Hoxton Hall: Step inside one of the East End’s surviving Victorian music halls

Hoxton Hall has been entertaining Londoners for over 150 years

Long before TV and cinemas captivated Brits, music halls were a popular form of entertainment. Starting in the 1830s, music halls originally began cropping up in taverns and coffee houses. Landlords started putting on a variety of entertainment for the punters, along with providing them with food and drink. By the 1850s, these variety shows had become so popular, many theatres and pubs were knocked down and replaced with music halls. Hoxton had several popular music halls, including The Eagle on Shepherdess Walk and the Britannia Theatre on Hoxton Street, both of which no longer exist today. At the peak of the entertainment genre’s popularity, there were an estimated 375 music halls in the capital. Performers such as Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno and Little Tich became household names and were in high demand by music halls owners to top their bills.

Hoxton Hall railings © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The original railings

Although most Victorian music halls are long gone, there is one that is still being used for entertainment today. Hoxton Hall in Hoxton Road was originally erected by builder James Mortimer in 1863. The building followed the traditional music hall design, with balconies on three sides overlooking the stage and open floor. Today, the galleries of seating feature the original iron railings and are supported by cast iron columns. Although more modest in size than many music halls at the time, Hoxton Hall is unique for being purpose-built as a music hall as many were converted from pubs. Originally, Mortimer gave his own name to the building – Mortimer Hall – which opened on 7 November 1863. On the opening night bill were singers and conjurers. However, Mortimer didn’t want his hall to just entertain, he also wanted to educate locals with lectures. Unfortunately for Mortimer, his education program wasn’t quite so popular and by 1865 the building was being used by a waste paper merchant.

In 1866, music hall manager James McDonald Jnr bought Mortimer Hall and renamed it McDonald’s Music Hall. He knew what the people of London wanted and offered affordable entertainment for the working classes, including music, circus and performing dogs. Business was booming and McDonald was able to extend the hall in 1867, raising the ceiling and adding a new upper balcony. However, by 1871, McDonald lost his license following police complaints so it was sold. The subsequent owners applied for a new license in 1876, but were refused.

Two tiers of seating overlooking the stage and ground floor

Philanthropist William Isaac Palmer (1824–1893) bought the hall in 1879 for the use of the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission, a sobriety movement. Today, Palmer is honoured with the Palmer Room at the hall. The building became home to the Girls Guild for Good Life, a group founded by Sarah Rae, wife of the secretary of the Blue Ribbon Temperance Society. In contrast to its bawdry music hall origins, the hall was being used to educate working class girls with cooking, dressmaking and elocution classes in a bid to warn them away from the ‘sinful’ hobbies of gambling and drinking. The hall was also used for talks and events to encourage temperance by the Blue Ribbon Mission. Read the rest of this entry

FriendsFestive review: Recreate your favourite Friends moments on the show’s sets

Sit on the iconic orange sofa in Central Perk at FriendsFestive

You may have noticed in the media in recent months that 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the TV show Friends. Although I was an original fan back in the 1990s, a whole new younger audience have come to love the show thanks to Netflix and Comedy Central. This Christmas season, the sell-out FriendsFest is back in London with a festive twist. Hosted by ComedyCentral UK, FriendsFestive gives fans of the show a chance to hang out on the sets, see authentic props and costumers from the show, and pose for photos and videos as you recreate memorable scenes.

Ring a bell at Phoebe’s festive stand

I had previously visited the first FriendsFest back in 2015 and was fortunate enough to meet actor James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther. The original FriendsFest was a much smaller affair with only one proper set and I had seen through friends’ social media photos that subsequent Friendsfests had got bigger and better. FriendsFestive differs from the others because it offers a twist on the theme with many references from Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes, as well as a lot more interactive spaces and photo opportunities.

When booking, you are given a timeslot for a set tour, before being given free time at the end to explore the photo areas, shop, and food and drink spaces. As we waited for our tour to begin, we were given time in a sort of Friends mini museum, full of authentic costumes and props from the show. You’ll recognise Rachel’s horrific pink bridesmaid dress for Barry and Mindy’s wedding; Monica’s red prom dress; the turkey ‘headpiece’; Ross’s letter comparing Rachel and Julie; Chandler’s gold ‘bracelet buddy’ from Joey; Ursula’s porn video; amongst many others.

Monica and Rachel’s apartment is very festive

The guided tour started in Monica and Rachel’s apartment living-kitchen area, which had been suitably decked out for Christmas. The kitchen had familiar items fans from the show would recognise such as Phoebe’s skull full of liquorice, Rachel’s disastrous trifle-mince pie hybrid and a cardboard box full of Monica’s broken posh plates. Our group were given opportunity to explore the set and pose for photographs, before clearing the room so an empty photo could be taken. Helpfully, this was factored in for every room so you could get some decent shots without random people ruining your shot. Next, we progressed to the hallway, complete with candy basket hanging on Monica’s door. Moving on to Chandler and Joey’s apartment, it had cute touches like Hugsie the penguin on the sofa, and the drum kit Phoebe bought Joey to try and force Rachel to move out. Finally, it was the Central Perk set, with the iconic orange sofa, the neon service sign and Phoebe’s guitar on stage. Read the rest of this entry

Three centuries of Blewcoat School: From educating the poor to a ‘Posh Frock Shop’

The former Blewcoat School building in Westminster

On an ‘island’ in the side streets of Westminster stands an old remainder of a Georgian poor school. Although the pupils have long moved on, the listed building is now home to an upmarket bridal boutique. At the junction of Buckingham Gate and Caxton Street is a 17th century schoolhouse building. Blewcoat School was originally founded in Duck Lane (now known as St Matthew Street) in Tothill Fields, slightly south of its present site, in 1688. It was established as a charity school to educate 50 impoverished boys from the parish of St Margaret’s and St John. Pupils wore a uniform of long blue coats and yellow stockings, the colour blue being associated with charity at the time.

In 1709, local brewer William Greene (d.1732) leased some land from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to build a permanent building for the school. Greene and his brothers had inherited a lot of land in the areas of Chelsea, Kensington and Westminster from their brewer father John. The family had owned the Stag Brewery at Tothill Fields since 1641 and it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1715 by William. In the 19th century, the brewery was taken over by Watney, with the Westminster site eventually closing in 1959. Today, there’s a nod to the former brewery with a road by the school being named Brewer’s Green. William Greene built a school and schoolmaster’s house on Caxton Street, with many of the pupils being sons of his brewery workers. The timing to move locations was good as Duck Lane was swiftly going downhill, with the area dubbed Devil’s Acre by Charles Dickens. Devil’s Acre had become one of the capital’s most notorious slums in the mid 18th century, renowned for its stench, dire sanitation standards, and cheap, dark dwellings.

Blewcoat School © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The Georgian building was built by local brewer William Greene in 1709

Blewcoat School © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

A statue of a pupil in the school uniform of a blue coat and yellow stockings

Although there is no record of the architect, there has been speculation it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). The two-storey building was built of brown brick with two tiers of windows on every side. The main entrance on Caxton Street features a Doric porch with a statue of a Blewcoat pupil in the famous blue coat above the door. The interiors feature pilasters, coving, Corinthian columns and fireplaces.

Now established in Caxton Street, the Blewcoat School pupils spent their days learning to read and write and about religion and trades. The school paid for the education of 20 boys for free, alongside fee-paying boys. Around four-five years after the move to Caxton Street, the school started admitting girls, who were also taught needlework and household chores. In 1842, records showed there were 86 poor children enrolled (52 boys and 34 girls). The school educated generations of boys and girls until 1876 when it ceased hosting female pupils. In 1899, the governors obtained an order to close the school and give the land and the buildings to the Vestry of St Margaret’s and St John. The Blewcoat moved premises to another site, with the original building being used for the Infants’ Department of the Christchurch School. The building ceased educating children in 1926.

During World War II, the Blewcoat School building was used by US services as a store. In peacetime, it was utilised for a spell by the Girl Guides. In 1954, the building was Grade I listed by Historic England and bought by the National Trust. The NT used the school as a membership and head office, later being converted into a gift shop. In 2013, fashion designer Ian Stuart gained permission to refurbish the interior and use the building as a boutique for bridal gowns and evening wear. It was opened the following year, and Stuart remains in business today. You may have seen him and the school building in the Channel 4 show The Posh Frock Shop.

  • Ian Stewart – Blewcoat, 23 Caxton Street, Westminster, SW1H 0PY. Nearest stations: St James’s Park or Victoria.

For more London history posts, click here.

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Enchanted Eltham: A magical sound and light show at the historic Eltham Palace

A ‘grate’ night out: An Evening of Cheese returns to Borough Market

An Evening of Cheese returns to Borough Market for one night only

Cheese lovers rejoice! It’s time to research your Christmas dairy needs as the annual ‘An Evening of Cheese’ returns to Borough Market. On Wednesday 11 December, the historic market will be opening its doors for a late-night celebration of cheese. Over 20 cheesemongers will be showcasing their cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese from UK and international producers. Foodies can get inspired for their festive cheeseboard by talking to cheesemongers and getting advice on drink and cheese pairings. You can also pick up cheese recipes and watching cheese-based cooking demos in the Market Hall’s Demo Kitchen.

Meanwhile, in the run-up to Christmas, Borough Market are extending their opening hours to help Londoners get prepared for their food and drink needs for the festive season. The market will be open daily until 4pm on Christmas Eve, including Sundays. There will be plenty of seasonal fun, with local choirs performing in the Market Hall, festive Demo Kitchens and Cookbook Club sessions with Angela Clutton and Ed Smith, author of the Borough Market Cookbook. Customers will also be able to use the new click-and-collect service, to make their food shopping even more convenient.

  • An Evening Of Cheese takes place on 11 December 2019 from 6pm-8pm. At Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street, SE1 1TL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Free entry. For more information, visit the Borough Market website.
  • Borough Market is open every day during the Christmas period from 4 December until 4pm on Christmas Eve – including Sundays.

For a guide to what else is on in London this December, click here.

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Big Screen on the Ice: Watch your favourite festive film on ice at QUEENS

Watch your favourite festive film on ice at Big Screen on Ice

A unique, pop-up cinema has launched in central London just in time for Christmas. QUEENS Skate Dine Bowl have introduced a new film experience – Big Screen on Ice.

Over nine weekends throughout December and January, films fans can watch their favourite Christmas movies on ice. Grab one of the candy-striped deckchairs and cosy up with blankets and winter warmers. Old and new classics, such as Home Alone, Elf, Frozen, and Dirty Dancing will be projected on the LED big screen.

There will be two screenings a day, with the family sessions at 5pm and adults at 8pm. Before taking to the ice, guests can head to the rinkside SIN BIN cafe, where they can enjoy hot MEATliquor cocktails or hot chocolates, and snacks. Meanwhile, during the film, attendants on skates will be serving popcorn and other treats.

  • 7 – 8 December: Elf // The Holiday
  • 14 – 15 December: Muppets Christmas Carol // Home Alone 1
  • 21 – 22 December: Miracle on 34th Street // Notting Hill
  • 28 – 29 December: Lion King // Die Hard
  • 4 – 5 January: Up // Cool Runnings
  • 11 – 12 January: Wall-E // Dirty Dancing
  • 18 – 19 January: Finding Nemo // Bohemian Rhapsody
  • 25 – 25 January: Toy Story // The Greatest Showman.

Aside from the festive Christmas cinema, QUEENS also features 12 bowling lanes, arcades, ice skating, curling, ice karting and beer pong.

  • Big Screen on the Ice @ QUEENS, 17 Queensway, Bayswater, W2 4PQ. Nearest stations: Queensway or Bayswater. Runs from 1 December 2019 – 25 January 2020. Screening on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Times: 5pm (family films), 8pm (adults films). Tickets: Ice skating + film (no seats) – Adults £12, Children £11. Ice skating + film (with seating) – Adults from £16, Children from £13. Skate hire £2.50. For more information, visit the Big Screen on the Ice website. or the QUEENS website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in January 2020, click here.

For a guide to London’s festive ice rinks, click here.

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Walking with The Snowman: Follow the festive art trail at London Bridge City

Guide to what’s on in London in December 2019

Find out what beer and cocktail festivals, art exhibitions and Christmas events are on in London this December.
Christmas © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

It’s December! When it comes to events on around town, you can be guaranteed most of them will have a festive feel. At this time of year, a host of venues are hosting festivals and activities for both children and adults to enjoy as a family. Fans of Friends, Stranger Things or The Wolf Of Wall Street will also have a chance to live for real with special immersive experiences. Of course, there will be plenty of Christmas themed fun on around town.

For a guide to London’s Christmas markets and fairs, click here.

To find out where London’s Christmas pantomimes, ballets and shows are on, click here.

Discover London’s winter terraces, and Christmas cocktails menus.

  • Now until 1 December : London Illustration Fair

Three-day event celebrating illustration, featuring artist-led stands, talks, workshops, music, DJs, live signings. Fri-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-6pm. Entry: £10 in advance, £12.50 on the door, Children under 12 free. Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bankside, SE1 9PH. Nearest station: Blackfriars or Waterloo. For more information, visit the London Illustration Fair website.

  • Now until 1 December : William Blake’s ‘Ancient of Days’ projection

William Blake’s ambition of having his art exhibited on churches is realised as his masterpiece ‘Ancient of Days’ is projected on the dome of St Paul’s to mark his 262nd birthday. 4.30pm-9pm. Free. St Paul’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s Churchyard, City of London, EC4M 8AD (best vantage point from the Millennium Bridge). Nearest station: St Paul’s or Mansion House. See Metro Girl’s blog post for photos and video.

  • Now until 1 December : Architecture of London

Exhibition of 400 years of London architecture. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-4pm. Tickets: Adults £10, concs £7. Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard, City of London, EC2V 5AE. Nearest station: St Paul’s, Bank or Moorgate. For more information, visit the City of London.gov website.

  • Now until 1 December : Enchanted Woodland

Follow an illuminated trail through the gardens and arboretum of Syon Park. Lighting will transform the trees, plants and lake. Hot food and drinks available for sale. Open Fri-Sun, entry times every 20 minutes from 5pm-7.40pm. Tickets: Adults £10 (Fri), £12 (Sat-Sun), Children £5. Syon Park, London Road, Brentford, TW8 8JF. Nearest station: Syon Lane. For more information, visit the Enchanted Woodland website.

  • 1 December – 25 January 2020 : Big Screen on the Ice

Watch your favourite movie on ice while cosying up with blankets and hot toddies. Screening on Saturday and Sunday evenings at 5pm (family films)or 8pm (adults films). Tickets: Ice skating + film (no seats) – Adults £12, Children £11. Ice skating + film (with seating) – Adults from £16, Children from £13. Skate hire £2.50. QUEENS, 17 Queensway, W2 4PQ. Nearest stations: Queensway or Bayswater. For tickets, visit the Big Screen on the Ice website. or the QUEENS website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post for more information.

  • Now until 3 December : Antony Gormley @ RA

One of the Britain’s most famous living artists displays a series of large-scale artworks in this interactive exhibition. Open daily 10am-6pm, late opening on Fri until 8pm. Tickets: £18-£22. Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Royal Academy of Arts website. Check out Metro Girl’s review of the exhibition.

  • 3 – 7 December : Pig’s Ear Beer And Cider Festival

Annual beer festival in conjunction with CAMRA, featuring over 230 real ales plus ciders, perries and bottled beers, food stalls and unique festival brews. Opening hours TBC. Tickets: (check the website). Round Chapel, Glenarm Road, Hackney, E5 0LY. Nearest station: Hackney Downs or Hackney Central. For more information, visit the Pig’s Ear website.

  • 4 December : Christmas Lights Walk @ Baker Street Quarter

Explore the light installations of the Baker Street Quarter, telling the story of famous people and places from the district. 6pm. Free. Meet at 55 Baker Street, Marylebone, W1U 7DA. Nearest station: Baker Street or Marylebone. For more information, visit the Baker Street Quarter website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post on this year’s lights.

  • 5 December : Marylebone Lane Christmas Shopping Evening

A festive evening of live music, activities, workshop, a free cocktail at the 108 Brasserie and exclusive discounts at the area’s retailers. 5pm-8pm. Free. Marylebone Lane, Marylebone, NW1. Nearest station: Bond Street. For more information, visit the Marylebone Village website.

  • 5 December : Tower Bridge & the Thames on Film

Late-night opening of Tower Bridge, featuring an illustrated talk by British Film Institute curator Simon McCallum presenting clips from the BFI National Archive’s collection of footage about London, with a particular focus the Thames. Arrive at 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets: £20pp (includes a welcome drink and a return ticket to visit Tower Bridge within 12 months). Tower Bridge Learning Space, Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP. Nearest stations: Tower Hill, Tower Gateway or London Bridge. For booking, visit the Tower Bridge website. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post on the 125th anniversary of Tower Bridge.

  • 5 December : Imperial Lates – Winter Wonderlab

Evening of science and engineering, with live demos, workshops, interactive experiments and inspiring talks. Accompanied with drinks from the bar and liquid nitrogen ice cream. 6pm-9pm. Free. Imperial College London (Main Entrance), Exhibition Road, South Kensington, SW7 2AZ. Nearest station: South Kensington. For tickets, visit Eventbrite. Read the rest of this entry

William Blake’s Ancient of Days projected on to St Paul’s Cathedral

London’s best winter pop-ups and Christmas cocktails 2019

Find out where London’s seasonal terraces and pop-ups are and which bars are serving Christmas cocktail menus.

Christmas is that time of year when your social life kicks into high-gear. If you’re planning a catch-up with friends and family and looking for a suitably festive environment, then why not head to one of London’s seasonal pop-ups or winter terraces. Alternatively, some of the capital’s top bars have curated special Christmas cocktail menus.

London Winter Pop-ups

A ‘Snowed Under’ cocktail @ 100 Wardour Street

  • 18 October – 5 January 2020 : The Winter Garden @ John Lewis

The flagship department store transforms its roof garden for the winter season, featuring Sage cocktails and candy floss, curling and street food from Jimmy’s Carnival Diner. Open Mon-Sat 12pm-10pm, Sun 12pm-9pm.

– John Lewis rooftop, 300 Oxford Street, Marylebone, W1C 1DX. Nearest station: Oxford Circus. For more information, visit the John Lewis website.

  • 29 October – 5 January 2020 : Montague Ski Lodge

The ski lodge returns to the Montague Hotel for another year. The Wood Deck will be transformed into a alpine hideaway, with pine trees, falling snow, reindeer, snowmen, and ski racks. The bar will be serving mulled wine, hot cider, hot chocolate, schnapps, flavoured vodka and more.

– The Montague Hotel, 15 Montague Street, Bloomsbury, WC1B 5BJ. Nearest station: Russell Square or Holborn. For more information, visit The Montague hotel website.

  • 5 November – 31 January 2020 : Swan Lake @ Bluebird

Bluebird’s courtyard has been transformed into a mythical woodland inspired by Swan Lake. Featuring heated winter chalets and warm Ciroc vodka cocktails like ‘Sygnet Sour’, ‘White Ember’, and ‘Spellbound’. Open Mon-Fri 8am -9pm, Sat-Sun 9am-9pm.

– Bluebird Chelsea, 350 King’s Road, Chelsea, SW3 5UU. Nearest stations: South Kensington. For more information and booking, visit the Bluebird Chelsea website.

  • 6 November – 20 December : The Winter Forest

Seasonal pop-up returns to Broadgate Circle, with snowy pine trees, twinkling lights, live music and food and drink. During the festive period, there will also be gin tastings, charity pub quizzes, wellbeing workshops, winter floral workshops, and visits from Santa.

– Broadgate Circle, Broadgate, EC2. Nearest station: Liverpool Street or Moorgate. For more information, visit The Broadgate website.

  • 7 November – 29 February 2020 : The Elyx Chalet @ Rosewood London

The Terrace at the Rosewood London has become a Swedish-inspired hideaway, with sparkling trees, snow and festive cocktails with a Swedish twist. Open daily from 4pm.

– Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, Holborn, WC1V 7EN. Nearest station: Holborn. For more information, visit the Rosewood Hotels website.

  • 7 November – late February 2020 : The Enchanted Woods @ Madison

St Paul’s rooftop bar Madison’s terrace has been given a winter makeover. Cosy up under a blanket in wooden chalet surrounded by twinkling lights and heaters and sip hot cocktails while gazing at the City views. Open Mon-Thu 11am-late, Fri-Sat 11am-1am, Sun 12pm-9.30pm.

– Madison rooftop terrace, 1 New Change, City of London, EC4M 9AF. Nearest station: Mansion House or St Paul’s. For more information, visit the Madison London website.

Cosy up with blankets and hot cocktails at Madison’s winter terrace

  • 7 November – late March 2020 : Winterland

Riverside, alpine wonderland returns, with plenty of heated winter lodges, cabin and igloos, fire pits, hot tubs, games, hot and cold cocktails, comfort food and more. Open: Wed-Thu 6pm-12am, Fri 5pm-12am, Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 12pm-6.30pm. Entry: Wed-Fri, Sun £5pp, Sat £10pp. For Metro Girl’s review, click here.

– Winterland, Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham, SW6 2TY. Nearest station: Wandsworth Town. For more information, visit the Winterland website. Read the rest of this entry