Have you ever noticed that the sign hanging outside Twinings’ shop on the Strand shows that it sells coffee as well as tea?
In fact Twinings started off as a coffee house and if it wasn’t for a recession in weaving in Gloucestershire the business may not have been established at all.
Thomas Twining founder of the business was born in Painswick, Gloucestershire in 1675. His father Daniel was a weaver; in fact for many generations the Twining family had been weavers in that same area. The family had been based in Painswick for many hundreds of years. Before that they came from Twyning near Tewkesbury (pronounced Twinning).
Daniel obviously wanted his sons to follow him into this business but the recession hit and in 1684 he made the decision to move to London. The family settled in St Giles Cripplegate.
Daniel’s eldest son also called Daniel started an apprenticeship with a weaver and on becoming a freeman of the City of London took on a job as a lace weaver. His younger brother Thomas was then apprenticed to him. Following Daniel Jr’s death in 1695 Thomas was then apprenticed to Daniel’s former master John Dowse.
Thomas had started his apprenticeship at age 19 which may seem rather old. It is thought that this was to enable him to become a freeman as without such an attribute he would be unable to follow any trade within the City walls.
In 1701 Thomas attained this and started working for Thomas D’Aeth a wealthy East Indian merchant based in Cripplegate and Philpot Lane.
5 years later he had acquired enough business knowledge to set up by himself and took over management of Tom’s Coffee House situated in Devereux Court off the Strand roughly behind where Twinings is today. This was a good move as after the Great Fire of London in 1666 all the wealthy people were moving west. This coffee house was on the western border of the City. It should not be confused with another Tom’s Coffee House which was in Russell Street, Covent Garden not that far away.
At that time there were many coffee houses in London but Thomas did something a bit different. He introduced tea. From gaining knowledge whilst working with an East Indian merchant he had a feeling that tea was going to be the next big thing. It was very expensive and although the price was dropping slowly as the imported volume increased it wouldn’t drop substantially until the Commutation Act of 1784 when the tax was substantially reduced from over 100% to 25%. Until that time legally obtained tea was for the rich only and poorer people acquired it on the black market. After the taxes were reduced which came about after many conversations between the Prime Minister William Pitt and one of Thomas’ descendants Richard, the smuggling trade ceased and the legal trading of tea increased exponentially.
Back to Thomas in 1706. There were enough rich people around when Thomas started selling tea and so he made enough money to open a shop next door to the coffee house with entrances from Devereux Court and Palsgrave Head Court which was parallel. Thomas had put his money into property which seemed the safest way to invest.
This new shop at the sign of the Golden Lion opened in 1717 and meant that women who were prohibited from entering coffee houses were able to visit the shop either to take tea on the premises or to buy dry tea or coffee for consumption later. As tea was so expensive they generally wouldn’t want to trust their servants to buy it for them.
The undated wrapper below dates from between 1734 and 1741. The shop name changed depending on what members of the family were running it. Thomas’s son Daniel joined the firm in 1734 and Thomas died in 1741. Looking at the history of the Twining family it can get rather confusing as they did like to recycle the Christian names!
Looking at this wrapper they were covering all bases by selling ‘healthy’ spa waters and less healthy alcohol. The spa waters, which were sometimes described as spaw waters, came from many different places. Pyrmont water was from Bad Pyrmont in Northern Germany and was naturally carbonated.
Arrack was a popular drink in the 1700s often used as a base for punch and sometimes preferred to rum. Depending on where the Arrack came from it had different ingredients. Batavian Arrack is from Java and is distilled from sugarcane and fermented red rice. Arrack from Sri Lanka is made from fermented coconut sap. I was very surprised to discover that both these types are still available from good off licences such as Gerry’s in Old Compton Street Soho. I don’t think it’s as popular now as it was then as in the year 1715-16 Twinings sold 240 gallons!
It is amazing to think that in 2018 the Twining family are still running the shop. However not all members of the Twining family were interested in joining the business.
Thomas’s grandson, also called Thomas (1735-1804), went to university and became a cleric, a linguist, a letter writer and a musician. Some of his letters were later edited into book form by one of his descendants.
Two sisters Elizabeth and Louisa Twining (1805-1899 and 1820-1912) were noted philanthropists and much more besides.
The sisters’ great grandmother Mary Twining (née Little) married into the family and as a widow of the original Thomas’s son Daniel, ran the company by herself for 21 years from 1762 to 1783. I wanted to find out more about Mary and I know she wrote a diary but enquiries at Twinings’ shop came to nothing. The book where I gleaned much of my information ‘Two Hundred and Fifty Years of Tea and Coffee” published in 1956 has just one sentence about her. If anyone reading this can enlighten me as to where I can find out more about her life please let me know.
It was Mary’s son Richard Twining, called away from his studies at Eton age 14 to help his mother with the business, who later became Chairman of the London Tea Dealers and who was consulted by Pitt regarding proposals which led to the Commutation Act mentioned above.
It was also this Richard Twining who in 1787 moved the entrance from the side of the shop to the Strand where it is today and came up with the famous design featuring the lion and the two Chinamen which we all know. He also decided not to use an apostrophe.
Reading extracts from some of the ledgers reproduced in the 1956 book it is no surprise to me that they branched into banking and in 1825 Twinings Bank opened next door. There was a connecting door between the businesses and it wasn’t unusual for a cheque to be cashed and part given in cash and part in tea or coffee. The bank lasted until 1892 when it was absorbed into Lloyd’s.
Today the shop is very much a tourist destination and although their teas can be bought in every supermarket the shop has a wider choice of teas which are mostly displayed in more decorative packaging. There is also a small museum at the rear of the shop. The 10th generation of the family still run the business but it has been part of Associated British Foods since the 1960s.
This is just a brief summary of the history of Twinings and was put together by me to deliver at London Historians’ retail themed History in the Pub on 21st August 2018. I had just 8 minutes to deliver and needless to say I didn’t manage to say all that I wanted to, hence this blog post.
Like many people I know I always want to discover something new and in relation to my guided walks it’s always a bonus to discover something that you have never noticed before on a well trodden route.
Back in early April on the morning of the day that I was going to lead my ‘From Monoux & Morris to Beer & Bacon Jam’ guided walk around Walthamstow I had a message from artist Maud Milton who told me that she had just unveiled some mosaics on Church Hill and thought I might like to know. Maud came along on the walk and my group were all suitably impressed by the works which were created by Maud and pupils and staff at Walthamstow School for Girls. The designs of the mosaics are all connected in some way to the local area and history: Epping Forest, Walthamstow Wetlands, William Morris, his daughter May Morris and ceramicist William de Morgan are all represented.
I have been leading this walk about once a month and last Saturday I was very pleased to discover that another 5 wonderful mosaics had been unveiled. What a treat. Look closely at the butterflies pictured below – can you see swimmers and boxers? These particular tiles were donated by former Walthamstow resident and ceramic artist alicemaraceramics
These mosaics were all created by volunteers both from schools and in the community. There is much more about this wonderful project on Maud’s instagram account including lots of great interviews with local people.
This isn’t just a Walthamstow project but is happening in other areas of London too. Artyface Community Art – what a brilliant way to get the community involved and bring some colour to otherwise drab streets.
If you would like to see these mosaics ‘in the flesh’ and learn more about the history of Walthamstow I will be repeating my ‘From Monoux and Morris to Beer & Bacon Jam’ Walthamstow walk on Saturday 29th September 2018. A link to the page showing this and any future walks can be found here
This is the third version of my Beginner’s Guide which I originally put together in 2012. 6 years on there are many different ways of sharing content apart from Facebook and Twitter but I for one continue to use these two formats.
I am often asked have I got guiding work via social media? The answer is yes. However it’s not instant. Like in real life you have to build relationships and trust.
In the 9 years since I qualified as a tour guide I continue to come across tour guides who have got good websites but are lacking in customers due to not doing any promotion of said websites. There is still some place for word of mouth advertising and posters in coffee shops etc but there are so many tour guides out there now that you need to do all you can to attract customers. It is of course the same with other businesses. Social media is generally free and an effective way at building up a following. You do have to work at it though and it does help if you find yourself a niche.
The main recent change to Twitter is that there are now 280 characters to play with rather than 140. This is a game changer. This means that I don’t have to spend ages trying to fit a sentence into the required length without compromising on the grammar. It makes it much easier to compose a tweet.
How to set yourself up on Twitter
Back in 2010 when I joined Twitter “WestminsterWalks” was too long for my Twitter ID so I became @WWalks. Things have changed since then and last year the limit increased to 50 characters! Hmmm I could change my ID and there would be no loss of followers but I’m so used to being @WWalks and often introduce myself by that rather than my name! So whatever you choose as your ID can be changed but if you have a lot of followers you should definitely create a second ‘dummy’ account in your original name with a message saying something like ‘now tweeting as …’ to stop someone bathing in your success by impersonating you! I have just seen evidence of this but that’s a long story that I won’t go into here.
You don’t have to put your real name on the sign-up page but whatever you put will appear next to your Twitter ID on your tweets. If you use your real name in this way people that don’t know your Twitter ID will still be able to find you. I have a slight problem with my name because there is an expert psychiatrist with the same name as me. Even though I am @WWalks and my website is all about tour guiding I still get emails and even phone calls from people thinking I am the other one. I have had several cross-purpose conversations!
Once you are signed up create a short profile stating what you do and ideally include a link to your website. It is also preferable to have a photo to show you’re serious about Twitter. You could maybe use a logo if you don’t want to use a personal photo.
How to start
Even before you are following anyone and have no followers it’s best to do one or two tweets introducing yourself so potential followers can see who you are. You could just say something about what you’re up to or have a link to your website. If people look at your profile and you haven’t tweeted yet they are unlikely to follow you.
If you click on “Home” you will see a box at the top with your photo to the left of it. Inside the box are the words ‘What’s happening’. This is where you create your tweet. On my iPhone you need to click on the quill pen in the top right hand corner – other phones may show this differently.
The format of tweets has considerably changed in the last few years. Most tweets now have an image and in my experience these are the ones that are noticed.
What to Tweet
I tweet about walks coming up but I also tweet about things I find of interest in London and think worth sharing. Reply to others’ tweets (the option to “reply” is underneath each tweet), get involved and share information via the re-tweet button. If people realise you are willing to share they are more likely to reciprocate. There is now an option to add a comment – up to 280 characters – to a re-tweet. It is definitely worth pinning a tweet to the top, maybe with your upcoming walks which is what I have done.
Click on the picture of the bell and you will see who has re-tweeted you, followed you, liked your tweets etc. If you want you can change the settings so that you receive a text or an email each time someone mentions you although personally I don’t like this as it can get out of hand.
Who to Follow
As you start following people they will in most cases follow you back. However don’t automatically follow everyone that follows you. Check out their tweets first – are you interested in what they have to say or could they be useful to you. It’s also worth checking when they last tweeted – anything more than a few months ago means their account is probably dormant.
I started off by following lots of museums, London themed websites such as Ian Visits, Londonist and London Historians, hotels, London enthusiasts and also fellow Westminster Guides. As my walks are mainly food and drink themed I also follow lots of cafes, cocktail bars and restaurants. Since 2013 I have been doing local walks too so now follow lots of Walthamstow and Chingford based businesses and history societies.
People use Twitter in different ways. I dip in and out, others try to read every single tweet in their timeline. This is impossible. Yes I do follow over 3000 accounts but I have managed somehow not to get addicted. I am not an expert on Twitter by any means. In fact I’ve just discovered a whole section by clicking on the cog symbol on my phone about filtering out ‘low quality’ tweets! However from the screenshots below it seems to contradict Twitter’s new rule about not allowing duplicate tweets. I should add that depending on how you access Twitter ie via a laptop, a tablet or a phone some of the menus are slightly different.
It is unusual now to see a tweet without a hashtag and I try to have at least one in every tweet. Have you ever seen adverts with a “#” in front of a phrase and wondered what it meant. Well, this is a way of categorising tweets. If you are attending a talk or conference there is likely to be a specific hashtag so all tweets about the event that include that hashtag will be grouped together. I can’t watch TV now without following comments about that programme on Twitter at the same time! I’m not sure why Twitter thinks I am interested in Leyton Orient though!
What a treasure trove the British Newspaper Archive is!
My aunt’s connection to Agatha Christie
Sadly it was only after my Mum’s death in 2016 that I discovered that her sister had a stage name – Joanna Derrill. Mum had talked about Joan meeting Agatha Christie and once I knew her stage name I found more information. Agatha Christie attended the premiere of Hidden Horizons at the Dundee Repertory Theatre in 1944. When it arrived at the Ambassadors Theatre in London it then became Murder on the Nile. Aunty Joan (Joanna Derrill) performed in both the Dundee and London productions. The Ambassadors later became the first home of the Mousetrap until it moved in the 1970s around the corner to St Martin’s Theatre.
This year for the third year running myself and fellow City of Westminster Guide (and Taxi Tour Guide) Ray Coggin will again be leading a Christmas Lights walk for charity.
This year we have chosen to support the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. This is quite a small charity but one that makes a big impact on the people they help.
The London Taxi Benevolent Association For War Disabled as it was known until 2016 was formed in 1948. In that first year 25 taxi drivers volunteered their taxis and their time to take disabled veterans to Worthing and Brighton.
Sixty nine years later in 2017 90 licensed taxi drivers volunteered their time and taxis and took180 military war veterans on a day to remember in Worthing. You can see from these photos what a great day everyone had.
It’s not just about trips to the seaside though – the charity organises many other events for veterans including trips to the battlefields. This amazing video of their trip to the Normandy Beaches in June of this year gives an idea of what trips like these mean to these veterans. 90 taxis took 250 veterans back to Normandy. This will be the last trip of this size as the youngest veteran is aged 90 and many of them are becoming too frail to make such a trip. Scrolling through the pages of the Taxi Charity’s website and listening to some of their radio interviews on YouTube you can begin to see what this charity does for these veterans.
On Saturday 9th December at 5pm we will be leading a special Christmas Lights walk around the streets of the West End. All the money raised will be donated to the Taxi Charity. We are collecting the money via BT Donate.
As at 4th December we have raised £134 and have 14 people booked on our Christmas Lights walk. We would love to raise a bit more money and in exchange show you the Christmas delights of the West End mostly off the beaten track and away from the hordes. The walk includes hidden passages, superbly decorated posh shops and lots of historical snippets. The Christmas theme continues throughout and there will be a mince pie or two to help us on our way. All we are asking is a minimum donation of £8 per person. Please donate here and then email me – firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how many people are coming. Thank you in advance.
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
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
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.