Last Thursday night I took part in the charity Centrepoint’s Sleep Out London in order to raise money and awareness of their work with young homeless people. We were in no way trying to replicate a homeless person’s experience but the event was more to draw attention to the raft of problems the young homeless face and to raise much needed funds.
I was part of the 9 strong Team SM&B the Soho law firm where I work part-time. Centrepoint is their charity of the year.
We were lucky during the early evening as it wasn’t particularly cold and we were able to enjoy the entertainment, bar and food without much problem.
However the temperature dropped rapidly overnight and it became a very different story.
We were relatively comfortable in big marquees protected from the weather. We had portaloos nearby and urns providing hot drinks all night should we need warming up. However sleeping in a sleeping bag with just a cardboard layer below was an extremely uncomfortable experience. Earplugs helped to block out some of the noise from my sleeping neighbours but a randomly aching leg kept me awake for much of the night. I’m at that age where random aches and pains manifest themselves now and again but they have never interfered with my sleep to the extent they did that night.
We were woken at 5.30, packed up our stuff and made our way to the catering tent to pick up a breakfast roll. The previous night’s dinner, the hot drinks and breakfast were all supplied by RAF Wittering. A very big thank you to them.
My original plan had been to go straight to work armed with wet wipes and a toothbrush but we had been woken earlier than I had anticipated and I realised that there was enough time to go home and have a shower and still get to work just about on time.
On entering North Greenwich tube the first thing we noticed was the warmth of the station. That warmth was so welcoming. At work later I struggled a bit on my limited sleep but knew I could catch up my sleep at home that night.
On Saturday I was waiting for a train at Liverpool Street station. It was freezing. Again it dawned on me that I was lucky and would soon be in the warm at home.
Before I volunteered for this I didn’t know much about the young homeless. Many of these young people have been forced out of their family homes because of abuse and a life on the streets or riding around on buses was preferable. Having spent one night out even with the facilities that we had it did give a small insight into life on the streets. I normally wear gas permeable contact lenses but realised it would be impossible to do my cleaning routine so wore glasses instead. What do the homeless do? They can’t wash, they can’t brush their teeth. They don’t have toilet facilities overnight. How do women cope when on their period? I felt ashamed that I had never considered any of these points before.
Centrepoint aim to help get young homeless people back on their feet. It’s not just about getting them into accommodation but also to improving their lives so they can get themselves into training or employment.
I am very pleased to have raised almost £500 for Centrepoint’s work with the young homeless and our team in total raised over £6,200. I’m not sure I will repeat this experience but it’s not too late to donate joanna-2
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) leads walks in the West End, Islington and further afield. Details of all walks bookable by groups are listed here
Most of the West End’s Christmas lights will be going on in the next few weeks but do you know where the best ones can be found? Why not book on a tour with me. My foodie-themed Christmas Lights walk has all the ingredients for a fun festive time and there will be a mince pie or two along the way.
The walk starts with the cosy glow of a fire in a Marylebone pub, then meanders through the back streets of the West End, through Mayfair and into Soho. The walk includes hidden passages, superbly decorated posh shops and lots of historical snippets along the way. As with most of my walks there is a food/drink theme plus Christmas traditions and decorations throughout.
The walk finishes in Carnaby Street where there are plenty of places for a post walk drink, meal or coffee. See the bottom of this post for some of my personal recommendations.
This is a walk that is a regular event for some of my clients who have done this walk twice or even three times!
LJC01 (December 2016) “This year was the 2nd year I’ve done this tour & loved it. … There are prettier lights than Oxford & Regent Streets & really interesting little bars & restaurants. As well as so many historical facts on pretty much every street corner. I took my young three children & whilst my three year old struggled with the walking, my six year old asked for more facts at the end. Keep up the good work & next time we’ll try something new. Thoroughly recommend.”
Margot W (December 2016) “Enjoyed tour, which included some lesser known areas. The guide was well prepared and knowledgeable.”
Tessa R (December 2015) “Such fun and so beautiful! Loved the foodie tips and historical tidbits on the way. Thank you Joanna!”
Lesley S (December 2015) “This fascinating walk to see the Christmas lights of the West End … was perfect, taking us into tiny arcades and hidden courtyards which I would never have found by myself.”
EssexKat2014 (December 2014) “I can honestly say that the walk was the highlight of my Christmas – Joanna provided an informative and entertaining ramble around Mayfair and Soho, at a comfortable pace … It’s a lovely way to get in the Christmas spirit…”
Private walks for e.g. for a work do
To book me on a date of your choice for your own private group please either email me at email@example.com or send a message via my contact page
Public walks - click on the dates below for booking details. Places left are as at 18.11.17.
Saturday 2nd December at 5.10pm – Sold out
Saturday 9th December at 5pm - Special charity walk in aid of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. Please donate a minimum of £8 per person on the following link and contact me to let me know you’re coming christmaslightswalk. Depending on numbers we will either do a joint walk or two separate walks 5 minutes apart.
Sunday 10th December at 5.10pm – 8 places left
Thursday 14th December at 7.10pm – 15 places left
Saturday 16th December at 5.10pm – 11 places left
Monday 18th December at 7.10pm – 11 places left
Thursday 21st December at 7.10pm – Sold out
Boxing Day, 26th December at 5.10pm – 8 places left
Eating/drinking before or afterwards
A couple of my favourite locations for post-walk supper include the lovely Italian Mele e Pere in Brewer Street, upstairs at the Queen’s Head pub in Denman Street and the amazing French Brasserie Zedel in Sherwood Street right next to Piccadilly Circus. I am of course happy to give you more ideas and should mention (if you don’t know already) that I only recommend places that I love myself.
Prior to the walk there are plenty of options in Marylebone High Street but I tend to go for a quick sandwich in the lovely traditional deli and sandwich bar Paul Rothe & Son in Marylebone Lane.
Any questions please drop me a line or comment below.
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) leads mostly food and drink themed walks in the West End, Islington and further afield. Details of all walks bookable by groups are listed here
It is almost time once again for the annual walking event which is Local London Guiding Day. This Saturday, 7th October four of the local London guiding associations will be offering FREE walks, this year with the theme of conservation.
Four different walks are on offer, one each from Camden Guides, City of London Guides, Clerkenwell & Islington Guides and City of Westminster Guides. These free walks are an hour long and depart on the hour each hour between 10am and 4pm from the meeting points listed below. There is no need to book – just turn up.
Are you up for a challenge? If you start at 10am and plan your route in advance it should be possible to do all four walks.
I will be leading the 4pm Clerkenwell & Islington walk from outside the Union Chapel. Details of this walk and the other 3 walks are listed below:
CAMDEN: Betjeman’s Legacy
London’s first by-pass shaped the city’s growth for centuries. Students & medics to the south, trains & industries to the north. Following in the footsteps of John Betjeman, we trace this legacy in the streets around the Euston Road.
Meeting point: Euston Square Station, South Entrance NW1 2LU. From the platforms follow signs to Gower Street exit.
Finish point: St Pancras.
CITY: The Cathedral Quarter: Postmen, Prelates & Strolling Players
Explore the streets and byways that surround the City’s iconic cathedral, admire architecture & gardens and meet some of the Londoners who have lived worked and prayed here across the centuries.
Meeting point: Corner of Foster Lane and Cheapside EC2V 6AA (close to St Paul’s Station follow signs for exit 1)
Finish point: City Information Centre near St Paul’s tube.
CLERKENWELL & ISLINGTON: A Green Piece of Islington
Explore tranquil Canonbury and walk along the banks of one of London’s hidden rivers. Hear about the house that was listed even before it was built and many other curiosities in this secret, secluded part of Islington.
Meeting point: Outside Union Chapel, Compton Terrace/Upper Street N1 2UN (2 minutes from Highbury & Islington Station).
Finish point: Islington Town Hall, Upper Street (about 8 minutes’ walk to Highbury & Islington tube).
WESTMINSTER: Medicine, Mews & Mysteries
Join us for a fascinating walk around the Harley Street conservation area, discovering splendid streets, beautiful buildings and some of the memorable men and women who lived there.
Meeting point: Outside St George’s Hotel, 14-15 Langham Place W1B 2QS (Oxford Circus Station)
Finish point: Cavendish Square (near Oxford Circus Station)
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. Details of all walks bookable by groups are listed here
Shock horror – yes, I am really suggesting that you should visit Leicester Square as on the periphery of the square can be found some amazingly cheap places to go for food, for entertainment but also for peace and tranquility.
Although the China Exchange is within an enormous building that straddles both Lisle Street and Gerrard Street it is very easy to walk past its entrance in Gerrard Street because of the plethora of things going on around it.
Opened in 2015 the China Exchange is a charitable organisation which promotes itself as “A dynamic forum of intelligent exchanges with extraordinary people”. These “intelligent exchanges” generally take the form of “60 minutes with …” a series of talks with extremely famous people for around £10 a time.
Chaired by Sir David Tang about a third of the evening consists of questions from Sir David. For the other two-thirds the audience is invited to question the guest. I discovered this venue last year and attended 60 Minutes with Sir Michael Caine, Lord Lloyd Webber and Darcey Bussell. On each occasion I have found the guests to be charming and open. I could have attended a lot more but only discovered the series three-quarters of the way in. In the next few weeks I’m booked to see Richard E Grant on 12th June and Jimmy Carr on the 19th and am currently thinking of booking a few more. See the list of upcoming events and those that have gone before here.
You may wonder what the connection with China is and I do often wonder that myself; however they do have other events which are more Chinese themed such as a recent play/meal which was excellent. From Shore to Shore is now touring the country and I would definitely recommend seeing it if you can. The price includes a two course meal.
Tucked away next to (at the moment) an enormous hole in the ground close to the back of the National Gallery in Orange Street can be found Westminster Arts Reference Library. This is a great venue in its own right with its fantastic collection of books on the arts and other subjects, some of which you can borrow. Like many of London’s libraries there is a programme of events; however the ones at this library are a bit different from the norm.
Coming up on 19th June is a talk about Art Nouveau jewellery from Liberty with archivist Alison Kenney followed by a make your own jewellery workshop. The entire event costs just £6 which includes materials! Other upcoming events at this library include an author talk about a talking mongoose and a talk about the Damned!
If you scroll down on Westminster Library’s events page you will see at the bottom reference to Salon for the City. I have to say I thought long and hard whether I want to share this monthly event as it always sells out so I don’t want it to get to the point that I can’t get in! There have been 46 Salons for the City so far. The subject is always London with a sub-theme such as crime, musicals, myths, news, punk etc. The price which includes talks from two speakers and two Hendricks gin cocktails is under £10. The next one is a Soundtrack for the City and takes place on 29th June. I’m double-booked unfortunately.
Lastly look out for the library’s Forgotten Gaiety Musical events which are organised by the George Edwardes Musical Society. These events comprise a read through and sing-along with audience participation.
Back to Chinatown again and to a dodgy looking alleyway linking Macclesfield Street to Wardour Street. Dansey Place looks uninviting and a place to avoid but you would be wrong to do that. Walking from Macclesfield Street towards Wardour Street you will first of all pass a tiny grocery on your right and then on your left Young Cheng’s seafood shop with live lobsters and crabs swimming in a tank in front of you. But the place you really should be visiting is Mr Lo’s Noodle Factory. There is a sign but, look at the photos below, why would you venture inside? However this small factory supplies 95% of the Chinese restaurants in the area plus Michelin starred restaurants such as Hakkasan. The factory is also open to the public. My request for one bag of noodles was met with surprise that I just wanted one. However this bag of fresh warm noodles was enough to feed two generously. The cost is just £1. Once you taste noodles like these you really can’t go back to dried ones. They sell buns too but I’ve yet to try them. More about Lo’s Noodle Factory and the delights of Dansey Place can be found here los-noodle-factory
If you were to continue walking along Dansey Place towards Wardour Street you would see in front of you the healthy fast food restaurant Leon. Now this Leon is very different from the others. All the staff who prepare and serve the food here are also professional singers wanting to get noticed and follow their dreams. Every day from midday to close, in between preparing and serving the food, they take it in turns to sing show tunes to their customers. Leon West End is on Shaftesbury Avenue, famous world over for its theatres and many musicals so it was decided by Leon to do something a bit different. I did wonder whether the customers would be appreciative but each time I’ve been in the singers have received rounds of applause – it is a wonderful idea. http://leonrestaurants.co.uk/restaurants/westend/
Now back to Wardour Street and close to the enormous W Hotel in between all the Chinese restaurants can be found Misato. Misato serves cheap but plentiful portions of Japanese food. It’s not a place to while away an evening and you are rather crammed together but it is definitely worth the queue which is constantly outside. I have just learned from this website that the restaurant has been there 25 years!
If you then walk back along Lisle Street and take the second turning on the right you are in Leicester Place. Here you will find three more places worth visiting.
The Prince Charles Cinema on the corner of Lisle Street is an independent repertory cinema. It has two screens – one showing the latest releases, the other showing older films. The tickets are very reasonably priced anyway but if you sign up as a member (£10 for 1 year or £50 for life) you are entitled to at least £2.50 off tickets, money off food and drink and a weekly £1 screening. Yes, that is not a typo – £1.
They also host regular Sing-a-long-a events. As you would expect shows include the Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Sound of Music but also include Grease, Moulin Rouge, Beauty and the Beast and Frozen. One of the Frozen shows is adults only!
Another thing the cinema is famous for is their Movie Marathons – themed films running back to back overnight. A recent Harry Potter marathon lasted 21 hours! Do you like James Bond? Well on 29th July from 8.30pm until 10.30am the next day they are showing 6 James Bond films featuring six different Bonds back to back (about 15 mins gap between each one). The price is just £20 for non-members. If you are a Harry Potter fan and are free from 8.30pm on Sunday 27th August until 5.25pm on Bank Holiday Monday the 28th August book your place now. Tickets for this one are £32.50.
The Leicester Square Theatre sits right next door to the cinema. Known by this name since 2008 it was previously The Venue but has also been a music venue and a French cultural centre with connections to the church next door! Today there are shows – theatre, music, comedy and cabaret in both the main auditorium and the lounge. Tickets start from just £10. The Museum of Comedy shows are even cheaper but it’s at a different venue – underneath St George’s Church, Bloomsbury.
To the right of the theatre can be found Notre Dame de France, the tranquil place I mentioned at the top of this post. As you walk in the door you can hear classical music playing which makes you forget you are in such a busy area. This Catholic Church is one of two French churches in the area; the other being the French Protestant Church in Soho Square.
Lastly, and not really hidden but known to all is the Society of London Theatres Half-Price Tickets Booth. Now known as TKTs it is on the same side of Leicester Square as the reference library mentioned above. I’m sure most Londoners know that this is the official booth, do not be persuaded by imitators. If you would like to learn more about Theatreland and its history the Westminster Guides have recently started leading weekly walks from the TKTS booth. More details here.
Is there somewhere in this area that I have missed? Please comment below.
If you want to explore this area more I will be leading my Soho Foodie & Bar Themed History Walk on Saturday 19th August at 4pm. This walk starts in Chinatown. Booking details of this and all my upcoming public walks can be found here
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. Details of all walks bookable by groups are listed here
Earlier this month I returned to the seaside town of Swanage, Dorset for the first time since a family holiday in the seventies.
I have limited memories of the Swanage from my childhood but do remember the name Mowlem which is the name commemorated on various buildings. Re-visiting in 2016 I immediately realised the London connection.
Born in Swanage in 1788 John Mowlem founded the eponymous company known country-wide for its construction work. The company were in business from 1822 until 2005 and are responsible for many major building projects in London and further afield.
Mowlem’s nephew George Burt (also from Swanage) later joined the business and it is Burt that we have to thank for bringing so much of old London to Swanage amongst his other accomplishments. In fact Thomas Hardy called him the King of Swanage.
Part of Mowlem’s business was shipping Dorset’s famous Purbeck stone to London for use as a building material. It is what they decided to use as ballast for the way back which is interesting.
Durlston Country Park and Castle are about a mile from Swanage pier and are well worth visiting. The castle was built by George Burt after his retirement in 1886 and in 2011 it was refurbished using Heritage Lottery Fund money. It is in a stunning setting and there is lots to do there. It reminded me in some ways of Portmeirion as it does seem a bit of a folly.
The Great Globe, Durlston
Sitting outside the lovely cafe I realised we were surrounded by bollards – that is bollards with London identities.
I later discovered there are many more bollards to be found in Swanage but this was not all that had been brought to Swanage from London. There was much much more.
Depending on what route you take back from Durlston Castle to Swanage you may come across this tower, now unfortunately in the middle of a private housing development.
Although the clock has been long removed it is known as the Wellington Clock Tower. It was built in 1854 to commemorate the Duke of Wellington and originally stood on the south side of London Bridge. However it proved to be a bit of a traffic hazard and was brought to Swanage and re-erected here in 1860. There is much more about the history of the Clock Tower on Dorset Life’s blog here. This history threw up another conundrum for me. Burt presented it to his friend Thomas Docwra. Readers who know St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell will know that name and will also know that the construction firm Clancy Docwra can trace their roots back to the Thomas Docwra who was prior at the Clerkenwell Order of St John when it was rebuilt by him in 1504. This link does seem to show that the Victorian Docwra was involved in the building trade but I feel more research is needed. This is what happens when you research stuff you end up going on massive tangents!
Back to my Swanage trip. The Wellington Clock Tower is probably the largest item to have been transplanted from London to Swanage but the frontage of Swanage Town Hall can’t be far behind. The centrepiece of the town hall originally adorned the Mercers’ Hall in the City of London. Cheapside was being widened and the Mercers’ Hall was to be partly rebuilt so Burt brought the frontage back to Swanage for re-use. Scroll to 1881 on the Mercers’ Hall’s 700 year history for more details about the rebuilding.
My favourite part of the George Burt story and old London in Swanage is the Purbeck House Hotel. Burt had acquired a previous house on the site but decided that it wasn’t grand enough so in 1875 instructed Weymouth architect G.R Crickmay to design a new house. After Burt’s death in 1894 his descendants continued to live in the house until 1935. Between 1935 and 1994 it was a convent for the Sisters of Mercy and in 1994 it was bought for conversion into a hotel.
This quote from the hotel’s website sums the place up “The building itself is a mixture of the grand and eccentric, an outward manifestation of the power and wealth of the the mid-Victorian entrepreneur.”
Pevsner who always comes up with a good description of buildings he doesn’t like describes the building as “High Victorian at its most rebarbative”. I confess I had to look up “rebarbative” which means unattractive and objectionable!
However I loved it!
It is rather like a hotel version of Sir John Soane’s Museum which is one of my favourite London museums.
It certainly is a quirky place and I am so pleased that the hotel owners have left so many of its original features. We popped in for a drink in what turned out to be a fairly modern bar but had this amazing wooden structure on one wall which was so big I could only photograph half of it. It is possibly a remnant from the house’s time as a convent.
The following photos show unusual decoration for the corridor leading to the toilets – showing Burt’s motto which was “Know Thyself” – and the tiled entrance hall which is a copy of a Roman pavement found by Mowlems while building Queen Victoria Street in 1869.
There were also fabulous remnants of a Victorian household such as an old Clerkenwell clock and the servants’ bells. Just look at the names of the rooms.
There is so much that we didn’t see on our quick evening visit. More about the building and the bizarre objects that Burt filled it with can be found in another fascinating post on Dorset Life’s website.
The hotel’s prices are very reasonable – in fact not too much more than what I paid for a b&b so next time I visit I will definitely stay there.
Exploring the London remnants was enough to keep me busy but there are loads more reasons to visit Swanage aside from the lovely beaches and calm sea. The cliff walk to Old Harry’s Rocks was brilliant, the open top bus ride back was exhilarating, there was also the old-fashioned pier museum and also our clifftop walk to the quirky Square & Compass pub.
Arriving by steam train is another reason! The line from London to Swanage closed in January 1972. However over the past 40 odd years volunteers have been rebuilding the line and the stations. It isn’t just a novelty line but a much needed part of the transport infrastructure in this part of Dorset. During summer weekends steam trains run every 40 minutes whilst the rest of the week they are interspersed with diesel trains. By June 2017 the line will run all the way from Wareham to Swanage.
It is not just the fact there are steam trains but it is the whole experience with the rebuilt stations, signal boxes and well turned out station staff.
Lastly I found prices much cheaper than London – my bed and breakfast in a single room with more or less my own bathroom was £40 a night. I stayed at the appropriately named Sunny Bay in Cluny Crescent more or less opposite the YHA where my friends stayed!
I think I have just created an advert for the Swanage tourist board – if there is one!
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide.
Having spent Open House Saturday leading two ninety minute walks around Secret Victoria I decided to concentrate my Open House visits locally today. I visited two very different sites but each with something in common – their former grounds are now part of Epping Forest.
Although only about 4 miles from where I live in Chingford, I am ashamed to say I have barely visited Wanstead. In my defence it is a little awkward to get to by public transport either involving a train and a long walk, two buses or in my case today a bus, a tube and a 10 minute walk.
Wanstead House – if only it still existed, if only Catherine Tylney-Long hadn’t married a spendthrift …
Today as part of Open House weekend I discovered what was left of Wanstead House’s park on an excellent walk organised by the Corporation of London in their role as custodians for Epping Forest.
If the house hadn’t been demolished because of the family’s debts it would certainly have put Wanstead on the map today as a tourist destination being a significant Palladian house whose history connected it to many significant people.
The clues to the house’s whereabouts are in some places obvious, in others less so, so the walk was an excellent introduction to its history.
The grounds of the house are still evident in part – three sweet chestnut trees planted in 1720 were the first evidence we saw of the former grounds of the house. These three trees can be seen on George Green opposite a building confusingly named Wanstead House formerly known as West Ham Hall as the previous owner came from West Ham.
Part of the former grounds to the original Wanstead House and the actual site of the house are now within Wanstead Golf Club and not accessible to the public. However from the atmospheric graveyard within the St Mary the Virgin Church we could spot the dip in the land where the house used to stand; apparently every last brick was sold.
Our walk then took us into Wanstead Park which is managed by the Corporation of London as part of Epping Forest and we could really get a sense of the grounds of the house. We saw a ruined grotto which had been built to look like a ruin but unfortunately caught fire in 1884 just after the Corporation of London took it over so it really is a ruin now.
Our walk finished at the building known as The Temple. This contained a fascinating exhibition about its history which can be read here.
Just hearing about William’s obituary is enough to make you want to find out more about the fascinating history of the house and its occupants. Published on 2nd July 1857 in the Morning Chronicle it read:
“A spendthrift, a profilgate, and a gambler in his youth, he became debauched in his manhood … redeemed by no single virtue, adorned by no single grace, his life gone out even without a flicker of repentance.”
Last year my sister recommended a book to me “The Angel and the Cad” by Geraldine Roberts about the notorious spendthrift with the ridiculous name William-Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley and I am already a big fan of Geraldine’s husband’s blog Wicked William.
According to Wikipedia Pole-Tlyney-Long-Wellesley died in Thayer Street, Marylebone so if I can find the house he died in that will be enough reason for me to include his story on a future Marylebone walk. There is already a tenuous link to him on my Chingford walk.
Later today I visited another house whose former grounds are also part of Epping Forest. Woodford County High School for Girls was formerly known as Highams, and its grounds were landscaped by Humphry Repton. The school still has quite extensive grounds but Repton’s landscaping included what is now Highams Park Lake which is today accessible to all.
It was so good to see inside a building which I had glimpsed from afar whilst going past on the 179.
Although the school did seem small for the number of pupils and staff it was fascinating to see evidence of its former lives both as a house – at one time owned by Courtenay Warner responsible for much house building in Walthamstow – and also as a Red Cross hospital during the First World War.
Our tour led by enthusiastic Year 12 pupils took us all over the school. We all loved the library which was the former master bedroom, and the Greek Theatre.
It just shows you that there is so much to see in London even on your own doorstep.
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide.
You might think that there would be nothing hidden from view in the vicinity of Oxford Street being one of London’s busiest thoroughfares.
Suprisingly there is. Each of these 3 great cafes is just off Oxford Street – the furthest being probably 2 minutes’ walk away.
Apricot, 136 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0LA
Firstly my favourite has to be Apricot which is a lovely lunchtime spot for great home-made salads. Apricot is on the east side of Charing Cross Road close to the junction with Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. According to Google maps they are on the corner of Denmark Place, however Denmark Place is long gone. The cafe is now slap bang next to the Crossrail building works which are gradually encroaching on their space. When I first discovered the cafe last year they had a sheltered outside area. This has now been absorbed into the building works and they are left with a much smaller outside area on the main road. However I never have a problem getting a seat within.
It is very easy to miss this cafe but it is on the opposite side of the road to the American coffee chain beginning with S, a Superdrug and the amazingly still open (and slightly hidden itself) Royal George pub.
What Apricot do best are their lunchboxes. A small box at £4.50 (same price for eat in and takeaway) is ample. You get a choice of several hot dishes – usually salmon, veggie or chicken – and then 2 salads on top of that plus hummus or tzatziki. The salads change every day and are imaginative and tasty.
Apart from the food I love this cafe as the staff are so friendly and recognise and chat to their regular customers which is another reason to return frequently.
There are lots more photos on TripAdvisor including their gorgeous salads and they show how the cafe has shrunk with the encroaching building work. It is a great place for lunch especially if you’re veggie and you will see me in there at least once a week. The cafe is open Monday to Saturday.
SoHostel Coffee Club, 91 Dean Street W1D 3SY
Another cafe almost swallowed up by Crossrail is at the Oxford Street end of Dean Street. This cafe doesn’t have much in the way of signage apart from a blackboard and because of the nearness of the building works it is very easily missed. The pic below is from Google Streetview 4 years ago. The cafe has definitely been tarted up since then although there is much less signage today.
Don’t be put off by the fact it is connected to the hostel which is in the building to the left. I am always somewhat surprised that even with the very cheap food – baked potato, salad and a coffee for around £5 – it is generally very quiet in there.
The decor is lovely, the music is good, the food is cheap, the wifi is free plus all profits from the cafe go to the Arlington homeless charity.
The last hidden(ish) cafe in this post is in Margaret Street, on the Fitzrovia side of Oxford Street.
The Word Cafe, 83 Margaret Street W1
This cafe is hidden in that it is within the London Jesus Centre and although there is a big banner on the outside advertising the fact there is a cafe within, it is very easy to walk past it. It is close to the junction with Marylebone Passage and Wells Street.
Take the steps down to the basement entrance and you will walk directly into the cafe. What is special about this place is its peaceful courtyard. You are again yards from Oxford Street but you would never guess.
The food is extremely well priced – I had a vegetable curry for £5.50 – and apart from a lunch stop it would be a good place to stop for coffee mid shopping spree. It is open Monday to Friday only.
I know I said at the top this was 3 hidden(ish) cafes but I can’t finish without mentioning the French cafe, Chez Mamie, which is in Hanway Street close to Tottenham Court Road station. This lovely cafe has recently got busier which of course is a good thing. The food is good but probably not as cheap as the other places mentioned but worth visiting nonetheless. There is a lot of building work going on in Hanway Street and it is often closed to traffic but it is definitely worth venturing down. There is an interesting two part blogpost on the history of Hanway Street on the Survey of London’s new blog here.
Of course there are other cafes to mention at the other end of Oxford Street but they will follow in a separate blog post in due course. However if you know of any more at the east end of the street please comment below.
If you have enjoyed reading about these cafes you might be interested in coming on one of my walks as they generally feature both historical information and mentions of off the beaten track cafes, cocktail bars etc.
One place where you may not expect to find bargains is Mayfair and next week, on 11th August, as part of Afternoon Tea Week I will be leading my Gingerbread and Tea – a Mayfair stroll walk. Why not join me? More details and how to book are here.
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide.
London is surprisingly full of hidden artwork sometimes so tucked away that I do wonder if the only people to actually notice it are those on my walks.
Although my walk tomorrow evening is entitled Gingerbread and Tea a food & drink themed walk around Mayfair I will also take you off the beaten track and include a number of these hidden sculptures – including some that always provoke a gasp from the group as they come into view.
The two that I have photographed below are slightly less hidden – not far away from fashionable New Bond Street – but still not obvious from the main road. Have you seen them before?
They are entitled “Sun” and “Moon” and are by artist Richard Kindersley. The Sun sculpture is inspired by the May solstice fairs which were celebrated in the area now known as Mayfair.
Do you want to discover more of Mayfair off the beaten track away from the main thoroughfares? It’s not too late to book a place on my walk tomorrow.
When I ticked the box to be an “occasional volunteer” for the RNLI I hadn’t anticipated ending up with a role that involves finding and coordinating collectors in the City of London for their collecting day in April now known as Mayday.
I realised my mistake when I was introduced to a number of people via email but by that point it didn’t seem right to pull out. My initial thought was it can’t be that hard.
However it has proved much harder than anticipated to persuade people to give up a few hours of their day to stand with a collecting tin.
I wonder if people don’t equate the RNLI as being connected with London or if they even know it’s a charity. The fact is that the busiest lifeboat station in the country is Tower RNLI – now on the north bank near Waterloo Bridge – and it is solely funded by donations.
I have volunteered on a couple of occasions before during the Thames Festival at Tower RNLI and wrote this blog post a couple of years ago which details more about what they do.
I am still looking for volunteers so if you can spare a couple of hours at either Bank, Moorgate, Cannon Street or Liverpool Street Stations please sign up via the links. Once you are on the Eventbrite page click “Register” and this brings up the various time slots divided over the day. At the time of writing they still need 30 volunteers at Liverpool Street, 19 at Cannon Street, 15 at Moorgate and 4 at Bank so any help anyone can give will be much appreciated.
I will be stationed (pun intended) at Liverpool Street on the 26th April “looking after” the collectors. Say hello if you’re passing through!
Next time I will ensure I know what is involved before volunteering!
There is a misconception amongst many people I know that black taxis are expensive. However if you compare their service to other trades when you want quality then you get what you pay for.
People seem happy to pay a premium rate for a particular make of phone, expensive drinks at hotels, branded clothes etc but when it comes to making a journey in Central London all their principles go out of the window and for many people cheap is best.
It is inconceivable that people seem happy to get into a private hire vehicle whose driver has little or no knowledge of London and then spends hours driving round trying to find their way with the result that the passenger is stressed and the journey is not cheap. There have been many instances recently where private hire drivers have no knowledge of famous landmarks such as the Tower of London, the Shard, Buckingham Palace etc. How can it be that they are able to have a job driving in London with so little knowledge of the locality.
Taxis or Hackney Carriages are the only form of cabs that are legally allowed to be hailed from the street or from a rank. They can also be booked through a taxi company by phone or through an app.
Private Hire (minicabs) can only be pre-booked and must not ply for hire. This is so that details of the journey can be booked as required by law.
The argument that the difficult Knowledge that London’s licensed taxi drivers have to pass is dated is ludicrous. For example a sat nav just does not work in the tightly packed medieval streets in the City. It is also dangerous to drive in a busy city like London with one eye on your sat nav which is evidenced by the number of private hire vehicles having accidents going through red lights, down one-way streets the wrong way, onto the pavement etc. People have been killed and seriously injured already. This needs to stop.
It’s not just the Knowledge that makes taxis superior to private hire drivers but the fact that their character is assessed over the years they are studying. How many other professions could you hand your keys to and ask them to deliver the keys without worrying that they would get a set cut on the way and then break in later?
There are people who say they haven’t had problems with the charlatan private hire firm to whom I am referring but it beggars belief that they would rather take the chance of getting lost/involved in an accident or worse just to try to save a few quid. Just search #Ubered on Twitter and you will see what I mean.
In many cases a ride in a taxi especially if there is a group of you is cheaper than a private hire vehicle. It is certainly cheaper for a group to travel from Heathrow by taxi than by the Heathrow Express as the price is per cab not per person. You are also safe in the knowledge you will arrive at your destination in a timely manner and in one piece.
If you want to book your journey via an app then use Hailo, Gett or Cab App. In fact Hailo have been around since 2011 so were the first company to bring out a hailing app in London a year before Uber.
If you want to pay by credit card then 58% of the 25,000 black cabs already take cards and from October of this year it will be law for all taxis to have this facility.
TfL have a large part to play in this situation by giving Uber a licence when they didn’t fulfil all the necessary criteria including having a landline telephone to take bookings amongst other things.
TfL are also issuing 100s of new private hire licences a week. Have you noticed how clogged up London is recently? How can TfL possibly have suitably checked all these applicants thoroughly. It’s impossible. Many of these drivers are immigrants who come from countries who for various reasons are not able to supply information required as to criminal records etc so TfL feel that they should licence them anyway. This is unbelievable.
How is there enough work to go round anyway? Even in the suburbs where I live there are Uber drivers lurking on the streets, parked in disabled bays and residents’ parking bays waiting for a fare to pop-up on their screen. There have also been instances of them chucking bottles of their urine into front gardens and even worse defecating in the gardens. How disgusting.
From the mouths of their own representatives Uber drivers are earning less than the minimum wage averaging just over £5 an hour. Because of this many are claiming tax credits. Why should the rest of us law abiding taxpayers have to subsidise them. It’s not fair.
It’s not that taxi drivers are against competition – there has always been room for both taxis and local minicab firms – but the fact is it isn’t a level playing field anymore due to the issues I have highlighted above.
I am one of those people who just can’t stand by from the sidelines and will always get involved. I have no connection to the taxi trade other than having friends who are both taxi drivers and fellow guides but I want to do my bit to help in the long-term survival of the taxi trade.
Last year I joined the Save our Black Taxis Facebook group and last month a Crowdfunder action was started by Action for Cabbies in order to raise enough money so taxi drivers can start judicial review proceedings against TfL for failing to enforce the law. I have pledged and also took part in a photo shoot outside City Hall to promote the campaign. (I’m at the back in the red hoodie with grey gloves.)
Following on from this, this coming Saturday, 27th February at 11am I will be leading a 90 minute walk around the hidden alleyways and courts of Covent Garden in order to raise funds for the Crowdfunder action. All I ask is that you pledge a minimum of £10 or more if you can afford it. More details are here. The walk is now two-thirds full so if you want to come don’t delay in booking.
If you care about London, its traditions and the continuing freeflowing function of a capital city which is now grinding to a halt through the actions of the Mayor and TfL please pledge and come along on my walk. However if you can’t make it why not pledge anyway. Any money pledged won’t be taken until 14th March. http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/action-for-cabbies/?