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.

Afternoon Tea with Mr Selfridge

When my American friend came to visit, I wanted to treat him to something wonderfully English –  Afternoon Tea.

I have to admit my immediate thought was one of the classic hotels, but with short notice, booked out tables … and some pretty bad reviews I was at a loss. Then I remembered seeing the tiered plates of cakes on occasions when wandering through Selfridges and thought, ‘that will do’.

So we headed to Dolly’s situated on the ground floor of this famed department store, it didn’t sound as glamorous as I had wanted, sitting in the middle of a department store, but it turned out to be a great spot, you could watch the shoppers busily pass by or gaze up to the highest point of the building to see the impressive swirly ceiling surrounded by the grand columns. I’m often in Selfridges, and love its grandure and history , so it was nice to actually sit down and savour it, rather than rushing through like I normally do.

Being a Friday afternoon there was a short queue which disappeared quickly. We were seated and served.

afternoon tea

 

They have a range of afternoon tea selections, you can regular afternoon tea, with or without champagne , cream tea, or just coffee and cake.  We went for the Mr Selfridge Afternoon Tea (in the hope that Mr Selfridge himself would be served up on a plate – swoon). The tea and food arrived promptly and we were left to enjoy our feast. And a feast it was. Finger sandwiches, small bread slices with (the most delicious humous I’ve tasted) rolls with crab and lobster. And of course there were the scones and clotted cream (these certainly made up for the lack of Jeremy Piven). And finally two delicious luxiourious pastries, we had a lemon meringue tart, and an apple sponge thing from heaven. I did notice that other tables had different pastries, which I thought was a nice touch (I was eyeing up another girls strawberry eclairs). The portions didn’t seem huge, but we were left with very satisfied tummies.

I have to say the whole experience was utterly delightful, and the customer service we received  more than you could expect in a prestigious hotel (despite the busyness and consistent queue I never once felt hurried to finish our food). And it probably worked out cheaper than many other afternoon tea options.

 

My American friend was highly impressed with his English experience.

mrselfridge

 

If you’re looking for an afternoon tea venue, this one is definite must, although I can’t guarantee an appearance by the man himself.

More info Selfridges 

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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

Visit London’s most haunted royal home

Just outside London is one of the most beautiful historic palaces; the stunning Hampton Court palace. Built half by the Tudors for Henry 8th (and his numerous wives) and half by Sir Christopher Wren.

hampton court palace

It’s a two faced building and depending which way you arrive you will see two completely different facades. You can’t fail to be impressed with this magnificent palace as you walk up the long driveway to the imposing red brick entrance (with it’s magnificent Tudor chimneys – all 241 of them), whether you’re arriving by train (easy quick journey from Waterloo) or by boat (how the royals used to do it – a leisure few hours along the Thames.

The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens (which are beautifully landscaped and also contain a large (record breaking) vine, as well as the country’s oldest tennis courts and the famous Hampton court maze. From the gardens you can view the stunning baroque architecture and what seems entirely different building from its red brick front.

hampton court gardens

Once inside there is so much to explore, from the court yards, the incredible kitchens, the magnificent Tudor hall, and chapel, all the nooks and crannies of the the stone walk ways. its easy to get lost here, and it seems when you visit you have the run of the entire place.

But beware who you are bumping into it is also the most haunted of the royal palaces. Allegedly the Henry himself has been seen wandering the corridors, perhaps he was looking for wife number 3 Jane Seymour who has been seen around the building. And his first wife who has been spotted in the now named ‘Haunted Gallery’

There have also been reports of an old woman who can be heard at her spinning wheel. More recently was the strange CCTV footage of a ghostly figure in Tudor dress exiting the building then disappearing.

Haunted hampton court

It might be a spooky place but it is the most beautiful palace in London, I completely recommend a day trip to this stunning place.

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London’s most beautiful cemeteries

London boasts of some of the most beautiful architecture, as well as the most beautiful parks, but it also has some of the most beautiful cemeteries. You might never think of visiting a cemetery for fun, or for its architecture but it really is a worthwhile day out.

The magnificent Seven
You might think of the magnificent 7 as cowboys but they are actually a group of cemeteries built in the mid 1800s to provide the answer to London’s overcrowded grave yards. Today these 7 cemeteries are famed for their architecture (often grade one and two listed) and their famous interred residents.

Take the most famous is Highgate Cemetery. There are two parts to this one, east and west.  You can visit the West by guided tour only (well worth it) and it contains the famous Egyptian Avenue (below), a beautiful circle of catacombs with a stunning Cedar of Lebanon tree in the middle. Between the two halves they boast of some famous names too from Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Christina Rosetti, and Jeremy Beadle.

High Gate Cem

Another of these famous 7 is Brompton Cemetery, just a stones throw from Chelsea Football ground, it also has some stunning architecture, and guided tours are available. Amongst big names here are Emmeline Pankhurst (suffragette) John Snow (not the news reader but the guy that discovered the cause and cure to Cholera) and Ernest Thesiger.

All the cemeteries show off unique Victorian architecture, design and imagery and you really could spend all day admiring the tombs stones and mausoleums.

sleeping angel

As well as the big 7, there are also many smaller grave sites to enjoy (yes enjoy) in the capital. Many have been turned into small parks in which you will find local office workers enjoying their lunch (myself included). Often you will find the grave stones bunched up against walls as the urbanisation of London has reduced a once large space into a tiny one. Take for example the minute Marylebone church grounds, just off Marylebone High Street, lovingly restored by the Marylebone Society, it contains a monument to its most famous grave, that of Charles Wesley and family, who lived near by. A plaque also boasts of the original church’s baptism hall of fame including Lord Byron and Horatia Nelson.

Another of my favourites and most interesting is Post Man’s Park, hidden behind ‘Little Britain (yes it is a real place) just a short walk from St Paul’s and Barbican. This small park/former grave yard has an interesting Victorian memorial to ordinary people who lost their lives in heroic ways. It features young people, fascinating stories its a moving place and a most see for any visitor to London.

postmans park

Another of my favourites and slightly larger than the other inner city ones is Old St Pancras church, this ancient church boasts of some greats such as John Soane, one of London’s greatest architects (in my opinion) he designed his own mausoleum which later became the inspiration of the red telephone box. Also here is the memorial of Mary Wollstonecraft (who used to be burred here). It is believed her daughter Mary Shelley and lover Percy Bysshe Shelley planned their elopement here. Another interesting feature is the Hardy Tree, an old tree surrounded, with numerous grave stones. It was loving named after the author Thomas who worked here and was in charge of moving the graves to create space for the railway being built just behind the church (the now famous St Pancras/Kings cross).

Hardy Tree

There are so many interesting grave yards, and cemeteries in London, full of history, fabulous architecture, quirky history, and wildlife, don’t be too spooked to miss out on these London gems.

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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

Oxford Street’s Secret Garden

If you’ve been busy shopping, and fighting the crowds in Oxford Street, you might want to escape the craziness and find a quiet tranquil spot.

Well just two minutes off Oxford Street is the newly opened Brown Hart Gardens. Its easy to miss though because its not your normal city park.

Built on top of an old Victorian substation, overlooking the pretty Mayfair shops are the glamorously designed, and very spacious roof top gardens and cafe.

The substation itself is quite impressive, it resembles more of a mausoleum or temple than an electricity hub. If you’re lucky the grand green doors will be open and you can peer in at the Victorian tiling, and see the busy Crossrail contractors going in and out. (If the doors aren’t open you can peer through the sides, which is quite interesting – it almost resembles and abandoned railway station down there.)

Brown hart

Either side of the impressive temple entrance you’ll see the stairs that lead you up to the gardens.

Although the gardens are recently opened, they are not a new creation.  When the substation was originally built in 1905 the Duke of Westminster insisted that the land be returned to the local community in someway (quiet a modern idea) and so beautiful Italian gardens were built on top.  This existed until the 80s, then closed.  The gardens were re-established and re-opened in June.

1157438_10151504435460904_780078351_n

It’s worth a visit, and when you’re there make sure you take in the surroundings, this tiny tranquil off-shoot of Oxford Street, is surrounded by some of the most beautiful buildings.

You can’t miss:

– The Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral,built in 1890s by the famous Architect Alfred Waterhouse.

– The Stunning gothic Duke Street Mansions and surrounding Peasbody buildings. – the first ever housing association homes, built in the late 1800s in an attempt to alleviate the slum housing conditions in London.

Its a beautiful area, and it’s well worth stepping back from the Oxford Street crush and stepping back in time.

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Visit Kensington Palace

We’ve seen a lot of Kensington Palace this week, home to the new Prince George, but did you know you can actually visit Kensington Palace.

For years I knew it as the home of Princess Diana, and I would walk past wondering what it would be like to live there but didn’t actually realise  you go and visit and explore inside.

It makes for a great day out.

What people don’t realise is its quite a large complex and the royals residences are actually at the back and are completely private (and secure) the main house at the front and the gardens are open to the public.

Its been home to many former monarchs (including two King Georges). Most famously it was the home of Queen Victoria.  It was here she grew up, met her future love, Prince Albert,  and became Queen at the young age of 18.

She is one of our most famous and long ruling queens (63 years – Queen Elizabeth is not far behind her with 60 years) and the beautiful exhibition inside the Palace gives us a glimpse into her difficult childhood, her strained relationship with her mother, and her isolation.

You can stand on the stairs at the spot she first laid eyes on the handsome young German prince.  You can also view her wedding dress, which highlights how tiny the young queen was, and view the intimate letters she wrote to Albert.

Victoria-Albert

As well as the Victoria exhibition, there are a number of other royal apartments you can visit, it’s a great up close and personal way to see how the royals lived.  You can also venture through the ornate gardens, overlooking Kensington Gardens. These include the luxurious Orangery, now a famous restaurant.

As well as the viewing the house they also have temporary exhibitions, and currently running is the Fashion Rules exhibition; a beautiful collection of dresses from contemporary royals including a young Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.

This beautiful palace is definitely worth a visit.

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You can find more info on visiting it at www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/

How King George shaped London forever.

London has been full of anticipation and celebration this week as we welcomed a future King. One day that little bundle of joy will be King George VII. But what of his ancestral namesakes.

His parents are probably hoping he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the famed George IV (4th). Known (and hated) for his frivolous lifestyle; he valued wine, women and fun at the expense of his people, and owing to his fathers ill health (also a King George) was put in charge of the state sooner than the title came to him.

He is better known as The Prince Regent..

PrinceRegent

If you’ve ever watched Blackadder the Third, its that same dim prince, except in real life he was far more exuberant (and somewhat larger owing to his love for rich foods).

He was a very unpopular ruler.

However us Londoner’s have a lot to thank him for, it was King George’s extravagant lifestyle that, surprisingly, has left us with some our most famed and loved London landmarks today.

The King’s Parks

The King’s favourite architect was a man by the name of John Nash.  His first big project for the Prince Regent was the construction of Brighton’s famous Pavilion (an example perhaps of George’s extravagance). So impressed by his work George asked Nash to develop some of his royal hunting ground near Marylebone  into parkland. And so a massive transformation began to take place in our city and Regent’s Park was created.

PArk Crescent

This beautiful park land was carefully designed by Nash, including the lakes, canal routes (Regent’s Canal) and some of the stunning Georgian buildings around the edges, most famously the beautiful Park Crescent. Later in his career he also developed the land that today we know as St James’s Park.

The King’s Street

The Young Prince knew he would one day be King, and began to prepare for a lavish life as sovereign, with his architect designer Nash to help him. Nash planned a beautiful grand parade to run directly from the King’s new park to the King’s grand home situated on the North side of St Jame’s Park; Carlton House.

It was a grand plan indeed one that would shape London forever.  Today we know and love this grand street which we know better as Regent’s Street. It actually starts at Nash’s Park Crescent (just by at the Regent’s Park Tube Stop). It run’s down the wide Portland Place into Regent’s Street (by the Langham Hotel & BBC HQ). It stops briefly at Oxford Circus – Nash’s stunning intersection of the ancient Oxford Road.

RegentsCurve

 

It continues along the beautiful curve of Regent’s Street to Piccadilly Circus (another of Nash’s interchanges) and then on down to Waterloo Place, the grand steps where today stands Carlton House Terrace.

Nash was semi successful in his grand plan, all the way he faced growing opposition from a people who hated the King and therefore hated the architect who was spending the nation’s money on his indulgence.

We see this at Langham Place. The former Mr Langham loved his beautiful mansion at the end of Portland Place (the width of this street owing to Mr Langham’s insistence that his views of the parkland not be interrupted) and he refused to budge for the King’s architect. Nash had to wind his road past the Langham mansion, and we see this in the twist of the road which today passes by the new BBC HQ, and Langham Hotel.

To make the curve more attractive Nash built the All Soul’s Church just there (you can see a marble bust of Nash himself outside the church). The public considered the church ugly and a famous caricature was published on Nash impaled on its sharp spire (a reflection of the public’s dislike for him and his plans).

bbc London

Moving House

Nash also faced set backs from the fickle King himself. When he came to the culmination of his grand road the King’s great palace Carlton House the Prince Regent had changed his mind about where to live. He had finally been crowned King George IV  by this point and he no longer wanted to live in Carlton House and had it demolished. Instead he chose a nearby stately home for his Kingly residence. This had previously been home to the Duke of Buckingham, and today it remains a loved home of the Royals and one of London’s most famous houses – Buckingham Palace.

It wasn’t quite impressive enough for the King however and he invited Nash to transform it into a home fit for a King. They set about it with another grand plan, a great dome to cover the court yard, and a grand marble entrance.

London Legacy
Within a few years of taking the throne the New King George was dead, succeeded by his more conservative younger brother William.

Buckingham Palace

By the time King William moved into Buckingham Palace it was said that Nash and George had left it uninhabitable by their crazy designs. And work was started at once to turn it back into a modest home. One of the first major changes was the removal of Nash’s grand marble entrance, this was moved to a corner of Hyde Park, and it still there today – our beautiful Marble Arch.

It wasn’t the only change made, Regent’s Street was also modified. On the curve of Regents Street Nash had included a covered walkway with grand Corinthian columns – the intention to protect shoppers from the inclement weather. These column’s were removed, but not entirely disposed of; they were placed outside what is today the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  By the early 1900s all of Regent’s Street had been rebuilt but the grandure of Nash’s royal scheme remains.

King George has gone down in our history as one of the more extravagant and disliked Kings, however his impact of the shape of the London we know and love today cannot be ignored.

We hope the new Prince George will leave a grand legacy for a beautiful city, but let’s hope he doesn’t cause too much upset along the way as his grand ancestor George VI.

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Between Bond Street and Piccadilly are a series of luscious lanes full of London secrets and treasures.

South Molton Street

From Bond Street Station head down South Molton Street (located in next to One shopping centre) Today south Molton street boasts of classy shops on a lovely pedestrian street, although was originally known as Poverty lane, reflecting the nature of the neighbourhood of the time. At the end you reach Brook Street and you will find here homes of two of the world’s greatest musicians.

Number 25 is home to the genius composer George Handel. German born, this world renowned composer lived here in London in the 1700s, and it was during his time here that he became a British citizen. It was whilst he lived here that he composed some of his most famous operas, including his masterpiece ‘Messiah’, many of which were performed at the nearby Her Majesties Theatre in Haymarket (today the long running home of Phantom of the Opera) as well as the Covent Garden opera houses. He also composed music for Royal coronations..

Handle lived until his 70s when his health declined and he died. Today he lies buried in Westminster Abbey. His house has been turned into a museum dedicated to him, entrance is just £6 and the museum holds regular talks and performances, and is definitely worth a visit.

Just next door to Handel’s home is that of another great performer, look out for the blue plaque marking Jimi Hendrix’s London flat. (23 Brook Street). It is said that Jimi loved living here in the 60s and he described it as the only real home he ever had. Today there is a secret door way adjoining the Handel House and the Hendrix house and whilst it can’t be accessed by the public it is used by the Handel museum as offices and storage.

Just next to these two famous homes you will find two of London’s luscious lanes. One of which is Avery Row, the other Lancashire Court. These twisty turny lanes seem out of place, but actually they follow the route of one of London’s famous lost waterways The Tyburn.

Lancashire Court

Avery Row, still following the Tyburn, the row takes its name from the bricklayer who cleverly paved over the waterway to make the streets. Avery row is a cute cobbled lane full of bespoke shops, cafes and a pub or two. Lancashire Court is delightful and a great little place to grab a classy bite to eat– it looks like a back street to no-where but inside there it’s a maze of cute shops and exclusive restaurants. In the summer it could easily be mistaken for a cutsie cobbled alley in a Mediterranean town, with everyone sat outside enjoying their dinner (a great little spot for to impress a date).

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