Stepping back into the 18th Century

I often walk around London and wonder what it was actually like to live in this huge city a few hundred years ago, and in this ever changing modern city it’s surprisingly hard to find intact pieces of life from the past. However in a tucked away in small square off Fleet street surrounded by modern office blocks we find a piece of the past.

Dr Johnson’s House is a beautifully preserved 18th century home of the author of the dictionary, and a fantastic London gem to visit.

Dr Johnsons House

Step through the door and you step back to the 1700s. Dr Johnson lived here at 17 Gough Square from 1737 to 1784 during which time he worked on his famous master piece, The Dictionary, and you can wander around the building and visit rooms including his dark panelled waiting room, his long drawing room overlooking the square, the library, and the loft, now a dedicated museum to his Dictionary. The house is full of his personal furniture and paintings and it’s a great insight into his life.

Dr Johnson was a fascinating man. Suffering from debilitating illness including a strange tick, that today we know as touretts, he was awkward in public. But he was also extremely intelligent and extremely poor. He dropped out of university not being able to pay his way, and eventually arrived in London to pursue a writer’s life. But still very poor, he would often have to sleep on the streets, and spent time in gaol for not being able to pay his debts. This is reflected somewhat in his home, note the huge thick chain across the front door, said to be put there to keep the balifs out.

Although famed for his dictionary this wasn’t his lucky break. He was commissioned to write it in 3 years but it took 9, and although becoming the defining reference for English words (there were many versions of the dictionary written at that time) he was only paid a pittance for his 3 year’s commission (not the 9 years’ work).

It was only many years later the King recognised his contribution and rewarded him with a healthy pension, so that he finally could live comfortably.

It wasn’t just the dictionary that Dr Johnson was famous for, he wrote a great deal on life in London and is famous for my favourite London quote

He was often found writing at local pubs and was a regular member of the local St Clements Danes church on Fleet Street. (today the official church of the RAF). If you wander past the church you will find a statue of him out the back.

If you visit this delightful little house (which I highly recommend you do!) be sure to look out for the statue of Hodge in the square, Dr Johnson’s beloved cat, who, it is believed, he fed oysters to and cherished more than most of his friends.

Johnson's hodge

You can visit Dr Johnson’s House this month for Open House Weekend (21st – 22nd September) or at other times £4.50 entry.

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More info at  www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Sunny Days in London

Summer is well and truly on its way, so grab your picnic and check out my guide to London’s best parks.

Regent’s Park
This beautiful park just a short walk from Oxford Street, was built for the Prince Regent in the early 1800s. Today it is still has a very royal feel to it, surrounded by the regents canals and plush regency mansions, its a beautiful respite from the busy city. Particularly make sure you wander through the Avenue Gardens which are very regal and will make you feel like a king.

regents park avenue

Regent’s Park is also the home to London Zoo. If you plan to visit the Zoo, which is the North of the Park, take the zoo canal ride from Little Venice.

Quirky Fact
Regents Park contains a secret garden, The Garden of St John’s Lodge just off the Inner Circle

Primrose Hill
Officially part of Regent’s Park, its so special I just had to add it on separately. This small hill at the very North of Regent’s Park offers the best views in London, and is a beautiful spot for a picnic or bit of sun worshiping. Head down the Hill to Regents Park Road (towards Camden) and enjoy some of Primrose Hill’s cool cafe’s and boutique stores.

Quirky Fact
Primrose Hill is home to numerous notable and famous residents, including Sienna Miller, Rachel Weisz, and Jeremy Clarkson.

Greenwich
Another of my all time favourites, and a great location for London views. You can easily make a day of a visit to Greenwich with it’s quaint market, beautiful Naval College grounds, and the famous Royal Observatory, all overlooking the Thames, and the crazy city CBD. If you don’t have the energy to climb the hill (which I wouldn’t recommend missing out on) it’s just as pleasant to chill out in the grounds of the Naval College overlooking the river.

Quirky Fact
The naval college was once the site of one of London’s most prestigious royal palaces and birth place of Henry VIII.

Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens
A classic must see, stretching all the way from Kensington to Marble Arch, it’s easy to forget your in the city in this beautiful extensive park, surrounded by some of London’s best landmarks including Kensington Palace the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the famous Princess Diana Memorial. The best way to see the extent of it is to jump on a Boris Bike and cycle the park.

Quirky Fact
The famous Marble Arch at the Oxford Street End of the Park was once Arch entrance to Buckingham Palace, but was deemed unsuitable for the royal residence and moved to park instead.

Hampstead Heath
The beautiful Hampstead Heath, is a great relaxing spot, on the side of the quaint Hampstead village, and another great spot for a London view, as the park is London’s highest point. It makes a great escape from the city. It also contains some great walks and there are out door pools as well as historic London houses, such as Ivenforth House, and Kenwood.

hampstead heath

Quirky Fact
For a spooky pint, head to the Spainards Inn, one of London’s most haunted pubs. Which is reputedly haunted by famous Highwayman Dick Turpin, among others.

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Top Markets of London

Drinks with a view

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Drinks with a view

With a shortage of space on the ground in our ever expanding city, many restaurants and bars are taking to the skies. And with it come some great views.

Here is our quick guide to top drinks with a view in London

Tate modern Restaurant

This iconic London building has a great top floor restaurant and coffee shop directly opposite beautiful st Paul’s Cathedral. Check out their website for deals when you combine a visit to their current exhibition and a meal. If you want a great view without the expense of dinner, you can also visit their café, which also enjoys the same fab views.
Nearest Station: St Paul’s

Maddison Restaurant & Bar St Pauls

Another great Paul’s viewing spot is the brand new Maddison Restaurant and bar, located at the brand new OneExchange. Situated on the top of this new shopping haven, with its comfy sofa seats and slopping windows, it’s the perfect spot to take in a sunset over the city.
Nearest Station: St Pauls

Sushi Samba

This Fabulous restaurant is located on the 38/39th floor of Heron Tower, London’s third tallest building. Aside from impressive glassy décor, and astounding views (it overlooks the Gherkin and Tower Bridge) and two outdoor terraces it also offers a fun mixture of Sushi and South American cuisine and makes for a great fun night out.
Nearest Station: Liverpool St

Paramount Bar

One of my favourites is situated in the heart of the west over 3 floors (30-33) of Centre Point Tower, the main bar and restaurant on levels 30 & 33m you can take your cocktail up to the viewing platform on level 33 to take in the 360° panoramic views of the city.
Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road

Tattasall Castle

Not so high up and no so expensive, but still with great views, is the Tattashall Castle. This old passenger ferry now lives out its retirement on the banks of the Thames, opposite the London Eye complete with bars both inside and on the deck. It makes a great little spot for a pint or two in the summer. You can see all the way up the Thames from Parliament to up to St Paul’s.
Nearest Station: Embankment

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Top Markets of London

Check out my quick guide to the top 5 Markets in London

Portobello Road

This famous market in classy Notting Hill  boasts of the world’s largest antiques market, as well as numerous bric-a-brac stalls and yummy organic, and international food stalls.  It started life as small country lane with a few traders serving the local farming community.  In the late 1800s there was a housing boom in the area, and with it the market expanded to the vibrant bustling market we see today.  Its fame has even spread as far as Hollywood, and it’s featured in numerous films, most famously Nottting Hill.   It is a favourite of tourists and celebrities who visit to shop at its many stalls and watch its talented live musicians on every corner.

Quirky fact: George Orwell live at 22 Portobello Road in the 1920s, whilst researching his book Down and Out in Paris and London. His house is today marked by a Blue Plaque
Nearest station: Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove Station

Borough Market
If its food you’re after a visit to the culinary heaven that is Borough Market is a must!  There has been a food market here since the 1300s.  Today it is a great place to visit and sample every kind of food you can imagine, and you are guaranteed to get fresh quality food.  Its not just a tourist attraction but this market serves many award winning London restaurants and chefs including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey

Quirky fact: The rounded Victorian Globe pub in Borough Market was the  setting of  Bridget Jones home, in the famous movie.
Nearest station:  London Bridge or Borough

Covent Garden
Probably the most famous market in London, Covent Garden is a beautiful covered market.  You will mainly find arts and crafts, and artistic souvenir items here but at any time of the day its well worth a visit for its vibrant atmosphere. There is plenty to see and do there.  There is always a street performer to entertain you, there is also the impressive London transport museum or of a evening you can attend a performance at the Royal Opera House.  Or you can just sit back and soak up the atmosphere in one of the many piazza cafes.

Quirky fact: London’s frist female public toilet was situated on near by Bedford Street in the 1850s. The guys toilet was located a few miles down the road at Fleet Street.
Nearest Station: Covent Garden or Charring Cross

Camden Market
For culture, check out the very alternative Camden Market.  A short walk from Camden Station, Camden Lock Markets nestled on the side of the Regents Canals is well worth a visit.  Once inside be sure to venture deep into the market and loose yourself in the old Stables. The twisty turny lanes of The Stables are reminiscent of a Moroccan souk.  Look out (or rather you can’t miss) the incredible, incredibly large, horse sculptures dotted around.  Be sure also to get something to eat here or across the road (opposite Camden Lock Market entrance), where you can grab a bite and sit at your leisure on an old moped, over looking the canals.

Quirky Fact:  Be sure to check out he Hawley Arms pub just the other side of the railway bridge. This pub was the famous hang out  Amy Winehouse, as well as playing impromptu gigs, she was known to occasionally get behind the bar and pull pints for punters.
Nearest Station: Camden Town or Chalk Farm

Greenwich Market
For all things quirky combined with a great day out, head over the beautiful Greenwich and Greenwich Market.  This quaint market sells bespoke items among other things hand crafted jewellery, gifts beauty products, and even stylish gift foods.  Aside from the market it is worth exploring historic Greenwich  check out  the restored Cutty Sark, or wander around the stunning historic Royal Naval College, or head up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory to enjoy stunning views of the city.  A day out to Greenwich is an absolute must for any visitor or resident of London.

Quirky fact: check out the Thames Foot  Tunnel. Is the last remaining Victorian pedestrian  tunnel left under the Thames.  This eerie damp tunnel was opened in 1902.  Entrance just next to the Cutty Sark.
Nearest Station: Greenwich Cutty Sark or Greenwich