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

London’s lost Pleasure Gardens

London comes alive in the Summer, everywhere you go there is something to do, a festival, a performance, a concert, sport, fireworks. With the creation of the 02 Arena and the London Eye entertainment like this could be considered a modern creation. However, if you visited London 400 years ago you would have seen many of the same sights (just with less tech and advertising). For 400 years ago London was at the height of Pleasure Garden entertainment.

Pleasure Gardens were areas of great entertainment, fayres,  outdoor theatre, operas, sports, they had it all. Originally designed for nobility in major cities across Europe, they soon became the jaunt of commoners. By the 1700s many of the gardens were closed and sold off for development as the city expanded, however small remnants of gardens can still be found…

London had 6 pleasure gardens over the years, the largest and most famous of these being the Vauxhall Gardens, Ranelagh, and Marylebone.

Vauhall_Gardens_fun
Vauxhall Gardens (originally named Spring gardens) was one of the first, stretching out along the Southbank of the Thames it opened in 1661 and remained for 200 years. It was famed for its romantic walks and its stunning central Turkish rotunda (pictured above). In 1769 Handle performed in the gardens attracting crowds of up to 12,000. Today a tiny section of the gardens remain as the unassuming Spring Gardens Park.

Ranelagh Gardens Chelsea was also located on the river. It opened in 1746 attracting a more classy clientele, it also had an impressive rotunda, which Canaletto painted in 1754. It was also famous for its masquerade balls which would go on until 4 am. Fulham football club in its early days used the garden as its home ground. Today the gardens still exist but are far less grand. Some of the ground was given over to the Chelsea Hospital, other parts are used for the annual Chelsea Flower show held last month.

Marylebone Gardens was another of the great pleasure gardens, beginning life in the late 1600s the entrance was via the Rose Tavern pub. The gardens were famed for its sport and recreation, most notably cock fighting and boxing (both male and female participants). It was believed highwayman Dick Turpin was also a regular at the grounds. Today nothing exists of gardens, however the entrance to the Rose Tavern is marked by a beautiful period lamppost on Marylebone High Street.

Want to get a feel of London’s olde worlde Pleasure Gardens, head to this year’s Underbelly Festival on Southbank.

Beautiful Bloomsbury Gems

I love Bloomsbury, there is so much to it and here are two little secret Bloomsbury gems.

Check out the gorgeous Norfolk Arms, a pub/restaurant with a fantastic atmosphere and menu.

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Its a great little place for tapassy Sunday roast style quality food. with it’s Victoriania style decor, and its deli items hanging in the window, it has plenty of outdoor seating for some al fresco dining. If you visit on a weekend it’s recommended to book a table to avoid disappointment.

And if the yummy Norfolk Arms menu wasn’t enough for you, cross the road for some comedy history!

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…as just across the road is THE black book store from the cult tv series (13 Leigh Street).

If you’re a fan, these are two Bloomsbury gems you don’t want to miss.

Norfolk Arms
23 Leigh Street
WC1H 9EP
www.norfolkarms.co.uk

 

Discover more historic London pubs

 

 

The Three Sisters of Embankment

I often find myself crossing over the Hungerford Bridge, and I always hear the same question over and over again “What are those three buildings over there?”

I always want to stop and start a lecture, for they are the Three Sisters of Embankment.

threesisters

They are somewhat anonymous but obvious buildings, once you’ve crossed the bridge they seem to disappear back into obscurity, and into the recesses of memory, because once on the Embankment side you can’t really see them.

So here is my lecture …

The Shell Mex

Standing in the middle we have the iconic Shell Mex House presenting the largest clock face in London a wapping 8m in diameter. This imposing building was built in the 30′s in a classic Art Deco style, as the head quarters of the Shell Group. Although iconic on the riverside as soon as you cross over and head up

hotel cecil

to The Strand you forget it’s there, even though it has another equally impressive clock face on the Strand side. Part of the reason you forget its there is because it’s built on the site if the former Hotel Cecile.

In it’s Victorian heyday the Hotel Cecile was the place to stay, a beautiful red brick extensive building,  boasting of over 800 rooms, lavish dining and dancing rooms and huge central court yard, known affectionately as “The Beach”.  Today the facade of this grand hotel remains on The Strand, hiding the blockish Shell Mex house just behind it. If you’re on The Strand be sure to look out for its entrance with the court yard (minus a beach) just behind.

The Adelphi

Just to the left of Shell Mex is sister number 2 another Art Deco building, built around the same time and it’s worth getting a close up to this one for the impressive, gigantic adonises and porticos which adorn the front.

adelphi

We’re all far more familiar with the Adelphi Theatre just on The Strand but this is actually the name of the area, named after the grand original Adelphi building on this very site, built in the 1700′s by famed London town planners the Adams brothers (the streets in this area are still named after them). Back then this grand building was the most impressive riverside residence Five stories high with large arches at the base (which back then marked the river’s edge) it came complete with shops and taverns.  It’s style was said to be based on the Diocletian’s palace in Croatia. This stunning building was by the 1930′s a little dilapidated and pulled down to make way for The New Adelphi, that we see today on the river bank.

However small remnants of the original survives. Visit 11 John Adam Street, just to the right of Embankment station  to see the last obvious piece of this grand development. While you’re there, make your way around the corner to check out the,  secret road  “Lower Robert Street”.  This little street originally led to the vaults of the original building, today it provides a spooky cut through, for those in the know.

secret street

The Savoy Hotel

On the right side of Shell Mex we have the most famous, and the oldest of the three sisters ( but not always apparent from the river view) the Savoy Hotel. But what is not so famous is the site it is named after. Once upon a time the great Savoy Palace stood on this site, but it was destroyed in the peasants revolt in 1300′s. Following this Henry VII built a hospital here which survived until it’s demolition in the 1800′s when the hotel was built.

One beautiful but forgotten piece of the Savoy history remains, the lovely Savoy Chapel at the back of the hotel, and accessed for a good look from Savoy Street. This little chapel, is property of the Queen and dates from the 1400′s, it was the Savoy hospital chapel.

savoychurch

So next time you’re crossing the Hungerford Bridge and you look up to check the time, be sure to remember to detour across and say hello to the Three Sisters of Embankment and discover all their historic secrets.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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