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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

Gaze up (or down) the stunning Brewer staircase at Heal’s

The history of the Cecil Brewer staircase and Heal’s flagship store at Tottenham Court Road.

Heal's staircase © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The Cecil Brewer staircase at Heal’s flagship store

London is full of some pretty spectacular staircases, many hidden from view from the general public. In my opinion, one of the capital’s most lovely ones is located in Heal’s furniture store in Tottenham Court Road.

Heal's staircase © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The stunning staircase is accompanied by a Bocci chandelier

Heal’s has a long history on Tottenham Court Road, having had a store on the street for over 200 years. Heal’s was originally founded by John Harris Heal (1772-1833), a feather dresser from the west country. He opened his first store in Rathbone Place in 1810, before relocating to 203 Tottenham Court Road in 1818. The store soon won over Londoners with its feather mattresses, which were significantly more comfortable than the typical straw palliasses that many were sleeping on at the time.

When John died in 1833, his widow Fanny (1782-1859) and their son John Harris Heal Jnr (1810-1876) took over the business and renamed it Fanny Heal & Son. In 1840, they moved the premises to the current site at 192 Tottenham Court Road with a new purpose-built store. The new building was designed in a Venetian Palazzo style by architect James Morant Lockyer (1824-1865) and was completed in 1854. Now incorporating No.s 186-198, it became known as one of the largest stores in the capital.

Heal's staircase © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The Heal’s cat mascot is perched on a windowsill

By 1916, Heal’s was under management by John Jnr’s son Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), who had joined the family business in 1893 after completing an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker. He wanted to modernise the business for the 20th century and enlisted his cousin and best friend Cecil Brewer (1871-1918) and business partner Arnold Dunbar Smith (1886-1933) to design a new store. The original building was demolished to make way for the new store, which was was built between 1914-1917. Brewer erected his namesake spiral staircase at the back of the store in 1916, ready to take visitors upstairs to the new Mansard Gallery. The helix of lights tumbling from the ceiling were added after World War II. The concrete and wooden staircase was refurbished in 2013 and a Bocci chandelier was added, completing its picture-perfect look.

If you look closely as you ascend the staircase, you may notice a bronze sculpture of a cat. Known as the store mascot, the cat has been perched on a windowsill of the stairs since they were built. One interesting story involves 101 Dalmatians writer Dodie Smith (1896-1990), who worked at Heal’s toy department for 10 years in the 1920s and had an affair with Ambrose Heal. She confessed in her autobiography to selling the cat, with an unimpressed Ambrose later writing to the customer to cancel the sale with a note reading, “Heal’s mascot. Not for sale.”

Although Heal’s hasn’t been a family business since 1983, it’s still trading in furniture and homewares on Tottenham Court Road over two centuries later. The store was Grade-II listed in 1974 and it’s magnificent staircase is still used by customers to access different departments.

  • Heal’s, 196 Tottenham Court Road, Fitzrovia, W1T 7LQ. Nearest stations: Goodge Street, Warren Street or Tottenham Court Road.

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Mac and Wild Fitzrovia review: Hearty comfort food and the best of the Highlands

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Venison Topside Steak 200g and chips

When I first heard about Scottish game restaurant Mac & Wild, I initially dismissed the cuisine as not for me. As a pescatarian, the likes of haggis and venison are off-limits to me. However, after hearing good buzz about it and realising they have menu options for me, I decided to give it a try. A freezing night in February seemed the perfect time for some Scottish fare, with my carnivore boyfriend on hand to sample the meatier options.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

An Irn Bru Daiquiri

Mac & Wild initially started out as a street food stall, bringing Scottish culinary exports to Londoners, before opening a pop-up, and today has two permanent restaurants in the West End and City. The menu prides itself on offering seasonal Scottish produce sourced from hand-picked suppliers in the Highlands. If you’re expecting a Scottish theme restaurant, you’ll be disappointed as there are no ginger wigs or tartan costumes in sight. The Fitzrovia branch has gone for a modern, rustic-inspired look with handmade tables made from old trees, brown leather cushions and black and white landscape photographs of the Highlands. As we sat down to our table, my immediate thought was how cosy and warm it was. A posey of Scottish thistles in an Iru Bru can masquerading as a vase was a quirky touch which made us chuckle.

Having noticed the iconic orange can on our table, I knew I had to try to the Irn Bru Daiquiri as my apéritif when I saw the cocktail menu. Admittedly I had forgotten what Irn Bru tasted like as it had been decades since I last drank it. While I approached the drink with scepticism, I was pleasantly surprised and it went down a treat. Served in a martini glass, it consisted of Ron Matuselum Platino Rum, Irn Bru reduction, Angostora Bitters and Lime – a sweet concoction. Meanwhile, my companion opted for The Forager, billed as a Wild Old Fashioned, made with Glenkinchie 12yo, foraged pine needle tincture, double infused heather honey and finished with barrel-aged bitters, which he said was an interesting twist on his favourite cocktail.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Cullen Skink, a soup made with smoked haddock, potato, onion, chives and dill

When it came to starters, we both chose fishy ones. As I was anticipating a three-course meal, I decided on a lighter starter – Inverawe Smoked Salmon served with sourdough, whipped butter and lemon. The salmon was so fresh and rich in flavour and served with the bread, it didn’t linger long on my plate. Meanwhile, my boyfriend had my second choice, the brilliantly named Cullen Skink. To the uninitiated, it’s a classic Scottish soup made with smoked haddock, potato, onion, chives and dill. He praised the flavour and it’s suitability for a cold winter night. I tried a sip and thought it was delicious – definitely one to order on a return visit.  Read the rest of this entry

Fitzrovia Chapel | The story of a beautiful hidden gem

Life is sweet! Sample boozy sweets at the Flavour Rooms pop-up at the Sanderson

© Smith & Sinclair

Sweets aren’t just for the kids! This Christmas, adult Londoners can get their sugar fix while indulging their passion for cocktails. Following the success of their first ever edible alcohol store Eat My Drink in Soho last year, candy wizards Smith & Sinclair are returning with two immersive shopping experiences. This festive season, two pop-up sweet stores will be opening in Fitzrovia and Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.

© Smith & Sinclair 2015

Down the hatch! Try Smith & Sinclair’s trademark cocktail pastilles

The Flavour Rooms at the Sanderson hotel will be like a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with a boozy twist. The fun new experience will run alongside Smith & Sinclair at Purple Bar – which will serve alcoholic concoctions, including cocktails that change flavour. From 18 November until Christmas Eve, guests will step inside a surreal installation featuring a cocktail sherbet wall, pick ‘n’ mix, edible perfumes, twisted ‘salt & pepper’ shakers and alcoholic dib dabs. After sampling some of the treats, you can shop for boozy goodies – a great Christmas gift for your cocktail aficionado pals.

Smith & Sinclair have enlisted creative studio BeyondExact – famous for their works with Adidas, House of Holland and Lady Gaga – to design the Flavour Rooms. The studio’s founder James Ruth said: ‘Working with a brand like Smith&Sinclair is always a pleasure, as like us, they like to push ideas, through design and concept. To make people think, challenge and abandon the mundane.’

  • The Flavour Room London is open from 18 November – 24 December 2016 from 12-8pm. Sanderson Hotel, 50 Berners Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 3NG. Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street or Oxford Circus. For more information, visit The Flavour Rooms website.

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

Or to find out about London’s Christmas markets and fairs, click here.

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The Restaurant at Sanderson review: Fine dining at Fitzrovia’s boutique hotel

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Roasted Salmon with white Bean and Chorizo Cassoulet at The Restaurant at Sanderson

The Sanderson has long been one of the coolest hotels in London. Situated in Fitzrovia, the boutique hotel is situated in a 1950s building and features one restaurant and two bars. I had previously visited their lovely courtyard for alfresco cocktails and really liked the place. However, recently, I finally got round to booking a table in their restaurant for a girlie dinner.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The signature Sanderson cocktail (Beefeater Gin, Lychee Juice, Melon Liquer, Lime and Aperol)

On the night in question, all four of our party ended up arriving unusually late due to dreadful transport issues due a large outdoors event going on in the West End. However, the staff were incredibly patient and friendly. We were shown to a well-placed table on the higher level of the dining room, with views out to the courtyard, which was full of twinkling lights.

On the night in question we opted for a set menu, starting with a signature Sanderson cocktail (Beefeater Gin, Lychee Juice, Melon Liquer, Lime and Aperol) to welcome us. I was initially unsure as I’m not mad about melon or lychee, but the gin and lime flavours came through enough and I found it refreshing and light. Being situated right next to the hotel’s Long Bar, their mixologists were close by for whatever you fancied during the meal.

The menu contains a mix of British cuisine with a European influence and is seasonal. To start with, I opted for the Spiced Parsnip Soup. The flavour was subtle and is a good gentle start to the three-courses.

For my mains, I accidentally ordered a dish in a rush, not realising there was meat included and they happily switched it for another one (I’m a pescatarian). I had opted for the Roasted Salmon with white Bean and Chorizo Cassoulet.

Finally to finish, I decided on the Dandelion and Burdock Popping Candy Ice Cream – a rather more creative and fun dessert than I am used to seeing on the menu. It was quite an unusual combination, with the flavour more subtle than I expected, but I liked it. I also tried my friend’s Coconut and Mango Posset with Lime Zest Crisp, which was fruity and refreshing.

Overall, the meal was good. I would like to go back when there are different set menu options. The best part of the evening was probably the staff, they were incredibly friendly, attentive and accommodating – particularly given my order mistake and our tardiness.

  • The Restaurant at Sanderson, Sanderson London, 50 Berners Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 3NG. Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road, ?. For more information, visit the Sanderson London website.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Coconut and Mango Posset with Lime Zest Crisp

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The Restaurant - Sanderson Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Square Meal

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The Riding House Café review: Weekend brunching at a buzzy, all-day brasserie

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Buttermilk pancakes at The Riding House Café in Fitzrovia

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Glossy Mags (Prosecco Frassinelli, Cocchi Rosa and Fever Tree Tonic)

Without a doubt, The Riding House Café is one of the most popular eateries in Fitzrovia. I have often heard of friends meeting there for work lunches or weekend brunches. Recently, I finally booked a Saturday brunch (served 12-4pm) with a friend and was fortunately to book a slot a few days before. The venue is very popular and there was a queue of people waiting for brunch so I was fortunate I hadn’t been disorganised enough to chance a walk-up!

The RHC is an all-day brasserie split into two dining rooms. Huge windows let in lots of light, with the sleek leather and bright tilework giving a very New York feel. I personally wasn’t keen on the taxidermy mounted on the walls, but hipsters may appreciate that quirky design feature. We were shown to a small table at the back of the restaurant. Although we were seated pretty close to other diners, the general buzz of chatting people mean you didn’t feel like they could overhear too much.

The cocktail menu features a section specially recommended for brunch, so I opted for a Glossy Mags (Prosecco Frassinelli, Cocchi Rosa and Fever Tree Tonic) at £8. Served with dry rose petals, the drink was less sweeter and more dry than I anticipated. It was refreshing and, while I have some friends who may prefer it, it wasn’t for me so I would opt for something else next time.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Lobster Benedict on an English muffin

I love lobster was so thrilled to see Lobster Benedict (£9.50) an option on the menu. There was a choice of one or two servings. I opted for one, but immediately regretted not ordering two when it arrived as it was fairly small. Size aside, the lobster was lovely and tasted great with the egg and hollandaise sauce. I would likely order the same should I return, but definitely two of them!

However, one positive of not ordering the larger portion of Lobster Benedict was I still had room for a second course – something that doesn’t often happen for me during brunch. I had heard good things about the Buttermilk Pancakes with Berries, Vanilla Clotted Cream and Maple Syrup (£7.50) from friends who dined at RHC previously. I was pleasantly surprised to see a decent quantity of Berries as I often find eateries sometimes scrimp on those. The pancakes were just a tiny bit overcooked so a little bit crispier than I would have liked, but generally tasted fairly good.

Overall, I did enjoy my visit to the Riding House Café and would return again. I made some wrong menu choices, but that was simply down to my tastes. The service was fast and attentive and I liked the atmosphere.

  • The Riding House Cafe, 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 7PQ. Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road, Warren Street, Goodge Street. For more information and booking, visit the Riding House Café website.

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

The Riding House Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Lucky Pig review: Swig a cocktail (or four!) at this decadent drinking den

Lucky Pig © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Retro style: The Lucky Pig bar features vintage furniture, ripped wallpaper and retro lighting

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Basement speakeasy: Head downstairs for some retro decadence

I always loved the 1920s and 1930s as a stunning era for fashion, design and architecture. So with the release of the recent Great Gatsby movie, I was in the mood for an evening at a venues which fit the bill for a flapper’s night out. Arranging to meet a girl friend for some mid-week post-work drinks and a gossip in central London, we decided to meet at Oxford Circus and check out The Lucky Pig in Fitzrovia. While there are nearer tube stations, it’s really such a short walk to Clipstone Street – which is just off Great Portland Street. Located just under Bolshover House on the junction with Bolshover Street, you are greeted by a colourful mural with the name of the bar, inviting you downstairs to the basement below. While the cocktail bar is located in a basement, it is far from dinghy. Some skylights, coupled with twinkling chandeliers and retro lampshades, give the place just enough light. Although it hasn’t been there for years, the faded and peeling wallpaper, old posters and vintage furniture make you feel like you’ve walked into a hidden gem that’s always been there.

Lucky Pig 4 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Back in time: The mismatched furniture and retro lampshades gives the bar a vintage feel

My friend and I arrived on a Tuesday evening, but found most of the tables were reserved or taken so pulled up a stool at the bar. Happy hour was on giving two-for-one cocktails so we spent quite some time trying to decide between the wide range of original cocktails. We started off being a bit decadent than usual – well it did fit the theme of the bar! – by ordering a Prosecco-based mixture. We started with the Isadora Belle – a concoction of Belvedere Raspberry Vodka, framboise, pineapple juice and Prosecco, served in a martini glass and was delicious. We also tried a more light, refreshing Grey Goose Le Fizz – Grey Goose Vodka, lime, elderflower and soda. Although on the night in question there was quiet background music enabling us to talk, the bar does host live music and DJs too. Overall, the staff were friendly and the drinks went down very easily. I loved the venue’s faded-style grandeur which gave it a lot more atmosphere and style than so many other bars in the area. I will definitely be back.

  • Lucky Pig, 5 Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 6BB. Nearest stations: Great Portland Street or Regent’s Street. Open Tues-Sat. For more information and detailed opening times and menus, visit The Lucky Pig website.

    Lucky Pig cocktails © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

    Cheers! A Grey Goose Le Fizz (left) and a Isadora Belle (right)

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History of the BT Tower in Fitzrovia | A revolving restaurant and communications hub

The story behind one of London’s iconic landmarks.

BT Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Lofty: The BT Tower in Fitzrovia stands tall at 581ft, with the aerials bringing it to 620ft

It’s a dominant symbol on the London skyline, yet many city dwellers don’t quite have the same affection for the BT Tower as other lofty landmarks. Maybe this is because most of us haven’t had the opportunity to have a shared history with the building because it’s been closed to the public for over three decades. Many visitors to the capital may be surprised to know the building has been hovering over the streets of Fitzrovia since the 1960s and is a Grade II-listed monument.

Originally commissioned by the GPO (General Post Office) and designed by Eric Bedford (1909-2001) and GR Yeats, the tower’s main function was to carry telecommunication signals from London to across the country. Although construction began before the Millbank Tower (387ft), the latter was erected quicker and was briefly the tallest building in London until the BT Tower was completed in 1964. At 581ft high, it reigned supreme as the tallest in London until Tower 42 was built in the City of London in 1980. Opened by the then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1916-1995) in October 1965, the £2.5million BT Tower included 37 floors and two elevators. Seven months after the official opening, the building was open to the public with quite a variety of amusements to keep them occupied in May 1966.

Bt Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The BT Tower looms over bustling Fitzrovia

BT Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Tower is still used by TV and satellite companies, as well as to monitor air quality

One such attraction was the Top of the Tower revolving restaurant. When I was a child growing up in London in the Eighties, I remember my parents talking about the restaurant on the 34th floor, which was sadly closed in 1980 due to terrorism fears. In 1971, an IRA bomb exploded in the men’s toilets at the restaurant. I remember for years not realising it had actually closed and in my young girl’s mind, fantasising about hanging on to my table for dear life as the restaurant whizzed around at speed. Actually it was a gentle revolution every 22 minutes. Also towards the top of the building were public viewing galleries and a gift shop. However, a year after Top of the Tower closed, public access was also halted.

Of course, while telecommunications have changed drastically over the past 30 years, the BT Tower is still used by TV and satellite companies, as well as to monitor air quality. Since 2009, a 360 degree LED display has been wrapped around the Tower at the 36th and 37th floors projecting messages and the BT logo.

Although we are spoiled for choice when it comes to seeing London from a height – most recently with The Shard and The Orbit at the Olympic Park, I believe there would be demand and many willing, paying customers who would love the chance to eat in the BT Tower’s revolving restaurant again. While this appears unlikely to happen at the moment, who knows what the future will hold…

  • BT Tower, 60 Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 4JZ. Nearest stations: Warren Street or Goodge Street.

Monument view St Paul's BT Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Dwarfing the great dome: The BT Tower stands over 200 feet higher than London’s previous tallest building St Paul’s Cathedral (as seen from The Monument)

For Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London’s tallest buildings, read about Tower 42, the Lloyd’s Building, the inauguration of The Shard laser or Galvin at Windows at the Hilton.

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