London Off The Beaten Path

  • Soho Theatre, Soho, London
    Soho Theatre, Soho, London
    by spidermiss
  • Meard Street, Soho, London
    Meard Street, Soho, London
    by spidermiss
  • St Giles in the Fields Church Courtyard, London
    St Giles in the Fields Church Courtyard,...
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Most Recent Off The Beaten Path in London

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    A day out at Syon Park

    by toonsarah Updated Apr 21, 2014

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    Great Conservatory, Syon Park
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    Update April 2014: ticket prices revised, attractions updated, hotel information added, new photos

    If you’d like to visit a classical English country house while in London, Syon Park could be just what you’re looking for. It has something for all the family and is near enough to the capital to make a lovely day out, although if you take advantage of all it has to offer you will find yourself spending quite a lot of money. At its heart is Syon House, the ancestral London home of the Dukes of Northumberland, with a stunning interior designed by one of the most famous of British architects, Robert Adam. The house was built on the site of a medieval abbey, named after Mount Zion in the Holy Land, which was destroyed by Henry VIII during the English Reformation. Apparently though the Abbey had its revenge on the king, as in 1547, when his coffin was resting here overnight on its way to Windsor for burial, it burst open, and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains! In 1594 Henry Percy, the ninth Earl of Northumberland, acquired the estate through marriage and it has remained in the family ever since. There is a full and interesting history of Syon and its association with the Percy family on the Park’s website.

    The redesign of the house under Adam took place in the mid 18th century and was accompanied by a redesign of the grounds as well, led by the famous landscape designer Capability Brown. As it says on the website, ”Brown and Adam had more in common than just being fashionable designers; both were aspiring to create a new ideal form of an earlier time. Whilst Adam’s architecture was inspired by classical Rome, so Brown took the medieval deer park as a model for an ideal countryside. Both were consciously borrowing the connotations of wealth, power and antiquity, and packaging them for their clients.”

    These grounds are one of the things we most enjoy about Syon and make regular visits to see. The parkland areas are open free of charge and are popular for walks, picnics, ball games etc. There is a separate more cultivated (but still very natural) area, with a lake surrounded by trees, shrubs and flower beds. A path winds round the lake and there are lots of secluded benches and pretty views. Admission is charged for this part of the grounds but is a reasonable £6.50 for adults, with concessions at £5.00 and children £3.50 (2014 prices). This also includes access to the Grand Conservatory - well worth seeing.

    Combined tickets for visits to both house and gardens cost £11.50 for adults, £10.00 for concessions and £5.00 for children, with family tickets at £26.00. This is well worth doing on your first visit, as the house is wonderful, but living nearby we tend not to bother with that as one or two visits are enough to have seen all its treasures.

    But once you have exhausted the pleasures of house and gardens, there is still so much to do here. We visit regularly to shop in the excellent Garden Centre which sells very good quality plants and many other garden necessities as well. Their selection of pots is particularly good, and as we have a patio garden this is a must for us.

    Other attractions here include an indoor adventure playground, Snakes and Ladders, which is run by an outside company and therefore incurs an additional charge – check the website for details of this if you’re taking little ones along. Note that it is closed for refurbishment during spring 2014 and due to reopen in the summer. There is also a trout fishery (in the six acre lake originally constructed by Capability Brown) - see http://alburyestatefisheries.co.uk/ for more about this if you're keen on fishing.

    With all these attractions, and other shopping opportunities too, plus a café, you can see that it would be very easy to spend a whole day, and a whole lot of money, here at Syon. You can even stay the night, as Hilton have opened a hotel in the grounds. But you can also have a free day out if you simply enjoy the park-lands, with their views of the River Thames, and take along a picnic lunch and a Frisbee!

    Directions Take the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith then bus 267, or to Boston Manor and bus E8

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    • Castles and Palaces
    • Architecture

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    Foundling Museum

    by toonsarah Updated Apr 19, 2014

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    The Foundling Museum

    Update April 2014: admission prices revised, opening hours checked, information expanded

    This museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital which was London's first home for abandoned children. It was founded by the philanthropist Thomas Coram, but is equally well known for the support of two famous patrons, the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frederic Handel. In fact Handel gave regular benefit performances of his Messiah in the Hospital chapel to raise money to support the children housed here.

    In the early eighteenth century up to a thousand babies a year were abandoned in London. In 1739 Thomas Coram established his “Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Children” which looked after more than 27,000 children until its closure in 1953. The Foundling Museum tells the story of these foundlings and their lives. Among the most poignant of its displays are the many objects which their distraught mothers, unable to care for them, left with their abandoned children as a single link to their past. These include cheap jewellery, locks of hair and scraps of blanket. There is also a collection of nineteenth century art including works by John Everett Millais, and of course some paintings by the patron, Hogarth.

    The museum is open Tuesdays to Saturdays 10.00 AM – 5.00 PM and Sundays 11.00 AM – 5.00 PM (closed on Mondays). Admission is £7.50 for adults, £5.00 for concessions and free for children up to 16 years.

    Nearby is Coram’s Fields, a seven acre playground and park for children living in or visiting London, occupying the site of the original Foundling Hospital. This is a great place to come if you have children in tow, but don’t bother if you haven’t, as no adult is permitted to enter without a child. Facilities include a playground (with equipment suitable for disabled children), grassy areas for ball games and picnics, and a Pets Corner (with sheep, goats, ducks, hens and more).

    40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ

    The nearest tube station is Russell Square (Piccadilly Line) but Kings Cross, with many more lines, is only a short walk away

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    Go to Greenwich for the day

    by toonsarah Updated Apr 19, 2014

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    Greenwich - view from the Observatory
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    Update April 2014: website corrected

    If the bustle of London sightseeing starts to feel a little too overpowering, head to Greenwich for the day. There's plenty to see and do here but the pace is a little slower and there's a sense of village life and community which can be lacking (from a tourist's perspective at least) in the centre of the city. Attractions include:
    ~ the excellent National Maritime Museum with its collection of seafaring and navigation artefacts
    ~ the Queen's House, designed by Inigo Jones for the wife of King James 1, where you can see Turner's famous painting of the Battle of Trafalgar
    ~ Greenwich Observatory, where the focus is on astronomy and time measurement, and where you can literally stand astride the Greenwich Meridian, from where the world's time is measured!
    ~ the new Planetarium, where you're invited to take a 20 minute journey through time and space
    ~ the lovely park with its fantastic views of the River Thames and the skyline of the City of London and Docklands
    ~ a great market, with craft and food stalls, plus interesting shops and welcoming pubs
    ~ and, once restoration (sadly recently hampered by a fire) is complete, the Cutty Sark, a traditional tea clipper now in dry dock here

    To get here take the Docklands Light Railway or take the scenic route on a boat trip from several central London spots

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    Smaller art galleries

    by toonsarah Updated Apr 19, 2014

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    Proud Gallery near Trafalgar Square

    Update April 2014: website links updated

    Of course you'll want to check out some of London's famous galleries like the National Gallery and the Tate, but if you like art I recommend that you also investigate some of the city's smaller galleries. We like to go to photography exhibitions so the Photographers' Gallery is a regular destination for us. The Proud Galleries are also excellent for photography exhibitions - there is one in Camden and another in central London near Trafalgar Square. A recent great exhibition at the latter featured photos of 1950s London taken by the film director Ken Russell.

    These websites will help you find an exhibition that appeals to you:
    Londonist (a great website for all sorts of ideas on things to do in London)
    New exhibitions of contemporary art
    Proud Galleries
    Photographers' Gallery
    Time Out London's art listings

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    It chimed for Six O'clock

    by sourbugger Updated Apr 1, 2014

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    Glockenspeil in Leicester square

    There was a group of us heading towards the restaurant for the BIG london meeting of 21/01/06. As we passed by the Swiss Centre in the NW corner of Leicester square the distinctive clanging and chiming of the clock on the side of the building began. The little figures proceeded with the Swiss like clockwork regularity. (not seen on the photo)

    Sad to say, no one took a photo - the call of the restaurant must have been too great.

    UPDATE 2014 : The clock was saved ! and is now a free standing structure in the same area

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    Tower Subway

    by Balam Written Apr 1, 2014
    Tower Subway
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    Not off the beaten path really, in fact its very much on it but most people will not even notice it.

    About half way up tower Hill there is a small red brick building that marks the entrance to THE WORLDS FIRST UNDERGROUND TUBE RAILWAY, the TOWER SUBWAY. It was constructed in 1869 using a new tunnelling shield to build the tunnel under the Thames and was the first Tunnel ever to be lined with cast iron instead of brick.
    At first cables hauled tram carriages which carried 12 people at a time through the tunnel but it was later converted to a foot tunnel with steam powered lifts at either end. The tunnel was closed in 1896 when Tower Bridge opened and people could cross the river for free.

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  • HackneyBird's Profile Photo

    Murder On The Hackney Express.

    by HackneyBird Written Mar 24, 2014

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    Hackney Central, E8.

    The Borough of Hackney is crossed by three train tracks. The oldest of which, now the North London Line, was build to connect London's docks. It opened in 1850 and ran in a circular route to Fenchurch Street every fifteen minutes. In 1864 one of its carriages was the scene of the first murder on a British Railway, the crime being reported at Hackney Central.

    A shorter rail link to the City of London was constructed in 1865, and ran along the east side of Kingsland Road to Broad Street. Now the East London Line, it was one of London's busiest routes, with, on week days in 1903, 322 trains terminating at Broad Street Station. Cheaper fares for workmen were first introduced on this line on some daily trains.

    The newest line, opened in 1872 by the Great Eastern Railway, ran north from Liverpool Street up the eastern side of London Fields.

    All three railway lines opened up Hackney and beyond to train travellers, and ensured that the remaining field and grazing land of rural Hackney were transformed into bricks and mortar, never to return.

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    Watercress Fields . . . Forever!

    by HackneyBird Written Mar 24, 2014

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    Tesco's, Morning Lane, E8
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    If you want to buy watercress in Hackney these days, you might well go to the local Tesco's in Morning Lane. But over a hundred years ago you would have been able to pick your own on the same site.

    The Morning Lane area's fertile soil made it an ideal place for market gardeners to supply the City of London with fresh fruit and vegetables, and this together with a plentiful water supply, provided by the Hackney Brook, also made it a good location for watercress beds.

    Watercress production had taken place in the area since medieval times, but during the 19th century things began to change. The coming of the railway in the 1840s and the culverting of the flood-prone Hackney Brook were set backs to production, but the industry still continued.

    In a 1874 book called 'The Wilds of London', the author describes a Hackney watercress seller he met one frosty November evening. 'That bent-backed old fellow whom we now see looming in the evening twilight (and sober and punctual man that he is, he is inevitably seen looming at this time), is not a picturesque object, and his shrill harsh voice as he shrieks, "Wat-ter Kress-eses" is decidedly owlish . . . He is 76 next birthday, and has been a soldier . . . ' When asked why he didn't buy his watercress at the market, the old man replied that it was cheaper to get it fresh, making as much as three or fourpence difference to a days takings.

    Over the next twenty years the Morning Lane beds were decimated. It was more profitable to build on land than farm it, and by the 1890s many of the watercress beds were lost under new housing in Chalgrove Road.

    The final death-toll for what remained of Hackney's watercress beds came in 1903, when there were two major outbreaks of typhoid. The Borough's Medical Officer for Health, J. King Warry, reported that discounting milk, ice cream, fried fish, shellfish and defects in drainage as possible causes, there were a high number of watercress eaters among the victims. He traced the watercress as having come from beds on the border of Hackney and West Ham which were irrigated by the River Lea, which in those days was more or less an open sewer.

    Hackney's watercress industry never recovered, and the remaining beds were eventually sold off as building plots.

    Chalgrove Road was badly bombed during World War II and housing was demolished in the 1980s. An archaeological evaluation prior to the site being redeveloped as a supermarket in 1997, found the last traces of the watercress beds and the marshy ground in which they once grew.

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    Through The Eyes Of A Child ~ # 3

    by HackneyBird Written Mar 20, 2014

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    Hands on at the Museum of Childhood.
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    There are many interactive things to do at the Museum of Childhood and as you can see, my grandson made full use of them on the day we visited.

    There are a selection of Zoetrope's that you can spin to watch the pictures move. There are rocking horses to ride, games to play, building bricks to play with, a dressing up game and a sensory room.

    One of my grandsons favourite things was the Robbie the Robot puzzle. You have to place the magnetic cogs at the back of the robot in a certain way, wind Robbie's key and if you have placed the cogs correctly Robbie the Robot moves his arms and his eyes light up.

    Another of his favourites was the sand pit area which is set up like a beach, complete with deck chairs and two Punch & Judy booths for children to perform their own puppet shows.

    (For contact details, opening hours and transport please see my related tip 'Through The Eyes Of A Child ~ # 1)

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    Through The Eyes Of A Child ~ # 2

    by HackneyBird Written Mar 20, 2014

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    Inside the Museum of Childhood, London E2
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    There are many fascinating things to see in the Museum of Childhood, far too many to write about here, so I thought I would share a few of my favourite displays.

    The doll's house in the main photo is one of the museums collection of over 100 doll's houses, models and shops. Hand-crafted doll's houses were originally made for wealthy adults in the 17th century, but by the 19th century both hand-crafted and factory produced doll's houses had become popular as children's toys.

    The blue clockwork car in the third photo is a model of Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird car in which he set his fourth land-speed record in 1928. The other cars pictured are the Golden Arrow and the Mystery Sunbeam Racer, land-speed cars which were produced by the same company.

    The dolls in the fourth picture are two of my favourites from the museums collection of over 4,000 from around the world. The dolls in the collection are made from a variety of materials including wood, cloth, ceramic, wax and plastic, to more unusual ones like bone, hair and dried fruit. The oldest doll the museum has is a wooden paddle doll dating from 1,300 B.C.

    As children most of us can remember watching a Punch and Judy show on a trip to the seaside. The puppets and booth in the fifth photo date from 1912 and were in use until 1962.

    I really enjoyed my visit to the Museum of Childhood. It is truly a magical place.

    (Please find detail of opening hours, contact details and transport detail on my related tip 'Through The Eyes Of A Child ~ # 1)

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  • Regina1965's Profile Photo

    Chiswick House

    by Regina1965 Updated Mar 18, 2014

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    The Chiswick House.
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    Chiswick House is a beautiful huge neo Palladian villa built for the 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) in 1726-1729. The villa was built as a showcase for the Earl´s of Burlington´s art collection and beautiful paintings. Imagine that...

    It is one of the finest examples of neo Palladian architecture in Britain. The interiors of the Chiswick House just blew me away. We got a list of the ten most important things to see in the house, but to me the whole house was a piece of art. It is just one beautiful room after another with myriads of paintings and statues and beautiful artefacts. There are red, blue and green velvet rooms.

    In the so-called Lower Tribuna, we encountered a Lead Sphinx statue, which had originally been located in the gardens.

    Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Handel are amongst the guests, who have visited the Chiswick House.

    Strangely enough the Chiswick House became a mental institution in 1892, but it has been cared for by English Heritage since 1984, whidh amongst other things restored the gardens.

    It took us a while getting to Chiswick House. We walked from Hammersmith and got lost on the way ;) So better take the bus 190 Hammersmith-Richmond, which stops very close to the estate.

    The address is: Burlington Lane, Chiswick, London W4 2RP

    Opening hours: Monday-Wednesday from 10:00-18:00. Thursday-Saturday: closed. Sunday: from 10:00-18:00.

    Admission fee: GBP 6.10

    I would highly recommend visiting the Chiswick House and its beautiful gardens.

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    Chiswick House - the beautiful gardens.

    by Regina1965 Updated Mar 18, 2014

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    The Chiswick House gardens.
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    The Chiswick House gardens are exquisite, a true work of art. They are one of the most historical gardens in England and Wales.

    The gardens were made by Lord Burlington, the owner of the Chiswick House, and William Kent in 1729.

    They added amongst other things an Ionic temple to the gardens and a Doric column. I visited it, but my photos seem to be lost. The river in the gardens is artificial. It is so big and has got so many paths that it is easy to get lost in there.

    The gardens were re-opened in June 2010 after having being restored for a huge amount of money. The gardens are so beautiful that they have been an inspiration for other gardens in the world, f.ex. New York´s Central Park.

    The Chiswich House gardens are the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement.

    The gardens are filled with beautiful statues, lovely ponds and obelisks. They are just a true oasis in the outskirt of West-London.

    The gardens are visited by over million visitors every year. There is no entrance fee to the gardens only to the Chiswick House. The gardens are open every day from 07:00 until dusk, all year round.

    It was a true delight visiting the gardens and I will for sure visit them again and explore them thoroughly. It was so cold when we visited in March, that we were happy to go inside to warm up.

    Address: Burlington Lane, Chiswick, London W4 2RP

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    Hammersmith Town Hall and Father Thames

    by Regina1965 Updated Mar 18, 2014

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    Father Thames
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    I stayed in Hammersmith for 2 months and spent a lot of time just exploring the surrounding areas of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush. Hammersmith Town Hall was built in 1939. What brought me there was a photo I had seen of the steps leading to the Mayor´s Parlours.

    Flanking the steps are two big carved heads of Father Thames. I just had to see it and wasn´t disappointed when I did. The statues are beautiful. These heads are commemorating the fact the the Hammersmith Town Hall stands next to Hammersmith Creek.

    Hammersmith Town Hall is located in between King Street and Great West Road in Hammersmith.

    I have seen other faces like these of Father Thames, by the river Thames down-town and in Covent Garden.

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    Through The Eyes Of A Child ~ #1

    by HackneyBird Written Mar 18, 2014

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    Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, London E2
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    The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood is a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum housing its collections of toys, children's books and other material connected with childhood.

    The main prefabricated iron structure was part of the temporary buildings built for the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1856. It was moved to its present site in the late 1860s, where it was encased in a brickwork exterior.

    The museum opened in 1872, and contained collections of food and animal products, plus various art collections on loan, the first being that of Sir Richard Wallace. After World War I, it was remodelled as an art museum and opened a children's section. The museum has specialised in childhood since 1974.

    The museum's lower galleries contain an extensive collection of toys, dolls and puppets and the upper galleries display the history of childhood, including children's clothes, learning toys, nursery furniture, doll's houses and children's books and games. Both galleries were re-designed in stages between 1976 - 1986.

    The Benugo Café and museum shop take up the ground floor and the galleries the two upper floors.

    Entrance to the museum is free, although donations are welcome. There are donation boxes throughout the museum.

    The museum is wheelchair accessible and assistance dogs are welcome. Free parking can be arranged for visitors with special needs.

    Fancy a walk round the galleries? . . . Then join me in Through The Eyes Of A Child ~ #2.

    Open - Daily, 10.00 am - 5.30 pm
    Shop - Daily, 10.00 am - 5.30 pm
    Café - Daily, 10.00 am - 5.00 pm

    Address - V & A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA

    Transport
    Nearest tube - Bethnal Green underground station
    Nearest overground - Whitechapel, Shoreditch High Street.
    Nearest rail - Cambridge Heath, Bethnal Green Station
    Busses - D6, 106,254, 309 and 388 stop outside
    8, 26, 55 and 48 stop nearby

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    Meard Street, Soho

    by spidermiss Updated Mar 11, 2014

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    Meard Street, Soho, London
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    I came across Meard Street on my wanders round Soho. The partly pedestrianised street is between Wardour Street (West) and Dean Street (East). The street is named after John Meard, a carpenter and a esquire during the 18th Century.

    The street originally consisted of two 17th Century courts (Meard and Dean Courts (1722) which subsequently merged as Meard Street (1732/33).

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London Off The Beaten Path

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There are many well-beaten paths in London as befits one of the major travel destinations in the world, but that is not the whole story.  Visitors may well visit Buckingham Palace,  the...

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