London is filled with amazing places. Amongst all of the obvious places to visit, some of London’s more exciting treasures are hidden. Discover the top 10 hidden places in London.
Ever since I started going on self-guided walking tours in the various boroughs (neighbourhoods) of London I’ve been on a hunt to find more of London’s hidden gems which hold curious and fascinating histories. Here are my favourite curious and hidden places in London that you have to see!
1. Wander Around Chiswick House and Gardens
Location: Conservatory Yard, Middlesex, west London
Chiswick House is a beautiful villa with extensive picturesque gardens located in west London. Designed by Lord Burlington and completed in 1729, it is arguably the finest remaining example of Neo-Palladian architecture in London. The neo-Palladian style was influenced by Italian architect Andrea Palladio and his English follower Inigo Jones, this style of architecture spread across Europe and America in the mid-1700s.
Chiswick House was an attempt by Lord Burlington to create a Roman villa, rather than a Renaissance pastiche, situated in a symbolic Roman garden. Many features of the house were directly inspired by famous Roman monuments including the steep-pitched dome of the villa, which was derived from the Pantheon in Rome.
The villa itself was intended as more of a showcase for the arts rather than a home, and it provided a spectacular venue for entertaining. William Kent who designed the gardens and started the influential ‘English Landscape Movement’ also designed much of the building’s lavish interior.
2. See the Thin House
Location: Thurloe Square, Kensington
Although it’s known as The Thin house, it actually consists of numerous artist studios.
Originally, this narrow building was adjoined to a neighbouring building, which is evident by the use of the same bricks. When a new train line was being built the middle part of the original larger building was demolished to make way for the tracks, thus creating this uniquely shaped building.
Despite its size, it is thought to be worth in excess of £2m!
3. St Dunstan-in-the-East Church Garden
Location: Eastcheap, City of London
St Dunstan-in-the-East Church is truly a hidden gem. Wedged between two highly trafficked roads right in the centre of the City of London the beautiful ruins of this church are often overlooked and missed.
Originally built in about 1100, the church was severely damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Between 1695-1701, a beautiful steeple was added by Sir Christopher Wren.
The church suffered further severe damage during the Blitz of 1941. Only Wren’s tower and steeple survived along with the north and south walls.
After the re-organisation of the Anglican Church in London following the War it was decided not to rebuild St Dunstan’s, and in 1967 the City of London Corporation decided to turn the ruins of the church into a public garden, opening in 1971. A lawn and trees were planted in the ruins, with a low fountain in the middle of the nave. The results are stunning!
4. The Seven Noses of Soho
Location: Scattered around Soho
For something a bit more quirky, let your nose be your guide as you search for the Seven Noses of Soho. Created by artist Rick Buckley in 1997 as a protest against the introduction of CCTV in the streets of London, he originally hid around 35 noses in of which only seven still survive.
Lots of myths have sprung up around the noses whereby many people mistakenly believe that the nose inside the Admiralty Arch was put there to mock Napoleon. Another myth states that if you find all seven you’ll be ‘wealthy forever more’. Follow your nose.
5. See Britain’s Smallest Police Station
Location: Trafalgar Square, Westminster
Britain’s smallest police station is hidden in plain sight in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Built in 1926, this tiny police station can house up to two prisoners at a time, although its main purpose was to hold a single police officer. The Metropolitan Police were stationed here to keep an eye on the more troublesome demonstrators in the square.
At the end of World War I, a temporary police box just outside of the Trafalgar Square tube station was due to be renovated and made more permanent. However, due to public objections, this was scrapped and instead it was decided to build a less “objectionable” police box. The result? An ornamental light fitting!
Once the light fitting was hollowed out, it was then installed with a set of narrow windows in order to provide a view across the main square. Also installed was a direct phone line back to Scotland Yard in case reinforcements were needed in times of trouble. Whenever the police phone was picked up, the ornamental light fitting at the top of the box started to flash, alerting any nearby officers on duty that trouble was near.
Today, the box is no longer used by the Police instead it is used as a broom cupboard for Westminster Council cleaners!
6. Explore Abney Park Cemetery
Location: Stoke Newington, Hackney
In the early 1800s, London’s rapid population growth caused the inner city burial grounds to literally overflow. In 1832, parliament passed a bill to encourage the establishment of new private cemeteries. Within ten years, seven had been established (known as ‘The Magnificent Seven’ by architectural historian Hugh Meller), one of which was Abney Park.
The cemetery gets its name from Sir Thomas Abney, who served as Lord Mayor of London.
Abney fell into disrepair and was abandoned in the 1970s after the cemetery company went into administration.
It was then decided to maintain and manage this new and unique urban wilderness with aims to balance the needs of Abney’s wildlife with the requirements of the historic landscape and structures as well as the Park’s memorial role.
Famous tombs here include that of William and Catherine Booth, founders of The Salvation Army, who are buried in a prominent location close to Church Street and next to their son Bramwell Booth and various SA commissioners.
7. Take a Photo at Faux 10 Downing Street
Location: 10 Adam St, just off the Strand
Even though there is no public access to either the house or street, Downing Street is one of the most visited locations in London. However, it’s almost impossible to take a decent photo of it. Don’t despair! This famous home of the U.K. Prime Minster has a doppelganger located just off the Strand.
Located in a side street is an office building that looks almost exactly like its more famous counterpart, the only difference is that you can take your photo in front of it!
8. Drive the Wrong Way at the Savoy HotelLocation: Savoy Hotel (aka Savoy Court), Strand, Westminster
For over 100 years both horse-drawn carriages and automobiles, have entered and left ‘Savoy Court’ on the right-hand side of the road. This is due primarily to the construction of the ‘court’.
When approaching and leaving the hotel it is easier to do so while driving on the right-hand side of the road. Savoy Court is a privately owned property, therefore driving on the right-hand side of the road does not contravene British traffic regulations.
In addition, when being chauffeured in a horse-drawn carriage the lady or dignitary would traditionally sit behind the driver. By approaching the hotel on the right-hand side of the road, either the chauffeur or the hotel’s doorman was able to open the door without walking around the car. This would allow the lady to alight from the carriage and walk straight into the hotel. How very civilised.
9. Climb The MonumentLocation: Fish St Hill, outside Monument station
For only £4 you can climb Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument! Built to commemorate the Great Fire of London of 1666 you can climb the 311 steps to the top of this historic landmark (built in 1677) will give you spectacular views over London.
Its height marks its distance from the site of the shop of Thomas Farynor, the king’s baker, where the Great Fire began. Naughty naughty!
Upon exiting and in recognition of such achievement each visitor to The Monument receives a certificate as proof of their athletic abilities! Wohoo!
10. Visit Hodge the Cat and See a Brick from the Great Wall of China
Location: Gough Square, City of London
Dr. Samuel Johnson was an English writer and critic, and one of the most famous literary figures of the 18th century. His best-known work is his ‘Dictionary of the English Language’. After nine years he completed this laborious task mostly single-handedly. It is widely regarded as one of the finest dictionaries ever published until the publication 173 years of the first Oxford English Dictionary.
Dr Samuel Johnson once owned 17 properties in London, only one of which survives in Gough Square (now a memorial museum) and contains a brick from the Great Wall of China, donated to the museum in 1822.
More famously in the square is the immortalised cat of Johnson. Created in 1997 the statue is designed to be shoulder height – because that’s ‘just about right for putting an arm around,’ according to sculptor Jon Bickley, who actually modelled Hodge on his own cat Thomas Henry.
The great man’s love for his cat was rather unusual for the era. “I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge,” wrote James Boswell. “He himself used to go out and buy oysters [for him], lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.” Aww shucks.
Over to you!
Have you visited any of these curious places? What other hidden places in London would you recommend?
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