London’s most beautiful cemeteries

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

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

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

High Gate Cem

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

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

sleeping angel

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

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

postmans park

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

Hardy Tree

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

If you liked this read this:

Five spooky things to do this Halloween

The London Oscars

 

5 spooky things to do this Halloween

The spooky season is upon us; with Halloween around the corner here is my tips for scariest things to do in London this autumn.

Boo Tours

Join London’s premier ghostly tour guides for a spooky tour through the streets of our ancient city. Discover the ghosts of medieval London; the witch trials, rivers of blood and the demons of Clerkenwell.
October 18th bootours.com

Vampyre lecture

If you love your vampire fantasy fiction, your True Blood and Twilight check out St Pancras Old Church (just behind St Pancras Station) who will be hosting a vampish lecture on 2nd November. Experts will be speaking on the author of the Vampire genre John William Polidori, who is actually buried at this very church. This beautiful church also boasts of many other spooky literary connections; Thomas Hardy worked here moving graves, before embarking on his great literary career, and Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein) used to regularly visit her mother’s grave (the great Mary Wollstonecraft) here. 6pm Saturday 2nd November sosstpancras.org

If you liked this read this:

Coffee in the crypt

st martins in the fields

If you’d rather relax and have a coffee, how about a spooky coffee in a crypt. The former crypt of London’s St Martin’s in the Field’s church at Trafalgar square, has been transformed into an atmospheric(and rather yummy) cafe. Enjoy a latter or lunch under the stunning brick vaulted ceilings, whilst admiring the tombs stones under your feet. Keep an eye out for some posthumous guests such as Nel Gywn (King Charles II’s former lover) and Sir Christopher Wren’s wife and young child who are said to buried here. http://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/cafe-in-the-crypt/

Stay at a haunted hotel

If you’re feeling brave why not stay at one of London’s famous haunted Hotels.

How about the Georgian Grange Blooms hotel in West End , haunted by Mr Cummings a guest who likes to hang around the lounge reading, and a chambermaid who thinks she still works there. Be careful who is ruffling your bed covers in the dead of night.

langham hotel

Or how about the famous Langham Hotel near Oxford Circus, formerly entertaining the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain, but today it’s the German Prince who allegedly threw himself out of a window that now likes to frequent the hotel along with a glowing florescent ball that awakes guests of room 333 in the dark of the night.

Find out more at www.spookyisles.com/2013/08/langham-hotel-haunted-in-the-heart-of-london/

Haunted Pubs

If a night in a haunted hotel is too daring for you how about a drink at one of London’s many haunted pubs. Take the Prospect of Whitby, Wapping, for example. One of London’s oldest riverside pubs, established on the site where the city used to hang smugglers and pirates, you can enjoy your pint over looking the very noose (ok it might not be original, but its eerie all the same). The Prospect boasts of being the most haunted pub in England.

Or head out east to the Bow Bells pub, who’s resident ghosts likes to flush the toilets whilst you’re sitting on them.

If you liked that read this
www.spookyisles.com/2013/02/5-haunted-pubs-to-visit-in-central-london/

Stepping back into the 18th Century

I often walk around London and wonder what it was actually like to live in this huge city a few hundred years ago, and in this ever changing modern city it’s surprisingly hard to find intact pieces of life from the past. However in a tucked away in small square off Fleet street surrounded by modern office blocks we find a piece of the past.

Dr Johnson’s House is a beautifully preserved 18th century home of the author of the dictionary, and a fantastic London gem to visit.

Dr Johnsons House

Step through the door and you step back to the 1700s. Dr Johnson lived here at 17 Gough Square from 1737 to 1784 during which time he worked on his famous master piece, The Dictionary, and you can wander around the building and visit rooms including his dark panelled waiting room, his long drawing room overlooking the square, the library, and the loft, now a dedicated museum to his Dictionary. The house is full of his personal furniture and paintings and it’s a great insight into his life.

Dr Johnson was a fascinating man. Suffering from debilitating illness including a strange tick, that today we know as touretts, he was awkward in public. But he was also extremely intelligent and extremely poor. He dropped out of university not being able to pay his way, and eventually arrived in London to pursue a writer’s life. But still very poor, he would often have to sleep on the streets, and spent time in gaol for not being able to pay his debts. This is reflected somewhat in his home, note the huge thick chain across the front door, said to be put there to keep the balifs out.

Although famed for his dictionary this wasn’t his lucky break. He was commissioned to write it in 3 years but it took 9, and although becoming the defining reference for English words (there were many versions of the dictionary written at that time) he was only paid a pittance for his 3 year’s commission (not the 9 years’ work).

It was only many years later the King recognised his contribution and rewarded him with a healthy pension, so that he finally could live comfortably.

It wasn’t just the dictionary that Dr Johnson was famous for, he wrote a great deal on life in London and is famous for my favourite London quote

He was often found writing at local pubs and was a regular member of the local St Clements Danes church on Fleet Street. (today the official church of the RAF). If you wander past the church you will find a statue of him out the back.

If you visit this delightful little house (which I highly recommend you do!) be sure to look out for the statue of Hodge in the square, Dr Johnson’s beloved cat, who, it is believed, he fed oysters to and cherished more than most of his friends.

Johnson's hodge

You can visit Dr Johnson’s House this month for Open House Weekend (21st – 22nd September) or at other times £4.50 entry.

If you liked this read this:

How King George Shaped London forever

London’s lost landmarks

Inside London’s historic pubs

More info at  www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Oxford Street’s Secret Garden

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

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

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

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

Brown hart

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

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

1157438_10151504435460904_780078351_n

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

You can’t miss:

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

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

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

If you liked this read this:

Mayfair Secrets

Bayswater Secrets

How King George shaped London forever

Visit Kensington Palace

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

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

It makes for a great day out.

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

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

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

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

Victoria-Albert

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

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

This beautiful palace is definitely worth a visit.

If you liked this read this 

How King George shaped London forever

London’s lost landmarks

The Attendant

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

Sunny Days in London

Summer is well and truly on its way, so grab your picnic and check out my guide to London’s best parks.

Regent’s Park
This beautiful park just a short walk from Oxford Street, was built for the Prince Regent in the early 1800s. Today it is still has a very royal feel to it, surrounded by the regents canals and plush regency mansions, its a beautiful respite from the busy city. Particularly make sure you wander through the Avenue Gardens which are very regal and will make you feel like a king.

regents park avenue

Regent’s Park is also the home to London Zoo. If you plan to visit the Zoo, which is the North of the Park, take the zoo canal ride from Little Venice.

Quirky Fact
Regents Park contains a secret garden, The Garden of St John’s Lodge just off the Inner Circle

Primrose Hill
Officially part of Regent’s Park, its so special I just had to add it on separately. This small hill at the very North of Regent’s Park offers the best views in London, and is a beautiful spot for a picnic or bit of sun worshiping. Head down the Hill to Regents Park Road (towards Camden) and enjoy some of Primrose Hill’s cool cafe’s and boutique stores.

Quirky Fact
Primrose Hill is home to numerous notable and famous residents, including Sienna Miller, Rachel Weisz, and Jeremy Clarkson.

Greenwich
Another of my all time favourites, and a great location for London views. You can easily make a day of a visit to Greenwich with it’s quaint market, beautiful Naval College grounds, and the famous Royal Observatory, all overlooking the Thames, and the crazy city CBD. If you don’t have the energy to climb the hill (which I wouldn’t recommend missing out on) it’s just as pleasant to chill out in the grounds of the Naval College overlooking the river.

Quirky Fact
The naval college was once the site of one of London’s most prestigious royal palaces and birth place of Henry VIII.

Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens
A classic must see, stretching all the way from Kensington to Marble Arch, it’s easy to forget your in the city in this beautiful extensive park, surrounded by some of London’s best landmarks including Kensington Palace the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the famous Princess Diana Memorial. The best way to see the extent of it is to jump on a Boris Bike and cycle the park.

Quirky Fact
The famous Marble Arch at the Oxford Street End of the Park was once Arch entrance to Buckingham Palace, but was deemed unsuitable for the royal residence and moved to park instead.

Hampstead Heath
The beautiful Hampstead Heath, is a great relaxing spot, on the side of the quaint Hampstead village, and another great spot for a London view, as the park is London’s highest point. It makes a great escape from the city. It also contains some great walks and there are out door pools as well as historic London houses, such as Ivenforth House, and Kenwood.

hampstead heath

Quirky Fact
For a spooky pint, head to the Spainards Inn, one of London’s most haunted pubs. Which is reputedly haunted by famous Highwayman Dick Turpin, among others.

If you liked this read this:

Top Markets of London

Drinks with a view

Walk the Thames

The secret histories of London’s pubs

London’s busy streets echo with footfall and voices and the rush of traffic and in our heads-down-get-to-work minds, we can be forgive for focusing on the practical and the convenient.

But,beneath the hubbub,secret worlds abound. One such world contains the Inns, Taverns and Pubs of London past.

3582761_orig

Step off the beaten track and you will be rewarded with treasure galore.

Many are the Londoners who tell me they have walked past that building or that alleyway or that turning a hundred times but have never ventured within.

As London has grown over the centuries,the Pubs,often tucked away have remained and are living testament to our desire for company,laughter and alcohol.

Just a few examples of London Pubs waiting behind the scenes are stunning Gin Palaces, a subterranean wine bar-London’s oldest,the Pub that is a Pawnbrokers, banks and coffee houses hat became Pubs, Pubs that Dickens and even Shakespeare drank in,the Pub in 2 halves,the Pub from A Tale of 2 Cities and so much more.

But you need to know where to seek these treasures.

An American once said,”I thought I was an alcoholic,until I went to London” because there are thousands of Pubs to choose from ranging through style and century.

To know London Pubs is to know London.

6851943_orig

Vic Norman runs Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tours.  He is passionate about London, its History and in particular, its wonderful collection of old Pubs.

“No visit to London is complete without sampling a drink (or two) in a traditional London Tavern”.

Join Vic on his next tour on 10th May for the Strand and & Globlet Tour  go to  www.londonpubtours.weebly.com for details of this and other tours.

 

Inside London’s most secret building

If you work near Holborn or Covent Garden you won’t failed to have noticed a rather dominating building between the two areas. It’s one of UK’s most secret buildings, and head quarters to one of the most secretive societies in the world, the Freemason’s United Grand Lodge.

Grand Hall london

I’ve walked past it lots of times and gazed up to this huge building, and wondered what it’s like inside, and today I was lucky enough to find out.

Actually I wasn’t that lucky, because contrary to public belief the Freemasons are very open these days and this grand hall conduct regular daily free tours and the museum and library is open to all (..but I was lucky to find that out).

As I expected it was as impressive on the inside as the outside of the building suggested. The last time I saw a building of this calibre was Parliament. As I wandered in I was greeted with the grand sparkling marble staircases, guiding me up to the museum. The museum/library was a great collection of all things Freemason, and a bit more.

The society began as a society of stone mason’s (surprise surprise) over the yeas it has evolved, covering a broader range of occupations, and now is open to all, it also took on a very spiritual side (open to all religions) and encouraging living a morally virtuous life. Many of the symbols associated with Freemasonry (I discovered) were actually representative of mason’s (as in stone cutters) themselves as well as religious imagery. The museum houses many items of clothing, uniforms, medals, as well as some interesting artefacts from Israel, stones and archaeological items from the original Solomon’s temple (which features greatly in the society).

The building itself was originally built in the early 30s as a peace memorial, a tribute to those mason’s who lost their lives in the war. It houses the temple its heart and is surrounded by the offices and meeting rooms of the their UK head quarters.

The original stone masons would have loved this place, inside the corridors are pure marble with beautiful colourful sculpted ceilings, encompassing all the emblems and symbols of the society. Outside the main temple area is the memorial, with a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives and the names of all those mason groups who contributed to the costs of the building, a whopping £1 million was raised for this; an impressive amount in the post war period.

The grand temple itself is equally impressive, it literally is a grand temple, with a beautiful, colourful mosaic ceiling reflecting the spiritual side of the organisation.

Temple mosaic

The tour also takes you through an impressive hall of fame of Grand Master portraits, you’ll recognise most of them, from King George VI – who was made an honorary Grand Master when he suddenly became king after his brother abdicated, he wasn’t allowed to hold both posts, to the eccentric king George IV (formerly Prince Regent). This room also holds an XXL throne which was specially built for the… er… oversized King (you never see those pictures of the Prince Regent). The hall of fame sheds some light of the connections of Royalty and Freemasonry, however our guide also pointed out that none of the current top royals have any interest in the society and therefore don’t hold any positions.

You may also be surprised to learn that this secret building isn’t so secret after all, and you’ve probably already seen it on its regular TV appearances. It’s often used for filming and has featured in many fictional shows such as Spooks (as the M15 headquarters), New Tricks, Poirot as well as Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy (to name a few)

Whatever you think of the Mason’s and whatever your opinions, there is no doubt this is an incredible building, and it was thoroughly fascinating and eye opening to be able to get inside. I would highly recommend a visit.

If you like this read this:

London’s saddest building

The Attendant

Stepping back into the 18th Century

60 Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ
Nearest Stations Holborn, Covent Garden

Best New View in Town

For the best new view in town head to One New Change, a brand new shopping centre, across the road from St Paul’s (and St Paul’s Station).

Just a snapshot of the great panoramic view

Just a snapshot of the great panoramic view

With shops on the first and second floor, its the 6th floor that provides a massive roof top terrace, and incredible views across to St Paul’s and out to the Thames, Tate Modern, The Shard, and as far as the London Eye and beyond. This one is a definite Must Do (even on a rainy day)

If you liked this read this:

Drinks with a view

Sunny days in London

Oxford Street’s secret garden

One New Change
London EC4M 9AF
www.onenewchange.com

Top Markets of London

Check out my quick guide to the top 5 Markets in London

Portobello Road

This famous market in classy Notting Hill  boasts of the world’s largest antiques market, as well as numerous bric-a-brac stalls and yummy organic, and international food stalls.  It started life as small country lane with a few traders serving the local farming community.  In the late 1800s there was a housing boom in the area, and with it the market expanded to the vibrant bustling market we see today.  Its fame has even spread as far as Hollywood, and it’s featured in numerous films, most famously Nottting Hill.   It is a favourite of tourists and celebrities who visit to shop at its many stalls and watch its talented live musicians on every corner.

Quirky fact: George Orwell live at 22 Portobello Road in the 1920s, whilst researching his book Down and Out in Paris and London. His house is today marked by a Blue Plaque
Nearest station: Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove Station

Borough Market
If its food you’re after a visit to the culinary heaven that is Borough Market is a must!  There has been a food market here since the 1300s.  Today it is a great place to visit and sample every kind of food you can imagine, and you are guaranteed to get fresh quality food.  Its not just a tourist attraction but this market serves many award winning London restaurants and chefs including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey

Quirky fact: The rounded Victorian Globe pub in Borough Market was the  setting of  Bridget Jones home, in the famous movie.
Nearest station:  London Bridge or Borough

Covent Garden
Probably the most famous market in London, Covent Garden is a beautiful covered market.  You will mainly find arts and crafts, and artistic souvenir items here but at any time of the day its well worth a visit for its vibrant atmosphere. There is plenty to see and do there.  There is always a street performer to entertain you, there is also the impressive London transport museum or of a evening you can attend a performance at the Royal Opera House.  Or you can just sit back and soak up the atmosphere in one of the many piazza cafes.

Quirky fact: London’s frist female public toilet was situated on near by Bedford Street in the 1850s. The guys toilet was located a few miles down the road at Fleet Street.
Nearest Station: Covent Garden or Charring Cross

Camden Market
For culture, check out the very alternative Camden Market.  A short walk from Camden Station, Camden Lock Markets nestled on the side of the Regents Canals is well worth a visit.  Once inside be sure to venture deep into the market and loose yourself in the old Stables. The twisty turny lanes of The Stables are reminiscent of a Moroccan souk.  Look out (or rather you can’t miss) the incredible, incredibly large, horse sculptures dotted around.  Be sure also to get something to eat here or across the road (opposite Camden Lock Market entrance), where you can grab a bite and sit at your leisure on an old moped, over looking the canals.

Quirky Fact:  Be sure to check out he Hawley Arms pub just the other side of the railway bridge. This pub was the famous hang out  Amy Winehouse, as well as playing impromptu gigs, she was known to occasionally get behind the bar and pull pints for punters.
Nearest Station: Camden Town or Chalk Farm

Greenwich Market
For all things quirky combined with a great day out, head over the beautiful Greenwich and Greenwich Market.  This quaint market sells bespoke items among other things hand crafted jewellery, gifts beauty products, and even stylish gift foods.  Aside from the market it is worth exploring historic Greenwich  check out  the restored Cutty Sark, or wander around the stunning historic Royal Naval College, or head up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory to enjoy stunning views of the city.  A day out to Greenwich is an absolute must for any visitor or resident of London.

Quirky fact: check out the Thames Foot  Tunnel. Is the last remaining Victorian pedestrian  tunnel left under the Thames.  This eerie damp tunnel was opened in 1902.  Entrance just next to the Cutty Sark.
Nearest Station: Greenwich Cutty Sark or Greenwich