Baroque and art nouveau collide at Old Finsbury Town Hall
The history behind the Old Finsbury Town Hall.
Around the capital, there are many town halls no longer being used for the purpose for which they were originally intended. For example, Bethnal Green Town Hall is now a five-star hotel, Battersea Town Hall has been reborn as the Battersea Arts Centre, while Deptford Town Hall is now part of Goldsmiths University campus. A string of town halls were built in the late 19th century and early 20th century as civic responsibility increased and the population boomed. When the London Metropolitan boroughs were established in 1900, the boundaries of London were considerably smaller than they are today (with most current London boroughs in zones 4-6 excluded).
One Victorian town hall still standing, but no longer in use as a local government building, is Old Finsbury Town Hall in Clerkenwell. Located on Rosebery Avenue, it is built on the site of Clerkenwell Vestry Hall. The Vestry Hall was originally the Spa Fields watch house, which was built in 1813-1814. Designed by the New River Company’s surveyor W.C. Mylne, the watch house was a two-storey building on the junction of Garnault Place and Rosoman Street. The building included two prison cells, a commissioners’ boardroom and a yard for holding stray cattle. It then became a local police station following the founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, later becoming a meeting hall in 1856.
By the late 19th century, the Vestry Hall was much maligned and too small to host local meetings. Finsbury was being redeveloped with slum housing being demolished and the building of a new road named Rosebery Avenue. English architect Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930) – famous for designing the Victoria & Albert Museum and Admiralty Arch – was appointed to judge a competition for designs for replace the Clerkenwell Vestry in 1892-3. A design by rising architect Charles Evans-Vaughan (1857-1900) beat out a dozen or so others, with Charles Dearing of Islington winning the £14,724 13s contract to build it. Evans-Vaughan is also responsible for designing the Bridge House Farm Estate in Brockley, south-east London and the Welsh church in Falmouth Road, Southwark. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1887, but sadly died in his 40s of typhoid fever just three years later.
The existing Old Finsbury Town Hall you see today was built in two stages. The first part of the building was erected between 1894-1895 and was named Clerkenwell Vestry Hall, adjoining the early 19th century Vestry Hall. It was inaugurated in summer 1895 by Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929). The Earl was Prime Minister at the time of opening and the inspiration for Rosebery Avenue, which was named in tribute to him for being the first chairman of the London County Council (LCC). The new Vestry Hall entrance was on the new Rosebery Avenue and featured the stunning iron and stained glass, art nouveau canopy. The new building was designed in the fashionable ‘contemporary free style’ of the time, with a mix of Flemish Renaissance, Baroque and art nouveau influences. The façade features Red Ibstock brick and Ancaster stone dressing, Portland stone, tiled gabled roofs and a clock and weathervane.
Summer spritzes in a hidden oasis at the Fentimans Secret Spritz Garden
Popping up in bustling Farringdon this August will be a secret hideaway cocktail haven. Hidden from passers-by behind ivy-covered walls will be the Fentimans Secret Spritz Garden.
The city oasis will be a destination for after-work drinks and weekend cocktails during the warm August evenings. Step inside a garden full of plants, medicinal herbs and a 200-year-old olive tree to shade under. Guests can sneak through the privet hedge to find the hidden bar, before enjoying a drink on the jasmine-trailed swing seat and gazing at a lemon-filled fountain. As the sun sets, garlands of fairy lights with light up the space, which will be filled with the sounds of live jazz and acoustic music.
Botanical drink company Fentimans have teamed up with mixology expert Dino Koletsas (The Langham, Bourne & Hollingsworth, Callooh Callay) to create a special spritz menu. Visitors can enjoy a redefined series of spritzes featuring Fentimans tonic waters and top British ingredients. The full range of Fentimans tonics (from Valencian Orange to Pink Rhubarb) will be mixed with homemade herbal infusions and liqueurs, fresh fruit and aperitifs. Guests will be able to garnish their own spritzes with rosemary, sage and lavender from the garden. Throughout the three-week pop-up, the Spritz Garden will also host masterclasses, such as floristry, flower pressing, Limoncello making and collages.
- The Fentimans Secret Spritz Garden, Clerkwenwell. Nearest station: Farringdon (5 min walk). Open from 7 – 30 August 2019. Opening hours Wed-Fri 5pm-11pm, Sat 12pm-11pm and Bank Holiday Sunday 12pm-11pm. For more information and the location, visit the Secret Spritz Garden website.
For a guide to what’s on in London in August, click here.
Somnai review: A surreal night in an immersive and virtual reality experience
Anyone who read my blog often or follows my Instagram account has probably worked out I’m a fan of immersive theatre and experiences. The word has become somewhat of a buzzword in the events industry in recent years and I’ve had a range of brilliant to mediocre ‘immersive’ experiences. However, the recent resurgence in popularity of virtual reality (VR) technology, means this type of production can utilise another platform to expand their scope. Recently, a group of friends and I went along to Somnai, which has been described by its makers dotdotdot (dot dot London) as a ‘live, multi-sensory experience with immersive technologies’.
Checking out the website ahead of its March launch, there were little clues on what a Somnai session would be like. The event is marketed as a type of sleep clinic, with the chilling warning ‘may cause acute death’. Now, of course, this warning cannot be taken literally, but speaking in past tense, it certainly gets your heart racing at points. Somnai is located in a large, unassuming warehouse in Clerkenwell. You are advised to avoid alcohol beforehand so my five sober friends and I arrived in the clinical white reception, slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead. We were ‘checked in’ to the clinic, as we handed in our bags and coats and were given a Fitbit, a dressing gown and padded sleep socks. One by one, we were taken into a small room, where silent assistants scanned our faces with 3D mapping, which all felt rather Black Mirror.
We started our experience in our group of six, meeting our sleep guide, an ethereal and spiritual woman who eased us into the experience with a few probing questions about our dreams (e.g. if you could fly anywhere, where would you go? What motivates you?). We start by winding down and relaxing with a bedtime story as we lie on a giant teddy bear, before zooming through the galaxy under a planetarium-style sky.
The main phase of Somnai is putting on our ‘sleep masks’ – our virtual reality masks – and beginning our VR journey. I haven’t tried virtual reality since its infancy in the 1990s and it’s certainly come on since then (and I would hope so too!). We moved through various surreal landscapes, from underwater kingdoms to grand canyons. Despite a part of my brain not knowing this was real, I found it quite unsettling to step off the side of a cliff or ledge, which was the process to changing ‘worlds’ or ‘zones’. In addition to what we were seeing, we could use our senses by touching, such as feeling the wooden plank ‘drawbridge’ we were crossing under my feet, or stroking the furry plant life in the ocean world. The whole VR experience was amazing and disorienting at the same time. Discussing it afterwards, I realised I had been quite fearful during it and had perhaps become too immersed in these bizarre environments we thought we were in.
Following the VR walkabout, our group was separated and two of us ended up in a very strange and spooky set of rooms. Without giving too much away, we were given a choice, ultimately made the wrong one, and ended our Somnai journey with a particularly scary 2nd session with the VR cameras. For this, our friends and I were reunited in a white hospital ward with masked attendants guiding us to lie in bed and putting on our ‘sleep masks’. I felt like we were in an asylum in a horror film. For the two of us who made the wrong choice, what we saw in the VR was rather unsettling and sent our heart rates up.
Finally, we all ended up in the digital bar, which is constantly evolving with different phases, each with a matching cocktail menu. If you download their app, your cocktail should do strange things when you scan it. With the app, we were able to check our heart rate throughout the process and see a quite horrifying (in my case!) 3D scan of my head. Overall, it was interestingly weird and enjoyable. The plot wasn’t quite coherent, but the mix of senses, VR sights and the cast provided a new and thought-provoking experience. Our group had much to discuss in the cocktail bar afterwards as we discussed our different experiences and interpreted meaning from the various surreal levels. If you’re intrigued about virtual reality, I recommend checking it out while it’s still on.
- Somnai, 2 Pear Tree Street, Clerkenwell, EC1V 3SB. Nearest stations: Farringdon or Old Street. Tickets: From £35 (discount for groups of six). On now until 3 August 2018. For booking, visit the Somnai website.
For a review of Dotdotdot’s 2019/2020 production of Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds, click here.
Mail Rail review | Travel under London on the Royal Mail’s 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.
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 £16-£17, Children 3-15 yrs £9-£10. For more information and booking, visit the Postal Museum website.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Cycle Revolution: Get on yer bike at London’s newest festival
A new cycle festival is coming to the capital in May, running as a satellite to the Tweed Run. Social supremos Bourne & Hollingsworth are launching Cycle Revolution on 6 May – an all-day, outdoor event celebrating the cycling lifestyle. Taking place in the leafy Spa Fields in Clerkenwell, the festival will be a contrast to the soulless conference centres which usually host cycling events.
Cycle Revolution aims to bring cycling culture to ordinary Londoners who bike to work or on their weekends. The alfresco event will feature over 20 stalls selling cycle gadgets, accessories and athleisurewear from local businesses and cutting edge lifestyle brands from across the capital. There will be the chance to take part in interactive workshops, live demonstrations and bike polo. Meanwhile, a Cycle Forum will feature poetry slams, live quizzes, Q&As and readings. Aside from the bike-centric activities, there will also be live music, acoustic sets and vinyl DJs, while you can refresh yourself from street food stalls, coffee shops and B&H cocktail bars.
Meanwhile, on the same day, the 9th annual Tweed Run will take off from Clerkenwell. Cyclists will dress up in their best tweed and cycling attire for the 12 mile route through the scenic streets of the capital. Along the way will be breaks for tea, with plenty of cocktails waiting at the festival and closing ceremony. There will be prizes for the best-dressed man and woman, smartest bicycle and finest moustache, among others.
- Cycle Revolution and The Tweed Run take place on 6 May 2017. The Tweed Run starts at 11am. Cycle Revolution takes place from 12pm-8pm at Spa Fields, Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, EC1. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel. Free entry. For more information, visit the Tweed Run website or Billetto.
For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.
Celebrate the Queen’s 90th with an alfresco feast at Her Majesty’s Brunch
With the Queen Elizabeth’s official 90th birthday coming up this weekend, what better way to celebrate than with the best of British?
A stylish and fun outdoor brunch will be taking place on Saturday at the idyllic Spa Fields in Clerkenwell. Hosted by London party experts Bourne & Hollingsworth, you can expect plenty of the great food, entertainment and cocktails they are famous for. Essentially a mini festival to mark Her Majesty’s big day, guests will be able to drink and eat aplenty, while being entertained by live music and performances.
The menu has been designed by executive chef Adam Grey, from the nearby Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, featuring tasty, locally sourced produce. There will be several sittings during the day so you can relax in the sunshine and feast on some of your favourite brunch offerings.
Meanwhile, the B&H mixologists will be at the open-air bar, creating morning cocktails to ease you into the day, such as Bloody Marys and Bellinis. After your meal, you’ll be able to burn off some calories taking part in the traditional British games.
- Her Majesty’s Brunch takes place on Saturday 11 June 2016. At Spa Fields Park, Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, EC1R 1AA. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel. From 10am-8pm, with brunch sittings taking place from 12:30pm. £35 for entry and brunch. For booking, visit the Bourne & Hollingsworth website.
For a review of brunch at the Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, click here.
Fish-filleting, knives and the perfect steak: Learn to cook at B&H Kitchen
How often have you eaten at one of London’s fabulous restaurants and thought, ‘I wish I could make this dish at home?’ Coming to the capital this spring is a new cookery school, with some top chefs sharing some kitchen secrets both novices and experienced foodies will appreciate.
B&H Kitchen, situated at the top of Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings near Exmouth Market, will be playing host to thrice weekly classes for up to 12 participants from 1 March 2016. Run by Bourne & Hollingsworth’s new executive chef Adam Gray (Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Rhodes Twenty Four, Skylon) and Head Chef Anthony Horn, they will guide aspiring cooks through expert techniques, seasonal recipes and ingredient knowledge. The kitchen is fully kitted out with the latest kitchenware and technology across six catering stations, demonstration bench and communal dining table.
The courses will range from knife skills and butchery to sausage making and seasonal vegetables, featuring a mix of classic and specialised techniques. Students will have the opportunity to master B&H’s modern British style as they make basic or more complicated dishes.
The courses on offer will include:
• Knife Skills (Short Course)
Participants will learn about each knife’s uses as well as being taught how to sharpen a knife properly. At the end of the class, they will cut and chop like a trained chef.
• Fish-Filleting and Cooking
While learning the healthy properties of and the difference between white and oily fish, participants will be taught how to scale, skin, fillet and marinade round and flat fish.
• Bread No.1
Participants will learn the basic making of white and brown bread dough and progress to creating a fruit loaf.
• Specialty Bread No.2
An advanced course focusing on enriched dough, specialty flavoured breads and cutting and shaping various artisan bread rolls.
• Sausage Making
A course on the construction of the perfect sausage that focuses on the ingredients that go into a high quality sausage meat of various flavours and styles.
• Butchery - Meat and Poultry
Participants will be trained how to bone out various joints of meat and how to prepare poultry efficiently.
This course will cover an education on the game season and offer the opportunity to prepare and cook various classic and modern game dishes
• Vegetables - Seasonal and British (Short Course)
An introduction to buying and using seasonal vegetables, specifically from BH’s supplier at New Covent Garden Market. Additionally, partakers will be shown how to produce vegetable dishes that stand-alone from meat or fish heavy meals.
• How to cook the perfect steak
Participants will be taught the various cuts and what to look out for when purchasing quality beef before learning to cook steak perfectly.
In addition to the courses, B&H Kitchen will also offer pairing sessions of food, wine and the famous B&H cocktails.
- B&H Kitchen, Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, 42 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, EC1R 0HU. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel. Tel: 0203 174 1156. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the B&H group website. Prices available on application.
For a review of brunch at the Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, click here.
For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.
Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings review: Brunch and bottomless cocktails… what’s not to love?
The Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings is the latest venture from social supremos Bourne & Hollingsworth. The company has already impressed with theirs bars Reverend RW Simpson and Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar and their events such as Blitz Party, Dark Circus and Prohibition. Last September, they added the B&H Buildings – their first restaurant – to their repertoire.
Located in Clerkenwell, just off Exmouth Market, the B&H Buildings is an all-day bar and brasserie offering a relaxed environment. Last week, I paid a visit to experience their new weekend brunch party, which offers fresh English dishes and bottomless cocktails. The first thing which struck me upon entering the venue was how light and airy it was compared to other restaurants. The interiors were inviting with lots of greenery, a good environment for the eyes after a boozy night before. The bar was full of inviting vintage-style sofas and coffee tables, while the dining area featured a mix of patterned armchairs, marble tables and garden furniture, giving a conservatory-feel.
The brunch menu features a choice of single serving or bottomless cocktails – offering unlimited refills on classics such as Bellinis and Bloody Marys for £15/£16. My companion was rather braver than me and ordered a Bloody Mary served to his preference of extra hot. I was in the mood for something a bit easier on the taste buds and ordered one of my favourites, a peach Bellini.
The food menu, printed daily complete with weather forecast which was a nice touch, was a great mix of sweet and savoury, meaning it took me a while to finally commit to a dish. As good as my usual favourite, the Eggs Royale looked, I decided to try something different and opted for the Crispy Potato Hash (£9), which can be served three ways and with a choice of poached hen’s egg or fried duck’s egg. Presented in a crisp white bowl, my hash was mixed with the salmon and topped with two eggs and hollandaise sauce. The potato hash was fairly light and tasted lovely mixed with the salmon and egg. My companion went for a traditional breakfast (from £8.50), comprising of two eggs (to your preference) and toast, with a choice of three items. He decided on Cumberland sausages – which were a little crispy – tomato and black pudding, and evidently enjoyed the filling spread. I was in a rather greedy mood and wanted something sweet to follow so just about managed a second course of French toast with Caramelised Banana and Mixed Nuts (£6). It looked amazing – very gooey and sugary – when it arrived on our table and fortunately it tasted as good as it looked. It was pure indulgence.
Overall I really enjoyed the brunch. The B&H Buildings were relaxing and I found the space a really comfortable space to be in. The service was friendly and we were well attended to throughout our leisurely meal. The food was good and I thought the menu offered a good choice of brunch items. It was a great place to spend a rainy Sunday and I’ll definitely be back.
- Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, 42 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, EC1R 0HU. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel. The weekend brunch parties run from 10am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit the Bourne & Hollingsworth buildings website.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Game on! Enjoy a carnivore feast as pop-up restaurant Struie Road returns
It’s already made quite an impression on the game-ing community last time it ran… and no I’m not talking about fans of consoles, I mean the wild, carnivorous kind of game. After a break this summer, the Wild Game Go are returning with their monthly pop-up restaurant Struie Road. Named after one of Britain’s most remote places and home to top produce, which also happens to be where WGC founder Andy Waugh hails from.
Just in time for the autumn game season, Struie Road will offer an eight-course tasting menu featuring wild treats from Scotland when it returns from September. The main attraction will be the Grouse dish, which will be served on a Forest Floor salad, using Foraged Mushrooms, Dried Cranberries and a Pine and Oat Crumble. Two new dishes on the menu for the new season will be Pickled Herring and Wild Boar Chipirones.
Old favourites previous diners may recognise are also returning; the Surf and Turf, slow cooked Ribs and Oysters, the Venison Chateaubriand and seasonal Ripe Cheese and Hokey Pokey Shards. The dishes will be accompanied by a recommend wine list, to complement the flavours.
The Wild Game Co. was established by Waugh back in 2010. A street food concept, it uses high quality meat from his family’s butchery business just outside Inverness. Wild Game Co. has already received many accolades, including winning Young British Foodies Street Food Award 2012-2013, on Evening Standard’s Top 5 Places to Eat Game in London and a shortlisted finalist for BBC’s Food and Farming Awards 2012.
- Struie Road is open for diners on Friday 26th September, Friday 17th October, Friday 21st November and Friday 5th December 2014, but seats must be booked in advance. It takes place at Workshop Coffee Co., 27 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RN. Nearest tube/train: Farringdon. Tickets: £49 per person including complimentary cocktail on arrival, from 7pm. To book, visit Design My Night, or for more information, check out the Wild Game Co website.
For Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.
Hix comes to Clerkenwell Design Week 2014 with a foodies and wine lovers’ extravaganza
Celebrated chef Mark Hix’s various London restaurants have become some of the hottest places to dine in the capital since he launched his first establishment, Hix Oyster & Chop House in Smithfield in 2008. His various venues offer a wide choice of gastro delights for foodies, complemented by an extensive selection of fine wine.
With Clerkenwell Design Week kicking off this month (20-22 May 2014), Hix has teamed up wine cellar curators The Perfect Cellar to create a special culinary and wine experience at The Clerkenwell Collection, just a stone’s throw from his Smithfield eaterie.
Each tasting session features three dishes created by Hix served alongside a select wine to complement the flavours. As well as the chance to sample the delicious dishes, there will also be tasting notes and discussion. Example dishes include Wye Valley Asparagus with Chervil Mayonnaise, De Beauvoir Smoked Salmon ‘Hix cure’ with Corrigan’s Soda Bread, Roast Glenarm Estate Sirloin Steak with Bobby Beans and Julian Temperley’s Cider Brandy and Venezuelan Black Truffles.
Each session costs just £15 and lasts 45 minutes. All those who participate will also receive a 25% discount voucher (valid until the end of May 2014) off their food bill at Hix Oyster & Chop House. Sessions take place daily during Clerkenwell Design Week, at 12pm, 2pm, 3.30pm and 5pm.
- The pairings are only available during Clerkenwell Design Week (20-22 May 2014) at The Clerkenwell Collection, 155 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3AD. Nearest station: Farringdon. Bookings must be done in advance. For more information and bookings, visit The Collection website.