Please note: Exploring London is aware that sites across London have closed temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But we’re continuing our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

Located at 5 Strand Lane in the West End, these brick-lined baths were long-reputed to be of Roman origin. But they are actually believed to be the remains of a cistern built in 1612 to supply water to fountain in the gardens of Old Somerset House.

The fountain had been built by French engineer, Salomon de Caus, after he was commissioned to do so as part of King James I’s efforts to refurbish Somerset House for Queen Anne of Denmark.

Following the demolition of the fountain, the cistern was neglected until the 1770s when the cistern was used a public cold plunge bath attached to a property at 33 Surrey Street. A second bath, called the ‘Essex Bath’ was added (it’s now under the nearby KCL Norfolk Building).

The idea that they were Roman is believed to have originated in the 1820s when the bath was so described as an advertising gimmick (Charles Dickens’ helped popularise the idea in his book David Copperfield – it is believed Dickens himself may have bathed here).

The 1.3 metre deep bath passed through a couple of different hands in the ensuing decades including Oxford Street draper Henry Glave and Rev William Pennington Bickford, the Rector of St Clement Danes, who, believing in the bath’s Roman origins, hoped to turn them into a tourist attraction.

But his plans came to nothing due to a lack of funds and following his death, in 1944, the National Trust agreed to take on ownership while London County Council agreed to see to its maintenance. They reopened the baths, following repairs, in 1951.

These days, while owned by the Trust, the baths are managed by Westminster Council.

WHERE: 5 Strand Lane (nearest Tube station is Temple); WHEN: While National Trust properties are temporarily closed, viewings are usually arranged through Westminster Council and Somerset House Old Palaces tour; COST: Free; WEBSITE:  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/strand-lane-roman-baths.

PICTURE: Michael Trapp (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Please note: Exploring London is aware that many sites have closed temporarily or considering doing so as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ll be continuing much of our coverage as usual – in the hope you can visit at a later time…

This modernist home in Hampstead was designed by Budapest-born architect Ernö Goldfinger in 1939 for his family.

Goldfinger, who had emigrated to London in the early 1930s, decided to build the property in what was at the time something of an artistic hotspot. But his plan to build three residences in Willow Road – his home was the largest in the middle of the block of three terraced homes – was a controversial project.

Those who voiced their opposition included James Bond author Ian Fleming (who named a now famous villain after Goldfinger) and Lord Brooke of Cunmor, Secretary of the Heath and Old Hampstead Protection Society (and later MP for Hampstead as well as a Home Secretary in the 1960s), who said the proposed project was “disastrously out of keeping” with the character of the neighbourhood.

But, with the support of other local residents, Goldfinger defended his design, stating that it would respect both the surroundings and tradition of Georgian building in London.

The three storey, Grade II* property – which is built to appear as a single building along with its two neighbours – features a facade dominated by the use of red brick but also revealing exposed concrete bearing columns and a continuous strap of picture windows on the first floor.

It features a famous central spiral staircase designed by Danish engineer Ove Arup while Goldfinger himself designed much of the furniture. The house also contains a significant collection of 20th century art by artists including Bridget Riley, Man Ray and Max Ernst.

Goldfinger lived at the property along with his wife, artist and heiress Ursula (nee Blackwell, of the Crosse & Blackwell fortune), until his death in 1987 (his wife, whose money funded the project, died after him).

During their residency, the home hosted exhibitions in support of left-wing causes including one held in 1942 for the  ‘Aid to Russia’ Fund of the National Council of Labour.

Number 2 Willow Road was acquired by the National Trust in 1992 (it was the first modernist building acquired by the Trust). Numbers 1 and 3 Willow Road remain private residences.

WHERE: 2 Willow Road, Hampstead (nearest Tube station is Hampstead/nearest Overground is Hampstead Heath); WHEN: Temporarily closed – check website for times when it reopens; COST: £8.50 an adult/£4.25 a child; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road

PICTURE: Public Domain

Located on the banks of the River Wandle in Morden, south London, Morden Hall was built for the Garth family in the 18th century on the site of an earlier manor house.

The manor, which had once been held by the abbot of Westminster Abbey, had been in the Garth family since it was purchased by Richard Garth, a clerk and son of a successful lawyer, following the Dissolution in the 16th century. At the time, the newly built manor house, apparently known as Growtes, stood just to the south of where the hall now stands.

The now Grade II-listed hall was built for the family in between 1759 and 1765 and over the next century a number of tenants occupied it – it was used at once point as a school for young gentlemen.

In 1867, the Garth family sold the altered house and estate to a tobacco merchant, Gilliat Hatfeild (Gilliat’s father, Alexander Hatfeild, had, since 1834, leased two mills on the site to ground tobacco from plantations in Virginia into snuff). Gilliat created a park from the land surrounding the hall, planting trees and demolishing cottages.

His son, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, took over the running of the estate on the death of his father in 1906. During World War I, the hall saw service as a convalescent home for the military and was later used by the Salvation as a home for women and children.

In 1941, Alexander’s grandson, Gilliat Edward Hatfield – who had closed the mills and snuff-making factory in the early 1920s – left the house and the core of the estate (the remainder was occupied by new housing and roads) to the National Trust. The hall itself has since been used as a restaurant and, following a 2015 renovation, is now a venue for weddings.

The 125 acres of grounds, which are open to the public, contain a variety of landscapes including the remains of a deer park, meadows and a wetland. The restored rose garden was first planted by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild in around 1921 in part of what had been his father’s deer park. It was laid out in two halves separated by a small stream with rose-covered bridges. The rose garden also features a massive Westfelton Yew which is believed to be hundreds of years old.

The snuff mills, which were built in 1750 and 1830, are still standing (the western mill contains an exhibition on the life of the Morden mill workers in the Victorian era) as are various workshops, the former stables and Morden Cottage, parts of which date from the 1750s and which was used by GE Hatfeild who preferred living there to the hall. Facilities in the park include the Potting Shed Café near the main entrance and a second-hand bookshop in the former stable yard.

WHERE: Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, Morden (nearest train station is Stableyard); WHEN: The rose garden is open from 8am to 6pm daily (check the website for other times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park.

PICTURES: Top – The White Bridge over the River Wandle at Modern Hall Park (Garry Knight/licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right – Morden Hall from the park (public domain)

The National Trust is this year celebrating its 125th anniversary so we though we’d take a look at some of the lesser-known National Trust properties and gardens in London. First up, it’s Rainham Hall, one of the finest examples of an early 18th century merchant’s home in the UK.

Located at Rainham in the London Borough of Havering, the Queen Anne-style property was built in 1729 for sea merchant Captain John Harle. Harle came from a family South Shields that supplemented their farming income with shipping. He’d settled in London sometime after 1704 and in 1719 married a widow, Mary Tibbington (it’s speculated her name may have been the inspiration for his ship, the Mary).

Following his marriage, John went less to sea and handed command of the ship to a cousin while he managed the business in London becoming a frequent visitor to the Royal Exchange and coffee houses to gather information on shipping and make trading deals.

Harle moved to Rainham in 1728 and built the house the following year with a design more akin to a London townhouse than a country villa. After his wife died without any children in 1739, John remarried and his new wife, a widow named Sarah Gregory, gave birth to their only child – a son named John – in 1740.

Harle died in late 1742 and was buried in Rainham Church. Sarah died seven years later and their orphaned son John was cared for by family members – during this period the contents of the hall were auctioned and the building leased out.

The house remained in family ownership until 1895 when it was purchased by a clergyman and then, in 1917, by art historian and property developer Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner who never resided at the property but conducted significant restoration works including in the garden.

During World War II, the property was requisitioned for use as a nursery for children so mothers could go out to work – it remained a nursery until 1954. It was during this period – in 1949 – that both the house and gardens, of which almost three acres remain – were given to the National Trust.

Now Grade II* listed, the property recently underwent a £2.5 million restoration project and opened to the public for the first time in 2015. Current displays includeThe Denney Edition: Celebrating an icon of 20th century style, which celebrates the life and work of Anthony Denney (1913-90), Vogue photographer, interior designer and all round style icon who lived at the hall between 1964 and 1969, during which he set about an extensive programme of interior refurbishment (only some of which still remains).

The property has appeared in films and TV productions including, most recently the 2019 BBC production of A Christmas Carol. A cafe now occupies the stables.

WHERE: Rainham Hall, The Broadway, Rainham, Havering (nearest train station is Rainham); WHEN: 10.30am-4.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday; COST: £9.50 adults; £4.75 children; £23.75 family (National Trust members and under fives free); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall.

PICTURES: Rainham Hall from the front (shirokazan/licensed under CC BY 2.0)/Right – Rainham Hall from the rear (David Merrett/licensed under CC BY 2.0).