Hidden London: Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia

It’s an odd experience when you follow a walk that includes both your street and your place of work. I suspect I hadn’t got round to doing the Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia walk because I figured I knew most of the facts the book would tell me. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong in my assumptions – I learnt a lot, and can now regale my family, friends and colleagues with new fun facts.

Thanks to the walk’s circular route, I was able to pick it up at the end of my street (where my almost-local pub was one of the listed highlights) and follow the loop around. Several of the listed places were simply roads, parks or squares that I’ve regularly travelled through (in fact, it included the three squares that form the backbone of my weekday running route), and as a result, I did skip bits.

The squares of Bloomsbury & FitzroviaSome of the squares of Bloomsbury/Fitzrovia: Gordon Square in the spring; Russell Square in the autumn; Bedford Square in mid-winter; and Fitzroy Square on a sunny Monday morning. 

The first surprise was that I learnt something new about my place of work! I was very pleased to see St George’s feature as a landmark on the walk and discovered that until 1875 the church hosted an annual Christmas dinner for chimney sweeps’ apprentices – according to the book the church ‘is still known as the chimney sweeps’ church’. I can’t say that it is, but I am aware of a plaque to chimney sweeps on the wall of the church kitchen.

St George's St George’s in the middle of winter – the only time it’s visible through the trees. 

I was also pointed towards a Ted Hughes quote in nearby Queens Square [incidentally, fascinating grammatical fact, the name does not have an apostrophe], forming part of a Jubilee memorial for the Queen (not the same Queen that the square is named for, obviously) and alluding to his ill-fated marriage to Sylvia Plath in the church. (This is my favourite St George’s fact, but other people in the church don’t like to mention it. However, having read the collected works & journals of Plath as a teenager, I was delighted to discover it.)

Queens Square Jubilee Monument

Very excitingly, one of my discoveries was London underground related! The book informed that the mysterious round buildings just off Tottenham Court Road, used as Eisenhower’s underground HQ during WW2, was originally a tunnel intended to be an express version of the Northern Line. An express Northern Line? Can you imagine the joy that would bring to commuters?!

Eisenhower Centre My main joy in this photo is the fact that ‘centre’ is spelt correctly, despite the American connotations! 

Then there’s the places I simply hadn’t heard of – like a hidden mews where the residents like to grow plants:

Coalville PlaceCoalville Place, just off Charlotte Street. 

Or Pollock’s Toy Museum and shop. I didn’t go in, but I admired the splash of colour it brought to an otherwise dull street:

Pollock's Toy Museum

When you know an area well, it’s also interesting what the book doesn’t choose to tell you. On this walk, you crossed Kingsway (the original, tram-related function of the Kingsway tunnel was referenced) to proceed across Red Lion Square to the Conway Hall. However, no mention was made of the interesting things to be found there. Admittedly, my initial excitement in discovering the square three years ago was fiction related. Fans of Ballet related literature of the twentieth century will no doubt be aware of the Drina Ballerina series, in which the erstwhile heroine attends a ballet school in no less a square than that of the Red Lion. For years as a child (and several as not quite a child) I revelled in the descriptions of Drina’s walk from Westminster to Kingsway. But there are other, factual facts of merit that could have been included.

For example, on the southern side of the square is a plaque marking a house in which the pre-Raphaelites lived – pretty notable, surely? Then there’s the statue at the main entrance to the square. Admittedly, I had to look it up, but the character depicted really is fascinating. Fenner Brockway is one of just a handful of ‘private’ individuals (as opposed to heads of state, etc) to have unveiled their own statue – largely owing to him living so long that the planning permission for a posthumous statue nearly ran out! He was an anti-war activist, politician and active member of the decolonisation campaign. The location of the statue is thanks to the square’s proximity to Conway Hall (a non-religious foundation and now home to The Sunday Assembly) and Brockway’s time as President of the British Humanist Association.

Fenner Brockway Red Lion SquareFenner Brockway, and the pigeons. 

Obviously, in some parts of London there are simply too many fascinating facts to include!

Friday Fun for lovers of London

Having taken a break from the joys of London and its transport last week, this week’s Friday Fun is a smorgasboard of such delights. This morning we’ll begin in time honoured fashion with something involving the tube map…

What if the tube map told the truth?

True Tube MapI’d say some of these are pretty accurate. I particularly liked Great Portland Street’s ‘Neither Here Nor There’. So true. 

Also in the world of London themed maps are two fascinating pieces of work by Ollie O’Brien. ‘Electric Tube’ is a new take on the classic map:

Electric TubeWhile London North/South only showing properties – north of the river in blue, south in red. The parks are useful geographical pointers, meaning that I can spot my old Bermondsey flat as well as my current location.


For fans of the history of London, this week has been a bumper one in terms of photographic fun. First up, a simply lovely collection of photos of the underground in the 1950’s and 60’s. Courtesy of Buzzfeed and my friend Becki, we have discovered that people called “fluffers” used to be employed to remove dust from the tunnels – causing Dave Walker to muse as to whether the same effect could be achieved by a vacuuming train. Dave, I repeat Becki’s request to see that in a cartoon one day!

Fluffers on the tube

the Museum of London has an app that uses its archives of images of the capital and superimposes them upon the view in your camera. [Takes a moment to download app…] If you can’t get you and your camera phone to London, here’s a taste of what it looks like:

Palace Theatre; 1958 + 2014The Palace Theatre, 1958 and 2014.

Gloucester Road Station 1868 + 2014My Monday morning destination of Gloucester Road station, 1860’s and 2014.

As if old photography wasn’t enough, some clever person have added famous paintings to the appropriate location as captured by Google Street View. The Guardian has a whole gallery of them – here’s a couple to whet your appetite:

Trafalgar Sq LogsdailSt. Martin in the Fields by William Logsdail (1888)

Westminster Abbey CanalettoWestminster Abbey with a Procession of Knights of the Bath by Canaletto (1749)

Finally, going full-circle and returning to the world of maps and charts, here are 12 helpful charts for everyone Londoner to live their life by. Their chart for the DLR is particularly helpful and, quite frankly, a rule to live by:

Where Should I sit on the DLR

While others are, quite frankly, suitable for anywhere in Britain:

Should I Take An UmbrellaThis is a rule that’s particularly worth living by in Belfast…

Friday Fun with transport, Lego and a shot of espresso.

I have pressing things to get to this morning (like meeting 2 week old babies), so let’s get straight into some fun…

Firstly, in the London Transport department, we have a collection of 1920’s posters which are simply lovely and serve as a reminder that you really should check out the LT Museum’s shop for examples of these things that you can use to adorn your own home. The link will take you to a plethora of brilliant examples of Art Deco design, but this proved to be a favourite for me, largely because it’s so true, 90 years later…

LT Diagram 1920's

Continuing the ‘things you can do with the tube map other than simply showing where the tube goes’ theme that so many people seem to love, some incredibly hard-working person has put together a coffee lovers tube map. The premise is simple – instead of a station name, each stop features the name of an excellent coffee shop nearby. Incredibly handy and, conveniently for me, demonstrates that I have excellent taste as I’ve been to many of them. In fact, several are places I would suggest if I knew someone was going to a particular area.

Coffee Map London

May I highlight:
Holborn – my own local beauty, the Espresso Room. A tiny shop opposite GOSH, but serves coffee that’s apparently incredible and awesome brownies.
Farringdon; Liverpool St; Oxford Circus – Department [of Coffee & Social Affairs]; Liberty of Norton Folgate; Speakeasy. Three Coffeesmiths establishments and three favourite spots of mine for working/meeting/generally socialising.
Marylebone – Providores on Marylebone High St. Kiwi run, fabulous coffee and they do an excellent Boiled Eggs with Vegemite Soldiers on their breakfast menu. (Oh, and I once had lunch there while Bill Bailey was also eating lunch there…)

I now have a long list of others places I feel I should check out! [I feel it’s necessary to point out at this moment that I am still a non-coffee drinker, but I have several reliable sources of coffee recommenders on which I base my own reviews. All their teas are great too.]

Not London, but still in the realm of public transportation – maps that show where the subways in DC, New York & Boston really go. People have already done it for London, but these are similarly fascinating.

NYC Real Map

Moving on from transport, how about some fun with Lego? Presumably, if you’re a Lego fan you’ll have watched the Culture Show Lego special? And if you’re interested in equality and want Lego to return to their non-gender specific days, you’ll have read the article about the girl from the 1981 advert? But how about witnessing the Crossrail project in Lego form? [Ok, so we haven’t quite moved on from transport.] This video depicts the boring machine – that is, a machine used to bore holes, as opposed to a machine that’s rather dull:

And how about some mind-bending Escher inspired Lego?


Finally, in what I hope might become a regular feature entitled ‘Cumberbatch Corner’, we have a couple of things that may delight those of a Cumberbatchian inclination…

Obviously, most people will have seen the video which demonstrates what happens when you bring together a smart man and two Muppets, but it’s always worth watching again (and is educational). But, I also have some aural delights for you, that I discovered quite by chance on Spotify. Honest. [There is a musician called Benedict whose work I was searching for. In typing his name, I noticed that Cumberbatch also came up – which intrigued me. Ok?]

As it seemed silly not to explore this further, a Cumberbatch playlist has resulted, which includes a three-part story set in New Cross as well as the reading of some classic literature (including Jabberwocky). But the highlight, personally, is a song taken from the soundtrack of August Osage County – a film that I’d really like to see, but am conflicted because my favourite film reviewer didn’t rate it highly. This the scene in which it occurs:

You can thank me later…

Friday Fun for the second Friday of 2014

As I mentioned the other day, Sherlock’s use of the London Underground (however right/wrong it may have been) has unleashed a flood of TfL geekery upon the internet. Some of the best I’ve seen should provide the start of a fun Friday morning…


This map of ‘ghost stations’ was linked to in a BBC article on disused stations that jumped on the Sherlock bandwagon. If you’ve had the least bit of interest in the subject, then most of that article won’t be news to you, but the photos of Aldwych station are as fascinating as ever.  [I’ve just discovered the London Transport Museum had tours down there in November. How did I miss that piece of news?!?]

Aldwych Platform

Talking of tube history, 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the tube, and one fabulous blog celebrated the year by chronicling 150 of the best features of the tube network. Its last post came as the year closed, but if you missed it, I highly recommend trawling through its archives – it was utterly lovely. I was going to miss its presence in my blog feed, but thankfully, a friend passed on a link to another blog that appears to have its fair share of London Transport geekery – both historic and futuristic. Ian Visits has included posts on the CrossRail development at Canary Wharf & Bond Street, as well as photos of disused tunnels (specifically, a disused loop of the Northern Line which I did not know about). You know, the kind of thing that gets me and my geeky friends quite excited. (Oh, and he shares my views about the ridiculousness of tube pedantry in the context of Sherlock. Good man.)

Finally, a couple of interactive tube past-times. Firstly, something that involves actually going outside and doing some travelling. Someone has come up with lists of tube stations on FourSquare so that people can challenge themselves to visit all the stations in zone 1, or the whole DLR, or the whole Overground. I imagine this would be most fun in some kind of time-limited, competition framework (but that might just be my competitive side coming out). Secondly, those hilarious tube station white boards? Well, not all of them are real, because some whiz came up with a way of making your own

Sherlock Station Board

Well done all – you’ve survived the first full week of work in 2014!

When passions collide


Few things have been so cemented into my diary in these early days of 2014 than the three episodes of Sherlock, beginning on the very first day of the year. Never has New Year’s Day been so eagerly anticipated by seemingly the entire country.

Come 9pm, I was settled on the sofa, all set (bar a drink which I had to dash off for in the opening credits – sometimes I actually wish the BBC had adverts!) for 90 minutes of televisual delight. I think that almost unanimously, Sherlock fans were not disappointed. Twitter was ablaze with activity and my phone beeped perpetually all the way through [it’s a good job I was alone in the flat] with tweets and texts that said edifying things like “Cheekbones!” and “LONGER CURLIER HAIR!”.

St Barts HospitalOne of the most famous rooftops in London…

I may have been a late convert to the church of Sherlock – after all, I’d only watched his momentous fall from Barts on Christmas Eve, having watched most of series 2 on the ferry to Dublin. (Where I had one lovely moment and one awkward one. Lovely: the old lady sitting next to me said, as we began to prepare for disembarkation, “What was that you were watching? It looked very exciting!” Awkward: Realising that episode 1 contained a naked lady for a long period of time, plus Sherlock clad in a sheet that then gets pulled away. Why awkward? See aforementioned lovely moment.) But my comparatively short-term commitment was richly rewarded by an episode that managed to combine two of my favourite things: Cumberbatch and disused tubes stations.

More than one person tweeted/texted me words to the effect of: “I think they wrote this episode of Sherlock just for you! Benedict Cumberbatch and the tube – perfect match!” I mean honestly! There really aren’t enough TV dramas based in and around the world of London’s ghost stations – a plot device I sensed might be on its way as soon as the tube cropped up. Brilliant.

What was not brilliant was the amount of bashing the episode received for its London Transport inaccuracies. Listen up tube geeks, if you were real tube geeks you would know two very important pieces of information:

1. There are only three places where filming can take place easily – the closed since 1994 Aldwych station; the abandoned Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross; and the Waterloo & City Line which is closed for longer periods than other lines. (There’s also the bit of track beyond Aldgate where Metropolitan Line trains could swap with East London Line trains. They no longer do that, so it’s closed.)

2. Londoners would NOT  be happy if their regular station was closed for a day just so the BBC could use it. Think of the lost revenue, inconvenience and general inadequacy of an excuse that would be!

Thus, Buzzfeed was probably quite right in this instance:

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 21.57.37

Yes, Watson’s journeying across London via tube was perhaps inaccurate. Yes, Sherlock’s mad motorbike dash to St James’ the Less (probably Pimlico) went unnecessarily over the river. But do I care? No. Because when it comes to creative, gripping and downright clever TV, I am perfectly happy to lay my geekery aside and just enjoy it – and I really wish some other nitpickers would do the same.

Returning to passions colliding. Hooray for opening so many TV viewers’ eyes to the world of disused tube stations. Now we can all be geeks together! (There’s been a fascinating increase in people sharing links to sites about them – lots more Friday Fun fodder.) Plus, anyone else notice that musicals even had their own role in the episode? Right towards the end, Les Mis – specifically Do You Hear the People Sing – playing at the start of the engagement drinks (at 1hr21 mins, if you want to go back and check).

Cumberbatch. Disused tube stations. Musicals.

Need I say more?

Well, just one more thing, and I’ll leave that to the lovely Laura who watched it at home with her family in Texas:

Lauren on InstagramWhat was she commenting on? This photo, of course:

Speedy's Sometimes, I like to take my runs along culturally interesting routes. (This is all of 15 mins walk from my flat.)