Category Archives: Architecture
How high, why and by who?
The history of the Cecil Brewer staircase and Heal’s flagship store at Tottenham Court Road.
London is full of some pretty spectacular staircases, many hidden from view from the general public. In my opinion, one of the capital’s most lovely ones is located in Heal’s furniture store in Tottenham Court Road.
Heal’s has a long history on Tottenham Court Road, having had a store on the street for over 200 years. Heal’s was originally founded by John Harris Heal (1772-1833), a feather dresser from the west country. He opened his first store in Rathbone Place in 1810, before relocating to 203 Tottenham Court Road in 1818. The store soon won over Londoners with its feather mattresses, which were significantly more comfortable than the typical straw palliasses that many were sleeping on at the time.
When John died in 1833, his widow Fanny (1782-1859) and their son John Harris Heal Jnr (1810-1876) took over the business and renamed it Fanny Heal & Son. In 1840, they moved the premises to the current site at 192 Tottenham Court Road with a new purpose-built store. The new building was designed in a Venetian Palazzo style by architect James Morant Lockyer (1824-1865) and was completed in 1854. Now incorporating No.s 186-198, it became known as one of the largest stores in the capital.
By 1916, Heal’s was under management by John Jnr’s son Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), who had joined the family business in 1893 after completing an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker. He wanted to modernise the business for the 20th century and enlisted his cousin and best friend Cecil Brewer (1871-1918) and business partner Arnold Dunbar Smith (1886-1933) to design a new store. The original building was demolished to make way for the new store, which was was built between 1914-1917. Brewer erected his namesake spiral staircase at the back of the store in 1916, ready to take visitors upstairs to the new Mansard Gallery. The helix of lights tumbling from the ceiling were added after World War II. The concrete and wooden staircase was refurbished in 2013 and a Bocci chandelier was added, completing its picture-perfect look.
If you look closely as you ascend the staircase, you may notice a bronze sculpture of a cat. Known as the store mascot, the cat has been perched on a windowsill of the stairs since they were built. One interesting story involves 101 Dalmatians writer Dodie Smith (1896-1990), who worked at Heal’s toy department for 10 years in the 1920s and had an affair with Ambrose Heal. She confessed in her autobiography to selling the cat, with an unimpressed Ambrose later writing to the customer to cancel the sale with a note reading, “Heal’s mascot. Not for sale.”
Although Heal’s hasn’t been a family business since 1983, it’s still trading in furniture and homewares on Tottenham Court Road over two centuries later. The store was Grade-II listed in 1974 and it’s magnificent staircase is still used by customers to access different departments.
- Heal’s, 196 Tottenham Court Road, Fitzrovia, W1T 7LQ. Nearest stations: Goodge Street, Warren Street or Tottenham Court Road.
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The Daily Telegraph may have moved on, but its imposing offices remain.
The newspapers have long moved out of Fleet Street, but their buildings remain. Standing halfway along the iconic street is an art deco temple to journalism. Peterborough Court is the former home of the Daily Telegraph. Although the publication has moved on to Victoria, there are still subtle signs of the building’s former use on the façade.
The Daily Telegraph was founded in 1855 and its first offices were in the Strand, before it moved to 135 Fleet Street in 1862. In 1882, the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII – 1841-1910) opened the Telegraph’s new offices made of Portland stone and Aberdeen granite, designed by architects Arding, Bond and Buzzard. The building remained until the twenties when it was torn down to make way for the current design.
Peterborough Court was built in 1927-1928 to a design by architects Elcock and Sutcliffe, with Thomas Tait (1882-1954) and Sir Owen Williams (1890-1969) as consulting engineers. Tait worked on Adelaide House (the City’s tallest office block in 1925), later phases of the Selfridges department store on Oxford Street and the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Meanwhile, Williams was the head engineer for the original Wembley Stadium (1923-2003) and architect of The Dorchester. The building was named Peterborough Court after the Bishop of Peterborough, who used to have a house on Fleet Street. The name inspired the ‘Peterborough’ diary column in the newspaper, which remained for decades until it was renamed in 2003.
Likes it predecessor, Peterborough Court is also made of Portland stone. The building’s façade features a combination of art deco and neoclassical details. Large Doric columns give the building a sense of heritage, while its modernist elements represents the present. Standing tall with six storeys and a recessed top storey, Peterborough Court features seven windows across each storey. The centrepiece is the ornate coloured clock on its third floor level, full of Art Deco details such as diamonds, chevrons and sunburst motifs. Read the rest of this entry
Standing on London Wall surrounded by the brutalist concrete of the Barbican estate and 21st century office blocks is a rare piece of Medieval London. Largely hidden in recent decades, the redesign of the highwalk and a new pavement-level garden means Londoners can now see the ruins of St Alphage church.
The original St Alphage (or St Alphege) Church was built slightly north of the current site around the 11th century and adjoined the London Wall. The second church was originally the Priory Church of the St Mary-within-Cripplegate nunnery, which was believed to have been founded before 1000, but had fallen into decay by 1329. While the original church was demolished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s under Henry VIII, the Priory Church survived and took on the name St Alphage. It was repaired in 1624, with its steeple rebuilt in 1649. St Alphage was slightly damaged during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and be 1747, the steeple was in such bad condition, the bells couldn’t be rung so four were sold. In 1774, the church was declared unfit for use and was rebuilt at a cost of £1,350, with the tower retained. The new church opened in July 1777.
By the turn of the 20th century, the tower and porch were in poor condition, with the north entrance rebuilt with a neo-Gothic façade by 1913. It was damaged during World War I and repaired in 1919. However, the same year, the church’s fate was sealed for good. The bells went to St Peter’s Church in Acton, west London, with the nave being demolished in 1923. During World War II, the tower was maintained as a base for prayer, although was gutted by a fire in 1940.
As the City of London Corporation started to redevelop the ravaged City during the 1950s, the church’s porch and upper levels of the tower were moved. What remained (and what you see today) were Grade II listed in January 1950. The current structure features a central tower made of flint and rubble and arches on the north, west and east sides. When the London Wall road and the Barbican Centre were constructed in the 1950s, pedestrian access to the ruined church was cut off, while an ugly concrete highwalk didn’t give much of a view of the remains.
In recent years, the highwalk has been redeveloped and some of the 1960s office blocks demolished to make way for more modern 21st century buildings. The new highwalk, unveiled in 2018, is more delicate and gives a great overview of the ruins. Meanwhile, pedestrians can access the remains of St Alphage at street level via a small garden, featuring greenery and concrete block seating.
- St Alphage Garden, City of London, EC2Y. Nearest station: Barbican.
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Demon Barbers and Scottish newspapers.
Fleet Street is synonymous with Britain’s journalism industry, with most of the country’s newspapers having offices or headquarters in the area in the first half of the 20th century. While most of the papers have moved on to less central areas, such as Canary Wharf, Southwark and Kensington, there still lies some signs of their EC4 past in the heart of the City.
Standing at 186 Fleet Street is an old remainder of Fleet Street‘s tabloid heyday. No.186, along with 184 and 185 belong to DC Thomson – a Scottish publishing house and TV company. The Thomson family originally started out in shipping before branching out in publishing by buying the Dundee Courier and The Daily Argus in 1886. David Coupar Thomson (1861-1954) established DC Thomson in 1905 as the family’s publishing assets expanded.
Although DC Thomson were headquartered in Scotland, they established a London base to cover relevant stories. Prior to the current building, the site featured the street’s last early 17th century timber-framed buildings before they were demolished.
No.186 was built around 1913 by Meakin, Archer and Stoneham. The architecture practice had an office in Nicholas Lane near Monument and also designed The Strand Cinema Theatre in 1910 (it closed in 1953 and although the façade remains at No.428 The Strand, the auditorium has been demolished). The practice changed in 1916 with Edgar Percy Archer and Frederic Martyn Stoneham remaining in partnership together after Meakin left.
The façade of the building features glazed red bricks with stone dressings. Five of DC Thomson’s titles were written across the building in mosaic bands as a form of advertising. Four of the five titles are still in publication, with The People’s Journal having folded in 1986 after a 128 history. The remaining publications are Dundee Courier (founded 1801); Dundee Evening Telegraph (founded 1877); Sunday Post (founded 1914) and People’s Friend (founded 1869).
In 2014, DC Thomson extensively renovated their London and Dundee offices. However, just two years later, DC Thomson took the decision to close their editorial office, which meant the last journalists to work on Fleet Street were leaving. DC Thomson continues to own the building, with advertising staff remaining on site.
As well being the home to the last Fleet Street journalists, 186 Fleet Street is also where fictional murderer Sweeney Todd’s infamous barber shop was located. The Victorian villain was known to dispatch his victims into the cellar from his barber’s chair and slit their throats with his razor. His sidekick Mrs Lovett then baked their remains in meat pies.
- 186 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4A 2HS. Nearest station: Chancery Lane.
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Standing in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts this winter is a piece of Hollywood horror. Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) is an architectural installation by English artist Cornelia Parker. The 30ft high structure is inspired by the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho. The house in the movie, where Norman Bates lived with his mother Norma, was modelled on Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting, the House By The Railroad.
Parker’s scaled-down structure was first exhibited on the roof of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016. It was erected in London in September 2018 and will remain in situ until March 2019. Transitional Object is not a real building, but a façade. While it looks like a traditional, all-American red barn, the dark windows, distressed paintwork and little signs of ‘life’ give it a creepy vibe – much like the house in the film.
- Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), The Annenberg Courtyard, Burlington House, Royal Academy of Arts, 49-50 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 9ER. Nearest station: Green Park or Bond Street. Will remain in place until March 2019. Open Sat-Thu 10am–6pm, Fri 10am–10pm. Free to view. For more information, visit the Royal Academy Of Arts website.
For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.
One of London’s hidden rivers is flowing through one of the capital’s busy tube stations.
London is home to many ‘hidden’ rivers. Many of these became subterranean in the 19th century as the capital’s population boomed. A host of tributaries of the River Thames and River Lea have been forced underground and now exist in pipes. While most of the secret rivers aren’t visible to most Londoners today, there is one river you can see (sort of).
The River Westbourne was originally named Kilburn – originating from ‘Cye Bourne’, which means ‘royal stream’. It rises in the Whitestone Pond in Hampstead and flows south through Kilburn, Bayswater, Hyde Park and Chelsea, before discharging in the River Thames near Chelsea Bridge. One of the crossings over the Westbourne was the Knights’ Bridge, a name dating back to at least the 11th century. Although the bridge is long gone, its name lives on in the district of Knightsbridge. There was another bridge crossing the Westbourne in the Sloane Square area named Blandel Bridge, later being renamed as Grosvenor Bridge.
The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park was formed in 1730 when King George II’s wife Queen Caroline (1683-1737) ordered the damning of the Westbourne. The river continued to supply the Serpentine until 1834, when it was deemed too polluted, so Thames water was used instead.
London’s population boom in the 19th century prompted widespread development. Increased residential dwellings popping up in the areas surrounding the Westbourne in Paddington, Chelsea and Belgravia, led to the decision to drive the Westbourne underground. The water was directed into pipes in the early part of the 19th century.
Today, commuters who use Sloane Square tube station can see the River Westbourne crossing the platform and tracks in a pipe. A large iron pipe suspended from girders carries the Westbourne through Sloane Square station, which was opened in December 1868. The pipe is the original one from the 19th century and managed to escape damage when the station was bombed during World War II in November 1940.
- Sloane Square tube station, Chelsea, SW1W 8BB. Nearest station: Sloane Square (obviously!).
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Have you ever spotted a cow’s head sticking out of one of Chelsea’s buildings? Here’s the history behind them…
Today, the London district of Chelsea is famous for its football club, trust fund socialites and designer boutiques. However, until the 19th century, the area was a rural neighbourhood. Chelsea served as a market garden for the rapidly-expanding city, with corn, barley, fruit and vegetables grown on the area’s numerous farms, orchards and gardens. It was particularly known for its root vegetables and was the first place in Britain where lettuce was grown successfully in the mid-to-late 18th century. Meanwhile, the area became fashionable for the wealthy from the 16th and 17th centuries, with its residential districts starting to overtake the farms in the late 19th century.
One such farm which held on longer than others was Wright’s Dairy. The dairy was one of the first in Chelsea and was erected on Cook’s Grounds (the site of Glebe’s Place today) in 1796. Around 50 cows and two goats grazed nearby, providing milk for the dairy. In advertorials for their business, they were described as ‘dairy farmers and cowkeepers’. A frequent visitor to the dairy was Scottish philosopher and writer Thomas Carylyle (1795-1881), who lived a few minutes walk away on Cheyne Row. At the time of Carylyle lived in Chelsea, the dairy was run by W. H. Wright, whose late father had founded the business.
The Old Dairy was forced to move slightly west due to rapid redevelopment in the late 1800s, with Cook’s Ground and the nearby kitchen gardens of the Chelsea Rectory being swallowed up by housing. Wright’s Dairy set up their headquarters and a shop at 38-48 Church Street (now Old Church Street). The fields behind the dairy were used for the grazing cows. The street – which runs from the Embankment to the Fulham Road – is one of the oldest recorded streets in the area and dates back to the 16th century. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, business was booming for Wright’s Dairy and it was well-known and respected in the area. Its advertising in 1914 (see here) boasted about being “under constant medical, veterinary and sanitary inspection” and “acknowledged to be the finest and cleanest dairy in Chelsea”. One of their big selling points was stocking “humanised, sterilised and special nursery milk in glass bottles for infants and invalids”. As well as their Old Church Street base, Wright’s also had a shop at 69 King’s Road. Like many dairies of the time, both shops and the headquarters featured cow head sculptures sticking out of the top of the buildings. Read the rest of this entry
Discover the history and sights of Dulwich Village with this special walk.
Today, there is only a few ‘villages’ left in London. Back in the Georgian era and beyond, London as a city was significantly smaller and surrounded by many country villages. As London expanded during the Industrial Revolution, many of these districts got swallowed up by the growing capital. However, there are a few areas, such as Dulwich, Wimbledon and Highgate, left today which have retained their village charm.
One such place is Dulwich Village in south London, which dates back to at least the 10th century. I’ve lived nearby most of my life and am really fond of the village. Of course, the property prices are ridiculous and unattainable for most of us, but it’s a lovely place to visit, eat and drink in. The Dulwich Society have retained a tight control over planning so the likes of Tesco superstores and flashy developers haven’t ruined the village’s Georgian feel. Located just five miles from the centre of London, it’s surprisingly close to the capital and easy to get to with regular trains from London Bridge and London Victoria.
If you’ve ever fancied exploring Dulwich Village, why not try out my self-guided history walking tour with Routey.net. The company is a free online platform offering walking tours created by members of the travel community. My walking tour covers less than 2 miles and includes 18 stops. It can take a minimum of 90 minutes to up to 5 hours if you choose to stop at the Crown & Greyhound pub for lunch or dinner and visit an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
- Visit Routey.net for Metro Girl’s Dulwich Village history walking tour. Starting point: North Dulwich station (15 mins from London Bridge). End point: West Dulwich station (13 mins to London Victoria).
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
An architectural remainder of the former City Bank Ltd.
The City of London is full of old buildings originally designed to be banks. In the 21st century, there are significantly less banks and building societies due to various takeovers and mergers and the growing popularity of online banking. While many brand names have died out, some former Victorian and Edwardian bank buildings still survive today. Back in the 18th and 19th century, the sheer volume of banks meant they had to stand out amongst the competition. As their directors attempted to attract rich customers, their buildings needed to exude luxury and stability so many hired top architects to make sure their HQs and branches really looked the part. With considerably less banking names existing today, their former buildings have been repurposed for new businesses, restaurants and bars, with many keeping their original features.
One such former bank no longer offering financial services is the former Ludgate Hill branch of the City Bank. Now a wine bar, this Victorian building certainly stands out as one of the most attractive buildings on Ludgate Hill. Known by many as the road leading toward St Paul’s Cathedral, Ludgate Hill is one of two London hills where the original Roman settlement of Londinium was founded in the 1st century. Around 200AD, Lud Gate was constructed – one of seven gates into the walled city. The Lud Gate was rebuilt in 1215, with its upper rooms used as a prison by the 14th century. After being rebuilt again in 1586, it lasted nearly two centuries before Ludgate and the remaining city gates were all demolished in 1760. A plaque on St-Martin-within-Ludgate church marks the location of the Ludgate, although a stone remainder of the gate is thought to survive on the eastern corner of Pilgrim Street just 100ft away. Although the gate is long gone, its name lives on in Ludgate Hill.
With the City being the commercial heart of the capital, there were a host of banks to cater for the multiple businesses nearby and the booming population in the 19th century. One such financial institution was City Bank Ltd, which was founded in 1855 by stockbroker and future Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robert Walter Carden (1801-1888). Its stunning palazzo-style headquarters at 5-6 Threadneedle Street were built in 1856 by architect W Moseley and still remain today as the 5-star Threadneedles Hotel. By 1863, the bank had deposits to £3.5million and was acting as a London correspondent for 40 foreign banks, so they could provide finance for international trade. It became a limited company in 1880 and by 1894, it had 14 branches across London, including suburban outposts in Croydon and Bromley. One of its original branch buildings (built 1889) can still be seen today at 138 Shaftesbury Avenue at Cambridge Circus.
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It’s that time of year again – when Londoners get the chance to peek inside buildings that are normally off-limits. Taking place on 22-23 September 2018, Open House London is essentially a festival of architecture and design, where a huge range of buildings from homes to Government buildings to skyscrapers allow the public to step inside. Many museums which usually cost to enter are also taking part so you can visit for free. While it’s probably too late by now to enter some of the ballots or ticketed entry slots, there are tons of other places just waiting to be explored. This year marks the 26th year of Open House London, with over 800 properties taking place. Some popular venues, such as the Gherkin and the Billingsgate Roman Bath House, are likely to have long queues. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the most of Open House London. This guide lists a selection of reviews and photos of buildings already visited by Metro Girl, as well as tips and advice for making the most of the weekend.
Tips on making the most of Open House London
- Comprise a list of places you hope to visit and also a few back-ups if the queues are too long by searching Open House’s official website, buy a hard copy of the guide here or download the free app available on Apple or Google Play.
- Check out TFL’s website to make sure there are no engineering works affecting your transportation to the sites.
- Wear comfortable shoes and check the weather forecast to inspire suitable clothing. You will be walking and standing a lot.
- Start early – many of the sites open around 10am or 11am, but some even earlier. If you get there before they open, you could beat the queues.
- Make sure your phone and/or camera are fully charged and bring a portable charger if you have one so you can search online maps and share photos on social media.
- Bring ID – some official buildings or skyscrapers may want to check you out before letting you enter.
- Go the toilet whenever you find one. Some of the more unusual buildings may not have any available facilities or you could end up desperate while waiting in a very long queue.
- Make sure you don’t carry too much in your bag, as security searches are expected.
- Bring your lunch with you – you’ll have plenty of time to eat it if you end up queuing.
- Share your discoveries on social media under the hashtag #openhouselondon. This is also handy for checking out where the long queues are.
- Follow Open House London on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
Metro Girl’s reviews and photos of Open House buildings
Banqueting House. Only surviving building from Whitehall Palace, built in 1619. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. Banqueting House, Whitehall, SW1A 2ER. Nearest stations: Westminster, Charing Cross or Embankment.
Billingsgate bath house. Roman home and bath ruins in the basement of a modern office building, dating back to 2nd-3rd century and discovered in the 19th century. Open Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm (queues likely). 101 Lower Thames Street, EC3R 6DL. Nearest station: Monument.
Caroline Gardens Chapel. Partially-derelict Georgian chapel used as an arts and event space, built 1827. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SQ. Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham.
Charlton House. London’s only surviving Jacobean mansion, built in 1607. Open Sunday 10am-4pm (tours at 11am and 2pm). Charlton House, Charlton Road, Charlton, SE7 8RE. Nearest station: Charlton.
Crystal Palace Subway. Victorian subway connecting what used to be a train station to the site of the Crystal Palace, built 1865. Open Sunday 10am-5pm (queues likely). Crystal Palace Parade, Crystal Palace, SE19 1LG. Nearest station: Crystal Palace.
Dennis Severs House. Georgian townhouse and unique setting for a historic ‘still-life drama’, built in 1724. Open Saturday 12-4pm (queues expected). 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, E1 6BX. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street or Shoreditch High Street.
Emery Walker’s House. Georgian terrace styled in authentic arts and crafts interiors. Open Sunday 2pm-5pm (queues likely). 7 Hammersmith Terrace, Hammersmith, W6 9TS. Nearest station: Stamford Brook.
Fitzrovia Chapel. Victorian designed chapel, designed 1891, completed 1929. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Pearson Square, Fitzrovia, W1T 3BF. Nearest station: Goodge Street or Tottenham Court Road.
Granada Tooting (Gala Bingo Hall). Former Art Deco cinema with neo-renaissance interiors, now used as a bingo hall, built in 1931. Open Sunday 9am-12pm. 50-60 Mitcham Road, Tooting, SW17 9NA. Nearest station: Tooting Broadway. Read the rest of this entry