Blog Archives

The Chelsea cows – the story behind Wright’s Dairy and its surprising musical legacy

Have you ever spotted a cow’s head sticking out of one of Chelsea’s buildings? Here’s the history behind them…

Wrights Dairy King's Road © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The former Wright’s Dairy on the Kings Road now houses a Carphone Warehouse

Today, the London district of Chelsea is famous for its football club, trust fund socialites and designer boutiques. However, until the 19th century, the area was a rural neighbourhood. Chelsea served as a market garden for the rapidly-expanding city, with corn, barley, fruit and vegetables grown on the area’s numerous farms, orchards and gardens. It was particularly known for its root vegetables and was the first place in Britain where lettuce was grown successfully in the mid-to-late 18th century. Meanwhile, the area became fashionable for the wealthy from the 16th and 17th centuries, with its residential districts starting to overtake the farms in the late 19th century.

Wrights Dairy © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Wrights Dairy head office in Old Church Street

One such farm which held on longer than others was Wright’s Dairy. The dairy was one of the first in Chelsea and was erected on Cook’s Grounds (the site of Glebe’s Place today) in 1796. Around 50 cows and two goats grazed nearby, providing milk for the dairy. In advertorials for their business, they were described as ‘dairy farmers and cowkeepers’. A frequent visitor to the dairy was Scottish philosopher and writer Thomas Carylyle (1795-1881), who lived a few minutes walk away on Cheyne Row. At the time of Carylyle lived in Chelsea, the dairy was run by W. H. Wright, whose late father had founded the business.

The Old Dairy was forced to move slightly west due to rapid redevelopment in the late 1800s, with Cook’s Ground and the nearby kitchen gardens of the Chelsea Rectory being swallowed up by housing. Wright’s Dairy set up their headquarters and a shop at 38-48 Church Street (now Old Church Street). The fields behind the dairy were used for the grazing cows. The street – which runs from the Embankment to the Fulham Road – is one of the oldest recorded streets in the area and dates back to the 16th century. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, business was booming for Wright’s Dairy and it was well-known and respected in the area. Its advertising in 1914 (see here) boasted about being “under constant medical, veterinary and sanitary inspection” and “acknowledged to be the finest and cleanest dairy in Chelsea”. One of their big selling points was stocking “humanised, sterilised and special nursery milk in glass bottles for infants and invalids”. As well as their Old Church Street base, Wright’s also had a shop at 69 King’s Road. Like many dairies of the time, both shops and the headquarters featured cow head sculptures sticking out of the top of the buildings.  Read the rest of this entry

Room to Breathe exhibition review: Exploring the journey from new arrival to finding ‘home’ @ Migration Museum

Migration Room To Breathe © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Room To Breathe is a new exhibition at the Migration Museum

The Migration Museum has been open since 2016 and explores how the movement of people has shaped the capital over history. Although a hot topic of conversation in the media, it’s far from new, as migration in and out of London and the UK as a whole has been going on for centuries. This month, the Migration Museum launched their newest exhibition Room To Breathe, which runs until summer 2019. I went along to the recent launch to check it out.

Migration Room To Breathe © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The exhibition humanises a group often depicted as simple numbers

Room To Breathe is the museum’s most interactive exhibition yet, offering an immersive journey through a migrant’s experiences, from arrival to settling in to (hopefully) finding somewhere they can call ‘home’. It explores the very different reasons people arrive in the UK, from escaping war, to seeking new opportunities, to love and family.

To those who may have visited before, the museum galleries have been transformed into a home, with a series of rooms featuring interactive learning tools. You start in the ‘Home Office’, an overwhelming place full of files, depicting how new arrivals are often seen as numbers on paperwork categorised into a section.

You then progress into a bedroom, a classroom, a kitchen with interactive screens, audio, and objects bringing these people to life. Over 100 migrants who arrived in Britain from the early 20th century until the present day have shared their stories for the exhibition. Many are hidden within the exhibition in drawers, cupboards or magazines so you are invited to rummage around and explore. People including war refugees, international NHS workers and Windrush migrants have revealed their personal histories. As a daughter of Irish migrants, I found some of the Irish stories particularly relevant. As many migrants can attest, pining for familiar foods or a favourite snack from home can bring a lot of comfort. I spotted a box of Barry’s Tea in the kitchen which made me smile. Whenever I visit family in Ireland, I always make sure I buy a box of Barry’s Tea for my mother, who insists it’s better than Twinings or Yorkshire Gold.

With many migrants often being demonised by society or the media, this exhibition delves deeper as it humanises them and turns them from numbers into living, breathing human beings. As well as educating and inspiring, there will also be a programme of events throughout the exhibition, including performances, workshops, cookery classes and storytelling.

  • Room To Breathe is on from 1 November 2018 – summer 2019. At the Migration Museum @ The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, SE1 7AG. Nearest station: Vauxhall, Westminster or Lambeth North. Open Thu 12pm-8pm, Fri-Sun 12pm-6pm. Free admission. For more information, visit the Migration Museum website.

To find out what’s on in London in December, click here.

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Top 10 urban myths about London

With 2,000 years of history and 8.1 million residents, it’s no surprise that London has acquired quite a lot of urban legends over the years.

Tower Bridge © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Did an American businessman really think he was buying Tower Bridge?

Some of these urban myths – or ‘alternative facts’ emerged centuries ago and still circulate today. Metro Girl looks at London’s top 10 urban legends and tries to separate the truth from fiction. However, reality isn’t always black or white and sometimes the answer isn’t so clear-cut.

  • 1. The ‘Coco Chanel’ lampposts

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Coco Chanel… or just City Council?

Around the Westminster council district, you may have seen lampposts with an interlinking CC, which look remarkably similar to the Chanel logo.

French fashion designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel famously had an on/off love affair with Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster for around a decade in the 1920s-1930s. However, the aristocrat failed to make Chanel one of his four wives.

The story goes, the Duke attempted to prove his love for Coco by having her initials embossed in gold on lampposts around Westminster. Each lamppost features a grand ‘W’ nearby – which many assumed were for the Duke.

True or false? False. Sadly, the truth isn’t so romantic. The W does stand for Westminster – but the council, not the Duke – while CC stands for city council. Despite their traditional look, they only got installed in the 1950s – two decades after Chanel and the Duke’s romance hit the skids.

Read Metro Girl’s blog post to find out more.

  • 2. A rich American bought London Bridge by accident.

The capital has had many London Bridges over the centuries, the first one dating back to Roman Londinium in the 50s AD. Despite its iconic name, many would agree the current 1970s creation isn’t the most attractive of London’s river crossings.

In 1968, US businessman Robert P McCulloch bought the previous Georgian-era ‘New’ London Bridge for just over £1million. It had been put up for sale by the City of London as it was sinking into the Thames and wasn’t suitable to modern vehicle traffic.

After being purchased, it was taken apart and shipped across to Arizona to be rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, where it remains today.

However, the story goes that McCulloch thought he was buying the more ornate Tower Bridge, not London Bridge. Many tourists visiting the capital today still think Tower Bridge is London Bridge because it’s one of London’s most recognisable icons.

True or false? False. City of London council member Ivan Luckin, who was the one who suggested selling the bridge and was heavily involved in the sale, has firmly denied misleading McCulloch and insisted the American knew exactly what bridge he was buying.

Read Metro Girl’s blog post to find out more.

  • 3. There’s no flowers in Green Park because of a cheating King.

Green Park is one of eight royal parks in the capital. It was established in the 17th century during the reign of King Charles II.

Unlike the rest of London’s royal parks, it is noticeable for its lack of flowers and lakes and only having a few monuments and is mostly grass, trees and pathways – hence the name Green Park.

Legend has it the park was full of flowers in the 17th century and Charles II used to venture from nearby St James’s Palace to pick flowers for his wife Queen Catherine.

However, Charles was famously unfaithful to his wife and fathered at least 14 illegitimate children. It’s been claimed Catherine found out her husband was picking flowers for other women so ordered every flower bed to be removed from the park.

True or false? Maybe. Green Park has no formal flowerbeds, although there’s around 1 million daffodils that bloom every spring.

Green Park © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Green Park famously has no flowers

  • 4. Vampire in Highgate cemetery

The myth of a vampire roaming Highgate cemetery first appeared in 1969 when some young people interested in the occult claimed to have seen a ‘grey figure’ lurking amongst the graves. After it was reported in a local newspaper, many people wrote in, each giving a different account of spooky goings on.

One man had a theory that a Medieval Romanian ‘King Vampire’ had been brought to England in a coffin in the early 18th century and buried on the site of Highgate Cemetery. He claimed modern Satanists had ‘woken him’.

By March 1970, there was a media hysteria with a mob of ‘vampire hunters’ arriving to track down the Highgate vampire. One man was jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains in Highgate Cemetery.

True or false? False (probably), but it all depends on if you believe in vampires.  Read the rest of this entry

Explore Dulwich Village with Metro Girl’s self-guided history walk

Dulwich Village Christ Chapel © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018
Today, there is only a few ‘villages’ left in London. Back in the Georgian era and beyond, London as a city was significantly smaller and surrounded by many country villages. As London expanded during the Industrial Revolution, many of these districts got swallowed up by the growing capital. However, there are a few areas, such as Dulwich, Wimbledon and Highgate, left today which have retained their village charm.

One such place is Dulwich Village in south London, which dates back to at least the 10th century. I’ve lived nearby most of my life and am really fond of the village. Of course, the property prices are ridiculous and unattainable for most of us, but it’s a lovely place to visit, eat and drink in. The Dulwich Society have retained a tight control over planning so the likes of Tesco superstores and flashy developers haven’t ruined the village’s Georgian feel. Located just five miles from the centre of London, it’s surprisingly close to the capital and easy to get to with regular trains from London Bridge and London Victoria.

If you’ve ever fancied exploring Dulwich Village, why not try out my self-guided history walking tour with Routey.net. The company is a free online platform offering walking tours created by members of the travel community. My walking tour covers less than 2 miles and includes 18 stops. It can take a minimum of 90 minutes to up to 5 hours if you choose to stop at the Crown & Greyhound pub for lunch or dinner and visit an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

  • Visit Routey.net for Metro Girl’s Dulwich Village history walking tour. Starting point: North Dulwich station (15 mins from London Bridge). End point: West Dulwich station (13 mins to London Victoria).

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

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45-47 Ludgate Hill: A Victorian bank masquerading as a wine bar

47 Ludgate Hill Bank © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

45-47 Ludgate Hill is a former branch of the City Bank, built in 1891

The City of London is full of old buildings originally designed to be banks. In the 21st century, there are significantly less banks and building societies due to various takeovers and mergers and the growing popularity of online banking. While many brand names have died out, some former Victorian and Edwardian bank buildings still survive today. Back in the 18th and 19th century, the sheer volume of banks meant they had to stand out amongst the competition. As their directors attempted to attract rich customers, their buildings needed to exude luxury and stability so many hired top architects to make sure their HQs and branches really looked the part. With considerably less banking names existing today, their former buildings have been repurposed for new businesses, restaurants and bars, with many keeping their original features.

Ludgate Hill City Bank Encyclopædia Britannica

A drawing of the Ludgate Hill bank in 1911 from the Encyclopædia Britannica

One such former bank no longer offering financial services is the former Ludgate Hill branch of the City Bank. Now a wine bar, this Victorian building certainly stands out as one of the most attractive buildings on Ludgate Hill. Known by many as the road leading toward St Paul’s Cathedral, Ludgate Hill is one of two London hills where the original Roman settlement of Londinium was founded in the 1st century. Around 200AD, Lud Gate was constructed – one of seven gates into the walled city. The Lud Gate was rebuilt in 1215, with its upper rooms used as a prison by the 14th century. After being rebuilt again in 1586, it lasted nearly two centuries before Ludgate and the remaining city gates were all demolished in 1760. A plaque on St-Martin-within-Ludgate church marks the location of the Ludgate, although a stone remainder of the gate is thought to survive on the eastern corner of Pilgrim Street just 100ft away. Although the gate is long gone, its name lives on in Ludgate Hill.

With the City being the commercial heart of the capital, there were a host of banks to cater for the multiple businesses nearby and the booming population in the 19th century. One such financial institution was City Bank Ltd, which was founded in 1855 by stockbroker and future Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robert Walter Carden (1801-1888). Its stunning palazzo-style headquarters at 5-6 Threadneedle Street were built in 1856 by architect W Moseley and still remain today as the 5-star Threadneedles Hotel. By 1863, the bank had deposits to £3.5million and was acting as a London correspondent for 40 foreign banks, so they could provide finance for international trade. It became a limited company in 1880 and by 1894, it had 14 branches across London, including suburban outposts in Croydon and Bromley. One of its original branch buildings (built 1889) can still be seen today at 138 Shaftesbury Avenue at Cambridge Circus.
Read the rest of this entry

Open House London 2018: What to buildings to visit and tips

Foreign Office © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in Whitehall

It’s that time of year again – when Londoners get the chance to peek inside buildings that are normally off-limits. Taking place on 22-23 September 2018, Open House London is essentially a festival of architecture and design, where a huge range of buildings from homes to Government buildings to skyscrapers allow the public to step inside. Many museums which usually cost to enter are also taking part so you can visit for free. While it’s probably too late by now to enter some of the ballots or ticketed entry slots, there are tons of other places just waiting to be explored. This year marks the 26th year of Open House London, with over 800 properties taking place. Some popular venues, such as the Gherkin and the Billingsgate Roman Bath House, are likely to have long queues. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the most of Open House London. This guide lists a selection of reviews and photos of buildings already visited by Metro Girl, as well as tips and advice for making the most of the weekend.

Tips on making the most of Open House London

  • Comprise a list of places you hope to visit and also a few back-ups if the queues are too long by searching Open House’s official website, buy a hard copy of the guide here or download the free app available on Apple or Google Play.
  • Check out TFL’s website to make sure there are no engineering works affecting your transportation to the sites.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and check the weather forecast to inspire suitable clothing. You will be walking and standing a lot.
  • Start early – many of the sites open around 10am or 11am, but some even earlier. If you get there before they open, you could beat the queues.
  • Make sure your phone and/or camera are fully charged and bring a portable charger if you have one so you can search online maps and share photos on social media.
  • Bring ID – some official buildings or skyscrapers may want to check you out before letting you enter.
  • Go the toilet whenever you find one. Some of the more unusual buildings may not have any available facilities or you could end up desperate while waiting in a very long queue.
  • Make sure you don’t carry too much in your bag, as security searches are expected.
  • Bring your lunch with you – you’ll have plenty of time to eat it if you end up queuing.
  • Share your discoveries on social media under the hashtag #openhouselondon. This is also handy for checking out where the long queues are.
  • Follow Open House London on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Metro Girl’s reviews and photos of Open House buildings

Banqueting House. Only surviving building from Whitehall Palace, built in 1619. Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm. Banqueting House, Whitehall, SW1A 2ER. Nearest stations: Westminster, Charing Cross or Embankment.

Billingsgate bath house. Roman home and bath ruins in the basement of a modern office building, dating back to 2nd-3rd century and discovered in the 19th century. Open Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm (queues likely). 101 Lower Thames Street, EC3R 6DL. Nearest station: Monument.

Caroline Gardens Chapel. Partially-derelict Georgian chapel used as an arts and event space, built 1827. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Asylum Road, Peckham, SE15 2SQ. Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham.

Charlton House. London’s only surviving Jacobean mansion, built in 1607. Open Sunday 10am-4pm (tours at 11am and 2pm). Charlton House, Charlton Road, Charlton, SE7 8RE. Nearest station: Charlton.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Check out the stunning Crystal Palace Subway

Crystal Palace Subway. Victorian subway connecting what used to be a train station to the site of the Crystal Palace, built 1865. Open Sunday 10am-5pm (queues likely). Crystal Palace Parade, Crystal Palace, SE19 1LG. Nearest station: Crystal Palace.

Dennis Severs House. Georgian townhouse and unique setting for a historic ‘still-life drama’, built in 1724. Open Saturday 12-4pm (queues expected). 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, E1 6BX. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street or Shoreditch High Street.

Emery Walker’s House. Georgian terrace styled in authentic arts and crafts interiors. Open Sunday 2pm-5pm (queues likely). 7 Hammersmith Terrace, Hammersmith, W6 9TS. Nearest station: Stamford Brook.

Fitzrovia Chapel. Victorian designed chapel, designed 1891, completed 1929. Open Sunday 10am-5pm. Pearson Square, Fitzrovia, W1T 3BF. Nearest station: Goodge Street or Tottenham Court Road.

Granada Tooting (Gala Bingo Hall). Former Art Deco cinema with neo-renaissance interiors, now used as a bingo hall, built in 1931. Open Sunday 9am-12pm. 50-60 Mitcham Road, Tooting, SW17 9NA. Nearest station: Tooting BroadwayRead the rest of this entry

The story of Cecil Court: Arson, Mozart, movies and books on London’s literary lane

Cecil Court © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Cecil Court is known as Booksellers’ Row

In centuries gone by, hundreds of roads in the capital used to be pedestrian only. When the car wasn’t even a twinkle in Henry Ford’s eye and not everyone owned a horse, walking was the dominant form of transport. In the past 100 years, war and technological advances (e.g. the motor car) have caused many of these alleys and other pedestrianised lanes and roads to be destroyed or built upon. However, one such road has managed to remain throughout history and is a charming little passage in the bustling West End.

Cecil Court Storey's © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Storey’s Ltd at No.1-3 is an antique print and map shop

Cecil Court is a 300ft long street linking Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane. While today is it known as Booksellers’ Row, it has a long and varied history dating back to the 17th century. The land encompassing Cecil Court and the surrounding streets were bought by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612) in 1609. He served as Secretary of State under Queen Elizabeth I and King James I and was the principal discoverer of the Gunpowder Plot. He built the family seat, Hatfield House, in Hertfordshire in 1611. The Jacobean mansion continues to be the home for the Cecil family and the current Marquess of Salisbury, who still owns a lot of the land around Cecil Court. The first Earl of Salisbury bought four acres on the west side of St Martin’s Lane, from Newport Street to the south-west corner of the lane. It didn’t take long before the Earl built houses there to lease out. Cecil Court is believed to have been laid out in the 1670s by one of his descendants.

By the 18th century, Cecil Court housed some pretty unsavoury characters with residents appearing in court for various crimes. One particular character was an Irish Catholic woman, Mrs Elizabeth Calloway, who ran a brandy shop and alleged brothel in Cecil Court. In early 1735, she had taken out a £150 fire insurance policy with the Royal Exchange Assurance. In June 1735, she bought kindling, emptied her brandy barrels and was drinking locally with friends when a fire broke out at her shop. The blaze spread quickly and damaged 16 houses in neighbouring St Martin’s Court and four in Cecil Court. Mrs Calloway was charged with arson, but was later acquitted because she appeared to have genuine reasons for insuring her property. She testified at the Old Bailey: “The cook’s shop joining to mine, the wainscot of my closet was often so very hot that I was afraid it would some time or other be set on fire and for that reason I insured my house.” Witnesses also testified that Mrs Calloway was often concerned her drunken lodgers could set the house on fire with their candles. The fire inadvertently resulted in the death of local resident Anne Hogarth, the mother of famous satirical artist William Hogarth, who lived in nearby Cranbourn Alley. Her cause of death was deemed to be ‘shock’ from the fire.

Cecil Court quickly recovered with new properties being erected on-site. In 1764, a young child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and his family lodged with barber John Couzin at No.9 Cecil Court. Tickets for Mozart’s first London concerts were sold at Couzin’s shop. During his time there, the eight-year-old composer played twice for King George III. In 2011, a plaque was unveiled at the site to commemorate Mozart’s time in the capital.  Read the rest of this entry

Crossness Pumping Station: A stunning remainder of Victorian engineering

Crossness Pumping Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Crossness Pumping Station is a Victorian pumping station in Abbey Wood, south-east London

The word ‘sewage’ doesn’t bring up many positive associations. If we were to list the pros and cons of life, human waste is right at the bottom of the pile. It’s a subject we generally like to avoid and try not to spend much time thinking about. However, as over 8 million of us are cramming into the 611 square mile space we call London, a working sewage system is one of our most important utilities. Back in Victorian London, the Industrial Revolution had caused a huge population boom in the capital and the amenities were struggling to cope. The streets and rivers of the city were streaming with rubbish and human excrement… pretty disgusting and a breeding ground for disease. The frequent outbreaks of Cholera were blamed on the inhalation of ‘bad air’. Of course, it was physician Doctor John Snow (1813-1858) who found it was spread by contaminated water, not oxygen. The River Thames was essentially an open sewer and was so toxic it was unable to sustain fish or wildlife. The existing sewers built in the 17th and 18th century were in a bad state and were unable to cope with a population which had nearly tripled to 3 million. However, it wasn’t until ‘The Great Stink’ in summer 1858, when the hot weather exacerbated the smell of the capital’s untreated waste, that the Government finally took action.

Step forward civil engineer Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891), who was the Chief Engineer for the Metropolitan Board of Works at the time of the Great Stink. He had already been working for years on plans to revolutionise London’s sewer system and came up with a solution to create a network of smaller sewers feeding into a network of larger sewers. The Government finally gave Bazalgette the OK for his ambitious plan, with work commencing in 1859. The scheme involved 1,100 miles of street sewers feeding into 82 miles of main interconnecting sewers, with pumping stations located both sides of the River.

Crossness Pumping Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The restoration has revealed the stunning Victorian decoration

Crossness Pumping Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Crossness was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and Charles Henry Driver

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The striking centre piece of the engine house

One of these pumping stations was Crossness, built in Abbey Wood in south-east London. The large site contained a beam engine house, boiler house, 208ft chimney, workshops, a 25 million gallon covered reservoir and homes for the employees. Crossness was designed by Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900), with James Watt & Co building the four, huge beam engines, named Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra respectively. Crossness was opened on 4 April 1865 by Edward, Prince Of Wales (future King Edward VII). As London’s population rapidly expanded, the need for an even more advanced sewage system grew. Crossness was further extended in 1895 with the addition of a triple extension engine house on the front of the original. This featured two triple expansion engines and reciprocating pumps. In 1916, it was extended again as 4 superheated boilers were added. However, by the 1940s, the beam engines were hardly used and eventually Crossness was closed in the 1950s with its chimney demolished in 1958. It was Grade I listed by Historic England in June 1970. Crossness has been under the care of the Crossness Engines Trust since it was founded in 1987.  Read the rest of this entry

Jewel Tower – a Medieval survivor of the Palace Of Westminster

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Jewel Tower is a small remainder of London’s Medieval history

When it comes to London’s royal palaces, most of them tend to be rather young, with the oldest parts of Buckingham Palace dating back to 1703 and Clarence House, a few years shy of its 200th anniversary. However, long before the monarch resided at Buck House, the King or Queen had a home in the huge Palace Of Westminster. Today, the title belongs to the Houses of Parliament, the seat of our Government.

Jewel Tower door © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The fireproof door contains the year 1621 and the mark of James I

Most of the Medieval Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a huge fire in the 1800s, to be rebuilt as the iconic masterpiece, which remains today. However, two buildings managed to survive, the 11th century Westminster Hall, and the 14th century Jewel Tower. Now owned by English Heritage, the diminutive Jewel Tower is open to the public. Recently, I paid a visit to this small, but interesting piece of Medieval London. It’s a small space with the exhibition taking about an hour to see.

The Jewel Tower was built around 1365-6 at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster to house the treasures of King Edward III (1312-1377). The Tower stood at the end of the garden and was protected by a moat to the south and west of the building. It was built under the direction of master mason Henry Yevele (1320-1400) and master carpenter Hugh Herland (1330-1411) on land which had been appropriated from Westminster Abbey, to the chagrin of the monks. The keeper would have worked on the ground or first floor, logging the King’s treasures coming in and going out of the Tower. The most valuable goods were kept on the second floor.

Jewel Tower stairs © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The spiral staircase

For 150 years, the Tower was used to house the subsequent Kings’ treasures until a fire at the palace in 1512. The building then became home to less valuable items, such as clothing, bed linen, furniture and royal children’s toys, according to an inventory in 1547. In 1600, the building was repurposed for the Government, rather than royals, when it became a parliamentary office. A three-storey timber extension was added to the side of the Tower as a house for the Clerk of the Parliament. The ground floor of the Jewel Tower became the kitchen and scullery, while the first floor was used as a repository for various parliament documents. In 1621, the building was renovated to become more secure to protect the important documents. On the first floor, a brick vault was added with a metal door featuring the year inscribed on the exterior and the cipher of King James I (1566-1625). That very door still exists today and can be seen on your visit.

By the 18th century, the Tower was apparently a bit of a state so work was taken to renovate and improve it. Larger windows and a new chimney were added, while the building was made more fireproof to protect the documents inside. Throughout the century, the Tower was gradually hidden by the buildings popping up around it. By 1827, the House of Lords’ records had been moved out of the Tower because it was too small and it was known as part of Old Palace Yard, with the name Jewel Tower dropping out of use.  Read the rest of this entry

William Blake finally honoured with a gravestone at his final resting place

William Blake gravestone © James Murray-White

William Blake’s new gravestone in Bunhill Fields
© James Murray-White

William Blake (1757-1827) is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest artist in British history. The born and bred Londoner was an acclaimed poet, painter, author and printmaker, although never had much success during his lifetime. Nearly 200 years after his death, Blake’s canon continues to amaze and inspire people around the world. Among his more famous works include ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Four Zoas’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Milton’, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’.

Having been brought up as an English Dissenter (Protestant Christians which broke away from the Church of England), Blake was laid to rest in a Dissenters’ graveyard following his death in 1827. The painter died at home in the Strand and was buried in Bunhill Fields in the London borough of Islington. As well as the location of his parents and two of his brothers’ graves, Bunhill also included the burial sites of Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susanna Wesley. Blake was buried in an unmarked grave on 17 August – on what would have been he and wife Catherine’s 45th wedding anniversary. He was buried on top of several bodies, with another four being placed above him in the coming weeks. His widow Catherine died in 1831 and was also laid to rest at Bunhill Fields, but in a separate plot.

Bunhill Fields was closed as a burial ground in 1854 after it was declared ‘full’, having contained 123,000 interments during its 189 year history, and became a public park. Although William and Catherine Blake had both been buried in unmarked graves, the William Blake Society (founded 1912) erected a memorial stone to the couple in Bunhill Fields on the centenary of the painter’s death in 1927. The stone read: ‘Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 1757–1827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762–1831.’ Re-landscaping in the 1960s following widespread damage during World War II resulted in many of the monuments being cleared. Although the Blakes’ memorial was one of those to survive, it was moved from its location at William’s grave to near Defoe’s memorial stone in 1965.  Read the rest of this entry