Famous for its mentions by Charles Dickens, Jacob’s Island – located in Bermondsey – was not actually a true island.

It was a small parcel of land formed into an “island” thanks to its location in a loop of the Neckinger River and, on the south side of the loop, a man-made ditch which was used as a mill run for Bermondsey Abbey.

The “island” – which on a modern map was located just to the south of the street known as Bermondsey Wall West, east of Mill Street, west of George Row and north of Wolseley Street, was home to a notorious slum or “rookery” between the 18th and early 19th centuries,

It was most famously mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist and was where the notorious Bill Sikes died in the mud of ‘Folly Ditch’ – a reference to the ditch surrounding the island – as he attempted to elude the authorities.

Dickens describes Jacob’s Island in the book as a place “where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. In the preface to the 1867 edition of the book, he even wrote of its ongoing existence which was apparently doubted by one City alderman, saying “Jacob’s Island continues to exist (like an ill-bred place as it is) in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, though improved and much changed”.

The slum itself existed until the late-1800s – much of it was razed in a fire of 1861 – in subsequent decades, the ditches surrounding it were filled in and the area redeveloped into warehouses.

The River Neckinger, incidentally, is one of London’s ‘lost rivers’. Its name means ‘devil’s neckerchief’ or ‘devil’s necklace’ – a reference to the hangman’s noose – and it is believed to refer in here to the gibbet from which pirates were hung close to the mouth of where the river entered the Thames at nearby St Saviour’s Dock and where their bodies left to deter others from taking a similar path.

PICTURE: Top – Jacob’s Island and Folly Ditch, an engraving from a book published in 1873 (Internet Archive Book Images/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – ‘Folly Ditch’, pictured here in about 1840.



Humans might be struggling to stay warm as the ‘Beast from the East’ hits the city but at ZSL London Zoo, the penguins are feeling very much at home. PICTURE: © ZSL London Zoo

An ornate turreted building in South Kensington, construction of the Imperial Institute began in 1887 – the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt and paid for almost entirely by public subscription, the huge 213 metre long building featured three “Renaissance-style” towers with copper covered domes. Foremost among them was the 87 metre high Queen’s Tower (initially known as the Collcutt Tower after the architect).

Officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1893 (although the building was apparently never completed), the building – which was built to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – was intended as an exhibition space to showcase the Empire’s industrial and commercial resources and also as a location for research and meetings.

The idea for a permanent exhibition space for colonial “produce” had apparently been enthusiastically backed by the Prince of Wales (and the Queen herself) following a series of exhibitions showcasing the wares of India and the colonies in preceding years.

But the enthusiasm for the institute, said to have cost more than £350,000, quickly waned (perhaps because of a vagueness over its purpose) and despite efforts to encourage people to use it through introducing “attractions” like a billiards room, the financial position of the institute became somewhat straitened.

Help came from the University of London which took over half of the building just six years later in 1899 and other tenants followed in attempt to keep money for maintenance flowing. Various government departments took on responsibility for the building in the following years.

With its purpose increasingly questioned by the middle of the 20th century, when Imperial College needed to expand, it was decided to demolish the building. Demolition started in 1957 and ran into the mid-1960s. Thanks to public protests led by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, the Queen’s Tower, however, was preserved and is now part of Imperial College.

The tower, which once had a public viewing gallery (now closed) contains 10 bells, known as the Alexandra Peal, which are hung about halfway up the tower. They given by a Mrs Elizabeth A Miller, of Melbourne, Australia, in 1892 as a gift and are named after Queen Victoria, the then Prince and Princess of Wales, and other children and grandchildren of the Queen. They are rung on important college occasions.

Meanwhile, the institute, renamed the Commonwealth Institute, relocated to Kensington High Street. It later went into liquidation. That site now houses the recently unveiled Design Museum.

PICTURE: Top – Imperial Institute during the Edwardian era (public domain); Below –  The Queen’s Tower is all that now remains of the institute (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This rather large fountain once stood in Mayfair as a tribute to literary greats Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Designed by Thomas Thorneycroft (and apparently funded from wealth of a lady who died intestate but who had apparently always advocated for the location of a fountain on the site), the fountain stood on the centre of what is now a roundabout at the intersection of Old Park Lane and Hamilton Place.

Unveiled in July, 1875, it featured the three poets standing on various sides of a central pillar (Shakespeare taking pride of place looking towards Hyde Park). Below them sat three muses and above them, on top of a central column, stood a figure representing fame, blowing a trumpet.

The fountain,  and survived until World War II during which it sustained damaged. It was dismantled in 1948 and only the figure of ‘Fame’ is believed to have survived.


Two Blackfriars Bridges – a vehicle and pedestrian bridge, and a railway bridge – still span the River Thames from the City of London on the north bank to South Bank. But just beside the railway bridge stand some large red pylons – the remains of the first Blackfriars Railway Bridge. 

This bridge was built in 1864 to accommodate the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) when it was extended north across the river to what was then named St Paul’s Station (at least until 1937 when it became Blackfriars Station).

The ornate bridge was designed by Joseph Cubitt but within 20 years of its being built, the second, still existing, railway bridge was constructed alongside it to provide more space for trains (the original bridge apparently only had four tracks).

The ornately decorated first bridge was supported on three rows of pylons – the third was incorporated into the second bridge (which is why we now only see two rows).

After 1923, when train services began to terminate at Waterloo Station on the south side of the river, the bridge was rarely used but it wasn’t until many years later, in 1985, that it was declared too weak to support the current crop of trains and removed.

As well as the pylons, on the south side of the river can be seen a massive abutment of Portland stone featuring the ornate cast iron insignia of the former LCDR (above right). Grade II-listed, it was restored in about 1990.

PICTURES: Top – The wub/licensed under The wub; Right – SyndVer/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The countdown continues…

4. Lost London – Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House…

3. Where’s London’s oldest…street sign?

Come back tomorrow for the two most popular posts…

More correctly known as the crypt of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, this subterranean chamber dates from the 12th century and is the oldest surviving part of what remains of the priory.

Based close to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell – another surviving section of the monastery, the partly Romanesque crypt features some magnificent 16th century monuments including the rather skeletal-looking funeral effigy of the last prior, Sir William Weston, who apparently died on the very day the priory was dissolved in May, 1540 (he apparently collapsed on hearing the news).

The crypt also contains a 16th century tomb effigy (pictured below) believed to be that of Don Juan Ruiz de Vergara, a Castilian Knight Hospitaller who died fighting the Turks at sea off the coast of Marseilles (it had apparently formerly been located in Valladolid Cathedral in Spain and was donated by a member of the order (and first Keeper of the London Museum, now known as the Museum of London), Sir Guy Francis Laking, in 1915). Understood to have been the work of Esteban Jordan, sculptor to King Philip II of Spain, the knight bears the eight pointed star of the order on his breastplate.

Meanwhile, the stained glass in the crypt chapel’s east lights depict the entombment of Christ as well as Raymond du Puy (Grand Master of the Order of St John from 1118–60), St John the Baptist and St Ubaldesca. Other stained glass windows in the chapel depict saints like St George, Andrew, Patrick and David and some of the English branch’s priors and knights.

Other items of interest in the crypt include a 13th century font, originally from a church in Buckinghamshire, and a stone fragment from the pavement of the Grotto of the Nativity at Bethlehem.

The priory once served as the English headquarters for Order of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. The order was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to care for the sick and poor, and spread across Europe. The English ‘branch’ established on 10 acres just outside the City walls apparently by a knight, Jorden de Briset. It was dissolved, as we’ve already heard, in 1540.

WHERE: Crypt, St John’s Church, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations is Farringdon); WHEN: The crypt can only be visited on tours – public tours are held at 11am and 2.30pm on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; COST: Free (a suggested £5 donation); WEBSITE: www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

Designed by Witherdon Young, this 24 metre long arcade on the Strand was built in 1830 and was famously topped with glass domes. 

Named after Lord Lowther, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, when this section of the Strand was improved, the arcade’s 24 small shops initially sold luxury goods and various items but by the mid 19th century they were nearly all toyshops, making this a popular place for children (and particularly so, one might assume, at Christmas time!).

The northern part of the arcade was initially home to the Adelaide Gallery, described as a “National Gallery of Practical Science, Blending Instructions with Amusements” – this part of the building later became an amusement hall and then a puppet theatre.

The arcade was demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of Coutts Bank.

PICTURE: Lowther Arcade as seen in an engraving published in a periodical in 1832.

The moniker of this Soho street owes its origins to the Greek Orthodox Church – London’s first – which was built in the area following an influx of Greeks in the 17th century.

The street was laid out in the 1670-80s and along with taverns, coffee houses and tradesmen’s workshops, also had some aristocratic tenants such as the 5th Earl of Anglesey. Casanova stayed in the street when visiting in 1764 and writer Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, also lodged here temporarily.

Other tenants have included Josiah Wedgwood who had a warehouse and showrooms here from 1774 to 1797. Number 1, the House of St Barnabas, was once the home of twice Lord Mayor of London, William Beckford, and also the location where Sir Joseph Bazalgette commenced work on designing the city’s famed sewer system (it was then the offices of the Westminster Commissioners Sewers). It’s now a private members club.

The church, meanwhile, was soon taken over by the French Protestants who came into the area and eventually demolished in 1936. A remnant of the church, an inscription which was once embedded in the wall of the church, was salvaged and apparently taken to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in Bayswater.

Current premises based in the street include pubs like the Pillars of Hercules (number 7) and Coach and Horses (number 29) as well as establishments such as The Gay Hussar restaurant (number 2) and French patisserie Maison Bertaux (number 28).

Located in the basement of a modern office building (and visible through glass) are the remains of a 700-year-old crypt that once lay beneath Whitefriars Priory.

Reached via Magpie Alley (off Bouverie Street which runs south from Fleet Street), the remains are all that is visibly left of the priory, founded here in the 13th century.

Known as ‘White Friars’ because of the white mantle they wore over their brown habits, the Carmelites (their proper name) were founded in what is now Israel in the mid-12th century. After the region fell to the Saracens in the mid-13th century, some members of the order made their way to England with the aid of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III. In  1241, Sir Richard Grey of Codnor founded the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this site.

The priory – which counted towering medieval figure John of Gaunt among its patrons – once stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames and to the Temple in the west and what is now Whitefriars Street in the east. It included a church – enlarged in the 14th century – as well as cloisters, a garden and cemetery.

The priory survived until the Dissolution after which King Henry VIII granted various buildings to the King’s Physician and the King’s Armourer and the great hall become the famous Whitefriars Playhouse.

Whitefriars became part of the rather infamous slum known as Alsatia, a ‘liberty’ seen as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the law. The priory was gradually subsumed into the slum – there’s a suggestion that the crypt may have been used as a coal cellar.

The remains of the 14th century vaulted crypt, which had been located beneath the prior’s house on the east side of the former priory site, were apparently found in the late 19th century and restored in the 1920s when the now defunct newspaper News of the World was expanding. During a redevelopment in the 1980s (which came after News International moved out to Wapping), the remains were moved to their current location.

WHERE: Whitefriars Crypt, Ashentree Court, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Temple and Blackfriars); WHEN: Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: None.

PICTURE: The crypt at seen at this year’s Open House London event. (Andrea Vail licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

Still a favourite at tea rooms across the world, the Chelsea bun – a squarish, sticky spiced fruit bun – owes its origins to Richard Hand’s establishment in what was Jew’s Road and is now Pimlico Road in what is now Pimlico, on the border with Chelsea.

The single storey premises opened early in the 18th century and in the interior Mr Hand, apparently known as “Captain Bun”, kept a curious collection of clocks, models, paintings, statues and other curiosities.

The bun house, known variously as the Old Chelsea Bun House and the Original Chelsea Bun House, was a huge hit, attracting a clientele which included royalty – King George II and Queen Caroline visited with their daughters as did King George III and Queen Charlotte – and also, famously, the political figure and Jonathan Swift, who bought a stale one for a penny in 1711 and recorded that he didn’t like it.

The tradition of eating a hot cross bun on Good Friday lead to huge crowds at the bun house on that day in particular – said to number more than 50,000 some years – and such were that crowds that in 1793, Mrs Hand, following complaints from her neighbours, declared in a public notice that she would only be selling Chelsea buns, and not cross buns, on Good Friday that year.

The house did, however, return to selling hot cross buns on Good Friday – it is said to have sold an enormous 24,000 on Good Friday in 1839 (some sources have out the figure as high as 240,000 but that may have been a misprint).

Despite the success of Good Fridays, according to The London Encyclopaedia, the closure of the nearby Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in 1804 had impacted the business.

In 1839, following the death of the Hands’ two sons and with no further family member to take over the business, it was closed and the bakery reverted to the Crown. The building was subsequently demolished.

PICTURE: Chelsea buns today. Duncan Hull under licence CC BY 2.0.

This Grade II*-listed pub originally dates from the early 18th century but the current building was constructed in the 1860s and still retains many features dating from that period.

The name for this pub, located at 18 Argyll Street just south-west of Oxford Circus, comes from John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, one of the Duke of Marlborough’s leading generals and the owner of the land on which the street (and pub) now stands.

The London mansion of the dukes was located where the London Palladium now stands and there is a legend that there was a tunnel between the house, which was eventually demolished in 1864, and the pub.

While the pub has undergone some alterations since it was built, mid-19th century features inside include etched glass separating the booths and an ornate plaster ceiling.

The pub is now part of the Nicholson chain. For more, head here.

PICTURES: Top – Russell Davies/Flickr/; Right – Michael Flynn/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

The first prison on the site to the north of Clerkenwell Green, initially known as the Clerkenwell Bridewell or New Prison, was built in 1616 and was used as an overflow for City prisons.

Later that century, a second prison was built next door, this time as an as a remand prison for those awaiting trial to relieve the crowded Newgate. Among those imprisoned here was the notorious Jack Sheppard and his mistress Bess Lyon (they both escaped from it in 1724).

The prison, which wasn’t located far from the Middlesex Sessions House, was significantly enlarged in 1774 and, in 1818, when the original Clerkenwell Bridewell was demolished, the New Prison was rebuilt almost entirely across both sites, providing accommodation for a couple of hundred.

Less than 30 years later, however, in the mid-1840s the still relatively new building was demolished and a new House of Detention, also known as the Middlesex House of Detention, was built in its stead. Its design was cruciform and influenced strongly by the recently completed Pentonville Prison. It had several wings for males and one for females.

The prison was eventually closed in 1877 and demolished in 1890. The Hugh Myddelton School was subsequently built on the site (the building still stands, albeit it is used as flats).

One of the most famous incidents at the prison took place on 13th December, 1867, when during an unsuccessful escape attempt, members of the Fenian Society detonated a barrel of gunpowder, causing an explosion which blew open the prison wall as well as damaging the houses which lay opposite across Corporation Row. In what became known as the “Clerkenwell Outrage”, 12 bystanders were killed and scores injured. The ringleader, Michael Barrett, was the last person to be publicly hanged at Newgate on 24th May, 1868.

The prison’s Victorian-era vaults still lie beneath the streets of Clerkenwell and a number of films including Sherlock Holmes and TV shows including Secret Diary of a Call Girl have been shot here. They can be accessed via special tours from time-to-time.

PICTURE: Above – Visiting time at Clerkenwell House of Detention from an 1862 publication (via Wikipedia); Below – All that remains of the House of Detention – the vaults (Daejn/Wikipedia)

The remains of two rooms, which once formed part of the splendid Greenwich Palace – birthplace of King Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, were discovered during works being undertaken ahead of the construction of a new visitor centre under the Old Royal Naval College’s famed Painted Hall, it was revealed last week.

The rooms, set well back from the river Thames, are believed to have formed part of the service range, believed to be the location of kitchens, a bakehouse, brewhouse and laundry.

As well as the discovery of a lead-glazed tiled floor, one of the rooms, which was clearly subterranean, featured a series of unusual niches where archaeologists believe may have been ‘bee boles’ – where ‘skeps’  (hive baskets) were stored during winter when the bee colonies were hibernating and where, when the bees were outside during summer, food and drink may have been stored to keep cool.

Discussions are reportedly now underway over the possibility of displaying the Tudor finds in situ. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, hailed the find as “remarkable”.

“To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” he said. “The unusual and enigmatic nature of the structure has given us something to scratch our heads over and research, but it does seem to shine a light on a very poorly known function of the gardens and the royal bees. The most exciting aspect is that the Old Royal Naval College is able and willing to incorporate this into the new visitor centre, so everyone can see a small part of the palace, for the first time in hundreds of years.”

Greenwich Palace was built by King Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426 and rebuilt by King Henry VII between about 1500 and 1506.

Substantially demolished at the end of the 17th century (and with plans to build a new Stuart palace on the site never realised), it was replaced with the Greenwich Hospital which became the Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692 and 1728.

The Painted Hall, located in the Old Royal Naval College, is currently undergoing an 18 month transformation which includes the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café. Visitors to the hall currently have the unique opportunity to get up close to the famous ceiling of the hall, described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK”, on special tours. Visit www.ornc.org/painted-hall-ceiling-tours-tickets for more.

PICTURES: © Old Royal Naval College

Located in Gracechurch Street in the City of London, this church was first recorded in the late 12th century (although there had apparently been a church here for some time earlier) and was named for St Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism (St Benet is apparently a short form of that name).

The church, which stood on the intersection with Fenchurch Street and is among a number of London churches dedicated to that particular saint, is sometimes called St Benet Grass Church – that name apparently relates to a nearby haymarket (see our earlier post on Gracechurch Street).

Records apparently show that during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, Biblical texts which had been added to the interior walls during the earlier reign of her brother, the Protestant King Edward VI, were removed.

The church was repaired in the early 17th century but subsequently destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It was among 51 churches rebuilt in the aftermath to the designs of the office of Sir Christopher Wren.

It continued on until 1864 when the parish was united with All Hallows, Lombard Street, which was later among a number of churches united with St Edmund the King and Martyr in Lombard Street.

The church building – its spire had come in for some criticism – was demolished just a couple of years later in 1867-68 (its removal helped to widen Fenchurch Street) and the site apparently sold for £24,000.

The pulpit is now in St Olave, Hart Street, and the plate was split between St Benet in Mile End Road – which was built with the proceeds of the sale of the church land – and St Paul’s Shadwell. (St Benet Gracechurch was apparently only one of two of Wren’s churches never to have an organ).

There’s a plaque marking the location of the church at 60 Gracechurch Street. The narrow street St Benet’s Place also references the former church.

PICTURE: St Benet Gracechurch in the 1820s from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839)/Via Wikipedia.


Located on the north bank of the River Thames at Chelsea, these 19th century pleasure gardens were only open for about 40 years.

The origins of the gardens go back to the 1830s when a mansion and surrounding estate – previously owned by Thomas Dawson, Viscount Cremorne (hence the name) – was sold to one Charles Random who went by the name of Baron de Berenger or Baron de Beaufain, a convicted stockmarket fraudster. Random established a sports facility called the Cremorne Stadium on the site where people could indulge in swimming, rowing, fencing, boxing and shooting (the ‘baron’ himself was apparently a crack shot).

The venture was not an immediate success however and so management began to diversify and provide other entertainments more synonymous with pleasure gardens including mock tournaments and pony races as well as dances and, of course, balloon ascents. Nonetheless, the venture failed and was sold off to a City coffee house owner of the name of Thomas Bartlett Simpson.

He sublet the 12 acre site to James Ellis who reopened the house and grounds as a pleasure gardens in 1845.  Ellis, however, went bankrupt within just a few years – an interesting side note is that he then went to Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria (part of what is now Australia) where he established another Cremorne Gardens beside the city’s Yarra River  – although like his London venture that, too, didn’t have a long life.

Back in London, Simpson then took over management of the gardens himself and  within just a few years the gardens had become popular among the fashionable.

The gardens featured a dazzling array of facilities including a banqueting hall, theatre, and American-style bowling saloon and provided all manner of entertainments such as balloon ascents, firework displays, dancing, and performances. The site could be entered from the grand entrance on King’s Road or at the Cremorne Pier on the river.

Alongside its regular entertainments, the gardens also hosted numerous spectacular events including, in 1861, being the site from where Madame Genevieve Young, the ‘Female Blondin’, crossed the Thames on a tightrope and where, in 1864, Mr Godard ascended in his Montgolfier Balloon. Other acts – such as a 1855 renactment of the storming of a fort at Sebastapol during which a stage collapsed, and another in which a balloon drifted onto the spire of a nearby church – were less successful.

The garden passed through the hands of several other managers over the ensuing years and but by the 1870s has acquired something of a bad reputation. While while then-manager John Baum, who had invested considerable sums in upgrading the gardens’ facilities, won a libel case against a local minister who had published a pamphlet condemning the gardens (in principle at least – he was apparently only awarded a farthing in damages), in 1877 he decided not to reapply for his licence and closed the gardens.

During its final years of operations, the gardens were captured on canvas by artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was a resident in nearby Cheyne Walk.

The modern Cremorne Gardens – located by the Thames near the Lots Road power station – were opened in 1982. Iron gates from the original gardens (pictured), which had been taken to a brewery, were restored and installed in the new gardens.

PICTURE: Above – The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons; Right – The Cremorne Gardens gates, Tarquin Binary/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

This prison dates from the time of King Richard II (1377-99) and stood off Borough High Street (just to the north of the Church of St George the Martyr) in Southwark until the mid 18th century when it moved to a new premises.

The prison, originally based in two houses apparently known as the Crane and the Angel (Angel Place bears witness to the latter), was first used for those convicted at the travelling court of the King’s Bench.

The prison was burned several times during periods of unrest and was upgraded during the reign of King Henry VIII. Among those imprisoned here were the reformer and martyr John Bradford who was held here before being burned at the stake in 1555 during the reign of Queen Mary (when it would have been known as the Queen’s Bench).

By the 1600s, it had become a debtors’ prison and in the mid-17th century – during the Commonwealth it was known as the ‘Upper Bench’ –  it reportedly held around 400 inmates who carried a collective debt of £900,000.

As with other prisons, the comfort of prisoners depended very much on their financial circumstances – those with money were able to live quite well. Those imprisoned here during this period included the dramatist Thomas Dekker and the King of Corsica, imprisoned in 1752 for debt (he died only four years later).

A Parliamentary inquiry in the 1750s revealed a host of problems with the prison including overcrowding, the practice of extortion by prison officers, promiscuity and drunkenness among prisoners and other irregularities, all of which led, in 1758, to the prison being closed (and later demolished) and moving to a new premises in St George’s Fields, Southwark (we’ll deal more with that facility in an upcoming post).

PICTURE: St George the Martyr on Borough High Street near where the first King’s Bench stood.

Located in Covent Garden, the workshop of 18th century cabinet-maker and interior designer Thomas Chippendale (1718-1778) was a hub of sought-after design.

The Yorkshire-born Chippendale leased the premises at 60-61 St Martin’s Lane in the mid 1750s and, joined by partner James Rannie, in 1754 he published his famous – and then ground-breaking – catalogue, The Gentleman Cabinet Maker’s Director, which illustrated his work.

Chippendale’s clients includes something of a who’s who of the Georgian era – actor David Garrick, architect Robert Adam, Lord Mansfield (he installed Chippendale’s furnishings at Kenwood House in Hampstead) and Mrs (Teresa) Cornelys who apparently counted Casanova among her lovers.

The Chippendale workshop remained at the premises in St Martin’s Lane until 1813 when his son, also Thomas Chippendale, was evicted from the site for bankruptcy. The current building dates from the 19th century.

PICTURE: Diane Griffiths/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Described by the Theatres Trust as a “key building” in music hall history, the Canterbury Music Hall was first erected in Westminster Bridge Road in 1852 on the site of an old skittles alley which had been attached to the Canterbury Tavern.

It was the tavern owner, Charles Morton, who erected the building which he apparently paid for out of the profits he made on selling drink while offering the entertainment for free.

Morton built upon the “song and supper room” tradition by employing a resident group of singers and such was its popularity that only a couple of years after the doors to the first hall opened, Morton was able to build a second, much larger music hall on the same site complete with a grand staircase, supper room and art gallery as well as seating for some 1,500 people.

Among stars to perform there was French acrobat Charles Blondin, who apparently made his way across the hall on a tightrope tied between the balconies.

In 1867 William Holland took a lease from Morton and the programmes then began to move away from the light music and ballads it was known for toward a more varied program with comedy prevailing. The art gallery was converted into a bar and a proscenium stage may have been added at this time.

RE Villiers took over management in 1876 and the building was again largely rebuilt – this time as a three tier theatre with a sliding roof. The venue hosted regular ballet performances and these proved popular with royalty – the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was said to be a regular patron. The interior was again remodelled, this time with an Indian theme, in 1890.

The decline of the popularity of music halls saw it start to show films from 1914 and eventually to become a dedicated cinema. It survived until it was destroyed during a World War II bombing raid in 1942.

PICTURE: A print showing the hall after its 1856 rebuild (via Wikipedia)



Located on Cheapside (with entrances on Friday and Bread Streets), the Mermaid Tavern is best known for being the home of Elizabethan-era drinking club known as the Mermaid Club (and also as the Friday Street Club or even the ‘Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen’). 

cheapsideFounded in the early 17th century (and meeting on the first Friday of each month), its members included such literary luminaries as Ben Jonson, John Donne and Francis Beaumont.

There are also suggestions it was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh and that William Shakespeare was also a member but modern scholars have cast doubt upon both claims.

The earliest reference to the tavern, meanwhile, dates from the early 15th century.

The tavern, the location of which today corresponds to the corner of Bread and Cannon Streets, burned down in the Great Fire of London but lives on in John Keats’ poem Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.