Did you know you can visit a Tudor tower right in central London? It’s almost hidden in plain sight.
Here are four special places for your London Heritage Hotspot explorations:
- the British Museum
- St Clement Danes Church
- St Pancras Station
- Canonbury Tower.
The British Museum with Don Brown
What’s one of my favourite London Heritage Hotspots? How to choose!
In the end I’ve gone with the place I was at today, and that’s the British Museum. It’s somewhere every visitor to London should come and see, whether that’s for an hour or two, or for an entire day, because it’s the history of humanity. We can look at the objects on display and see art and beauty, craft and skill, but also the rise and fall of civilisations, and reflect on our place in all this.
And the stories! We can get an insight into the ancient Assyrians and their lion hunts, how a chess set tells us about the structure of society in the early middle ages, why quintessentially Chinese blue and white vases are originally the product of the Mongol invasion, why the ‘Dark Ages’ were far from dark.
It’s a collection of over 8 million items, the oldest of which dates from 2 million years ago, and it’s our story. We are where we are from the stepping stones of the past, and as we look at the objects created in different cultures, at different times, for different reasons, we can feel that connection.
All this comes at no cost. Entrance to the museum is free, the building itself, particularly the Great Court, is wonderful; even the cafe is good and good value.
About Don Brown
Don Brown is a London Blue Badge Guide.
As well as tours of the British Museum, Don takes visitors on walking tours around London and all the major sites within the capital. He also does a rock and roll tour, looking at London’s musical heritage in the 60s and 70s.
Don Brown MITG
Blue Badge Guide
Phone 07480 574 544
Don Brown on Twitter @donbrownlondon
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the contact form on Don’s website
All bookings are made under the British Guild of Tourist Guides terms and conditions.
St Clement Danes Church with Katy Clarke
“Oranges and lemons, sing the bells of St Clements”
So goes the traditional English nursery rhyme and it likely refers to St Clement Danes found on The Strand outside London’s Courts of Justice. I recently discovered this beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682 and am now fascinated by its history.
A church has stood on the site since the 10th century and it is believed that its name derives from the Danish ruler, King Harold, who was buried on the church’s grounds.
St Clement is the patron saint of mariners and was important to the Danish seafaring people who had conquered England. Over the centuries the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times including once by William the Conqueror. It managed to survive the Blitz during the Second World War but you can still see the shrapnel wounds today.
About Katy Clarke
Katy Clarke’s blog is Untold Morsels – Travel with culture, food and family in mind.
As her website says, Katy is on a mission to find culture and food experiences that make your travels memorable.
Phone +44 7982 868 963
St Pancras Station with Jean Jacyna
My top heritage hotspot is a railway-related one in the London Borough of Camden, St Pancras Station. You can’t visit St Pancras without noticing that wonderful, enormous red-bricked building – the ‘cathedral of the railways’, the grand Midland Railway terminus built during the 1860s.
It had a problematic beginning. The area was full of slums to be pulled down, there was the Regent’s Canal to negotiate and part of an ancient churchyard full of bodies to be dug up and interred somewhere else.
Thankfully, William Henry Barlow, the finest engineer of the day, provided a solution by building a bridge over the canal and churchyard to raise the platforms 18 feet above street level. Beneath the station he installed a huge ‘undercroft’ warehouse to store large beer barrels brought in from Burton-on-Trent. The roof of his train shed, known as the Barlow shed was once the largest single-span railway structure in the world.
To complement the station, the greatest architect of the day, George Gilbert Scott, designed the red brick Midland Grand Hotel. The poet Sir John Betjeman described it as ’a sudden burst of exuberant Gothic’ which sums it up perfectly! It was among the first to have ‘ascending rooms’ or lifts and electric bells. Built using the finest materials, it had every facility, even a ladies’ smoking room.
Unfortunately, there were too many bedrooms and not enough bathrooms; installing new pipework would have been too costly. It closed and was taken over by the Midland Railway as offices.
Thankfully it has been restored as the Renaissance London Hotel for us to enjoy. It has a sumptuous interior.
Sir John Betjeman, the Poet Laureate, fought to save the station in the 1960s when it was threatened with closure. There’s a bronze statue of him inside the station raising his famous trilby hat and also a pub named after him in his honour. The station was only 10 days away from the wrecking ball when Sir John’s efforts saved it.
Now called St Pancras International with high-speed Eurostar trains to Paris and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel, the station is a very grand departure and arrival point for passengers when they step on or off the train. It’s also a great place to visit!
About Jean Jacyna and the Camden Tour Guides Association
Jean is a qualified Camden Tour Guide who offers walks around Hampstead, Fitzrovia, Kings Cross & St Pancras, Hatton Garden, Bloomsbury and Holborn to name a few areas.
She also writes a blog called Capital Jaunts, which gives a flavour of the parts of London that are sometimes out of the way of the usual tourist attractions.
Camden Tour Guides Association is a member organisation of qualified guides who research, develop and conduct walking tours and lectures on all things Camden!
Camden Tour Guides website: camdenguides.com
Canonbury Tower with Joanna Moncrieff
One of my favourite places to guide in is Canonbury Tower. It has a fascinating and intriguing history and we are never going to know all its secrets.
The Tudor Tower is only 5 minutes’ walk from Upper Street but you could easily walk past without noticing it.
However it really is worth noticing as its history goes back to the 1500s. Owned by the Compton family for over 400 years. The current owner, Spencer Compton, 7th Marquess of Northampton, has recently granted access for Clerkenwell & Islington Guides to lead twice monthly tours inside the Tower.
The Tower is the most substantial part left of what used to be Canonbury House built for the canons of St Bartholomew’s Priory as their country retreat in the 1500s.
There are many stories associated with the building. One such improbable tale involves a rich imprisoned heiress escaping from the Tower in a bread basket to marry her poor lover followed by a reunion with her estranged father, stage-managed by Elizabeth I. The tale may be improbable but it was as a result of the daughter’s marriage to the destitute lover William Compton that the Tower came into the Compton family’s ownership.
Our 90-minute tour takes you into the amazing oak panelled rooms which date from the 1600s, where we tell you about former residents of the Tower including Thomas Cromwell, Francis Bacon, Oliver Goldsmith and for a short period the American author Washington Irving. Irving was writing a biography of Goldsmith and hoped to get inspiration by staying in Goldsmith’s former home.
There are also unexplained bullet holes and a curious royal timeline which dates from the time of Charles I. If only walls could talk ….
The Tower is only accessible via tours which take place twice a month on weekdays. More details and booking links can be found here: Eventbrite listing for Canonbury Tower tours. I will be leading the tour on 22nd March (2017).
About Joanna Moncrieff
Joanna Moncrieff qualified as a City of Westminster Tour Guide in 2009 and then in 2015 qualified as a Clerkenwell and Islington Guide gaining a diploma from The University of Westminster. Her website is Westminster Walks.
Joanna Moncrieff of Westminster Walks, London Tour Guide.
Website URL: http://westminsterwalks.london/
Walks coming up with Joanna in St James’s, Covent Garden and Soho can be found on Eventbrite
URL for the full link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/joanna-moncrieff-footprints-of-london-6750753789
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