Carlyle’s House, Chelsea review: in the footsteps of literary greats

“Tom Carlyle lives in perfect dignity in a house in Chelsea with a snuffy Scotch maid to open the door and best company in England ringing at it!”

William Makepeace Thackeray

There is nothing quite like a historic house, is there?

The former homes of notable people from history range from the grand to the intimate, and Carlyle’s House is one of the most intimate in London.

Writer and historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane moved to this quintessentially-Victorian home in 1834.

At the time, Chelsea was pretty unfashionable — until Carlyle became famous, and Dickens, Tennyson and others started flocking here to spend time with him.

Statue at Carlyle's House, Chelsea, London
Image: A Peace of London

These days, it’s owned by National Trust and has been preserved just as the Carlyles left it.

Outside, there are just a few clues that a special place lies just a few feet away, such as the statue of Thomas Carlyle that sits on Chelsea Embankment…

…and the subtle sign on Cheyne Row.

SIgn for Carlyle's House, Chelsea, London
Image: A Peace of London

Stepping onto the peaceful Cheyne Row feels like stepping back into the 1800s.

You have to look pretty close to tell that number 24 has such an interesting history.

Carlyle's House, Chelsea, London
Image: A Peace of London

Inside, it’s like Thomas Carlyle has just stepped out of the room — most of the items in the house belonged to the Carlyle’s.

The attention to detail is stunning, right down to the books in the study and the worn chair in the corner.

Carlyle's House, Chelsea, London
Image: A Peace of London

Jane’s bedroom is made up for a good night’s sleep, complete with a four-poster bed and candles ready for twilight.

Carlyle's House, Chelsea, London
Image: A Peace of London

And you can understand why Thomas Carlyle loved this spot in the garden so much.

You’re free to sit here and think for hours, just like he did.

Garden of Carlyle's House, Chelsea, London
Image: A Peace of London

Carlyle’s House: the essentials

Opening times: Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm (last admission is 4.30pm)

Nearest Tube: Sloane Square / Fulham Broadway

Admission is normally £7.00 but National Trust members get in free: you can join National Trust here.

More information: Visit the National Trust website here

Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission when you click on them and make a purchase. It doesn’t affect the way you shop, and it’s a great way to support the A Peace of London blog.

The great and good of Hampstead Cemetery: a mini video tour

As well as being a very peaceful place to while away a couple of hours, Hampstead Cemetery also has its fair share of extraordinary people buried within its walls.

Who saved the life of a king? How is HMV connected to Hampstead Cemetery? And who electrified the Tube? Sheldon from the Cemetery Club blog explains in this YouTube video.

You can also read what Sheldon says below. If you like what you see/read, then I highly recommend you check out the next Cemetery Club tour.

Charles Spagnoletti

So, if you’ve ever used the London Underground, there’s one thing you’re probably very thankful for and that’s the fact it’s run by electricity.

When the Metropolitan line was opened in 1860 it was a very different premise entirely.  Yes, OK it was an Underground system and the first in the world however, it was powered by steam engines.

Every time a steam engine would come into the Underground station you were probably choked by noxious fumes of sulphur and smoke and so on. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant thing to encounter, especially if you’re trying to do a commute.

One man changed that – Charles Spagnoletti.

He was an Italian by birth and for 40-odd years he was actually working on the Great Western Railway in charge of many of their gauges and so on – basically that was his life’s work.

When he retired aged 50, he decided to go freelance, and it was in his freelance period that he actually created a lot of his best-known work. For example, the electrification of a London Underground line.

Now, when the Northern Line originally opened — to much fanfare, for example King Edward VIII and the Duke of Clarence were in attendance – they were all powered by steam engines. But [Spagnoletti] had another idea.

He was fascinated by the use of electricity – he saw it as the future of modern travel.

So it was the first line to be completely electrified, not only in terms of the trains but [also] in terms of the lighting, in terms of the signage and so on. He really wanted to clean up the act of the London Underground.

So he basically installed various cables with all of his knowledge from all of his previous work at the Great Western Railway, working alongside engineers such as Sir John Fowler, Benjamin Baker and so on. He basically created London’s first modern Tube line.

And when King Edward descended from Kennington Tube station when it was opened, he saw a gleaming hall of bright shining lights, electric trains, clean air.

To the point where John Fowler — the great engineer of the Metropolitan line — said, ‘Actually, do you know what, there’s going to be health benefits to this, and I think everyone should take an electric trip to benefit their health.’

And it’s simply because of his work. Now, he was a very bombastic and very dedicated Italian gentleman — he was known for wearing white waistcoats and lavender gloves, and he certainly was a cut above the rest in terms of not only in style, but also in talent, too.

But again, he’s buried here in a very plain grave, not off the main avenue, his talent largely forgotten.

Sir Joseph Lister

Imagine the scene: it’s 1912 and it’s Westminster Abbey. The bells are in full peal.

All the great and good of the medical profession, and indeed London’s society,  have turned out for the funeral of one of the greatest men of the Victorian era.

From that spot, they come to this spot in Hampstead Cemetery where the remains of Sir Joseph Lister are lowered into this grave.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the name Sir Joseph Lister you’ll probably familiar with one of his most famous products… not that he invented it. His name was lent to it – Listerine mouthwash.

For Sir Joseph Lister was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery. He started his career in Scotland where he was a surgeon, but he was very closely following the work of a gentleman named Louis Pasteur who was concerned with germ theory.

Now, Lister was a surgeon and at this time surgeons were concerned with how they were perceived. A number of their aprons were crusted and stained with the blood of previous surgeries.

Never mind the fact that this was completely unhygienic — they took this as a badge of honour.

Whether the patients survived or not was neither here nor there. Lister had other ideas.

He thought, if we could sterilise the surgical procedures, perhaps we could improve patient lifespan. So he was looking at the work of a gentleman by the name of Rudge who has invented a product called creosote.

Creosote was used to preserve wood. Obviously, to preserve wood, it creates an environment where no bacteria can get in to eat and dissolve it.

So [Lister] thought, if I make a solution of this, could this be applied an operation scenario? So he patented a spray which could be sprayed over the patient’s wounds and he would use that to ensure that the patient survived —  so that no infection could get in.

This was a breakthrough. [Lister] was the talk of the town of London – many of his patients survived from very
simple procedures like a broken leg or an amputation. Whereas before they would have died, and miraculously they actually started to live.

So he actually changed the face — and indeed the survival rate — of most life-changing surgeries.

His talent didn’t stop there because in the early 1900s, King Edward VII — Victoria’s son who took her throne — complained of stomach pains.

And he [Lister] was brought onto the scene, essentially to treat what was wrong with the King. Now, the King was a workaholic – he didn’t want to believe that anything was wrong.

But, it was the work of Frederick Treves, who was the best friend of the elephant man, and Joseph Lister who diagnosed the fact that he had some sort of abscess on his appendix. Now, this required skill which as a surgeon Frederick Treaves would very happily deliver, but it was Lister who was there to administer the antibiotic properties, and indeed the anaesthetic, to make sure that the King lived.

[Lister] saved the life of the monarch, and even at his funeral, the King was actually profoundly grateful for the work of Joseph Lister.

And again, in this forgotten part of Hampstead Cemetery, we owe so much to this man – the NHS, the world health
service, even – is all because of his sterling work.

Frederick Gaisberg

So, if anyone here has used Spotify or YouTube, or indeed listened to any type of music at any time they wanted to it’s all largely down to the efforts of this man.

The grave is of Frederick Gaisberg who was an American by birth – he was born in Washington DC. And he basically
made music available for the masses.

Now, back in the Victorian era, if you wanted to hear your favourite requiem or any kind of music, you would either have to listen to it in your head, or go to see it being performed live, which probably for most people would be maximum four or five times their entire lifetime.

Fred Gaisberg thought, no this isn’t good enough — we can utilise the power of technology to bring music
to the masses.

Gaisberg opened up a studio in the 1890s and started working for the grammar phone company. And using experimental technology [he] started to record anything and everything, from farmyard noises to the sound of opening doors to even opera singers, because he was fascinated by music and sound.

And indeed, if anyone’s familiar with The Beatles, George Martin – the first A&R man they say – [Gaisberg] was basically the template. They say his powers of diplomacy would have made most diplomats jealous — he could handle the most tricky of artists.

And one of his crowning achievements was when he recorded the Italian opera singer, Enrico Caruso.

Now, Enrico Caruso, if you’re familiar with the Go Compare adverts, he was very much of that type. He was in his mid-20s, kind of rotund, twizzly moustache, very bombastic and very popular.

[Gaisberg] heard his voice and was instantly in love — he heard him in La Scala and thought, this needs to be committed to some sort of record.

So, he went up to Caruso and said “We’re going to record your voice, if that’s OK,” and Caruso said “Yeah, that’s fine, I’m slightly sceptical because this means surely people won’t come to my performances, but I’ll give it a try,” [and] stated his fee.

Gaisberg then went back to the grammar phone company and said this is what Caruso wants in terms of a fee, and they sent back a telegram in bold, capital letters, essentially saying TOO MUCH. FEE EXORBITANT. DO NOT BOTHER.

Gaisberg went, “No. he’s got the voice of an angel. I’m going to pay for him out of my own pocket, and record him and see how it does.” And that’s what he did.

Next day, Caruso turns up at his hotel room and basically starts recording — slightly tentatively at first, but then once he gets into the swing of things, he starts singing beautiful music, to the point where Gaisberg actually did a cartoon of
him singing, which he presented to him afterwards.

Now, the recording equipment at the time was fairly rudimentary. It was basically a square horn that you had to sing into at point-blank range.

The piano accompaniment had to be done at the exact same level as the microphone. So the actual piano had to be hoisted up onto planks so that it could be played at the same level so that the horn could record the sound.

Gaisberg recorded it and everything went well, and he started to sell it. Remarkably, [it was] an amazing best seller.
It sold over 300,000 units, which considering the time that this was recorded – this was done with technology that was incredibly new – was an amazing feat.

And it basically kick-started not only Enrico Caruso’s career — he actually got a gig at Covent Garden Theatre a couple of months afterwards — it also cemented the recording industry and led to the modern music industry as we know it today.

Never mind George Martin, The Beatles or any kind of recording companies — because of him we can listen to things on Spotify, YouTube, Deezer, Tidal — whatever you want to listen to — all because of his efforts. And we owe that man
a great debt.

Francis Barraud

Now, for many of you who used to buy records from a physical shop, let’s say HMV, there’s a particular painting that you might be familiar with — His Master’s Voice.

It’s the one of the little jack terrier listening to a grammar phone while music plays — probably to the sound of his master’s voice, as the painting’s called.

Well, the artist is actually called Francis Barraud, and he’s buried here — he was the one who painted it.

Marie Lloyd

So, here we are at the grave of basically the Edwardian era’s Celine Dion. This is Marie Lloyd, although when she was born she was plain old Matilda Wood.

Now, she had a natural aptitude for being a performer. She was the eldest of nine siblings and many of them would actually help her as an ensemble cast to perform music and stage shows and so on, basically for the benefit of the local
community.

And she was a great performer – just had a natural flair. [She] started at the Eagle Tavern and then worked her way up to other music halls and theatres up and down the land.

Now, Marie Lloyd was known as the nation’s sweetheart and the general public absolutely adored her, simply because of her songs. Many of her songs were very tongue in cheek – many of them had a double meaning.

For example, she’s never had her ticket punched before — yeah! And other such songs — she clearly liked to ramp up the double entendre, which survived long after she passed.

You have shows like Are You Being Served using it, right up to Citizen Khan today. She was very much a purveyor of that kind of humour.

Now, many of the songs that she sung, if you were to play back to your grandparents or your great-grandparents, if they heard them they would have instantly brought a smile because they were instantly recognisable.

And usually when I do a tour, I like to sing one of her songs because she was obviously a lady of the music hall. So I’m gonna sing, When I Take My Morning Promenade.

Now, this was written in 1908 by Mills and Scott, and you could take it two ways. It’s either about changing fashion or about a woman wanting a shag.

Either way you can take it, it doesn’t matter and ambiguous meaning is what made it so popular. So, here we go…

Since Mother Eve in the Garden long ago
Started the fashion, fashion’s been a passion

Eve wore a costume we might describe as brief
Still every season brought a change of leaf.

She’d stare if she could come to town
Oh! what would Mother Eve think of my new Parisian gown? (Chorus…)

When I take my morning promenade
Quite the fashion card, on the Promenade

Oh! I don’t mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire

Do you like my dress just a little bit
Just a little bit….. Not too much of it,

If it shows my shape just a little bit
That’s the little bit the boys admire

Fancy the girls in the prehistoric days
Each wore a bearskin covering her fair skin,

Lately Salome has charmed us to be sure
Wearing some rows of beads and not much more

Fancy me dressing like that, too
The ‘Daily Mirror’ man would love an interview

As I take my morning promenade
Quite the fashion card, on the Promenade

Well, I don’t mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire

Do you like my dress just a little bit
Just a little bit….. Not too much of it,

If it shows my shape just a little bit
That’s the little bit the boys admire

I’ve heard my Grandmother wore the crinoline
Then came the bussle, Oh! it was a tussle

Women were tied up and loaded up with dress
Now, fashion plates decree we must wear less.

Each year our costume grows more brief
I wonder when we’ll get back to the good old fashioned leaf?

As I take my morning promenade
Quite the fashion card, on the Promenade

Oh! I don’t mind nice boys staring hard
If it satisfies their desire

Do you like my dress just a little bit
Just a little bit….. but not too much of it,

If it shows my shape just a little bit
That’s the little bit the boys admire

And there we are.

More about Cemetery Club tours

Find out more about the Cemetery Club blog and the tours they run at their website.

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Host Café at St Mary Aldermary church, City of London

For those of us who crave a moment’s peace and a coffee in the morning — or at any time of a weekday — I think I might have found the perfect place…

I found Host Café  and St Mary Aldermary church a couple of weeks ago. I was unable to get out and explore at the weekend, so I got on a train into London at 6.45am to go and explore on a Monday morning instead.

Here’s how I got on…

St Mary Aldermary church, City of London
Image: A Peace of London

The café is situated at one end of the church, which is not only a great use of the space but also gives you a great view of the magnificent church ceiling from your breakfast table.

St Mary Aldermary church, City of London
Image: A Peace of London

Sitting in this wonderful space for an hour before work gave me the energy and motivation I needed to start another week.

There are also two huge stained glass windows at either end of the church, and a little part of history to see in every corner — from memorial plaques to parts of the church itself.

Host Cafe at St Mary Aldermary church, City of London
Image: A Peace of London

St Mary Aldermary church is just across the road from Mansion House station and the café opens at 7.15am, which made it a perfect stop for breakfast before work on an otherwise hectic morning.

If you want another excuse to visit, they hold lunchtime or evening meditation sessions three times a week.

St Mary Aldermary church, City of London
Image: A Peace of London

Host Café and St Mary Aldermary church: the essentials

Address: Watling Street, London EC4M 9BW

Opening times: 7.30am-4.45pm Monday-Friday (until 4.30pm on Mondays and Fridays)

Nearest Tube: Mansion House

More information: Visit the café website

Waterlow Park: the peaceful alternative to Hampstead Heath

Since September 1st is the start of autumn and we’ll soon be saying goodbye to the summer, I thought I’d share some photos of an autumnal Waterlow Park to celebrate one of the best parts of my favourite season — long Sunday walks.

These photos were taken last year on an exploration around Highgate, just when the leaves were turning golden orange and before they’d fallen off the trees.

The colours made the view all the more impressive…

View from Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

On our way around the park, we happened across the statue of Sydney H. Waterlow, a philanthropist and politician who donated the park to the public as “a garden for the gardenless”.

Statue of Sydney H. Waterlow at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London
Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

All this colour made the lake (pond?) look quite dramatic.

The lake at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

While you’re there, take a walk around the gardens of Lauderdale House (which was sadly closed when we visited) and take in the equally-dramatic statues:

Statue at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London
Statue at at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

Waterlow Park: the essentials

Opening times: 7.30am-8pm, daily

Nearest Tube: Archway

More information: Visit the Friends of Waterlow Park website. For more information about Lauderdale House, visit the house’s website.

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9 things you should know about St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell

Any building that makes a group of seasoned London bloggers go ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ must be pretty special. But you don’t have to be very seasoned to appreciate this fascinating pocket of history.

St John’s Gate is home to the Museum of the Order of St John, which tells the story of a monastic order dating back to the 12th-century.

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

You can visit this small museum (and the Church Cloister Garden across the road) anytime, or if you’ve got 80 minutes to spare then they also run tours of the rest of the building, including the 12th-century crypt.

Here are my highlights from the tour to whet your appetite.

1. St John’s Gate was built in 1504…

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

The gate was built as part of Clerkenwell Priory (established in 1140) which was the headquarters of the religious Order of St John — known as the Hospitallers.

St John’s Gate would have been the main entrance to the walled inner precinct of the priory; it’s thought that this gate replaced an even older one, which was built in the 1160s.

2. …Before Clerkenwell Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII

Stained glass window in St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

You can’t get far in a beautiful building in London without running into this guy, and Henry VIII makes his rather large presence felt yet again at St John’s Gate.

During the reformation, the Order of St John was dissolved and Clerkenwell Priory was seized by the crown — aside from being briefly restored during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, the Order was not to return to the gate for 300 years.

In the time after it was dissolved, though, the gate was put to good use…

3. Shakespeare had some of his plays licensed here

Interior of St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

Our tour guide was not kidding when he suggested that this room deep within St John’s Gate was one of the most important rooms in English cultural history.

Back in the 16th century, this was the office of the Master of the Revels — the guy who had the power to grant licences for plays to be performed in public.

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

He could even ask you to perform some of it (or even the whole thing) for him, so many of the period’s well known plays were performed for the first time here.

And of course, no story about 16th-century culture would be complete without mention of William Shakespeare, who came here for licences for 30 of his plays; it was in this very room that the first performance of Twelfth Night took place.

4. It was once a coffee shop run by William Hogarth’s father

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

In 1703, Richard Hogarth opened Hogarth’s Coffee House as a place for gentlemen to meet and talk in Latin.

Consequently, William Hogarth grew up in this area, and would later paint the grand staircase at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which now leads from the museum to the Great Hall.

5. Dr Johnson worked here in the 1730s and 40s

Interior of St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

Long before he compiled his famous Dictionary or uttered anything about being tired of London, Samuel Johnson (as he was then known) worked as a contributor, translator and editor for The Gentleman’s Magazine, which was established here at St John’s Gate in 1731 and based in the same room as the Master of the Revels office above.

Several of Johnson’s books were also printed here; join a guided tour and they’ll show you the spot where Johnson’s desk would have been. Other connections to the 18th-century culture include the actor David Garrick’s first public London performance, and the printing of Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity.

Johnson later lived in several houses in the Fleet Street area, including 17 Gough Square — now Dr Johnson’s House — which is a 20-minute walk from St John’s Gate.

To complement this part of the building’s history, a first edition of Johnson’s Dictionary and some of his other work is on display in the museum.

6. The Jerusalem Tavern was based here (which was a favourite of Charles Dickens)

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

From the 1700s until the 1870s, the gate served as a tavern, known as the Old Gate, the St John’s Gate Tavern, the Jerusalem Tavern or Old Jerusalem Tavern. A fireplace from the original tavern still lives in the gate.

During this time, the gate started to change shape; the battlements were pulled down in the 1760s, probably because they were unsafe, and a double entrance was removed in 1771 to ease traffic. More work was done in the 1800s.

St John's Gate pictured in 1800 by Henry Dixon
St John’s Gate pictured in 1800 by Henry Dixon (British Library/public domain)

Much of the building we see today is a Victorian reconstruction, as the original Tudor buildings had decayed so much that the Watson family — who owned the gate at the time — were faced with either repairing it or pulling it down.

7. The crypt is the only part of the original priory to have survived from the 12th century

Tomb in the crypt of St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

Go on a guided tour around St John’s Gate and you’ll also get to see the crypt, which is the only part of the complex to have survived everything that the rest of it has been through.

You can’t get much quieter than an underground crypt, even on a tour, and you’ll also get to hear why there is no one buried down here.

8. And The Church Cloister Garden is pretty special, too

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

The monks of the old priory would have grown herbs here and the space is now a walled garden open for the public to enjoy.

Cloister garden at St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

Take a pew on one of the benches and take in the view of the old church and galley that line the walls.

9. You might recognise the crosses dotted around the building…

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

In 1887 the Order of St John were able to return to the gate, and this has been their headquarters ever since.

They even still have the same motto that the Knights Hospitaller chose 900 years ago: ‘For the Faith and in the Service of Humanity’, and they take this objective very seriously…

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell, London
The first stretcher used by St John’s Ambulance — now in the priory church (Image: A Peace of London)

The Order’s full title is The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem and is itself an international charity with two charitable foundations: the St John Eye Hospital Group in Jersalem and St John’s Ambulance.

While on a tour, look out for the eight-pointed cross on a black background, which you might recognise from the St John’s Ambulance logo.

St John’s Gate: the essentials

Opening times: 10am-5pm, Monday-Saturday (plus Sundays in July, August and September)

Nearest Tube: Farringdon / Barbican

More information: Visit the Museum of the Order of St John website

7 quiet things to do near Farringdon station, London

There are a few areas in London that take on a different personality during the weekend… St Paul’s is one; The City is another. But Farringdon and Clerkenwell are by far my favourites.

I held my wedding reception across the road from Farringdon station…

Farringdon Lane, London
Picture credit: Story and Colour photography

…and I always bring friends here when I really want to show London off.

It just so happens that there are tons of quiet activities to do that are within a short walk of Farringdon station, too.

Here are a few of my favourites. Is yours on the list? Let me know by leaving a comment, or drop me a message

Explore Dr Johnson’s old workplace at Saint John’s Gate

Museum of the Order of St John and St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Image: Paul Hudson / Flickr

Discover the ancient religious military order that now supports St John’s Ambulance at the Museum of the Order of St John in (fittingly) St John’s Lane.

The collection on show is impressive and includes rare armour, a bronze cannon given by Henry VIII and ancient coins.

The museum is also housed in St John’s Gate, where Dr Johnson once worked and Charles Dickens socialised with fellow writers and artists.

Join a tour and they’ll even show you the 12th-century crypt and priory church.

Walk from Farringdon station: 4 minutes

Address: 26 St John’s Lane, London EC1M 4DA

More information: Visit The Museum of the Order of St John website here.

Step into a time capsule at St Bartholomew the Great

st bartholomew the great church, London
Picture credits: KotomiCreations on Flickr

If you like beautiful old monuments, tall ceilings and dark corners, then you’ll find lots to love at St Bartholomew the Great, which has atmosphere and charm by the bucketload.

Founded in 1123 as an Augustinian monastery, the building has survived almost a millennia of fires, wars and religious upheaval.

Stepping among the tombs and graves dotted around the building, you can almost feel the presence of the thousands of people who have passed through the doors.

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The church also currently holds a different type of work of art: Damien Hirst’s Exquisite Pain is currently on long-term loan and gilded in gold.

Forget the Tate Modern — this is my kind of art exhibition.

Walk from Farringdon station: 5 minutes (or 6 minutes from St Paul’s)

Address: Cloth Fair, London EC1A 7JQ

More information: Read my review here or visit their website.

Relax at Thackeray’s cafe

Thackerays Cafe, Clerkenwell, London
Image: A Peace of London

This new cafe next to The Charterhouse is a lovely example of a museum cafe and the perfect place to take the weight off if you’re exploring the area.

It was also pretty peaceful when I visited on a Saturday recently, so you could spend a happy few hours here if you want a place to write, read or study.

Walk from Farringdon station: 6 minutes (or 3 minutes from Barbican)

Address: 14 Charterhouse Square, London EC1M

More information: visit the Charterhouse website here.

Discover 900 years of history at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum

St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum, London
Image: A Peace of London

This little-known museum in the West Smithfield entrance of St Bart’s Hospital tells the story of the building, its patients and its staff.

Among the collection are a teaching head that was used as a football, a copy of Henry VIII’s refounding document for the hospital and a painted staircase by William Hogarth, which depicts real-life patients.

Henry VIII Gate at St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum
Image: A Peace of London

The museum is only open Tuesdays to Fridays, but if you’re visiting on the weekend then you can still check out the only public statue of Henry VIII in London, which stands above the entrance to the hospital on West Smithfield.

Walk from Farringdon station: 6 minutes (or 7 minutes from St Paul’s)

Address: 19 Giltspur St, London EC1A 9DD

More information: read my review here or visit their website.

Get a glimpse of Tudor London at The Charterhouse

Exterior of The Charterhouse, Smithfield, London
Image: A Peace of London

The Charterhouse in Clerkenwell has been super-popular since it opened in February 2017.

And it’s no wonder, since it has a history to rival the Tower of London…

The site started life as a burial ground for victims of the plague before the Charterhouse was built in 1371 as a Carthusian monastery.

In 1535 — a year before Anne Boleyn was beheaded at the Tower — 18 of the Charterhouse monks were either executed or left to rot in prison for refusing to accept Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church.

Exterior of The Charterhouse, Smithfield, London
Image: A Peace of London

The monastery was suppressed and passed to the King, before being turned into a Tudor mansion.

Later, the Charterhouse welcomed Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I — who stayed here before proceeding to the Tower of London for her coronation — and James I who conducted business here before his own coronation.

Nowadays, the site is an almshouse which still houses 80 brothers and has been opened to the public.

Tours are available daily (book in advance as they’re very popular) and the free museum is open every day except for Monday.

Walk from Farringdon station: 6 minutes (or 3 minutes from Barbican)

Address: Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN

More information: read my review here or visit their website.

Take a breath at St. James Church Garden

St James's Church Garden, Clerkenwell, London
Image: Story and Colour Photography

Hide away from it all in this little church garden off Clerkenwell Green.This is where we came to take a breath after our wedding (that’s a blurry me in the white dress above) and if we can disappear from view for half an hour on that day, then anyone can do it.

This is where we came to take a breath after our wedding (that’s a blurry me in the white dress above) and if we can disappear from view for half an hour on that day, then anyone can do it.

St James is lovely inside and out, so have a look around the church if you can. Otherwise, the garden looks just as lovely covered in autumn leaves as it does in the bright sunshine.

Otherwise, the garden looks just as lovely covered in autumn leaves as it does in the bright sunshine.

Walk from Farringdon station: 8 minutes

Address: Clerkenwell Close, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0EA

More information: visit the St James’s Church website.

Dive into the London Metropolitan Archives

London Metropolitan Archives, City of London
Picture credit: Matt Brown on Flickr

London Metropolitan Archives holds City of London records (plus other territories such as Epping Forest) going back centuries, so this is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in London’s history.

There’s always an exhibition on, or to see inside the archives you’ll need to sign-up for a history card and have some clue of what you’re looking for.

The Archives are open Monday-Friday plus selected Saturdays: visit the website here to check times before you visit.

Walk from Farringdon station: 10 minutes

Address: 40 Northampton Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0HB

More information: visit the City of London website.

Find these places on the map:

And a bit farther away…

Byng Place, Bloomsbury, London
Image: Duncan Harris on Flickr

Around 15 minutes’ walk from Clerkenwell are Fleet Street, Holborn and Temple, which are full of quiet places to take a break — much of these are quieter during the weekend, too. Find out more about my favourite places in this area on my post or follow Matt Brown’s quiet walk through Holborn and Bloomsbury here.

Speaking of Bloomsbury… this laid-back area is one my favourite in London. I wrote a post about my 14 favourite quiet places in Bloomsbury and Russell Square here.

The best things to do in Shoreditch and Spitalfields (without the crowds)

From medieval crypts and a dissenters’ burial ground to tiny bookshops and pretty Georgian streets, Shoreditch and Spitalfields in east London have so many peaceful corners and activities to offer if you scratch beneath the over-hyped hipster surface.

Here are my 11 favourite things to do in Shoreditch and Spitalfields… great when you need to escape the crowds of tourist attractions such as Boxpark or Hoxton.

Is your favourite place on the list? Let me know in the comments or send me a message!

See medieval London below ground at Spitalfields Charnel House

Spitalfields Charnel House, London
Image: A Peace of London

At almost 700 years old, Charnel House in Bishop’s Square is Spitalfield’s oldest building.

Back in the 14th century, it would have been crammed with skull and leg bones — these were the most important parts of the body to save so that the dead could walk and talk on Judgement Day.

After the priory of St Mary Spital was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, the space was used as part of a house and then as a storeroom for rubble from the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The message in the above picture reads:

“The crypt of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and St Edmund the Bishop built in about 1320 and sited in the priory of Hospital of St Mary Spital. This crypt was used as a charnel house, a store for human bones disturbed during the digging of graves within the cemetery.

“In the chapel above, services were held to dedicate the bones beneath.

“After St Mary Spital was closed 1539, most of the bones were removed, and the crypt became a house until it was demolished in about 1700.

“The crypt then lay forgotten beneath the gardens of terraced houses and then Steward Street until it was found in archaeological excavations in 1999.”

And the best part?

The Charnel House is now protected by glass walls that allow you to view the ruins anytime of day.

There’s even a glass roof so you can peer down under your feet…

Address: Bishops Square, London E1 6FQ

More information: Read the history of the Charnel House on the Spitalfields Life blog here.

Have a nose in This Shop Rocks, Brick Lane

This Shop Rocks, Brick Lane, London
Image: A Peace of London

The sounds of bustling Brick Lane melt away when you head downstairs in this little secondhand shop.

Upstairs is filled with antiques and furniture, while the basement is reserved for books and other things you never knew you needed.

You could hear a pin drop down here, so put an hour aside, take some cash and prepare for peaceful vintage heaven.

Address: 131 Brick Lane, London E1 6SE

More information: Visit their Yelp listing here

Take a wander in pretty Georgian streets

Vintage car in Elder Street, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

If you want proof of how much east London has changed in the last 300 or so years, then you only need to go as far as Elder Street, Folgate Street and Blossom Street.

The streets of Spitalfields were some of the poorest in Victorian London and the houses were worth almost nothing just a few decades ago.

Cat in Shoreditch
Image: A Peace of London

Nowadays, you can expect to pay well over £1.5 million for the privilege of living in on Elder Street — and to be overlooked by some of the most affluent businesses in the country in their glass towers.

The thought that these streets were full of starving children a little over 100 years ago is sobering as you wander past the beautiful brick and quintessential Victorian doorways.

Spital Yard, Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London
Georgian houses in Elder Street, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London
Georgian buildings in Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London
Street art in Princelet Street, Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London

See ‘the bells of Shoreditch’ at St Leonard’s Church

Shoreditch Church - St Leonard's - London
Picture credit: Helen.2006 / Flickr

“When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch”

This church made famous by a slightly twitsted nursery rhyme (Oranges and Lemons, if you’re trying to place it) is also known as the actors’ church — some of the biggest names in Elizabethan theatre are buried in the medieval church underneath Shoreditch’s crypt.

The big names include:

  • James Burbage, who built the first English theatre
  • His son Cuthbert Burbage, who built the Globe Theatre
  • Another son Richard Burbage, who was the first to play Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III and Romeo.

The church you see today was built after the medieval one collapsed in the 18th century; the replacement was designed and built by George Dance the Elder, who also designed Mansion House.

Excitingly, the original medieval crypt might be opened up in the future but for now, you can decompress here between midday and 2pm during the week.

Address: Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JN

More information: Visit the Shoreditch Church website

Visit the dissenters’ graveyard at Bunhill Fields

Bunhill Fields, Shoreditch, London
Picture credit: John W. Schulze / Flickr

Its name might suggest a vast green open space, but visit Bunhill Fields and you’ll instead get a burial ground full of radicals and nonconformists.

The most well-known among them are:

  • William Blake, who is actually buried in an unmarked grave about 20 metres away from his plain headstone
  • John Bunyan, best known as the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.

The name “Bunhill” comes from the 1500s when the land was used as a dumping ground for animal bones — and the site lived up to its name when 1,000 cartloads of human bones were moved here from St Paul’s Charnel House.

Blake, Bunyan and Defoe are joined by about 120,000 others buried here — 75 of whom are buried in listed tombs.

The close proximity of each of the 2,333 stones gives you a real sense of how graveyards looked before the Victorian cemeteries opened in outer London to ease the pressure.

Address: 38 City Road, London EC1Y 2BG

More information: Visit the City of London website

Enthusiastic William Blake fans could follow a visit to his grave with a trip to the William Blake Mosaics of Lambeth.

Feel all warm inside (and not just from the coffee) at Café from Crisis

Cafe from Crisis, London
Image: A Peace of London

Head out of Spitalfields on Commercial Street and you’ll find a trendy café with a big heart.

Café from Crisis is based at the Crisis charity’s HQ and offers training and employment to homeless people and ex-offenders. So far they have helped over 400 people into sustainable work by training them for jobs in the catering industry.

As if that wasn’t good enough…

They also offer coffee from roasters in Essex and Peckham, healthy food that’s cooked onsite, smoothies and vegan treats. Even forgetting the fact that by eating or drinking here you’re helping to support people who need a break, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Even forgetting the fact that, by eating or drinking here, you’re helping to support people who need a break, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Address: 66 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT

More information: Visit the Crisis website

Snatch a few moments of peace at Elder Gardens

Elder Gardens in Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

Hidden away between Folgate Street and Carluccio’s are Elder Gardens — a set of two little patches of nature that belie their uber-hip city location.

There are strict rules about what you can do here and the gardens are surrounded by flats so you’re pretty much protected from noise from all angles.

You’d also be forgiven if you didn’t know they were there, which means that you’ll only be joined by a select group of fellow peace lovers on your “escape” from the city.

Address: Lamb Street, London E1 6UJ

Switch off at Hanbury Hall

Hanbury Hall cafe, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

This peaceful coffee shop next to Spitalfields Market does have some slightly strange opening times…

But when it does open, the team serve lovely cakes, healthy lunches and a wide range of tea and coffee.

Stay downstairs for group visits but head upstairs if you really want to shut yourself away — the upstairs level is super-quiet with clean lines and high ceilings, owing to the building’s history as a Huguenot chapel.

Address: 22 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR

More information: Visit the Hanbury Hall website

Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate Street

Dennis Severs House, London
Image: A Peace of London

Rather than acting as a traditional historic house, Dennis Severs House (otherwise known as 18 Folgate Street) takes the form of a ‘still-life drama’.

Explore this little house and you’ll get a sense of what life would have been like for the Huguenot immigrants who would have made it their home in 1724.

As you pass through the door of 18 Folgate Street, you’re supposed to feel like you’ve stepped into a painting — complete with smells and sounds of Huguenot life.

So leave your phones at home for this one — to preserve an accurate experience, cameras are not allowed and tours are conducted in silence.

Address: 18 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX

More information: Visit the Dennis Severs’ House website

Spitalfields City Farm

Spitalfields City Farm, London
Picture credit: David Hill / Flickr

There’s nothing better than a city farm when you’re slightly tired of London.

Spitalfields happens to be one of the best — not least because it hosts the Oxford/Cambridge Goat Race, which is one of the quirkiest events in London’s calendar (and in east London, that’s saying something).

The farm was opened in 1978 after local residents lost their allotments to development (nothing changes) and campaigned for a spot of wasteland to be put to good use.

It wasn’t long before animals started appearing on the new allotments, and Spitalfields City Farm was born…

The strong links to the community have remained, and the local community has been able to protect Spitalfields City Farm from the development that has taken over so much of east London for almost 30 years.

There are loads of ways to get involved in that community spirit, including a campaign to fund a new roof to keep the animals warm and dry.

Address: Buxton Street, London E1 5AR

More information: Visit the Spitalfields City Farm website

Also in east London…

More quiet London area guides…