The iconic Marble Arch marks the corner of London’s most famous shopping street, but it hides some grisly secrets.
The iconic Marble Arch marks the corner of London’s most famous shopping street, but it hides some grisly secrets.
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.
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.
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
The Liberty’s of London store is an icon of London, possibly the most beautiful shop in town.
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.
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
34 Kingly Street
Read about some more of London’s fantastic historic pubs at www.discoveringsecretlondon.co.uk/home/historic-london-pubs
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.)
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.
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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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..
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.
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.
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).
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.
Within a few years of taking the throne the New King George was dead, succeeded by his more conservative younger brother William.
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.
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.
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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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
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
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
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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I am sooo loving the new TV series Mr Selfridge.
I absolutely love Selfridges, and spend far too much time there. It’s a beautiful building, and the shop has it’s very own vibe and allure, I just love it.
But I’m particularly excited by the series as I’ve been secretly researching the history of Oxford Street and its shops, and in Oxford Street history, Selfridges was a big deal. And, as the show highlights, Mr Selfridge was a dreamer with big vision; he would be proud that his vision is so alive and kicking today.
However, I was a little disappointed by their portrayal of Mr Selfridge’s grumpy vision partner Mr Waring.
Actually Waring back then was what Selfridges is to us today. The luxury retailer, the flagship store of Oxford Street.
He hailed from Liverpool and had taken over his family furniture business. In a style that would make Sir Alan Sugar proud he turned the business around from a small furniture maker to a flourishing European money making enterprise. As well as owning a leading store on Oxford Street (the Selfridges of the early 1900s) his firm was also furnishing the rich, famous and royal (including Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace).
He opened his Oxford street furniture store in 1906. The store, was a grand building and it was just as grand inside; 40,000 square feet dedicated to quality furniture from around the world, crowed with two giant rotundas and filled with exotic flowers and palm trees. It was quite impressive, so impressive that it was described by one newspaper as the ‘Ninth wonder of the world’. It’s not surprising Mr Selfridge was keen to do business with him.
But not only that, Mr Waring, who’s luxury furniture now kitted out royal homes and yachts (The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth, to name a few) and hotels far and wide, also owned a little building company on the side, Waring & White building (and refurbishing) among others The Ritz Hotel. It was here the two met for the first time. Mr Selfridge (as we know) was keen to build his store from scratch, and so rich Mr Waring was the perfect business partner.
Selfridges is a beautiful building, if you visit be sure to gaze at it’s design both on the inside and outside. It’s interesting to note that that Selfridges is located on towards the western end of Oxford Street whereas Mr Waring’s store Waring & Gillow was located at the eastern end, in a similar way that Primark now dominates both the East and West ends of the Street. Waring was about to become the king of Oxford Street.
So why did the relationship breakdown? Waring was a shrewd business man, he’d taken chances and risks before, most notably his first big Hotel job; kitting out the Cecil Hotel (one of London’s most luxurious hotels, sadly demolished in the 30s). He well overspent and almost caused his business to go bust, but his risk paid off and led him to new clients, big business, and contracts with the Ritz and Carlton Hotel.The Gillow & Waring store building is still there, it stands at 176 Oxford Street (the Tottenham Court Road End). I discovered it one day when I looked up from my feet (a rarity when struggling through the crowds on Oxford Street). I looked up and noticed this stunning red and white building, you can tell it used to be something important, and glamorous in its day. Today it’s been gutted inside and turned into offices, with retail space on the street level. No palm trees or rotundas. But from the outside you can still see it’s beauty.
But Selfridge’s eagerness to get his store off the ground and his grandiose visions, not only defied London planning regulations but also cost far more than the budget allowed. The money disappeared rapidly, before a brick was even laid. It was two big and risky for Mr Waring, and after less than a year he pulled out of the partnership. It says a lot for Mr Selfridge that he pushed through, and built his dream store without Mr Waring’s help. Mr Waring’s store continued until 1932 when it went into receivership.
It’s perhaps a little sad to compare those those two buildings and businesses today. One standing at the East End, just a beautiful building with no mention of its historic royal customers, and entrepreneurial owner; the other a ground breaking, billion dollar business, famous the world over, the must see of many a London Tourist, and shopper.
I wonder if Mr Samuel Waring was alive today he might be kicking himself just a little, and wishing he’d taken that gamble.
I’ve said it before, but I love the film Love Actually! What I love about it (actually) is because it celebrates, and magnifies London at it’s finest; a very Christmassy London. There aren’t many times in Winter when you can fall in love with this cold, grey and misty city, but at Christmas it comes alive, with sparkle, and colour and excitement. I think Queen Victoria was thinking ahead to her beloved London in future years when she brought home the German traditions of Christmas. And now, I for one, am like a kid at Christmas (excuse the pun) when I hear that first Christmas carol, see that first crane putting up the tinsel on the high street, there is nothing like it. And if you’re not a Londoner, or have never been I would recommend the Christmas season, is a good time, to fall in love with this enchanting city.
So out of all the festivities; the Southbank German Markets, the Carols in Trafalgar square alongside the traditional Norwegian giant Christmas tree, to the crazy surreal winter wonderland in Hyde park, I have scanned the many events and complied a list of the top 5, some classic, some topsecret London hidden gems and even some fictional ones for the wish list (?!)
But before I bring you the top 5, I just have to bring you my most miserable (sadly) Christmassy bit of London (interestingly Love Actually also omitted this one actually). Disappointingly my Christmassy London low is Regent Street. Every year, someone (usually Disney) decide to trash this beautiful royal promenade by sticking up the latest Hollywood animation tacky light show. I’m sure it’s lovely for the kids, but a little disappointing if you ask me. Let us move on quickly.
So top 5 Christmassy London!!!
Covent Garden…Actually this almost made a low, I remember in previous years it’s been impressively decorated, larger than life; remember the gigantic Christmas tree that contained a Santa’s grotto, the edible ‘Ferrero Tree’ or last year’s Kissmas Tree . So this year, it felt a little lost and a empty I was just about to walk away when I noticed something out the corner of my eye… the LARGEST baubles in the universe. Yes, it clawed its way back into the top 5 with these novelty gigantic Xmas tree decos hanging in the market place. So big they wouldn’t have even made it on to Trafalgar’s Norwegian tree. I love it, worth a visit for those alone.
Number 4 is a classic! Oxford Street! If you accept there will be crowds and chaos, Oxford street after dark (i.e. after 4pm) is simply magical (and much more classic than it’s Regents Street neighbour). Head down to the Bond Street end, and you have the major department stores battling out for X factor of Sparkle (this year a close battle between Selfridge’s (no surprises) and M&S (who also battled it out on the opening night with fireworks and sparkles from both). Then just around the corner, you have arty, classy St Christopher’s place (you know it’s my favourite). All of these were worthy enough for their place in Love Actually!
…And a big shout out for Westminster Council for the quick tidy up of Crossrail clutter (fellow Londoners, you know what I’m talking about!)
NUMBER 3… is the fictional entry (I know you were wondering weren’t you?) Fictional because every time I see it I think “You would make such a lovely Christmas Tree”. As I gaze out my window after dark I see it’s twinkling red and green lights, all it needs is some giant tinsel and and massive star on top (maybe Covent Garden could help). So I’ve already written to Santa asking for it to come true, I’m hoping to wake up Christmas morning….
Yes Number 3 is THE SHARD, and as one tweeter put it perfectly ‘The Shard is like a giant Christmas Tree for all of London’ ..Beat that for size Trafalgar Square.
Top end of my list at No 2 is a secret gem, tucked away a short walk from the Christmas chaos of Oxford street is Store Street, and the delightful South Crescent. There is something about this building that is completely enchanting and mysterious, it looks modern yet old. And at this time of year it comes alive as they dress it up like a Christmas gift, like the secret it is. Known as ‘The Imagination Galley’ this is a gorgeous building inside and out, fashioned into an exclusive gallery/conference venue. But if you’re not privileged enough to get inside, but still hungry for for a bit of culture/architecture check out The Building Centre next door. No this is not the place to buy Uncle Ted his DIY pressies, but rather, it’s a great venue/gallery celebrating architecture (and not so exclusive as it’s imaginative neighbour) they host regular events and seminars for those interested in all things building. And if you peer through the window, by the entrance they have a Fab scale model of London City – and just for the Christmas season they’ve sprinkled it with icing sugar (ok so I made that up, but it’s a another great idea?!)
If all that sounds a bit too cultural and you just want to escape the Christmas crowds, then do stop off anyway. Because right opposite South Crescent is the yummy Busaba Thai (best Thai chain in London Guaranteed!!); you can sit and gaze at the pretty lights from the comfort of your dinner plate!
Top of my list, straight from Love Actually, I am totally in love with …. drum roll…. Somerset House Tiffany Ice Skating. …Well all Christmassy ice skating in London, actually. Somehow they just know how to pick the most beautiful locations, Somerset house being one of them. In the beautiful square court yard with the Tiffany (..hear all the girls sigh) Christmas Tree, I’m sure this historic building on the Thames was made for this moment. It’s like walking, gliding into a romantic Jane Austen picture book… But if Tiffany’s doesn’t do it for you, how about historical Tower of London rink? Or the beautiful Victorian Natural History Museum, or for something more modern there’s the Canary Wharf rink – keep an eye on your shares, on the ice . Or if you want to escape the London madness altogether head over to the stunning Hampton Court.
Just be warned though, ice-skating is the top of most people’s lists, and you will most likely need to book ahead. But the good news is most rinks run through beyond the Christmas period until January.
So there you have it my Christmassy London top 5. It only happens once a year, enjoy every moment, every sparkle. But if that’s really not enough Christmassy London for you, I recommend you buy a copy of Love Actually, it will last a lot longer (that’s what I do, actually, and I love it … actually!)