London is chock full of historic must-see attractions and towering icons of note, but most only scratch the surface of the city’s fascinating history and culture. Hidden away among the labyrinth of cobbled streets and suburban enclaves lies a very different London, teeming with attractions, landmarks and icons that even many locals aren’t aware exist in their native city . Here are just some of London’s intriguing hidden attractions that reveal a very different side to the city.
Dennis Sever’s House
18 Folgate Street, Tower Hamlets, London E1
It looks like any other typical Georgian terraced house in suburban E1 – albeit one with an exceptionally well cared for frontage and wooden shutters – yet 18 Folgate Street hides a fascinating secret. This unassuming property is the home to a family of fictitious 19th Century Huguenot silk-weavers who, despite being permanently in absentia, continue to dwell within the brick-built townhouse as if stuck in a timewarp. Hunks of bread lie abandoned beside bowls of soup at the dining table. Flickering candles illuminate a half open book left upon an ornate mahogany night stand. Brainchild of the late Californian Anglophile Denis Severs, this still-life drama has been described by social historians as romantically nostalgic. To others, the authenticity of the house’s strange wafting smells, distant laughter and intimate scenes brings to life the Dickensian period far better than any museum in Old London!
Old Hill, Chislehurst, BR7
Award-winning fiction authors Connie Willis and Lynne Olson are world-renowned for their true-to-life fictional portrayals of London’s citizens during World War II, yet even they fail to encapsulate the atmosphere of fellowship, fear and uncertainty contained within London’s communal shelters as bombs rained down upon London. Less than a stone’s throw from the theatre lights of Bromley lies one of London’s oldest man-made wartime legacies; a place where the spirit of the Blitz continues to emanate, despite their abandonment in 1945.
Guides lead visitors on a 45 minute journey through part of the 22-mile maze of dank passages and winding tunnels, a subterranean world of silence and darkness, punctuated only by the occasional inexplicable gust of wind whooshing through the tunnels. As you travel deeper into the underworld, you’ll discover the fascinating ancient history of the tunnels, linked with Roman rites and Druidic practices, as well as smuggling, murder and mushroom growing. Highlights include the munitions room which housed the Woolwich Arsenal during the First World War, and the dwelling chambers of the 15,000 people who called this subterranean city home throughout World War II.
Fish Street Hill, London EC3R
Nearly everyone has overheard some tidbit of history regarding the Great Fire of London in 1666, yet relatively few are aware this devastating event has been forever immortalised by an official memorial. Designed by acclaimed English architect Sir Christopher Wren (also responsible for St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and Kensington Palace) and Robert Hooke, the huge column of flame-topped Portland stone overlooking London Bridge, is as much a testament to the talent of one of London’s greatest architects, as it is a national treasure. Standing at 202 feet high, this magnificent Doric column is also the tallest isolated column of its kind in the world! If you can face the daunting prospect of scaling 311 steps to reach the balcony, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views across the city – and a Certificate of Achievement for your efforts!
The Temple Church
Movie buffs may recognise the carved knight effigies on the floor of this 12th Century ’round’ church from Ron Howards 2006 film “Da Vinci Code”, wherein the temple was mistakenly believed to be the site of a tomb that held the key to an ancient riddle.
It later transpired the church had no link with the hunt for the Holy Grail, however, its foundation by the Knights Templar and magnificent effigies have made it one of the most hallowed sites outside of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Entering through the Southern door, one is immediately struck by the image of the nine marble effigies guarding the Norman “Round”, the oldest of which dates back to 1227. Sir William Marshall, First Earl of Pembroke, is the most famous knight to be immortalised here; head of security for no less than four reigning kings during his lifetime. Exquisitely detailed, the Gothic craftsmanship of the building makes for some stunning photo opportunities for those with an interest in architecture – namely the columns supporting the nave, guarded by medieval Gargoyles.
81 Fulham Road, SW3
The Michelin Man (Bibendum); an icon of modern industrial development, and one of the most instantly recognisable logos in the world forms the muse for the stunning, stained glass windows at the old headquarters of Britain’s most famous tyre manufacturing company. With a distinctly Art Deco frontage supported by towering white columns, and acres of stained glass, the magnificent building on Fulham Road was designed to impress at every level. Today, visitors are freely permitted to wander the huge lobby to admire the huge tiled frescoes and stained glass installations – more of which can be seen in the Oyster Bar and trendy Bibendum Restaurant, located on the first floor.