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Artistry, education and tragedy | The Pugin home on Great Russell Street

The history of the London home of artist Augustus Charles Pugin and his architect son Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.

Pugin Great Russell Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The Pugin family lived at 105 (now 106) Great Russell Street

The name Pugin will be familiar to many as it comprised a dynasty of talented artists and architects. The family name has been immortalised as the creators of many great buildings in the UK, mostly notably the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster (aka Big Ben). While the architects of the family designed many grand structures, their own abodes were rather modest in comparison. One of the Pugin family’s only surviving London homes stands on Great Russell Street on the Bloomsbury/Fitzrovia boundaries.

Augustus Charles Pugin by Joseph Nash 1861

Augustus Charles Pugin (by Joseph Nash, 1861 – from Wikimedia Commons)

Great Russell Street was first established around 1670 and followed an old path named Green Lane. The road took its name from the local landowners, the Russell Family and Dukes of Bedford. John Strype’s (1643-1737) ‘Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’ in 1720 described Great Russell Street as “a very handsome large and well built street, graced with the best buildings, and the best inhabited by the nobility and gentry, especially the north side, as having gardens behind the houses: and the prospect of the pleasant fields up to Hampstead and Highgate. In so much that this place by physicians is esteemed the most healthful of any in London.” One such early resident was the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), followed by Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835), who designed a row of white stuccoed, terraced houses on the street in 1777-8 and lived at No.66. By the 19th century, the road’s fortunes were somewhat mixed. Although the north side has remained relatively well to do, the south side had become more downmarket and commercial, with the Meux brewery premises nearby.

When it was first built in the late 17th century, 106 Great Russell Street was numbered 105. The three-storey terrace is made of yellow brick, with an attic featuring dormer windows. Today, the ground floor features an early 19th century shopfront with a projecting window, that is currently a showroom for the Italian lighting company Artemide. There are two doors on the ground floor – one on the left providing entrance to the shop and the other providing access to the floors above (what would have been the home of the Pugins).

French artist and writer Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832) arrived in Britain in 1798 after leaving France during the revolution and enrolled at the Royal Academy school in London. He soon found work as an architectural draughtsman for John Nash, sketching his buildings such as Carlton House Terrace and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. In 1802, Pugin Snr married Catherine Welby (1769-1833), of the wealthy Lincolnshire Welby family. By 1809, the couple were living at 39 Keppel Street (now Store Street) in Bloomsbury, where Pugin Snr also had an office. Their only son Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) was born at the home in 1812. Read the rest of this entry

Mail Rail review | Travel under London on the Royal Mail’s underground railway

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Mail Rail is a ride on the Royal Mail’s former underground railway

We all know about the Victorian origins of the London Underground, which has been transporting commuters since 1863. However, did you know it’s not the capital’s only underground railway in existence? For eight decades, the Post Office ran their own subterranean train system to transport letters and parcels under the city’s streets. Affectionately known as the ‘Mail Rail’, it closed for good in 2003. However, in September 2017, the railway was brought back to life and adapted for human passengers as part of a new experience at the Postal Museum.

Road traffic has been a problem in London for centuries, stemming back to the days of horses and carts. For owners of the Post Office, the impact on their deliveries arriving late was not good for business so something had to be done. In 1909, a committee was set up to devise a traffic-proof delivery system, and by 1911 had settled on the idea of driverless electric trains. Construction began in 1914 with a trial tunnel in Plumstead Marshes, south-east London, with the main 6 1/2 miles of tunnels completed by 1917. By this time, World War I was in full swing so lack of labour and materials meant the project was put on hold. However, the tunnels did find some use during WWI as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate stored some of their artworks in them for safe-keeping. Following the end of the Great War, costs of materials had risen so much, it wasn’t until 1923 that work could finally resume. Finally, on 5 December 1927, parcels were transported underground between Mount Pleasant and Paddington for the first time.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

One of the former stations, where busy Royal Mail workers would be hauling carts of post to and from trains

The trains run in a single 9ft tunnel featuring a double 2ft gauge track. Approaching each station, the tunnel would split into two 7ft tunnels with a single track each. The railway’s deepest point was 70ft, although the stations tended to be slightly closer to street level. By 1930, the original rolling stock were knackered so they were replaced with new trains. These new ones featured a 27ft single car train with each container having a capacity for 15 bags of letters or six bags of parcels. These were used until they were replaced in 1980 by a new fleet. Over the decades, some of the stations came and went, including the Western Parcels Office and Western District Office, with the latter name being reused at a new station at Rathbone Place, which opened in 1965. In 1987, the train system was renamed ‘Mail Rail’ to mark its 60th anniversary. In 1993, the whole system was computerised so the trains could be controlled from a single point. By the end of the 1990s, only the stations at Paddington, Western Delivery Office, Mount Pleasant, and the East District Office were being used, carrying over 6 million bags of mail annually. However, as the system aged, Royal Mail decided it was becoming too costly to run the railway, claiming road transport was cheaper and its death warrant was signed. On 31 May 2003, the Mail Rail was closed for good.

However, now the Mail Rail had been resuscitated as an attraction at the Postal Museum. It took several years to restore the tunnels, convert the trains for passengers and to transform the space into a museum. We arrived 10 minutes before our time slot and headed downstairs to board the small train. The seats are reversible, but narrow so it could be a squeeze getting two adults seated beside each other. You’re protected from the tunnel atmosphere with clear, hard plastic windows and ceiling, although it can distort photography somewhat (admittedly, my accompanying photos aren’t too great). The 15-minute ride is accompanied by an audio tour, with sound effects and visuals and films projected on the walls of the various stations. To many who think the history of Royal Mail may not seem that interesting, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as the museum curators have done a great job bringing to life the story of our mail system and the Mail Rail. Following your ride, your ticket also covers entrance to the Postal Museum across the road, with many interactive exhibits for adults and children. I’d thoroughly recommend both the Mail Rail and the Postal Museum for families, history buffs or if you’re looking for something a bit different to spend your leisure time.

  • Mail Rail, 15-20 Phoenix Place, WC1X 0DA. Nearest station: Angel or Russell Square. Mail Rail is open daily from 10am-5pm (last train departs at 4.30pm). Tickets: Adults £17.05, Children £10.45. For more information and booking, visit the Postal Museum website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The tunnels split into two as they approach the stations

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Celebrate sporting ineptitude at the Chap Olympiad 2017

© Bourne & Hollingsworth

A day of good old-fashioned fun at The Chap Olympiad

We’re not all the athletic types so winning may not be a frequent word in our vocabulary. However, if that sounds like you, then the Chap Olympiad could be right up your street. Returning for the 13th year is a day of old-fashioned fun taking place in one of Bloomsbury’s leafy Georgian squares.

On Saturday 15 July 2017, Britain’s most eccentric sporting event takes over Bedford Square Gardens with live music, food, cocktails and frolics. The Chap Olympiad ‘rewards panache rather than sporting prowess’ with the focus on effort and enthusiasm rather than talent.

The games for the 2017 tournament are:

Not Playing Tennis: Players seated in armchairs, play a game of tennis without getting up.  The tennis ball is suspended on a wire strung between two hat stands.
Tea Pursuit: Contestants in pairs chase each other on bicycles, one with a teacup, and one with a teapot. The tea must be poured into the cup and the fullest cup of tea wins overall.
Well Dressage: Two contestants, each mounted on a hobbyhorse, make a display of elegance and panache around the track in a freestyle manner. They are awarded points by lady judges with number cards.
Umbrella Jousting: Two contestants, armed only with brollies and briefcases, must go at one another on bicycles and attempt to knock each other off.

Guests are invited to dress in their finest dapper, vintage style. For those who don’t fancy taking part in the games, you’re welcome to grab a deckchair and sip a G’n’T while being entertained by the sporting ineptitude. The Chap Olympiad is produced by bars and events group Bourne & Hollingsworth (The Blitz Party, Dark Circus and Cocktails In The City), with the games organised by The Chap Magazine.

  • The Chap Olympiad takes place on Saturday 15 July 2017 from 12pm until dusk. At Bedford Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, WC1B. Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road or Goodge Street. Tickets: £25. Visit the Bourne and Hollingsworth website or call 0203 174 1156.

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

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Charles Dickens Museum | Discover the man behind the books at the author’s only surviving London home

Review: A visit to Charles Dickens’ former home, which is now a museum.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Charles Dickens Museum is situated in one of the author’s former homes in Bloomsbury

Charles Dickens is without a doubt one of our greatest authors. Although he was born in Portsmouth and died in Kent, he spent an awful lot of his life in London. During his decades in the capital, the writer lived in many residences, most of which no longer exist.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The desk where Dickens wrote Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Today, the only remaining home is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The author and his wife Catherine (1815-1879) moved to 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury in March 1837 – just a few months before Queen Victoria came to the throne. Previously they had been living in rented rooms at Furnival’s Inn in Holborn, but the birth of their first son Charles Jnr (1837-1896) meant they required more space. He signed a three-year lease on the five-floor Georgian terrace, costing around £80 a year. Built in 1807-9, the building is now Grade I-listed.

During the Dickens family’s three years in Doughty Street, Catherine gave birth to their eldest daughters Mary (1838-1896) and Kate (1839-1929), as well as raising their son Charles Jnr. Mrs Dickens’ 17-year-old sister Mary Hogarth also lived with the couple to help them with their expanding brood. Charles became very attached to his sister-in-law and she died in his arms following a short illness in May 1837. She is believed to have inspired several of his characters, including Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist and Little Nell Trent in The Old Curiosity Shop, among others.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Drawing Room on the first floor includes some of Dickens’ actual furniture

While living at the Bloomsbury terrace, Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers (1836), wrote Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39) and started on Barnaby Rudge (1840–41). As he became more successful in his career and his family expanded, Dickens and the family left Doughty Street in December 1839 and moved to the grander 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone. They lived at Devonshire Terrace until 1851 before moving on to Tavistock House, where the family remained for a further nine years. One Devonshire Terrace was demolished in the late 1950s and now an office block called Ferguson House stands on the site on Marylebone Road.

While most of Dickens’ London residences are long gone, the Doughty Street premises nearly ended up consigned to the history books as well. By the 1920s and 1930s, demolition of Georgian properties was becoming popular with the government, the majority of those being part of the ‘slum clearance’ programme. Many homes from this period had not been maintained well over the decades, providing unsanitary and unsafe living quarters for predominantly poor Londoners. Forty-eight Doughty Street was ear-marked for demolition in 1923, but was fortunately saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded 21 years earlier. They managed to buy the property and renovate it, opening the Dickens’ House Museum in 1925. In 2012, the museum was re-opened following a £3.1million restoration project and now encompasses neighbouring No.49.

After having it on my ‘to do’ list for some time, I finally paid a visit recently and really enjoyed it. Upon entry you are given an audio tour which guides you around the five floors, including the kitchen and the attic. The museum really brings to life the man behind the books – his complicated private life, his feelings about his tough childhood and his many inspirations. The rooms have been decorated as the author may have known it, in a typical Victorian style and often with his actual furniture – many of which had been bought from Gad’s Hill Place – the Kent home where the author died in 1870. If you’re a fan of Dickens or history, I highly recommend a visit.

  • Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 2LX. Nearest station: Russell Square or Chancery Lane. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Tickets: Adult £9, Child 6-16 years £4. For more information, visit the museum website.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The basement kitchen

For a guide to London’s Dickens landmarks, click here.

Read about the history of, Marshalsea Prison, where Charles’ father John was imprisoned for debt.

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London Never Dies: Enjoy a James Bond-style evening at London Cabaret Club

© London Cabaret Club

The London Cabaret Club’s production London Never Dies is on at the Bloomsbury Ballroom
© London Cabaret Club

With the release of new James Bond film Spectre this week, everyone is talking about 007. So why not have your own super spy-inspired experience at a sexy and entertaining evening at London Cabaret Club?

The pop-up club will be setting up camp at London’s Art Deco Bloomsbury Ballroom ahead of their grand opening in the same venue next year. Every week, over the weekends of 30-31 October and 6-7 November, the talented cast will be bringing the glamour, mystery and excitement of Bond to life.

© London Cabaret Club

Watch the glamour and the excitement of 007 come to life at the London Cabaret Club
© London Cabaret Club

Having kicked off earlier this month, the LCC will be performing different shows every week based on a different Bond film. Diners will find their meals inspired by the exotic locations of each film. Guests can expect to be dazzled with fabulous costumes, original choreography, exclusive music and high production values as the dancers bring Bond to life.

Following a three or four-course dinner and the show, live DJs will take to the decks so you can shake a tailfeather until the early hours.

Evelina Girling, CEO and Co-Founder of the London Cabaret Club said: ‘To celebrate the James Bond fever that is soon to hit London, we are launching our Boutique Shows this Autumn, celebrating 50 years of British espionage presenting the show London Never Dies.’

Tickets start from £40 (Show only), £75 (Gold tickets, includes 3-course dinner and access to Rose Room Lounge), and £105 (Diamond tickets, includes VIP seating, 4-course dinner, theatrical cocktail and access to Rose Room Lounge).

  • The London Cabaret Club Ltd is on at Bloomsbury Ballroom, Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, WC1B 4DA. Nearest station: Holborn. London Never Dies is on until 7 November 2015. LCC will also be returning for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve shows. For more information and booking, visit The London Cabaret Club website.

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

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Visit Pick pop-up restaurant and wooden tube station installation at DesignJunction for London Design Festival 2015

© Transport for London 2015

Pop-up restaurant Pick, which will serve classic British cuisine, is open at DesignJunction during the London Design Festival
© Transport for London 2015

One of the highlights of the annual London Design Festival (19 – 27 September) is the design show DesignJunction. This year, the show is spread across two different venues in Bloomsbury and runs from 24 – 27 September. Transport For London are teaming up again with DesignJunction for the fourth year in a row as part of ‘Transported by Design’ – events and collaborations celebrating TFL’s design heritage.

This year sees a TFL-themed pop-up restaurant and an entire hand-drawn wooden tube station installation at DesignJunction. ‘Pick’ is a foodie collaboration between TFL and the East London Liquor Company, named after Frank Pick (founder of TFL’s design ethos) and designed by Michael Sodeau. On the menu will be classic British dishes with a contemporary twist, while ELLC will be serving spirits from their distillery. Aside from the food and drink, the restaurant will feature a range of British design, including Trent Jenning’s Coolicon pendant shade lighting, Lindsey Lang’s table graphics and AJ Wells’ enamel top tables and splashbacks.

Meanwhile, sculptor and illustrator Camilla Barnard is designing and building a typical Underground station made from wood. The station will feature classic and new TfL design elements. The mini tube station will include a ticket hall, platform and barriers. Also on display will be TfL’s new product ranges, including from Alice Made This, Coolicon Lighting, Michelle Mason, Mini Moderns, Swoon Editions and Homes & Gardens award winner Lindsay Lang.

  • The Pick restaurant and pop-up wooden tube station installation is on at Designjunction, The College, 12 Southampton Row, Holborn, WC1B 5BP. Nearest station: Holborn. Open from 24 – 27 September 2015. To visit Pick and the installation, you must pay entry to DesignJunction. Tickets: Pre-register £10, on the door £14. Open Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 11am-4pm. For more information, visit the TFL website or Design Junction website to register for tickets to enter the show.

© Transport for London 2015

DesignJunction will feature a wooden tube station installation created by Camilla Barnard
© Transport for London 2015


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

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Charles Dickens’ London: Retrace the author’s steps at these historic locations

A guide to Charles Dickens’ London landmarks – where he lived, worked and socialised.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (circa 1865) by Mason & Co.
Image from Penn State Special Collections

Nearly two centuries after Charles Dickens’ first works were published, the author is still considered a legend in the literary world and is still read by millions across the world in many different languages. Many visitors (and residents) come to London in search of Charles Dickens every year. Sadly, many of the locales he frequented or wrote about are long gone, but there are still some homes in existence and sites for those wanting to make a Dickensian pilgrimage. Metro Girl has composed a list of where to find your own Dickens experience. To help you find them, they have been marked on the map below.

  • Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens lived in this Bloomsbury house from March 1837 until December 1839 when he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. He had a three-year lease on the property, costing £80 a year. Now a museum, the Georgian house contains many artefacts and rare editions. Open daily 10am-5pm. Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 2LX. Nearest station: Russell Square. For more information, visit the Museum website. For Metro Girl’s review of the museum, click here.

  • Westminster Abbey

Charles Dickens was buried in Poets’ Corner on 19 June 1870 – five days after his death. This went against his own wishes to be buried in his home county of Kent in Rochester Cathedral. Westminster Abbey, 20 Dean’s Yard, Westminster, SW1P 3PA. Nearest station: Westminster. For more information, visit the Westminster Abbey website.

Ye Olde Chershire Cheese © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

  • Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

This famous pub on Fleet Street has stood on the site since the 16th century, with the present building rebuilt after the Fire of London in 1666. As a young reporter, Dickens is known to have drunk here and also featured the establishment in his novel A Tale Of Two Cities. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU. Nearest station: Blackfriars.

  • Charles Dickens’ Coffee House

A café on the ground floor of Dickens’ former offices at No. 26 Wellington Street near Aldwych. The building housed the author’s offices for his weekly magazine All The Year Round and he also resided in an apartment in the building following his separation from wife Catherine. 26 Wellington Street, WC2E 7DD. Nearest station: Covent Garden.

  • The Old Curiosity Shop

This 16th century shop was actually named The Old Curiosity Shop after Dickens’ 1840/41 novel of the same name was published, probably in a bid to cash in. However, given that Dickens lived in the area for many years, it is likely he visited it. Regardless, it’s unusual to have such an old shop still in use. The Old Curiosity Shop, 13-14 Portsmouth Street, WC2A 2ES. Nearest station: Holborn. Read Metro Girl’s blog post on the full history of the shop.

Dickens Curiousity Shop © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The Old Curiosity Shop in Holborn

Marshalsea wall Borough © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The remains of Marshalsea Prison in Borough

  • Angel Place (Marshalsea Prison – demolished

A brick wall is all that is left of Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens’ father John was imprisoned for debt in February 1824 when the author was just 12. Two months later, his mother and his three younger siblings also ended up at Marshalsea. Dickens, who was working at Warren’s blacking factory at Hungerford Stairs in Charing Cross at the time, visited them at the prison every Sunday until he was able to move closer at lodgings at Lant Street (the road is now home to a primary school named after him), a few minutes walk away. He used his experiences to write Little Dorrit, where the main character is born at Marshalsea. The prison was closed in 1842, although many of the buildings remained in use by small businesses throughout the Victorian era. Today, Angel Place is an alley running along the brick wall leading from Borough High Street (near the John Harvard Library) going down to Tennis Street (near Southwark Coroner’s Court), SE1. Nearest station: Borough. For the history of the prison, click here.

  • Gray’s Inn

After leaving Wellington House Academy, Dickens got a job as a junior clerk working in the offices of Ellis and Blackmore at Holborn Court in Gray’s Inn in May 1827. He worked there for 18 months, before leaving to become a reporter. The site of Holborn Court is now known as South Square. To access South Square, you can walk through Gray’s Inn Gate on High Holborn – next to the Cittie Of York pub. South Square, Gray’s Inn, Holborn, WC1R 5HP. Nearest station: Chancery Lane. For more information about Gray’s Inn, visit their official website.

  • Holborn Bars (Furnival’s Inn – demolished)

The Holborn Bars building is built on the site of Furnival’s Inn – a 14th century Inn of Chancery which was attached to Lincoln’s Inn. Dickens rented rooms at the Inn between 1834 and 1837, during which time he worked as a political journalist and started to write The Pickwick Papers. Unfortunately, the Inn was demolished in 1897, with Holborn Bars being built on the site soon afterwards. Holborn Bars, 138-142 Holborn, EC1N 2NQ. Nearest station: Chancery Lane. (see a sketch of Furnival’s Inn from 1830).

  • 15 – 17 Marylebone Road (1 Devonshire Terrace – demolished)

Dickins and his family lived at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone from 1839 until 1851. The building was demolished in the late 1950s and now an office block called Ferguson House stands on the site. A mural of Dickens has been carved into the wall, featuring the author and some of his creations, including Scrooge, Barnaby Rudge, Little Nell and Granddad, Dombey and daughter, Mrs Gamp, David Copperfield, and Mr Micawber. 15-17 Marylebone Road, NW1 5JD. Nearest stations: Regent’s Park or Baker Street. (see a photo of 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1957).

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The Dickens mural on 15-17 Marylebone Road – the site of his former home 1 Devonshire Terrace, which was demolished in the 1950s

  • 22 Cleveland Street

Dickens lived in this house as a boy on and off from 1815-16 and 1828-31. The Georgian building was a few doors down from the Cleveland Street Workhouse – which is believed to have inspired the workhouse where Oliver Twist was living at the beginning of the novel. The Grade II-listed, 18th century Workhouse building still exists, but is under threat of demolition. To find out about the campaign to save the Cleveland Street Workhouse, click here. Cleveland Street, W1T. Nearest station: Goodge Street.

  • Chandos Place and Charing Cross Station (Warren’s Blacking Warehouse – demolished)

The site of the TGI Fridays restaurant on 6 Chandos Place was one of the two locations of Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, where Dickens had to work 10 hour days to pay for his board after his father John was imprisoned at Marshalsea from 1824-25. Initially, Dickens worked on Hungerford Stairs, near the present site of Charing Cross station, where he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on bottles of boot polish. He later worked slightly north at the site on Chandos Place. Dickins hated his time there, which inspired many of his later tales. Today, a blue plaque is on the TGI Fridays building commemorating him. Nearest station: Charing Cross.

  • Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel (St James’ Hall – demolished)

The Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel stands on the site of St James’ Hall – where Dickens gave his last public ‘Farewell Readings’ in March 1870 – less than three months before his death. St James’ Hall was a Victorian, Gothic designed music hall which stood on the quadrant between Piccadilly and Regent Street. It was demolished in 1905, with the Piccadilly Hotel built on the site four years later. 21 Piccadilly, W1J 0BH. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus.


For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

To retrace William Shakespeare’s steps in London, click here.

photo credit: Penn State Special Collections Library via photopin cc