Where is it?
Fleet Street runs from the end of Strand to Ludgate Circus junction. Despite being only about 550 metres long, it packs in a lot.
What’s the story?
The street takes its name from the river Fleet, one of London’s ‘lost’ rivers which still trickles along in tunnels beneath Farringdon Street and New Bridge Street, perpendicular to Fleet Street where it joins Ludgate Hill.
Originally the river formed the natural western boundary of the Roman city of Londinium. From the early years of the 16th century, Fleet Street became a hub for printing and publishing, which at the beginning of the 18th century moved in to newspapers. By the 20th century almost every building on Fleet Street belonged to a national newspaper with both the writing and printing taking place on the street, spawning the name ‘ink street’. Even though all of the newspapers began moving out in the 1980s, “Fleet Street” is in the UK still used as a byword for the newspaper industry.
How do I get there?
As Fleet Street literally runs from Strand, you could get the No.15 bus (mentioned in the Strand post), or alternatively use Blackfriars Station. Temple or Chancery Lane stations are within easy walking distance. If you’re travelling from further afield, there’s a City Thameslink station on Ludgate Hill with ‘real trains’ that come in from Brighton and Gatwick in the south, parts of south east London and Bedford, Cambridge and St Albans to the north.
What’s it like now?
Some of the newspaper heritage is still visible with names of newspapers lingering on buildings, but the historic identity of ‘ink street’ is long gone, and has become a generic business street. As a main thoroughfare between Westminster and the City it does get super busy (particularly at peak times), many of the buildings are interesting to look at, particularly above eye level and heading east you are afforded a lovely view of St Paul’s cathedral at the top of Ludgate Hill.
Where would I stay?
I do occasionally meet people who stay in and around Fleet Street, which I think is an interesting choice. Firstly, you’d be incredibly well placed between the main sites of Westminster to the west and St Paul’s cathedral and the Tower of London to the east. It is a business district, so during the week, the pubs in particular would be packed, but on the weekend, it’d be dead and you’d find many of the shops don’t bother opening. I’ve met people to do a private walk at the Apex Temple Court Hotel on Fleet Street and they did say that almost every other guest was a business man or woman staying for work reasons. There is a Premier Inn close by just behind St Bride’s church but if you’d rather be close to St Paul’s cathedral there’s the King’s Wardrobe secreted away in a lovely little courtyard or the recently renamed Leonardo Royal Hotel. Budget travellers will be thrilled to learn that there’s a YHA Hostel on Carter Lane in a building formerly occupied by St Paul’s cathedral choristers.
What’s of interest?
City of London Dragon
If you begin at the east end of Fleet Street where it meets Strand, you are standing at Temple Bar which marks the boundary between Westminster and the City of London. It was a later western extension of the original Roman city, and as such had a gate, known as ‘Temple Bar’ because it began life as a simple bar across a gate close to the Temple church. The city gates were largely removed in the 18th century due to congestion problems, but Temple Bar survived, and with its own intriguing history can now be found between St Paul’s cathedral and Paternoster Square.
The City of London boundaries are now marked by dragons (There are 13 of them) and this one was erected in 1880 with sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in niches either side. The Dragon (sometime referred to as a Griffin) is the symbol of the City of London, holding a shield with the cross of St George and a small sword of St Paul; the coat of arms of the City of London.
To your right, you’ll find the myriad of passages leading down to the river, which are the precincts of Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns of Court and the wonderful Temple Church, mentioned in the Strand post.
Dr Johnson’s House
Tucked away on Gough Square is one of London’s small house museums; Dr Johnson’s House. Much of the area was destroyed during WWII but No.17, despite being damaged (still visible) was spared demolition largely on account of the fact that it was where the first definitive dictionary was compiled in 1755 by the larger than life character that was Samuel Johnson. His quote “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” adorns the introduction to almost every book about London ever written. If you’d like to learn about Johnson, his contemporaries like David Garrick or the former slave Francis Barber who became Johnson’s man servant and heir to his fortune, or just about life in 18th century London, then it’s well worth a visit. Also say hello to the statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge who sits proudly on a dictionary at the opposite end of the square.
St Bride’s Church
A number of churches around London have secrets which you only find out about if you go in and explore. St Bride’s on Fleet Street is no exception. Following the familiar pattern of many of the City churches, St Bride’s was a medieval church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and then bombed in WWII. St Bride’s was completely gutted but lovingly restored and is known as the ‘Journalists and Printers’ church’. In the north east corner, you’ll discover an altar adorned with photos of journalists who have died whilst reporting in war zones.
I encourage you to head down in to the crypt where you’ll find cases filled with artefacts that have been found on the site, dating back to the Roman period, and exhibition boards detailing the history of the Fleet Street printing industry.
If you wander over to the small chapel at the far end, you’ll see reflected back in angled mirrors on the ceiling, the remnants of a Roman pavement, hidden beyond a medieval wall. If you join one of the church’s weekly Tuesday afternoon tours, you’ll even get to see the thousands of bones piled up in the ossuary next door. Not for the squeamish.
I almost forgot. Perhaps the most famous thing about St Bride’s is their spire and its distinctive tiered design which is said to have inspired a local baker to create the first tiered wedding cake. For this reason, many people simply call it ‘the wedding cake church’.
If you walk up Ludgate towards St Paul’s cathedral there are a number of little lanes and alleyways off to your right in an area that once belonged to a large Dominican Monastery, whose monks wore black. The area, a pub, a station and a bridge are now all known as ‘Blackfriars’. In 1613, the Globe Theatre on Bankside burned down during a performance of Henry VIII. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the theatre troupe Shakespeare belonged to) decanted to the old Blackfriars Monastery and built an indoor candle-lit playhouse whilst the Globe was being rebuilt. You’ll still find ‘Playhouse Yard’ there today. William Shakespeare bought a house close by (the deed of which still exists) just three years before his death. You’ll find a plaque commemorating the fact on St Andrew’s Hill on a building on the other side of Ireland Yard from a pub called ‘The Cockpit’.
St Paul’s cathedral
Like a number of ‘places of interest’ I’ve mentioned, a short paragraph clearly does not do St Paul’s cathedral justice. There’s been a church dedicated to St Paul on the same site since the year 604. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and finished in the first decade of the 18th century after the previous building (known as Old St Paul’s) burned down during the Great Fire of 1666.
The cathedral reaches 365ft tall (one for foot for each day of the year) and remained the tallest building in London for just over 250 years until it was usurped by the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) in 1963. Despite now being way down the list of London’s tallest buildings, St Paul’s cathedral remains a protected view and remains visible from a number of vantage points around London.
Horatio Nelson’s tomb has pride of place in the crypt directly beneath the dome and the cathedral has hosted the funerals of the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and more recently Margaret Thatcher, not to mention the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in 1981. Like Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s cathedral is first and foremost a place of worship, but aside from regular services there’s so much to experience. If your legs will allow, climb to the top of the dome (2nd biggest in Europe after St Peter’s in Rome) for incredible views across London, learn how the building survived the intense bombing in the area during WWII and much more.
A short walk from St Paul’s cathedral, you’ll find postman’s park in the former church yard of the wonderfully named church of St Boltoph without-Aldersgate. In 1900 a small section of the garden was given over to a memorial dedicated to ‘Heroic Self-Sacrifice’ with the names of people who died in the act of saving another person’s life. The tablets are beautifully rendered, incredibly moving in their simplicity and featured prominently in the film ‘Closer’ based on the play of the same name by Patrick Marber.
Just north of St Paul’s cathedral is an area called Smithfield, which for the last 900 years has been a meat market. However, all that is about to change as the Museum of London, an absolutely brilliant museum about the history of London is preparing to move in to the Victorian meat market buildings. The area is on the verge of a huge amount of change, but it’s a fascinating area. Scottish patriots or fans of Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ might like to pay a visit to the spot where William Wallace was executed in 1305. Close by is the beautiful medieval church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, originally part of an Augustinian priory in 1123 and has been used as a film location for films such as ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves’, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and many more.
On the other side of the market is a genuine bona-fide hidden gem in the form of Charterhouse, a 14th century priory that was largely rebuilt in the 16th century. The rambling assortment of buildings sit within a 7-acre plot hidden away from the world and is a retirement home. However, they recently opened a small museum and provide tours. If you can, I highly recommend visiting this unique, living breathing piece of London history.
There are a large amount of pubs in the area, and not only that, put pubs that are historically interesting like Ye Olde Mitre, just off Hatton Garden. However, as we’re supposed to be focusing on Fleet Street, here are a few on that street alone.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Often, if establishments put the words ‘Ye Olde’ at the beginning of their name, it means they’re not old, but would like to be. However, a look at the sign over Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’s threshold on Wine Office Court which reads ‘Rebuilt in 1667’ plus the list of Monarch’s that have reigned since it was rebuilt, beginning with Charles II would suggest you’re dealing with the real thing. You are.
Stepping in to Dr. Johnson’s local is a to step back in time. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you’ll notice sawdust on the floor, low ceilings, a brazier burning in the ‘gentleman’s bar’ and the feeling that it probably hasn’t changed that much since the fictional character of Charles Darnay entered in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Be sure to head down two floors to the cellar bar, but be careful not to bang your head on the way down, or up.
The Tipperary is a saloon bar style Irish pub on Fleet Street and claim not only to be the first Irish pub outside Ireland but the first to serve Guinness in England.
The Old Bell
Standing on the site of an earlier pub, The Old Bell (which I exuberantly labelled Ye Olde on my map) was apparently built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire for the masons working on the adjacent St Bride’s church.
The Punch Tavern
Occupying the site of a former 19th century gin palace, the Punch Tavern received its current name after employees of the nearby Punch magazine who were frequent patrons.
Where is it?
Like a large number of the properties on the Monopoly board, Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue are both in Westminster, and as they’re slap bang next to each other, have covered them both in one sitting. They’re actually pretty much as close to central London as you can get as they both meet at the roundabout at the south end of Trafalgar Square, which is officially the centre of London. Whitehall runs south from Trafalgar Square, morphing in to Parliament Street before reaching Parliament Square (although on my map, I’ve called the whole thing Whitehall). Northumberland Avenue has a similar starting point and cuts south easterly for about 350 metres towards the River Thames.
What’s the Story?
Whitehall takes its name from a 16th century palace originally built by King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor; Cardinal Wolsey, on the site of York Place. When Henry VIII removed Wolsey from power in 1530 he took the liberty of acquiring the palace, changing the name to Whitehall (thought to be the colour of the stone), from which point on it became a Royal Palace, used by subsequent Monarchs until it burned down in 1698. Over the years it grew considerably, boasting some 1500 rooms and was one of the largest palaces in Europe. The Royal Court moved away and gradually, the area became populated by government buildings to such an extent that ‘Whitehall’ is now a byword for government.
Northumberland Avenue was in the 17th century the grounds of a large mansion built at the beginning of the century for Henry Howard (1st Earl of Northampton) and in 1642 became Northumberland House when the wonderfully named Algernon Percy (10th earl of Northumberland) married one of Howard’s distant relatives and moved in. In the late 19th century, the house was demolished to make way for the avenue that exists today, largely lined with super duper hotels.
How do I get there?
As both Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue are situated in the centre of London, you have no shortage of transport links. There’s an entrance / exit to Charing Cross Underground station at the north end of Whitehall / Trafalgar Square, but Embankment and Westminster Underground Stations are just a few minutes away.
What’s it like now?
Much of Whitehall is dominated by government buildings of one sort or another such as the MOD and the Cabinet Office. You’ll also pass Horse Guards and Downing Street and probably find yourself fighting through crowds of tourists and kids on school trips. Northumberland Avenue is perfectly nice, if not a little bland. You’re more likely to walk down it en route to somewhere else.
Where would I stay?
My suggestions are always based on places I’ve actually been to, generally to pick people up who have booked me for a private tour. Being the kind of area that it is, you’re unlikely to find much budget accommodation. Nestling in between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue you’ll find the Royal Horseguards Hotel and the Corinthia London, both luxury hotels. On Northumberland Avenue itself you’ll find the Club Quarters Hotel, Citadines Trafalgar Square and The Grand at Trafalgar Square, whilst heading towards Big Ben and Parliament Square you have the London Marriott Hotel County Hall and the Park Plaza, Westminster Bridge. Both of these last two suggestions are on the south side of Westminster Bridge. If you’re looking for something close to Westminster Abbey, then just by St James’s Underground Station are St Ermin’s Hotel and Conrad London St. James and for those looking for something a bit kinder on the wallet, then I’ve also been to the Hub by Premier Inn, London Westminster.
What’s of Interest?
How long have you got?
A mid 18th century stables for the Household Cavalry (or Queen’s Life Guard) who still stand guard each day between 10am and 4pm. They’re also the only ceremonial guards left standing where tourists can actually have their photo taken with them, and as such are guarded by armed Police. That’s right; the guards are guarded by guards. They do their own ‘change’ each morning, separate to the more famous ‘Changing The Guard’ at Buckingham Palace, and if you get there at 4pm you can watch the final inspection.
Household Cavalry Museum
If you walk through the courtyard, under the arch on to Horse Guards Parade, then the Household Cavalry Museum is on your right, and as you’d expect, explains the history of the regiment. The museum is actually housed inside the stables and a nice touch is that they inserted a glazed partition so you can watch a sort of behind the scenes of the Queen’s Life Guard either preparing for their hour long shift, or returning.
Horse Guards Parade
A ceremonial parade ground where on the Queen’s official birthday (she has two), she inspects her troops at ‘Trooping the Colour’. It also hosted the beach volleyball during the 2012 London Olympics. You get a nice view across to St James’s Park, the back wall of Downing Street to your left and the Grade I listed 18th century Admiralty House to your right, juxtaposed against a concrete block of a building called ‘the Citadel’ which was actually built at the start of WWII as a top secret bunker.
On the opposite side of Whitehall to Horse Guards is Banqueting House, a large colonnaded building which was built in 1622 and is the only surviving part of the old Whitehall Palace. It was where King Charles I had his head chopped off in 1649 and if you go in (which you can for a small fee) the entire ceiling (or at least a canvas made to look like the ceiling) was painted by Flemish artist and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens in 1636.
Women of World War II memorial
Due to the presence of the MOD and the Old War Office building, Whitehall has its fair share of ‘dead white men’ statues, so rather than mention all of those, thought I’d bring to your attention my favourite; the Women of World War II memorial, which stands over 20ft tall and is adorned by a large number of uniforms worn by women in various roles (mostly previously occupied by men) during WWII. It was only unveiled in 2005 and I think its really simple, evocative and poignant.
Downing Street was built in 1682 by Sir George Downing, but only a small section survives. It is quite possibly one of the most famous, but also innocuous streets in the world, and since 1732, No. 10 Downing Street has been home to the Prime Minister. No. 11 is used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, known by everyone else as the ‘finance minister’. Up until 1989 you could merrily wander down Downing Street and have your photo taken standing outside No. 10. Not surprisingly, you can now only glimpse the street from behind huge gates under the watchful eye of armed Police. Security was further stepped up when the IRA tried to mortar bomb No. 10 from the parade ground behind in the early 1990s.
Originally built by Edwin Lutyens to commemorate ‘the Glorious Dead’ of WWI, the Cenotaph is now used to remember all wars in which British servicemen and women fought. If you visit in November, the base will be buried beneath wreaths of poppies laid for Armistice Day.
Churchill War Rooms
As you cross King Charles Street you’ll see signs for the ‘Cabinet War Rooms’, although they’re now called the ‘Churchill War Rooms’, one of the branches of the Imperial War Museum. Secreted beneath the Treasury Building, the underground complex of rooms and corridors were used by the British government as a command centre throughout WWII. To cut a long story short, at the end of the war in 1945, the doors were shut and everything was just left as it was. They still have maps with pins stuck in the same place as they were 75 years ago, meeting rooms set out and the bedrooms of government ministers and their families. It’s a fascinating museum, and well worth a visit, particularly if you have an interest in WWII and / or Winston Churchill.
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
This is what everyone knows it as, but Big Ben is actually the bell inside what only recently became the Elizabeth Tower and the adjoining building is officially the ‘Royal Palace of Westminster’. The old palace burned down in 1834 and the current late 19th century gothic revivalist building was designed by Charles Barry. The history of the building actually spans over 900 years, which you can learn all about on the tours they run of our UK parliament, which begin in the magnificent medieval great hall. If you want to get a photo that encompasses the whole building and Big Ben, then you’ll need to cross to the other side of Westminster Bridge.
One of the few surviving parts of the old Palace of Westminster; a 14th century stub of a moated building which as the name suggests was once a lock up for valuables. Over its considerable history its had a number of other uses, so why not pop in and find out, courtesy of English Heritage who manage it.
Undoubtedly on most peoples must visit lists, Westminster Abbey is a World Heritage Site with over a thousand years of history, a treasure trove of artefacts, the resting place for over 300 of the great and the good (or not so good) of British history, the scene of every coronation since 1066, 16 Royal weddings and loads more. Basically, the place is oozing history and if you can, check out the brand new ‘The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries’ which amongst other things offer absolutely stunning views down the entire length of the Abbey. Also, if you want to experience the building without paying to enter or attend a service, pop along to Evensong.
We’re very lucky in London with the sheer number of parks and gardens we have at our disposal, and in Whitehall Gardens which runs along Embankment between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue you’ll find what is quite possibly (especially during the summer months) one of my favourites. I know very little about flora and fauna but even I can tell this garden is chock full of an amazing array of shrubs and flowers. A few years ago I happened to be wandering through Whitehall Gardens with a couple of botanists from New Zealand who spotted four plants and flowers indigenous to their country that they’d never seen outside of New Zealand.
Benjamin Franklin House
Located on Craven Street (just behind the Sherlock Holmes pub) is the only surviving Benjamin Franklin residence in the world. He lived at the address for 16 years. Now a small museum, groups of visitors are shown around by an actress pretending to be his landlady. Also, if you walk to the far end of the street, you’ll pass the house that Herman Melville lived in, and see a smallish green shed on the side of the road selling snacks. It’s actually a listed building and one of the few surviving cabmen’s shelters in London; small huts that started popping up in the 1870s so that cabbies could tie up their horses (note the bar running around the side) and get out of the rain.
If you wander across either Hungerford Bridge or the adjacent Golden Jubilee Bridge to the other side of the River Thames you’ll find yourself in an area known as the Southbank. Badly bombed during WWII, the concrete brutalist architecture attests to post-war redevelopment. The Royal Festival Hall was the first building to be built in 1951 and the other arts and concert venues followed and are known collectively as the Southbank Centre. If you walk in the opposite direction back towards Westminster bridge you’ll pass the London Eye, the London Dungeon, the Sea Life Centre and within St Thomas’s Hospital, the Florence Nightingale Museum.
Eating and Drinking
It’s a touristy area which means the majority of pubs and cafes should probably be avoided. However, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, just off Northumberland Avenue is a pub called ‘The Sherlock Holmes’. It’s pretty bog standard and will be brimming with tourists, but if you go upstairs, then there’s an entire recreation of the apartment that Holmes shared with Watson which was actually an exhibit in the 1951 Festival of Britain.
If you’re near Westminster Abbey and need a quick snack, then Pickles Sandwich Bar on Old Queen Street seems to be one of the few non-chain establishments in the area. Close by is the Two Chairmen, a pub which has a dining room upstairs, serves good food and although a 2-minute walk from both Westminster Abbey and the Churchill War Rooms, is located in such a place that you’re unlikely to find too many tourists in there.
Monopoly Guide to London for Tourists - #03: The Angel / Euston Rd / Pentonville Rd
Where is it?
I have included these three Monopoly board squares together as geographically (in real life) they run one in to the other, although if you were to start at Angel, as the light blue squares do, you would first reach Pentonville Road, and then Euston road rather than the other way around. If you’re looking at a map, Angel sits approximately 1.5 miles directly north of Blackfriars Bridge and the two other roads run for about 1.8 miles above the West End in central London to Regent’s Park.
What’s the Story?
‘The Angel’ has the curious distinction of being the only property on the Monopoly board which isn’t either a thoroughfare or area. Although locals to tend to refer to the area as ‘The Angel’ rather than ‘Angel’ (Like the Old Kent Road) it takes its name from a pub which once stood at the crossroads. Apparently in 1935 when Victor Watson (of Waddington’s board game manufacturers) and his secretary Marjory Phillips came on a day trip to London to find the streets they would use for their UK version of the American game, they stopped for lunch at the Angel Café Restaurant (formerly The Angel Inn) and decided to include it on their board. Both Pentonville Road and Euston Road were originally called ‘New Road’ built in the mid 18th century as a bypass for coaches to avoid central London and whisk passengers away from the City to the western suburbs. King’s Cross where the two roads join was at that point a village known as Battle Bridge.
How do I get there?
Using London’s Underground network:
The Angel – Angel station which boasts the longest escalators in Europe.
Pentonville Road – Either Angel to the east or King’s Cross station to the west.
Euston Road – A plethora of Underground station choices beginning with King’s Cross in the east, then heading west; Euston, Euston Square, Warren Street (at the north end of Tottenham Court Road) or Great Portland Street.
What’s it like now?
Angel is a bit of a mix, but has in recent years become more affluent. The current PM Boris Johnson lived there until last year when he sold his Georgian town house for £3.75 million. I used to know Dan Crawford who founded the King’s Head pub theatre on Upper Street in Angel. It’s a lively street full of pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and a couple of cinemas. When Dan opened the theatre in 1970 he said that everyone thought he was crazy because the whole street was boarded up and no-one wanted to go there. King’s Cross has undergone a major revamp in the last decade (galvanised by the Eurostar terminal) and had been a red light district. Neither Pentonville Road or Euston Road are particularly pleasant; incredibly busy, choked with traffic and exhaust fumes. They actually form the edge of the congestion charge zone north of central London, so perhaps not surprising.
Where would I stay?
There’s an abundance of hotels in the area, although you might want to avoid the major roads. It’s a bit further south but I seem to have picked people up to do private tours on numerous occasions from the Montague on the Gardens, a hotel right next to the British Museum. If you’re arriving by Eurostar or popping over to Paris, then obviously a hotel close to King’s Cross St. Pancras International would be a good bet.
What’s of interest?
If you get to Angel and fancy a cuppa, then the Angel Café Restaurant patronised by Victor and Marjory back in 1935 is now a bank, but they do have a plaque commemorating their Monopoly fame. Instead, I’d suggest going to the Candid Café on Torren Street about a minutes walk away. It’s a great little place and is part of a larger arts organisation, accessed through an innocuous doorway on the street and up a couple of flights of stairs. It’s a quirky refuge away from the hustle and bustle outside and I can guarantee that you won’t find another tourist in there (unless of course they’ve read this).
I’m a big theatre fan and have already mentioned the King’s Head theatre (moving to a new premises next door right now) and just around the corner from them is the world renowned Almeida Theatre. If you’ve got kids then definitely check out what’s on at the Little Angel Theatre, a puppet theatre proving kid and family friendly shows since 1961. It was founded by John Wright, father of Joe Wright; film director (The Darkest Hour, Atonement).
If antiques and collectables are your thing, then seek out Camden Passage, and for dance enthusiasts then look no further than the nearby Sadler’s Wells, a performing arts theatre specialising in all forms of dance.
If you walk west from ‘The Angel’ you’ll head down Pentoville Road towards King’s Cross. Probably not much to interest tourists, but if you’re a clown (and I do know a couple) then on the right hand side you’ll pass Joseph Grimaldi Park, a former graveyard, named after one of the people buried there in 1837. Grimaldi is known as the father of modern clowning and has been remembered along with musician Charles Didbin with graves adorned with bronze plates which when stepped on, play musical notes. You are quite literally encouraged to dance on someone’s grave.
King’s Cross has recently undergone a huge period of change and redevelopment and thanks to J.K Rowling and her Harry Potter series, the not particularly exciting King’s Cross station is now a must visit attraction for Harry Potter fans who eagerly queue up to have their photo take pushing a trolley in to a wall on their way to platform 9¾. I went there years ago with some people on a tour, and there wasn’t really anyone there. Now, it’s properly organised.
St Pancras International Station next door is home to the Eurostar. It was a 19th century railway station which was saved from demolition in 1967 in no small part by the poet John Betjeman whose efforts have been rewarded with a great statue inside the station on the first floor concourse. Also look out for work by Tracey Emin and Paul Day’s huge sculpture, ‘The Meeting Place’.
Directly behind both stations is a former Victorian goods yard which has recently been utterly transformed in to a vibrant area called King's Place, with bars, shops, restaurants and is home to St Martin’s art college.
If you fancy a nice walk up to Camden (or further) then I can highly recommend a wander up the Regent’s Canal. Maybe visit the London Canal Museum before you do. You’ll pass close to St Pancras Old Church which I think is well worth a visit. It’s considered to be one of the oldest Christian worship sites in Europe but has a fascinating church yard which includes John Soane’s tomb which Giles Gilbert Scott used as inspiration for his winning design of the now iconic red telephone box, and is the back drop to a body snatching scene in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Perhaps most intriguing is ‘The Hardy Tree’. In the late 1860s a young Thomas Hardy was working for the architect firm allocated the sensitive job of exhuming remains from the burial ground so as to build a railway line in to the nearby station. Hardy got the thankless job and arranged hundreds of gravestones around an ash tree, which remains there to this day.
The British Library regularly has paying exhibitions, but I highly recommend popping in to their free permanent exhibition, the treasures of which reveal 2000 years of human experience through books, manuscripts and sound recordings. You can expect the oldest religious texts from around the world, original scores from renowned composers, handwritten drafts of novels by your favourite authors, Shakespeare’s first folio or Beatles lyrics jotted down on the back of Julian Lennon’s first birthday card.
The Wellcome Collection is a fascinating museum just opposite Euston Station, exploring the connection between medicine, life and art, advertising themselves as the “free destination for the incurably curious”.
Just around the corner is the Grant Museum of Zoology, a natural history museum founded in 1828 and is part of University College London, originally formed as a teaching collection. It’s one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK and houses nearly 70,000 specimens.
If you’re in the mood for bypassing the West End shows and sampling some theatre from innovative, early career practitioners, then why not get a ticket to a show at the New Diorama Theatre, an 80-seat theatre, nestling in the midst of a particularly unexciting modern office development.
Finally, as you reach Great Portland street Station you’ll find yourself on the edge of Regent’s Park, one of London’s Royal Parks, at the north end of which you’ll find ZSL London Zoo.
If you walk directly south of Euston Station for about 10 minutes, you’ll get to Russell Square. Much of the area just to the west is dominated by the British Museum, which many people I meet factor in to their time in London. I often get asked questions during correspondence with people who have booked a tour with me. One such question was “How long will it take us to se everything in the British Museum?” There’s about 8 million artefacts, so I wouldn’t worry about trying to see everything. They do offer ‘Around the world in 90-minute’ tours which take in the biggies as well as a few less known objects, so joining one of those might be a good start.
I just wanted to mention a few other museums that are very close to the British Museum and perhaps not on every visitor’s radar. The first is on Russell Square itself and is situated in a house. It’s called the Weiner Holocaust Library and formed in 1933 is one of the world’s most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era. A great many people use it for research purposes, but on the ground floor they have a small changing exhibition which if you ring the buzzer they’ll be more than happy for you to view. A bit further down the road is the Foundling Museum, established in 1739 by Thomas Coram as Britain’s first home for children at risk of abandonment. If their display of ‘tokens’ (which parents left as a way of identifying their child should they wish to return and reclaim them) doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then I don’t know what will. Close by is the Charles Dickens Museum on Doughty Street; a former residence of the great author and his family, and as you might expect is a mine of Dickens paraphernalia and treasures. Close by in Clerkenwell (a fascinating area in its own right) is the Postal Museum which along with other post related exhibits, gives you a ride along a 1km stretch of mail rail.
Also in the series:
#00 – Introduction
#01 – Old Kent Road
#02 – Whitechapel Road
Where is it?
Whitechapel Road is in the borough of Tower Hamlets and runs east from Aldgate, once the eastern gate out of the City of London, eventually becoming Mile End Road. The area is generally referred to as the East End.
What’s the Story?
The area of Whitechapel, and the road included on the Monopoly board gets its name from an ancient church which once stood just south of the Whitechapel Road, but was badly damaged during WWII, later demolished and is now the site occupied by Altab Ali Park.
Historically, east London has been a poorer cousin to west London which coupled with its proximity to the docks lead to it becoming a migrant area; French Huguenots in the 17th century and Jewish immigrants in the 19th and early 20th century. More recently it became a Bangladeshi area. Whitechapel however, will be forever associated with the Jack The ripper murders which took place in and around the area in 1888.
In recent times, Brick Lane, which runs north, on a site occupied by the Truman Brewery, has been gentrified, and on Sundays when the markets are in full swing, it’s a hot spot for hipsters. It is also festooned with street art.
How do I get there?
Whitechapel Road and Whitechapel High Street are dotted with tube stations including Aldgate, Aldgate east and Whitechapel. Just north in trendy Shoreditch there’s an Overground station as well as an Underground and mainline station at Liverpool Street.
What’s it like now?
Like a lot of London, there’s a great deal of development going on and the rough edges often associated with Whitechapel are, for better or worse being gradually filed down. It sits within one of the two poorest areas of London, but within the same borough is Canary Wharf, the second big financial hub, so again, as with much of the city, an interesting dichotomy of people living together. Whitechapel is incredibly diverse with a large Muslim population and Bangladeshi community, which you’ll certainly get a feel for around the markets on Whitechapel Road and the familiar waft from the numerous curry houses.
Where should I stay?
Like Old Kent Road, it’s unlikely you’d want to stay on Whitechapel Road itself (although not beyond the realms of possibility), but more likely in one of the numerous hotels popping up in and around Hoxton and Shoreditch (just north) or near to the Tower of London to the south.
What’s of interest?
Whitechapel Road itself might not be a No.1 priority for visitors to London, but has far more going for it than the previous Old Kent Road and a host of things to see and do within a stone’s throw.
For culture vultures, just at the south end of Brick Lane on Whitechapel High Street you’ll find the Whitechapel Gallery, a contemporary art gallery which has been premiering world class international artists for well over 100 years and is a key part of London’s cultural landscape.
A short walk further east you’ll pass the monumental east London Mosque which I visited a number of years ago and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which ceased trading in 2017 but had been making bells in Whitechapel since 1570. They not only cast the famous ‘Big Ben’ but amongst many others, the Liberty Bell. An American investment firm bought the premises but their application to turn it in to a boutique hotel is currently under review by the government. If you’re feeling peckish then Tayyabs, a family run Punjabi restaurant since 1972 is the go to curry house in the area for Londoners, despite a plethora of them on Brick Lane.
For those with an interest in medical history, you should definitely check out the Royal London Hospital Museum. It's a fascinating and eclectic mix which among many other things includes a model of John Merrick's (the elephant man) skeleton who lived and died at the hospital in the late 19th century.
Just south west of Whitechapel Road you’ll find the mighty Tower of London, a must visit London attraction which after 1000 years of history, needs no introduction. Whist there, make sure you pop in to the often over looked church of All Hallows by-the-Tower, which quite remarkably pre-dates the Tower by 400 years, has an intriguing museum (including some Roman floor) and a couple of historical titbits that Americans might find interesting.
On the opposite side of the Tower you’ll find the serene St Katherine Docks, central London's only marina, where you’ll often find the Queen’s Royal Barge parked up, and then a bit further on, Wilton’s Music Hall; one of only two surviving Victorian music halls in London, which has shows on regularly. It’s a real delight.
Brick Lane, running north from Whitechapel Road is just over half a mile long and on Sundays gets transformed so that every nook and cranny of the Old Truman Brewery which dominates the central portion gets turned in to a market of some form or another, whether it be street food, vintage clothes or people just selling stuff off the back of a lorry. It’s a vibrant and culturally diverse area and its rich migrant history is perhaps best encapsulated in the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Mosque, which opened in 1743 as a Huguenot chapel, has been used as a Methodist chapel, a Synagogue and a Mosque. As such, it's an anomaly and stands on the corner of Fournier Street, lined with beautiful early 18th century houses and well worth a look.
The abundance of curry houses has waned slightly in recent years due to the extortionate business rates, but they’re not the only food people flock to Brick Lane for. At the Bethnal Green Road end are two famous 24-hour bagel shops which no-one ever seems to know the names of, but can tell you the colour of the facade of their favourite.
Old Spitalfields market which had been a fruit and veg market from 1637 until 1991 (when it moved further east) got cut in half by uber-architect Norman Foster and gentrified beyond belief. Still worth checking out the stalls of vintage wear and it’s lined with generic epidemic restaurants. Just outside is the famous Ten Bells pub, synonymous with Jack The Ripper as it was where he picked up his final victim, Mary Kelly.
If you're looking for a quirky, historical, under the radar museum, then look no further than Dennis Severs House at 18 Folgate Street; a time capsule of an 18th century weaving house.
Shoreditch and Hoxton
Just north of Spitalfields and otherwise known as Hoxtditch, is the epicentre of hipsterdom. It’s where the cool kids go to get drunk, eat kebabs and throw up. Lots of bars, coffee shops and clubs. If you get a chance, do seek out Arnold Circus, a quiet enclave and the UK’s first council estate.If you're in the area on a Sunday, then a stop off at an east end institution, Columbia Road Flower Market will give you a real flavour of London life. You’ll find, in all these areas I’ve mentioned, LOADS of street art and it often feels like wandering around an open air art gallery. You can still see an original Banksy in the beer garden of gig venue Cargo on Rivington Street, amongst many others artists like Eine, Roa, Bambi, Thierry Noir and one of my favourites; the chewing gum artist, Ben Wilson.
I do regular Sunday morning ‘pay what you want’ tours around these areas most weeks, so please do get in touch if you’d like to join.
Also in the series:
#00 - An Introduction
#01 - Old Kent Road
Where is it?
Old Kent Road, the first stop on the Monopoly board and the cheapest property is in south east London, and cuts diagonally from Southwark (just south of Tower Bridge) in a straight line of just over two miles to New Cross.
It is also the only square on the London Monopoly board south of the river Thames.
What’s the story?
As the name suggests, the Old Kent Road was an ancient road used by the Romans and formed part of the famous Watling Street which ran from Dover to Holyhead. Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled down the road on their way to Canterbury in ‘The Canterbury Tales’, written in the late 14th century.
This once rural thoroughfare, was by the late 19th and early 20th century a mix of housing and industry, including gas works. Much of the surrounding area was heavily bombed during WWII and the old terraces were replaced with high rise council estates and new industrial developments.
How do I get there?
I live not far from Old Kent Road, so can safely say, that as a tourist it’s reasonably unlikely you’d be wanting to go there. However, the nearest stations are Elephant and Castle to the west and New Cross Gate to the east. Having said that, there’s loads of developments afoot and a couple of new stations will be popping up along the road as part of the Bakerloo Line extension which will run to Lewisham. So you never know, in twenty or thirty years, maybe it will be a tourist destination.
What’s it like now?
A not particularly pleasant road, choked with traffic and lined with high rise flats, big stores and depots.
Where would I stay?
You’re probably better off staying around London Bridge, although if you’re into Air BnB’s and fancy staying somewhere less central, then Peckham is a vibrant area, just south of Old Kent Road.
What’s of interest?
On the Old Kent Road itself …not much. South London does actually boast the greenest space of anywhere in London and there are lovely places to visit, but in keeping with the Monopoly board theme, you could wander around Burgess Park. Seeing as this is the only spot included on the board south of the river, I’ll mention a few places around London Bridge for starters.
Bankside and Borough
A big draw is the famous food market, Borough Market, which has also doubled up as film locations for the Bridget Jones films and Harry Potter. Southwark cathedral is a wonderful cathedral that often gets usurped by St Paul’s cathedral and Westminster Abbey. You’ve got the Golden Hinde; a replica of Francis Drake’s ship that circumnavigated the world in 1577, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern. You should also definitely stop off for a drink at the George Inn, the only surviving galleried coaching inn in London, which dates back to 1676. If you’re interested in medical history, then the Old Operating Theatre is a must. I do lots of tours around this area, so can show you around, should you so wish.
If you’re interested in military history then you should definitely visit the Imperial War Museum.
In recent years, Bermondsey Street (in between London Bridge and Tower Bridge) has become trendified beyond recognition with a host of restaurants, gastro pubs and coffee shops. For a cultural hit you’ve got the White Cube Gallery and the Fashion and Textile museum and whilst you’re there I highly recommend popping in to Peter Leyton: London Glassblowing and watching some expert glassblowers in action. For foodies, you should definitely seek out Maltby Street Market.
Down by the river you can visit the HMS Belfast, a WWII war ship used during D-Day in 1944 or if you have kids and fancy some theatre, then I can highly recommend, the Unicorn Theatre which just does shows for kids.
The River Thames
I realise that people visiting London for a short period are unlikely to do this, but I always recommend a wander along the river Thames. You can uncover so much. I should know, I’ve walked the entire length of it. Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in London, but many people don’t realise that the entire structure is a museum. From there you can walk through Shad Thames; 19th century warehouses turned in to apartments. You’ll pass the Brunel Museum which housed the Engine Room for Marc Isambard Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, finished in 1843, the first tunnel to be built beneath a navigable river and the historic area of Rotherhithe which is lovely and of particular interest to Americans with a connection to the Mayflower as it collected 65 people from here. The pub of the same name is lovely and well worth a visit.
Further to the east is Greenwich, which you can get to by boat from central London if you’d rather not take the train. It’s a lovely area which includes the Cutty Sark, the Old Royal Naval College and its Painted Hall, the Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, the Fan Museum, Greenwich Park and loads of other things.
And finally, if for whatever reason you are actually looking for Old Kent Road, do say 'THE Old Kent Road' making sure you use the prefix 'the'. No one in London calls it 'Old Kent Road'.
PLEASE NOTE - There are obviously far more places of interest in south London including museums and galleries, but as Old Kent Road is literally the only road in the whole of south London included on the Monopoly board, it's a bit limiting, so have stuck to more instantly tourist friendly suggestions.
Also in the series:
#00 - An introduction
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.