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This stunning, early 20th century chapel is tucked away in a quiet, modern apartment and business complex.
Long Acre is a busy shopping thoroughfare in the Covent Garden area of London. Linking Drury Lane with St Martin’s Lane, it has a host of shops from affordable to expensive, attracting both tourists and Londoners. As a one-way road, Long Acre isn’t particularly wide so most pedestrians rarely look up to see the Georgian and Victorian detailing of its many historic buildings. I have walked down Long Acre hundreds of times in my life and never noticed the stunning façade of No. 30-31. Now home to a branch of Gap clothing, the former carriage shop dates back to the late 19th century and shows a clue to its past life.
From the 13th to the 16th century, the area we know today as Covent Garden was ‘the garden of the Abbey and Convent’. The land covered 40 acres and was looked after by the monks of Westminster. However, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) seized the land during the dissolution of the monasteries and in 1552, it was given to John Russell, Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The northern boundary of the estate was referred to the ‘long acre’ after the first pathway was constructed. In the early 17th century, King Charles I (1600-1649) criticised the condition of the road and houses along Long Acre, prompting estate owner Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641), to try to tidy up the area with more attractive dwellings. As well as improving Long Acre, Russell laid out Covent Garden Piazza and commissioned architect Inigo Jones to design St Paul’s Church in the 1630s.
By the late 17th century, Long Acre started to attract the coach and carriage building trade. In the late 18th century, one of Long Acre’s most famous coach makers was Hatchett & Co at No.121, on the current site of the Calvin Klein boutique and directly opposite Nos 30-31. John Hatchett, whose family were in business from 1750-1870, was credited with creating high standards and innovative designs of carriages copied by his rivals (click here for one of his designs). According to the Carriage Journal, the Hatchetts employed several hundred workers, while John served as chief of The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach-Harness Makers livery company in 1785, which still exists today. As the 19th century progressed, Long Acre was dominated by coach builders and harness makers, with names such as Pearce & Countze; Edwin Kesterton; Silk & Sons; Wyburn, Meller & Turner; Holman & Whittingham; G. Amery; T George & Co, and, finally, C. S. Windover and Co., Ltd, who was coach builder to her Majesty and next door neighbour at No.33. Read the rest of this entry
Standing in a quiet square sandwiched between South Kensington tube station and the Victoria & Albert Museum is a rather unusual block of flats. No.5 Thurloe Square, nicknamed ‘the Thin House’, is thought to be one of the narrowest homes in the capital. Looking at the block from the south-west corner of the square, the house looks ridiculously narrow. However, it’s somewhat of an optical illusion as the building is actually triangular, which widens as you move further east.
Thurloe Square was built in 1840-1846 on land belonging to the Alexander Estate. The square was named after the Thurloe family – from which brothers John and James Alexander inherited the land following the death of their great-grandmother Anna Maria Harris’ son from her second marriage. Anna Maria, who inherited the estate in the early 18th century, was left widowed from her first marriage to John Browne (the Alexanders’ great-grandfather), and remarried John Thurloe Brace – grandson of the Puritan statesman John Thurloe (1616-1668). Their son Harris Thurloe Brace died without an heir in 1799, so the estate passed on to his mother’s family from her first marriage.
Most of the houses in Thurloe Square were designed by London-born architect George Basevi (1794-1845), a student of Sir John Soane and a cousin of Benjamin Disraeli. The terraces were designed in his signature neo-classical style with Doric columned porches at the front doors. This entrance feature is now a signature design of mid-Victorian terraces in the area. However, just two decades later, 23 houses in Thurloe Square were designated to be handed over to the Metropolitan District Railway, who were working on a new transport advancement, now known affectionately as ‘the tube‘. Landowner at the time, H.B. Alexander was thoroughly unimpressed and fought against the plans, but the Government overruled him. Mr Alexander could only be grateful that the Government banned the railways from erecting an entrance to South Kensington station in Thurloe Square as it would have ruined the amenities and character. The railways bought Nos. 1-11 Thurloe Square for £3,000, but in the end, only five houses (Nos. 1-5) on Thurloe Square were demolished in 1867. The company had bought a total of 42 houses from the Alexander Estate over various roads, but only destroyed 19. Some of the surviving buildings had their back gardens dramatically reduced. In 1868, South Kensington station opened, providing services on the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District Railway lines.
By the late 19th century, Kensington and Chelsea were world-renowned as a hub for art. Flocks of artists built studios in the area, many of which still exist today. Two Victorian artists’ homes Leighton House Museum and 18 Stafford Terrace are currently open as museums. With the railway lines just a few feet away from the south side of Thurloe Square, the triangular site of former Nos.1-5, remained vacant for many years. However, prolific local builder William Douglas saw its potential for seven artists’ studios. The wedge-shaped red brick block was built between 1885-1887. The large north-facing windows are perfect for letting in lots of light for the artists to work in. Building plans were submitted to the Metropolitan Board of Works by surveyor C.W. Stephenson on behalf of Douglas, suggesting he may have been the architect. At its narrowest point, the building is said to be 6ft wide, spanning to 34ft at its largest. The building proved popular with artists. The 1911 census showed a landscape painter named Arthur Johnson Ryle (1857-1915) was living in studio 3.
In 1899, Thurloe Square was surveyed by Charles Booth for his poverty map. Notably, the houses on the south of the Square overlooking the railway were labelled ‘middle class’, while the remaining residences were ‘upper middle and upper class, wealthy’. Today, Kensington remains an area with some of the most expensive houses in the country. Most of the original Basevi terraces are Grade II listed, as is South Kensington station. While not listed, the artists’ studios are an impressive piece of real estate today. In 2016, a top floor artist studio apartment covering just 600 square foot in 5 Thurloe Square went up for sale for £895,000.
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Down a side street in the City of London lies an unusual piece of architecture. Located on Bury Street in the shadow of the Gherkin is Holland House. Today, most of the City’s architectural landmarks tend to be 17th century (St Paul’s and other churches) or late 20th century/early 21st century (Barbican, Lloyd’s Building, Heron Tower, Walkie Talkie). However, Holland House is notable for kicking off a new era of modern design in the Square Mile, decades before it was dominated by skyscrapers.
In the early 20th century, shipping was big business for both transportation of goods and people. A host of big companies had offices in London, including Cunard, the White Star Line and Wm. H. Müller & Co. The latter was a Dutch company which specialised in shipping and trading, particularly transporting ore mined in Spain and North Africa. Wm. H. Müller & Co, which was founded by German-born Wilhelm Müller in 1876, already had offices in The Hague and Rotterdam and were keen to set up a London base. In April 1913, the company’s co-owner Helene Kröller-Müller (1869-1939) bought a site on Bury Street in the City. Bury Street dates back to at least the 16th century and is believed to have been named after the Abbot of Bury, who owned nearby Bevis Marks. The firm purchased land facing the north-west and south-east sides of Bury Street (which bends around to the left), but could not buy the whole block as the owners of No.33-34 on the south-west corner refused to sell up. As a result, Holland House has two entrances on both sides of Bury Street.
The Müllers commissioned prominent Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934) to design an office block for their London base. Berlage is known as the ‘father of Modern architecture’ in his native Holland and is responsible for the Beurs van Berlage (Amsterdam Commodities Exchange) and the Swissôtel Amsterdam. By the time construction started in 1914, World War I had begun, however building wasn’t affected as the Netherlands were neutral. When designing Holland House, it is believed Berlage took inspiration from the works of pioneering American architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), following a trip to the US in 1911.
Following completion in 1916, Holland House was aesthetically very different to the buildings surrounding it. Said to be the first steel framed building in Europe, it features a black marble plinth base with green-grey glazed terracotta bricks rising up and projecting outwards. The bricks were made in Delft and shipped to London on Müller vessels. When Berlage designed Holland House, Bury Street was very narrow, with the old Baltic Exchange (partially destroyed in a fatal 1992 IRA bombing) standing a few metres across the road, instead of the current open courtyard at the base of the Gherkin. Due to the projecting tiled columns, you wouldn’t have been able to see the windows as you approached the building walking down Bury Street, giving an illusion of privacy. On the south-east corner of the building is a granite relief of a steaming ship by Dutch artist Joseph Mendes da Costa (1863–1939), who was a favourite of Helene Kröller-Müller. Ahead of its time, in the centre of the building was a large air well, rising up from the ground to the sixth floor. Former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Peter Palumbo has claimed this may have been the first atrium in Britain. Read the rest of this entry
Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.
This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720.
No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, long before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site. The building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). Although the bakery has long moved out, today customers their getting their carb fix in buns with their beef burgers.
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Somerset House is one of my favourite London buildings. It’s so versatile, full of history, is beautiful to look at and has a wealth of entertainment and art options. The current building we see today dates back to the 18th and 19th century, but its history goes way back to the 16th century. With over 450 years of history on the site, there’s a lot to take in. However, the Historical Highlights Tour, which takes place every week is a good place to start.
The first large house on the site was a two-storey property, which started to be built in 1547. It was a home for the Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), who was given the land by his brother-in-law King Henry VIII. He served as Lord Protector of England for the first two years of his nephew King Edward VI’s (1537-1553) reign from 1547-1549, who was only nine when he came to the Throne. However, Somerset was overthrown in October 1549 and was executed on Tower Hill in 1552. His house, known as Somerset Place, was taken into the crown’s possession, with the future Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) living there during her half-sister Queen Mary’s (1516-1558) reign. However, the house hadn’t been completed decades later, with 16th century historian John Stow (1524/25-1605) referring to Somerset Place as still ‘yet unfinished’ in 1598 – over 50 years after building work started.
By 1603, Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort to King James I of England (or James VI of Scotland) was given Somerset Place for her London residence, with it renamed Denmark House in her honour. Anne enrolled architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), among others, to make some improvements and additions to the long neglected house. Following Anne’s death, Jones designed a chapel in 1636 where her daughter-in-law, Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), wife of King Charles I, could quietly worship as a Roman Catholic, when Protestant was the dominant religion of the time. A small cemetery was established outside the chapel, with some of the 17th century gravestones being shown during the tour. Read the rest of this entry
If you walk along the Thames Path, or perhaps cross the River Thames via foot or train on the two Blackfriars Bridges, you may have noticed these pieces of unusual river furniture. Running from north to south are pairs of red pillars, which used to support the original railway bridge before it was dismantled in the 1980s. Rather confusingly for Londoners, there were two Blackfriars railway bridges and various name changes between the current Blackfriars station and another station south of the Thames which no longer exists.
The red pillars we see today are what remains of Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge, which was built in 1864 by engineer Joseph Cubitt (1811-1872) for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR). The bridge brought trains across the Thames between the original Blackfriars Bridge station (south of the Thames) and Ludgate Hill station (closed in 1929). The original bridge was four tracks wide and supported ornate abutments featuring the LC&DR’s insignia. The original Blackfriars Bridge station was located near the junction of Southwark Street and Blackfriars Road.
It wasn’t long before Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge was joined by its sister bridge, the St Paul’s Railway Bridge, which led into the newer St Paul’s train station on the north bank of the Thames, aka the current Blackfriars station. St Paul’s station and the new bridge opened in 1886, the latter designed by civil engineers Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) and Henry Marc Brunel (1842-1903). Wolfe Barry was the engineer of Tower Bridge and the son of architect Charles Barry, who famously redesigned the Houses of Parliament. Meanwhile, Brunel was the son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famous for the Thames Tunnel and Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, amongst many other landmarks.
When the new St Paul’s station opened, LC&DR decided to close Blackfriars Bridge to passengers, but kept the station open as a goods’ yard. It continued in that guise until 3 February 1964, before it was demolished four years later. The only sign of the station today is the cobbled entrance driveway behind an office block.
Meanwhile, St Paul’s station was thriving and continued to serve trains heading through the City. In 1937, the station was renamed Blackfriars to avoid confusion with the tube station St Paul’s, which had been named Post Office since its opening in 1900 due to its proximity to the HQ of the General Post Office. The same year, Post Office tube station was renamed St Paul’s, as it remains today as a stop on the Central Line.
In 1985, it was decided the old Blackfriars Railway Bridge was too weak to support modern trains and it was dismantled. However, the red pillars and the southern abutment remained in situ. Originally the pillars were in rows of three, but the eastern columns were absorbed into the rebuilding of Blackfriars station on the younger bridge in 2011, so only pairs are visible to the public now. During the works, the LC&DR’s insignia was restored as a lasting reminder of a bridge and train company of yesteryear.
For the history of the Blackfriars area, click here.
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When developers buy old buildings, there is often fear of what will become of them. Depending on what protections have been put in place by local councils, some can be changed beyond all recognition or even demolished. However, some buildings can be mostly destroyed with only the façade remaining. Sometimes this can be done with great sensitivity and the modern building can complement the older. However, there are some pretty horrendous examples of ‘façadism’, one of which I’m going to look at in this post.
Spitalfields is one of my favourite areas of London – I love the architecture, the history and the atmosphere. Admittedly there has been a lot of development in the past 10 years especially, both good and bad. However, when wandering around the back streets of the area, I often sigh when passing by this shocking example of façadism.
On the corner of Gun Street and Artillery Lane stands what remains of the Cock A Hoop tavern. Today, only the 19th century façade remains, with the modern Lilian Knowles House student housing behind. What is so bizarre, is the windows of Lilian Knowles House don’t even line up with the façade’s windows so residents would have limited lighting and views of brick walls… a very strange design decision.
When I attempted to research the history of the building, there wasn’t much around. The Cock A Hoop tavern was established in 1810 and was first run by publican Joseph Hammond. I’m presuming (although please comment if I’m wrong!), that name referred to an earlier building on the site and the current façade we see today is the second building. The pub belonged to Meux’s Brewery, owned by brewer Henry Meux (1770-1841) and subsequently his son, MP Sir Henry Meux (1817-1883). Although the brewery no longer exists, its name became infamous due to the London Beer Flood of 1814. At the time, the company was named Meux And Company and its brewery was based on Tottenham Court Road – around the current site of the Dominion Theatre. Surrounding the brewery was the incredibly impoverished slums of St Giles. On 17 October, one of huge vats ruptured, spilling 323,000 imperial gallons of beer onto the surrounding streets. The beer flooded basement homes and destroyed several buildings, resulting in the deaths of eight people, half of which were children. Meux and Co were taken to court, but amazingly managed to escape prosecution, with the judge and jury claiming the spill was an ‘Act of God’. The brewery was later demolished in 1922, with the Dominion Theatre going up on the site in 1928-29. Read the rest of this entry
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This stunning, early 20th century chapel is tucked away in a quiet, modern apartment and business complex.
History and architecture buffs rejoice – Open House London is returning. Now in its 25th year, the weekend is essentially a festival of design, history and architecture. Over 16-17 September 2017, around 800 homes, government buildings, offices and more will open their doors to the public for free. While some usual fee-paying museums won’t be charging during the weekend, there are also rare opportunities to visit some very special buildings, such as 10 Downing Street or the clock tower of St Pancras, that are usually off-limits to the public. Some buildings, such as the latter two just mentioned, are only entry by ballot or booking in advance. However, most you can just turn up and enter. Some popular venues, such as the Gherkin and the Billingsgate Roman Bath House, are likely to have a long queue. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the most of Open House London. This guide lists what I consider the highlights of this year’s event, although the following section featuring reviews and photos of buildings already visited by Metro Girl, includes further highlights too.
30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin. Iconic skyscraper in the City of London, built in 2003. Open Saturday and Sunday 8am-3pm (long queues likely). 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP. Nearest stations: Bank, Aldgate or Liverpool Street.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Hindu temple, built in 1995. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. 105-119 Brentfield Road, Neasden, NW10 8LD. Nearest station: Harlesden.
Drapers Hall. Livery Hall first built in 1530s, twice rebuilt. Featuring 19th century façade and Victorian interiors. Open Sunday 10am-4pm. Throgmorton Street, City of London, EC2N 2DQ. Nearest station: Bank or Liverpool Street.
Finsbury Town Hall. Art Nouveau, Victorian building from 1895. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Rosebery Avenue, Farringdon, EC1R 4RP. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel.
Freemasons’ Hall. Art Deco meets classical, built in 1927-33. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ. Nearest station: Holborn or Covent Garden.
Fuller’s Griffin Brewery. Victorian brewery, built in 1828. Open Sunday 10am-5pm (booking required). Chiswick Lane South, W4 2QB. Nearest station: Stamford Brook or Turnham Green.
Guildhall. The City’s base of their municipal Government since the 12th century, built in 1440/1789. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. Gresham Street, City of London, EC2V 7HH. Nearest stations: St Paul’s, Mansion House or Moorgate.
Home House. Georgian townhouse with fine interiors, built in 1776. Open Sunday 3pm-5pm (book tour in advance). 20 Portman Square, W1H 6LW. Nearest stations: Bond Street or Marble Arch.
Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s London home, dating back to 13th century. Open Saturday 9am-2pm (book time slot only through website). Lambeth Palace Road, Lambeth, SE1 7JU. Nearest station: Lambeth North.
Masonic Temple. Greek Masonic Temple in the former Great Eastern Hotel, built in 1912. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Andaz Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, EC2M 7QN. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
One Canada Square. Nineties skyscraper in Canary Wharf with tours to the 39th floor. Open Saturday 10am-4pm (book in advance). One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, E14 5AB. Nearest station: Canary Wharf.
Rudolf Steiner House. Unique example of expressionist architecture, built in 1926-1937. Open Sunday 1-5pm. 35 Park Road, Regents’ Park, NW1 6XT. Nearest stations: Baker Street or Marylebone.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Visit the Great Hall and Maggie’s Centre at the 18th century hospital. Open Sunday 10am-5pm (book in advance). West Smithfield, City of London, EC1A 7BE. Nearest station: Farringdon.
Two Temple Place. Victorian office/residential building in an Elizabethan style, built in 1895. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. 2 Temple Place, City of London, WC2R 3BD. Nearest station: Temple.
Underground Bunker. WWII bunker 40ft underground, used by Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, built in 1940. Open Saturday 8.30am-5.30pm (book in advance). 109 Brook Road, Neasden, NW2 7DZ. Nearest station: Neasden or Dollis Hill.
Wrotham Park. Privately-owned Georgian, Palladian mansion, built in 1754. Open Sunday 10am-3pm (book in advance). Wrotham Park, Barnet, EN5 4SB. Nearest station: Hadley Wood or Potters Bar. Read the rest of this entry
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Explore the Byzantine-style remains of an 1860s subway belonging to a lost London train station.