England became a unified state in AD 927 and, since the 15th century, has had a significant impact on the wider world, developing the English language, the Anglican Church, and English law – the basis for the common law legal systems of many other countries around the world. Its beautiful and varied countryside is interspersed with quaint villages and cosmopolitan cities including the capital, London.

The name "England" is derived from the Old English name Engla land, which means "land of the Angles". The Angles were one of the Germanic tribes that settled in Great Britain during the Early Middle Ages.


Romantic poet John Keats brought to life in historic garden

Head to Keat’s House in Hampstead, London to learn more about the great Romantic Poet and his love in a summer outdoor performance. Read More »


The curtain rises on the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes

Ballet fans, a date to get into your diary now! A major exhibition of one of the world’s great artistic directors and impresarios is coming up at London’s V&A museum this autumn. 

Firebird by Natalia Goncharova
Firebird by Natalia Goncharova, 1926

A MAJOR EXHIBITION of one of the world’s great artistic directors and impresarios will be shown at London’s V&A museum from 25 September to 9 January 2011.

Titled Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929, the exhibition will be the “must” show for all balletomanes. This is the Svengali-esque man who put Vaslav Nijinsky, the tortured but uniquely gifted Russian dancer and his shocking–for-the-time Rites of Spring on to the Parisian stage and caused a riot in the aisles. However, his dramatic performances reawakened interest in ballet both in Europe and America.

Serge Diaghilev
Serge Diaghilev

The Ballets Russes was the most exciting dance company of the 20th century because Diaghilev combined music, dance and art to create “total theatre”. It was exciting to listen to and thrilling to watch. He worked with composers Stravinsky and Mussorgsky, designers Coco Chanel, Natalia Goncharova and Leon Bakst, plus many of the great artists of the time like Picasso, Matisse, Cocteau and Braque, and the exotic sets and superb costumes drew the crowds.

The exhibition begins with Diaghilev’s life in St Petersburg and his early work in Paris up to 1914. Here are some magnificent costumes of that time, like the one for Boris Godonov worn by Chaliapin and a rich array by Bakst, including a turban worn by Nijinsky in 1909 at the first performance of the ballet company.

The second gallery takes visitors behind the scenes of the Ballets Russes in choreography, music and sets. As well as costume, there are wonderful stage back and front cloths to see like Picasso’s dedicated-and-signed-for Le Train Bleu.  Nijinsky’s notation for L’Apres Midi will be displayed as it was meant to be read, along with Stravinsky’s score for Pulcinella. A highlight in this gallery is a presentation of The Firebird through a series of designs by Goncharova for the coronation scene and the original backcloth.

In the last gallery Diaghilev and his company are in the 1920s when he had achieved great stature. Works by artists, writers and musicians he knew are displayed here, including manuscripts by Joyce, Proust and Eliot. There is also a large display of costumes here from the exotic and the chic to the decidedly odd!

Zepyre and fiore by Georges Braque
Costume for Massine’s Zephyre and Flore by Georges Braque, 1925

Said Mark Jones, V & A’s director, “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes redefined ballet, pushing boundaries and collaborating with the best talents of his time. This is an unrivalled collection of over 300 objects, some rarely seen now in public.”

There will also be a limited edition, specially created eau de parfum called Diaghilev by Roja Dove, which promises to be as exotic as its namesake on sale at the museum and Harrods.

Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London SW7 from 25 Sep-9 Jan 2011;

Report by Pat Moore.

Images: V&A images.

Lambeth Great_Hall

Treasures of Lambeth Palace

The Great Hall at Lambeth Palace has a new exhibition featuring books owned by Henry VIII, rare bibles and historic papers on show for the first time.

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Tune into the best of English music

A world premiere of a symphony, a lost piano concerto and rare opera are just some of the highlights of this month’s English Music Festival (27-31 May), in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

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Lion King in London Lyceum

PAINTED LIFE-SIZE baby elephants are appearing all across London and one has been especially created to celebrate Lion King’s 11 years in the West End. If you haven’t already seen this Disney classic, what are you waiting for?

elephants are appearing all across London and one has been especially created
to celebrate Lion King’s 11 years in the West End. If you haven’t already seen
this Disney classic, what are you waiting for?


Unless you’ve been walking around the
capital with your eyes closed, you will no doubt have seen a whole host of
colourful baby elephants brightening up the streets.

From HRH Princess Michael of Kent to Sir
Paul Smith and Julien Macdonald, the great and good have decorated 250 life-size
baby elephants for the Elephant Parade (until 4 July) in aid of Elephant
Family, a charity shining a spotlight on crisis faced by the endangered Asian

British artist Sacha Jafri (pictured above, bottom left), famed for his
brightly-coloured canvases and hailed by art critics and collectors as one of
the world’s leading contemporary artists
, spent 200 hours painting his
(pictured above, top left) which takes its inspiration from Disney’s The Lion King, and is
situated in Covent Garden piazza, just moments from the Lyceum Theatre, where
the award-winning musical is currently celebrating its 11th year in the West

As Sacha himself admits, “I am inspired by the magical world of
storytelling and adventure that is Disney; and in creating this work I wanted
to pay homage to the bright and beautiful world of The Lion King. As the
stage show does, this piece aims to surprise the senses, to uplift the soul and
seduce the spirit, to ignite and energise, to remind us of our dream world and
to encourage us to adventure on beyond our world, to make the over-familiar
magical again.”

He couldn’t have
described the show better and if you are yet to see it, book now. As a fan of
the 1994 film I was intrigued how 
Julie Taymorcould possibly transfer such a story to
the stage and apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to see past ‘people dressed
as animals’. I am pleased to report that within five minutes of the opening
song, Circle of Life, where gazelles leap and an elephant lumbers its way
through the auditorium, I was entranced. The costumes, masks and puppets are

For those unaware of the story (surely
you’re in the minority?)
the action follows the adventures of the lion cub Simba (Andile Gumbi, pictured above), as he
struggles to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and his destined role of
king. Along the way he meets meercat, Timon (Nick Mercer), and warthog, Pumbaa
(Keith Bookman), and falls in love with lioness Nala (Gloria Onitiri). Cue
audience singalong favourites, Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel The Love Tonight.

The original
score from the animated film has been expanded for the stage and now features
15 musical numbers, including three new songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. My favourite remains Be Prepared, performed by Simba’s evil uncle Scar
(George Asprey) who, for me, stole the show and is at the heart of a scene I
couldn’t wait to see on stage – the wildebeast stampede. I won’t ruin it for
you by telling you how they do it but, believe me, it’s worth the wait and is
just as dramatic and heartstopping as the film.

performances like this, the pride of the West End is going nowhere.

For further details see: www.elephantparadelondon.org and
www.thelionking.co.uk. Report by Sarah Hiscock.

Images courtesy of Johan Persson © Disney/Helen Maybanks/Sacha Jafri.



London’€™s hidden Arts and Crafts gem

A beautifully-preserved link to Britain’s Arts and Crafts heritage remains frozen in time behind the doors of a handsome Georgian house overlooking the River Thames.

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Glorious Goodwood showcases best of British style

The first bespoke luxury fashion range has been designed for Goodwood Racecourse, home of the Panama, Pimms and parasols. 

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Tudor Dog

Lost tudor dog returns after 465 years

A MONGREL DOG who sailed aboard Henry VIII’s ill-fated Mary Rose has returned home to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard after an incredible 465 years away.


Mary Rose Museum

The painstakingly preserved and reconstructed skeleton of the Tudor ship’s dog – nicknamed Hatch, as she was discovered trapped in the sliding door of the carpenter’s cabin of the Mary Rose – is now back among familiar surroundings.

The Mary Rose was one of the largest warships of Henry VIII’s fleet, capable of carrying up to 700 men, and said to be a firm favourite with the King. After nearly four decades of service, she sunk under mysterious circumstances during an engagement with the French fleet in 1545. The wreck of the Mary Rose was discovered in 1971 and raised in 1982. The ship and her artefact collection present a unique time capsule of the Tudor past and a new museum is being built to display her. The current Mary Rose Museum, located by the entrance to the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, remains open in the meantime and has new artefacts on display, including the skeleton of Hatch, as well as a film showing the continuing conservation of the hull.

Hatch, the skeleton dog from Mary Rose

Hatch’s skeleton is remarkably well preserved, for example – just a few teeth and paw bones away from being totally complete. Expert analysis of Hatch’s bones by experts at the Natural History Museum suggests that she spent most of her short life within the close confines of the ship. It is likely that the longest walks she took were along the quayside at Portsmouth. The unfortunate hound would probably not have been the ship’s pet, however. Many ships kept small dogs in order to catch rats – Tudor seafarers did not allow cats on board ship as they were thought to bring bad luck.

Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

“We are very excited to bring our dog into the museum for the first time,” enthused John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust. “The public – especially children – have always been particularly fascinated to learn that one had been discovered during the excavation.”

To visit Hatch and see other artefacts rescued from the wreck of the Mary Rose, you can visit the Historic Dockyard Portsmouth throughout the year. Visit www.historicdockyard.co.uk to find out more.

Boyd’s Brasserie – Trafalgar Square’s grand surprise

NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, a grand Victorian boulevard running from Trafalgar Square to the Thames Embankment, hides a dining treat.


The grand interior of Boyds Brasserie

IN 1887, a select and wealthy group of Victorians gathered outside a splendid new building in London’s Northumberland Avenue, a step away from Trafalgar Square. Described in The Builder as “in the Renaissance style… somewhat severe” and costing £200,000, this was the 500-bedroom Victoria, the latest in the capital’s growing list of grand hotels. The group admired the architecture, they were impressed by all the mod cons. But when they climbed the steps and entered the foyer, there were gasps of admiration. This wasn’t just grand design, it was superlative. Today, after 70 years in the doldrums as government offices, £7million restoration and refurbishment into a hotel, restaurant and private club complex, the old Victoria is drawing in the guests – and they are gasping again.

I did it myself. Climb those stone steps, go through the swing doors and you’re in The Marble Hall, now Boyd’s Brasserie and Bar. The only restaurant in the complex. It is breathtaking. Here are alabaster walls with inlays, dado, panels, Corinthian columns and floor of  Bardiglio, Verde de Prato and Sanguino marbles. It’s like being inside one of those stripey sand bottles you see at English seaside resorts.

The colours are soft, earthy, restful, the lights low. The only splash of brightness is from a large abstract painting on one wall. There are potted palms, original stained glass windows and rococo ceilings. Guests sit on comfy banquettes. It is truly stunning and one of the grandest period rooms remaining in London. A sweeping staircase once stood in the centre linking an upstairs coffee room to the Marble Hall, but this was demolished in 1914, giving the room double height. Today that space – now the Bar – is tastefully lit with circular chandeliers like coronets holding tiny sparkling lights. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten in such opulent and utterly Victorian surroundings.

Boyds Brassere grandeur

The food, by head chef David Collinson – who previously catered for 32,000 guests at the Queen’s Garden Parties – is 21st century and delicious. We were tempted by the Menu du Jour and Pre-Theatre selection, but were finally persuaded by Ayman, our delightfully enthusiastic Moroccan waiter, to try a little of that with a lot of the rest on offer! We shared our starters, combining what Boyd’s call Little 8s – tiny plates of moreish morsels like braised venison and  celeriac puree, glazed goats cheese with red pepper fondue and lobster dauphine with saffron mayonnaise – with stilton quiche, poached pear and caramelised walnuts. For the main course, my companion chose a tuna steak with tomato fondue, garlic salt and mashed potatoes. I had pan fried sea bass with more of those delicious lobster dauphines, pickled cucumber and a saffron sauce. We shared a bowl of crispy Boyd’s chips.

I had to have the intriguingly named Gypsy Tart for pudding. It should be horribly sweet, being made of lots of Muscavado sugar, but it’s very cleverly made and not at all gooey. It comes with crème fraiche and nut brittle and I could have eaten two portions. My friend had caramelised banana waffles and chocolate icecream. To complement the meal, we had an excellent special offer red Côtes du Rhone 2007. (Do ask what the “special” wine is if you’re eating the good value Menu du Jour.)

When we’d finished our excellent dinner Lewis, one of the restaurant managers, took us on a guided tour of the Victorian Ballroom and Banqueting Hall, used for special events and banquets. They are just as elegant and superbly restored as the Marble Hall, with beautiful plasterwork, stained glass windows and elegant columns. Plans are afoot to introduce Afternoon Tea, which, in such a grand space, will be a wonderful step back into the past. They are The Northumberland part of this complex, which also contains the new 80-bed Grand Hotel. Boyd’s Brasserie – owned by Charles Boyd and Adrian Brain – is their restaurant.

Spare a look at Northumberland Avenue after lunch or dinner. Leading from Trafalgar Square down to Thames Embankment, in the 19th century it was one of London’s grandest streets. Designed by  George Vuillamy and civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette,  who had cured The Great Stink in 1865 by improving the capital’s sewers, it was – and still is – reminiscent of a Parisian boulevard with its tall trees and wide pavements. A forgotten street after years of its buildings being turned into civil servants’ offices, it’s now being brought back to former glory, with Boyd’s offering a good value dining spot so close to Trafalgar Square, with its National Gallery, and The Strand, with its theatres.

Boyd’s Brasserie and Bar, 8 Northumberland Avenue,WC2N 5BY; 020 7808 3344; www.boydsbrasserie.co.uk  Report by Pat Moore.


Final voyage for Lawrence of Arabia’s RAF launch

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA’s RAF launch is making a historic final voyage before going on display at the RAF Museum in London. Read More »

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