12 in a swap, the back being joined to No. 13 which extended Soane’s office and created the dramatic Dome area, used to display his architectural and sculptural fragments. This area was further extended in 1824 with the purchase of No. 14. Again, Soane rebuilt the old terrace house, the front being let to tenants while the back was appropriated for his own use, linked to No. 13: the Picture Room was created (where he displayed his important Hogarths), with the Monk’s Parlour below. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields Soane was able to continue and perfect architectural ideas he had used elsewhere: at his magnificent Bank of England, his country villa at Ealing, Pitshanger Manor (see p. 235) and at Dulwich Picture Gallery, as well as countless other public and private commissions. Throughout his life Soane was remodelling rooms and rearranging his extending collection. In 1816 he had purchased the collection of antique marbles collected in Rome in the 1790s by Charles Heathcote Tatham for Henry Holland, and in 1818 he bought from Robert Adam’s sale a large number of marbles, terracottas and casts. He considered a ring with a strand of Napoleon’s hair one of his most treasured possessions. Today the collection of Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, casts, bronzes, gems and medals, ceramics, oil paintings and watercolours, 8,000 books, 30,000 architectural drawings (including those by Adam) and 150 architectural models, displayed in their astonishing surroundings, is one of Soane’s most extraordinary legacies. By the end of his life Soane was already referring to the ground floor of Lincoln’s Inn Fields as ‘the Museum’. He bequeathed it to the nation by Act of Parliament in 1833.

 

Tour of the Museum

The Hall is painted in imitation of porphyry, its staircase, with its occasional niches and alcoves, winding up to the top of the house. To the right of the stairs is the Library and Dining Room, conceived as one space, the Library at the front of the property, the Dining Room at the rear. Painted a rich, glossy Pompeian red, an arcaded screen-like division, suspended from the ceiling, divides the two spaces, its two mirrored piers on either side of the room arranged with objects, including the model of the Soane Monument. Made in 1816 after the death of Soane’s wife Eliza, the actual monument stands in the burial ground of St Giles-in-the-Fields (now St Pancras Gardens, near St Pancras Station). Elizabeth Soane, his son John and Soane himself are buried there. Mirrors in the recesses above the bookcases, made for the room by John Robins, give an impression of a room beyond. The mythological ceiling paintings, with scenes from the story of Pandora, were commissioned from Henry Holland and positioned in 1834. Over the Dining Room chimneypiece is Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of Soane (1828–29), one of his last works, and below it a model of the Board of Trade offices which Soane designed at the entrance to Downing Street. Convex mirrors, canted forward, reflect the entrance from the Hall, and mirror-backed niches contain sculpture. It was in this room that Soane exhibited his large collection of antique vases, or ‘Grecian urns’, the most celebrated being the large ‘Cawdor Vase’, an Apulian krater of the late 4th century bc. The Dining Room window overlooks the astonishing Monument Court. Soane designed for its centre a tall ‘pasticcio’ composed of capitals representing various styles of architecture, topped by a cast-iron finial, which was dismantled in 1896.

Approached from the Library is Soane’s Study, a small room also painted Pompeian red, crammed with marble fragments from the Tatham collection, displayed on shelves and brackets of ‘bronzed’ green. Above the door to the Dining Room is a large cast of the Apotheosis of Homer, taken from the marble relief purchased by the British Museum in 1819, originally in the Palazzo Colonna, Rome. The oak-grained Dressing Room, with an elaborate ceiling in Soane’s late manner, contains Giovanni Bandini’s terracotta model for the figure of Architecture, one of two which flank the tomb of Michelangelo in Santa Croce, Florence, designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1564, as well as G.B. Guelfi’s terracotta model for his monument to James Craggs in Westminster Abbey. The Corridor is a forest of architectural plaster casts, lit by a long skylight, in Soane’s day filled with tinted yellow glass admitting a mellow light. On the east wall is a convex mirror with a view westwards down the Colonnade, below it an 18th-century terracotta plaque showing Britannia, possibly by John Bacon (1740–99). To the right an aperture offers a glimpse into the Picture Room Recess.

The buildings at the back of the house were designed for Soane’s ‘Museum’ but also for drawing rooms and offices for his successful architectural practice. At the north end of the Corridor, up the stairs, is the Upper Drawing Office, its walls lined with architectural fragments and casts. The long drawing desks, their drawers originally filled with drawings and plans to aid his pupils, are sited away from the walls; the gaps admit light to the ground floor below. The Picture Room occupies the rear of No. 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, its suspended ceiling a curious mix of classical and Gothic forms. Here Soane displayed his best paintings, hung on an ingenious method of hinged panels, or ‘moveable planes’ which swing out, revealing different layers. Prized by Soane were his original ink-and-wash views of Paestum by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) but the chief pictures are those by Hogarth: the celebrated eight-canvas Rake’s Progress series (1732–33) and the magnificent four-canvas Election series (c. 1745). The former was purchased at Christie’s auction house by Mrs Soane (Soane being unwell) in 1802 from Alderman Beckford’s collection. The latter was purchased at Christie’s in 1823, at Mrs Garrick’s sale, for £1,732. In addition Soane possessed watercolours by Turner; an oil sketch for Sir James Thornhill’s Baroque ceiling for the Queen’s State Bedchamber at Hampton Court; and a fragment of a tapestry cartoon, from the studio of Raphael, for the ‘Life of Christ’ tapestries for the Scuola Nuova in the Vatican. In the inner recess of the south wall, formerly glimpsed from the Corridor, is the plaster nymph by Sir Richard Westmacott, a friend of Soane’s, who was invited to dinner to admire the placement of his sculpture.

In the basement is the Monk’s Parlour, or the ‘Parloir of Padre Giovanni’ as Soane was amused to called it, the first of a series of theatrical spaces for his medieval and Gothic treasures, inspired by, and satirising, the taste for gothic novels and medieval antiquarianism, an elaboration of the sombre reclusive hermit theme begun at Pitshanger. Ancient stained glass and coloured glazing was set into windows and doors, rearranged in the 1890s for its greater protection, with yellow light filtering down from the Picture Room recess. The walls are covered with casts and genuine Gothic fragments, many from the old Palace of Westminster. In this odd environment Soane would entertain close friends to tea. From the window is a view onto the Monk’s Yard, with its cloister with further fragments from the old Palace of Westminster, demolished in 1823, including pieces from the House of Lords, the celebrated Painted Chamber, and carved Gothic canopies from St Stephen’s chapel; the Monk’s Tomb; and the grave of his wife’s dog, Fanny. The Monk’s Cell, with a niche for holy water, displayed Soane’s medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Leaving the Monk’s Parlour, to the left are plaster models by the celebrated Neoclassical sculptor John Flaxman, a personal friend of Soane’s. There are over 60 of his works in the museum, many given to or purchased by Soane from Maria Denman, Flaxman’s sister-in-law, after the sculptor’s death (many more were presented to University College) including the fine plaster relief for the monument to Mrs Helen Knight, at Wolverley, Worcestershire. The plaster figure of the reclining Penelope Boothby is the model for Thomas Bank’s monument to her at Ashbourne, Derbyshire. In the Anteroom is a large cast of Venus at her Bath, from the collection of the painter George Romney. Soane probably intended this entire area to mimic the atmosphere of a sepulchral vault. The Catacombs house Roman and other antiquities; in the New Court is one of the original capitals from Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House, removed when the building was refaced in 1829; and in the West Chamber a colossal bronze head of Jupiter (Italian 18th century) and cork models of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, of Stonehenge and of three Etruscan tombs. Looking east is the staggering vista down the Crypt, the basement area below Soane’s Dome. Immediately ahead is the Sepulchral Chamber, light flooding down from the dome above, bouncing off the walls encrusted with marbles, sculpture and architectural fragments. The space is dominated by the colossal bulk of the sarcophagus of Sethi I, Soane’s most expensive and triumphant purchase, made in 1825. Excavated by the colourful strongman and hydraulic engineer Giovanni Belzoni, it had been offered to the British Museum by the British Consul-General in Egypt, Henry Salt, but had been turned down on grounds of cost. Huge and translucent, covered in hieroglyphics, it was the centrepiece of Soane’s flamboyant party held over three evenings soon after its arrival.

Returning to the main floor is the Colonnade, supported by ten Corinthian columns. Crowding into the area are antique fragments and sculptures by Soane’s friends and contemporaries. A female torso is from the frieze of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, although its identity was not realised in Soane’s day. The Dome continues the overwhelming assemblage of architecture and sculpture. Large and dominating is the Apollo Belvedere, a cast formerly in the collection of Lord Burlington at Chiswick House, of which Soane was exceedingly proud, not least because of its provenance. Lined up on the balustrade surrounding the opening to the Crypt below, with a view down onto the Egyptian sarcophagus, are antique vases and urns, and Sir Francis Chantrey’s bust of Soane. Beyond the Dome an arch opens into the New Picture Room, with a pair of fine console tables in the style of William Kent, from Walpole House, Chelsea, demolished by Soane in 1809 to make way for the new Infirmary he had designed for the Royal Hospital. The greatest treasure is Soane’s prized Canaletto, a view of Venice, one of his very finest, which Soane purchased from the sale of Fonthill Splendens in 1807. The Breakfast Parlour remains almost unaltered from Soane’s day. The ceiling is a beautiful flattened dome, almost floating in the air, to either side openings rising to skylights with coloured glass. In the four corners of the ceiling are convex mirrors, and nearly 100 more punctuate the surfaces of the room, some merely small glittering orbs. On the north wall is a large watercolour of Mrs Soane’s tomb, Flaxman’s figure of Victory having been positioned in front of it by Soane just ten days before he died in 1837. The dog portrait by James Ward is Mrs Soane’s pet, Fanny, who is buried in the Monk’s Yard.

Returning to the inner Hall, the stairs lead up to the Drawing Rooms, passing on the way the Skakespeare Recess and other niches with sculpture busts.

07.04.2015
13:56

Shakespeare’s Globe

Address:

21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT

Phone:

020-7902 1400

Website:

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Opening times:

Daily 10:00–18:00

How to get there:

Tube: Southwark/London Bridge/St Paul’s/Mansion House

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Shop

The museum and exhibition attached to the reconstructed Globe Theatre provide an informative introduction to the regular tours of the theatre and a space in which various themes related to the Elizabethan stage can be explored. From 1599–1613, when the Globe Theatre was destroyed in a fire started by a prop cannon during a performance of Henry VIII, it was one of the most popular in London. American actor, producer and director Sam Wanamaker first conceived the idea of recreating the theatre in 1949. In 1970 he founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust and, along with the architect Theo Crosby, drew up plans for the reconstruction, to be undertaken as close as possible to the site of the original building. The first part of the exhibition details the meticulous techniques—many authentic to the period—that were employed in the construction project, finally completed in 1997. ‘All the World’s a Stage’ illustrates life on Bankside in the early 17th century. A large model of a Frost Fair held on the Thames in 1621 (on loan from Museum of London) can be seen, along with contemporary bowling balls and hazelnut shells, a late 16th-century dagger, whistles, and spoons. Another model shows Middle Temple Hall, the venue for the first performance of Twelfth Night. Separate displays cover special effects in the Elizabethan theatre, and the question of Shakespeare’s identity (who wrote the plays?), examining the claims of Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere and Francis Bacon. Downstairs there is a temporary exhibition area and performance space, along with listening booths where early recordings of speeches from Shakespeare by famous actors can be heard, courtesy of the British Library’s National Sound Archive.

07.04.2015
13:53

Serpentine Gallery

Address:

Kensington Gardens, Kensington, W2 3XA

Phone:

020-7402 6075

Website:

www.serpentinegalleries.org

Opening times:

Tue-Sun 10:00–18:00

How to get there:

Tube: South Kensington or Lancaster Gate

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Shop

Founded by the Arts Council in 1971, the Serpentine is one of the leading venues for modern and contemporary art exhibitions, staging bold, creative shows and retrospectives of established names. The Serpentine’s setting is unique, in a 1934 tea-pavilion (by Henry Tanner) on the edge of Kensington Gardens. On one side is the road that divides Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park, and the bridge (by Sir John and George Rennie, 1828) over the Serpentine. On the other is the parkland, extensive lawns and beautiful trees of Kensington Gardens, dotted with occasional statuary. The most atmospheric approach is on foot from the direction of Kensington Palace, when the gallery suddenly emerges in the grounds. Its recent redevelopment (John Miller + Partners, 1998) has retained the character of the Grade II listed building whilst the programme of Serpentine Pavilions provides each year an interesting architect-designed temporary structure which houses the Pavilion café (past architects have included Zaha Hadid, 2000, and Daniel Libeskind, 2001).

07.04.2015
13:50

Science Museum

Address:

Exhibition Road, South Kensington, SW7 2DD

Phone:

0870 870 4868

Website:

www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

Opening times:

Daily 10:00–18:00

How to get there:

Tube: South Kensington

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Cafés and shop

Like the Victoria & Albert Museum, the origins of the Science Museum lie in the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the following year the Museum of Manufactures was opened on the first floor of Marlborough House, maintaining a permanent collection of selected Exhibition items, later transferred to the South Kensington Museum. In 1870, following the museum’s acquisition of a collection of mechanical instruments, the Scientific and Educational Department of the South Kensington Museum merged with this new collection and the Patent Office Museum collection, a hybrid which came to be known as the ‘Science Museum’. In 1924 the Museum acquired the contents of James Watt’s workshop and four years later moved into its present site on Exhibition Road, where it has continued to grow, presenting the development of science, technology and medicine from the early 18th century to the present day. The focus of acquisitions has been on artefacts that demonstrate developments in concepts and theory as well as practice, in the processes of discovery and invention, and in their relationship to economics and society. Artefacts associated with important historical events in science, individuals, groups of people and institutions have also found a home here. To mark the millennium the Wellcome Wing was opened, purpose-built to display the latest developments in digital, biomedical and electronic science.

 

The Collections

 

Ground Floor

The recently renovated ‘Energy Hall’ introduces the collections with a riveting display of early engines, including Boulton and Watt’s rotative steam engine (1788) and the much later Harle Syke red mill engine (1903), awesome when in steam. The ‘Space’ gallery re-creates the race for the moon and beyond with a replica of the Apollo 11 lunar lander, describing developments in missile technology and investigating the future of space exploration. The main part of this floor is devoted to the museum’s core collection in ‘Making the Modern World’, an exhibition depicting the development of technological society using some of its landmark products, beginning with Puffing Billy (1815), the oldest steam locomotive in the world. It worked for nearly 50 years on a five-mile stretch between Wylam colliery near Newcastle, and Lemington on the Tyne. George Stephenson’s Rocket can also be seen here, which reached a record-breaking speed of 29mph at the Rainhill trials of 1829. The pace of change is demonstrated by the Columbine (1845), recognisably a modern steam locomotive, as well as by the oldest surviving traction engine in the world, an Aveling and Porter steamroller from 1871, the type of machine that paved the way for the internal combustion engine. Nearby the Portsmouth Block-Making Machines (1803), designed by Marc Isambard Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom, and manufactured by Henry Maudslay, are the first purpose-designed and integrated system for quantity production in the world, in use for more than a century, supplying 100 thousand pulley blocks each year to the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era. The idea was adopted for the navy by Samuel Bentham, brother of the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Nearby, the Holmes Lighthouse generator (1867), in operation until 1900, was installed at Souter Point near South Shields, showing the most powerful light in the world at the time, visible from some 20 miles off the coast.

The transport theme continues with vintage cars and aircraft. More recent innovations on display are Mad Dog 2, the UK’s most successful solar-powered racing car, coming first in the stock class of the 1998 World Solar Rally in Japan; and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner from 1983, of the type used at the Royal Aberdeen Infirmary, where the first clinically useful image was achieved three years earlier.

Technology in every day life 1750–2000’ displays artefacts in common use from five periods, each laid out according to a contemporary system of classification. The period 1750–1820 is arranged according to an order suggested by the Encyclopédie (1751–80) edited by Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert. The period 1820–80, covering the Great Exhibition, is laid out according to Lyon Playfair’s scheme specially devised for the event, with British exhibits divided into four sections: Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufactures and Fine Arts. Thirty different classes were identified under these headings. Under Manufactures, for example, fell ‘Class XV. Mixed Fabrics, including Shawls, but exclusive of Worsted Goods (Class XII)’ or ‘Class XVIII. Woven, Spun, Felted and laid fabrics, when shown as specimens of Printing or Dyeing’. Fine Arts was allotted just one category: ‘Class XXX. Sculptures, Models and Plastic Arts’. The layout of artefacts dating from 1880–1939 employs a system devised by the pioneer Scottish sociologist and town planner Patrick Geddes (1854–1932); the period 1939–62 uses the catalogue of the Festival of Britain in 1951, organised into five areas: Art, Architecture, Science, Technology and Industrial Design; finally, the period 1968–2000 is arranged according to an order suggested by The Next Whole Earth Catalog of 1980, first published in the US in 1968. Among the objects exhibited from this period are an Apple II desktop computer (1977), a lap-top (1982), a radar speedtrap (1992) and a wheelclamp (1999).

 

First Floor

The Steel Experience’, designed by Simple Productions, is a wrap-around audio-visual insight into steel production from raw material to finished product. Other displays deal with telecommunications, featuring an Enigma ‘cypher’ machine and operational telephone exchange from 1950, followed by the History of Agriculture, an unusual series of 51 dioramas showing agricultural developments since 1500 bc, as well as artefacts such as ‘Bell’s Reaper’ (1826), the first mechanical corn cutter, alongside a bright red Massey-Ferguson combine harvester (c. 1953–62). The ‘Surveying’ gallery displays instruments for mapping the earth’s surface from chains and theodolites to Global Positioning Satellite receivers. ‘Time Measurement’ features a particularly fine collection of antique clocks and their mechanisms, such as the 14th-century example from the cathedral at Wells, one of the earliest mechanical timepieces in the country. Watson’s Astronomical Clock (1695) was the first instrument in England to show the sun fixed on the Copernican principle.

 

Second Floor

The History of Mathematics and the History of Computing face each other across the building, their stories inextricably entwined. The Pegasus Computer (1959), the last valve-based computer still operational and one of the first to be built for general-purpose use by large businesses, can be compared with a recently completed working copy of Charles Babbage’s ‘Difference Engine No. 2’, designed in 1847–49. The ‘Ship Gallery’ beyond displays the museum’s unusually comprehensive collection of model ships, an important historical record of many long-lost actual vessels as well as an impressive overview of different types of craft from around the world.

 

Third Floor

Science in the 18th Century’ is a traditional display based on King George III’s collection of scientific apparatus, illustrating the type of equipment used at the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Artefacts include an air pump made by leading scientific instrument maker George Adams in 1761; a mechanical model of the solar system— the original orrery made for the Earl of Orrery in 1712—and another example, much more ornate, enlarged in 1733 to include Saturn. The ‘Optics’ gallery explains the nature of light, illustrates Victorian and modern developments in the field, including microscopy, and demonstrates with examples the invention of holography by Hungarian scientist Dénes Gábor in 1948. The small prism and mirror from around 1800 with which William Herschel explored the spectrum beyond the visible region, discovering infrared, can be seen here, along with the massive lighthouse optic (1881) from Anvil Point, Swanage. Nearby is the Great Rosse Telescope Mirror from Birr Castle, Ireland. Made in 1845 for Lord Rosse, it remains the largest metal mirror ever manufactured for a telescope. The ‘Photography and Cinematography’ gallery features a reconstruction of Beard’s Studio, the first photographic portrait studio in Europe, used to produce daguerrotypes, and a series of display cases illustrating the development of cameras and processing equipment. The ‘Flight Gallery’ offers rides on a motion simulator. Classic aircraft crowd the floorspace and ceiling, and a raised walkway provides access for closer viewing. The de Havilland 60 Gypsy Moth Jason from 1928 is the biplane in which Amy Johnson made her solo flight from England to Australia in 1930. The Fokker E. III from 1916 was the type of aircraft fitted with synchronised machine guns that wreaked havoc on the Royal Flying Corps in the middle years of the First World War. Early jet aircraft include a Gloster E. 28/39, from 1941, the first in Britain, and a Messerschmitt Komet of 1944, designed to defend Germany from Allied daylight bombing raids.

 

Fourth and Fifth Floors

These are devoted to the Wellcome Museum of the History of Medicine. The collections of Sir Henry Wellcome FRS (1853–1936) were given to the museum in 1977. Born the son of a poor pastor in northern Wisconsin, Henry Wellcome founded a very successful pharmaceutical company which patented the word ‘tabloid’ for its pills. An obsessive collector, he became a naturalised British citizen and was knighted in 1932. On the stairs a display case contains striking oddments from the collections, such as shrunken heads from South America, Florence Nightingale’s moccasins, a lock of the Duke of Wellington’s Hair, Captain Scott’s medicine chest, Nelson’s razor and Napoleon’s field toilet case (almost complete with 19 different implements, sadly short of his comb and mirror). On the Fourth Floor, ‘Glimpses of Medical History’ is a series of diorama models depicting scenes in the development of medicine: trepanning in Neolithic times; the treatment of Roman battle casualties; eye-couching in 11th-century Persia; an anatomical theatre in Padua around 1594; and the effects of plague in 17th-century Rome. On the fifth floor, ‘The Science and Art of Medicine’ is an impressive exhibition presenting the history of medicine, mainly in western but also in other cultures around the world. Included is a 1.66 model of the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus, a site where faith met science: a sort of cross between Lourdes and a sanatorium. There is also the Giustiniani Medicine Chest of 1565. Made for Vincenzo Giustiniani, Genoese governor of the Aegean island of Chios from 1562 until the Turkish invasion of 1566, it was bought by Henry Wellcome in 1924 and contains 126 bottles and pots for drugs, several retaining their 16th-century contents. While the governors of Genoa supported Holy Roman Emperor Charles V against the French, the city state’s wealth also provided the economic power behind the Spanish exploitation of the New World. This explains the American origins of several of the drugs in the chest. There are also two small pieces claiming to be unicorn horn, although they are probably narwhal tusk.

 

The Wellcome Wing

Bathed in an eerie blue light, the Wellcome Wing extension extends over four floors in a cunning open-plan design by Richard MacCormac (2000). On the ground floor, ‘Antenna’ is the largest of the galleries, updated weekly and dedicated to the very latest developments in science, the displays exploring anything from MRSA superbugs to nanotechnology and the footfall-sensitive flooring of the future. The first floor of the gallery asks the question ‘Who am I?’ with a bleeping array of ‘Bloids’, computerised interactive puzzles and games arranged under four categories, ‘Human Animal’, ‘Family Tree’, ‘Identity Parade’ and ‘Live Science’, each designed to explore themes ranging from ‘Where did you get your looks from?’ to allowing visitors to participate in current research projects. On the second floor, ‘Digitopolis’ looks at the future of digital technology, including audio-visual developments and the everyday digitial networks connecting people, with an array of interactive computer terminals. The third floor asks the question, ‘In the Future, how will life be different?’. Interactive computerised board games encourage visitors to debate subjects such as ‘Choosing the sex of your baby’, comparing responses with previous participants.

MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.

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National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
Carlyle’s House (National Trust)
Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
Brunel Engine House
Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
Ben Uri Gallery - The London Jewish Museum of Art
Barbican Art Gallery
Banqueting House (Historic Royal Palaces)
Bankside Gallery
Bank of England Museum
All Hallows Undercroft Museum
Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum

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