Busting to go to WC

I have a bit of (a weird) obsession with ‘public toilets’ especially historic ones (see previous posts) so I was busting to go to WC at Clapham Common.

I do adore a cheese board, and this one was cheese board/meat board heaven in a heavenly setting.

Sat literally on top of Clapham Common station these converted old toilets perfect that chic shabby look whilst feeling sanitary enough to dive in to the yummy cheeses and meats they specialise in. Lots of dark wood, mirrors and mosaic flooring.  The layout is very good and seats more that you would imagine for a small place.  Even comes completed with curtained booths, perfect for a romantic date.

The night we went, was a scorcher, so it was good to hide underground, however for those who want to enjoy the summer evenings they even have a sizable garden’ area to seat plenty more.

As we sat and enjoyed our wine  (our hostess boasted that they carefully selected the best wines, we ordered the house white, which went down a bit too well) we watched as they chopped charcuterie and cheese and served up plate after plate.  Ours consisted of a range of meats (they did tell us what they were, but I only remember one was rabbit) whatever it was it was exceptionally tasty.  And pretty reasonably priced too.

As far as converted toilets go, this has gone on my ‘favourites’ list.   I am busting to go back, I highly recommend you pay a visit to WC too.

WC From @Telegraph.co.uk

More Info:
www.wcclapham.co.uk

Roman roads away from the crowds

I’m all about London’s secrets and I’m also very enthusiastic about avoiding the usual tourist crowds, so next time you’re up at The Tower, and that queue is not looking very inviting, pop across the road to Tower’s secret and most intriguing historic neighbour, All Hallows by the Tower.

All Hallows
Ok so it’s not as old as the Tower, it doesn’t have any shiny Crown Jewells to show off, but it holds what I consider to be the crown jewels of London history, AND it’s free to visit.
The current church dates from 1600s (just missed destruction by the Great Fire) but its origins date back from 1000 years earlier.

It’s a simple church but  has some great features including a beautiful Saxon Arch.

But its crown jewels lie in the Crypt Museum underneath. Here you will find an collection of wonderful items from London’s history many of the artefacts were found in the local area including Roman and Saxon dinner sets, and a crow’s nest from Earnest Shakleton’s ship (slightly random, but I loved it!).

Crows nest
Another item I thought was pretty amazing is a model of Roman London, it shows the extent of the Thames, and how vast and uninhabited the land was back them, it’s quite incredible to visualise it and compare it the tightly packed city that we know today.
But probably the most impressive part of the museum is the section of roman floor on display, right where it was uncovered. It’s a reminder of how much this city has changed, and a tiny indication of what once was.
I can’t recommend this little church more highly, it’s one of those hidden gems which sadly falls into the shadows of its well-known neighbour, and it is definitely worth seeking out the roman road which leads away from those crowds.

More info: www.allhallowsbythetower.org.uk
Byward Street, London EC3R 5BJ
Nearest Station: Tower Hill

The Geffrye Museum

I often wonder what it was really like to live in London many moons ago, what did the world of London look like to the Tudors, the Georgians the Victorians?  I love it when I get the opportunity to experience it first-hand so of course I was very excited when I finally made it to the beautiful Geffrye Museum.

Geffrye
These stunning period almshouses built  in 1700′s are the perfect setting to explore the history of interior design of homes across the centuries in England.
A combination of a displays and period rooms makes a great history lesson. It includes recent history too, be sure to check out the 80′s & 90′s rooms, for a trip down memory lane (maybe).
The Alms-houses really are the most perfect setting.  When you visit it’s worth spending some time in the Garden Reading Room, behind the displays, its beautifully relaxing, you’ll feel a little like Jane Eyre looking over the equally impressive period gardens (and the results of the garden can be equally enjoyed in the delightful café).

Garden Reading Room
The Geffrye is one of the many unique museums in London, and its FREE (got to love ‘free’ in London).

Look out for the amazing series of events they have talks and exhibitions, and at Christmas the rooms get a festive make over.

More info:
www.geffrye-museum.org.uk
The Geffrye Museum
136 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8EA

Closest Station: Hoxton / Old Street

Meet the Londoner Jon Kaneko James

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Jon Kaneko-James. I’m a tour guide and writer, specialising in the strange and macabre. I have my own small company called Boo Tours (www.bootours.com), and I write professionally about history (my first commercial history book is coming out next year with Red Rattle Books). I’m also a tour guide at The Globe.Jon Kenko James
What’s your top London tourist attraction?
Westminster Cathedral (NOT the Abbey!). It’s a beautiful red brick Catholic cathedral in the heart of Victoria. It’s beautifully appointed inside: all gold and marble. It’s one of the most beautiful places I know in London, and if you go up the tower you can get a more interesting view of London than the Eye for about a third the price (if that.)

What’s your biggest London secret?
Shad Thames, just on the South end of Tower Bridge. It’s in the heart of London, and yet (for some reason) there are hardly any people in the pubs, and the restaurants can be significantly cheaper than the rest of London, too (if you know where to look). Not only that, but all the fantastic architecture there makes it a pleasure to walk around.

westminster_cathedral_3

Where can we find Jon?
Boo Tours for some great spooky London insights and  my new site www.jonkanekojames.com  Facebook    Twitter 

 

Fireworks in London

The history of London Fireworks

We’re entering into a season of historic celebration in London, as the temperature drops the autumn colours that appear the parks are as colourful as the November skies ..it’s firework season (and my favourite time of year).
fireworksWe all remember the reason, celebrating King James I’s survival following Guy Fawkes’ attempt on his life and parliament.

Throughout the 1600′s and beyond fireworks were used to celebrate and commemorate not just Nov 5th, but coronations, achievements at war, summer pleasure gardens, and general high society parties, such as those held in the squares of Marylebone by the famous socialite Elizabeth Montagu.

RoyalFireworks
The picture above (one of my most favourite), shows fireworks along the Thames opposite the now lost Whitehall Palace in 1749, they came choreographed with Music composed by Handel.

Fireworks were big business and with it came danger and tragedy.  Most famously the event of  12 July 1858 at Waterloo, when two fireworks factories exploded, killing 6 and injuring 300 as fireworks exploded in all directions causing injury and havoc.
But still we love fireworks and still we celebrate 5th November, and the capital is a wonderful place to see them.
Talking of historic celebrations and fireworks make sure you head into the city this November 8th for the Lord Mayor’s show.This 800 year old event when the Lord Mayor of  London (not Boris) leaves the City of London and heads up to Westminster to swear allegiance to the Crown.   Its full of pomp and ceremony and has a carnival atmosphere.

Among the flotillas look out for London’s ancient guardians Gog and Margog.  And just to top off it off there will be fireworks on the river at 5pm!   To find out more go to www.lordmayorsshow.org

London’s Fifth Plinth

We all know about London’s 4th plinth in Trafalgar square. Kept  free for many years, and today temporarily donned with the infamous Blue Cock.  But did you know about London’s fifth plinth?  Well that’s what I like to call it. Hidden away in a corner of west London, sandwiched between the central line track and the A40 is the Vanguard Storage facility, Perivale.  But as locals will know, it is also home to a delightful array of ever changing displays. Just recently there was a full size Dr Who Tardis (my favourite) and now to commemorate the anniversary of WW1 an authentic Mark IV Tank now sits atop. vanguard 3

Last year they erected a Hawker Hunter WT555 fighter jet (much the excitement of my plane enthusiast visitor, as we whizzed passed on the Central Line). Vanguard2

They’ve also featured a mini Big Ben, a giant Snoopy, and a giant Santa (who had to be taken down once or twice to avoid being blown back to lap land in the gale force winds!). Vanguard’s ‘plinth’ is definitely one of London’s secret gems, a drive up the A40 will take you past, or a trip on the Central Line (look out the window between Hanger Lane  & Perivale – also home to the famous Art Deco Hoover Building, now a Tesco).

Vanguard But if you can’t make the trip out to zone 4, you  can keep up to with their fabulous displays (and the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations) on Instagram and Twitter.

Beautiful Bloomsbury Gems

I love Bloomsbury, there is so much to it and here are two little secret Bloomsbury gems.

Check out the gorgeous Norfolk Arms, a pub/restaurant with a fantastic atmosphere and menu.

600_349378652

Its a great little place for tapassy Sunday roast style quality food. with it’s Victoriania style decor, and its deli items hanging in the window, it has plenty of outdoor seating for some al fresco dining. If you visit on a weekend it’s recommended to book a table to avoid disappointment.

And if the yummy Norfolk Arms menu wasn’t enough for you, cross the road for some comedy history!

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…as just across the road is THE black book store from the cult tv series (13 Leigh Street).

If you’re a fan, these are two Bloomsbury gems you don’t want to miss.

Norfolk Arms
23 Leigh Street
WC1H 9EP
www.norfolkarms.co.uk

 

Discover more historic London pubs

 

 

The Three Sisters of Embankment

I often find myself crossing over the Hungerford Bridge, and I always hear the same question over and over again “What are those three buildings over there?”

I always want to stop and start a lecture, for they are the Three Sisters of Embankment.

threesisters

They are somewhat anonymous but obvious buildings, once you’ve crossed the bridge they seem to disappear back into obscurity, and into the recesses of memory, because once on the Embankment side you can’t really see them.

So here is my lecture …

The Shell Mex

Standing in the middle we have the iconic Shell Mex House presenting the largest clock face in London a wapping 8m in diameter. This imposing building was built in the 30′s in a classic Art Deco style, as the head quarters of the Shell Group. Although iconic on the riverside as soon as you cross over and head up

hotel cecil

to The Strand you forget it’s there, even though it has another equally impressive clock face on the Strand side. Part of the reason you forget its there is because it’s built on the site if the former Hotel Cecile.

In it’s Victorian heyday the Hotel Cecile was the place to stay, a beautiful red brick extensive building,  boasting of over 800 rooms, lavish dining and dancing rooms and huge central court yard, known affectionately as “The Beach”.  Today the facade of this grand hotel remains on The Strand, hiding the blockish Shell Mex house just behind it. If you’re on The Strand be sure to look out for its entrance with the court yard (minus a beach) just behind.

The Adelphi

Just to the left of Shell Mex is sister number 2 another Art Deco building, built around the same time and it’s worth getting a close up to this one for the impressive, gigantic adonises and porticos which adorn the front.

adelphi

We’re all far more familiar with the Adelphi Theatre just on The Strand but this is actually the name of the area, named after the grand original Adelphi building on this very site, built in the 1700′s by famed London town planners the Adams brothers (the streets in this area are still named after them). Back then this grand building was the most impressive riverside residence Five stories high with large arches at the base (which back then marked the river’s edge) it came complete with shops and taverns.  It’s style was said to be based on the Diocletian’s palace in Croatia. This stunning building was by the 1930′s a little dilapidated and pulled down to make way for The New Adelphi, that we see today on the river bank.

However small remnants of the original survives. Visit 11 John Adam Street, just to the right of Embankment station  to see the last obvious piece of this grand development. While you’re there, make your way around the corner to check out the,  secret road  “Lower Robert Street”.  This little street originally led to the vaults of the original building, today it provides a spooky cut through, for those in the know.

secret street

The Savoy Hotel

On the right side of Shell Mex we have the most famous, and the oldest of the three sisters ( but not always apparent from the river view) the Savoy Hotel. But what is not so famous is the site it is named after. Once upon a time the great Savoy Palace stood on this site, but it was destroyed in the peasants revolt in 1300′s. Following this Henry VII built a hospital here which survived until it’s demolition in the 1800′s when the hotel was built.

One beautiful but forgotten piece of the Savoy history remains, the lovely Savoy Chapel at the back of the hotel, and accessed for a good look from Savoy Street. This little chapel, is property of the Queen and dates from the 1400′s, it was the Savoy hospital chapel.

savoychurch

So next time you’re crossing the Hungerford Bridge and you look up to check the time, be sure to remember to detour across and say hello to the Three Sisters of Embankment and discover all their historic secrets.

Liberty’s Secret Pub

The Liberty’s of London store is an icon of London, possibly the most beautiful shop in town.

Libertys

Sandwiched between Oxford Circus, Regent’s Street and Carnaby Street, this stunning building fools passers-by,  by its Tudor frontage.  It’s not quite that old, rather it was built  in the 20′s, but the building is still impressive when you realise that the timber came from two ships HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan, look out for the golden ship perched on the top of the building, indicating its nautical connections.

Also note its beautiful mock Tudor chimneys the kind you find on the stunning Hampton Court Palace.  It’s equally impressive inside with its expensive wares, as well as its central Tudor hall, it’s hard to believe the building was designed to be a shop.

If you want to bask in liberty’s splendor some more I highly recommend The Clachan pub, just around the side of Liberty’s on Kingly Street.

clachan

 

This beautiful Victorian pub dates from mid 1890′s (although there has been a pub here since the late 1700′s) and was actually was originally owned by Liberty’s.   Its interior is impressive with its rich wooden decor, carvings, grand mirrors and Victorian tiled floor. It also has an impressive circular bar. It’s an absolute hidden gem, and provides an excellent respite from West End shopping.

… and just so you know..Clachan is Gaelic for ‘meeting place’.

Dates from 1898

Address:

34 Kingly Street
London
W1B 5QH
www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theclachankinglystreetlondon

Read about some more of London’s fantastic historic pubs at  www.discoveringsecretlondon.co.uk/home/historic-london-pubs

5 spooky things to do this Halloween

The spooky season is upon us; with Halloween around the corner here is my tips for scariest things to do in London this autumn.

Boo Tours

Join London’s premier ghostly tour guides for a spooky tour through the streets of our ancient city. Discover the ghosts of medieval London; the witch trials, rivers of blood and the demons of Clerkenwell.
October 18th bootours.com

Vampyre lecture

If you love your vampire fantasy fiction, your True Blood and Twilight check out St Pancras Old Church (just behind St Pancras Station) who will be hosting a vampish lecture on 2nd November. Experts will be speaking on the author of the Vampire genre John William Polidori, who is actually buried at this very church. This beautiful church also boasts of many other spooky literary connections; Thomas Hardy worked here moving graves, before embarking on his great literary career, and Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein) used to regularly visit her mother’s grave (the great Mary Wollstonecraft) here. 6pm Saturday 2nd November sosstpancras.org

If you liked this read this:

Coffee in the crypt

st martins in the fields

If you’d rather relax and have a coffee, how about a spooky coffee in a crypt. The former crypt of London’s St Martin’s in the Field’s church at Trafalgar square, has been transformed into an atmospheric(and rather yummy) cafe. Enjoy a latter or lunch under the stunning brick vaulted ceilings, whilst admiring the tombs stones under your feet. Keep an eye out for some posthumous guests such as Nel Gywn (King Charles II’s former lover) and Sir Christopher Wren’s wife and young child who are said to buried here. http://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/cafe-in-the-crypt/

Stay at a haunted hotel

If you’re feeling brave why not stay at one of London’s famous haunted Hotels.

How about the Georgian Grange Blooms hotel in West End , haunted by Mr Cummings a guest who likes to hang around the lounge reading, and a chambermaid who thinks she still works there. Be careful who is ruffling your bed covers in the dead of night.

langham hotel

Or how about the famous Langham Hotel near Oxford Circus, formerly entertaining the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain, but today it’s the German Prince who allegedly threw himself out of a window that now likes to frequent the hotel along with a glowing florescent ball that awakes guests of room 333 in the dark of the night.

Find out more at www.spookyisles.com/2013/08/langham-hotel-haunted-in-the-heart-of-london/

Haunted Pubs

If a night in a haunted hotel is too daring for you how about a drink at one of London’s many haunted pubs. Take the Prospect of Whitby, Wapping, for example. One of London’s oldest riverside pubs, established on the site where the city used to hang smugglers and pirates, you can enjoy your pint over looking the very noose (ok it might not be original, but its eerie all the same). The Prospect boasts of being the most haunted pub in England.

Or head out east to the Bow Bells pub, who’s resident ghosts likes to flush the toilets whilst you’re sitting on them.

If you liked that read this
www.spookyisles.com/2013/02/5-haunted-pubs-to-visit-in-central-london/