The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden has a new permanent gallery exploring the history of tunneling and a new temporary exhibition about Crossrail opening on 23 March 2018. Both are part of the national programme to celebrate the Year of Engineering 2018.
Digging Deeper Gallery
On the ground floor of the museum, this new gallery looks at the challenges of underground tunneling and the engineering feats that are needed.
London’s deep-level Tube lines vary from 20 feet (6 meters) to 192 feet (50 meters) below ground. As passengers could not be expected to walk up and down long staircases, a mechanical solution was needed.
Early Tube stations were all designed with lifts, at first hydraulically powered and later electric. (Covent Garden Tube station still has lifts rather than escalators.) Escalators were only introduced after the central London Tube network had been completed.
Early Underground lifts were not automatic. A liftman checked tickets and opened and closed the doors and gates. He rode inside the lift to operate the control mechanism.
Most lifts were used to move people up a few floors, but the lifts at the Tube stations were to get the passengers deep underground. There are three lovely working models of the elevators (lifts) at Borough Station on display here.
We have American engineers to thank for these as Elisha Otis installed the first passenger lift in a New York department store in 1857. The American Otis Elevator Company installed 140 electric lifts at the deep-level stations on the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead Tubes which opened in 1906-7. Many were in service for more than 70 years.
Otis became the leading manufacturer of passenger lifts worldwide. The Otis Company continues to be a major supplier of elevators and escalators.
The gallery has information about the first escalator. It was built for an amusement park in Coney Island, New York, in 1895 by Jesse W Reno. He called it an ‘inclined elevator,’ but by 1899 a moving staircase prototype was patented under the name ‘escalator.’
Reno sold his British company to the Otis Elevator Company who installed the first public transport escalator, and it was in use at Earl’s Court station from October 1911. (Don’t quibble about the ‘first escalator in London’ fact as there was a continuous belt escalator in Harrods in 1898.)
I love how we use double-decker buses to measure distances!
There’s a display for “escalator legend” Bumper Harris but little to explain his claim to fame. (I’m told more signage is being added). His walking stick is here because Bumper Harris used it every day as he only had one leg. The reason his name is remembered by tube geeks is that on the day of the escalators opening at Earl’s Court station he was employed to travel up and down to demonstrate to the public how safe and stable they were. It sounds like a far-fetched story, but apparently, it is true.
London Tunnel Pioneers
In the corner is a small display about Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849), the prolific Anglo-French engineer who developed the first tunneling shield which was used to build the Thames Tunnel. This was the first tunnel under a river anywhere in the world. (It’s still in use on the London Overground between Rotherhithe and Wapping.)
Into the second section of the gallery and the full-size model of the Greathead Shield dominates. There are projections with an audio explanation of its use. The Greathead Shield was used for tunneling for over 50 years from 1886.
James Henry Greathead (1844–1896) worked with William Henry Barlow (1812–1902) to build the Tower Subway from the London Bridge area to near the Tower of London in 1870. A river crossing was needed as this was 24 years before Tower Bridge opened in 1894. This was the world’s first tube tunnel, and it initially opened with a small car being hauled by cable in the tunnel, powered by a stationary steam engine. As this was unreliable, it took only a few weeks until the lifts and car were removed to make it a pedestrian tunnel with a spiral staircase at each end. (You can still see the Tower Subway entrance next to the Tower of London).
While the Tower Subway wasn’t a commercial success, it did lead to Greathead’s biggest achievement: the Greathead Shield. This circular shield protected diggers from tunnel collapse as it was inched forward, while behind it a permanent tunnel lining of cast iron segments were fitted into place.
The Tube lines were dug by hand for many years. When tunnels are dug in waterlogged soil, compressed air can be pumped into an airtight chamber to hold back the water. Miners working in this environment can suffer decompression sickness if they return to normal atmospheric pressure too quickly. Tokens like this one below from the late 1930s were issued as a safety measure.
The Jubilee line extension was the first Tube section to not use physical labor, and the Elizabeth line (still under construction) has all been built mechanically. The engineers have computers to plan and control the excavation now so were able to cut through just 33.5 inches (85cm) from current Tube lines.
Greathead died before electricity came into use, but the exhibits continue with power controls from Lots Road power station in Chelsea.
Other power options were considered for the Underground but as steam was impossible, and the cable system on the Tower Subway was unacceptable, electricity was chosen. Lots Road power station started generating electricity for the Underground in 1905. It was upgraded in the 1930s, and the display here is panels from the control room that opened in 1932. They carried switchgear and meters to control the steam turbines, generators, and current supply. The 1932 control room was replaced in 1968 when Lots Road was converted from coal to oil.
It was noted that Lots Road power station could boil 1 million kettles. An important tea-making statistic!
The world’s first electric Tube opened in 1890 on the 3-mile long City and South London Railway from Stockwell in south London to King William Street near London Bridge.
I heard some students discussing how many Americans seemed to be mentioned at the museum and they were right. Charles Tyson Yerkes is described here as the “American who saved the Tube” and a “rather shady American financier” so it seems he wasn’t totally appreciated. He made his fortune buying up and electrifying streetcar and elevated rail lines in Chicago. In 1900 he visited London and saw a similar business opportunity.
Yerkes created the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in 1902. The UERL took over three of the struggling Tube projects: the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, and Hampstead lines, and electrified the District Railway.
The Secret Life of a Megaproject
This new exhibition is also on the ground floor (near the exit of the museum).
The London Transport Museum does an excellent job of giving an insight into the history of major infrastructure projects. The Crossrail project is more than a railway as it will have transformed the whole route through central London and out to the suburbs.
The Elizabeth line launches in December 2018. It will stretch more than 60 miles from Reading and Heathrow in the west through central tunnels across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
The exhibition includes displays about environmental concerns, culture and heritage, industry skills and more.
Objects on display include a drone used as part of the construction and the original prototype of the new Elizabeth line roundel. I noticed all of the school children who passed through were excited to see a drone on display. I was slightly surprised that all of these under 10-year-olds could recognize a drone so easily.
You can don a hard hat and listen to workers’ stories which, I thought, was a nice touch.
In the section called ‘The City’, it was interesting to read that by 2030, London’s population is predicted to be 10 million as 180,000 new homes are planned to be developed along the route.
The Elizabeth Line will increase central London’s rail capacity by 10%. And better access to the city will bring 1.5 million additional people within 45 minutes of London.
Crossrail is coming. In fact, trains will start running on the new ‘Elizabeth Line’ from December with the entire new Tube Line opening in 2019 (it’s been a project 30 years in the planning, see this article for more information). One big question that’s been up in the air, however, is what fares would be like? Would they be integrated into the current Tube Network and pay Tube prices or would fares be separate and possibly more expensive?
Transport for London has released the details and the news is good – you will be able to ride the beautiful new Elizabeth Line for the same price as riding the Tube – which means fares will start at £2.40 for a single journey within zones 1-2 of the London Underground. Journeys within zones 1-6 will incur the same as the equivalent tube fare when it opens through central London in December this year. Daily capping for contactless and Oyster Cards, and concession fares, will apply in the same way on Crossrail as on tube journeys.
This means that if you spend the day traveling the Tube, you will spend no more than the daily cap of £12.50. This is fantastic news for tourists who need to get around London quickly. New Elizabeth Lines will be longer and faster than the current Tube network so you’ll be able to travel around London quickly and easily and pay the same. If you don’t have an Oyster Card for your next trip to London, you should definitely get one – fares are much cheaper than if you pay cash!
On September 2, 1666, furnaces that weren’t quite out in the home of baker Thomas Farriner managed to start a fire that raged for four days and destroyed much of the City of London. The Great Fire was one of the most seminal events in London’s history. It has been recounted in dozens of works including Samuel Pepys’s Diary and led to a major construction project that included St. Paul’s Cathedral. Of course, one of the city’s most important events has a ton of interesting facts, and we’ve outlined ten of them for your consideration.
If You Can’t Stand the Heat
In 1979, archaeologists excavating a destroyed shop on Pudding Lane uncovered a piece of pottery that had *melted* in the fire. Scientists estimated that this meant the fire burned as high as 1700-degrees Celsius or 3,092-degrees Fahrenheit.
Not a Good Time for London
While the fire devastated the city in 1666, the preceding year hadn’t been that much kinder to London. In 1665, the Bubonic Plague ravaged the city and was estimated to have killed over 100,000 people, or 15% of the city’s population. Amazingly, the Great Fire only killed 6 people but destroyed approximately 13,200 homes and 87 churches. On the positive, the fire is thought to have killed a great many of the rats and fleas that carried the plague.
Baked Goods at the Beginning and Ending
While the fire started in a baker’s shop on Pudding Lane, it is said to have been extinguished on Pye Street.
The Only Solution
At the time, the only method the city had of stopping fires from spreading was by creating firebreaks. This involved the tearing down of buildings around those that were already on fire to prevent spreading. The idea was that a wide enough break would keep the fire from leaping houses; however, many of the owners around Farriner’s home refused. Additionally, Mayor Thomas Bloodworth was consulted on this and he also refused to tear down some of the surrounding houses as the buildings were rented and the owners could not be found. This permitted the fire to spread quickly in its early moments, becoming a raging firestorm by that afternoon. Bloodworth is famously quoted as saying “Pish! A woman could piss it out!”
Not That It Did Much Good
Even with the firebreaks, heavy winds sometimes caused the fire to jump breaks of twenty buildings. By the fifth day, the fire was burning homes on London Bridge, but a natural gap in the buildings was able to stop the fire from reaching the other side of the Thames.
An Innocent Man
Many believed that the fire started as the work of a foreign agent. For whatever reason, a French watchmaker named Robert Hubert confessed to having started the fire and was executed for it. It was later discovered that he was not in England at the time the fire started and didn’t return until two days into the blaze.
Banned for Good
One of the immediate effects of the fire was a city-wide ban on thatched roofs, as it was believed they helped the fire to spread more quickly. The ban remains in place to this day. Such is the effect of the ban that when Shakespeare’s Globe was built in the 1990s, it had to have special permission to have a thatched roof to be in keeping with the original theater. The previous Globe Theater had been torn down in 1644, 23 years before the Great Fire.
Many City of London residents attempted to save what they could and flee across the bridges, hoping that the River Thames would shield them from the fire’s spread.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London stands in Pudding Lane near where the fire began. It was built from 1671 to 1677 and designed by Christopher Wren, who rebuilt much of the city after the fire, including the current St. Paul’s Cathedral. Today, the Monument is the largest isolated stone column in the world, reaching 202 feet tall. It is possible to go inside the monument and climb its 311 steps to the viewing platform.
With some 436 acres of the city destroyed, it took approximately 50 years to rebuild.
Trafalgar Square is one of London’s most important gathering points. Whether friends meeting up or an important cultural festival, the Square named for Horatio Nelson’s important victory against Napoleon is a place that everyone knows. It is also surrounded by important places and attractions and can be a starting point for any adventure in the city. As such, we’ve managed to outline ten of our favorite places to visit with a short walking distance from Trafalgar Square for you to see. You can also let us know your own nearby favorite venues in the comments.
Smallest Police Station
No longer in use as a police station, this tiny building, no bigger than most police boxes, was made from a hollowed-out lamppost in 1926 and used to keep an eye on demonstrators in nearby Trafalgar Square. It was just large enough for one officer to be stationed inside and had a direct line to Scotland Yard in case reinforcements were needed.
Three out of the four plinths, or pedestals, are dedicated monuments to some of the nation’s greatest figures such as General Sir Charles James Napier, Major General Sir Henry Havelock, or King George IV. The Fourth Plinth, however, is dedicated to the public, and as such features a different piece of public art that changes regularly. Sometimes this has even included performance art or citizen demonstrations. The art tends to change every two years, so the next time you come back, it may be completely different.
Sherlock Holmes Pub
If you can’t make it to Baker Street for the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the Sherlock Holmes Pub near the Square is an excellent substitute. In addition to getting yourself a pint and some great traditional British pub food, you can check out the upstairs room that’s been redecorated to look just like Holmes’ and Watson’s flat at 221 B Baker Street.
Benjamin Franklin House
Originally coming to London in his youth to learn the printing trade, Benjamin Franklin returned as a representative for the Virginia Colony and staid in this house for several years until the advent of the American War of Independence summoned him home. The house is now a museum dedicated to him with several artifacts related to his time in London.
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Just off the Square is the artistic and cultural center known as the Institute for Contemporary Arts. It was established in 1947 to be a place outside the stuffier intellectual confines of the Royal Academy where writers, artists, and scientists could debate and collaborate on important issues. The ICA is open to the public and regularly puts on exhibitions in science and the arts.
Just across the street from another entry on this list is the London Coliseum. Home to the National Opera, this performance venue is a Grade II listed opera house that opened in 1904. In addition to the National Opera, the Coliseum puts on a number of other shows as well from Shakespeare to the English National Ballet. Be sure to check the calendar to see what’s on and plan your visit accordingly.
At the center of Trafalgar Square is a monument to the man who made the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar possible. Nelson’s Column is dedicated to Admiral Nelson and stands at 169 feet, 3 inches tall, capped with a statue of Nelson. At its base are four lions as well as reliefs of his various naval victories. It’s a great piece of artwork to admire or to simply use as a meeting spot that everyone will know.
A church has been on this site in Trafalgar Square since the Medieval Period, and the current church was constructed from 1721 to 1726 in a Georgian style. Besides being a wonderful piece of architecture and a working church, St. Martin’s also regularly puts on concerts and has a lovely café in its crypt. The church is also a wonderful place for art, often hosting gallery exhibitions as well as its own unique East Window.
National Portrait Gallery
Certainly amongst our top two is the National Portrait Gallery, the repository for most of the UK’s great paintings featuring national figures from William Shakespeare to David Beckham. The museum features a range of exhibits from the early photography of the Victorians to the influence of Michael Jackson. Admission is free, but some special exhibits may require a ticket.
The National Gallery
The premiere art gallery in the United Kingdom, the National Gallery was established in 1834 and today contains over 2,300 pieces of art. In addition to exhibits featuring the world’s greatest painters like Monet and Van Eyck, the National Gallery also regularly puts on lectures, workshops, and activities for all ages. Whether it’s your first stop on visiting Trafalgar Square or your last, you definitely need to make sure it’s included.
There’s music in the streets of London and every borough has a song to sing. Plenty of songs have been written about the UK’s capital and its people across several decades and genres of music. These tunes have lyrics that address the different flavors of London, whether talking about its people, history, or current affairs. No matter what type of music you’re in the mood for, you can find a song about London that speaks to you. We’ve identified ten of our favorites below, but you can let us know your own in the comments.
“Hometown Glory” – Adele
The debut single from soulful London native Adele, “Hometown Glory” is inspired by discussions with her mother about what university the singer should attend. In a reverse of how these discussions usually go, Adele wanted to stay close to London and the song is a reflection of her thoughts on her experiences and people she’s known who influenced her desire to stay near home.
Adele - Hometown Glory - YouTube
“London Calling” – The Clash
While the Sex Pistols might represent the angry rebellion of the punk movement, the true ambassadors of London punk are The Clash, who crafted “London Calling” in 1979. The song expresses many of frontman Joe Strummer’s concerns about the city, from a nuclear “error” similar to Three Mile Island striking the city to the possibility of the Thames flooding Central London (a concern that led to the construction of the Thames Barrier).
The Clash - London Calling (Official Video) - YouTube
“Waterloo Sunset” – The Kinks
One of the favorites of many music critics, The Kinks’ 1967 hit “Waterloo Sunset” is a story told from the perspective of a narrator reflecting on two lovers, the Thames, and Waterloo Station. Ironically, the song was originally going to be “Liverpool Sunset”, but Ray Davies decided to change it to be more about his hometown. So, much like Adele’s single listed above, it’s recollection of growing up in the city and the wistfulness of memory.
The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset (Official Audio) - YouTube
“LDN” – Lily Allen
Singer Lily Allen crafted “LDN” (the text language meaning “London” on mobile phones) as an upbeat melody that describes a bicycle ride through the city describing situations that aren’t as they seem. Allen describes everything from an old lady getting her Tesco’s bag snatched to a pimp and his crack whore. The video shows Allen moving through the city as if living a fantasy that dissolves as she walks away.
Lily Allen | LDN (Official Video) - YouTube
“West End Girls” – Pet Shop Boys
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe brought audiences this synth-heavy dance hit in 1985. Tennant said of the song, “I loved the whole idea of the pressure of living in a modern city, and I decided to write a rap that could be done in an English accent over this piece of music.” The song’s lyrics set up a dichotomy between the lower-income East End and the affluent West End.
Pet Shop Boys - West End Girls - YouTube
“Werewolves of London” – Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon was joined by Mic Fleetwood and John McVie for this 1973 comedy classic describing the hairy monsters wandering the streets of Soho and Mayfair. Plenty of London references are dripped throughout the song from Trader Vic’s to the Queen herself. The song has had quite an impact on American artists, with everyone from Kid Rock to Adam Sandler playing tribute to it.
Werewolves Of London - YouTube
“Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty
Three years after Stealers Wheel broke up, frontman Gerry Rafferty broke out on his own in 1978 with his album City to City, which included this ode to one of London’s most famous streets. During the intervening time between the band’s breakup and his new album, Rafferty often made the trip from his family home to London, where he would stay with a friend in a flat on Baker Street. The song captures the feelings of a musician dealing with the deeply impersonal nature of London which echoes Rafferty’s own legal struggles to get out from his old group.
Gerry Rafferty Baker Street Long Version - YouTube
“Galang” – MIA
From her debut album Arular, rap artist MIA brings the diversity of London to life with this dance song heavily steeped in the Caribbean slang of the city’s streets. Combined with the singer’s own Sri Lankan and West London background, this electronica-dance-rap song an excellent example of the mix of cultures that represent modern London. While the song is now fifteen years old, it remains a fun piece to dance to and still representative of the city today.
MIA - Galang - YouTube
“London’s Brilliant Parade” – Elvis Costello
Released with Costello’s 1994 album, Brutal Youth, “London’s Brilliant Parade” is another love letter to a city the artist called home. While not the biggest fan of the city, Costello admitted the song was “a more affectionate look at the city in which I was born than I could ever have managed when I was actually living there.” Despite this, the song comes off as somewhat wistful, so maybe there’s a part of him that longed for home after all.
Elvis Costello-London's brilliant parade - YouTube
“Electric Avenue” – Eddy Grant
“Electric Avenue” is a street in Brixton that actually got its name from being the first market street lit by electricity. By the time of Eddy Grant, this part of London had a heavy population of African, Caribbean, and other immigrant groups. Concerns over unemployment, poverty, and racism exploded in the 1981 Brixton riot, which motivated Grant to write the song that expressed the anger and hurt of his community. It was released in 1982 and became a mega hit in 1983 due to the advent of music television and Grant’s video to promote the song.
Spring has sprung! From March through May, the warming of London invites more people to come out and participate in events that celebrate the season. Whether you’re looking for something to do as an adult or a fun activity for your kids, London has plenty to offer children of all ages. If you want to set a physical goal for yourself or just plan to engage in an East-themed pub crawl, there are certainly events that will cater to your interests as well. We’ve pointed out five of our favorites Spring events below, but let us know some of your own favorites in the comments.
Cadbury Easter Egg Hunts
Easter isn’t really the same without Cadbury cream eggs every year, and the chocolatier puts on some of the best Easter egg hunts that you’ll find in the city. Partnered with the National Trust, the hunts take place on Trust properties throughout the city, so you’ll want to be sure to check the Trust’s website to find the closest one near you. The hunts typically run from March 30 through April 2, so once you find the Trust site near you, check their calendar to make sure what day and time the event will take place.
Santacon has become an annual tradition in many cities in which people dress up as Santa while partaking in a pub crawl. Of course, for this Easter-themed event, the idea is to dress up as Jesus Christ in whatever form of the Savior that they wish and ladies will sometimes dress as Mary Magdalene or other heroines from the Bible. Participants also keep their pub visits to establishments with religious-themed names, usually beginning at The Trinity through Trafalgar Square to finish at the Silver Cross Tavern. This year, the pub crawl takes place on April 1, or Easter Sunday.
The city’s premiere event for runners, the London Marathon is a twenty-six-mile course that starts in St. James Park and runs through much of the city to conclude in Greenwich Park. People participate for various reasons whether health, personal challenge, or for charity, so you’ll see a variety of people from those serious competitors to others who turn up in fancy dress. If you don’t feel much like running yourself, there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to help with the race or you can watch from the sidelines and cheer on the marathoners.
London Craft Week
You might confuse this for London Craft Beer Week, but this Craft Week is also about what people make that isn’t food or beverage. Meant to celebrate individuality, passion, and skill by which things are made, LCW features the work of master craftsmen in a variety of fields and is hosted in venues across the city from art galleries to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Jewelry, furniture, painting and more will all be on display from May 9 to the 13th, so be sure to check out the website to find the crafts that interest you most.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
Warmer months usually signals the kickoff of the theater season, and there are few places more appropriate for a springtime show than Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark. Part museum to the Bard and his company and part playhouse, the summer theater season begins April 25 with Hamlet and also includes non-Shakespearean works such as Nanjing and the Alternative Miss World competition. Any fan of Shakespeare will definitely want to take the tour when a show is not on, though photography may be limited if the players are rehearsing.
At the heart of the sprawling metropolis that is Greater London is the City of London, a section of London about a square mile in size. While settlements existed here since before recorded time, it was the Romans who established the first permanent community. Today, its centralized status means many of London’s most important landmarks and historical centers can be found here. Our top ten list is a veritable cream of the crop of the city’s best spots, so it was a little hard to pick only ten and rank them at that. Let us know some of your own favorite City of London places in the comments.
Finished in 2000, this suspension bridge initially wobbled more than its builders intended, meaning it needed a little more work before it became a major pedestrian crossing point in 2002. Since then, its futuristic design has made it a top film location for everything from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Guardians of the Galaxy. You may even feel its resonance yourself as you walk from the City of London into Southwark.
Dr. Johnson’s House
London is populated with writer’s house museums, but this one notable as the home to Dr. Samuel Johnson, author of one of the most authoritative dictionaries in the world and perhaps the one person most responsible for the modern English language. Today the 300-year-old townhouse stands not only a monument to his life and works, but also serves as a research library and home to a reading circle.
The city’s leading marketplace, Leadenhall Market dates back to the 14th Century, but the current market’s architecture is decidedly Victorian. Of course, today there are plenty of shops that cater to the modern consumer from clothing company Barbour to Leon’s organic fast food. Film buffs will want to seek it out as one of its stores played the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter films.
St. Dunstan in the East
One of the many churches rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, then had to be torn down and rebuilt in the 19th Century due to structural defects. The church was ultimately abandoned as a place of worship after it fell victim to the Blitz during World War II. Rather than rebuild, its walls remained as a shell around a public greenspace which opened in 1971. The garden is available to visit seven days a week from 8 AM to dusk.
Perhaps the city’s first multi-use district, the Barbican Complex contains the Barbican Estate of tower flats, financial institutions, and the Barbican Centre, a major arts hub in the City of London. The Barbican Theatre is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican Hall is the main venue for the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Barbican Film has three cinemas showing everything from new indy films to big studio tentpoles.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in London. Finished in 1894, the upper walkway had to be closed due to crime concerns in 1910, but reopened in 1982 and was renovated from 2008 to 2012. The Tower Bridge Exhibition offers a unique way to experience the bridge from its history to a look down through its glass floor to the River Thames below. Additionally, there’s always something going on, so be sure to check the schedule of events.
Museum of London
Wikimedia / Off2riorob
Of course, if you want to know about the city’s history, the Museum of London is the best place to do it. The museum documents the history of London from prehistoric times to the present day, chronicling events such as the Roman Occupation, the Great Fire, and the Blitz, among others. Exhibitions run the gambit from London’s suffragette movement to the fatberg that once clogged Whitechapel’s sewers (we’ll let you look that up on your own).
Home to the City of London Council, the Guildhall has served as London’s town hall for several hundred years. Its architecture is a stunning representation of the Gothic style and is practically a work of art, which shouldn’t be surprising for a Grade I listed structure. The Guildhall Art Gallery is one of the world’s first examples of publicly displayed art when it was established in 1886 and remains open today from 10 AM to 5 PM.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Perhaps the best example of Sir Christopher Wren’s work following the Great Fire of London, the church is as much a place of worship as it is a museum to London’s ecclesiastical history. There’s a slight sightseeing charge, but paying it will give you access to either a guided tour or a self-guided tour with an interactive touchscreen. Beyond the history and art of the cathedral, many people enjoy climbing the stairs to experience the view of London or play in the Whispering Gallery, which has acoustics that will let you hear clear across to the other side.
The Tower of London
Arguably the City of London’s first landmark, the White Keep of the Tower was built by King William I in 1066 to help maintain his control of the city after he ascended the throne. The Jewel Tower is home to the 23,578 gemstones that make up the Crown Jewels. You can tour the Tower’s dungeons and learn about some of its most famous prisoners, visit the Royal Beasts exhibition to learn the animals that once called the Tower home, or see more of Britain’s military history with dedicated museums to the Beefeaters and the Fusiliers. Those who really want to see something special will stay a bit later for the Ceremony of the Keys, the daily rite that officially closes the Tower for the evening.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the 2018 London Annual and is a fixture of each Annual – the new attractions in London along with the places that have sadly closed. Support great longform writing about London by buying the London Annual – 128 full-color pages about London history, culture and travel. We have less than 50 copies of the 2018 edition left – get yours here!
New Places for 2018
Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham is the retreat designed and built by renowned landscape painter JMW Turner in 1813. After years of occupation and alterations, and with the support of Heritage Lottery Funding, Turner’s House Trust have fully restored the house to Turner’s original designs. It is now open to the public Wed-Sun. It is just 30 minutes from Waterloo to Turner’s House. Visitor details are on its website: www.turnershouse.org Admission is £6 (about $8) for adults and £3 (about $5) for children.
Postal Museum and Mail Rail
Did you know that London had a secret Tube Line that was once used exclusively by the Royal Mail? The Mail Rail was used by Royal Mail to transport mail between depots in central London. The system was no longer needed due to shifts in technology, so for the longest time, the system sat abandoned but intact. Now, it’s been opened up as a tourist experience. Visitors will learn about the history of the system and how it worked in London. They will also be able to take rides throughout the system on the old mail rail trains. This attraction opened in late 2017 and booking tickets in advance is essential. http://postalmuseum.org
London’s Design Museum has officially moved to the former Commonwealth Institute building on High Street Kensington, a perfect use of the iconic modernist building that has been neglected for the past few years. The new museum opened to great acclaim in early 2017. The new museum, with three times more space, will have a free permanent display, entitled “Designer Maker User” that tells the story of contemporary design. There will be two temporary exhibition spaces that will feature unique exhibition on design. The museum is open daily. Admission is free, but there is a charge for temporary exhibitions. https://designmuseum.org/
New Victoria & Albert Museum Spaces
There’s been a new addition to the V&A with a new entrance and exhibition space. The V&A Exhibition Road Quarter took six years to realize and transforms the V&A’s former boilerhouse yard on London’s great cultural artery, Exhibition Road. This new entrance connects the Museum with its neighbors, reinforcing the Albertopolis vision of intellectual ambition and innovation and creates a sequence of major new spaces: The Sainsbury Gallery, The Sackler Courtyard, The Blavatnik Hall: a new entrance into the V&A from Exhibition Road and the Aston Webb Screen. Admission to the V&A is free as always, but there is a charge for special exhibitions. https://www.vam.ac.uk/
Hidden away in the heart of Smithfield is an unknown tourist gem, which covers 660 climactic years of London history, including plague pits, a dissolved Carthusian monastery, a Tudor mansion which hosted Elizabeth I, a school with alumni including John Wesley, Thackeray and Robert Baden Powell; and finally an almshouse for “decrepit” men. Although they wouldn’t appreciate that original description, it is still home to some 40 ‘Brothers,’ who have opened up their fascinating home, rich in history, architectural rarity, and art, to the public in a partnership with the Museum of London. The museum charts seven phases in the history of the buildings through rare artifacts, unique and historically important documents and artworks, including a water map illustrating how the monks tapped water from Sadler’s Wells to ingeniously supply each cell with running water in 1431; plus the odd plague pit skeleton and graffitied original school desk! It will open with an accompanying dedicated Learning Centre, finally revealing the treasures of Charterhouse – educational, historic and artistic – to the public. Entrance to the museum will be free, with the option of an additional paid tour of the buildings. http://www.thecharterhouse.org/
London has a new museum dedicated to the history of migration to that great city. Opening up in a temporary home at The Workshop at 26 Lambeth High Street, there are two exhibitions currently on show until the museum can find a permanent home in 2018. Their goal is to showcase London’s important history of migration from all over the world. http://www.migrationmuseum.org/
Closures for 2018
London Duck Tours
The iconic amphibious trucks that you used to see all over London will no longer ply the tourist trade. London Duck Tours lost their slip due to a major infrastructure problem and decided to close down. They plan to offer new types of tours in 2018, but as of press time, this information as not available.
The indoor Charles Dickens attraction located just outside of London in Chatham has closed permanently.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The iconic business where the Liberty Bell and Big Ben were cast has closed forever. The owners decided to sell up and move on (the building was worth a lot of money). A new company will now make bells under the Whitechapel name, but they will no longer be made in London.
The Geffrye is about to embark on a transformational £18m development project – Unlocking the Geffrye. This will mean that the museum will close on 7 January 2018 for almost two years. Although the main museum building and period gardens will be closed, there will still be plenty of reasons to visit. Throughout closure, we will run a programme of events and activities in their front gardens.
Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower
You will be disappointed to see the clocktower (called Elizabeth Tower since 2012) covered in scaffolding for the next few years. The tower and clock were in desperate need of engineering works to ensure their survival, and as a result, the tower is now covered, and the mechanism has been stopped. Big Ben will not chime except for special occasions until 2021.
Time to update all the guidebooks. A big change is coming to London’s railways later this year (and Britain’s). You may have noticed that when you’re caught short in London’s mainline railway stations that they charge for the privilege of using the public toilets. As an American, this has always struck me as odd. There […]
Originally an area of London owned by Westminster Abbey, it came into the possession of King Henry VIII much in the same way a lot of church property did during his monarchy. He later transferred some of it to Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, for whom the square is named. He built a […]