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Mary Queen of Scots House: This Neo-Gothic building is younger than you think

The story behind a Neo-Gothic office building-turned-holiday let on Fleet Street

Mary Queen of Scots House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 202

Mary Queen of Scots House dates back to the early 20th century

Fleet Street has its fair share of striking architecture – from the bold Art Deco design of the Express Building to the old Tudor frontage of Prince Henry’s Room. However, one particular building’s design suggests it’s from an earlier age that it actually is – the Mary Queen of Scots House at 143-4 Fleet Street. The building is situated just two doors down from the temple-like Peterborough House and next door to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. The Mary Queen of Scots House has two entrances – the eastern one accessing the upper storeys, while the west is the shop door (currently a Pret a Manger). Just to the left of the shop entrance is Cheshire Court, a small alley previously known as Three Falcon Court.

Mary Queen of Scots House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The carver of the Mary Queen of Scots statue is unknown

Long before Pret A Manger arrived, and indeed, even the current building was erected, the site had a varied history. In the 1770s, a publisher named Joseph Wenman was operating out of his premises at 144 Fleet Street, producing mostly theatrical reprints. By 1833, No.143-144 was owned by a Sir John Marshall, with one of his tenants being a baker, according to an insurance policy taken out at the time. In the 1840s, wood engraver Edwin Morrett Williams and cutler/hardwareman William Sutton worked on-site. By 1882, 143 had become a restaurant. Nine years later, optician Samuel Poole was operating out of 144.

In the early 20th century, Scottish landowner and liberal politician Sir John Tollemache Sinclair (1825-1912) acquired the land of 143-144 Fleet Street. He commissioned architect Richard Mauleverer Roe (1854-1922) to design an ornate, Neo-Gothic office building in 1905. At the time, Gothic revival was steadily falling out of fashion in architecture, although the new dawn of Modernist design was still a way off. The building has five storeys, one of which being a roof storey. The ground floor is surrounded by a stone arch with zigzag mouldings.

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Two Temple Place | A look inside a unique Neo-Gothic office built for the world’s richest man

The history behind this Victorian office, now home to exhibition and events spaces.

Two Temple Place exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Two Temple Place looks over the Victoria Embankment and River Thames

Standing on the eastern edge of the City of Westminster is a striking neo-Gothic building. Overlooking the River Thames and the Victoria Embankment is Two Temple Place. Although today the building is an events space and exhibition venue, it started life as an office for the world’s richest man.

The Great Hall gallery is supported by ebony columns

William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919) was an American attorney, publisher, philanthropist and politician. After an initial career in law and politics, Astor inherited his father John Jacob Astor III’s fortune in 1890, making him exceptionally wealthy. The same year, he financed the building of the original Waldorf Hotel in New York City, which opened in 1893 and stood for 36 years before being demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

Astor cut short his life in the Big Apple following a family feud and relocated to Britain in 1891. In addition to falling out with his aunt Caroline Astor, he also believed England would be safer for his children against the threat of kidnap. He bought a plot of land in legal district of Temple and commissioned Gothic Revival architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) to build him a London office. Although intended as an office, Astor also wanted residential space. As Two Temple Place was being built, Astor bought the Buckingham estate Cliveden for his family to live in. He later expanded his property portfolio with Hever Castle in Kent in 1903, as well as bank-rolling the building of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in London’s Aldwych.

Two Temple Place Great Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The hammerbeam roof is made of Spanish mahogany

Two Temple Place entrance © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

William Silver Frith’s lamppost sculptures of cherubs holding telephones

Originally named the Astor Estate Office, it was completed in 1895. Two Temple Place is a two-storey building, with a Gothic-Elizabethan-style exterior made of Portland stone. Among the rooms included were the great hall, library and strong room with two fortified safes to protect Astor’s riches. English sculptor Nathaniel Hitch (1845–1938) created ornate features, including gargoyles, on the exterior, while a golden likeness of Christopher Columbus’ ship La Santa Maria – which he used to sail to America – was erected as a weathervane. British sculptor William Silver Frith (1850–1924) made the ornamental lamppost sculptures of cherubs holding early telephones at the portico front entrance. The communicative angels celebrate the fact that Two Temple Place was one of the first houses in the capital to have a working telephone.

With such a fortune at Astor’s disposal, there was no expense spared on the entirety of the building project. The rooms were all decked out in wood-panelling, giving it an ‘olde world’ feel. English metal worker J Starkie Gardner (1844-1930) created ornate metalwork for the interior and exterior of the building. Meanwhile, the Astor family’s interior decorator John Dibblee Crace (1838-1919) took inspiration from the French Renaissance for the furnishings. Astor was a huge fan of symbolism and wanted the building to link the old world with the new world. Around 54 characters from history and fiction are depicted in carvings in the entrance hall or on the gilded frieze in the Great Hall, including Marie Antoinette, Pocahontas, Anne Boleyn, Niccolò Machiavelli, Marc Anthony, Cleopatra, Macbeth, Othello, and characters from The Three Musketeers – Astor’s favourite book. One of the building’s main attractions is the grand, oak staircase. Standing on the inlaid marble floor, you look up to see wood carvings, a square gallery and a square-domed, stained glass ceiling supported by ebony Corinthian columns. Read the rest of this entry

Crossness Pumping Station: A stunning remainder of Victorian engineering

Find out the history of the Victorian masterpiece Crossness Pumping Station and how to visit.

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

33-35 Eastcheap | This former Victorian vinegar warehouse is far from sour

The interesting history of this Gothic office block – and its ties to Shakespeare.

33-35 Eastcheap © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

33-35 Eastcheap is a Victorian former vinegar warehouse in the City of London

Despite being extensively rebuilt following the Blitz, the City of London has retained many of its old street names. While some are rather humorous (e.g. Cock lane in Smithfield), others aren’t so flattering such as Eastcheap. Today, the word ‘cheap’ is used as an unattractive way to describe something low in price and quality. ‘Cheap’ actually comes from the Saxon word for ‘market’. In the Middle Ages, Eastcheap was the main meat market in the City. However, by the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had transformed the area with offices and warehousing replacing the butchers’ stalls.

33-35 Eastcheap © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

A sculpture of a Boar’s head can be seen on the façade in a nod to the site’s history

Walking down Eastcheap today, you will see a lot of the Victorian buildings survive and are home to offices, coffee shops and the like. One particular building that stands out from the rest is No. 33-35 Eastcheap, a dramatic Neo-Gothic, double-fronted structure. Prior to No. 33-35’s erection in 1868, the site was home to the famous Boar’s Head Tavern. The pub’s exact origins aren’t known, but it was used as a meeting place by William Shakespeare in several of his historical plays, most notably Henry IV, Part I (abt. 1597). The character Falstaff was a frequent drinker at the Boar’s Head Tavern. The original tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was rebuilt and became a pilgrimage site for Shakespeare fans. It stood on Eastcheap until 1831 when it was demolished to make way for a road widening scheme leading to the new London Bridge. At the time of demolition, the building hasn’t been used as tavern since the late 18th century and had been sub-divided into shops. The Boar’s Head sign was preserved and went on show at The Globe Theatre at Bankside in 2010.

The current building of No. 33-35 was constructed in 1868 to a design by English architect Robert Lewis Roumieu (1814-1877). Born to a Huguenot family, who had arrived in Britain 100 years before his birth, Roumieu was an original and daring architect for the time. Although many of his designs were Neo-Gothic – which was trendy in Victorian times – he did like to push the boundaries. As well as the Eastcheap building, he also designed Milner Square (Islington), the Almeida Theatre, the French Hospital in Hackney, among others. Roumieu was commissioned to design a vinegar warehouse depot for Hill & Evans at a cost of £8,170. Hill & Evans were founded in Worcester in 1830 and were, at one point, the world’s largest vinegar producers. By the early 20th century, they were selling 2 million gallons of malt vinegar a year. The company ceased trading in 1965 after 135 years of business.

No. 33-35 is a Neo-Gothic, five-storey building with a further attic storey in a slated roof. On the ground floor is a huge arched doorway which would have been used for delivery access and Devonshire marble columns. However, the current iron gates only date back to 1987. The top three-storeys feature Gothic arched bays with projected canopies over the windows. Above the second floor, central window is a sculpture of a wild boar peering through long grass – a nod to the site’s former Boar’s Head Tavern. Meanwhile, the second floor canopies to the left and right feature carved heads of Henry IV and Henry V. The building features a lot of decorative elements, including tiling, cast iron cresting, and plaster badges.

33-35 Eastcheap © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The top storey features a slated roof and cast iron cresting

When the building was completed in 1868, it certainly caused a stir, with Roumieu being labelled a ‘rogue’ architect for some of his daring styles. The British Almanac of 1869 described it as: “The style is French, but some of the details are Venetian. The general effect is novel and striking, though somewhat bizarre.” Twentieth century critics Gavin Stamp and Colin Amery were more positive, proclaiming Roumieu’s creation as “the City’s masterpiece of polychromatic Gothic self-advertisement”. Meanwhile, architectural critic Ian Nairn (1930-1983) gave it a rather dramatic review: “This is truly demoniac, an Edgar Allan Poe of a building. It is the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare.” Despite the critics’ mixed reviews to the building, it was Grade II listed by Historic England in 1971.

In recent decades, the ground floor has been home to various shops and restaurants. Bewlay’s Pipes had a small shop from the 1950s to 1970s, while there was a branch of J. Lyons & Co tea shops at No.35 in the 1950s. Today, the upper storeys contain offices, while the ground floor houses branches of Black Sheep Coffee and a Simmons bar.

  • 33 – 35 Eastcheap, City of London, EC3M 1DE. Nearest stations: Monument or Fenchurch Street.

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

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Photo Friday | Looking up the grand staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The grand staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

I know I’m not alone when I say St Pancras station is one of my favourite London buildings. The Gothic Revival, Victorian masterpiece puts its (rather dull in comparison), rival London mainline stations in the shade. St Pancras was built as an hotel and train station in 1868 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).

The Midland Grand Hotel as it then was known was very luxurious when it first opened and boasted fireplaces in every room (although sadly not ensuite bathrooms, which contributed to its demise in the 1930s when it was closed). The centrepiece of the hotel was – and still is – its grand staircase and gold leaf wallpaper. When the building was taken over to reopen as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in the 21st century, the double staircase was restored to its former glory. Why not take a look on a visit to the Gilbert Scott restaurant and bar and gaze up at the starry vaulted ceiling and its Neo-Gothic features.

  • St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras.

For a review of Afternoon Tea at the Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance, click here.

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Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott review: Treat yourself in stunning Gothic surroundings

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Let’s hope they don’t fall! The bell chandeliers suspended above our heads in The Gilbert Scott bar

Gilbert Scott afternoon tea © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Savoury treats (below) and mini desserts of praline mousse, Eccles cakes, Eton Mess and lemon cupcakes

Like many Londoners, and visitors to the capital too I’m sure, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and train station is one of my favourite buildings in the capital. Designed by Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Gothic Revival masterpiece was originally opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel. Although impressive when it first opened with its grand staircase, fireplaces in every room and striking architectural features, decades later it started falling out of favour due to the lack of ensuite bedrooms and closed to guests in 1935. After 76 years as railway offices, the building was finally restored to its original intended use and opened as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in 2011.

Given how long I have loved the building, I’m surprised I haven’t visited one of the restaurants or bars inside the hotel sooner. So when I was eyeing possible venues for afternoon tea for my birthday last week, I was thrilled to see The Gilbert Scott featured it on their menu. Booking the afternoon tea option through their website, I opted for a 2pm slot on a Friday. We entered through the main St Pancras Renaissance Hotel entrance so walked through some of the stone Neo-Gothic arched doorways, passing by the red and gold leaf Medieval-style wallpapers and, the pièce de résistance, the grand staircase.

Gilbert Scott table door © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The comfortable tables (left) and the striking Neo Gothic archways leading in the bar from the hotel (right)

Gilbert Scott afternoon tea © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Scones, clotted cream and jam

We were seated inside The Gilbert Scott bar – next to the adjoining restaurant of the same name. We entered from a hotel hallway through twin arches featuring golf leaf detailing and polished limestone columns. The bar was absolutely stunning, with equilateral arch windows letting in lots of light through its three exterior walls. On the ceiling was ornate, tapestry-like patterns of predominantly red, blue and green, with huge bells hanging from the ceiling as chandeliers. The bar used to the ‘coffee room’ in the former Midland Grand Hotel.

Seated at our table, we were greeted by an attentive and friendly waiter. After being presented with the menu, there are various afternoon tea options – the standard at £25 or with a glass of Moët & Chandon champagne for an extra £8 – which we opted for as we were celebrating my birthday. Alternatively, there is also a Ruinart afternoon tea with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV for £36.00.

St Pancras exterior Gilbert Scott © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Gothic revival masterpiece

We started with a flute of Moët each before we were presented with our three-tier cake stand. A selection of savoury treats – cucumber rolls, sausage rolls, egg mayonnaise and coronation chicken sandwiches on the lower tier. The middle featured a selection of mini desserts – Eton Mess, lemon cupcakes, Eccles cakes and praline mousse. Then finally on the top-tier were quite possibly two of the biggest scones – handmade of course – I have ever seen in my life with clotted cream and jam. The food was all delicious and despite forfeiting lunch or a decent sized breakfast, my sister and I struggled to finish all our food. We had the options of refilling the savoury platter, but honestly couldn’t eat any more. After finishing our bubbly, we were served individual pots of tea. As an extra, surprise treat, I was presented with two chef-made chocolate truffles with ‘happy birthday’ written in chocolate sauce and a candle, which was a lovely thought by the waiter.

Overall, the whole experience was brilliant. The service was attentive and friendly, the food was delicious and incredibly filling – the mini desserts were a lovely alternative to the usual afternoon tea experience. Finally, the striking setting – along with the opportunity to check out some of the hotel’s halls and staircase – completed a perfect afternoon. I would highly recommend booking an afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott. I can’t wait to come back and try the menu at the restaurant next door.

  • The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Afternoon tea is served between 12-4pm. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras. For more information and bookings, visit The Gilbert Scott website.

St Pancras staircase © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

If you enter through the hotel, you get to check out the stunning grand staircase


To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here for the contents page.

For another Metro Girl blog posts on a George Gilbert Scott creation, read about the Albert Memorial, or his grandson Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations Battersea Power Station or the red London phonebox

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Buxton Memorial Fountain | A memorial to one of Westminster’s most important laws

A monument to the abolition of slavery.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Buxton Memorial Fountain has stood in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The fountain contains four large granite basins

Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge to gaze upon Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. However, the pedestrian traffic flowing to the west of the iconic building shrinks considerably in comparison to the east. With the Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben (actually the name of the bell, not the actual clock and tower as is often believed) being the main draw, the Victoria Tower and its adjacent eponymous gardens often get ignored.

Victoria Tower Gardens is a small area to the west of the Houses Of Parliament containing greenery, memorials and a good view of the River Thames. Having rode on a bus past the Gardens many times over the years, I have often found my eyes drawn to the Buxton Memorial Foundation in the gardens. After decades of not seeing it up close or knowing what it was about, in recent years I finally started walking through the Gardens and checked out the fountain up close.

Although the fountain is mid-19th century, it has only been in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957 when it was relocated from nearby Parliament Square following a redesign. The colourful and ornate monument is to commemorate one of Westminster’s most important laws – the emancipation of slaves following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. Although Parliament had passed the 1807 Slave Trade Act, making slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire, some still held slaves that were traded before the act. The 1833 Act went a step further and gave all existing slaves emancipation.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Ornate: The fountain was designed in a Gothic Revival style

It wasn’t until another 33 years later that the lawmakers and campaigners involved in making the 1833 act happen were commemorated for their efforts. MP Charles Buxton funded the fountain and dedicated it to his late father, the abolitionist and MP Sir Thomas Buxton, along with William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Brougham and Stephen Lushington. Charles commissioned London architect Samuel Sanders Teulon to create the fountain in his Gothic revival style for the price of £1,200.

The fountain is covered with a timber-framed spire and clad in enamelled sheet steel. The entire structure is made with a wide range of materials, including limestone, grey and red sandstone, wrought iron, rosso marble enamelled metalwork, grey and pink granite, mosaic and terracotta. Originally unveiled in Parliament Square in 1865 – coincidentally the same year the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery.

The ornate memorial commemorating the end of a horrific part of human history remained in Parliament Square until 1949 when the area was given a post-war makeover. It was finally reinstated in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957. However, by 1971 all eight of the decorative figures of British rulers, including Queen Victoria and William the Conqueror, on the pinnacles had been stolen. These were replaced with fibreglass ones in 1980. Over the years, the fountain fell into disrepair until it was restored in 2006-2007 – just in time for the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act.

Along with the Buxton Memorial Fountain, there is also a monument to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and a reproduction of the sculpture The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. There is also a children’s play park, which is currently closed for refurbishment.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The fountain stands in Victoria Tower Gardens, overlooked by the great tower itself


To read Metro Girl’s blog on the memorial to Emmeline Pankhurt in Victoria Tower Gardens, click here.

Or to find out the history of nearby Parliament Square, click here.

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

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