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

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 

 

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.

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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.

My London Coffee Challenge

Anyone that knows me will know I’m CRAZY about coffee so I’ve decided to embark on a coffee mission. In June I will be documenting 30 days of coffee, bringing you London’s loveliest and yummiest coffee shops.

coffee

So if you want to help me with my mission, Tweet, Insta, FB your recommendations and beautiful coffee pics, I would love to hear from you?

I’ll be bringing you my coffee recommendations via my coffee page LoveCoffee(London), and also on Twitter.

#30CoffeeDays

Its not just the taste, I’ll be looking for…
Quality Coffee
Cozy Coffee
Quirky Coffee
Historical Coffee (shops)
Coffee with a view
Secret gems

So let me know your recommendations, I’m keen to try them all!

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.

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.

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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.