London’s Courtauld Gallery Shows Off German Miniature Bibles

London
The Courtauld Gallery in London has opened a new exhibition of two of the smallest Bibles you’ll ever see.

“Dess Alten Testaments Mittler” and “Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” are tiny illustrated Bibles produced by two sisters from Augsburg, Germany, in the late 17th century. It was a time of increased private devotion, when people looked for more from religion than the rituals in the church. Personal Bibles and images hung in the home became popular for those who could afford them and were used as the individual’s way to reach the Divine.

Tiny Bibles like these were generally for children, but the fine quality of the engravings on these examples hint that they were for adults. If you won’t make it to London this summer, you can turn the pages of one of the Bibles and admire the detailed yet miniscule artwork at this webpage.

The exhibit is part of the “Illuminating Objects” series, prepared by postgraduate students on their area of study. “Dess Alten Testaments Mittler: Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” runs from May 1 to July 22.
London

World’s Biggest Book Fair Coming To London

book fairLove books? You’ll want to be in London this June when seven book fairs will all take place over a nine-day period.

Billed as the world’s largest book fair in a press release by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, it runs June 8-16 and features not only rare books and first editions but also maps, photographs and ephemera.

London has several annual and monthly fairs, but this is the first time seven of the biggest have decided to run in the same two weeks. Participants include the huge London International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia, the PBFA London International Summer Antiquarian Book Fair down the road at Earl’s Court and the London Map Fair at the Royal Geographical Society. The literary neighborhood of Bloomsbury will have the most events, including the Ephemera Society London Fair, the Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair both, the Bloomsbury Summer Ephemera Fair and the London Photograph Fair.

A free shuttle bus service connects some of the fairs and one ticket allows entry into most events. You can see the entire schedule and buy tickets here.

[Photo courtesy Liam Quin]

5 Overlooked Castles Close To London

castles, England
England is famous for its castles. Giant fortresses such as Bamburgh Castle and Lincoln Castle attract thousands of visitors a year, but people tend to overlook the many smaller, lesser-known castles close to London. These are often as interesting as their more famous cousins and make for enjoyable day trips from London. Here are five of the best.

Hadleigh Castle
Near the town of Hadleigh in Essex stands the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, once a magnificent royal residence. It was started in 1215 and massively expanded by King Edward III (ruled 1327-1377) to be a fortified residence away from the stink and political infighting of London. Sitting atop a high ridge overlooking the Essex marshes, the Thames estuary and the sea, it held an important strategic position. Edward was obviously thinking of it as more than just a relaxing getaway.

The castle has suffered over the years, as you can see in this photo courtesy Ian Dalgliesh. Erosion crumbled the walls, and in 1551 it was purchased by Lord Richard Rich (real name!) who promptly sold off much of the stone. One tower stands to its full height and portions of the walls also remain, so you can get a good idea of what it looked like when it defended southeast England from French invasion during the Hundred Years War.

Hadleigh Castle is in open parkland and is free to the public during daylight hours.

%Gallery-185653%Hedingham Castle
Another Essex castle is Hedingham Castle, one of the best-preserved early Norman fortifications in the country. It’s a motte-and-bailey type, consisting of an artificial mound (motte) with a keep and wall on top, and a lower area enclosed by a wall (bailey). Both parts are surrounded by a ditch. Usually they were built of wood first and later replaced with stone when the local ruler got the time and money. These castles could be built quickly and cheaply and the Normans put them all over England after they conquered the kingdom in 1066.

At Hedingham you can still see the 12th-century keep, which rises 95 feet to give a commanding view of the countryside. It played a key part in the Barons’ War of 1215-1217, when several barons rebelled against the despotic King John. They eventually lost but remarkably this castle survived its siege. The four spacious interior floors are filled with medieval bric-a-brac and the banqueting hall is available for weddings.

Since the castle is still a private residence, it’s open only on selected days.

Longthorpe Tower
In the outskirts of the city of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire stands Longthorpe Tower, an imposing 14th-century tower that is all that remains of a fortified manor house. The outside is impressive enough, but the real treasure is inside, where the walls are covered with magnificent medieval wall paintings from about 1330. They are in such good condition because they were whitewashed over during the Reformation and weren’t discovered again until the 1940s. The paintings show a variety of religious and secular subjects such as the Wheel of Life and scenes from the Nativity and acts of King David.

Longthorpe Tower is only open on weekends. While in Peterborough, also check out the medieval Peterborough Cathedral.

Farnham Castle
An hour’s drive the southwest of London is Farnham, Surrey, where stands one of the most interesting medieval buildings in the region. It started out as a Norman castle built in 1138 by the grandson of William the Conqueror. Destroyed during a civil war in 1155, it was soon rebuilt and eventually became the traditional home of the Bishops of Winchester, including Cardinal Henry Beaufort, who presided over the trial of Joan of Arc and ordered her burned at the stake. In memory of that event, a local church in Farnham is dedicated to Joan.

During the English Civil War, the castle was “slighted” (partially destroyed to render it useless for defense) and it was no longer used for military purposes. The large circular keep still survives in a reduced state. The ornately decorated Bishop’s Palace is in better condition and is now a conference center.

Farnham Castle is privately owned but the keep and Bishop’s Palace are open to the public.

Berkhamsted Castle
An easy walk from Berkhamsted train station in Hertfordshire stands Berkhamsted Castle, a Norman motte-and-bailey castle now fallen into picturesque ruin. While not as impressive as the well-preserved keep of Hedingham Castle, this place has the advantage of being free and open all day for seven months of the year.

Built by William the Conqueror’s half-brother in 1066, it became an important fortification and, like Hedingham Castle, was besieged during the Barons’ War. It was taken by rebel forces with the help of Prince Louis of France after they stormed it with a variety of siege engines, including what’s believed to be the first use of the trebuchet. After the war it was claimed by the Crown and used as a royal fortress until it was allowed to fall into ruin in the late 15th century. By this time castles were becoming outmoded thanks to the development of artillery.

[Photo by Ian Dalgliesh]

A Look Inside The David Bowie Exhibition At London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

David Bowie
David Bowie is a pop star. David Bowie is a designer. David Bowie is an actor. David Bowie is a painter.

David Bowie is a lot of things, which is why it’s appropriate that his retrospective at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is titled “David Bowie Is.”

The museum gained unprecedented access to the David Bowie archive to select five decades of mementos like this striped bodysuit designed for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. There are plenty more of Bowie’s crazy costumes on display, as well as photos, video, handwritten lyrics and original album art. Many of the pieces are by Bowie himself, showing off his range of artistic talents. More than 300 items make up the exhibition and it’s the largest of its kind ever shown in public.

The exhibition traces Bowie’s evolution as an artist and his collaborations on various projects. Video screens show some of his music videos and excerpts from films such as “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

There is also a series of special events related to the exhibition, including lectures and a chance for kids to design their own album cover.

“David Bowie Is” runs until August 11.

[Image © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive 2012]

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Lon-Done? Try Hertford

Hertford
London is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, offering loads of nightlife, dining and cultural options. It offers plenty of day trips too, the favorites being to Stonehenge and Oxford.

If you want to see England without the tourists, there are plenty of smaller towns an easy day trip from London. One of them is Hertford, where I used to live. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it gave its name to Hartford, Connecticut. The Puritan Reverend Samuel Stone from Hertford helped found the settlement in Connecticut in 1636.

The English town dates back to the seventh century or perhaps earlier. Its earliest remains are the crumbled walls of an 11th-century Norman castle that enclose a small park downtown. Next to it stands Hertford Castle, which was originally the gatehouse and later a stately home to kings and local nobility. Just north of town in Bengeo is the interesting little Norman church of Saint Leonard, dating to 1120. Some faint medieval wall paintings can still be seen inside.

Wandering around the town you’ll see plenty of old wood-frame houses from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the world’s oldest Quaker Meeting House, in use since 1670 on Railway Street. A small local museum tells visitors more about the Hertford’s long history.

The rapid development of many towns near London has passed Hertford by. It still retains many local businesses and is small (fewer than 30,000 people) compared with many other bedroom districts of London.

The best pub in town is The Old Barge, a friendly local bar serving real ale at a prime location right alongside the River Lea. This is a perfect place to sit in summertime. For good Thai food try Old Siam. For something a bit more English visit the restaurant at the Salisbury Arms Hotel, which also offers comfortable rooms in a historic building.

%Gallery-185088%Hikers might want to try the Hertfordshire Way, a 194-mile circular route around Hertfordshire that passes through Hertford. This part of England has some pretty woods and little villages and tends to be rather flat. Hikers looking for something more rugged will want to head to the Peak District or Scotland.

Hertford is just 20 miles from central London and easily accessible by train, bus or car. It can easily be seen in a day and makes for a relaxing getaway where you’ll probably be the only foreign visitor. For more day trip and overnight options from London, check out my posts on Canterbury, St. Albans, Bath, and Windsor/Eton.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]