This gallery contains 9 photos.
A fun activity for families to find the painted Snowman sculptures inspired by The 12 Days of Christmas.
This gallery contains 9 photos.
A fun activity for families to find the painted Snowman sculptures inspired by The 12 Days of Christmas.
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. 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.
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.
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 for 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.
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.
Read Metro Girl’s blog post to find out more about Green Park.
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
London Bridge and Borough is one of my favourite areas of London to socialise in. It’s got great transport links and is good for rendezvous to meet friends travelling all over the capital. Usually I end up in one of the traditional boozers around Borough Market, the dominant type of drinking venue in the area. I’ve always thought there wasn’t quite enough cocktail bars in the area, but that is gradually changing thanks to new hotspot Nine Lives.
A short walk (and a world away) from the commuter and tourist-centric pubs near the station is a new subterranean nightspot from the team behind Sweet&Chilli. The spacious Victorian basement on Holyrood Street has been turned into a cosy tropical space with low-lighting, cosy booths and wicker. As someone who is currently binge watching Mad Men on Netflix, I was drawn to the Sixties-influenced interiors. Although I visited with my best friend, my immediate thought upon entering the venue was how perfect it would be for a romantic date. Fortunately a booth was available – my seating of choice as they generally tend to be the most comfortable. We had a good view of the bar so could people watch and soak up the atmosphere.
Nine Lives is billed as a zero waste bar as they attempt to make the most of their ingredients. They use herbs and plants from their own garden, recycle water and put leftovers in the compost. Even the branded bamboo straws are reusable. The menu features four genres of cocktails – ‘Shorty’; ‘Long’; ‘Tarted Up’; and ‘Lowriders’, with prices around £6.50-£9.50 so affordable quality concotions. We started with some ‘Lowriders’ – the rather boozy Alright Blossom (Raspberry, Rose, Hibiscus and Prosecco) and Stingray (Port, Raspberry Liqueur, Citric acid, Mint). Alright Blossom was sweet and light thanks to its fragrant floral notes. The Stingray was rather different, with the Mint bringing a refreshing note to the heavier Port flavour. Next up, we went for something different and rather theatrical it turns out when the drinks were presented on our table. The Kuti Bird (Vodka, Tropical triple-sec, Pineapple and Aperol) is a very tropical mix and served in a Pacific Island-esque glass. My friend and I are big fans of Aperol and Vodka – although rarely drink them together – and found it an unusual strong mix of fruity and bitter, but it certainly went down well. However, I preferred the delicious Crossfire Hurricane (Rum, orange, lemon, pineapple, passion fruit, bitters), with the fruity flavours overpowering the rum.
During our evening, we had the right amount of attention from the friendly and knowledge bar staff who are passionate about their offerings and their ethos. As we were there on a weeknight, it was rather chilled, but Nine Lives really livens up at the weekend with DJs and live music. For me, the two main selling points were their zero waste policy and the good value menu. I’m getting so used to seeing quality cocktails in double figures these days, it was good to see prices more attractive to average Londoners. I’m definitely planning to head back for a weekend party session.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar reviews, click here.
Disclaimer: Metro Girl was a guest of Nine Lives for this review. However my views are, as always, honest and my own.
Dwarfed by the modern architecture surrounding it, St Magnus The Martyr church in the City of London is not such a prominent building as it used to be. However, for hundreds of years, this very church stood at the head of London Bridge, with its frontage as an unofficial ‘gate to London’. For visitors crossing into the City from Southwark, it was the first building that would greet them after they stepped off London Bridge. With the capital’s oldest bridge being relocated further west in 1830, the grand entrance to the church is now hidden away in a small courtyard.
St Magnus The Martyr is named after Magnus Erlendsson, Earl Of Orkney (1080-1116 or 1118AD), who was executed following a power struggle with his cousin. He was canonised in 1135 and was remembered for his piety and gentleness. It is believed the church was established in the early 12th century, after the previously marshland area of the riverbank was developed and one of the many London Bridges to stand on the site was rebuilt. Thames Street – the road on which the church stands – was built in the second half of the 11th century just north of the Roman river wall. One of the pilings from the Roman wall dating back to 65AD was discovered in 1931 and is now encased in the base of the church tower at the entrance.
It is believed the first St Magnus The Martyr Church was built by 1128-33. During the building’s early years, there were a series of wooden London Bridges, which never seemed to last long. Finally in 1209, the Old Medieval London Bridge was opened. Made of stone, it took 33 years to build. The new bridge was aligned with Fish Street Hill so all pedestrians walking into London from the bridge would walk directly in front of St Magnus. The bridge included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, where pilgrims would stop on their journey to visit his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. The chapel and two 3rds of London Bridge were part of St Magnus’s parish. Read the rest of this entry
Poor London Bridge. It regularly finds its name being misused by tourists thinking it’s actually the grander, more elaborate neighbour downstream Tower Bridge. In fact, when I type ‘London Bridge’ into Google, the Tower Bridge Experience is the first hit so I couldn’t blame London Bridge for feeling somewhat of an inferiority complex. While Tower Bridge is admittedly a lot better looking, it will never have the history and importance to London that the city’s namesake bridge will have.
The current London Bridge has only been crossing the River Thames since the 1970s and is the latest incarnation in a list of bridges which have carried its name. The first river crossing stemmed back to Roman London, with the original being built somewhere in the area of the present site by the invading Roman army of Emperor Claudius (10 BC-13AD) in the 50s AD. The initial bridge was only temporary, with a second permanent one being erected soon after made of wood. The creation of the bridge came as the Roman city of Londinium began to swiftly develop on the site of the current City, with a smaller settlement emerging on the southern end in present day Southwark. When the Romans departed in the 5th century, Londonium was abandoned and the bridge was left to rot. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Saxons returned to the old Roman City following repeated Viking invasions. The city was ‘refounded’ by Alfred The Great (849-899AD) in 886AD and another river bridge was erected. However, by 1014, the bridge was said to have been destroyed by Olaf II of Norway (995-1030) in a bid to separate the Danish occupants of old London and Southwark. Olaf’s troops were believed to have tied their boats to the bridge supports and rowed away, pulling the bridge down in the process. This leads to one of the theories of the origins of the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’, although others have claimed it dates more recently to the 13th century. After William The Conqueror (1028-1087) claimed the English throne in 1066, another bridge was built on the site, but it didn’t last long and was destroyed by the London tornado of 1091. Believed to be a T8 tornado, it claimed two lives and left the church of St Mary-Le-Bow badly damaged. It was then replaced by King William II (1056-1100), with his incarnation of the river crossing eventually being destroyed by fire in 1136.
Finally in the 12th century, London Bridge began to be built of stone – a much more hardy material given the amount of natural disasters, fires and war which had ravaged the previous incarnations. In 1176, under the rule of King Henry II (1133-1189), work began on the foundations of the first stone London Bridge. The project was overseen by Peter, a priest and chaplain of St Mary Colechurch (which no longer exists) with funding raised from taxes on wool. The bridge, which is now referred to in history as the Old Medieval London Bridge, took 33 years to complete. When it opened in 1209, it was 274 metres long, six metres wide and featured 20 Gothic arches. By this point, King Henry II had already died and his heir, King John (1166-1216) ended up leasing plots on the bridge to fill the deficit in a bid to recoup the huge costs of the build. The bridge featured gatehouses at each end and a drawbridge near the Southwark entrance to allow bigger ships to pass through. Owning a business on London Bridge was quite the draw and by 1358 it was seriously overcrowded, with a whopping 138 shops spanning the River, with some buildings as many as seven stories high. The encroaching plots meant the actual road was reduced to just four metres so it was quite a squeeze for carts, horses and livestock. Unsurprisingly, the resulting traffic was so bad, it could take up to an hour to cross the bridge. In addition to congestion, the cramped living and shopping quarters were also a hazard. In 1212, fires broke out at both ends of the bridge, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths. By 1381, there were more fires on the bridge during the Peasants’ Rebellion and further still in 1450 during Jack Cade’s rebellion.
London is the city where you can literally do most things. Now, of course there aren’t any vineyards with rolling hills around, but those wanting to taste and discover the world of wine then look no further than Vinopolis on the south bank of Thames.
After years of having it on my wishlist and walking past it countless times, I finally paid a visit to Vinopolis this month with a cousin visiting from Scotland. Arriving for a lunchtime slot, we were able to put our coats and bags away in the free cloakroom so your hands were available for holding wine glasses. We had booked the Essential Wine Experience, which comes with 7 tokens worth of tastings for £27. The price goes up the more tokens you get, depending on whether you’ve got a taste for more expensive wines or a larger quantity of wine! The tickets are scheduled in time slots because you are given a short tour and introduction to wine before you begin your self-guided tasting experience.
Before we were able to sample the drinks, we were given a 15 minute ‘How to Taste’ lesson, where you learn how to sniff, swirl and slurp with a glass of white wine. We were given great advice, such as what types of wines can keep for long or what to drink sooner and how to tell if a wine has passed its prime. There was a little bit of science involved as we learned what parts of different wines tasted like on different parts of the tongue. Following the talk, we headed into the main Vinopolis experience – a series of Victorian railway arches featuring eight tasting and educational zones. In the middle was a Tapas Bar serving food, should you need something to soak up the alcohol or accompany your drinks. Our informative guide showed us how the tasting experience worked, giving a demonstration on how to use the very easy card method to obtain the measures before we were free to start our taste experience.
The wines had been grouped into different types of zones and flavours, such as the white wine or champagne zone. You keep hold of the same glass, with water filters and sinks dotted around to rinse your glass in-between samples and refresh your palate. Although I’m a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc and bubbly, I went off my usual tastes and used the experience to sample other wines. Vinopolis guides are also on hand should you have any questions, with one able to recommend a type of red to me (someone who doesn’t normally drink it…) and I actually liked it. The various wine samples start from 1 token upwards, reflecting the quality and market value. I tried a variety, including Canard-Duchene Cuvee Leonie Brut champagne (2 tokens), Hugels Et Fils Pinot Noir (1 token) and Jean Luc Colombo Le Vent (1 token), among others. As well as handy fact boxes dotted around the experience to expand your knowledge, there were also interactive tables to help you find the right wine for you.
As well as the main wine tasting experience, Vinopolis also holds various events and drinking experiences throughout the year, including cocktail masterclasses, so there’s a lot more than just wine. There is also a spirits area where you can try Absinthe if you’re up to it! I think Vinopolis would make a great daytime activity for a hen or stag party. Overall, we had a great couple of hours in Vinopolis. There’s not many social events where you can combine drinking and learning! Admittedly, my cousin and I did end up a bit tipsy as we left, but felt much more knowledgeable when it comes to making our wine selections at a restaurant in future.
Why not pay a visit to Vinopolis after lining your stomach with food from Borough Market. Click here for Metro Girl’s blog on the market.
Many visitors to London these days may find they are not coming into contact with the ‘real London’. One of pitfalls of tourism – in many cities not just London – is you end up following the usual checklist of sights and sharing them with other non-Londoners.
However, one of the long-running places that has always attracted Londoners in the city is the traditional market. There’s something special about the capital’s markets that make them differ from those abroad. Now of course there are many markets I can highly recommend to visitors – Brick Lane, Portobello and Camden. However, this post is on my favourite, Borough Market. Known as the city’s foodies destination, it draws chefs, amateur cooks, restaurateurs… or just people (like me) with a healthy appetite.
Now located a stone’s throw from London Bridge train and tube station, Borough Market has existed in the area since as far back as the 11th century. The original market lay closer to the actual bridge – then the only river crossing in London – and sold fish, vegetables, grain and livestock. In the 13th century, the market then moved to Borough High Street, just south of St Margaret’s Church. Despite being located on the south of the River – and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the City of London – the boy King Edward VI (1537–1553) changed all this in 1550 when he extended the City’s power to Southwark’s markets.
The market thrived until 1755 when it was closed by an Act of Parliament, as politicians were unimpressed with the congestion in the area. However, some proactive locals in Southwark clubbed together to raise £6,000 to buy a patch of land, then known as The Triangle, in the hope of re-opening the market. In 1756, it reopened on the new site which still forms part of the market today (where Furness Fish & Game is located on Middle Road).
By the 19th century, the market was thriving – no doubt to its location close to the ‘Pool of London’, where most of the wharves were situated. The current building you see today was designed by architect Henry Rose and erected in the 1850s, with the Art Deco entrance at Southwark Street added in 1932. In 2004, the South Portico from Covent Garden’s Floral Hall was installed at the market’s Stoney Street entrance after the Royal Opera House was redeveloped. The market was further enhanced in 2013 with the opening of the Market Hall, a glass structure opening on to Borough High Street which provides a place for shoppers to relax and sample their purchases. Columns reaching up to the roof house pots with growing hops, fruits, flowers, herbs, olives and salad leaves. There also features a demonstration kitchen, with various events taking place throughout the week.
Today, there are over 100 stalls featuring most kinds of food from the UK and further afield. Weekends are particularly busy so it’s worth trying to get there early on a Saturday. As well as a wide range of stalls, the market also contains several restaurants and pubs, including Tapas Brindisa, The Globe, The Rake and Elliot’s Café. On Beadale Street in the market, there is also the old school-style Hobbs Barbers for men in need of a trim.
For Part 1 of Metro Girl’s Must Do series on the London Eye, click here.
Or to read about Metro Girl’s trip up to the nearby View From The Shard, click here.
Hay’s Galleria is known today as an area for eating, drinking, working and shopping. Many pass through the covered shopping centre on their way to Tower Bridge or HMS Belfast. However, by looking at the building, it’s obvious to see it wasn’t built for these purposes, and like many buildings along the banks of the River Thames, started life as a wharf.
Despite rumours of the contrary, wharf does not stand for ‘ware-house at river front’. The word wharf originates from the Old English ‘hwearf’, which meant bank or shore. Before the advent of cars, boats were the main form of transport in London, so there were once as many as 1,700 wharves on the bank of the River Thames.
The site was originally a brewhouse, which was bought by Alexander Hay in 1651. However, the building was severely damaged in the Great Fire Of Southwark in 1676. It remained with the Hay family until Francis Theodore Hay, Master of the Waterman’s Company and King’s Waterman to George III and George IV, died in 1838. The next owner John Humphrey Jnr acquired a lease on the property and commissioned engineer Sir William Cubitt (1785-1861) to convert it into a wharf with an enclosed dock, becoming Hay’s Wharf in 1856 (see a photo of the Wharf in 1857). However, just five years later, the wharf was damaged by another fire, the Great Fire Of Tooley Street, which overall caused £2million of damage due to the contents of the warehouses destroyed.
During the 19th century, Hay’s Wharf was one of the main delivery points in the capital, with an estimated of 80% of dry goods passing through the building, including the very popular tea. The sheer importance of Hay’s to London’s trade and import industry led to it being nicknamed ‘the Larder of London’. (For a photo of Hay’s Wharf in 1910, click here.)
Hay’s Wharf was such a lucrative business, the company was able to build an Art Deco headquarters a few doors to the west. The river-facing structure was erected in 1928-1932 to a design by architect Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959). The Thameside façade features panels depicting ‘Capital, Labour & Commerce’ by sculptor Frank Dobson (1886-1963).
However, the wharf was seriously damaged again by bombing during World War II. London’s trade was severely dented following the war and over the subsequent years, more and more wharves shut down and fell into neglect. With ships getting bigger, Hay’s enclosed dock wasn’t big enough to fit most of the vessels, so fell into disuse. Fortunately in the 1980s, the wharf was brought back to life by property developers. The dock was covered over, while the tea and produce warehouses were restored and converted into offices. A glass and steel barrel-vaulted roof was erected over the former dock area in a Victorian style. In 1987, ‘The Navigators’, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp, within a fountain, was unveiled in a nod to the wharf’s shipping history. Meanwhile, the Art Deco HQ is now known as a St Olaf House and is used by the neighbouring London Bridge Hospital.
Now known as Hay’s Galleria, the building is a mix of shops, offices and restaurants today. There are several market stalls under the covered walkway, as well as branches of Boots, Café Rouge, The Christmas Shop, Bagel Factory, Côte and Starbucks. On a nice day, I would suggest buying some takeaway food here and bringing it for a picnic in nearby Potters Field Park overlooking Tower Bridge and the Tower Of London. Alternatively on a warm summer night, sink a pint riverside at the Horniman At Hays pub – named after the tea merchant Frederick Horniman. Also nearby is the museum on board the HMS Belfast.
To read more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.
A rare colour film of London in 1927 has been making waves on the internet in recent weeks. Uploaded by Tim Sparke on Vimeo three years ago, it’s audience has suddenly soared, with over 500,000 views so far. Shot by early British film pioneer Claude Frisse-Greene, it uses colour techniques that his father William had been experimenting with. The just under six-minute film shows the hustle and bustle of city life, with footage filmed at the Thames, Tower Bridge, Tower Of London, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Whitehall. It also includes shots of traffic going over the old London Bridge – designed by Victorian John Rennie – which now stands in Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Open-top buses, cars and horse and carriages are seen trotting past the relatively new Cenotaph in Whitehall, where a few pedestrians are seen bending down to read the wreaths. One thing I love about this film is so much looks familiar – but yet there’s no traffic lights or road markings, with policemen controlling the traffic. Marble Arch stands behind some ornate gates which no longer exist – presumably an exit from Hyde Park before the busy road was cut into it, marooning the arch as a polluted traffic island. The Thames looks incredibly busy with so many barges and tug boats. The river is a lot more accessible, with Westminster Pier embarking passengers on tiny boats compared to the Clippers today. Petticoat Lane Market in Spitalfields is as busy as ever, with more men than women it seems, with fur stoles and stuffed rabbits amongst the goods on sale. The men are predominantly wearing flat caps, while some very stylish women in 1920s fashion are seen walking through Hyde Park.
NB: Since this post was written, the original video was taken down, but I have found this extended version – without the modern soundtrack – instead.
If you like the 1920s, there’s a host of Great Gatsby-themed events on in London to celebrate the release of the film. Read the guide to what’s on here.
For a review of the 1920s pop-up club night Candlelight Club, click here.
For more blog posts on London history, click here.