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The Past and Present of London’s West End

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The West End of London is the famed theatre district and place where people come from far and wide to enjoy the sights and sounds of the entertainment capital of the city. With the greatest density of theatres in London, the West End has a whole host of hit theatrical productions from popular musicals to long-running plays that lure pleasure-seekers in off the streets with promise of entertainment.

 

london west end post war

London’s West End in the immediate post-war era was a thriving place

 

The West End has a long history as a draw for people across the city and far beyond. Learn a little about the background of the capital of theatreland and get a little bit more out of your visit.

 

The growth of the West End

When London was still a smoky pre-industrial city, the West End was favoured by the gentry and aristocracy for its cleaner air. The easterly winds that prevail in London tended to keep the smoke and unpleasant smells from the filthy Thames and the South London tanneries away from the easily offended noses of the filthy rich. The residential areas around Mayfair and Belgravia are still the preserve of the wealthy, and the property prices in these areas tend to be prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of Londoners.

The area of the West End that has traditionally been more accessible for the majority of Londoners and visitors to the city is the theatre district around Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road.

Theatre in the West End started to boom in the early 19th century when a number of small theatres and music halls were established including the Adelphi Theatre, which still stands on The Strand today. In the middle of the 1800s, the government passed the Theatres Act and the conditions for the performance of theatre were relaxed. Music Hall acts were the cinema of their day and the working classes would take a trip “up West” to see some of the famous cabaret acts of the day in the Vaudeville Theatre.

 

Theatre in London today

With just under 40 venues in the West End’s theatreland, London’s West End stands alongside Broadway in New York as representing the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. The shows open in London’s theatreland venues today range from some of the longest running plays in the Western world – The Mousetrap, which has run in the West End continuously for over 60 years – and new plays and musicals that open on a regular basis.

 

the mousetrap st martin theatre

The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre, now above 60 years running in London

Some of the best known names on the silver screen have also done their turn on the West End stage in recent years. Hollywood actors Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are just two of a whole host of A-list stars that have taken time out of their movie schedules to star on the West End stage, and there are plenty of others waiting to follow their lead.

One of the biggest draws of the West End for visitors is the big budget musicals that take their place in the theatres around Covent Garden. Currently, the recently opened risqué musical The Book of Mormon is making a stir in the Prince of Wales Theatre, but those who are looking for a more family friendly theatre experience will find more than enough between the two Roald Dahl-based musicals, children’s favourite The Lion King and many musicals based on the back catalogues of some of the most successful pop acts in the past 50 years.

 

Conclusion

The history of the West End’s theatre district is part of what’s made it the place it is today. The beating heart of London’s cultural centre, the West End has something in store for the whole family to enjoy.

 

 

Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 and 2

The Palaces of London

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As a country with a constitutional monarchy, it comes as no surprise that London has palaces to accommodate the Royals and their families and staff. However, not many people realise that there is more to the London palaces than the ones that are home to the Royal Family.

The buildings better known to most as the Houses of Parliament are more correctly named the Palace of Westminster and are the seat of democracy in the UK. The grand gothic buildings are a quite different prospect to the Queen’s London residence of Buckingham Palace and give a different angle on British public life.

 

Buckingham Palace

The main seat of the work of the Monarch in the UK, Buckingham Palace is more than just the London home of the Queen; it’s the hub of all official activity of the Royals across the country and the world. The Queen’s household and royal staff operate from the Palace and co-ordinate a busy calendar of events and engagements for not only the Queen but also the main Royals. The Palace itself is the setting for a number of these engagements, with garden parties, banquets, official receptions of foreign dignitaries and royal audiences of various kinds.

buckingham palace east facede

Buckingham Palace’s famous East Façade

The Palace has seen a number of extremely high profile events in the past few years. In the summer of 2011, Prince William, son of the Prince Charles, married his fiancée Catherine Middleton in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey before returning to the Palace for the reception. William and his bride, the Duchess of Cambridge, appeared on the balcony on the east side of the Palace like William’s father and mother before them. Then, one year later, the same balcony saw the appearance of the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations to greet the enormous crowds of well-wishers that turned out to support her to mark 50 years of her reign.

The Palace is now open to visitors throughout the summer months. It’s possible to take a tour of the rooms State Rooms and see the palatial surroundings for the Queen and her family.

 

The Palace of Westminster

Better known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster is the set of buildings in which the House of Commons and House of Lords meet to form the British government. The impressive gothic buildings on the banks of the Thames have been the home of rule by the people of Britain since the Middle Ages and was rebuilt after a widespread fire gutted the Palace in the early 19th century.

gothic structure palace westiminster thames

The imposing Gothic structure of the Palace of Westminster, on the banks of the Thames

Organised tours of the House of Commons and House of Lords give you the chance to see the seat of British democracy in action. The House of Commons with its surprisingly small debating chamber is a particular draw and along with the voting lobbies that surround it form only a tiny part of the palace’s vast interior.

The oldest part of the Palace is Westminster Hall, which was completed in 1097. Serving as a debating chamber for both the Houses of Parliament and Lords to sit together, it has in recent years held the audience for a speech by Barack Obama on his 2011 visit to the UK and for the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her historic address to parliament.

 

Conclusion

London’s palaces have a huge and on-going role to play in the government and public life of Britain and the British people. From the largely ceremonial nature of the Queen’s London residence to the daily life and work that goes on in the Houses of Parliament, these two buildings are far from fairy-tale castles and have a firm footing in reality.

 

Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 and 2

The London Muse – Famous Artists and Their London Landscapes

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The scenery and landscapes of London has long been the muse of artists who were born in or moved to the city to hone their craft. Some of the most famous cityscape paintings in the world are of scenes from London, either the iconic sights that people will instantly recognise or documentary of life of the normal folk of the capital going about their business.

Some very famous artists have lived and worked in London, many of whom have chosen to make studies of the city as part of their art. The places and people of London have proved to be very inspiring for some very well-known painters whose works depicting the city and its life have been celebrated by galleries and critics.

 

Joseph Turner

Although most widely known for his oil paintings, JMW Turner was one of the greatest masters of watercolour landscapes. Of these, a number were painted of views of London and his great use of light showed the city as having a wonderful glow.

In 1881, Turner published an etching of a view of London from Greenwich from which most will recognise some of the most noticeable landmarks. The domed roof of St Pauls and spires of Westminster Abbey can be seen over Greenwich Park and put into context the ways in which the city has changed in the past 130 years. From this work, he went on to paint a number of studies of London architecture, including landscapes of a number of the Thames bridges and a dramatic, almost impressionist-style landscape of a fire at the House of Lords.

turner old london bridge tate britain

Turner’s Old London Bridge, currently at Tate Britain

 

A number of Turner’s London landscapes are in the collection at the Tate Britain gallery in Millbank.

 

Claude Monet

Several years after Turner started to use impressions of light and shade in ways the realists that came before him would have frowned upon, Monet brought impressionism to the London landscape with a vengeance. His oil painting of the Thames below Westminster is a masterpiece of using light and silhouette to bring a feeling of dawn over the river.

monet thames below westminster impressionist

Monet’s Thames below Westminster – a beautiful impressionist takes on the London skyline

 

The painting, along with others of Monet’s works, is at the National Gallery near Trafalgar Square.

 

John Virtue

A much more contemporary painter but no less influenced by the landscape of London, Virtue takes impressionism to the point of abstraction and produces complex monochrome works that leave the viewer with an impression of the city unlike any other.

Rather than giving his works titles Virtue chooses to number his paintings, leaving the viewer even freer to place whatever interpretation on the piece they wish. Described by the National Gallery as “[riding] the fine line between impressionism and figuration,” Virtue draws on the work of Turner and Monet in the creation of his own works.

While there are some more abstract paintings in his portfolio, there are some paintings that are unmistakeably London and will be recognisable to anyone who looks.

Virtue was an associate artist at the National Gallery between 2003 and 2005, and a number of his works can still be found amongst the collection.

 

Conclusion

There are many paintings by some of the old masters of the London landscape that will still strike a chord with the modern visitor to the city. However, London continues to be a muse for many artists visiting or living in the city and inspires creative minds to invent new and interesting perspectives on the way the architecture impacts on its people.

 

 

Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 & 2

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