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

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.

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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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London’s Open House Weekend 2012

Open House Weekend, a history geek’s dream & if you happen to be visiting London that weekend you’ve hit a bargain.

Being able to get inside some of London’s most loved buildings that normally we only can only gaze at from the outside, such as the Gherkin, St Pancras Hotel Lloyds of London, & the Guildhall (to name a few) as well as a whole host of smaller buildings, is a dream. It’s also a fascinating opportunity to see the inner workings of some of London’s greatest systems and landmarks… as I discovered.

So here’s a little review of my Open House Weekend 2012 experiences…

Old, new and a few surprises.

Old

Despite my intense OHW preparations, I missed a few minor details, like when I forced my sister out of bed at an unearthly hour on a Saturday morning to go and see a building that wasn’t even open until the Sunday (whoops). I also failed to read the description of the Roman Baths in too much depth, so my ‘Old’ became my disappointment. I was surprised and curious to  see some Roman baths listed in an area not particularly famous for its Roman remains. So  I was quite eager to see this one. But the Roman Bath hidden underneath a Kings College building just off the Strand turned out instead to be a ‘Tudor Bath’, with a quirky list of famous visitors  including the Dutch Queen and Charles Dickens (well David Copperfield, but I’m going to assume Mr Dickens visited for inspiration). There wasn’t a great deal else to see there admittedly,  but what stood out for me was the beautiful original Dutch tiling in the entrance hall, which I’m sure would have be very much to the Queen’s taste.

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I’ve recently been reading a lot about Mr John Nash and his contribution to shaping the London we know and love today. So I was quite keen to get to see inside Carlton Terrace down by Pall Mall. It’s another of those easily missed stunning London buildings (as is Senate House as you will discover if you read to the end ;) Overlooking St James’s Park and the Mall its most impressive side (the beautiful columned frontage) is hidden well by the trees.  Carlton House (6-9)

Built by Nash as the end of his very long ‘New Street’ (currently Great Portland Street/Regents Street) it was built  for the Prince Regent to rent out to the very best of society, the elite of England.   These days its still owned by the Crown, and  houses among others The Royal Society.

Nash also designed the interior, so I was excited to see this as well. As with pretty much every building in London, the insides have been updated a great deal to meet 20th century tastes and technological criteria  this one still contains some quirky features of it’s original design  as well as that of its more recent inhabitants. 

You get the gist of what it would be like to be an elite tenant from the impressive lay out. There is a nice view of the park (great spot to watch the Olympics, looking out on to Horse Guards Parade – well it would if not for those pesky trees the swamping the view). 

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It has an spectacular library, done in a Italian renaissance style, by a previous Argentinean millionaire tenant, as well  as a stunning stairwell with a glamorous gold and black Tudor style ceiling.

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There’ is not much of Nash’s handiwork left on display, but I was lucky enough to be taken into a ‘staff only’ area on the tour, which was pure unadulterated Nash. It was also another great display of what it would be like to live there, (see the pictures).The Royal Society moved in in 1967 (having previously been housed in both the amazing Somerset house and Burlington House). They bought with them an impressive collection of portrait paintings 
including a young Einstein (his hair was still messy even then) and some quirky artifacts including Isaac Newton’s death mask!

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Another highlight of this visit was a painting over the grand staircase. During the year they moved into Carlton Terrace they had their first Australian President. A relative of Mr Florey gifted them with this impressive painting (about two stories high) which takes pride of place over the staircase. It’s size is impressive but also its content. It depicts the beautiful Burlington House overlooking a stunning London Skyline under (& I love this) an ‘Australian night sky’. Those are three of my favourite things :) 

 

London Skyline Painting 

Unfortunately my bag (albeit big) was not quite big enough to smuggle the picture out.

I would recommend a visit to Royal Society, they are open to the public during the week and here’s a shhhtopsecretlondon secret – the impressive library (overlooking St James’ Park) is open to the public during the week … study in style!

Surprise

Next on our tour was a building I’ve always loved from the outside, in fact if you’ve ever watched the news you’ve seen it. The Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, the national court of appeal. Those live news feeds, however, never show it in all it’s glory.  

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This beautiful Victorian Gothic building was built by Mr Edmund Street better known for his many Gothic churches across England. However stunning this is on the outside its also particularly stunning inside, but what I found more interesting were all the little surprises in store for Open House visitors

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When the prison guard asked me if I wanted to be locked in I thought he was joking, until I heard the cell door across the way slam shut. Yes, on this little tour you could run riot through every nook and cranny of the justice system, from being locked in the cells, to trying out the prison van (yes we’ve all seen the Serco vans wooshing by) or trying out the riot gear. 

We also got inside the courts. I’ve never considered the courts before, they are strictly ‘no photo’ zones, and on TV we only ever see the ‘artist impressions’ which focus more on the criminal than the room itself.   But the many court rooms are beautiful pieces or Victorian design, and sort of cosy; lots of wood paneling  book shelves of ancient laws (which the presenter told us they still refer to on a daily basis).  The 10 year old judge on this particular day (dressed in the red judges robe, and wig) seemed to approve of the humourous presentation the retired employee gave us.   Here in the courts they had numerous presentations of what actually went on in the courts. I loved that those running and helping out for the weekend were the ones that actually worked there day in day out. It was a fascinating morning.

Art Deco & Batman

Going forward a few years into the 1930s, was a visit to one of my most favourite buildings in London, one of the unknown landmarks of London, Senate House. I love this building, it’s tall, imposing and very impressive, in its hey day it was the tallest building in London and would have stood out across the London Skyline in the same way the Shard does today. Yet strangely today it’s quite forgotten and lost, most people I know have never even heard about it.

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Built for, and still belonging to, the University of London, this building was part of a grand plan to consume Bloomsbury (had it been completed it would have been a mighty impressive, expansive building stretching from the British Museum all the way to Euston Road (massive). The plans represented a world wide prestigious seat of learning, as well providing a hub of London life, grand plans in deed. However, the grand plans proved grandly expensive and in the end only a small section was built.  Fortunately for us it the most impressive section, that of the main Senate Tower.

I’ve always been impressed and in awe of this building (I used to work opposite and walked past it every day) but what is inside in equally impressive as its imposing art deco outside. In fact you might of seen it in one of its many Hollywood appearances, most recently Batman, Dark Knight Rises, which is not surprising as this one would look very at home in Gotham.

 

Art Deco Senate House

As you walk in you’re greeted with a grand marble entrance hall with a equally grand staircase. Our tour took us up to the main Chancellor rooms on the first floor. What impressed me most of all though was the way the original features had been preserved so well, despite being updated for a 21st century techo world – in contrast to Carlton House.  But also the quality of the original features. No pennies were spared on the the quality of this one (perhaps that’s why they ran out of money so quickly, but also perhaps why it is preserved so well).  For example their heating system is still the original, and generators for the building were only replaced a few years ago.

This building also has an extensive library which fills the higher levels of the Tower and offer amazing views of London (which sadly we weren’t able to see on this tour).

The building has always and still operates as the administrative hub of the University of London, however during the war the government took it over and it was used as the headquarters for Ministry of Information. Journalists of the day and those involved would often camp out here for days on end. When it was hit by bombing the quality of the build proved its worth and the building was barely touched, and those inside barely noticed.  It was also during this time that a young George Orwell was inspired by Senate House in writing his famous Nineteen Eighty Four.

Perhaps my favourite story about Senate House (although my tour guide would not verify this one) was that during the blitz, Hilter had his eye on this building as his future UK head quarters and gave specific instructions to his bombers to steer clear of damaging this one. Strangely (& knowing what I know about Hitler and his design plans for Berlin) this one would have looked very at home in his grand building collection.

My advice is to wander over to Bloomsbury and take a look at this Senate House, it’s mighty impressive and sadly forgotten these days.

New

Probably the most interesting of my OHW experiences was this one, and despite having to queue in the pouring rain for over an hour curiosity got the better of me. A nose at the Cross Rail Bond Street site . A future and epic building project in the heart of busy London using some very old technology (Mr Brunel would have been quite impressed by it all). 

Living and working in central London  I go past many of the Cross Rail development sites every day, so I was fascinated to see exactly what’s going on underground while we go about our busy lives. This particular visit centered around the new Bond Street Station (for Cross rail). Currently they’ve built the shell of the two main station areas, which we got to look into. To be honest not much to see, just a big (organised) hole in the ground about 8 stories deep. But what was impressive was the technology of building this big hole, not entirely different to the way the Victorians did it.

The big tunneling machine, works at a slow pace (understandably, you would too if you weighed 1000 tonnes)  and Ada (yes ‘Ada’ – the machines were named by the public in a competition at the start of the project) Ada is due to reach Bond Street at Christmas – no doubt she wants to stop off and do some Christmas shopping. But I find it fascinating that all this is going on under our feet with minimal disruption to the roads and daily London life. We will have to wait until 2018 to see the finished product but I’m told that we will get an opportunity to see an update at OHW 2013.

One of the most interesting/quirky facts I learned at this visit was some of the discoveries they’ve made whilst digging, unearthing among other things a Mamouth’s jaw!! Just a reminder of the rich heritage of thousands and thousands of years that lies beneath our feet.

And Open House Weekend is another reminder of exactly this, and it gives us a great chance to explore that heritage both old and new.   But don’t forget there is ample opportunity to explore it all year round, and I hope through my blogg and tweets that you will find the opportunities and be inspired to go beyond the facades and discover all London has to offer.  

You can find out more about Open House at http://www.londonopenhouse.org/