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.

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

Drinks with a view

With a shortage of space on the ground in our ever expanding city, many restaurants and bars are taking to the skies. And with it come some great views.

Here is our quick guide to top drinks with a view in London

Tate modern Restaurant

This iconic London building has a great top floor restaurant and coffee shop directly opposite beautiful st Paul’s Cathedral. Check out their website for deals when you combine a visit to their current exhibition and a meal. If you want a great view without the expense of dinner, you can also visit their café, which also enjoys the same fab views.
Nearest Station: St Paul’s

Maddison Restaurant & Bar St Pauls

Another great Paul’s viewing spot is the brand new Maddison Restaurant and bar, located at the brand new OneExchange. Situated on the top of this new shopping haven, with its comfy sofa seats and slopping windows, it’s the perfect spot to take in a sunset over the city.
Nearest Station: St Pauls

Sushi Samba

This Fabulous restaurant is located on the 38/39th floor of Heron Tower, London’s third tallest building. Aside from impressive glassy décor, and astounding views (it overlooks the Gherkin and Tower Bridge) and two outdoor terraces it also offers a fun mixture of Sushi and South American cuisine and makes for a great fun night out.
Nearest Station: Liverpool St

Paramount Bar

One of my favourites is situated in the heart of the west over 3 floors (30-33) of Centre Point Tower, the main bar and restaurant on levels 30 & 33m you can take your cocktail up to the viewing platform on level 33 to take in the 360° panoramic views of the city.
Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road

Tattasall Castle

Not so high up and no so expensive, but still with great views, is the Tattashall Castle. This old passenger ferry now lives out its retirement on the banks of the Thames, opposite the London Eye complete with bars both inside and on the deck. It makes a great little spot for a pint or two in the summer. You can see all the way up the Thames from Parliament to up to St Paul’s.
Nearest Station: Embankment

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Oxford Street’s secret Garden

Bayswater Secrets

Can you tell what is so special about these impressive Bayswater terraces?

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These average looking period terraces have hidden a great secret for over 100 years.

It is here at 23-24 Lenister Gardens, Bayswater where the District Line trains enter the underground. When building Metropolitan Railways back in 1860s instead of disturbing the beautiful (and expensive) terrace rows they built two fake facades to match the neighbours.

You can barely tell from the outside. But from behind the tracks and trains (even to this day) are clearly visible.

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So next time you are travelling from Bayswater to Paddington be sure to notice this fascinating feature.

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London’s Lost Landmarks

London’s Saddest Building

Buildings are like people, there can be so many, so different, so unique.  They can be beautiful to look at, or plain, or plain ugly (no offence).  And like people they can often be more beautiful, more purposeful than the outside can portray.  They (both people and buildings) can hold so much depth, so much history, so many memories, and sometimes so much sadness.

Perhaps the saddest building in London (in my opinion) is that which stands prominently in the heart of London’s west end.  The Trocadero.

Just opposite the much adored Eros, she just looks like any other building there from the outside.  Inside however it’s clear she’s suffered from too much plastic surgery 20 years ago and like many ancient Hollywood icons, you can clearly tell it.   Enter in and pass through by Starbucks and the over-touristy sweet shops, into the giant cavernous hole that is the centre, the heart of Trocadero.  But it’s a broken and damaged heart.  There you will see a confusing mish-mash of stores, arcades and attempts at theme park entertainment.    

Trocadero 1

But, high up through the dark brooding lighting (another attempt at theme park/TV studio maybe) you can see the evidence of a glamorous theatre that once was.

..and glamorous it was.  The place to be in a bygone era, beginning life as a home to general low key entertainment, circus and music acts, it had big West End ambitions.  Perhaps the luckless fate of this building could be seen even then; its name changed so many times over the years how could anyone ever remember who or where it was.  From ‘The Palace of Varieties’ to ‘The Theatre of Arts’ to the ‘Royal Trocadero Music Hall’ to name a few,  constantly trying to make big it in the West End theatre scene.

The first London Riots

However, it never quite made it. It housed many waifs and strays over the years, including sacked big name theatre managers, in its attempt to make something of itself.  In 1835 it was closed down after the local council was informed that the famous Sarah Booth of the Covent Garden Theatre, had been performing there outside of her Covent Garden contract (Treason!)

After this disgrace the theatre became home again to circus acts and boxing matches.  In the following years it kept its low reputation housing all manor of common shows and exhibitions (including wax works – the proprietors were no Mrs Tussaudes however) and…prostitutes. As ‘The Argyll Rooms’ another of its many names, it was dramatically described by one witness in 1878 as “the most destructive place in London to female virtue”.   Another Londoner commented that “I could not talk long with a burglar without finding the “Gyll” mentioned as his favourite resort”.

That same year it was the scene of the original London riots.   A notice was served that it was to be closed down one Friday night in November.   The police expected trouble and deployed 150 officers to carry out the task, which surprisingly passed peacefully. However, the following night 5000 unhappy people gathered outside, a riot ensued and there were ‘Many cases of assault and disorderly conduct recorded’ – I guess nothing is new in London.

Success at Last

Eventually it gave up its lifelong ambition for West End stardom, and by 1900 was a popular restaurant.  It enjoyed much success, with an elaborate range of dining rooms and in-house entertainment including a wall that would completely disappear.  You can still see remnants of this era if you venture up the escalators within the cinema (don’t forget to purchase a ticket first) they’re the strange, brown 3Dish paintings on the walls which look so out of place, but give glimpses into its former life.

Trocadero 2

But then, like every step in this sad building’s life, people lost interest and the Trocadero returned to its former ways of cheap-get-by entertainment. The 50s saw the tea rooms replaced by a bowling alley and casino.   Before eventually … closing.

Stuck in the 80s

The 80s saw another attempt at revival for the Trocadero, again back to its former glory of trashy entertainment.   Featuring an supersonic arcade (with a giant Sonic the Hedgehog model) complete with shops, cinema, its futuristic architecture sponsored by Pepsi, it was the cool place to go in the 80s/90s.  It even hosted TV studios and had a pop at reality TV (go on, own up who else watched The Salon?).  But sadly as that’s where Trocadero stayed, back in the 80s/90s, while the rest of the world moved on outside. Today it stands a sad forlorn memorial to another era, (still) trying so hard to fit in. 

Summed perfectly up by one disappointed tourist recently as “Holy terrifying… its like I slipped and fell into David Bowie’s bulging early 1990s nightmarish wonderland of mind-horror.

Maybe it’s time to finally lay the Trocadero to rest …

…or maybe it’s time for another revival!  Plans are afoot to turn The Trocadero into a new high-tech ‘pod-hotel’.   Oh dear, please someone put the poor thing out of its misery.