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Holland House: A pioneering office block in the City of London

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Holland House was designed by Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage and opened in 1916

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.

Holland House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The granite relief of a steaming ship by Joseph Mendes da Costa

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

Sculpture In The City 2017/2018: Contemporary art comes to the Square Mile

Merchant House Fleet Street review: Go on an exploration of whisky in a hidden cocktail bar

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A Mulligan’s Travels (left) and a Brooklyn (right) at Merchant House Fleet Street

When it comes to finding a perfect bar, there’s two main things I look for – an extensive cocktail menu and a relatively low-key venue. I’m a sucker for speakeasies and hidden bars off the beaten track so I’m having a new experience and don’t feel I’m jostling for a spot at the bar with a big crowd. When it comes to whisky/whiskey, I’ve flirted with it in the past and am partial to a Bushmills and Coke when I’m visiting family in Ireland, but am yet to become a full whisky convert. However, after hearing of a new hidden Whisky bar in the heart of the City I went to check it out.

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A Rose Without Thorns (left) and a Karyukai (right)

Merchant House of Fleet Street is the sister bar to Merchant House Of The City in Bow Lane, the latter being a gin and rum bar with 300 varieties of each. The newer Fleet Street branch focuses on whiskys and whiskeys instead, boasting over 500 different types, predominantly from Ireland and Scotland, but also some offerings from Japan and American Bourbons. To those less experienced whisky drinkers, like myself, there can be the preconceived notion the drink is dark, strong and heavy. However, the experienced mixologists of Merchant House of Fleet Street are here to change your mind, showcasing the fresh and floral side of the mighty Scotch.

The bar is located down Bride Court, a covered alley off Fleet Street dating back to the 18th century. The venue has a natural and contemporary feel, with a rustic wood and white marble bar, lots of plants and green velvet sofas and bar stools giving a subtle nod to the Highlands and Emerald Isle. Behind the bar are huge shelves showcasing the expansive whisky collection. My boyfriend (who happens to be a bit of a whisky aficionado) and I grabbed two stools at the bar as we were looking to experiment with flavours so wanted a seat near the action.

Before we began perusing the extensive menu, we enjoyed a shot of whisky for ‘Whisky Wednesday’ to kick things off. You’ll notice the menu doesn’t list any brands under the cocktail ingredients, just a rough description of the whisky so it means you focus on the flavours instead. I’m a bit of a sucker for floral flavours such as elderflower and rose so started with a Rose Without Thorns (Island Malt, Rosehip Water, Raspberry Cordial and Americano Rosa). It was quite different to any whisky cocktail I’d had before, sweet and light and went down really well. My companion opted for a Karyukai (Japanese whiskey, plum wine and smoked water), which involved the bartender getting out a blowtorch on the water – who doesn’t like a bit of bar theatrics?! Out of the three cocktails we would try that evening, my boyfriend said this was his favourite as he particularly liked the smoky flavour.

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A sweet Émigré (left) and a strong Sazerac (right)

Next up, I continued the floral theme with an Émigré (Single Pot Still Whiskey, Bramley Apple Juice, Rhubarb and Elderflower) which came served with a big slice of rhubarb and tasted very dessert-like and I really enjoyed it. My boyfriend opted for something harder – a Sazerac (Cognac, Rye, Sugar, Bitters and Absinthe) which was served in a short glass – definitely one to be sipped slowly!

Finally, we finished with a Mulligan’s Travels (Poitin, Banana, Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Soda) and a Brooklyn (Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Picon and Maraschino). The Mulligan’s Travels was my first introduction to Poitin – essentially an Irish moonshine with potatoes as one of the ingredients. The bartender was happy to educate me and I tried a some of it straight before my cocktail. The strength hits you immediately, before the sweet after-taste comes in. When it came to the cocktail, it was somewhat of a hard shake thanks to its ingredients, with the sweetness overpowering the alcohol so it’s a good choice for those who don’t like their concotions too boozy tasting. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn was bittersweet mix served in a sherry glass, complete with maraschino cherry in the bottom.

Overall, it’s a fabulous bar for both whisky and cocktail fans alike. Those unfamiliar with whisky would do well to pay a visit and will be surprised at the variety of flavours in a whisky cocktail. For more seasoned whisky drinkers, with 500 to choose from, there’s more than enough choices to keep your glass topped up. When it came to the venue, the cosy space and the hidden location makes Merchant House particularly appealing. During our couple of hours in the bar, we were never without an empty glass thanks to the attentive and friendly bartenders, who certainly knew their stuff when it came to whisky and were happy to educate us. As well as cocktails, Merchant House also serves a small food menu and host whisky masterclasses if you want to delve in further.

  • Merchant House of Fleet Street, 8 Bride Court, City of London, EC4Y 8DU. Nearest stations: City Thameslink, Blackfriars or St Paul’s. Open Mon-Fri 11am-11pm. For more information, visit the Merchant House of Fleet Street website.
© Merchant House

Cosy: Merchant House features a white marble bar, lots of plants and green velvet sofas and bar stools giving a subtle nod to the Highlands and Emerald Isle

For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.

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Bolton House: A rare piece of Art Nouveau in the City of London

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Bolton House is a rare art nouveau gem in the City of London

Looking at London architecture, it seems to be dominated by Victorian, Georgian and post-war buildings more than any other style. While very sought-after by many of us today, Art Deco isn’t very widespread in London, and Art Nouveau even less so. The architectural trend for Gothic revival lasted a long time in Britain, kicking off in the 18th century and lasting through the Victorian period. However, in the late 19th century, Art Nouveau brought a much needed injection of light and colour into the gloomy Victorian architecture. Art Nouveau was a short-lived movement and admittedly wasn’t as popular in Britain as it was in continental Europe.

When I was checking out the Sculpture In The City exhibition recently, I happened upon Bolton House in the City. Located on Cullum Street, just off Lime Street. Bolton House is a striking Art Nouveau building housing several shops and businesses, including Bolton’s Italian restaurant. The Art Nouveau design, which is blended with Moorish influences, stood out because it is so rare to see this style, especially in the City. The building features a stunning façade of blue and white faience, arched windows and elegant columns. The frieze above the first floor windows sports the typical Art Nouveau preference for nature with its foliage designs. The building was completed in 1907 – the year emblazoned above the door – just three years before Art Nouveau fell out of fashion. The architect was a Mr A. I. Selby, who I haven’t been able to find out much about. The shield is believed to be the heraldic device of Prior Bolton. The building was renovated in 1984, when two further storeys were added above.

Cullum Street itself is a just moments from Leadenhall Market. The street dates back to the City’s famous rebuild following the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Prior to the blaze, a large house and garden occupied the site. However, in the rebuilding in the late 17th century, 30 houses were erected on the street, which was named after the owner Sir Thomas Cullum.

Meanwhile, if you’re into Art Nouveau, why not check out the Bishopsgate Institute, the Hippodrome, the Horniman Museum or, one of my favourite London buildings, Michelin House in Chelsea.

  • Bolton House, 14 – 16 Cullum Street, City of London, EC3M 7JJ. Nearest station: Fenchurch Street or Monument.
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Axis Mundi – a piece for Sculpture In The City – outside Bolton House

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

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Bringing contemporary art to the Big Smoke: Sculpture In The City 2016/2017

Expand your knowledge of wine at Humble Grape’s Wine Dinners

Humble Grape

Brush up on your wine knowledge while enjoying a foodie feast at Humble Grape’s Wine Dinners

Love wine? Fancy knowing more about it? Well one of London’s best independent wine merchants are creating exclusive evenings so you can get more intimate with the mighty grape. Every month, Humble Grape will be hosting a bespoke wine dinner in the private dining rooms of their Battersea and Fleet Street bars. Guests will have the chance to sample their many artisan wines and find out the stories behind them.

Humble Grape will kick off the series of dinners at the end of August by exploring the Chilean Millaman wines from the Andes Mountains. In September, they will travel east to South Africa as specialist winemaker Francois Haasbroek, of Blackwater Wines from Cape Town pays a visit. Then things get more adventurous in October with the Blind Challenge event which will give guests an opportunity to sample unknown and otherwise unavailable wines.

On 30th and 31st August, the Golden Ticket wine winner will feature seven newly imported Chilean wines from Millaman family vineyards. The wines include a Sauvignon Blanc aperitif, full-bodied Chardonnays, a Pinor Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and their Limited Reserve 2014 Malbec, among others. Accompanying the drinks will be sharing platters of charcuterie, cheese and vegetables.

A week later on 6th and 8th September, artisanal wine producer, Francois Haasbroek will be taking guests on a journey from grape to glass. His top five artisanal wines from the Cape Region will be sampled alongside a bespoke four-course meal with a South African twist.

Finally, on 25th and 26th October, the Blind Wine Tasting will test your senses to new heights. Explore a range of flavours and scents as hidden bottles are served. Guests will be guided thorough eight unique wines, including from the Blanc blend to Pinot Noir, in a multi-sensory trail. Accompanying the wine exploration will be a delicious four-course meal.

  • Humble Grape is located at 2 Battersea Rise, Battersea, SW11 1ED (Nearest station: Clapham Junction) and 1 St. Bride’s Passage, City of London, EC4Y 8EJ (Nearest station: City Thameslink or Blackfriars). Tickets from the Wine Dinners range from £50-£100pp. For more information, visit the Humble Grape website

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

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Harlequin Euro Festival: Celebrate European culture at Devonshire Square’s free festival

© Bluemoon Venice

Harlequin EURO Festival runs at Devonshire Square this summer
© Bluemoon Venice

Europe is a hot topic at the moment thanks to the UEFA Euro 2016 championships and the EU Referendum. Regardless of your politics or football allegiance, you can’t deny the cultural gifts we enjoy from various countries across the continent.

Running in parallel with the football championships is a five-week programme celebrating European culture. From 10 June to 14 July, the Harlequin Euro Festival will bring European culture, language and folk traditions to the historic surrounds of Devonshire Square in the City of London.

The title of the festival is inspired by mischievous Arlecchino, the character from the 16th Century Italian ‘Commedia dell’arte’, famous for his multi-coloured chequered costume.

Among the highlights of the festival include:

  • 21 June: Flamenco Vision  – a stunning display of flamenco music and dance.
  • 22 June: ‘The Italian Dream’ Opera – a concert by international acclaimed tenors Alberto Sousa, Leonel Pinheiro and Alex Tsilogiannis.
  • 7 July: Parisian Moulin Rouge Can-Can themed show by Tillie’s Can Can.
  • 14 July: Portuguese Fado music concert by Ru Vasconcellos and Mario Bakuna.

Patrizia Sechi, Events Manager at Devonshire Square said: ‘The European Football Championships have provided us with the prefect opportunity to put on a vibrant selection of events to celebrate European culture through food, music and art performances. Over the next five weeks the rich tapestry of events will unfold, under the Harlequin banner, bringing together members of the public to celebrate in line with the football.’

  • The Harlequin Euro Festival takes place from 10 June – 14 July 2016 on weekday lunchtimes. At Devonshire Square’s western courtyard, City of London, EC2M. Nearest station: Liverpool Street or Aldgate. For more information, visit the Devonshire Square website.

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

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Leadenhall Market: Shop in one of London’s oldest commercial hubs dating back to Roman times

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Leadenhall Market as seen from Whittington Avenue with a Portland Stone pediment over the entrance

Leadenhall Market is one of London’s oldest markets, dating back to the 14th century. However the site has actually been one of the city’s commercial hubs since the Roman invasion, when it was the location of the Basilica and Forum. Originally built in 70AD, it was expanded in 120AD, covering 2 hectares. The forum was a large open-air square and became a popular meeting place, with market stalls erected within the walls. However, the buildings were destroyed by Rome in 300AD as punishment for London supporting Carausius (d.293AD), who declared himself Emperor of Britain to the chagrin of Rome. It wasn’t until the early 5th century that the Romans finally left and Britain was independent from Rome.

In the early 14th century, the Manor of Leadenhall was owned by Sir Hugh Neville. Originally the local area was a meeting place for poulterers, then cheesemongers from 1397. The market sprung up in a series of courts beside Nevill House – known for its lead roof – on Leadenhall Street.

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The current building was designed by Sir Horace Jones in the 1880s

In 1411, the Corporation of London acquired the freehold of the land as a gift from former Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington (1354–1423). After the manor house was destroyed in a fire, it was replaced by a public granary, chapel and school as a gift to the public from Mayor at the time, Simon Eyre, Meanwhile, the market was expanded with traders selling poultry, grain, eggs, butter, cheese and herbs. Around this time, Leadenhall was considered the most important market in London and became quite the tourist attraction, with visitors coming to marvel over the bustling trade within the stalls. Over the 15th and 16th century, the market also offered wool, leather and cutlery for sale. The market was mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663 when he bought a leg of beef for six pence.

When the Great Fire ravaged London in 1666, the stone of Leadenhall Market actually prevented the flames from spreading north-east and escaped largely unscathed in comparison to most of the City. Leadenhall was subsequently rebuilt as a covered stone market with the stalls divided into sections; the Beef Market, The Green Yard and Herb Market. The Green Yard was listed as having 140 butchers stalls at one point, with fishmongers in the middle. Read the rest of this entry

It’s what’s inside what counts! Visiting the Sky Garden at the ‘Walkie Talkie’

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The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street offers 360 degree views of London

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The 35th floor features large windows offering expansive views over the River Thames

20 Fenchurch Street, aka as The Walkie Talkie, is one of London’s most controversial buildings. During construction, it hit the headlines in summer 2013 after the building ended up channelling the sun’s rays into a powerful beam, which singed mats and melted cars parked on the streets below (this has since been rectified!). While most of the building is dedicated to offices, the top floors feature a garden, a bar and two restaurants. Since opening in January 2015, the restaurants and bars have been mostly well received, but the structure itself hasn’t been embraced by most Londoners as a prominent piece of the skyline. In September 2015, it was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for being the worst new building in the UK.

Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, 20 Fenchurch Street stands tall at 160 metres. It’s the fifth tallest building in the City of London so shorter than the nearby 30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin (180 metres), Tower 42 (183 metres) and 122 Leadenhall Street, aka The Cheesegrater (225 metres). But what is lacks in height, it more than makes up for width wise with its decidedly ‘top heavy’ design. The tower was controversial from the planning stages, with many concerned how the building would impact on the City’s skyline and views of iconic architecture such as St Paul’s Cathedral. The designs were granted permission because it promised a free public garden on the top.

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Enjoy views of the River and The Shard

Personally, I’m not a fan of the building architecturally. Although when I paid a visit, I did enjoy the inside of it. Alongside the other skyscrapers of the City, the Walkie Talkie is just too big and dominates the view. However, going inside, you can’t deny there’s a great vista. There’s two ways of getting up to the top of the building – either book a table at the Darwin Brasserie, Fenchurch restaurant or Sky Pod bar or apply for a free slot to visit the Sky Garden.

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20 Fenchurch Street stands tall at 160 metres

Arriving at the base of the Walkie Talkie, there is the airport security-style scanners that is typical in most skyscrapers. Visitors to the Sky Garden may need to queue a bit, although diners with reservations are able to bypass the queue to the lift. Exiting the lift on the 35th floor, you are greeted by huge windows on the façade of the building, with a balcony overlooking the Thames and The Shard across the river the dominant view. The Sky Pod bar is open for walk ups and serves cocktails and light snacks.

Turning north, you are faced with east and western terraces of garden spanning three storeys. In the middle are the two restaurants – Darwin and Fenchurch – in boxes, which have been compared by some to Portakabins. The horticultural display features Mediterranean and South African plants, giving a greenhouse feel. On the day I visited it was sunny, but hazy so the views were pretty good. However, the position of the sun made it difficult to take photos due to the reflection on the glass. Despite there being up to 200 people in the Sky Garden at a time, the huge expansive space means it doesn’t feel too crowded – except on the balcony where there were security guards controlling numbers. There’s plenty of seating both near the bar and on the terraces so you can sit amidst the greenery and enjoy a spot of nature in the middle of the city.

  • Sky Garden is open from Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Weekends 11am-9pm. Located on the 35th floor at 20 Fenchurch Street, City of London, EC3M 3BY. Nearest station: Fenchurch Street or Monument. To book a free slot, register on the Skygarden website.
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Nice view! Looking east towards the Tower Of London and Docklands


For a review of the Darwin Brasserie in the Sky Garden, click here.

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London’s oldest public drinking fountain on Holborn Viaduct

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London’s first public drinking fountain is situated in the railings of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church in the City of London

With water taps now in every home and bottled waters on sale everywhere, there isn’t such a high demand for public drinking fountains these days. While public fountains are still found to be popular in places such as parks, leisure centres and museums, ones outside on the street… not so much.

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Following its opening, the fountain proved incredibly popular with thirsty Londoners

Although these days we expect drinking fountains to be free and clean, back in the first half of the 19th century, it wasn’t so simple. Private companies had a monopoly on water so there wasn’t much regulation on quality, often providing contaminated water to the public. As a result, many people used to drink beer, which was considered a safer alternative to water. It was thanks to the work of physician John Snow (1813-1858), who traced the beginning of a cholera outbreak to a water pump in Soho, that authorities began to prioritise water quality. Following the passing of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers Act 1848, it was made compulsory that water had to be filtrated. In 1859, MP Samuel Gurney (1816-1882) and barrister Edward Thomas Wakefield (1821-1896) joined forces to set up the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association, with the aim to provide free drinking water to the public. This later changed its name to Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in 1867, to also include cattle troughs.

The first public drinking fountain was built into the railings of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church on Holborn Hill. It opened in April 1859 and was funded by Gurney. The fountain is made of marble and stone, with two cups on chains to drink out of. It features three inscriptions, the top reading: ‘The gift of Sam Gurney MP 1859’. The bottom reminds users to ‘replace the cup’, while inside under where the water used to flow reads: ‘The first Metropolitan drinking fountain erected on Holborn Hill 1859 and removed when the Viaduct was constructed in 1867.’ Just eight years later after being installed, the fountain was relocated while the Holburn Viaduct was built, before finally being reinstated in its original setting in 1913.

The fountain was incredibly popular with hundreds of people using it daily – which I’m sure caused quite a queue of thirsty Londoners! As a result, the society built 85 more fountains around the city over the next six years. Public drinking fountains were heavily supported by the church and Temperance movement, and as a result many were situated near churches and opposite public houses. Now, the fountain still exists, but the water appears to have been turned off.

  • The drinking fountain is set in the southern gates around St Sepulchre’s Church on the eastern end of Holborn Viaduct (near the junction with Giltspur Street), City of London, EC1A 2DQ. Nearest station: City Thameslink, St Paul’s or Farringdon.

To read about the Buxton Memorial Fountain in Westminster, click here.

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

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