I Never Knew That About London Either


There’s a hole at the centre of London’s artistic history, and it’s most noticeable when you walk around the National Gallery. Because just where you think art would be at its richest, at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, there’s bugger all.

Of course it all comes down to Henry VIII. The Dissolution of the Monasteries brought the destruction of all Catholic art in its wake, and from the second half of the 16th century to the end of the 18th century there was no Catholic worship (or Protestant Non-conformism), so no churches.

But there was an exception. If the land belonged to one of the embassies of Catholic countries, the priests were protected by diplomatic immunity. And so we are left with Our Lady of The Assumption and St Gregory in Warwick St, Soho, one of the oddest churches I can think of and London’s only surviving embassy chapel.

In order to avoid public outrage, the church was hidden in plain sight by making the exterior as dowdy and unchurchlike as possible. Sealed behind thick brown bricks and steel doors, it looks like a series of residential terraced houses from the outside, but within is a richly decorated apse covered in shining stars.

London caters for everyone, so if you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there an art gallery dedicated to Italian futurist painting?’ you clearly haven’t been to the Esoterick at Highbury Corner.

Admittedly Highbury Corner is not a place you’s ever visit willingly, unless you’d agreed to meet friends at ‘Stabbies’, the Wetherspoons pub on the corner dedicated to drunken physical violence among the terminally thick. But nearby is the art collection, all white and gleaming; the Esoterick is in a Grade II listed Georgian town house, and has six galleries and an art library.

The Collection is known internationally for its core of Futurist works, as well as figurative art and sculpture dating from 1890 to the 1950s. It’s just that I didn’t know about it until I started researching the new book. Just two examples of what you can see if you push a door in London.


10 comments on “I Never Knew That About London Either”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Sometimes pushing a door takes nerve. If you walked past those doors at the top would you really feel welcome to push? Hidden in plain sight with a vengeance, although it was apparently assumed that no one would look up to the first floor and notice those figures.

    I was reading the death notices in our local paper (as everyone of culture does) and saw an obit for someone who was born at Hyde Park Corner, a claim that creates odd mental images. I often wonder about these odd familial stories, especially when they involve far away places.

  2. Dave Young says:

    You’ve just outed one of my favourite galleries.
    is also well worth a visit,
    or further out (Tottenham) Bruce Castle Museum

  3. Helen, St George’s Hospital was in Lanesborough House on Hyde Park Corner from 1733 until it moved to Tooting in 1980.

  4. Jo W says:

    Chris, loved the description of the Spoons at Highbury Corner! That man is making a real contribution to culture in this country, like the ones found in sour milk.

  5. Dawn Andrews says:

    Whenever in the National gallery I’m drawn to the Rembrant room like a moth to a flame, In front of the self portrait, looking into those knowing, slightly mocking, sad old man eyes, I ponder on what a crap artist I am. It’s very cathartic.

  6. Peter Dixon says:

    I love Sir John Soane’s house. Its like entering the Tardis. Worth a visit for the Hogarth paintings alone.

  7. Brian Evans says:

    I have just finished “Oranges and Lemons” A cracking read and really enjoyed it. I think the imagination and ability to put the written word on paper in such a clever way is brilliant.

    I do have one issue, though, and I’m not giving any plot away here. David Nixon was not a terrible magician. He was a rather good one. Actually!!

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you, Christopher. I really hoped there was something like that because it would be so cool to be able to say you were born at Hyde Park corner. The gentleman was definitely born well before 1980.

  9. Ian Mason says:

    Lanesborough House has since become the Lanesborough Hotel, so there is a real possibility that, again, some soul will mark their entry into the world with a birth certificate that bears “Hyde Park Corner” upon it.

    I went to a press conference at the Lanesborough fairly soon after it first opened as a Hotel. They have the best flunkies there. I went to the concierge’s desk and asked where the event was. Rather than me being given directions, the concierge peeled off the desk with a “This way Sir” while another silently and seamlessly appeared out of nowhere to take his place at the desk. I was taken to the room, the concierge opened the door for me and disappeared as silently and discreetly as his colleague had appeared leaving my “thank you” hanging unheard in the air. The Lanesborough has changed hands twice since last I was there, so I can’t speak for the quality of the flunkies nowadays.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    ‘Births, Marriages, and Deaths’. Or as my mum preferred to call it: ‘Hatched, Matched, and Despatched’. In my part of England, people tend to live long lives, and on the ‘Deaths’ column, you would often see something like:

    ‘STANNARD, Edith. Suddenly, at age 92…’
    The ‘Suddenly’ always amused us, as it paints the mental image of a very old lady doing something dangerous, like tightrope walking, or Great White Shark annoying.

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