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Discovering the origins of Somerset House on the Historical Highlights Tour

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Historical Highlights Tour explores the history and secrets of Somerset House

Somerset House is one of my favourite London buildings. It’s so versatile, full of history, is beautiful to look at and has a wealth of entertainment and art options. The current building we see today dates back to the 18th and 19th century, but its history goes way back to the 16th century. With over 450 years of history on the site, there’s a lot to take in. However, the Historical Highlights Tour, which takes place every week is a good place to start.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Gravestones from the former Catholic chapel are now hidden under the courtyard

The first large house on the site was a two-storey property, which started to be built in 1547. It was a home for the Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), who was given the land by his brother-in-law King Henry VIII. He served as Lord Protector of England for the first two years of his nephew King Edward VI’s (1537-1553) reign from 1547-1549, who was only nine when he came to the Throne. However, Somerset was overthrown in October 1549 and was executed on Tower Hill in 1552. His house, known as Somerset Place, was taken into the crown’s possession, with the future Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) living there during her half-sister Queen Mary’s (1516-1558) reign. However, the house hadn’t been completed decades later, with 16th century historian John Stow (1524/25-1605) referring to Somerset Place as still ‘yet unfinished’ in 1598 – over 50 years after building work started.

By 1603, Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort to King James I of England (or James VI of Scotland) was given Somerset Place for her London residence, with it renamed Denmark House in her honour. Anne enrolled architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), among others, to make some improvements and additions to the long neglected house. Following Anne’s death, Jones designed a chapel in 1636 where her daughter-in-law, Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), wife of King Charles I, could quietly worship as a Roman Catholic, when Protestant was the dominant religion of the time. A small cemetery was established outside the chapel, with some of the 17th century gravestones being shown during the tour.  Read the rest of this entry

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Party back in time at Home Front: Immersive Time Travel experience

© Partygeek

If you’re a fan of vintage or would love to time-travel, this new immersive experience could be right up your street. This December, revellers will have the chance to journey back to World War II with live music, adventures, cocktails and more.

‘Home Front: Immersive Time Travel’ will explore the untold stories from the 1940s, from the often ignored perspective of women, homosexuals and colonial soldiers. Upon arrival, guests will be asked a question and their answer can bring them in nine different directions. Follow your own story as you fight to get out of escape rooms, enjoy intimate performances and are forced to make a decision about your character’s future. Once your journey is completed, you’ll find out who your character was and their decision. The characters are based on real-life people, including a famous fighter pilot who lived openly as a homosexual, an Indian princess-turned-spy and other less well known London figures.

Time travellers will also be entertained with a live swing band and drinks from five separately themed bars. Guests’ entrance time will be staggered, with a range of ticket packages on sale.

  • Home Front: Immersive Time Travel takes place on 2 December 2017 at a secret east London location. 5.15pm-10.30pm. Tickets start from £25. For booking, visit DesignMyNight.

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Pickering Place: Step inside London’s smallest square

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Pickering Place is the smallest square in London

Walking down St James’s Street to the Tudor landmark St James’s Palace, it’s likely you may not have even noticed Pickering Place. Located next to the 17th century wine shop Berry Bros. & Rudd is an unassuming courtyard leading east. Pickering Place is thought to be the smallest public square in London. Entering the square, it’s like stepping back in time. The small space includes Georgian terraces, original gas lamps and wrought iron railings. The only obvious bit of modernity is the alfresco tables and seating spilling out from the Boulestin French restaurant (No.5 St James’s Street) on the north side.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The passage leads off St James Street to Pickering Place

Prior to the establishment of Pickering Place in the Georgian era, there was a court roughly on the same site, called Stroud’s Court. This Court, featuring four small tenements, was built in the back garden of No.3 St James’s Street in around 1690. In 1698, Widow Bourne established a grocery shop and coffee mill at No.3 St James’s Street. The family business appeared to be going so well by the 1730s, her son-in-law William Pickering did a deal with the landlords and agreed to demolish the existing buildings of Stroud Court and rebuild. Pickering obtained a new lease and by 1734 it was renamed Pickering Court and contained the five current dwellings, with his family living at No.5. Pickering’s son William Jnr continued to run the grocers with a relative John Clarke in the 1750s, with the latter’s grandson George Berry joining the business in the early 19th century. The shop has focused on selling wine for over 200 years and continues to trade under the name Berry Bros & Rudd, as you see today. While the Pickering name was lost from the business frontage, the name continued with the square being renamed Pickering Place in 1810.

Meanwhile, on the floor above Berry Bros at No.4 St James’s Street was the Embassy for the Republic of Texas. The Southern state was briefly an independent country from 1836-1845 before it joined the United States. Today, a plaque in the passage entrance commemorates the embassy: “Texas Legation in this building was the legation for the ministers from the Republic of Texas to the Court of St. James 1842 – 1845.” When Texas joined the USA, it abandoned its London embassy and left an unpaid rent bill of £160 to its landlords at Berry Bros. However, over 100 years later, a group of Texans travelled to London to repay the debt of their forefathers in 1986.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Pickering Place was once known for gambling, dualling and brothels

Wine shops and embassies aside, Pickering Place is also said to be the last place in London where a duel was fought. In the 18th and 19th century, the area hosted some rather dodgy goings on, including gambling, bear-baiting and brothels… we can all assume that those activities could frequently create a duelling situation! Regency dandy and friend to King George IV, Beau Brummell (1778-1840) – who is commemorated with a sculpture outside the Piccadilly Arcade – is among those reported to have fought here. Brummell appears as a character in Georgette Heyer’s 1935 novel Regency Buck, which describes No.5 Pickering Place as a ‘gambling hell’ in Regency London.

Today No.1-5 Pickering Place are all Grade II listed buildings, while the courtyard is used by Boulestin restaurant. Meanwhile, Berry Bros continues to sell hundreds of different wines, as well as hosting special events, wine school and tastings.

  • Pickering Place, off St James Street, St James, SW1A. Nearest station: Green Park.

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The old pillars of the former Blackfriars railway bridge

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The remains of the old Blackfriars Railway Bridge stands next to the current Blackfriars station

If you walk along the Thames Path, or perhaps cross the River Thames via foot or train on the two Blackfriars Bridges, you may have noticed these pieces of unusual river furniture. Running from north to south are pairs of red pillars, which used to support the original railway bridge before it was dismantled in the 1980s. Rather confusingly for Londoners, there were two Blackfriars railway bridges and various name changes between the current Blackfriars station and another station south of the Thames which no longer exists.

Blackfriars Railway Bridge By James Dredge, via Wikimedia Commons

The Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge in 1897
By James Dredge, via Wikimedia Commons

The red pillars we see today are what remains of Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge, which was built in 1864 by engineer Joseph Cubitt (1811-1872) for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR). The bridge brought trains across the Thames between the original Blackfriars Bridge station (south of the Thames) and Ludgate Hill station (closed in 1929). The original bridge was four tracks wide and supported ornate abutments featuring the LC&DR’s insignia. The original Blackfriars Bridge station was located near the junction of Southwark Street and Blackfriars Road.

It wasn’t long before Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge was joined by its sister bridge, the St Paul’s Railway Bridge, which led into the newer St Paul’s train station on the north bank of the Thames, aka the current Blackfriars station. St Paul’s station and the new bridge opened in 1886, the latter designed by civil engineers Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) and Henry Marc Brunel (1842-1903). Wolfe Barry was the engineer of Tower Bridge and the son of architect Charles Barry, who famously redesigned the Houses of Parliament. Meanwhile, Brunel was the son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famous for the Thames Tunnel and Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, amongst many other landmarks.

Old Blackfriars rail bridge © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The red pillars used to stand in rows of three, but only pairs are visible

Old Blackfriars rail bridge © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The southern abutment and LC&DR insignia have been restored

When the new St Paul’s station opened, LC&DR decided to close Blackfriars Bridge to passengers, but kept the station open as a goods’ yard. It continued in that guise until 3 February 1964, before it was demolished four years later. The only sign of the station today is the cobbled entrance driveway behind an office block.

Meanwhile, St Paul’s station was thriving and continued to serve trains heading through the City. In 1937, the station was renamed Blackfriars to avoid confusion with the tube station St Paul’s, which had been named Post Office since its opening in 1900 due to its proximity to the HQ of the General Post Office. The same year, Post Office tube station was renamed St Paul’s, as it remains today as a stop on the Central Line.

In 1985, it was decided the old Blackfriars Railway Bridge was too weak to support modern trains and it was dismantled. However, the red pillars and the southern abutment remained in situ. Originally the pillars were in rows of three, but the eastern columns were absorbed into the rebuilding of Blackfriars station on the younger bridge in 2011, so only pairs are visible to the public now. During the works, the LC&DR’s insignia was restored as a lasting reminder of a bridge and train company of yesteryear.

  • The original Blackfriars Railway Bridge abutments can be viewed from the Thames Path (south side) and the embankment running alongside Blackfriars Underpass (north side). Nearest station: Blackfriars.

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The façade of the Cock and Hoop Tavern: A crime against architecture

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The old façade of the Cock A Hoop tavern in Spitalfields

When developers buy old buildings, there is often fear of what will become of them. Depending on what protections have been put in place by local councils, some can be changed beyond all recognition or even demolished. However, some buildings can be mostly destroyed with only the façade remaining. Sometimes this can be done with great sensitivity and the modern building can complement the older. However, there are some pretty horrendous examples of ‘façadism’, one of which I’m going to look at in this post.

Gun St facade © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The windows of the façade don’t line up with the modern windows of Lilian Knowles House

Spitalfields is one of my favourite areas of London – I love the architecture, the history and the atmosphere. Admittedly there has been a lot of development in the past 10 years especially, both good and bad. However, when wandering around the back streets of the area, I often sigh when passing by this shocking example of façadism.

On the corner of Gun Street and Artillery Lane stands what remains of the Cock A Hoop tavern. Today, only the 19th century façade remains, with the modern Lilian Knowles House student housing behind. What is so bizarre, is the windows of Lilian Knowles House don’t even line up with the façade’s windows so residents would have limited lighting and views of brick walls… a very strange design decision.

When I attempted to research the history of the building, there wasn’t much around. The Cock A Hoop tavern was established in 1810 and was first run by publican Joseph Hammond. I’m presuming (although please comment if I’m wrong!), that name referred to an earlier building on the site and the current façade we see today is the second building. The pub belonged to Meux’s Brewery, owned by brewer Henry Meux (1770-1841) and subsequently his son, MP Sir Henry Meux (1817-1883). Although the brewery no longer exists, its name became infamous due to the London Beer Flood of 1814. At the time, the company was named Meux And Company and its brewery was based on Tottenham Court Road – around the current site of the Dominion Theatre. Surrounding the brewery was the incredibly impoverished slums of St Giles. On 17 October, one of huge vats ruptured, spilling 323,000 imperial gallons of beer onto the surrounding streets. The beer flooded basement homes and destroyed several buildings, resulting in the deaths of eight people, half of which were children. Meux and Co were taken to court, but amazingly managed to escape prosecution, with the judge and jury claiming the spill was an ‘Act of God’. The brewery was later demolished in 1922, with the Dominion Theatre going up on the site in 1928-29.  Read the rest of this entry

Fitzrovia Chapel: A beautiful hidden gem

Open House London 2017: Highlights and tips to make the most of the weekend

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Step inside some of London’s special buildings, such as 18th century Drapers Hall

History and architecture buffs rejoice – Open House London is returning. Now in its 25th year, the weekend is essentially a festival of design, history and architecture. Over 16-17 September 2017, around 800 homes, government buildings, offices and more will open their doors to the public for free. While some usual fee-paying museums won’t be charging during the weekend, there are also rare opportunities to visit some very special buildings, such as 10 Downing Street or the clock tower of St Pancras, that are usually off-limits to the public. Some buildings, such as the latter two just mentioned, are only entry by ballot or booking in advance. However, most you can just turn up and enter. Some popular venues, such as the Gherkin and the Billingsgate Roman Bath House, are likely to have a long queue. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the most of Open House London. This guide lists what I consider the highlights of this year’s event, although the following section featuring reviews and photos of buildings already visited by Metro Girl, includes further highlights too.

Highlights of Open House London 2017

30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin. Iconic skyscraper in the City of London, built in 2003. Open Saturday and Sunday 8am-3pm (long queues likely). 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP. Nearest stations: Bank, Aldgate or Liverpool Street.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Hindu temple, built in 1995. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. 105-119 Brentfield Road, Neasden, NW10 8LD. Nearest station: Harlesden.

Drapers Hall. Livery Hall first built in 1530s, twice rebuilt. Featuring 19th century façade and Victorian interiors. Open Sunday 10am-4pm. Throgmorton Street, City of London, EC2N 2DQ. Nearest station: Bank or Liverpool Street.

Finsbury Town Hall. Art Nouveau, Victorian building from 1895. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Rosebery Avenue, Farringdon, EC1R 4RP. Nearest station: Farringdon or Angel.

Freemasons’ Hall. Art Deco meets classical, built in 1927-33. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. 60 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AZ. Nearest station: Holborn or Covent Garden.

Fuller’s Griffin Brewery. Victorian brewery, built in 1828. Open Sunday 10am-5pm (booking required). Chiswick Lane South, W4 2QB. Nearest station: Stamford Brook or Turnham Green.

Guildhall. The City’s base of their municipal Government since the 12th century, built in 1440/1789. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. Gresham Street, City of London, EC2V 7HH. Nearest stations: St Paul’s, Mansion House or Moorgate.

Home House. Georgian townhouse with fine interiors, built in 1776. Open Sunday 3pm-5pm (book tour in advance). 20 Portman Square, W1H 6LW. Nearest stations: Bond Street or Marble Arch.

Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s London home, dating back to 13th century. Open Saturday 9am-2pm (book time slot only through website). Lambeth Palace Road, Lambeth, SE1 7JU. Nearest station: Lambeth North.

Masonic Temple. Greek Masonic Temple in the former Great Eastern Hotel, built in 1912. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Andaz Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, EC2M 7QN. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.

One Canada Square. Nineties skyscraper in Canary Wharf with tours to the 39th floor. Open Saturday 10am-4pm (book in advance). One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, E14 5AB. Nearest station: Canary Wharf.

Rudolf Steiner House. Unique example of expressionist architecture, built in 1926-1937. Open Sunday 1-5pm. 35 Park Road, Regents’ Park, NW1 6XT. Nearest stations: Baker Street or Marylebone.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Visit the Great Hall and Maggie’s Centre at the 18th century hospital. Open Sunday 10am-5pm (book in advance). West Smithfield, City of London, EC1A 7BE. Nearest station: Farringdon.

Two Temple Place. Victorian office/residential building in an Elizabethan style, built in 1895. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. 2 Temple Place, City of London, WC2R 3BD. Nearest station: Temple.

Underground Bunker. WWII bunker 40ft underground, used by Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, built in 1940. Open Saturday 8.30am-5.30pm (book in advance). 109 Brook Road, Neasden, NW2 7DZ. Nearest station: Neasden or Dollis Hill.

Wrotham Park. Privately-owned Georgian, Palladian mansion, built in 1754. Open Sunday 10am-3pm (book in advance). Wrotham Park, Barnet, EN5 4SB. Nearest station: Hadley Wood or Potters Bar. Read the rest of this entry

Crystal Palace Subway: A hidden survivor of a lost Victorian train station

A rare chance to get up close to the painted ceiling at the Old Royal Naval College

Migration Museum review: Take a closer look at Britain’s cultural landscape

© Migration Museum Project

The Migration Museum has opened at The Workshop in Lambeth, central London

Following the Brexit vote last year, the Syrian refugee crisis and Donald Trump’s shock presidency, the issue of migration is bigger than ever. London is renowned for being a multicultural city so it’s no surprise most of the capital voted against Brexit. Most Londoners recognise the huge contribution migrants have given to the city. However, migration is no new phenomena, with waves from various parts in the world dating back centuries. London itself after all was founded by migrants, aka Romans, in the 1st century. As someone who was born, grew up and continues to live in London, I can’t think of many friends who are British going back generations. I myself am a first generation Brit born to Irish parents and most of my best friends have migrant parents.

With migration being such an important part of London’s history, it’s amazing there hasn’t been a museum dedicated to the subject until now. However this spring, the Migration Museum opened its doors at The Workshop in Lambeth. The Workshop, an arts and community space which is home to the London Fire Brigade Museum among others, is a temporary venue for the Museum until 2018. The museum aims to explore how the movement of people has shaped the country throughout history.

© Migration Museum Project

Call Me By My Name gives a voice to the Calais Migrants, a group generalised and stereotyped
© Migration Museum Project

I paid a visit recently and checked out two exhibitions: Call Me By My Name and 100 Images Of Migration. The latter was a collection of thought-provoking images of migrants in Britain from professional and amateur photographers, dating back decades to present day. Although some photos were very different, they collectively demonstrated up the variety of experiences and lifestyles of migrants in the UK. I especially liked a photo of children from different ethnic groups playing together, which was a lovely display of integration and reminded me of my childhood at a multi-cultural, south London primary school.

Call Me By My Name is a particularly powerful exhibition, giving a voice to those who experienced living in Calais’ infamous ‘Jungle’. Following a lot of negative criticism and pigeon-holing in the media, this multi-media exhibition humanises them. Through art, images and other media, it delves into individuals’ motivation for leaving their home country, their desperation to seek safe refuge and their hopes for a new life in the UK or Europe. Reading some of the first-person narratives was incredibly moving and I think many MPs should check it out before making decisions regarding the UK’s treatment of migrants. The exhibition is far from one-sided, giving the views of politicians, lorry drivers and others who hold more negative opinions of migrants. I was specially struck by the tear gas curtain – what looks like a piece of decoration from afar, it’s only on closer inspection you realise it is made of tear gas canisters used in ‘the Jungle’, provoking a disturbing image.

Overall, the Migration Museum provides a balanced, informative and moving collection, putting migration in context and demonstrating it cannot be generalised. Regardless of your background, it’s well worth visiting to explore how movement of people having shaped our country, particularly when Brexit is likely to make a huge impact on this in the coming years.

  • Migration Museum @ The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, SE1 7AG. Nearest station: Vauxhall, Westminster or Lambeth North. Open Wed-Sun 11am-5pm (late opening on last Thursday of the month until 9pm. Free admission. For more information, visit the Migration Museum website.

To find out about the new ‘No Turning Back’ exhibition at the MM (Sep 2017-Feb 2018), click here.

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