7 Hammersmith Terrace

Seventeen houses make up the row in which Walker lived - his is the second of the taller houses.

Ever wondered exactly how William Morris and his ilk decorated their own homes? A visit to 7 Hammersmith Terrace will give you your answer, as it’s the (almost) perfect time capsule of Arts and Crafts London translated into the domestic sphere. The former home of Emery Walker – a printer who was a leading light of that particular movement and a close friend and colleague of William Morris – its interiors have been preserved from his day down. So while there are other properties that belonged to Morris and friends that you can visit, Walker’s house is truly one of a kind.

Emery Walker actually started married life down the road at number three, before relocating to number 7 in 1903. Although the house itself is a Georgian terrace (one of seventeen built along the Thames in Hammersmith in the 1750s), it is decorated in a style typical of the homes of the movement’s main proponents – right down to the William Morris lino in the hall (thought to be the only surviving in situ example of this). The eclectic style they favoured is very much on show here, with Morris’s wallpaper and hangings happily sharing space with colourful imported ceramics, seventeenth and eighteenth century furniture and metalwork.

Philip Webb – the Arts and Crafts architect – bequeathed his possessions to Walker and many of these are on display, including a rather fine wooden Regency wine cooler (cunningly disguised as an oddly-shaped side table). Your guide will also show you a poignant collection of mementoes of Morris that Walker kept, including several pairs of glasses and a lock of his hair. The dining room furnishings are a real highlight, as is the surprisingly modern suntrap conservatory, with its lovely collection of ceramics.

Walker’s daughter Dorothy inherited the house on her father’s death in 1933 and changed very little over time – the main exception being the addition of a bathroom in the back drawing room. This has now been removed, though the scars remain on the Morris wallpaper, adding yet another layer to this story. Even the garden, which backs straight onto the Thames, still retains the same layout as it did in Walker’s time. Dorothy left the house to her long-time companion Elizabeth de Haas, who – luckily for us – also maintained its original state, and was instrumental in setting up the Emery Walker Trust that has enabled the house to be preserved and opened to the public.

As photography is not permitted inside, this really is one place that you will have to visit to see for yourself. Three tours are held on Saturdays from April until the end of September, by advance booking only (see website below). They last just over an hour and cost £10.


Nearby: William Morris fans might also like to visit his former home Kelmscott House, part of which is now home to the William Morris Society. It’s just down the road and also open on Saturday (and Thursday) afternoons (but that’s another blog post…).

The sedate Georgian exterior belies the eclectic Arts and Crafts furnishings that lie within.

Phoenix Cinema Tour

Fancy a peek behind the scenes at one of Britain’s oldest cinemas? Well you’re in luck as the lovely Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley runs regular (and free!) tours of its fascinating High Road premises. The Phoenix was purpose-built as a cinema back in 1910 and is well worth a look – as well as visiting its deluxe deco auditorium these tours also give you access to areas visitors would never normally see and teach you much about its history and heritage.

It’s interesting to learn that the East Finchley Picturedrome, as it was then known, was originally more or less back-to-front compared to its current layout. The rake of the cinema followed the slope of the hill down towards the High Road, with the screen at the front of the building. Patrons would enter via doors on either side of the screen – and as people used to come and go during screenings back then this made for many interruptions. Originally the cinema was topped with exotic Moorish-style onion dome towers – a huge revamp in 1938 rung in many changes, not least of which was the sleek modernist frontage we still see today. It was at this point that the screen was moved to the back of the cinema and landfill used to create a rake that now went in the opposite direction, though the 1910 barrel vaulted ceiling was retained.

These renovations also saw the addition of the beautiful gold and bronze art deco plasterwork panels in the main auditorium. Designed by Mollo and Egan – who worked on similar decorations in a number of cinemas of the era, many now sadly demolished – the panels represent various aspects of art and industry. The rich golds, bronzes and reds of the auditorium create what is surely one of London’s most beautiful cinemas, and one which has been featured in a number of films itself (such as The End of the Affair and Interview with a Vampire).

The tour spends some time in the auditorium (before the screenings start for the day), pops past a boiler room behind the screen (where you will see a hand-drawn decoration from the earliest days of the cinema) before finishing in the projection room, one of the tour’s highlights. Not only will you get to see the projectionist’s view of the auditorium, but a projectionist is on hand to point out the many old features of the room, as well as explaining how films are screened today. While most cinemas are now exclusively digital, at the Phoenix the old 35mm projector still sits side by side with the digital one. Other nice touches include the vintage ‘no smoking’ signs which were mandatory back in the days of highly flammable nitrate film stock (and when people still contemplated smoking in the workplace).

The tours run for approximately 45 minutes on Sunday mornings, generally once a month – the next dates are 22 April, 13 May and 10 June, usually starting at 10.30am, 11.15am, 12 noon and 12.45pm. They are free but must be booked in advance – contact the box office on 020 8444 6789 or email heritage@phoenixcinema.co.uk.


Museum of Childhood

Mosaics created by female students from a South Kensington mosaics class.

If you’re interested in architecture then the months of March and April 2012 are a great time to visit the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, as it is holding architectural tours and a small exhibition to celebrate its 140th birthday. I visited this week and was particularly interested to learn more about the museum’s fascinating history and its many links to the Crystal Palace.

The main building at the Museum of Childhood actually started its life as a temporary home for the treasures that were being kept after the 1851 Great Exhibition, held in the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park. Its construction was modelled on that of the Crystal Palace and it is one of the oldest surviving examples of a pre-fabricated iron-frame building. It turned out that the structure was leaky, fluctuated highly in temperature and the roof had almost rusted away by the time it was dismantled – in other words, not the ideal museum storage facility! It was also not popular with locals, whose nicknames for it included the Iron Museum and the Brompton Boilers.

Modern mosaics on the Museum's new facade (2005-2006), in front of the original structure.

When the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) was complete and the structure no longer required it was offered to any borough in London that would care to use it as a museum. Bethnal Green was the only area to put up its hand, so it was dismantled and transported eight miles to the east by horse and cart in the late 1860s. At this point an architect – James William Wild – was finally called in (the original structure was designed by engineers) to design the new red-brick exterior that was built around the iron structure. Wild had visions of a great learning hub in the east and designed a much larger complex including a school room and library, but like many architectural dreams it was never fully realised. You can see a drawing of how it would have appeared – complete with neo-classical columns – in the current exhibition.

Aware of the area’s working class population, the Bethnal Green Museum initially opened free of charge on three days a week from 10am to 10pm to allow working people the chance to visit. The original collection opened in 1872 and focused on food, animal products and French art from the 1700s, while the museum later hosted a number of important national collections  – such as the National Portrait, Pitt Rivers and Wallace collections – while they sought permanent sites. The museum’s focus on children began to build slowly from the 1920s, and it officially became the Museum of Childhood in 1974 under the V&A directorship of Sir Roy Strong. Don’t miss its lovely collection of dolls houses on the top floor – I’m also a big fan of the Chinese rock gardens and model theatres on display.

'The Eagle Slayer', John Bell

Although a fair amount of the museum’s history is covered in the foyer exhibition, if you can make it to an architectural tour on a Thursday afternoon you will learn even more. For example, the fleur-de-lis iron railings around the museum also came from the Crystal Palace, while The Eagle Slayer statue by John Bell now found in the cafe area was originally exhibited at the Great Exhibition. A fountain from the 1862 International Exhibition also used to be housed in the front courtyard. This was removed in the 1930s as it was breaking down due to the pollution in the area – it was stored off-site for safe keeping and promptly ‘mislaid’. So if you stumble across a large majolica fountain in your travels you know where to return it to…

Architectural tours run on Thursdays in March and April from 3.30-4pm – no need to book, just turn up at the information desk.
The 140th Anniversary display will be on show until the 8th of July.


Fencing from the Crystal Palace

Clissold House

As I approached Clissold House around a bend in the river I was met with the delightful vista above. But no, Clissold House is not located in a peaceful little village in the English countryside but in Hackney (Stoke Newington, to be precise), and I think you will agree it makes for a rather pretty – if somewhat unexpected – picture. Clissold House, which dates from 1793 (architect unknown) and is located in Clissold Park, has recently undergone a £4.46 million restoration courtesy of Lottery funds, so the Londonphile popped by for a little look-see and a tour of the property.

Eastern side - the front.

The original owner of Clissold House, Jonathan Hoare, chose the site for its proximity to the New River, an artificial river opened in 1613 to bring fresh water to the capital. This once flowed past the house and continued as far as Clerkenwell, and has now been restored and extended to resemble its original appearance. Another spot of artifice is found in the construction of the grassy knoll that the house appears to sit on; this was built up on the western side of the house on top of a series of vaults, which are still used for storage today. This created an architectural oddity, with the house having two storeys on the western side and three on the east. Also a matter of much confusion is the question of which side is actually the front of the house. While important guests were received on the carriageway at the western side, the more restrained eastern side – which looked across to the village and the church (St Mary’s Old Church, not the larger church in the top picture) – was actually the front of the house.

The story of how Clissold House – originally named Paradise House – came into its new name is another intriguing part of the house’s history. William Crawshay, who bought the property in 1811, forbade his daughter Eliza to marry her beloved curate from across the lawn at St Mary’s. So they simply sat and waited, watching each other from across the way, until William died and Eliza inherited the house and married her man: Reverend Augustus Clissold. As they had no children and their family were not interested in the property after their deaths, it was bought first by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and later – following a vigorous public campaign to turn it into a public park – by the Metropolitan Board of Works, who opened Clissold Park in 1889.

Reverend Clissold's view from St Mary's to the eastern side of the house.

As the original plans for the house have yet to be discovered, the recent restoration took place along best-guess lines with regards to layout. The lovely old oak floorboards have been retained, while the highlight is definitely the spiral staircase, which reaches up towards a glass dome. And take a moment to visit the poignant memorial drinking fountain on the northern side of the house – still in use today, and complete with trough for animals at the base – that a Crawshay family member erected in memory of her three young sisters who had died in infancy almost sixty years previously.

Free 30-minute tours of the house were arranged to mark the re-opening, and although they were originally only intended to run for couple of months have proved so popular that they will continue for the time being. As much of the house is now used as a cafe and a community space you can have a mooch around much of it by yourself, though a tour will get you into a few extra rooms and is also worth it for the fascinating story of the house (although there are some information panels in the western cafe if you’d rather do it yourself). I’m told the people at Clissold House still hope to find out more about the property and its history, so if any historians out there stumble across anything do let them know!

Email clissoldhouse@gll.org to book tours; these are generally held on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons.


Tower Bridge Engineering Tour

Control cabin

Control cabin

I announced at the start of the year that the Londonphile would be one of the lucky participants on a Tower Bridge behind-the-scenes Engineering Tour. Well just last Sunday was my day to enter the belly of the beast that is London’s prettiest bridge and, as promised, here are some pictures from the big day. Although the tour started and finished like a standard Tower Bridge visit (up on the walkways and down in the engine rooms), we had our own guide and gained access into off-limits areas, where a Senior Technical Officer was subjected to much grilling about the bridge’s mechanics.

It turns out that Tower Bridge is also a fine spot for a bit of photography, especially if your tastes run to taking pictures of industrial/Victorian settings. I took plenty of pictures on the day, but will focus on ones from the restricted areas in this post. If you’d like to see the whole set you can find them on the Londonphile’s Flickr stream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelondonphile/sets/72157629529321039/

The old steam hydraulic machinery

The old hydraulic machinery - powered by steam.


The image at the very top of this post was taken in the first of the off-limits areas we visited: the south east Control Cabin (no longer in use), where the levers for lifting the bridge were once activated. These days it’s all done at the touch of a button. Next stop was the machinery rooms, where the old steam hydraulic machinery (pictured above) sits literally side by side with the modern oil and electric hydraulic machinery now used to lift the bridge. A frighteningly high staircase then took us past one of the accumulators (pictured right), where the steam used to lift the bascules would collect until it was required for use.

Next was the highlight of the tour: we visited one of the huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed – where the counterweights that balance the bridge swing down when the bascules are opened. We first viewed it from above through a doorway from the machinery room, before descending into the chamber itself. It is truly massive in size  – so large it’s hard to capture it in the one photograph. It’s also a little awe inspiring – truly an amazing feat of Victorian engineering – though not surprisingly also a little cold and damp.

Bascule chamber - viewed from above.

In the year Tower Bridge first opened – 1894 – there were 6,160 bridge lifts. Traffic on the Thames has reduced dramatically since then, and although the promotional material still states that there are around 900 lifts a year, the Senior Technical Officer advised us that more recently that figure is closer to 700. All bridge lifts require 24 hours written notice, and the timetable of when lifts will occur can be found on the Tower Bridge website. The bridge has had a fresh paint job to pretty itself up for this year’s Diamond Jubilee. One Tower Bridge fact which you may not be aware of is that its metalwork was originally painted in a chocolate brown colour – and was re-painted red, white and blue to mark the Silver Jubilee back in 1977. You can see examples of the original brown colour – as used on internal metalwork – in the first two photos in the Flickr set.

Competition for tickets for the Engineering Tours was fierce – as predicted – and they are now sold out. You can put your name down on a waiting list for any future tours by contacting 020 7407 9191. Alternatively, you can always view the walkways and engine rooms by attending the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which is open daily.

Tower Bridge website

The Londonphile’s Tower Bridge Flickr set

In the machinery room.

In the machinery room.

The Barbican Estate

A tower looms above Frobisher Crescent

A tower looms above Frobisher Crescent

If you like your architecture to come with a strong dose of brutalism and lashings of retro styling, then you’ll love the Barbican. The Londonphile is a big fan but I am aware that many are not – the design of both the residences and the Arts Centre that makes up the Barbican Estate has divided Londoners for decades now. Love it or loathe it, the design is a momentous one, and while its groundbreaking use of concrete and brutalist aesthetics makes it a landmark complex, what I find most fascinating are the clever historical and architectural references scattered across the site.

St Giles', London Wall remains, high and low-rise residences and pilotis.

St Giles', London Wall remains, high and low-rise residences and pilotis.

The Barbican Estate was designed to re-populate the City of London, which had a tiny live-in population of just over 5,000 people following World War Two. The area had been so badly damaged during the Blitz that it was little more than a bombed-out wasteland. St Giles’ Church, which can be found in the middle of the complex, was more or less a shell and had to be significantly re-built. So what was once a very old area of London became a very modern one, although this modernity sits side by side with structures like St Giles’ and fragments of the old London Wall.

Contrary to popular belief, the Barbican was not built as social housing – although its architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon also designed the nearby Golden Lane Estate. Now of course its residences are highly sought after – particularly those in the three triangular-shaped towers, which were the tallest residential towers in Europe when built. A series of highwalks connect the area to its surrounds while simultaneously demarcating it as a rare pedestrian oasis in the city – there are no roads within the Barbican. The name Barbican derives from the Latin word ‘barbecana’ meaning a bastion or fortified outpost and refers to the ancient barbecana once situated in this area. The architects have included a number of references to castles, including a crenellated wall, arrow slits and a small staircase tower that resembles a gatehouse along the western side of the complex.

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon also sought to emulate and give a modern twist to West End Squares and European formal gardens – there are eight acres of gardens and lakes across the site, but as many of the larger ones are for residents only they are often overlooked. Frobisher Crescent, meanwhile, is reminiscent of a spa town crescent. A semi-circular motif is repeated across the Estate, and even used in the Arts Centre’s branding, possibly referencing the semi-circular remains of the London Wall near St Giles’. The mediterranean use of barrel vaults (also semi-circular), as seen in Greek island church roofs, was another reference point. The biggest influence – as acknowledged by Powell – on the Barbican’s architects was Le Corbusier. The use of pilotis – the large circular columns holding up the apartments above the lakes being the most notable example of this – is textbook Corbusier. The rounded balconies used on the towers and elsewhere strongly recall the curved lines of his Notre Dame du Haut.

Rounded balconies and barrel vaulted roofs.

Rounded balconies and barrel vaulted roofs.

And if you’ve always wondered why the Arts Centre is mainly located underground, this is because it was a late inclusion in the design and it was hoped this lower postion would prevent noise spilling over into the already completed residential areas. Another concession to the residents was the creation of the conservatory to hide the Barbican Theatre’s very tall fly towers (where stage sets and the like are stored directly above the stage). The section of the tube that runs underneath the lake is the only part of the underground to be supported on rubber bearings – also aimed at noise reduction.

Although planning for the Barbican began in the 1950s, the residences weren’t completed until the early 1970s and the Arts Centre only opened in 1982 (it is celebrating its 30th this year) – giving us some idea of the massive scale of the project. Chamberlin died in 1978 before the Barbican was completed. If you’d like to learn more about the Barbican’s history and architecture I highly recommend taking one of the Arts Centre’s 90-minute Architecture Tours, or the Hidden Barbican Tours, 75-minute behind-the-scenes tours which will take you to backstage areas and up the fly tower. Tours cost £8/6; check the website for details as times vary across the year.


Wilton’s Music Hall

No one does faded grandeur quite like Wilton’s – not just England’s, but the world’s oldest surviving music hall. Its peeling columns, ‘barley sugar’ cast iron pillars and old Indian frieze create an unforgettable atmosphere. Like all special places it’s best seen for yourself. But although the effect is somehow glorious, this isn’t just shabby chic decor – much of the decay is real. Wilton’s has been seeking support and funding for years for much-needed renovations, and has finally just had some success on this front – so this is a story with a happy ending.

The story starts in 1858, when John Wilton had the hall constructed along the back gardens of the terraced houses that form the front area of Wilton’s. A tavern was previously found on the site – and said to be very popular with sailors from around the globe. It was often referred to as the Mahogany Bar due to its fixtures. The bar was retained as the main entrance to the original music hall, and today the name is used for the gloriously cosy drinking establishment you can still patronise at Wilton’s.

Wilton’s great initial success as a music hall was not deterred by a major fire in 1877, and it was rebuilt the following year. Music hall luminaries such as Arthur Lloyd and Champagne Charlie trod the boards here, while its patrons could chose between the ladies of the night waiting at the top of the stairs and the more respectable seats downstairs, suitable for wives and girlfriends. Supper tables were also available, as was a promenade area for standing patrons. Entertainment was of the variety show type, including dancers, magicians, burlesque, comic and a wide range of musical talent.

But the popularity of the music hall genre eventually waned and new fire regulations in 1880s were the final death knell for the hall. Ironically, it was the Methodists who ended up saving Wilton’s. They turned the music hall into a mission hall – and because its almost chapel-like interior suited them perfectly, they simply left it like it was and preached amongst it…and the rest is history. The building also provided shelter for locals during the Blitz and was a rag sorting depot for a time. Today it numbers among its patrons the rather unusual combination of Prince Charles and David Suchet (a.k.a. Poirot).

A wide yet discerning range of entertainment is now on offer, including music, theatre, cinema and comedy. And where else but Wilton’s would you attend a magic show – as the Londonphile did in December – only to discover that Marc Almond was popping by to sing several Christmas songs? It is also a popular venue for filming, and recently played host to the latest instalment in the Sherlock Holmes franchise – although keen eyes will notice that the filmmakers ‘added’ an extra floor to the hall. But Wilton’s is worth a visit in its own right. And you can always just pop by the Mahogany Bar for a drink (it’s open most weeknights – check the website) – the ornate bar itself is a left-over donated after the Sherlock filming. And on Monday nights at 6pm you can learn more about Wilton’s history and architecture on a guided tour for just £6, which I highly recommend.

And so to that happy ending. After years of courting funding and support, Wilton’s recently received £700,000 from the SITA Trust for restorations. This funding means phase 1 of the Capital Project for crucial work on the auditorium can be completed and, importantly, stands Wilton’s in better stead when applying for further money for phases 2 and 3. Another £2.2 million is still required, so pop by, have a drink for charity and check out the glorious surrounds of this magical music hall. After all, Poirot can’t be wrong!


Thames archaeology walks

Not content with being a river that has inspired artists and writers and other creative types across the ages, the Thames is also an amazing archaeological site – when the tide rolls back and allows its treasures to be revealed. In fact, at low tide it becomes London’s longest open-air archaeological site. As I am also a huge Thames-phile, doing a Thames archaeology walk has been on my to-do list for some time now, so last weekend I took the opportunity to go on the Thames Discovery Programme’s Rotherhithe Winter Walk.

Elliott Wragg led us on this ramble from Rotherhithe to Bermondsey – an area that was long associated with ships and ship building. And sure enough, we were immediately able to locate a number of nautical remnants, such as anchors, rudders, and ship timbers that have been re-used to form a slipway. Sadly, due to rapidly increasing erosion more and more of these items are being revealed – good for archaeology, not such a good portent for the environment.

Elliott also taught us how to ‘read’ the various areas along the river bed. When you look closely you realise that certain areas have a preponderance of say, glass, where there would have once been a glass foundry (or maybe just a pub!), or pieces of old leather and shoes where a shoe factory was based. You can also find a large number of bricks along the foreshore in this area that are actually the remains of bomb damage from the Second World War, when the dock areas were heavily hit.

Thames Discovery also have a Putney Winter Walk coming up on Saturday 11th February, which will explore the Putney foreshore (free but donations welcome). If a spot of mudlarking (i.e. hunting for treasures along the river bed) takes your fancy, you may prefer the Thames Explorer Trust’s Millennium Bridge Walks (suitable for families and £8 for adults, £5 children), where the hunt is on for pipes and pottery (dates are currently scheduled for March and April). Alternatively, London Walks run Thames Beachcombing sessions (also guided by an archaeologist), on weekends when the tide permits (dates are currently scheduled up until the end of April, places are £8).

The Thames foreshore was almost deserted apart from our group on this fine (but admittedly rather crisp!) winter morning. In the nineteenth century the Thames was London’s premiere playground, with people piling onto boats for cruises and parties. I think it’s time we re-claimed the Thames, so come summer let the river become your own walking trail, beach  – and archaeological site. In the meantime, there are always these walks to consider:

Putney Winter Walk:

Millennium Bridge Walks:

London Walks Thames Beachcombing:

Seven Noses of Soho Walk

In short, anything that Peter Berthoud doesn’t know about London (or more specifically, Westminster) probably isn’t worth knowing. He’s a trained City of Westminster Guide and the person behind the wonderful Discovering London blog and – luckily for Londoners – your personal tour guide on his Seven Noses of Soho Walk.

So just what are these mythical noses? Some time ago people started noticing plaster noses affixed to walls around London. Inevitably a number of theories regarding their origins started doing the rounds. Taxi drivers in particular are said to have promulgated many of the myths surrounding the Admiralty Arch nose, which has been variously claimed as Wellington’s, Napoleon’s, et al….Most importantly, it was said that it you could locate all of the noses, infinite wealth would be yours. Or some such.

Then just last October artist Rick Buckley outed himself in the Evening Standard as the creator of said noses, which he revealed he had placed around London (not just Soho) all the way back in 1997 as a statement against the proliferation of CCTV (get it: nosey!). The noses vary from quite realistic looking ones to much larger, inflated protuberances, though all are apparently taken from a cast of the artist’s own nose. The high placement of some certainly suggest clandestine, night-time visits with a ladder. Needless to say, the buildings’ owners were not consulted, and not all of the noses have lived to tell the tale (Buckley claims he affixed 35 in total). Many are painted the same colour as the wall to which they are attached, making spotting these noses more of a challenge. And this is where the walk comes in…

However, Peter’s tour isn’t just about the seven noses. You will also get to see a fake nose, a missing nose, an ear and some fingers. And if all these body parts aren’t enough there is also a very tall door (with a singular purpose), a delightful community garden and a surprising amount of street art. Without giving away any of Peter’s secrets, I’m fairly confident that if you do the walk on a Wednesday you will see something at a large art institution that you have probably never seen before…

One of the joys of this walk is that Peter also weaves in snippets about Soho’s history and cultural life – but in a far less dry manner than a standard historical tour – so if you’ve always wanted to know more about this fascinating area of London this could be the walk for you. Upcoming walks that still have places available are on Sundays 5th and 19th February, at the very civilised hour of 2pm. But keep an eye on Peter’s website, as more dates are sure to be added: