Behind-the-scenes Tower Bridge tour

Ever wanted to see behind-the-scenes at Tower Bridge – you know, all those things mere mortals normally never get to see – and learn about how it all works? If so, the new year has rung in a real treat for you, as the good people at the bridge are opening it up for special engineering tours in January and March 2012.

Visitors will be able to see normally restricted areas, such as the bridge control room, the huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed, and the machinery room where the hydraulics that power the lifting of the bridge are found. And one lucky person will win a competition to raise the bridge at a future date (me, please).

I’m advised that the January tours have already sold out, so be quick for the March dates, which will run every Saturday and Sunday throughout the month. The tours, which will also include the normally accessible areas of the bridge, last 1.5 hours and cost £30. To arrange you must email, stating your name/s, full contact and address details and preferred dates.

The Londonphile is already booked in for the 4th March, so you’ll be hearing all about it after then…

Modernist Hampstead

Hampstead has long attracted artists, writers and – yes – architects to its leafy environs. Although perhaps better known for the Hampstead Garden Suburb, and its good stock of Victorian architecture, Hampstead is also home to a number of London’s finest modernist houses. Possibly drawn by the splendid isolation of the hilly zone to the north of London (Hampstead was not integrated into the Borough of Camden until 1965), and undoubtedly by the prospect of Hampstead Heath, in the 1930s Hampstead also had the draw-card of offerring relatively cheap accommodation – as impossible as that is to believe today…

The following photographs were taken on a walking tour of Modernist Hampstead organised last year by the National Trust’s 2 Willow Road (see my earlier post about this property). This is by no means an exhaustive list of Hampstead’s modernist houses, but gives some idea of what is out there and what you could expect if you go on a similar tour (a number of these were run last summer and I expect will run again this year – I’ll keep an eye out for you!). A self-guided walking tour brochure containing most of these houses is also available at the property for a paltry sum. You may also like to visit David Anderson’s excellent site listing modern style housing in London, which has a more extensive listing for Hampstead:

Sun House, Frognal Way (1935). Designed by Maxwell Fry.

66 Frognal (1936-37). Designed by Connell, Ward & Lucas.

1-6 Frognal Close (part) (1937). Designed by Ernst Freud.

13b Arkwright Road/The New House (1939). Designed by Samuel & Harding.

49a Downshire Hill (1975). Designed by Michael & Patricia Hopkins as their own residence.

13 Downshire Hill (1936) - on the far left of the photo. Designed by Michael & Charlotte Bunney as their own residence.

1-3 Willow Road (1938). Designed by Erno Goldfinger, with number 2 as his own residence.

Left: 78 South Hill Park (1965), designed by Brian Housden. Right: 80-90 South Hill Park (1956), designed by Stanley Amis, Gillian & William Howell.

Lawn Road Flats/Isokon Flats (1929-32). Designed by Wells Coates.

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). 

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.

Aldwych tube tour


Every so often the London Transport Museum opens up the ‘non-operational’ Aldwych Underground Station for guided tours. And at the risk of sounding like a train-spotter of the first order, I was lucky enough to get tickets for the latest round of these, held over the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December.

Aldwych station, first opened in 1907 and originally known as ‘Strand’, finally closed to the general public in 1994 – though it’s hard to believe it was so recent given the state of its interior and the 1970s posters still adorning the walls. Other than transporting people from A to B, it’s other major claim to fame was as a bomb shelter in World War One and World War Two. What it also sheltered from the bombs was paintings from the National Gallery (WWI) and objects from the British Museum and the V&A (WWII). The Elgin/Parthenon Marbles spent some years languishing behind the door in the picture below (and note the tiling ‘practice’ on the right hand side).


The station also features in a number of films (V for Vendetta, Atonement and James Bond’s Die Another Day), and is currently used for training purposes by emergency services. The tour takes in both platforms, and ladies you should leave the heels at home for this one as sensible shoes are required in case of a serious evacuation – which would involve walking down the tunnel to Holborn station. It’s a fascinating way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon and is again the sort of event that I hope to advise people of beforehand in the future! You can keep an eye out for yourself on the Transport Museum’s page below, but be quick when tickets do go on sale next time as they sell out extremely quickly.