Drake’s steps

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about London is the amount of significant historical sights that go completely uncelebrated. Call it an abundance of historical detritus if you like. An excellent example of this is Drake’s steps. Everyone knows the concept of a (gentle)man laying down his coat for a lady to walk across a puddle unhampered. Well this very concept originated at Drake’s steps – now just an uncommemorated set of steps leading to the Thames at Deptford.

Drake’s galleon, The Golden Hinde (a reconstruction of which you can now visit near London Bridge), was moored at Deptford when he received his knighthood in 1581. When Queen Elizabeth I visited to bestow the honour onboard, Sir Walter Raleigh placed his coat down at the top of these stairs to keep her feet dry, pretty much marking himself out for all time as the archetypal gentleman.

A small plaque commemorating the victualling yards in the area, well after Drake’s time, and another to Drake’s endeavours at sea is all that marks out this place. Sometimes the gates are left open – on my last visit they were held together with a flimsy piece of rope. You can find this uncelebrated corner of London’s history along the Thames in Deptford, just above Conroy’s Wharf. It’s nowhere near a tube – the closest would be Surrey Quays, a good twenty-minute walk – but you can take the 199 bus from Canada Water station to the third stop on Grove Street.


Tacita Dean at Tate Modern

Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall makes a natural cinema – which is fitting as it is currently the venue for Tacita Dean’s latest filmic output. FILM is a 35mm, 11 minute silent film set on a constant loop. It contains a startling montage of colour, black and white and hand-tinted analogue film, complete with sprocket holes along the vertical edges. Dean has rotated the normal anamorphic lens by 90 degrees to create an unusual vertical format. All of this is projected onto a white monolith which references the one seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Although British-born Dean is best known for her work in film – particularly 16mm film – she originally trained as a painter and has also worked in photography, sound, book art and drawing. She has become an ardent supporter of analogue film, whose very existence is being threatened by the digital format. Earlier this year she was instrumental in putting together an online petition aimed at keeping London’s Soho Film Lab’s 16mm print service (the only one in the UK at the time). Despite garnering 5,489 signatories the new owners discontinued the service.

FILM can be found in the Turbine Hall until 11 March and is free, so there’s no reason not to drop by. You might even find yourself being entertained by children using it as one giant silhouette screen – including climbing up the escalator projected in one of the scenes. And while you’re there you can take in Gerhard Richter’s excellent paying exhibition upstairs until 8 January if you have the cash.


Learn more about London

The Londonphile has discovered a few fascinating London-centric courses that will be held in 2012. Please note that many of these courses involve attendance over a number of weeks, some include homework, and are not exactly on the cheap side! However, they do look really interesting. I will update this post as I find out about new study opportunities for the coming year.

London: Life and Times
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wednesdays, 25 April–4 July 2012, 2-4.30pm, £322.50
Covers not only influential art and architecture, but people, themes and events that have shaped the capital.

Contemporary London Architecture and Interior Design
Chelsea College of Art & Design short course program 
To be held over 4 consecutive days in April 2012 or 4 consecutive Sundays from 26 May 2012, £365
Want to learn more about London’s contemporary built environment? This course will incorporate visits to a number of London’s more recent public spaces, buildings, squares and structures – even an entire neighbourhood.

Birkbeck University
Birkbeck offer a variety of courses including Interpreting the Tower, Discovering London’sSquares, Anglo-Norman London, Life in Medieval London, plus a fascinating course about historic houses in London – which is on the Londonphile’s wish-list for next year!

Bishopsgate Institute
If you are looking for something shorter and more affordable, Bishopsgate Institute has just announced its new season of courses to kick off 2012. There is a walk and several talks on Charles Dickens and the city in the London in Fiction offerrings at £8 a pop, as well as three separate discussions with lovely London blogger Spitalfields Life which are free. Other £8 talks include Cosmopolitan Soho and A People’s History of London. In May and June a course focusing on Images of London from its earliest days right up to contemporary urban art will be held (£89).

A Room for London

Mark the 19th of January in your diaries now – that’s the date of the release of the second tranche of bookings (July to December) for London’s most amazing penthouse. The ship-like vessel that appeared on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on South Bank last week is actually a one-bed apartment with the best views in London.

Designed by David Kohn Architects in conjunction with the artist Fiona Banner, A Room for London is intended as an ideas factory for London, with dates set aside for 12 writers, 12 musicians and 12 thinkers to stay onboard and get creative – the results of which will be posted online. The design is based on the author Jospeh Conrad’s boat, the Roi des Belges, and features a library, viewing deck and a desk with river views.

 A Room for London will open on 1 January and run throughout 2012. What happens to it afterwards is still undecided – but it may well pop up elsewhere in London. If you’re interested in the dates for paying guests prices are said to be from £120, and get in quick as the first round of dates didn’t last long. Find out more at:


UPDATE: it appears that the price has now gone up to £300 per night (for up to two people) for the second round of bookings.

I know this great little blog about London…

One of the Londonphile’s favourite London blogs is I know this great little place in London… And this week the fab people there have come out with a brilliant post on some of London’s oldest places. Ever wondered what London’s oldest theatre, cinema or bookshop is, or perhaps you’ve always wanted to stay in London’s oldest hotel – if only you knew which one it was?! Well, all these questions and more are answered in the latest edition of this great little blog, which the Londonphile wants to share with you. Check it out at: http://www.greatlittleplace.com/newsletters/glp-38-londons-golden-oldies/

And just for the record, they advise that London’s oldest museum is the Royal Armouries Museum in the Tower of London.

London's oldest music hall: Wilton's

Go underground at the Brunel Museum

Looking for something different to do on Christmas Eve? Well how about spending it underground. OK, maybe not the whole day, but if you head to Rotherhithe’s Brunel Museum you can be entertained in the Christmas spirit (including stories, decorations and prismatic reflectors) in the underground Entrance Hall to the old Thames Tunnel. This is a massive underground space (half the size of the Globe Theatre) that you enter via a tunnel and staircase.

When the Thames Tunnel was first opened in 1843 it was the first tunnel in the world to travel underneath a river. It was heralded as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and over one million people payed a penny for the pleasure of walking under the river in its first ten weeks. Today it still links Rotherhithe and Wapping via the Overground network. Normally visits to the shaft are only conducted via guided tours run twice a week in partnership with London Walks, which includes a longer tour of the surrounding area.

Thames Tunnel Entrance Hall, photo courtesy of The Brunel Museum

The Underground Christmas event now has the following dates left: Sunday 18th December at 12 noon, and Saturday 24th December at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm, and the £5  ticket also includes entrance to the Museum. No bookings are required, and you can find the Museum directly behind the Rotherhithe Underground Station. The Londonphile has this in the diary for the 24th! This looks to be becoming an annual event so if you can’t make it this year maybe it’s one for 2012.

For Brunel Museum details see:

For details on the London Walks tour mentioned see:

UPDATE: This tour turned out to be a real gem. While the 2pm and 4pm sessions appeared to be quite busy, I attended the 3pm session which was composed of just four people. We were regaled with fascinating stories of the lost world of the Thames Tunnel, from its construction to its heyday and subsequent decline. My understanding of this site as the birthplace of the modern subway system (and hence the modern city) and as the world’s first underwater shopping mall (as well as a bit of a den of iniquity) has been much enhanced! Go down if you can!

And you have just been granted another opportunity to do so as there will be two openings in January 2012. On Wednesday 11th January and Sunday 15th January at 12:00 p.m. you can again descend into the chamber (without the stories this time). £5 including museum entry – no need to book, just turn up on the day.


Secret Cinema announces Secret Restaurant

'The Red Shoes', February 2011

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years you would have heard about Secret Cinema and their immersive film experiences around London. These events see patrons buy tickets for a secret movie to be shown in a secret (but relevant) location; a dress code is announced and performers help create a filmic atmosphere on the nights. Fancy seeing Blade Runner in an abandoned warehouse at Canary Wharf, or The Red Shoes in a fake Covent Garden Market in Wapping’s Tobacco Dock? Then Secret Cinema is just the ticket for you…

Anyhow, today the same team has announced that – no longer content with just exploring four senses – they are now running a Secret Restaurant in conjunction with their latest film offering (which is, of course, secret). The restaurant is located in the attic of the current venue, and the menu is also kept under wraps until the night. But seeing as this is being run in conjunction with the St. John crew (they have Michelin stars, don’t you know), presumably the food will prove a pleasant surprise.

Ticketholders of the current Secret Cinema event can email bookings@secretrestaurant.org to request reservations, and a new tranche of cinema tickets that also include the dining experience have just been released for the rest of December and January. For tickets see:


UPDATE: And on January 4th Secret Cinema announced that the final round of January tickets will be released tomorrow, Thursday the 5th, at 12:00 hours. For these hot little numbers go to:


'The Red Shoes', Secret Cinema, Wapping

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

The Geffrye Museum - with installation by Kei Ito in the foreground

The Geffrye Museum is not just a museum of the home, but a sort of ultra house museum: based in eighteenth century almshouses in Hoxton, it features a series of rooms displaying domestic interiors. The focus is on the urban English middle class living room from 1600 to the 1990s, whose development you can follow right up until modern warehouse conversions (complete with mezzanine level!). I’m personally a little torn between the 1935 art deco lounge room and the very retro g-plan-esque one from 1965, but on balance I think the latter has my final vote.

The museum itself is free (some temporary exhibitions have a charge), but on certain days you can pay £2.50 to visit the restored Almshouse 14 in the building’s south-west wing, to see how London’s elderly and poor once lived. And it’s not as grim as that makes it sound! I promise.

And don’t forget to visit the gardens around the back, which are also divided into periods depicting the development of the town house garden from the seventeenth to early twentieth centuries. Although these are only open to the public from April to October, they can be glimpsed from the lovely garden reading room (and yes also from the East London overground line, right next to Hoxton Station!).

Now is a good time to visit though as the Geffrye is holding its annual Christmas Past installation, in which all the rooms are decorated in period Christmas decorations. On the afternoon of January 6th 2012 (4-5pm) they will hold that year’s traditional Farewell to Christmas burning of the holly and the ivy event in the garden. For more details visit their website:


The Londonphile photo gallery