Dr Johnson House

April 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In a small secluded square near Fleet Street is a house from 1700 where Dr Samuel Johnson spent much of his life and wrote the first major English Dictionary between 1748 – 59.

Most of the house/museum is given over to a background of Samuel, his family and of course the development of the dictionary. While you might readily conclude that anyone who writes a dictionary might be a tad dull that’s not completely the case. I did find it interesting that he was often broke (except in his later years when he had a state pension) and the house reflects some of the security measures used to stop his creditors. Notably he was commissioned to finish the dictionary in 3 years but it ending up taking Samuel and his assistants 9 (published in 1755). The English establishment was still quite pleased with this as it took 40 academics from the French academy forty years to complete.

The upper floor is fairly sparse and recounts some of the stories from World War II when the building was used as a rest station for the auxiliary Fire Service – lucky as the building was hit by a bomb and the top floor destroyed.

This year also marks the 300th anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s birth and the museum website highlights some of the events.

As an aside the square also features a statue of Hodges the cat – one of the doctor’s companions.

The museum costs £4.50 (and there’s no Eftpos). The content of the museum is fine and if you’re willing to pay £4.50 then by all means make the trip. Otherwise unless you’re a linguist (or have an interest in that direction) you could probably pass by.

St Bart’s Hospital Museum

April 7, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

St Bart’s Hospital museum covers the history of the hospital. It’s fine and free but probably missable unless you have an interest in small and medical museums. It’s located in what feels like the side of a gatehouse wall just past the hospital church.

You’ll see a short video describing the life of its founder Rahere and the formation of the hospital in the 12th century (1137) as well as copies of the deeds and grants with signatures by Henry VIII. You’ll then progress through several different sections detailing the history and medical treatments practised here for 900 years. Overall it took about 20 – 30 minutes (including the video).

Outside the hospital walls (towards Smithfield Market) is a monument to where William Wallace was executed – it still gets flowers!

St Bart's

After the monument and just before you turn right towards the market is a passageway leading towards a nice looking church.

St Bart's (7) St Bart's (2)

The Bart Hospital Museum is a niche subject area but it knows its subject and does it well.

Billingsgate & Smithfield Markets

April 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Early one morning I tried to wake up early so I could see London’s Billingsgate Market in full swing but sadly the snooze button got the better of me and I only saw the tail end.

Billingsgate is London’s fresh fish market located near Canary Wharf. It’s still run by the City of London (and as a result when you approach you’ll walk past signage indicating the political change). The market is open from 5am to 8:30am Tuesday to Saturdays. It’s a commercial space but members of the public can visit (photography isn’t permitted).

Billingsgate Market Billingsgate Market (2)

I’d envisaged a huge trade floor filled with fish of all descriptions and as I walked towards the long building I continued to believe this. Predictably this didn’t turn out to be the case. The trading booths occupy perhaps a third of the space with the rest presumably given over to storage.

When I arrived at 7:20 many of the traders were washing out their equipment but there were enough still actively trading to get a sense of the environment. I imagine if I was a foodie or a fisherman then you could spend quite some time checking out the varieties.

After Billingsgate I made my way to one of London’s other big commercial produce markets – Smithfields. I’d often walked past this literal meat market (near Farringdon) but never been able to go in due to its opening times. Luckily unemployment has a few benefits. It’s open 4:00am to 12:00 Monday to Friday. Once again this is a commercial building accessible to the public but not a tourist attraction per se.

Smithfields Market (2) Smithfields Market

The central hall runs the length of the building with traders on either side. I arrived about 9 and I assume I was already too late (despite the midday closing time) as most of the booths were deserted. Well that or they just hadn’t been set up yet – unlikely. What I did saw was a lot of red meat and I tried to imagine it multiplied by a hundred percent.

I have no idea when a good time to see the market is (possibly early?)and once again presumably only good for the foodies amongst you.

When you’re done at the market check out Smiths of Smithfield for a great breakfast!

Sir John Soane Museum

April 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Walking around Lincoln’s Inn Fields you might easily walk past the John Soane Museum. The museum is actually Sir John Soane’s former residence and as a result it naturally blends in with all the other period buildings.

The building has some interesting architecture with each room providing panels explaining the aesthetic. One of the key reasons to visit is the Soane collection including an the excellent Sarcophagus of Seti I and a variety of South American artifacts amongst classical and Asian pieces. Quite the variety.

Many of the pieces can be found in the basement where you’ll walk in the dimly lit chamber surrounded by any number of statues. Once a month on a special evening opening the basement and indeed the entire house becomes quite atmospheric when the staff light candles throughout the building. Apparently this has been done to reflect what the house would have looked like in the 1800s when the Soane’s would entertain their guests.

Due to the historic nature of the house only limited number of people can be in at any one time. As a result you may have to queue. I only waited for about 10 minutes. The house is free (except for the weekend tour, which is £5). You can also download a podcast tour from the website of the house before you visit and it has an introduction by Stephen Fry.

While the second floor didn’t thrill me the overall ambiance of the entire house and in particular its collection made it a worthwhile trip. Many thanks to @stimpson for initially giving me the idea.

Also don’t repeatedly make the same error by mistakenly calling it the Sloane Museum!

BBC Tour

April 6, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Out at White City you’ll find not only a brand new(ish) shopping centre but the BBC Television Centre. For £9.50 (Adult) you can take a 1.5 – 2hr tour around the complex. Pre-bookings are essential as they won’t allow purchases on the day.

BBC Tour (4)

So the question is do you get enough bang for your buck? On the whole the answer is yes. Once you’ve met your group you’ll walk through security and past the news room for your first major introduction and background on the centre. Next up you’ll exit outside and it is revealed that the complex is in the shape of a giant question mark – the best shape apparently for the plot of land that also allowed speedy access to the studios.

BBC Tour (5)

Moving beyond you’ll see some of the studios and the wonders of green screen technology as it applies to the weather. Some of tour group had seemingly never encountered it as it was met with plenty of exclamations. Now it’s onto one of the dressing rooms and a mock studio for some group participation in front of the ‘cameras’.

BBC Tour (7)

Throughout the tour you’ll get snippets of backstage gossip and things like the excesses or not of various celebrity riders.

The guides we had were great fun, informative and very willing to answer questions. For example I asked who normally Twitters for the BBC’s various feeds. Apparently it’s normally a junior producer (who will also look after the other social web duties in addition to their other tasks). I believe their names were Jamie and Elizabeth (I hope!).

At the end of the tour you’ll get a chance to go to a BBC shop and buy some paraphenalia.

Overall it was a reasonable experience. The tour often references BBC shows (fair enough) and for those of you out there who have an emotional attachment will probably have an even better time!

Freud Museum

April 6, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Freud Museum is a house and Freud lived there. That’s about it, except this was the last year of his life when he fled Austria after German occupation. Intervention by the USA and Britain helped the family and importantly Freud’s collection to be shipped to his new home in London.

Freud Museum Freud Museum (4)

The museum focuses predominantly on the Freud family home life and some of the factors influencing Sigmund – such as a wanderlust that was translated into a collection of artifacts from around the world.

One room is dedicated to a looped series of videos not only talking about the flight from Austria but also rare home movies of the family narrated by Anna Freud. Sigmund’s daughter and a noted psychoanalyst in her own right.  A nearby room was Anna’s and covers her passions and career.

On the ground floor is Sigmund Freud’s study – including the famous couch – it’s wonderfully decorated in that same sense of an organised clutter, with a myriad of pieces – notably Egyptian statues and other knick knacks everywhere.

On the whole it’s reasonably interesting but not so interesting. Most people with only a cursory knowledge of Freud can easily skip this museum. The museum also seems lacking in information for the uninitiated on why Freud and his theories are important. If it were free or only a few pounds I might change my opinion but for £5 you need to be an aficionado. For an extra charge you can also get an audio guide.

The closest tube is Finchley Road and it is reasonably sign posted.

Freud Museum (5) Freud Museum (2)

Jack the Ripper Tour

April 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On a dark and not at all stormy night I met up with my co-conspirators by Tower Hill tube station for an evening of violent crime and intrigue. About 30 of us set off with our guide from London Walks on a journey back to the 19th century and Jack the Ripper (£7).

Obviously the London of today is significantly different to that of the 1880s, no longer is the cost of a cot per night in a poor house the same as a prostitutes services down an alley (4p) and even more so much of the architecture is new. The blitz and urban renewal playing their respective parts. Nonetheless the guide and walk does it best to navigate the path of the murders while maximising the surviving buildings.

To try and have the most atmospheric walk go on a winters night when it gets dark early and hopefully there’ll be some fog as well!

As for content, I’ve never read about the murders so I can’t attest to the guide’s veracity but assuming there aren’t any embellishments it is certainly a grizzly and violent series of attacks against London’s working women. Our guide was compelling and I could clearly hear. In addition to an overview of London life at the time and of course the murders the guide also discusses the investigation and its many fumbles. Towards the end of the tour he discussed the possible suspects and rather vitriolically commented on the may people who write books claiming to know the killer when as he said such a confirmation is impossible.
Apparently the sheer volume of walkers by the various companies has irritated some east end residents resulting in the occasional things being thrown down on unsuspecting walkers.

There were at least 2 other Ripper tours with posters at Tower Hill but each has a different starting time so you shouldn’t accidentally get onto the wrong one. These other tours may be good, they may be bad. I can’t comment and won’t be testing them out. What I will say is that this tour felt informative and engaging – just make sure you have some good shoes as you will be walking for 1 – 2 hours and the walk will finish at Spitalfield Markets near Liverpool Station.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.