London’s worst kept secret

One of my favourite London Buildings is the famous Post Office Tower, or BT Tower if you like.  It’s a iconic landmark, just around the corner from where work.  I often glance up at it from my office to see what is happening in the world.  From the dancing reindeer at Christmas, to the day it turned blue for Prince George’s birth.  Its  a happy London Landmark and was officially opened by the Prime Minster Howard Wilson on  this day in 1965.

But did you know it is also London’s worst kept secret? 

BT Tower skyline


Because up until just as recently as the 1990′s the Tower was classified as a State Secret and didn’t even appear on maps. Quite surprising for a building that until 1981 was London’s tallest, and can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city. It’s a shame it’s no longer open to the public, it was closed off following bomb attacks in the 1980s.  But there are always rumours of it opening back up.  We live in hope.

bt tower up

Although you can’t get inside it is worth visiting, as it’s pretty impressive to see from directly under the Tower on Cleveland Street.  It has grade two listing, which protects the building and this includes it’s antenna’s which are now no longer in use.

 A few fun facts:

The tower is 191 m (including it antennas).

Its foundations are 53 metres deep.

Its other official opening was in 1966 by Billy Butlin and Tony Benn

Its high speed lift gets you to the top in just 30 seconds!

In 2012 a super megapixel camera was placed on the top of the tower to snap London.  You can explore the incredible images at  360gigapixels.com/london-320-gigapixel-panorama

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!

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

 

 

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

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

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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.

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www.spookyisles.com/2013/02/5-haunted-pubs-to-visit-in-central-london/

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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How King George shaped London forever

How King George shaped London forever.

London has been full of anticipation and celebration this week as we welcomed a future King. One day that little bundle of joy will be King George VII. But what of his ancestral namesakes.

His parents are probably hoping he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the famed George IV (4th). Known (and hated) for his frivolous lifestyle; he valued wine, women and fun at the expense of his people, and owing to his fathers ill health (also a King George) was put in charge of the state sooner than the title came to him.

He is better known as The Prince Regent..

PrinceRegent

If you’ve ever watched Blackadder the Third, its that same dim prince, except in real life he was far more exuberant (and somewhat larger owing to his love for rich foods).

He was a very unpopular ruler.

However us Londoner’s have a lot to thank him for, it was King George’s extravagant lifestyle that, surprisingly, has left us with some our most famed and loved London landmarks today.

The King’s Parks

The King’s favourite architect was a man by the name of John Nash.  His first big project for the Prince Regent was the construction of Brighton’s famous Pavilion (an example perhaps of George’s extravagance). So impressed by his work George asked Nash to develop some of his royal hunting ground near Marylebone  into parkland. And so a massive transformation began to take place in our city and Regent’s Park was created.

PArk Crescent

This beautiful park land was carefully designed by Nash, including the lakes, canal routes (Regent’s Canal) and some of the stunning Georgian buildings around the edges, most famously the beautiful Park Crescent. Later in his career he also developed the land that today we know as St James’s Park.

The King’s Street

The Young Prince knew he would one day be King, and began to prepare for a lavish life as sovereign, with his architect designer Nash to help him. Nash planned a beautiful grand parade to run directly from the King’s new park to the King’s grand home situated on the North side of St Jame’s Park; Carlton House.

It was a grand plan indeed one that would shape London forever.  Today we know and love this grand street which we know better as Regent’s Street. It actually starts at Nash’s Park Crescent (just by at the Regent’s Park Tube Stop). It run’s down the wide Portland Place into Regent’s Street (by the Langham Hotel & BBC HQ). It stops briefly at Oxford Circus – Nash’s stunning intersection of the ancient Oxford Road.

RegentsCurve

 

It continues along the beautiful curve of Regent’s Street to Piccadilly Circus (another of Nash’s interchanges) and then on down to Waterloo Place, the grand steps where today stands Carlton House Terrace.

Nash was semi successful in his grand plan, all the way he faced growing opposition from a people who hated the King and therefore hated the architect who was spending the nation’s money on his indulgence.

We see this at Langham Place. The former Mr Langham loved his beautiful mansion at the end of Portland Place (the width of this street owing to Mr Langham’s insistence that his views of the parkland not be interrupted) and he refused to budge for the King’s architect. Nash had to wind his road past the Langham mansion, and we see this in the twist of the road which today passes by the new BBC HQ, and Langham Hotel.

To make the curve more attractive Nash built the All Soul’s Church just there (you can see a marble bust of Nash himself outside the church). The public considered the church ugly and a famous caricature was published on Nash impaled on its sharp spire (a reflection of the public’s dislike for him and his plans).

bbc London

Moving House

Nash also faced set backs from the fickle King himself. When he came to the culmination of his grand road the King’s great palace Carlton House the Prince Regent had changed his mind about where to live. He had finally been crowned King George IV  by this point and he no longer wanted to live in Carlton House and had it demolished. Instead he chose a nearby stately home for his Kingly residence. This had previously been home to the Duke of Buckingham, and today it remains a loved home of the Royals and one of London’s most famous houses – Buckingham Palace.

It wasn’t quite impressive enough for the King however and he invited Nash to transform it into a home fit for a King. They set about it with another grand plan, a great dome to cover the court yard, and a grand marble entrance.

London Legacy
Within a few years of taking the throne the New King George was dead, succeeded by his more conservative younger brother William.

Buckingham Palace

By the time King William moved into Buckingham Palace it was said that Nash and George had left it uninhabitable by their crazy designs. And work was started at once to turn it back into a modest home. One of the first major changes was the removal of Nash’s grand marble entrance, this was moved to a corner of Hyde Park, and it still there today – our beautiful Marble Arch.

It wasn’t the only change made, Regent’s Street was also modified. On the curve of Regents Street Nash had included a covered walkway with grand Corinthian columns – the intention to protect shoppers from the inclement weather. These column’s were removed, but not entirely disposed of; they were placed outside what is today the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  By the early 1900s all of Regent’s Street had been rebuilt but the grandure of Nash’s royal scheme remains.

King George has gone down in our history as one of the more extravagant and disliked Kings, however his impact of the shape of the London we know and love today cannot be ignored.

We hope the new Prince George will leave a grand legacy for a beautiful city, but let’s hope he doesn’t cause too much upset along the way as his grand ancestor George VI.

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Between Bond Street and Piccadilly are a series of luscious lanes full of London secrets and treasures.

South Molton Street

From Bond Street Station head down South Molton Street (located in next to One shopping centre) Today south Molton street boasts of classy shops on a lovely pedestrian street, although was originally known as Poverty lane, reflecting the nature of the neighbourhood of the time. At the end you reach Brook Street and you will find here homes of two of the world’s greatest musicians.

Number 25 is home to the genius composer George Handel. German born, this world renowned composer lived here in London in the 1700s, and it was during his time here that he became a British citizen. It was whilst he lived here that he composed some of his most famous operas, including his masterpiece ‘Messiah’, many of which were performed at the nearby Her Majesties Theatre in Haymarket (today the long running home of Phantom of the Opera) as well as the Covent Garden opera houses. He also composed music for Royal coronations..

Handle lived until his 70s when his health declined and he died. Today he lies buried in Westminster Abbey. His house has been turned into a museum dedicated to him, entrance is just £6 and the museum holds regular talks and performances, and is definitely worth a visit.

Just next door to Handel’s home is that of another great performer, look out for the blue plaque marking Jimi Hendrix’s London flat. (23 Brook Street). It is said that Jimi loved living here in the 60s and he described it as the only real home he ever had. Today there is a secret door way adjoining the Handel House and the Hendrix house and whilst it can’t be accessed by the public it is used by the Handel museum as offices and storage.

Just next to these two famous homes you will find two of London’s luscious lanes. One of which is Avery Row, the other Lancashire Court. These twisty turny lanes seem out of place, but actually they follow the route of one of London’s famous lost waterways The Tyburn.

Lancashire Court

Avery Row, still following the Tyburn, the row takes its name from the bricklayer who cleverly paved over the waterway to make the streets. Avery row is a cute cobbled lane full of bespoke shops, cafes and a pub or two. Lancashire Court is delightful and a great little place to grab a classy bite to eat– it looks like a back street to no-where but inside there it’s a maze of cute shops and exclusive restaurants. In the summer it could easily be mistaken for a cutsie cobbled alley in a Mediterranean town, with everyone sat outside enjoying their dinner (a great little spot for to impress a date).

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