Tired of London, Tired of Life - A website about things to do in London



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31 October 2009

See 50 Berkeley Square, London's most haunted house

In case you hadn't noticed, it will be All Saints Day tomorrow, which make's this evening All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween, the day when the spirits of the dead walk among us. So, what better day to learn about 50 Berkeley Square, which was known in the 1900s as the most haunted house in London. The house was built in 1740, and formerly occupied by Prime Minister George Canning. However, the house soon developed a reputation for apparitions, screams and noises.

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Haunted London recounts many of the ghost stories, which apparently began when resident Mr Myers was due to be married but was jilted at the altar. Myers subsequently moved into a tiny room at the top of the building where he lived alone, only ever leaving his room at night to walk through the house candlelight.

Stories include that of a maidservant sent to make up a room but found collapsed shortly afterwards, muttering to herself "don't let it touch me". No one knows what she saw as she died in hospital following day. The maidservant's master, Captain Kentfield, then decided he would spend the night in the room and headed upstairs. Thiry minutes later, after terrible screams and a gunshot, he was also found dead on the floor, his face twisted in terror.

Other stories include that two sailors who broke into the empty house and stayed in the haunted room, one was found strangled, and the other jumped from the house and was impaled on a wrought iron fence. Sir Robert Warboys also attempted, with the agreement of the landlord, to spend the night in the haunted room with pistol and a special cord to the landlord so he could alert him if he saw anything. When the bell rang the landlord found Warboys dead, with his smoking gun having made a hole in the opposite wall.

Since 1938, the building has been occupied by firm of Maggs Bros, an antiquarian book dealer. For more information, visit http://www.haunted-london.com/50-berkeley-square

30 October 2009

Watch a band at Bush Hall

Very occasionally in writing this website, your author comes up with an idea and thinks, "I must have done that before". This is very much the case with Bush Hall, in Shepherd's Bush.

Bush Hall was built in 1904-5 by a publisher called W.C. Hurndall, as one of three such halls built for each of his 3 daughters. This Hall was his favourite, not least because he kept a flat upstairs for his mistress. It is constructed using steel girders, which helped it survive the blitz, and since then the hall has been a dance hall, a soup kitchen, a bingo hall and rehearsal space, used by Adam Faith, Cliff Richard and The Who, and a snooker club.

It was restored and opened in 2001 by Charlie Raworth and Emma Hutchinson, the present owners, andnot its Edwardian plasterwork and décor, and Austrian lead crystal chandeliers play host to substantial amounts of national and west London musical talent.

In recent times, it has played host to the likes of Courtney Love, Gnarls Barkley, The Winehouse, The Killers, Kings Of Leon, Lily Allen, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, R.E.M., Scissor Sisters and the Sugababes. To see who is on next, visit http://www.bushhallmusic.co.uk/.

^Picture from flickr courtesy of dearbarbie^

29 October 2009

Explore Paddington Station

It may just be a transport hub, with a connection to a famous bear, but Paddington Station is the gateway to the West Country and Wales and is, in your author's humble opinion, an excellent example of industrial architecture.

Much of the current station dates back to 1854, having been designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Engineering geeks would want to note that the glazed roof is supported by wrought iron arches in three spans, respectively spanning 68ft, 102ft and 70ft. The roof is 699ft long, and the original roof spans had two transepts connecting the three spans.

Trains from Paddington serve Stroud, Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, Worcester, Hereford, Exeter and Penzance, Newport, Cardiff and Swansea and various destinations in the Thames Valley, including Heathrow. Paddington was also the starting place of the world's first underground trains which began its services to the City in 1863. It's well worth a visit on its own, even when you're not catching a train, simply to admire it in itself.

For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddington_station

^Picture from flicr courtesy of gadgetdude^

28 October 2009

Get Knitting at I Knit London

Unless your author is once again being left behind by the fashion kids, craft is still big. Amongst the twee-est of indie Londoners knitting has been en vogue for some time, and if you need proof, just look at the rise and rise of I Knit London.

Founded as a friends knitting circle in South London in late 2005, I Knit owners Craig and Gerard were soon running a stall in Spitalfields Market before moving to an after-work shop in Bonnington Square, SW8 in September 2006. That shop closed in March 2008, but only so it could move to its present location at 106 Lower Marsh, Waterloo. Since then, the concept has gone from strength to strength, taking knitting to festivals, running the KNIFTA's (the Knitting in Film and Television Awards), and even moving into Gritting (Graffiti Knitting) in the Leake Street Tunnel.

The shop stocks a range of yarns from around Britain the world, as well as needles, crochet hooks and knitting books, and is open seven days a week, with late night opening on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It is also the only knitting shop in the UK with an alcohol licence, and serves wines, beers and soft drinks.

For more information http://www.iknit.org.uk/.

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of Risager^

27 October 2009

Admire New Zealand House

Your author occasionally likes to dabble in pretending to be (or actually being) a fan of twentieth century architecture, and amongst the capital's celebrated 1960s examples is New Zealand House, on the corner of Haymarket and Pall Mall. Like many of London's modernist buildings, the building was built on a Blitz bomb site - in this case the derelict site of the Carlton Hotel - on this occasion to a design drawn up by the architects Holland, Hannen & Cubitts in 1959.

The building was a markedly different step from the other diplomatic missions of the day in that it was a modernist skyscraper, succeeding New Zealand's former, more traditional, base at 415 the Strand. This was also to be the first tower block to be built in Central London since the war, so it had to be a good one.

No expense was spared in its construction or in the design, and despite difficulties in planning permission, the 18 storey building was eventually begun after permission was granted directly by the British Cabinet. To this day, it is a rare example of such a skyscraper (albeit a small one) in an area of London where planning is strictly controlled.

Upstairs, the building has a number of outside spaces, including a spectacular terrace around the penthouse, with views over Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, and two internal gardens planted with native New Zealand plants, though sadly these are not open to the public. If you want to get up close or inside the building, your only real options are the Sports Cafe (your author suggests not bothering), or the Royal Opera Arcade (which isn't actually part of it but runs down one side and is very pleasant).

For more information on New Zealand House, see the Twentieth Century Society website here: http://www.c20society.org.uk/docs/building/newzealand.html

^Picture courtesy of Mark Hillary^

26 October 2009

Wander in London's largest ancient woodland

Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve, in North West London, is the biggest single area of woodland in Greater London at 755 acres.

The woods include one of the most extensive oak/hornbeam coppice woods in southeast England, and also acid and neutral grassland, ponds, streams and marshland. The nature reserve itself comprises four woods: Park Wood, Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood and Bayhurst Wood. There is also a lido nearby, for the summer months.

The nature reserve is accessible via Ruislip tube station, which is on the Uxbridge branch of both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines. The H13 and the 331 bus routes stop close by. For more information, visit http://www.hillingdon.gov.uk/index.jsp?articleid=13149.

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of mcfarlandmo^

25 October 2009

Set your watch by the Greenwich Time Ball

As the clocks go back by an hour, and we return to Greenwich Mean Time, it seems sensible to ensure that today's entry is in Greenwich and is one you can set your watch by. Let us examine, therefore, the Greenwich Time Ball, which sits atop the Observatory and rises half way up its mast at 12.55pm, rising to the top at 12.58pm. Then at 1pm exactly, it falls, as a signal to all the people and ships in the area of the exact time. The ball has been doing this daily since 1833.

It was vital for navigation that all ships carried a timepiece with exact Greenwich Mean Time, as using a sextant you can work out the exact time from the sun wherever you are, and then compare and this to Greenwich Mean Time to work out how far around the world you are. This was the reason that Greenwich Meantime was so important to navigators, so the ball provided a vital service to nearby ships preparing to embark on a long voyage.

For more information on http://www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory/time-ball/

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of wka^

24 October 2009

The Cafe in the Crypt at St Martins in the Fields

Sure it's an uber-tourist trap but the Cafe in the Crypt at St Martins in the Fields is atmospheric, and though a little expensive, it's very convenient if you find yourself in Trafalgar Square and hungry.

We are told that all dishes are prepared and cooked on site, using the highest quality and freshest ingredients sourced from local and UK based suppliers, and their afternoon tea, where £5.25 will buy you a scone with jam and Cornish clotted cream, a slice of madeira cake and double chocolate fudge cake with tea or coffee, sounds very reasonable for this area of town.

The cafe is open Monday - Wednesday 8am - 8pm, Thursday - Saturday until 9pm and sundays from 11am - 6pm. For more information, visit http://www2.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/page/cafe/cafe.html

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of ahisgett^

23 October 2009

Buy birthday cakes at Bea's of Bloomsbury

It is Tired of London, Tired of Life's birthday today. Exactly a year ago today, your author picked up his laptop and decided to share some things to do in London. So to celebrate such a special day let's look at a renowned hotspot in the cake world - where you may well find something to satisfy your birthday cake cravings - Bea's of Bloomsbury.

Whilst your author must admit he has only ever experienced their cakes in take away form, they were very good and all reviewers seem united in their praise for the cafe and cake shop. Your author will, therefore, take a well earned day off, and leave you in the capable hands of reviewers from Londonist here and Time Out here.

For full information on Bea's and a menu visit http://www.beasofbloomsbury.com/.

^Picture of the Bea's of Bloomsbury window display from Flickr courtesy of Rev Stan^

22 October 2009

Catch the Number Eleven - TFL's Tourist Bus

For new arrivals in town a bus tour can be a great way to acclimatise, but you can pay a lot of money to catch a tourist bus around London. Sure, you get an open top and a running commentary, but it can cost as much as twenty five times as much as getting on an ordinary bus and sitting on the top deck. Plus you have to put up with someone shouting fact in your ear.

If you're on a budget and willing to give it a go, the Number Eleven begins at Liverpool Street and takes in the Bank of England, St Pauls Cathedral, Fleet street, The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Number 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. From there, it passes near to Buckingham Palace and you can get off and forget about all those nasty bus smells with a nice walk in the park.

So why not give it a bash? At least you'll be able to tell all those Big Bus Tour people thrusting leaflets in your face to p*ss off. For more information on central London bus routes, visit http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/central_bus_map.pdf, or for something a bit more twee, see this old post about heritage routes 9 and 15.

^Picture of bus interior from Flickr courtesy of chelmsfordblue^

21 October 2009

Discover London's railway for dead people

With Halloween fast approaching, it seems fitting to look at London's former railway for the dead. From the mid 19th Century until the Second World War, the London Necropolis Company ran three-carriage trains to take the dead and their families directly from the Waterloo area to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, where they would be buried.

From 1854 until 1900 trains ran every day, but eventually traffic started to tail off as road transport became more common. Originally the trains left from Waterloo but in 1902 they moved to a purpose-build station on Westminster Bridge Road. However, in 1941 the station was bombed by the Nazis and, due to the decline in passengers, it was never reopened after the war.

You can still find the station at 121 Westminster Bridge Road, just to the south of Waterloo Station. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Necropolis_railway_station.

^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

20 October 2009

Get lost in a black hole - Miroslaw Balka's How It Is

Your author is a fan of installation art, so finding himself in Central London on Saturday with half an hour to kill, he couldn't resist popping in to see the latest piece to grace the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, Miroslaw Balka's How It Is.

Having heard it relentlessly promoted on Radio 4 in recent days, he was expecting it to be a lot busier than it was, and was also sceptical given Balka's almost lazy description of his artwork, but thankfully the reality - that it was quite fun - made up for any worries.

For those to whom the PR has not yet filtered through, Balka has taken a large box and filled it with darkness in an attempt to make us feel a bit scared. Your author is in no capacity at all an art critic but he found it very interesting to wander around in the dark and it made him think, which is what art is supposed to do.

If you're interested in reading reviews click here, or for visitor information from the Tate, visit: http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/unilevermiroslawbalka/

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of paul-simpson.org^

19 October 2009

Visit the Pilot Inn, North Greenwich

If you've ever visited the Millennium Dome in North Greenwich, you will probably be aware that there is not a lot else in the area except car parks and wasteland. If you look a little closer, though, here are some exceptions, particularly in the form of the David Beckham Football Academy, some new-build flats, and a grade II listed terrace of original houses with an excellent pub at one end.

This pub is the Pilot Inn. The terrace and the pub are the oldest remaining buildings on the Greenwich Peninsula and are a bit isolated but when you're inside the pub is a gem and it has a lovely little garden at the back which is a perfect spot for a summer afternoon (so keep this one in mind!).

Your author has only ever visited as he has friends who live nearby but it is a great stopping-off point if you're on a bike ride out that way and is also a perfect alternative to the Dome, which seems to pride itself on being home to every known chain-bar and restaurant.

The pub interior reflects a lot of the character of the area with nautical features and plenty of Charlton Athletic memorabilia on the walls. Whilst it's a genuinely local pub, with a weekly quiz and loyal regulars, you can also stay here if you are so inclined. For more information, have a look at the Time Out website, which pleasingly refers to the local area as 'tumbleweed town', at http://www.timeout.com/london/bars/reviews/13382.html.

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of Ewan Munro^

18 October 2009

Find Pepys' birthplace

It perhaps isn't the most amazing spot to visit in London, but it is Sunday and he was an interesting man, so it's worth noting that celebrated diarist and politician Samuel Pepys was born in a tailor's shop on Salisbury Court, just of Fleet Street, on 23 February 1633 (despite what the plaque says).

The tailor in question was John Pepys, Samuel's father, and Samuel was later baptised at neighbouring St Bride's Church. His mother was Margaret Pepys, the daughter of a Whitechapel butcher, and he was the fifth in a line of eleven children, but due to extremely high infant mortality, he soon became the eldest.

Read more about Pepys at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepys

17 October 2009

Drink tea at the Victoria Park Pavilion

The Pavilion Cafe, in Victoria Park, right beside the lake and is a beautiful spot for a cup of tea and a bite to eat, and is a fine place to break up a brisk winter weekend walk to blow away the cobwebs.

Thankfully, the Pavilion doesn't suffer from the sort of overpriced institutionalism which plagues many park cafes in West London, and is just an ordinary cafe really, which happens to be in a park. In fact, this cafe used to be on Bethnal Green Road, but apparently moved here due to size issues.

Well, your author is a fan, and even if it is still a bit pricey and is staffed by trendies, it is still nice. There is even an official website, which tells you nothing at all but is very pretty: http://www.the-pavilion-cafe.com.

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of uriba^

16 October 2009

Browse at Hatchards, Britain's oldest bookshop

Established in 1797, Hatchards, at 187 Piccadilly, is the oldest bookshop in Britain, and is supposedly one of the most famous in the world. It was also the venue for the first meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804.

The shop was started in 1797 by John Hatchard, and was grated a royal warrant by George III. Since then, it has attracted a range of customers including Queen Charlotte, Benjamin Disraeli, the Duke of Wellington, William Gladstone, Cecil Rhodes, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. More recently, it has become a centre for book signings, attracting the likes of J.K Rowling, Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Paxman, Joanne Harris and Sir David Attenborough. Signings and events are a special treat, and many authors have been known to do their only London signings here. A particular high point comes every year around Christmas when the Hatchards Christmas Customer Evening sees a number of authors attending for a mass signing.

The shop is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am until 7pm and on Sundays from noon until 6pm. For more information, visit http://www.hatchards.co.uk.

^Picture from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons. Information with special thanks to 'I Never Knew That About London' by Christopher Winn^

15 October 2009

Visit Holy Trinity, the church that ended slavery

Holy Trinity Church, on the North side of Clapham Common, has an important place in the history of Britain and the world, for it was this church which was the place of worship for William Wilberforce, Henry Thornton and the Clapham Sect, the influential group which went on to successfully campaign for the abolition of slavery.

Shortly after his first speech in Parliament against the slave trade in 1789, Wilberforce moved to Clapham, to live with Thornton, his cousin, in a house on the west side of the Common.

Whilst many people outside the area joined the cause, Clapham and Holy Trinity remained the heart of the campaign right up until 1833, when Parliament finally passed the Slavery Abolition Act as Wilberforce lay on his deathbed. By the end of 1838, slavery in the British Empire had ended, and it was largely thanks to the work of the members of the Clapham Sect.

The church itself was built in 1776, the same year as the American Declaration of Independence, and subsequently underwent some adaptations inside to fit changing congregations. During the Second World War it suffered serious damage and the main roof was close to collapse as a result. Restoration was completed by 1952, and the church remains in use today.

For more on the Clapham Sect see the Holy Trinity Clapham website.

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of robmcm^

14 October 2009

Drink in the Kings Arms, Waterloo

The Kings Arms, at 25 Roupell Street, near Waterloo, is situated on a beautiful street of Victorian workers’ cottages, only a stone's throw from Waterloo Station, the Old (and New) Vic, and the South Bank, and it's a beautiful little pub with a varied clientèle.

Sure, in this area of London there are a number of stunning pubs, but the Kings Arms is one of the best and holds a special place in your author's heart as it was here that he drank on the first evening he moved to London.

The pub is not unusual in London in that it serves Thai food, but the Thai food here is pretty good and reasonably priced so your author can't even fault it on that. All in, it's a very accessible Central London pub with atmosphere which is far enough away from the hustle and bustle you find North of the River to make it very pleasant. It's well worthy of the various accolades it has won from pub and beer guides over the years.

For more information on the Kings Arms, and a map, have a look at the page on the London SE1 site at http://www.london-se1.co.uk/restaurants/info/244/the-kings-arms

^Picture from Flickr courtesy of Ewan Munro^

13 October 2009

Learn the history of Fleet Street on Magpie Alley

You find all sorts of interesting things on wanders in the City, and Magpie Alley is an obvious example. Just off Bouviere Street, in London's EC4, is a lovely display charting the history of printing in the area.

The display, taking its text from English Heritage's 'A Farewell To Fleet Street', published in 1988, brings together the history of Fleet Street from Caxton to Murdoch with old photos, prints and newspaper pages from through the ages.

It's like the museum that the area never got, and your author found it very interesting. If you can't be bothered to pop by, you can learn most of the information from your desk at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleet_Street

12 October 2009

Find the Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp

It's another piece of London trivia, but Carting Lane, just off the Strand, is - legend has it - home to London’s Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp.

The lamp is a Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp, and was invented in the 19th century as a way to draw off smells from underground sewers. It's probably the only of London's remaining gas-powered lamps with operates all the time, day and night.

Over the years, people have hilariously dubbed the lane "Farting Lane" as a result of the lamp's presence and when your author wandered by yesterday at about 3pm the lamp was, sure enough, lit as usual.

Your author understands that the lamp was almost destroyed some time ago by a reversing lorry, but has since been restored and stands proudly beside the Savoy Hotel, which is still undergoing major refurbishments.

For more on gas lighting in London you could try IanVisits or this old post on here.

11 October 2009

Check out the final plinthers

There's only a few days left to see what attention-seeking members of the public do if you give them enough leeway. That's right, Anthony Gormley's One & Other, which has seen nearly 2,500 people given an hour each on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth since the beginning of the summer, is finally due to finish on 14th October.

The Fourth Plinth was designed by Sir Charles Barry and built in 1841 to display an equestrian statue. In recent years it has seen a number of sculptures, including Marc Quinn's 'Alison Lapper Pregnant', Thomas Schütte's 'Model for a Hotel 2007', and following the end of Gormley's project, a temporary fibreglass statue commemorating Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park is due to occupy the space for six months. The statue will not be permanent as popular rumour has it that the fourth plinth is being reserved for a statue of the current Queen, after her death.

Until Sir Keith Park gets his go, however, there are still a few days for you to marvel at ordinary people with novelty signs shouting incoherently at people just out of sight at http://www.oneandother.co.uk/

^Boris mock-up by the author^

10 October 2009

See Newham Town Hall

Newham Town Hall in East Ham, is the home of Newham Borough Council. Your author thinks it is pretty but he is not sure if it is worth travelling all the way out there. It's really only a council building and isn't a visitor attraction of any sort.

Formerly known as East Ham Town Hall, the building is a Grade II listed Edwardian structure, and was designed by A. H. Campbell, H. Cheers and J. Smith. It was constructed between 1901 and 1903, the Town Hall and is topped off by a landmark clock tower.

Nowadays, it's home to many Newham Council frontline services. For more on the London Borough of Newham, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Borough_of_Newham.

9 October 2009

Go Bowling in Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes bills itself as 'totally unique for London or indeed anywhere!'. Your author thinks that is stretching it a bit but he is prepared to admit that the bowling lanes, in the basement of the Tavistock Hotel, are fun.

Alongside some good honest (rather expensive) bowling lanes there is a well stocked bar, a DJ booth, some Karaoke booths, table football and even an odd cinema thing in the entrance area.

It has many competitors nowadays in American-1950s-style-twee-bowling-lanes, but your author has had some good times here so he's sticking with it. The starting price for booking a single lane is £36/hr, but rates vary and it can be cheaper. For more information, and to book a lane, visit http://www.bloomsburybowling.com.

^Bowling shoes from Flickr courtesy of b+c+c+f^

8 October 2009

Go shopping at the School of Life

Your author has mentioned the School of Life, in Bloomsbury, before. Understandably, as he is a big fan.

The School, isn't just a school, however, it is also a shop selling a range of philosophy and other books arranged around different themes, such as "how to enjoy your own company", "how to make a difference" or "how to survive insomnia". There are also other items or the opportunity to buy tickets to lectures, classes and meals.

The shop is situated at 70 Marchmont Street, in Bloomsbury, and is open Monday - Friday, noon - 7pm. For more information, or to shop online, visit http://www.theschooloflife.com.

^School of Life Shop from Flickr courtesy of alex_lee2001^

7 October 2009

See Seti I's sarcophagus

Your author was recently asked by Peter Watts from Time Out to name his favourite London museum exhibit. He had to go for the sarcophagus of Seti I at the Sir John Soane Museum. The sarcophagus sits in its own chamber below ground level at the rear of the museum in a space called the 'Sepulchral Chamber'. After he acquired it, Soane was so proud that he held a three night party for a thousand people to come and view the treasure.

What is so amazing about the sarcophagus is that it stood in Seti’s tomb in the Valley of Kings for thousands of years in its original state, perfectly white with figures and hieroglyphics inlaid in sulphate of copper in blue. It had been perfectly carved in one piece and intricately decorated on every surface, and was one of the finest examples of its kind anywhere in the world. However, when Soane acquired it and brought it to smoky London, most of the detail fell out and the white stone turned yellow.

Your author is not sure how he feel that this treasure sat for so long, perfectly intact and in its natural environment, and then it was suddenly ripped out, ruined by the London smog and placed in a cellar surrounded by tat.

To your author, the sarcophagus perfectly evokes the joy and shame of those of London museums which were formulated in the age of empire. We Londoners have all these lovely treasures, more treasures than we know what to do with, they’re absolutely fascinating and people come from all over the world to see them, but should they really be here?

For full opening times and details for the Soane Museum see this old post or visit http://www.soane.org/.

^Seti I from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^

6 October 2009

Pop round to Charles Dickens' House

The Charles Dickens Museum, in Holborn, is situated at 48 Doughty Street, which was Charles Dickens' home from 1837 until 1839. It was here that the great man completed and published The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nichleby.

The building is Dickens' only surviving London home and was opened as a Museum in 1925. It is now home to an important collection of rare editions, paintings, manuscripts, furniture and other Dickens-based items.

The house is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm (from 11am on Sundays) and entrance costs £6. For more information, visit http://www.dickensmuseum.com/.

^Dickens Museum picture from Flickr courtesy of Matt From London^

5 October 2009

Wander the Truman Brewery

The Truman Brewery complex, on Brick Lane, was the site of brewing operations from the 1600s until its eventual closure in 1988.

The Black Eagle Brewery, which was the site of the major operations, was constructed in the early 1700s and at its height covered over 10 acres, employed over 1,000 people, making it the brewery in London and the second biggest in Britain.

Nowadays, you're more likely to see markets, art school kids and fashionistas in the brewery complex, which has become home to exhibition space, bars, markets and shops, but if you squint you can still imagine the brewers, and the towering Truman chimney remains as a stark reminder of the old use of the area.

For more information on the Truman Brewery, visit http://www.trumanbrewery.com.

^Truman Brewery from Flickr courtesy of bixentro^

4 October 2009

Visit the British Museum Reading Room

Once the main reading room of the British Library, the British Museum Reading Room is a legendary institution which sits at the heart of the modern British Museum.

The visitor list is a who's who of twentieth century thought, with worthy readers including Karl Marx, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Norbert Elias, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud and H. G. Wells.

Sadly, with the move of the main function to the British Library at Holborn, the reading room remains largely a tourist attraction in the present day, and has more recently become a temporary home for major exhibitions. We are, however, told that the Reading Room will revert to its normal use in 2012.

For more information on the Reading Room, visit http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/history_and_the_building/reading_room.aspx.

^British Museum Reading Room from Flickr courtesy of Mister-E^

3 October 2009

See the Courtauld Gallery

At the Courtauld Institute of Art, a working academic centre for the study of the history and conservation of art in Somerset House on the Strand, the Courthauld Gallery contains an art collection begun by the institute's founder, Samuel Courtauld.

The gallery contains a number of significant Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, though the collection ranges from the early Renaissance to the 20th century, and bills itself as one of the finest small museums in the world.

Art treasures of note include Renoir's La Loge, important works by Matisse, Derain and Dufy, and other world-famous pieces like Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

The gallery is open daily from 10am until 6pm, with occasional late openings on Thursdays. Admission is £5, or free before 2pm on Mondays. There's also the usual cafe and shop. For more information, visit http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/

^Somerset House (for the Courtauld Galleries) from Flickr courtesy of antmoose^

2 October 2009

Attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey

Evensong is held at Westminster Abbey daily at 5pm on weekdays and at 3pm on weekends. It's your excuse to get inside one of the most famous Cathedrals in the country and see it at its best.

Westminster Abbey Choir is world renowned worldwide and comprises 30 boys (all taken from the Abbey’s dedicated residential Choir School) and 12 professional adult singers.

Your author is a heathen but there is something quite soothing about the whole thing, and the acoustics in the Abbey are lovely. It all makes for a magical atmosphere, especially as the nights draw in.

For a full list of choral concerts, visit http://www.westminster-abbey.org/music/choral-services.

^Westminster Abbey Evensong from Flickr courtesy of timbrauhn^

1 October 2009

Admire the view from the Blue Bridge, St James' Park

The Blue Bridge, in St James' Park, is a lovely spot, and offers stunning views across the lake to Buckingham Palace in the West, or Whitehall, Horse Guards, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the London Eye in the East.

Now they've finished the recent dredging of the lake the views are once again at their best, framed by trees and water, and it's a lovely spot for quiet contemplation or a pause during a pleasant autumnal stroll, and the lake has plentiful waterfowl (including the notorious pelicans, as well as two islands; Duck Island, and West Island. Maybe best avoided at night, however, if only for the risk of ghost encounters.

For more on the Park, and an interactive map, visit http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/st_james_park/.

^View from Blue Bridge, St James' Park, from Wikipedia under Wikimedia Commons^