17th Century · 20th Century · City of London · Twickenham

Moving a church tower from the Square Mile to Twickenham: the story of All Hallows

It’s a little known fact that more of the City of London’s churches were demolished during peacetime than were destroyed during the Blitz.  As London expanded, the population of the Square Mile declined.  Fifty one of the eighty-seven churches consumed by the Great Fire of 1666 had been rebuilt, but as the City’s population dwindled during the 19th and 20th Centuries, congregations fell and many churches became surplus to requirements.

However, as you make your way along the Chertsey Road in Twickenham, towards the famous rugby stadium, an unexpected sight looms into view: a baroque Christopher Wren church tower.  This is one of the lost City churches, All Hallows Lombard Street, reborn as a suburban parish church.

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20th Century · Bowness-on-Windermere

Exploring Blackwell, a stunning Arts and Crafts house in the heart of the Lake District

On a hillside overlooking Windermere is a spectacular house.  That in itself is not surprising, as in the 19th and early 20th Centuries wealthy business owners from the north west of England flocked to the Lake District and built comfortable homes for their families – retreats from the noise, soot and pollution of the industrial cities.  But Blackwell, the house we’re exploring today, is quite remarkable – within its Grade I listed walls is an exceptionally-preserved Arts and Crafts interior.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Mile End

Novo Beth Chaim: an old Jewish cemetery marooned on a university campus

It’s one of the last places you expect to stumble across an old graveyard, but in the middle of the Mile End campus of Queen Mary, University of London, is a remnant of an old burial ground with many stories to tell about the history of East London and the people who settled there.

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20th Century · St John's Wood

Father Time and the unfortunate incident with the barrage balloon

When visiting Lord’s, the Home of Cricket, one of the many famous sights for cricket fans is the Father Time weather vane.  Its appearance – Father Time, complete with a Grim Reaper-esque scythe, removing the bails in the manner of an umpire at the close of play – seems oddly morbid, until one reads the Law of Cricket that it is inspired by: “After the call of Time, the bails shall be removed from both wickets.”  Over the years, Father Time has had a few adventures, falling foul of the weather on more than one occasion and most notably, being the only casualty at Lord’s during the Second World War.

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19th Century · 20th Century · City of London

St Alban, Wood Street: an old library book and a lonely church tower

I recently bought a copy of Mrs Basil Holmes’ 1896 book The London Burial Grounds.   Isabella Holmes was a remarkable woman who took it upon herself to explore what had happened to the many burial grounds in inner London that had been closed in the 1850s.  Her book records her findings, something which you can imagine will be a really useful resource for me when researching London’s old and forgotten burial grounds.  However, what I wasn’t expecting was that the book itself would tell more stories than simply the ones contained within its pages.

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17th Century · 19th Century · 20th Century · Chilworth

Chilworth Gunpowder Mills: three centuries of industry in the Surrey Hills

The Surrey Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – isn’t the first place that you’d associate with heavy industry.   Today, thousands of people are drawn to the picturesque hills and the lush green countryside.  However, hidden away in the valley close to the village of Chilworth, near Guildford, are the ruins of an industry that dominated the area for almost 300 years – the manufacturing of gunpowder.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Bow

Tower Hamlets: a neglected cemetery reborn as a nature reserve

Many of London’s big Victorian Cemeteries have suffered over the years.  Originally set up and run by private companies, many of these companies ran into financial difficulties after the Second World War, effectively abandoning cemeteries or selling them cheaply to local authorities.  As a result, these cemeteries became overgrown and vandalised.  Tower Hamlets, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries, was one of places that found itself derelict and unloved in the late 20th Century.  Thankfully, today all of that has changed.

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12th Century · 18th Century · 20th Century · Edwinstowe

The Major Oak: capturing the imagination for centuries

Oak trees loom large in English history.  From the sacred oak groves of pre-Roman Britons and the oak wands used by Druids to the oak tree that sheltered the future King Charles II as he escaped from the forces of Oliver Cromwell and the countless oaks used to construct England’s proud navies and merchant ships, this tree – perhaps more than any other – is seen as the national tree of England.  Many individual oaks up and down the country are revered and protected for their age, their size and shape or the stories attached to them.  The oak we’re looking at today is famous not just for its huge size and distinctive shape, but also for its link to that most famous of English legends, Robin Hood.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Stepney

The little mortuary at St George in the East and its reincarnation as a museum

St George’s Gardens, the park on the site of the former churchyard of St George in the East in Stepney, is a neat, peaceful place – when I visited, the play area was full of children, and other people were relaxing on benches or looking at the old monuments near the church.  In the midst of all of this is a derelict building that looks terribly sad and out of place.  However, this forlorn little building has a fascinating history that includes that most infamous of East End criminals, Jack the Ripper, and later became a pioneering centre for the education of local children.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Kensal Green

A walk among the stone saints and angels: St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green

Next door to the well-known Kensal Green, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, is another vast necropolis.  The two cemeteries are separated only by a tall brick wall, and although they are similar in age, and include many similar memorials, there are differences between the two cemeteries – some subtle, others less so.  St Mary’s Cemetery at Kensal Green is one of only two burial grounds in London that caters exclusively for Roman Catholics, and around the cemetery the visitor can see many symbols that reflect the faith of those buried there.

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