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Hidden London: Goodwin’s Court in Central London

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

For all the modern development in Central London, there are small areas which can transport a visitor into the past.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

One of those areas is Goodwin’s Court which is an narrow alley that runs between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury, in an area, just north of Trafalgar Square.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Goodwin’s Court first appears in the records in 1690 and replaced Fishers Alley which had occupied a similar location in preceding years.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

What is really unusual about Goodwin’s Court is that since the late 18th century, it has changed very little and walking in the alley you feel that are transported into London of the past. The area was once full of these type of a small, murky courts. The row of shops in the court, that have typical Georgian bowed shop windows date back to the 18th century.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Goodwin’s Court has been hidden away for so long that information about these shops have been long forgotten and the shops are now small offices for a number of businesses. The doors to the offices have a number of decorative door knobs, knockers, and nameplates.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Although Goodwin’s Court is generally off the main tourist trail, it does attract a number of photographers and rather strangely is often visited by Harry Potter fans. Although there is no obvious connection to Harry Potter, tours often describe the alley as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Goodwin’s Court was not just a mystery to people in the present, 100 years ago Punch magazine writer E V Lucas found the alley and wrote about it in his book Adventures and Enthusiasms published in 1920.

My second little street—disregarded by Wheatley and Cunningham altogether—has only just come into my own consciousness: Goodwin’s Court, which runs from St. Martin lane to Bedfordbury. It is not a street at all, merely an alley, one side of which, the south, is the least Londonish row of dwellings you ever saw, and the other side is the back doors of the houses on the south of New Street—that busiest and cheerfullest of old-world shopping centres, where Hogarth’s ghost still walks. New Street is famous in literature by reason of the “Pine Apple” eating-house where Dr. Johnson in his penury dined regularly for eightpence: six-pennyworth of meat, one pennyworth of bread, and a penny for the waiter, receiving better attention than most of the clients because the penny for the waiter was omitted by them. Take it all round, New Street (which has not been new these many decades) is not so different now, the small tradesman being the last thing in the world to change.

But it was of Goodwin’s Court that I was going to write, and of its odd houses—for each one is like the last, not only architecturally but through the whim of the tenants too, each one having a vast bow window, and each window being decorated with a muslin curtain, in front of which is a row of pots containing a flowerless variety of large-leaved plant, created obviously for the garnishing of such unusual spaces. Where these strange plants have their indigenous homes I cannot say—I am the least of botanists—nor do I particularly care; but what I do want to know is when their beauty, or lack of it, first attracted a dweller in Goodwin’s Court and why his taste so imposed itself on his neighbours. But for this depressing foliage I should not mind living in Goodwin’s Court myself, for it is quiet and central—not more than a few yards both from the Westminster County Court and several theatres. But it would be necessary for peace of mind first to find out who Goodwin was.

If you would a taste of ‘old’ London that recreates the world of Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes, take a trip down Goodwin’s Court.

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Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
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Hidden London : The York Water Gate in the Victoria Embankment Gardens

Near to the river, close to Embankment Station is the attractive Victoria Embankment Gardens, in one corner looking strangely out of place is a small classical building that is often ignored by the many people who walk past.

The story of the structure is a fascinating one and takes us back to the early 17th century and to one of Britain’s greatest scientists and a notorious favourite of King James I.

The York Water Gate in the Victoria Embankment Gardens is now almost the sole surviving relic of the great houses which in the medieval and Renaissance periods were built along the Strand.

York House, to which the York Water Gate formed the river approach, was originally the site of the town house of the Bishops of Norwich from the 13th century, in the early 16th century it was acquired by King Henry VIII and was then granted to the Archbishop of York in 1556 when the residence was named York House. Sir Francis Bacon moved into York House in the early 17th century before he was charged with corruption.

York Water Gate 1795

In 1622, the house became the property of King’s favourite, George, Duke of Buckingham who began repairs to the house until he run out of money. Despite being in debt, Buckingham built up a large and prestigious collection of art treasures. In 1628, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham was murdered and the house passed to his family.

The York Water Gate was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1626, it was built to form an approach to a new residence which Buckingham planned to erect on the site, after serving for many years as a water approach to the houses on the Buckingham estate, it is now over 150 yards from the river within the Embankment Gardens due to the construction of the Thames Embankment in 1860s.

York Water Gate and the Adelphi from the River by Moonlight, by Henry Pether, circa 1850

The York Water Gate is made of Portland stone, and is one of the few surviving reminders in London of the Italianate court style of Charles I. Its design has been attributed to Sir Balthazar Gerbier, Inigo Jones and sculptor and master-mason Nicholas Stone. The structure comprises of three bays and is divided by Doric columns. The central portion, bears the arms of the Villiers family.

In London, there are many buildings and structures that have a fascinating history and the York Water Gate connects us to interesting historical characters and insight into an area which has changed beyond recognition in the last two centuries.

Video review available here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
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The Discreet Charm of The Roof Gardens of Kensington

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Kensington High Street is still one of West London’s most popular shopping streets, however in the street’s glory days from the late 19th century until the mid-1970s, the street had three large department stores: Barkers of Kensington, Derry & Toms and Pontings. Eventually Barkers bought Pontings and Derry & Toms but still run all three as separate entities. In the 1930s, Derry & Toms were extensively refurbished with Europe’s largest roof garden area being created on the roof of the building.

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The gardens were the idea of Trevor Bowen, the  vice-president of Barkers, the department store  that owned the site . The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 by Ralph Hancock, a landscape architect at the cost of £25,000 and were opened to the public in 1938. A shilling was charged for entry which raised £120,000 for charity over 30 year period.

The  gardens have an intriguing recent history which have included being part of the headquarters of the iconic Biba store in the 1970s, the location of the short lived Regine’s nightclub in 1980 and has been owned by Richard Branson and being part of the Virgin Empire since 1981.

When you arrive at the Roof Gardens, you are transported into almost surreal world 100 feet above Kensington High Street. The first surprise is that unlike many high rise terrace gardens with views all over London, this is a real walled garden with over 60 trees, some planted over 70 years ago.

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The second surprise considering the size,  is that it is not one garden but three. You step out into the English Woodland Garden with  thousand of plants, a stream, and a  couple of bridges.. This particularly English scene is slightly disturbed by the strutting flamingos walking around the garden.

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The Tudor Garden includes a Tudor walkway and  three courtyards which are planted with plants that would recognisable in Tudor England. This is a peaceful and relaxing place to sit and admire the pots of fruits and   hanging wisteria around  the archways.

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The final garden offers the biggest surprise of all, based on the Alhambra in Granada, The Spanish Garden offers a distinct Moorish flavour with a white campanile with bell. It offers a little piece of Spain with fountains, vine-covered walkways and Chusan palms.

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Remarkably the gardens have changed little since their 1930s heyday and will hopefully see little change in the future because the trees in the gardens have been made subject of preservation orders in 1976 and the gardens have been acknowledged as a place of ‘ Specific Historical Interest’ and were given a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

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Although the gardens surround a two storey Clubhouse which hosts private events such as conferences, parties and a private members club, the gardens are open to the public when there is not a private event taking place. Visitors can also dine in the Babylon Restaurant which overlooks part of the Roof Gardens.

It is not just the spring and summer that attracts the visitors, the Roof Gardens are open all year around and have an extensive programme of events throughout the autumn and winter. These include the Roof Gardens award-winning Live! music nights in October plus Halloween, Firework Night and New Years Eve events.

The Roof Gardens of Kensington are one of the hidden delights of London and  have been used as a location in a number of films and television programmes, Roy Orbison was filmed walking around the gardens singing one of his greatest hits, Pretty Woman in a 1964 Top of the Pops film.

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The Gardens are  free to visit, however it is worth contacting the Gardens before visiting to make sure they are open to the public on the day you would like to visit.

For more information about the Roof Gardens and events, visit the Roof Gardens of Kensington website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

 

 

Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park

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Location : St Martin’s Le-Grand, London EC1A

Postman’s Park is one of the largest parks in the City of London, it is the location of the famous Watts memorial, built in 1900 by Victorian painter and philanthropist G. F.  Watts. Postman’s Park opened in 1880, it was created on the site of the former churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church and eventually incorporated the  burial grounds of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church .

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The park was close to the site of the General Post Office and the name reflected its popularity with GPO staff.

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In 1900, the park was chosen as the location for George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a memorial to ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others. The idea for the memorial originated in a letter sent by Watts to the Times in 1887, he proposed that a park commemorating ‘heroic men and women’ who had given their lives attempting to save others would be ideal way to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year.

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Eventually it was decided that memorial tablets would be housed in a wooden gallery, The memorial was designed to accommodate panels of hand-painted ceramic tiles, Watts commissioned William De Morgan, one of the world’s leading tile designers to create the first four memorial tablets. However the costs for the tiles led to a limited progress with only 13 installed before the death of Watts in 1904, the subjects for inclusion on the tiles were selected by Watts who maintained a list of newspaper reports of heroic actions for years.

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Over the next few years, various other memorial tiles were added until there was a total of 53 tiles. In 2009, a memorial to Leigh Pitt was added to the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, the first new tablet added to the memorial since that of Herbert Maconoghu 78 years earlier.

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One of the few green spaces in the City of London, Postman’s Park situated near the Museum of London is still popular with city workers and the garden features  attractive flower beds and a fountain.  The park has also been featured in key scenes in the 2004 film Closer based on the 1997 play by Patrick Marber.

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Opening hours

7 days a week throughout the year 8am – 7pm or dusk – whichever is earlier

 London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

London’s ‘Tin Pan Ally’ – A Walk Down Denmark Street

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Denmark Street is a street on the edge of London’s West End near to Tottenham Court Road station. The street origins date from the 17th century and was named after Prince George of Denmark. Although historically it had a number of famous residents including the painter Johann Zoffany and Augustus Siebe, who pioneered the diving helmet, in the 20th century it became associated with British popular music.

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From the 1950s, the street became known as Britain’s “Tin Pan Alley” and housed a large number of music publishers’ offices. When this market declined in the 1960s it became home to music shops and recording studios. The Rolling Stones recorded at Regent Sound Studio and the Gioconda café became a well known meeting place for musicians that included David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and the Small Faces.

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In the 1970s, Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols rehearsed in the street and cult comic and science-fiction bookshop, Forbidden Planet opened their first shop in 1978 . Well respected music papers, the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express began from offices in the street.

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In the 1980s and 1990s, the street declined as a hotbed for new talent and became known for its instrument shops. Recent development of the area has led to the closure of the well loved 12 Bar Club and Enterprise Studios but a number of instrument shops  are still trading.

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London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

The Remarkable Story of the Temple Bar

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Standing near to St Paul’s Cathedral, mostly ignored by visitors is an arch that has a remarkable history. The arch is known as the Temple Bar and was commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Constructed from Portland Stone between 1669 and 1672 it occupied one of the most important locations in London, separating the  City of London and the City of Westminster.

This location was the point where Fleet Street becomes the Strand, a site now near the Royal Courts of Justice, it was at this spot that a Temple Bar stood from the 13th century. Originally just a wooden structure with a chain, it possessed considerable symbolic importance. Temple Bar was the  scene of a large number of historical pageants celebrating coronations and paying homage to dead Kings and Queens, through the Temple Bar passed Henry V, Anne Boleyn, Edward VI and  Mary Tudor. Before Queen Elizabeth the first’s  coronation, Gogmagog the Albion, and Corineus the Briton, the two Guildhall giants, stood next to the Bar.

In the late Middle Ages a wooden archway stood on the spot and although it escaped damage in the Great Fire of London , it was decided  by the City to rebuild the structure.

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The Wren designed Temple Bar is constructed in two stories with  one wide central arch for the road traffic, flanked on both sides by narrower arches for pedestrians.
During the 18th century, the heads of traitors were mounted on pikes and exhibited on the roof and  upper story room was leased to the neighbouring banking-house of Child and Co for records storage.

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Temple Bar, London, 1878 by A & J Bool

In 1878 the City of London Corporation decided that the arch was becoming a bottleneck for traffic and decided to dismantle the structure. It dismantled it piece-by-piece over an 11-day period and the Corporation stored the 2,700 stones. In 1880, at the instigation of his wife, Valerie Meux, the brewer Henry Meux bought the stones and re-erected the arch as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. Lady Meux used it to entertain friends but after she died, it became derelict and abandoned  until 2003.

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Temple bar at Theobolds Park (Photo M Newnham 1968)

In 1984, it was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1. It was carefully dismantled and returned on 500 pallets to the City of London, where it was painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. It opened to the public on the 10 November 2004.

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London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

The Remarkable Story of Cleopatra’s Needle

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Location: Victoria Embankment, London WC2 N6

One of the most unusual monuments alongside the River Thames is Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment. Cleopatra’s Needle is an Ancient Egyptian obelisk made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III in around 1450 BC. Cleopatra’s Needle was located in front of the great temple of the sun in Heliopolis which was known as the city of temples dedicated to the worship of the sun. The original hieroglyphs on the obelisk  were related to the exploits of the great Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III , however 300 years later Rameses II added some extra hieroglyphs to the obelisk that celebrates his reign. The obelisk was moved to Alexandria by the Romans in 12 BC, where eventually it toppled over and remained until 1877 when Sir William James Erasmus Wilson sponsored its transportation to London from Alexandria at a cost of some £10,000.

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In  many ways it was a gift that England did not want,  the needle was first offered in 1820 to commemorate Nelson’s victory on the Nile, it was offered again in 1831, 1849 and 1851. The question of transportation was the main  problem, it was too expensive to transfer by land and the British Government did not want to get involved . The solution  proposed by engineer John Dixon was to encase the obelisk in great iron cylinder, 92 feet (28 m) long and 16 feet (4.9 m) in diameter. The creation of the iron cylinder was undertaken and on the top of the cylinder was a deck house, masts and a small set of sails. The cylinder named The Cleopatra was transported to Alexandria in parts and reassembled on the beach  under the supervision of John Dixon and Captain Henry Carter who was to command the ‘ship’ whilst being towed behind a steamship.

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Eventually the obelisk was encased in the cylinder and attached to the steamship Olga for its journey to London, all went well until 14th October 1877, when a storm in the Bay of Biscay caused the cylinder to start rollling, The Olga sent out a rescue boat with six crew, but the boat capsized and all six crew were lost.  Captain Carter and the five crew members aboard the Cleopatra were eventually rescued, but the cylinder was feared to have sunk. However these fears were unfounded and the cylinder was found and was taken to Ferrol in Spain. Unfortunately this was not the end of the problem because over £2,000 salvage had to be paid before the journey could be continued. The money was eventually paid and the cylinder arrived in the Thames on the 21st January 1878.

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Prior to the final settling down of the monolith, a time capsule of  two large jars containing curious and miscellaneous assortment of articles were deposited in the cove of the pedestal and of the obelisk itself.  The items included  a standard foot and pound, presented by the Standard Department of the Board of Trade; a bronze model of the obelisk half-inch to the foot; topics of engineering printed on vellum, with plans and details of the various arrangements employed in transporting and re-erecting the obelisk, together with  its complete history ; a parchment copy of Dr  Birch’s translation of the hieroglyphics ; a piece of the obelisk stone ; a complete set of British coinage, including an Empress of India rupee ; portrait of Her Majesty the Queen Victoria ; Bible in various languages, presented by the British and Foreign Bible Society ; standard gauge to one-thousandth part of an inch, as a sample of accurate workmanship, Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, Whitaker’s Almanac, wirerope and specimen of submarine cable, Mappin’s shilling razor, case of cigars, pipes, Alexandra feeding-bottle and children’s toys, box of hair pins, and sundry articles of female adornment, map of London, copies of the daily and illustrated papers, a London directory, and last, but not least, photographs of a dozen pretty Englishwomen.

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Even this was not the end of the obelisk’s woes , When Cleopatra’s Needle was erected on the Embankment, two Egyptian sphinxes, designed by the English architect George John Vulliamy were added. However many people have speculated that these Sphinxes were installed incorrectly because they appear to be looking at the Needle rather than guarding it. The Embankment has a few other Egyptian motifs such as winged sphinxes on the armrests of benches.  More seriously in 1917, in the first air strike on London by the German airforce, it received some minor damage from shrapnel. The damage can still be seen  on the lower part of the plinth.

There are number of plaques that explain some of the events attached to the plinth, Cleopatra’s Needle is one of the most ancient objects in London and has survived Egyptian Pharaohs, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte  and the German Air force in Two World Wars.  It might have been an unwanted gift but for well over 100 years it has become on the main landmarks of London.

Video Review available here 

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here