Christmas Past at the Geffrye Museum

Christmas tree Geffrye MuseumEvery year I have my first mince pie of the season at the Geffrye Museum Friends Christmas party, and revisit their annual Christmas Past exhibition. The exhibition has been running for over twenty-five years and it takes the staff hours to painstakingly decorate each room in the style of the relevant period. The result never fails to enchant. Continue reading

Riceyman Steps – a Clerkenwell Tour in the footsteps of Arnold Bennett

Riceyman Steps - Hanslip Fletcher

I doubt that Riceyman Steps would be the first title you thought of if I challenged you to name something by Arnold Bennett, even though it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1923. You’d be more likely to come up with one of his stories set in the Five Towns, and to think of him as a Northern writer. Riceyman Steps, though, is a London novel, set in a specific and still recognisable part of Clerkenwell. But how much of it still stands? Join Arnold and me on a little tour and we’ll find out. Continue reading

Where do bells come from? The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Whitechapel Bell FoundryI used to work in Aldgate, not far from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on Whitechapel Road, but I never gave much thought to what went on behind the wooden frontage of their Grade I listed building. I knew they made bells there, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t realise they’d been doing it for four hundred years, making them the oldest recorded business in Britain. So going on a tour of the bell foundry was a real education. Continue reading

A mystery solved – the Taitokuin model returns home

Taitokuin MausoleumJust over a year ago I did a post on the Japan-British exhibition of 1910, tracking where the exhibits ended up when the exhibition was over. The one that interested me the most was the one-tenth scale model of the Taitokuin Mausoleum, the memorial to the second Tokugawa Shogun in Zojo-ji Temple in Shiba. It was presented to the then King, George V, and remained for many years in the Royal Collection in dismantled form. But then what happened? I’ve only just found out. Continue reading

The 1910 Japan-British Exhibition – what’s left?

Season ticket to the Japan-British Exhibition 1910

© Museum of London

You thought the London Olympics were big, right? Eight and a half million tickets sold. Spectacular. But in 1910 another event did just as well, and it wasn’t a sporting event but a cultural initiative. It was the Japan-British Exhibition at White City, visited by 8,350,000 people, with 460,000 people passing through its gates in a single day (Japanese Gala Day). Okay, I admit it did go on longer than the Olympic Games – nearly six months, from 14 May 1910 to 29 October 1910.  But what was it for and what did it leave behind?  Continue reading

London Mitsukoshi – End of an Era

London Mitsukoshi

Mitsukoshi on Lower Regent Street closes next Saturday after thirty-four years of trading, so if you want to pay it a last nostalgic visit, like I did, you need to get your skates on. Its atmosphere is rather sad, and the shelves are bare, but walking through its doors is still like walking into Japan. But why should a Japanese department store giant have a branch in London at all? Let me explain. Continue reading