The loveliest staircase in London – at St Pancras Hotel

St Pancras HotelIt’s a bit like a fairy story where the princess is stolen from her parents and raised in poverty until her beauty and grace identify her as a true aristocrat. Only the princess in this case is a building; the present day St Pancras Hotel, which began life in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel, one of the most beautiful buildings in London, fell on hard times, and was triumphantly rescued by a prince in the form of the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman. Continue reading

Keep warm in the Barbican’s secret conservatory

Bird of Paradise Flower, Barbican ConservatoryThe weather has finally turned against us with temperatures in single figures. Suddenly staying in begins to seem like a good idea. But not staying home – what you need is somewhere in central London that’s warm where you can wander round looking at the flowers just as though it was still summer. You need the Barbican conservatory. Continue reading

Riceyman Steps – a Clerkenwell Tour in the footsteps of Arnold Bennett

Riceyman Steps - Hanslip Fletcher

I doubt that Riceyman Steps would be the first title you thought of if I challenged you to name something by Arnold Bennett, even though it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1923. You’d be more likely to come up with one of his stories set in the Five Towns, and to think of him as a Northern writer. Riceyman Steps, though, is a London novel, set in a specific and still recognisable part of Clerkenwell. But how much of it still stands? Join Arnold and me on a little tour and we’ll find out. Continue reading

Hornsey Town Hall – Rescue or Ruin?

Hornsey Town HallHornsey Town Hall is a Grade II listed Art Deco building in the centre of Crouch End, an urban village in North London popular with actors and artists. It was built in 1935 as the Town Hall for the Municipal Borough of Hornsey and has been looking for a new function ever since Hornsey became part of the London Borough of Haringey in 1965.  Continue reading

Osterley Park – A Robert Adam masterpiece on the Piccadilly Line

Osterley ParkWith the end of September a distant memory, it might feel like the historic house season is over for another year. The great houses wrap themselves in mothballs for the winter and close their doors to visitors. But you can still catch one of them open this month – the conveniently-situated Robert Adam gem, Osterley Park. Continue reading

Spectacular Tudor bling at Hatfield House

Hatfield House ArmouryI’ve been going back to Hatfield House a lot this summer, ever since I went to visit the gardens in July. That’s because they have this great system where your ticket becomes a season ticket so you can visit the park and gardens as often as you like. Not the house though, that costs extra, but I didn’t let that put me off. Last week I paid it a long overdue visit and got my socks blown off. Continue reading

A rare chance to visit the Geffrye Museum’s restored almshouse

Geffrye Museum AlmshouseI love the Geffrye Museum, the Museum of the Home, with its carefully curated room sets showing how the ‘middling classes’ have lived through the ages. One of its charms is that it’s housed in a pretty square of old almshouses with a green lawn and shady trees in front. One of the almshouses has been restored to show what it might have looked like when it was lived in, and I’ve been wanting to go on one of the rare tours for ages. Finally I’ve done it. Continue reading

The Art Deco treasure house you never knew was there: Freemasons’ Hall

Freemason's Hall

I bet you’ve walked past Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street, just round the corner from the Opera House in Covent Garden, a million times and never thought of going inside. I certainly hadn’t. It’s the headquarters of a bizarre secret society open only to men, so why would I want to go in there? Because it has some of the most spectacular Art Deco interiors in the country, that’s why.  Continue reading

Where do bells come from? The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Whitechapel Bell FoundryI used to work in Aldgate, not far from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on Whitechapel Road, but I never gave much thought to what went on behind the wooden frontage of their Grade I listed building. I knew they made bells there, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t realise they’d been doing it for four hundred years, making them the oldest recorded business in Britain. So going on a tour of the bell foundry was a real education. Continue reading

A bijou neo-Palladian villa – Chiswick House

Chiswick HouseYannick and I are on a roll at the moment, ticking off historic houses at a rate of knots. This week we got the train to Chiswick to visit the perfect bijou neo-Palladian villa, Chiswick House. And not just the house; it’s set in acres of manicured park dotted with statues and with a garden café where Yannick had his first encounter with rock cakes.  Continue reading