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

London’s worst kept secret

One of my favourite London Buildings is the famous Post Office Tower, or BT Tower if you like.  It’s a iconic landmark, just around the corner from where work.  I often glance up at it from my office to see what is happening in the world.  From the dancing reindeer at Christmas, to the day it turned blue for Prince George’s birth.  Its  a happy London Landmark and was officially opened by the Prime Minster Howard Wilson on  this day in 1965.

But did you know it is also London’s worst kept secret? 

BT Tower skyline


Because up until just as recently as the 1990′s the Tower was classified as a State Secret and didn’t even appear on maps. Quite surprising for a building that until 1981 was London’s tallest, and can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city. It’s a shame it’s no longer open to the public, it was closed off following bomb attacks in the 1980s.  But there are always rumours of it opening back up.  We live in hope.

bt tower up

Although you can’t get inside it is worth visiting, as it’s pretty impressive to see from directly under the Tower on Cleveland Street.  It has grade two listing, which protects the building and this includes it’s antenna’s which are now no longer in use.

 A few fun facts:

The tower is 191 m (including it antennas).

Its foundations are 53 metres deep.

Its other official opening was in 1966 by Billy Butlin and Tony Benn

Its high speed lift gets you to the top in just 30 seconds!

In 2012 a super megapixel camera was placed on the top of the tower to snap London.  You can explore the incredible images at  360gigapixels.com/london-320-gigapixel-panorama

Beautiful Holland Park

London is lucky enough to have a whole array of beautiful parks, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regents Park. But one beautiful often missed green space is the delightful Holland Park. Nestled to the west of the city, just a short walk from Holland Park station (surprise surprise) this gorgeous walled park has more of a feel of a landscaped stately home than a public London park.

Holland Park

It has the impressive history to go with it too. The park orginally formed the gardens of the grand Holland House. First built in the late 1500s back then the park stretched over 500 acres, all the way to the Thames (today it is 50 acres not a bad size for a city park). In the 1600s the house was expanded and built up into a grand form, even famed Jacobean architect Indigo Jones had a hand in its design (his beautiful gates can still been seen in the park today). So impressive was this mansion that for a long time the house was nicknamed “Cope Castle” after Sir Walter Cope its first famous resident.

The castle also had a whole host of famous residents and visitors across the centuries. Early on it was said that King William III stayed here when the London smog became too much for him.

IMG_3115

In the 1800s it was the headquarters of the Whig party, and poets writers used to drop by including Dickens and Byron (who famously met his lover lady Caroline Lamb here). And of course there was the writer Joseph Addison who lived and died here in 1700s.

The castle was grand both inside and out with impressive décor. It could have been a museum for all its quirky titbits lying around including (it is said) a pair of candle sticks belonging to Mary Queen of Scots, a locket which held strands of Napoleon’s hair, as well as halls decorated with numerous famous paintings.

Sadly in the 1900s it became quite unloved and un-lived in and then in 1940 was almost completely destroyed in an air-raid. Its remnants have been beautifully kept and as you walk around you can still see some of its grandeur. If you visit today scenes of the original mansion can be seen on prints around the venue.

Holland House

In 1878 historian Edward Walford described the house

“Although scarcely two miles distant from London, with its smoke, its din, and its crowded thoroughfares Holland House still has green meadows, sloping lawns and refreshing trees.”

150 years later this is still the case the remains of the house still make a grand centre piece, alongside landscaped gardens most notably the Japanese garden, complete with roaming peacocks.

Japanese Gardens Holland Park

This park has a different feel to the other London parks, its beautifully peaceful. Rather than a wide open public space, it has lots of nooks and crannies you can hide away from the crowds in.

And if this description of fanciful society living takes your fancy you can experience it for yourself as the eastern wing has been turned into a YHA – you couldn’t find more historic (and budget) accommodation in London if you tried.

I can’t recommend a visit to this park enough, one of the overlooked gems of London.

London’s lost Pleasure Gardens

London comes alive in the Summer, everywhere you go there is something to do, a festival, a performance, a concert, sport, fireworks. With the creation of the 02 Arena and the London Eye entertainment like this could be considered a modern creation. However, if you visited London 400 years ago you would have seen many of the same sights (just with less tech and advertising). For 400 years ago London was at the height of Pleasure Garden entertainment.

Pleasure Gardens were areas of great entertainment, fayres,  outdoor theatre, operas, sports, they had it all. Originally designed for nobility in major cities across Europe, they soon became the jaunt of commoners. By the 1700s many of the gardens were closed and sold off for development as the city expanded, however small remnants of gardens can still be found…

London had 6 pleasure gardens over the years, the largest and most famous of these being the Vauxhall Gardens, Ranelagh, and Marylebone.

Vauhall_Gardens_fun
Vauxhall Gardens (originally named Spring gardens) was one of the first, stretching out along the Southbank of the Thames it opened in 1661 and remained for 200 years. It was famed for its romantic walks and its stunning central Turkish rotunda (pictured above). In 1769 Handle performed in the gardens attracting crowds of up to 12,000. Today a tiny section of the gardens remain as the unassuming Spring Gardens Park.

Ranelagh Gardens Chelsea was also located on the river. It opened in 1746 attracting a more classy clientele, it also had an impressive rotunda, which Canaletto painted in 1754. It was also famous for its masquerade balls which would go on until 4 am. Fulham football club in its early days used the garden as its home ground. Today the gardens still exist but are far less grand. Some of the ground was given over to the Chelsea Hospital, other parts are used for the annual Chelsea Flower show held last month.

Marylebone Gardens was another of the great pleasure gardens, beginning life in the late 1600s the entrance was via the Rose Tavern pub. The gardens were famed for its sport and recreation, most notably cock fighting and boxing (both male and female participants). It was believed highwayman Dick Turpin was also a regular at the grounds. Today nothing exists of gardens, however the entrance to the Rose Tavern is marked by a beautiful period lamppost on Marylebone High Street.

Want to get a feel of London’s olde worlde Pleasure Gardens, head to this year’s Underbelly Festival on Southbank.

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.

If you liked this read this:

How King George Shaped London forever

London’s lost landmarks

Inside London’s historic pubs

More info at  www.drjohnsonshouse.org