May 31 is London History Day. Sound familiar? No? Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with your memory, LHD has only just been invented. It isn’t one of those PR-friendly creations like ‘World Martini Day’. London History Day is officially a thing, voted in by the public via a YouGov poll devised by Historic England. Londoners were given ten possible dates, with the opening of the 2012 Olympics among those on the list, but the winning LHD was the day Big Ben started ticking: May 31 1859. The first instalment is off to a solid start, with special events and rare object displays planned across the city. Here’s where you can see history (day) in the making.
In 1951, Londoners gathered on the South Bank to stick two fingers up to wartime austerity for the Festival of Britain, a cross-country blow-out that went on for five bunting-filled months. Find out how it all came about with this day of talks and a screening of Festival of Britain documentary ‘Brief City’.
Royal Festival Hall. Waterloo. Wed May 31. Free.
Art critic Brian Sewell was well known for his withering take-downs (Hockney was a ‘vulgar prankster’, a Hirst show was ‘fucking dreadful’) but this show delves deep into the journalist’s past through old press cuttings, passports and diaries.
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Tottenham Court Rd. Wed May 31. Free.
If you’re travelling on a Zone 1 tube, grab a free copy of the Eduardo Paolozzi Map and hightail it to Tottenham Court Road for a self-guided tour of the artist’s 950 square metres of glass mosaic, still gleaming with prismatic colour after their 2016 restoration.
Tottenham Court Rd. Wed May 31. Free.
Get a feel for the masquerade party that launched the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1792 with a talk from Handel librarian Katharine Hogg.
The Foundling Museum. Holborn. Wed May 31, 1pm. £8.25.
Have you ever noticed the wooden spools that hang from buildings in Spitalfields? These are the remnants of the Huguenots, the French Protestant refugees who made their home in east London and created a thriving silk industry. Hear their incredible story on this area tour.
Meet at Christ Church Spitalfields. Liverpool St. Wed May 31, 11am and 2pm. £10 donation.
Fancy yourself as the Indiana Jones of Putney? Join a group of hobby archaeologists known as FROG (Foreshore Recording & Observation Group) as they explore the Thames Foreshore (London’s longest archaeological site) below St Mary’s Church at low tide. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to take part.
Thames Foreshore below St Mary’s Putney. Putney rail. Wed May 31, 1pm-3pm. Free.
London’s political hub will be running a heap of events under the theme of ‘1,000 years of history’, including a free talk on the Elizabeth Tower led by a Big Ben tour guides inside the Jubilee Room.
Houses of Parliament. Westminster. Wed May 31. £18.50 entry.
Tour the nightclub brochures, flyers and photos of the Bishopsgate Institute’s Special Collections with social historian Michelle Johansen as she fills in the blanks of London’s clubbing history. If you think a Friday night out in Fabric can get raucous, wait until you hear about the Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Ball, a notorious and fabulous 1920s queer party at the Royal Albert Hall.
The Library, Bishopsgate Institute. Liverpool St. Wed May 31. £11.
Find out more on the Historic England website.
Main image: Pigeon feeding Trafalgar Square, John Gay 1946-59.
Not interested in living in the past? Find out what's on in London this weekend instead.