October marks that traditional season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The leaves are golden, the mornings sharp and clear, heavy with the fruits of the season. Most people associate harvest festivals with bucolic country villages, but nature's bounty filters through to the most surprising places.
A delightful walk up from Hampstead Tube, Fenton House is one of the prettiest historic houses in London. Whenever I go I always expect to bump into Elizabeth Bennet. The building is 17th Century, but for me it's pure Regency.
Not the grand, upper-crust Regency of Mr Darcy or the ghastly Miss Bingley, but a jewel-box, genteel Regency enjoyed by the 'middling sort'. I imagine Mary playing the collection of antique pianos and harpsichords upstairs while Jane and Elizabeth wander through the fantastic walled garden and its 300 year-old orchard full of rare heritage fruit.
Every October that orchard comes into its own as the National Trust hosts an Apple Weekend.
One mouthful of the old-fashioned, nutty, sweet crispness of old English apples will banish supermarket blandness from your mind for good. Enjoy traditional varieties straight from the tree, in juice-form, cider, cocktails and, of course, baking. A slice of spiced apple cake should set you up nicely to enjoy this secret London gem.
Fenton House, Hampstead Grove, London NW3 6SP, is a National Trust property, about ten minutes' walk from Hampstead tube.
Apple Weekend is 3 & 4 October 2015, from 11:00am
Older and even more secret than Fenton, Charlton House is a huge Jacobean mansion that even many Londoners don't know about.
A nudge over 400 years old, it was built for the tutor of King James's oldest son, the tragic Prince Henry, on top of a hill overlooking Greenwich. With magnificent plasterwork ceilings, exquisite tiling, sumptuous wall panels and a summerhouse by Inigo Jones, it was one of the finest of its day, but many years of being owned by the local authority saw it fall into genteel poverty.
Recently, however, it has seen a change in fortune. A new charity, Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, has quietly taken over the running of several properties in the borough and they're aiming to open Charlton House to more people. It's enjoying a discreet new lease of life and I've just found out something exciting...
Although the gardens are always open, normally the only part of the house you can see is the entrance lobby. After a little digging, however, I discovered it IS possible to get into the rest of the house—free of charge. It's not mentioned on the website; you read it here first, folks!
Call a few days before you want to visit and, if it's going to be a quiet day (with no weddings or conferences, for example), they can arrange for you to see the exquisite upstairs rooms, including the long gallery and some delightful side chambers.
On the 18th October, however, you can just turn up. The Charlton Horn Fayre is a traditional merrymaking event stretching back centuries. It supposedly had its origins with Bad King John, who whilst out hunting, went to a miller's house. The miller wasn't home, so the king 'entertained himself' with the miller's wife. On his return the furious miller drew his knife on the unarmed king. Hastily making himself known, the king gave the miller all the land between Charlton and Rotherhithe, several miles up river, on condition he walked the boundary of his land once a year on the feast day of St Luke wearing a set of cuckold's horns...
Whether the tale is true or not, the annual fair was a huge—and ribald—draw for centuries, but was banned by the Victorians who were outraged by the 'indecent acts' committed there.
In recent years, the fair has been reinvented, albeit in a rather more wholesome guise. It will be indoors for the first time this year, with demonstrations by historic plaster-workers and masons, architecture experts and even urban beekeepers. The house, and nearby St Luke's church will both be open on, coincidentally, the feast day of St Luke.
Charlton House , Charlton Road, London, SE7 8RE, is a short walk up the hill from Charlton Station—about fifteen minutes from London Bridge. The all-important number to call is (+44) (0) 20 8854 2452 The Horn Faryer is on 18th October.
October also traditionally sees the opening of exhibitions. One of the biggest is at the British Museum, a long-awaited exploration of the ancient Celts. Since anyone with European ancestry may well have at least some Celtic blood running through their veins, Celts: Art and Identity is a must-see, and some of the art is exquisite.
From gigantic shields fetched up from the waters of the River Thames to horned helmets and solid gold torc necklaces, it's impressive in scale, topped by the huge, solid silver Gundestrop cauldron found in a peat bog in Denmark.
Celts: Art and Identity is at the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30) British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. It runs until January 31st 2016.
Over at the National Gallery, the spotlight is on Spain. Goya might be one of the world's greatest painters, but before now his work as a portraitist has been largley sidelined.
Goya: The Portraits promises to be extraordinary—over 70 of his most outstanding works, sourced from public and private collections all over the world. He wasn't known for flattery, some of the pictures are achingly honest, but there is no doubting his mastery. Running from 7th October to 10th January 2016, this one is probably worth booking for in advance.
Goya: The Portraits is at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN from October 7th 2015 to January 10th, 2016
Probably the most gruesome of the big-hitter exhibitions this season has to be The Crime Museum Uncovered at the Museum of London. For decades the notorious 'Black Museum' at Scotland Yard, filled to the gunnels with evidence from some of the country's worst crimes, was absolutely banned to the general public. When it began in Victorian times they were quite happy to have visitors, but it soon became so disturbing that it was deemed fit only for the eyes of serving police officers.
[caption id="attachment_13696884" align="aligncenter" width="702"] Glamorous Espionage: Talcum powder tin used to conceal microfilm by the Krogers, members of a Russian spy ring, 1961 © Museum of London[/caption]
I am sure they'll have left the really horrid stuff back at Scotland Yard, but from October 9th the Museum of London is taking some of the stories and giving them life instead of a police serial number, re-opening the cases and asking new questions. From Dr Crippen to Jack the Ripper, gangster-brothers the Kray twins to the Millennium Dome Diamond Heist, it promises to be a fascinating look into the ways policing has changed over the years, though I suspect it will not be for young eyes.
The Crime Museum Uncovered runs between 9th Oct and 10th April 2016 at Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN
[caption id="attachment_13696885" align="alignleft" width="650"] Anna Leska, Air Transport Auxilliary, Polish pilot flying a spitfire, England 1942 by Lee Miller. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015.[/caption]
October doesn't just mark the opening of the major exhibitions. Some of the smaller ones are truly intriguing.
Lee Miller has to have been the most glamorous war photographer ever. She's best known for her fashion shoots and collaborations with the surrealists, which means that the valuable work she did during World War II is much less well known. Now, seventy years on from the VE Day, the Imperial War Museum is righting that wrong.
Expect a woman's-eye view of what is usually thought of as a 'man's war.' Female aviators, women in improvised gas masks, opera singers in the rubble— and even Miller herself, sitting in Hitler's bathtub.
Lee Miller: A Woman's War is at the IWM London, Lambeth Road, London, SE1 6HZ. It runs between 15th October, 2015 and 24th April 2016
Staying with war-inspired art, another unlikely war artist celebrated this month usually wore the genial guise of children's illustrator. E.H. Shepard is best-known for his depictions of A.A. Milnes's Winnie the Pooh, but a new exhibition at the House of Illustration explores a darker side of those troubled times.
It's a bit disconcerting to see a drawing style you associate with cuddly bears and mournful donkeys used to depict scenes of chaps sitting on bomb damage, but there's also an almost comforting quality, given Shepard's association with stiff-upper-lip British-ness. A charming, small exhibition in an up-and-coming area around King's Cross.
The deeply moving Foundling Museum's Fallen Women takes a look at the way Victorian morals forced women to give up their babies rather than face the shame of keeping one born out of wedlock. Often the consequences of such a parting were catastrophic for the woman; depression and even suicide afterwards was not uncommon.
Rare paintings by George Frederic Watts, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Richard Redgrave are the centrepiece of a heartbreaking exhibition examining the pain of morals over compassion.
Fallen Women is at The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ until 3rd January, 2016
Of course there's one other thing October's well-known for and although we Brits don't celebrate Halloween with quite the pizzazz of our friends across the Atlantic, we still like a spooky night or two.
Ghost tours abound this time of year, but they're not all made equally. My favourite one is at Hampton Court Palace and runs during the winter months - from late October to February and although the tours on 31st October tend to sell out in advance, there is so much history at Hampton Court that any night there after dark is likely to creep you out. The tours are high-quality and grown up—no teenagers in Dracula cloaks here!
Don't forget to let me know what you'd like to know about in Around Town Online and I'll do my best to tailor London to your requirements.
And on that subject—Amy, I have not forgotten you. I'll be covering your particular request very soon!
Enjoy October, folks! It's a great month to be in the capital.