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

Fireworks in London

The history of London Fireworks

We’re entering into a season of historic celebration in London, as the temperature drops the autumn colours that appear the parks are as colourful as the November skies ..it’s firework season (and my favourite time of year).
fireworksWe all remember the reason, celebrating King James I’s survival following Guy Fawkes’ attempt on his life and parliament.

Throughout the 1600′s and beyond fireworks were used to celebrate and commemorate not just Nov 5th, but coronations, achievements at war, summer pleasure gardens, and general high society parties, such as those held in the squares of Marylebone by the famous socialite Elizabeth Montagu.

RoyalFireworks
The picture above (one of my most favourite), shows fireworks along the Thames opposite the now lost Whitehall Palace in 1749, they came choreographed with Music composed by Handel.

Fireworks were big business and with it came danger and tragedy.  Most famously the event of  12 July 1858 at Waterloo, when two fireworks factories exploded, killing 6 and injuring 300 as fireworks exploded in all directions causing injury and havoc.
But still we love fireworks and still we celebrate 5th November, and the capital is a wonderful place to see them.
Talking of historic celebrations and fireworks make sure you head into the city this November 8th for the Lord Mayor’s show.This 800 year old event when the Lord Mayor of  London (not Boris) leaves the City of London and heads up to Westminster to swear allegiance to the Crown.   Its full of pomp and ceremony and has a carnival atmosphere.

Among the flotillas look out for London’s ancient guardians Gog and Margog.  And just to top off it off there will be fireworks on the river at 5pm!   To find out more go to www.lordmayorsshow.org

Something Personal

A month ago my father passed away (a month ago today in fact).   He died of dementia, which he’d be diagnosed with just a few years before. The last 8/9 months of his life saw a rapid decline, from a happy chappy to a frail man with very limited mobility and unable to communicate.  The last few years has been a difficult journey, but we are lucky that my dad died peacefully having spent the day surrounded by those he loved most.

dad2

One of the enduring legacies he leaves with me is a passion for history and for old buildings. I remember as a kids he used to lecture us on history for hours, and drag us round National Trust buildings, we absolutely hated it! Now I’m older I can’t think of anything I would rather do.

This weekend, very fittingly in his honour, me and my sister are running the British 10K, its described as  the world’s greatest road race route, its like an easy version of the marathon (except if you’re anything like me, a 10k is the equivalent of a marathon!).  It goes past some of London’s most iconic and historic landmarks; Parliament, St Paul’s, Nelson’s Column, Westminster Abbey. Its an opportunity to run down some of London’s most famous roads, Pall Mall, Embankment, Trafalgar Square and of course the Mall!   I’m hoping with so many historic landmarks I will be completely distracted from the pain in my legs.

british10k13

It’s a big occasion, the Race’s primary charity is Help for Hero’s and its an opportunity to honour those who have fought for our country both in this generation and those past, particularly relevant this centenary year. There will be an opening ceremony , including a parade of mounted WW1 Cavalry Officers, and the Military Wives Choir, then the race will formally be opened by the Lord Mayor of Westminster. So if you’re not running it’s definitely an occasion to see.  …And seeing me run a 10k will also be a memorable and historic occasion! :)

When I run on Sunday I’ll be running for Dad, and raising money for  Crossroads Care, a charity very close to my heart. Crossroads are a fantastic charity that support carers, and gave my family vital and much needed support and relief in the final months of my dad’s sickness. If you would like to sponsor me, you are so welcome to do so, and can do at  at: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CelesteandAmanda10K

If you would like anymore info on Crossroads Care go to. If you would like more info the the British 10k go to.

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.

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.

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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Visit Kensington Palace

Abandoned Industry on the Thames

By Ben Pedroche

London’s mighty river holds many secrets. It’s been the final resting place for the crew of many a stricken boat, for scurrilous pirates, and for the victims of countless suicide and murders.

It’s where all of London’s sewage was once dumped (and to a certain degree still is), and below its murky waters is where many of the most incredible feats of Victorian engineering were constructed.

The Thames is also where you can find the relics of London’s industrial heritage. Even in the most popular tourist spots you need only wait for the tide to go out to see what gets washed ashore. There are old tyres, rusting chunks of metal and broken timber, and all manner of detritus from long-lost industries.

You can even find entire structures along the banks of the river, rotting away as time and nature slowly take hold. I’ve always been intrigued by the stories behind these derelict and forgotten sites, but it was only while researching my book that I realised just how many of them there are.

Most of the old timber and metal structures you can still find along the river were once used as jetties where huge boats could be moored while delivering coal from the north. The coal was used to fire the boilers inside London’s many lost power stations and gasworks.

There are some familiar examples still intact today, including the large structure alongside the mighty remains of Battersea Power Station. This can be seen in full glory thanks to the pop-up park currently open at the power station site, including its two cranes. According to the plans, they will be preserved as part of the redevelopment of the power station.

Battersea Power Station Cranes

Others are less well known, but just as big. Follow the Thames Path near to Glaisher Street in Deptford and you’ll find a huge wooden jetty quietly rotting away. This is essentially all that’s now left of Deptford Power Station; London’s first mega-sized power plant and one of its most important. It closed in 1983 and was demolished several years later.

Deptford Power Station Jetty

Further along the river, and easily visible from the Deptford site, you can find a similar disused jetty, this time made of metal. It once helped supply coal to fire the boilers of Greenwich Power Station. Not strictly lost – the power station is used as an emergency back-up facility should there be a major power outage on the London Underground – the jetty has been out of use since the station was converted to run on oil, and later gas.

Greenwich Power Station Jetty

Towards the west, you can find a similar abandoned coaling jetty along the river, near to the up-market Chelsea Harbour/Imperial Wharf development in Sands End, Fulham. It was once used by a fleet of collier ships owned by Fulham Power Station, which closed in 1978.

Fulham Power Station Jetty

Close by is Chelsea Creek, where the shore is awash with spoil and rusted metal from Lots Road Power Station, which powered the Underground from 1905 until being decommissioned in 2002.

Lots Road Power Station

These are just a few of the things you can find when you talk a walk along the Thames. There are many more, in particular around the Greenwich Peninsula area, other parts of the Docklands and in Woolwich.

They propose something of a conundrum for property developers. It’s easy to demolish an industrial site on dry land, but to remove a structure from a river is far more costly and time consuming. Most are left to deteriorate, while others have been turned into nature reserves. For now though they stand tall as a reminder of a London that has largely been forgotten.

All of the sites listed here and many more are included in my book ‘London’s Lost Power Stations and Gasworks’, out now.

London’s Lost Landmarks

London’s skyline has changed dramatically over the years, and with it we have lost some impressive (and some not so impressive) landmarks. Today we may see remnants of those landmarks and the secrets that go with them. Here are just a sample of my favourites.

Wembley Stadium 1923 – 2003
The most recent and most controversial of our lost landmarks is Wembley Stadium and most notably the twin towers. Wembley Stadium was built as the heart piece of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924. Ever since the great exhibition of the 1800s, exhibitions proved popular and happened every couple of years. This stadium was built as the centre piece and along with its terraces made the perfect place for a national exhibition. But it wasn’t long before it became the home of football, hosting its first FA cup final in April 1923.

After 90 years its iconic status was known across the world and how this ‘listed’ building was ever allowed to disappear from the skyline is anyone’s guess. Today those famous twin towers are buried a few miles west on the edge of the A40 making one of London’s newest parks Northala Fields.

Skylon 1951 – 1952
Before the twisty Orbit Tower of the 2012 Olympics was ever conceived there was the Skylon, this tall floating tower stood in prime place on London’s Southbank was built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain.

Skylon 1951

The Festival of Britain was yet another of these regular exhibitions and a celebration of all that was great and British, and to signify technological advances of our great country the Skylon was built. It looked a bit like a cigar on spider legs and it hovered 15 meters above the ground to a height 90 meters. It only remained a year on the riverside, before being dismantled and disposed of.

Watkins Tower 1891 – 1907 
Heading back to Wembley we discover another lost landmark on this site, or rather the land mark that never was. This was the site of the infamous Watkins Tower; the British Eiffel Tower which was built here in a bid to out do the famous French tower. Planned as a centre piece of a pleasure park on this site, easily accessed by the brand new railway system. However it soon became as a bit of a joke, nicknamed ‘Watkins Folly’, as when the park opened 5 years after the building began, this was centre piece was nothing but a half built tower.

Watkins Eiffel Tower

Eventually, following set back after set back including financial, and the death of the designer, the tower was given up on and what was built was demolished in 1907.

London Bridge 1176 – 1831
The most well known of our lost landmarks is London Bridge. In its 600 years it would have been quite a sight to see across the river, and played a key part in London’s history, being one of the Thames’ only bridges for that period and the only way to get from North to South on foot. 

By 1358  the bridge was already cluttered with shops and residences. And by the 1500s some of the residences stood 7 stories high and overhung the edges of the bridge. The bridge proved a chronic fire hazard, and was subject to a number of fires. The worse being in 1212 when two fires broke out at either end trapping the inhabitants. Up to 3000 people died, many by drowning after residents jumped in panic into the river below.

The bridge was a bustling thoroughfare, and would have been as crazy to cross as Oxford Street at Christmas. The bridge would have also been a gruesome sight with the heads of executed traitors hung on one end as a deterrent. The most famous heads to decorate the bridge being Thomas Moore and Guy Fawkes.

In the mid 18th century, all buildings on the bridge were ordered to be demolished by an act of Parliament, as new bridges were planned and safety became a key issue. It was eventually demolished and rebuilt in 1831. Although (as is well known) the current bridge is actually even more modern, the 1830s bridge having been demolished and moved stone by stone to America in the 70s.

Tyburn Gallows 1196 – 1783
Each year millions of people pound the pavement of the famed Oxford Street in search of a bargain, however for 6 centuries millions of people pounded this same street for a very different reason;  For at the West end of this infamous road stood the Tyburn Gallows, the key execution spot for the city of London. Not only did many criminals meet their grisly end here but many came to watch. It’s estimated that some executions attracted up to 200,000 viewers.

Prisoners used to make their way from the Newagte prison in the north, along the Oxford Street, their last stop being St Giles Church at the east end (which still stands today just next to Tottenham Court Road) where church wardens would take pity and buy them a last beer at a watering hole next to the church.

Among those executed were the famous Jack Sheppard, who was well known for escaping some of London’s most secure prisons in creative ways. He was finally executed in front on huge crowds – no doubt expecting a final break away, in 1724.  It is said his autobiography was being sold to the crowds that day, such was his fame.

Jack Shepherd execution at Tyburn

Another famous hanging to take place here was that of Oliver Cromwell. This famously disliked politician actually died naturally in 1658, but a few years later following the restoration of the monarchy his body was dug up and he was posthumously hung at Tyburn with his severed head hung ceremoniously outside Whitehall. (Although many dispute that it was actually his body that was put through this ritual.).

In the late 1700s, with the area becoming more built up, and home to the richer classes, the hangings were deemed to lower the tone, and create too much traffic on this now busy road. So hangings ended. Today the site of the actual gallows (sometimes known as the Tyburn Tree) lies just beyond Marble Arch, at the junction of Edgware Road is and marked by a plaque in the middle of the roundabout.

Site of the Tyburn Gallows

White Hall Palace 1530 – 1698
Today Whitehall is famed for its political presence, and its famous Palace of Westminster (Parliament). But back in the 16th century it was equally as important and would have proved a mighty sight with the grand Palace of Whitehall sitting on the banks of the Thames. This magnificent palace was said to be more beautiful than Versailles and the Vatican with over 1500 rooms and extensive recreation grounds, including a cock pit, tennis courts and bowling green. It stretched from Westminster to Trafalgar square.

This palace was also where government met, as well as where the monarch lived. King Henry VIII married one of his many wives here and also died here. Tragically this vast and beautiful place was completely gutted by fire in the late 1600s. Only a few remnants remain, one being Banqueting House which was constructed in 1622, which was used as entertaining quarters, and is today owned by the Royal Historic Palaces. Another area that survived was the tiltyard – an area used for jousting tournaments, which today is known to us Horse Guards Parade.

whitehall

To get an glimmer of what this great palace may have looked like all those years ago, view today’s Whitehall from St James’ Park.

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Walk the Thames Part 1

Kick start the year with a new exercise regime…  Walk London 

Well 2013 is upon us, a time of resolutions, decisions, throwing away the old, and perhaps (if you’re like me)  having no money left after the festivities to do anything.

Fear not all is not lost… London offers plenty to do at a very little cost.

Walk the Thames Part 1

OK, stop complaining, it’s not that cold out there, we are being blessed with a ‘warm’ winter.  So how about a walk (didn’t you have more ‘more exercise’ on your new year’s resolutions list?).

One of my favourite walks is from Westminster to Tower Bridge.  It’s beautiful and covers a lot of classic London tourist attractions en route. 

From the stunning Houses of Parliament you wander under the magnificent London Eye, and the beautiful County Hall.

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I have always loved County Hall, once the home of the Saatchi gallery and now housing among other things a hotel and film museum, and soon to become home to the spectres & spooks of the London Dungeons in 2013.

From this side of the river you can catch some great views of the Houses of Parliament and  the back end of Whtiehall .  You may also spy on e of the boats moored on the side , it’s likely to be the Tattesall  Castle a definite   topsecretlondon secret.  From the outside it looks likes a cranky old boat, but its quirky and quaint and affords priceless views of London town over a pint.

Further along the route you can usually catch the sculptures on the mini central London beach just before South, just opposite Jubilee Gardens.

Then we come by the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre, London’s waterside theatre heart.  This place has been really spruced up in the last few years and now offers a great array of restaurants and eateries, making eating with a river view a perfect scenario… but as tempting as it is don’t stop for food, well ok you can have a coffee but that is all.

As you pass by, cast your eye up to the strange boat like structure on top of the National Theatre. What you see is actually one of the best hotel rooms in London, it’s literally one hotel room, with the best view in town.  Originally only opened for a year it’s now staying for 2013!  So if you’re looking for the perfect romantic London break, this could be a secret she would never expect!

Gaze across the river  for a moment, you’re now looking   out at the impressive Victoria Gardens,  it deserves a leisurely stroll through in the summer time.  These gardens are a tribute to those mighty Victorian engineers, Bazalgette, and Brunel etc,  that most of us have never heard of who transformed London into the dazzeling metropolis we know and love today.  As well as bringing us London Underground, improved sewage systems, they also built this part of the embankment (used be be all river) and provided London’s first electrically lit walk way along the Thames.  At this point you are looking at the backside of some very notable  buildings including the London Savoy  and  the beautiful Somerset House.

Move along now…

Pretty soon you reach The Oxo Tower, probably more impressive from the other side of the river.  Originally a power station for the Post Office  built in the late 1800s.  It was later bought for Oxo, and it’s neat art deco features added.  It’s been renovated a lot in recent years and become a much loved feature on the river landscape (it was almost demolished rather than face the costs of renovation. On the ground floor there are some cute artsie stores, but if you happen to have any money left after Christmas, I give you permission to make a pit stop here for food at the impressive, and famous Oxo Tower Restaurant. Actually part of the Harvey Nichols brand, it offers flash food and a stunning view over the Thames.

Just next door is another building that looks much better from the north side of the river, but its still very impressive.  Sea Containers House should be a reminder of the Thames Sea baring past as docks and the home to the imperial industries, however it is not such an old building, and named after a relativity young company (60′s children are still young right?) that used it for offices.  Unsurprisingly its in the process of being refurbed into a hotel.

Look across to the North side of the river and you will see an other famous  building  which again reminds us of our nation’s great industries, Unilever House

Cross under Blackfriars bridge just to your right is London bridge station and the amazing lovelable Borough Market… ok you have permission to eat now…  Make sure you check the opening times and you can feast on the amazing array of delicacies  it offers… definitely worth a visit.