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

The Geffrye Museum

I often wonder what it was really like to live in London many moons ago, what did the world of London look like to the Tudors, the Georgians the Victorians?  I love it when I get the opportunity to experience it first-hand so of course I was very excited when I finally made it to the beautiful Geffrye Museum.

Geffrye
These stunning period almshouses built  in 1700′s are the perfect setting to explore the history of interior design of homes across the centuries in England.
A combination of a displays and period rooms makes a great history lesson. It includes recent history too, be sure to check out the 80′s & 90′s rooms, for a trip down memory lane (maybe).
The Alms-houses really are the most perfect setting.  When you visit it’s worth spending some time in the Garden Reading Room, behind the displays, its beautifully relaxing, you’ll feel a little like Jane Eyre looking over the equally impressive period gardens (and the results of the garden can be equally enjoyed in the delightful café).

Garden Reading Room
The Geffrye is one of the many unique museums in London, and its FREE (got to love ‘free’ in London).

Look out for the amazing series of events they have talks and exhibitions, and at Christmas the rooms get a festive make over.

More info:
www.geffrye-museum.org.uk
The Geffrye Museum
136 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8EA

Closest Station: Hoxton / Old Street

Germany Memories and History

I’m passionate about London and its history and its architecture, however another country I am passionate about it Germany. Also exceptionally rich in history culture and Berlin is a beautiful representation of this, with equally amazing architecture.

Berlin

This weekend sees the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I can’t believe its been 25 years, I remember watching it on TV and although I didn’t understand then what is was all about, I do now, and more fully understand the consequences, and implications it has had for Germany.

Last week I visited a gorgeous exhibition at the British Museum Germany Memories of a Nation.  It covered 600 years of German history and displayed some incredible artifacts including a bible translated and inscribed by Martin Luther,  Napolean’s hat from the battle of waterloo and some incredible German art.

It took you through the countries complex history right up until 25 years ago when the wall fell and Germany was reunited 25 years ago

Berlin Wall

Its an incredible interesting exhibition and will run at the British Museum until the end of January.

You can find out more information about the exhibition HERE, the BBC also has some great info on the exhibition and Germany history which is worth a look at.

If you love Germany as much as I do, then you will love the Christmas season too, don’t forget that the German Christmas markets will open at the end of the month and I can highly recommend both the Southbank market and of course the wonderful Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, as well as the stalls, they have some amazing German beer halls, it makes for a great night/day out, and I for one will be making the most of these fun events over the winter season.

Viel Spaß!

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 

 

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

Beautiful Holland Park

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

Holland Park

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

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

IMG_3115

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

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

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

Holland House

In 1878 historian Edward Walford described the house

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

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

Japanese Gardens Holland Park

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

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

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

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!

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 

If you liked this you will love  The Other  Mr Selfridge  and Oxford Street’s Secret Garden

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.

If you like this read this:

London’s most beautiful cemeteries

Five Spooky things to do this Halloween

Visit Kensington Palace