London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Family history gems from the British Newspaper Archive

What a treasure trove the British Newspaper Archive is!

I have just searched my maternal grandfather’s name (Henry Fotheringham Ferguson) and discovered the Dundee Evening Telegraph’s report of my aunt’s wedding in August 1945. Aunty Joan was an actress (using the stage name Joanna Derrill) and this does read a bit like a celebrity report with details of what both my aunt and her bridesmaid (my Mum to be) were wearing.
“The wedding of Miss Joanna Derrill and Mr Antony Groser – two members of Dundee Repertory Company – took place in Edinburgh to-day. 
The bride, whose own name is Miss Joan Ferguson, is the elder daughter of Dr and Mrs Henry Fotheringham Ferguson, 21 Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, and the bridegroom is the younger son of Rev. St John Beverley Groser, St George’s-in-the-East, London E1, and of Mrs Groser.
Ceremony, which was in St John’s Episcopal Church, was conducted by the bridegroom’s father, assisted by the rector of the church, Rev. S Harvie Clark. 
A beautiful Elizabethan gown of white moire silk taffeta was worn by the bride, whose father gave her away. The full skirt swept into a small train over which rippled her veil, surmounted by a wreath of orange blossom. Deep red roses composed her bouquet. 
Miss Margaret Ferguson, sister of the bride, was bridesmaid. Her graceful gown of silver and pale blue brocaded satin was cut on princess lines and showed large puff sleeves. Her pastel tinted hair wreath toned with the sweet peas in her Victorian posy.
Mr Michael Groser, brother of the groom, was best man, and the ushers were Dr Kinnier Ferguson (uncle of the bride), and Mr George Beith (cousin of the bride). 
The reception was in the bride’s home.
For travelling the bride donned a lightweight grey tweed suit striped with yellow with toning accessories.”
Dundee Evening Telegraph 20 August 1945

Dundee Evening Telegraph 20 August 1945

This one newspaper report also answered a question that had bugged me a few years back.  On a London Historians’ tour of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in E14 a few years ago I noticed the name “Groser” on a list of names on the wall. I remember wondering if this was a relation to my Uncle Tony married to Mum’s sister Joan. The Dundee newspaper article gives my uncle’s father’s name and on a quick internet search I have discovered that St John Beverley Groser was described both as “the best-known priest in the East End [of London]” and “one of the most significant Christian socialist figures in twentieth-century Britain”. He also had a separate career as an actor and played Thomas Becket in the 1951 film Murder in the Cathedral.
As far as I know I never met Uncle Tony’s father and he died in March 1966 when I wasn’t even 4 years old.

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.

Dundee Evening Telegraph 18 January 1944

Dundee Evening Telegraph 18 January 1944

Tatler 3rd April 1946. Review of Murder on the Nile at the Ambassadors.

Tatler 3rd April 1946. Review of Murder on the Nile at the Ambassadors.

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 

Charity Christmas Lights Walk 2017

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 – to let me know how many people are coming. Thank you in advance.

South Molton Street Christmas 2017

Lancashire Court 2017 Bond Street Christmas 2017

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 

Why I slept out for Centrepoint

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.

Team SM&B minus me

Somehow I missed the team photo!

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.

View of the O2 from the Sleep Out site

View of the O2 from the Sleep Out site

The leader board

The leader board

Bedtime story with Caitlin Moran and friends

Bedtime story with Caitlin Moran and friends

However the temperature dropped rapidly overnight and it became a very different story.

About to try to get to sleep

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 

Foodie Themed Christmas Lights Walks December 2017

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.

Bond Street Christmas lights

Ribbon shop

Atkinsons Burlington Gardens

Lancashire Court

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…” 

Christmas Carnaby 2015

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 or send a message via my contact page

Saturday 9th December at 5pm – We led a special charity walk in aid of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. You can still donate here: christmaslightswalk

Mayfair Christmas

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 

4 free walks in one day?

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)

Screenshot 2017-10-03 22.32.55


Screenshot 2017-10-03 22.33.37

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 


9 non-touristy reasons why you should visit Leicester Square

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.

From Shore to Shore poster

China Exchange

Entrance to the China Exchange is at the far right of the photo










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.

IMG_3607 Westminster Reference Library











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

Dansey Place noodles

Lo's Noodle Factory, Dansey Place

Dansey Place sign

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.

Leon West End

Leon West End

Leon singer

Leon lunchtime singing











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.

Prince Charles Cinema

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.

Leicester Square Theatre

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.

Notre Dame de France, Leicester Place

Notre Dame de France, Leicester Place

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.

TKTS Half Price booth

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 

Old London by the Sea

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.

Durlston Castle

View from Durlston Castle

The Great Globe

The Great Globe, Durlston

Sitting outside the lovely cafe I realised we were surrounded by bollards – that is bollards with London identities.

City of London bollard, Durlston Castle

St James's bollard, Durlston Castle

St James’s bollard, Durlston Castle

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.

Wellington Clock Tower

Wellington Clock Tower

Wellington Clock Tower landside

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.

Swanage Town Hall with Mercers' Hall frontage

Swanage Town Hall with Mercers’ Hall frontage

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.


Entrance Hall

Entrance Hall

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.

Thwaites and Reed Clock,

Servants' bells, Purbeck House Hotel

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.

Old Harry's Rocks

Swanage Pier

Swanage Pier

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.

View of Steam Train from Corfe Castle

View of Steam Train from Corfe Castle

Signal Box, Corfe Castle

Signal Box, Corfe Castle

Ladies' waiting room, Corfe Castle

Ladies’ waiting room, Corfe Castle

Notice in Ladies' Waiting Room, Corfe Castle

Notice in Ladies’ Waiting Room, Corfe Castle

An accidental photo of the driver of engine 30053

An accidental photo of the driver of engine 30053

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!

Sea view from bed & breakfast

View from my room

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. 

Details of walks you can book for a private group can be found here and my upcoming public walks are here


Epping Forest and a Tale of Two Houses

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.

West Ham Hall Wanstead

The building formerly known as West Ham Hall, Wanstead

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.

St Mary the Virgin, Wanstead

St Mary the Virgin, Wanstead

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.

The Grotto, Wanstead Park

The Grotto, Wanstead Park

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.



Staircase up to the roof staircase_highams

Greek Theatre, Woodford County High School for Girls

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. 

Details of all  my group walks are listed here and upcoming public walks here


3 Hidden(ish) cafes near Oxford Street

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.

Apricot, Charing Cross Road

Apricot, Charing Cross Road

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.

Small lunchbox

Small lunchbox

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.

Screenshot 2016-08-01 23.29.47

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.

The Word Cafe - street view

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.

Courtyard at The Word Cafe, Margaret Street

Courtyard at The Word Cafe

The Word Cafe, Margaret Street

The Word Cafe, Margaret Street

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.

Lunch at the Word Cafe

Lunch at the Word Cafe

Menu, The Word Cafe

Menu, The Word Cafe

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. 

Details of all  my group walks are listed here and upcoming public walks here

Do you know where these are?

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?

Mayfair Moon sculpture

Mayfair Sun Sculpture

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. 

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and  Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. 

Details of all  my group walks are listed here and upcoming public walks here