What better way to spend a sunny day then in Hyde Park

Location – About 1½ (2.4 kilometres) west of Charing Cross
Transport – North side: Queensway, Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch Underground stations (Central Line); south side: Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner Underground stations (Piccadilly line). Buses: Bayswater Road 10; 12; 94; Knightsbridge: 9; 10; 19 22; 52; 137; Park Lane: 2; 36; 137. There is an underground car park on Park Lane.
Admission – Open daily dawn-dusk. Admission is free.
hyde-park-4Seasonal features – The Flower Gardes in spring and summer; the Dell in winter and spring; autumn tree colour.

The park dates back to 1536, but instead of stating the history this post will focus on the Hyde Park walk. (Start/finish Marble Arch | Time allow 1¼).

Marble Arch was erected at Hyde Park corner in 1851, as the main gateway to the park, but in 1918 it was severed from the park by traffic, and today it is outside the park boundary, isolated on one of the busiest traffic roundabouts in London. Reach it via subways 4 and 5 from Park Lane or from Marble Arch Underground Station, emerging at Exit 3. A recent scheme for an underpass to bury the traffic extends from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner, so creating a piazza to rival St Marks Square in Venice, with the arch as its centre piece.

The arch was to have been the main gateway to a remodelled Buckingham Palace and a memorial to the victories in the wars against Nepoleon, but when finished it was said to be too narrow for the state coach. When Queen Victoria had the front of the palace rebuilt, it was moved to this sport. Designed in 1827 by John Nash, with decoration by artists such as John Flaxman, Marble Arch is a dream of pure white Italian Carrara marble, styled on the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome. It originally carried a statue of George IV rising from horseback without the aid of stirrups, which is now in Trafalgar Square. The arch is hollow and housed, a tiny reporting police station in the days before radios. There are gatekeepers’ rooms above, unused for many years now, although there have been recent proposals to let them out as an apartment. They have twisting staircases 2 feed (60 centimetres) wide, vault brick ceilings, Regency fireplaces and portholes as windows.

The early 20th century bronze gates open onto what is believed may have been the site of the Tyburn Tree, the public gallows for two centuries, until they were moved to Newgate in 1783. There is a memorial stone on the floor of the small traffic island at the mouth of the Edgware Road. Condemned prisoners were transported to the gallows by cart, on which they stood for the noose to be put around their necks, then the cart was whipped away. Up to eight unfortunates could be hanged at a time on each of the gallows’ three sides. Most were not hardened criminals but impoverished citizens who were down on their luck. The laws of the time were a morass: to take fruit from a neighbour’s tree was a minor crime, but to steal fruit already picked was a hanging offence. Hanging days were like public holidays, with crowds of spectators avid for morbid entertainment. As a joke, the highwayman Jonathan Wilds picked the chaplins pocket of a corkscrew, which he held while dying. This part of London is a haunted place.

Kew to Richmond River Walk

START: Kew Bridge Railway Station or Kew Gardens Underground and Railway Station
FINISH: Richmond Underground and Railway Station
DISTANCE: 6 miles (10km)
REFRESHMENTS: Kew Gardens Station area; Kew Green; Richmond riverside

RICHMOND RIVERIf you are starting from Kew Bridge Railway Station, turn right and at the traffic lights cross to Kew Bridge and join the riverside path to go upstream (right) towards Richmond – a 10-minute walk at the most. Alternatively, it takes about 15 minutes to reach the river from Kew Gardens Underground and Railway Station: cross the area in front of the station obliquely right to head down Station Approach. Turn right at the end down Leyborne Park (the alley which runs parallel is rather dark and grubby). Turn left at busy

Mortlake Road and, at the traffic lights, cross Kew Road to Kew Green. Cross the Green on the path that goes obliquely behind St Anne’s Church, which was built with the help of a £100 donation from Queen Anne in the early 18th century. The slab of gravestone surrounded by railings on the south side of the church is where the 18th-century court painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) is buried.

The elegant Georgian houses round the Green date mainly from the late 18th century, built for courtiers and officials who served King George III’s (1738-1820) summer residence at Kew. There have been royal palaces in Kew and Richmond since medieval times, and the Royal Botanic Gardens evolved from the gardens that were laid out around the palaces; the main entrance to Kew Gardens is to the left of the Green.


The Making of Kew
The future Queen Caroline, wife of George II (1683-1760), set the ball rolling by hiring William Kent (c.1685-1748) and Charles Bridgeman (d. 1738) – both pioneers in the golden age of naturalistic landscape gardening – to lay out the grounds of Richmond Lodge in the Old Deer Park, which we pass later. At the time of Caroline’s death, in 1737, the gardens reached as far as today’s Kew. But it was her son Frederick and his wife Augusta who were responsible for creating the first Kew Gardens around their (since demolished) palace. After Frederick’s death, Augusta, with the help of architects and horticulturalists, began collecting rare and exotic plants. Some of the trees planted at that time are still living, including the first pagoda and ginkgo trees introduced to England, and the Orangery and Pagoda (the structure as opposed to the tree) are surviving buildings. The next king, George III, built on Augusta’s work and, with the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), consolidated Kew’s place as a superlative collection of plants from around the world, and opened the gardens to the public.kew

Cross from the Green to Ferry Lane, which once led to the Brentford ferry that carried horses, carriages and people across the river from the mid-17th century until the 20th century. Turn left along the river bank (signed Kew Gardens), via the towpath. Just downstream, the first Kew Bridge was built in the 1750s, though the present bridge dates from 1903. Across the river is Brentford and an island called Brentford Ait that is lush in high summer with oak, willow and poplar trees in full leaf. Between the 14th and 18th centuries, osier willows for basket-making were cultivated on the island. The word ‘ait’ is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon eyot (islet). There are several aits along the river, formed from silts and gravels washed down by tributary rivers. The next is Lots Ait and shortly afterwards you can see where the River Brent meets the Thames.

In the 18th century, the elegance of Brentford almost matched that of Kew and Richmond. In the 19th century, however, the outlet you see across the river was a busy dock, where the Grand Junction (later Grand Union) Canal joined the Thames, and was later the terminus of a branch line of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway. Instead of the smart marina and waterside development there today, you would have seen concentrated activity: barges lined up along the wharves, some laden with coal and lime and others ready to take produce from market gardens or hay for the working horses of London. From the mid-19th century until the dock’s closure in the 1960s, the scene was packed with warehouses and railway freight yards.

The Kensington Roof Gardens Walk

Start & finish : The Sun Pavilion
Time : The very short walk can be completed in under 10 minutes, but allow half an hour more to really enjoy these gardens

The Woodland Garden

Follow the stream to the fishpond, which has an almond tree on the far side and a peach and apple tree to the right. During the 2008 Head Gardner David Lewis, who has a team of three part-time staff, replanted the gardens extensively, putting in more blossom trees to enhance the year-round interest. The idea of much of the planting has been to mark moments in the gardens’ history, and blossom trees were popular when these extraordinary gardens were created in the 1930s.

The Woodland GardenThe stone bridge is an original from 1936 and if you cross it, you can pass through a gate to a viewing platform, with views across central and south London. There is, however, a more interesting viewing post later on. Continue along the path to the lawn, where there is a remarkable sight. Here you could be forgiven for thinking that you were following a woodland stream deep in the countryside. The effect is magical. There are splendid, mature trees here – English oaks, a North American red oak in the centre, limes – as well as borders busy with British woodland hedgerow natives: Bluebells in spring, yellow flag iris, bright red lobelia, amongst others. Odd pieces of pottery and stone adorn the riverbank, while in the water or on the streams edge a variety of ducks potter about, among them wood duck, mandarin, white-cheeked pintail, ringed teal and pochard. In among them are mallards that have flown in and decided to stay – and who could blame them? This must be the most exclusive pond in the whole of London.

The largest trees are 70 years old and date back to when the gardens were first laid out. It is remarkable that all this life manages to grow in soil just 16 inches (40cm) deep.

At the end of the woodland Garden there is a pretty, Japanese-style wooden bridge with a 70-year-old Japanese acer growing next to it. Cross the bridge and pass under two mature lime trees to find a somewhat hidden viewing platform. As you leave the viewing platform there is a black mulberry on your left in the bay. Now it is time to meet the gardens’ most famous residents.

It is easy to forget that you are high up in the centre of London, until you catch a glimpse of the roof tops and horizon through the wall’s circular windows.

This is just a taster of what there is on the Kensington Roof Gardens walk. To see the rest, and belive me you will want to… including the Flamingo Pond, the Tudor Garden and the Spanish Garden you really have to go and see it for yourself!

Walking Haunted Great Portland Street to Theatre Land

Start: Great Portland Street Underground Station (Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines)
Finish: Piccadilly Circus Underground Station (Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines)
Distance : 2.3km  (2 miles)
Duration: 1¾ hours
Best Time: Early on a Sunday morning, when the area is relatively uncrowded
Refreshments: The Argyle Arms in Argyle Street is highly recommended; the route is also lined by numerous pubs and sandwich bars

This looks at the Great Portland/theatreland area of London and in particular looks at the ghosts of Broadcasting House and the London Palladium. There are many strange goings on in London and with a city with so much history there are bound to be a few ghosts to be found. If you know where to look.

BBC Broadcasting House

The Ghosts of Broadcasting House

Go over the zebra crossing and pause outside Broadcasting House. Built to provide twenty-two soundproof studios for the BBC, it remains largely unaltered since being first occupied on 2 May 1932. The figures above the main doorway were sculpted by Eric Gill (1882-1940) and show Shakespear’s Arie, as a symbol of broadcasting, being sent out into the world by Prospero.

Broadcasting HouseIn 1937 the figure of a man was seen limping about the fourth floor of the building. He wore old-fashioned clothes and sported fine, twirling whiskers. So real did he look that witnesses took him to be a senior member of management until, to their astonishment, he began to dissolve before their eyes. Other ghosts seen here have included a spectral waiter who wanders the corridors, and a musician who appears lost. When people approach to help, he responds by shaking his head and vanishing.

The London Palladium Wraith

Continue along Great Portland Street, go over Oxford Street and then turn right off the pedestrian crossing to take the first left into Argyle Street. Go halfway along. Opened in 1910 and officially named The London Palladium in 1934, the theatre gave its first suggestion of being haunted in March 1973 when a doorkeeper revealed the existence of the ghost during a television interview.

Located at the rear of the Royal Circleis the old Crimson Staircase, said to be a leftover from the 18th-century Argyll House that formally stood on the site. A spectral lady in a crinoline dress glides gracefully past those who are ascending the stairs. She has been seen by theatre hands, usherettes and even visiting artists, although nobody can be sure who she was. A possible contender is Mrs Shireburn, mistress of the Duke of Argyll, who lived in the house 1750-62. Perhaps the sound of the orchestra, the rustling of the audience or the adrenaline-charged air of the stage during a performance is what attracts her.

Continue to the end of Argyle Street, go left into Great Marlborough Street, cross at the pedestrian crossing, and go left and then first right into Carnaby Street where, a little way along you arrive at the Shakespear’s Head pub. A board on the wall gives a detailed history, and above that sits a hollowed-eye, dejected looking bard, no doubt bemoaning the loss of his writing hand, blown off by a bomb during the blitz.

To continue with this haunted route, get your copy of the book and see what other spooky goings on there are to be found in London.

The Eccentric Side of Covent Garden

Seven Dials, in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields, is one of the oddest and most interesting parts of London. Tucked away between Covent Garden to the south and Bloomsbury to the north, it miraculously escaped wholesale redevelopment in the 1960s and now bears only a few scars from that unenlightened period.

The name Seven Dials comes from the place, in the southern part of the district, where seven small streets meet to form a star. The obelisk at the centre of the star where the seven streets meet is a modern replacement, but from here narrow streets of the 18th century and one or two earlier houses radiate towards Covent Garden, Charing Cross Road, Shaftsbury Avenue and Long Acre. There is still a small market here every weekday, which has been here for more than a century. Charles Dickens (1812-70) called the area Tom-All-Alone’s in his novel Bleak House, and something of the atmosphere Dickens must have known still lingers.
COVENT GARDENThe old road to Oxford (now Oxford Street) runs along what is now the northern extremity of the district, and it passes close by the parish church of St Giles, patron saint of lepers. For centuries church officials paid for a last drink at the Resurrection Gate inn for the condemned who passed the church and pub as they took their journey by cart from Newgate Prison in the east to the gallow at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) in the west.

The inn (rebuilt in the 19th century and renamed the Angel Inn) still stands next to St Giles Church. This was completed in 1712 after the earlier church began to collapse. St Giles is one of a tiny number of London churches that escaped Victorian ‘improvements’ and bombing in the Second World War.

The plague of 1665, probably the worst outbreak in the whole of history of that terrible disease, began in this area. By the 18th century, when William Hogarth (1697-1764) depicted the area in his famous engraving Gin Lane, this was a place avoided by anyone the least bit respectable. It was also considered beyond the reach of the authorities.

Gin shops abound, and poverty and desperation made the inhabitants widely feared. If a criminal from the area was being taken from Newgate to Tyburn, extra soldiers were often drafted in to guard him because, as likely as not, his friends would mount a rescue operation as he stopped for his last drink at the Resurrection Gate; and once he’d been carried off into the Rookeries, as Seven Dials was then known – the name deriving from all the tiny rooms filled with families, likes a rooks’ nest – he would never be found.

Famous Markets in London Part 1

The huge Victorian building, which takes its name from the hospital fields that once occupied this site, was once home to one of London’s largest fruit and vegetable markets. A general market still operates from Monday to Friday, but in a fairly desultory way. It is at the weekend that the building really comes to life, and particularly on a Sunday, when the organic food market is held. There are stalls selling organic fruit, vegetables, juices, bread, jams, relishes, pickles and eggs. Handmade, hand-woven, hand-dyed and hand-painted are the buss words at other stalls in the market, some of which offer extremely attractive products. One of the other good reasons to come here is the refreshments – if you’re hungry, stalls and small restaurants around the edge of the building sell a variety of international foods such as crepes, falafel, satays and Thai noodles.

Borough Market

This is perhaps the most eclectic London market of them all and really does deserve a whole day of a visit. (In fact, you really need two days to see and absorb everything.) At the Notting Hill Gate end, antique stalls, shops and indoor markets sell an amazing variety of goods, from cigarette cards to old tins and boxes to silver jugs and grandfather clocks. At the more northerly, seedier end, there are many supposed second-hand stalls – but a lot of stock, mainly clothes, looks more fourth or fifth hand. In between, there are craft and bric-a-brac markets – many young designers showcase their work here – and the food market. The food stalls stretch roughly from Colville Terrace to Lancaster Road, lining one side of the road. They operate to a lesser extent during the week, supplying fairly ordinary but surprisingly cheap fruit and vegetables to the locals, but come into their own on a Saturday, when the place is packed. That’s when the fast-food sellers appear. They offer Thai noodles and Jamaican patties – the latter a reminder of the Afro-Caribbean flavour of the area, which is exemplified by the Notting Hill Carnival, held here yearly at the end of August. There are good fish, bread and meat stalls, and you can also find glorious cut flowers. On Thursdays under the Westway, from 11am-6pm, there’s a small organic market, with good vegetables, bread, meats, dried fruit and nuts.

The legend of Jack the Ripper

The Ten Bells pub is indelibly linked with the legend of Jack the Ripper. Its interior, resplendent with a magnificent tiled wall panel depicting the days when this area was countryside outside the City of London, has hardly changed since the early hours of 9th November 1888, when Mary Kelly, Jack the Rippers final victim, left the pub. Her horrifically mutilated body was discovered next morning in Miller’s Court, off Dorset Street on the opposite side of the road from The Ten Bells. Indeed, for many years in the 1970s and 1980s, the pub was renamed Jack the Ripper, until, thanks largely to a landlord who was tastefully selling dark red ‘Ripper Tipples’, the brewery decided to return it to its original name in 1989.

jack the ripperIn the late 1990s live-in staff, whose bedrooms were on the upper floors of the building, began to complain of alarming encounters with a ghostly man dressed in Victorian clothing. They, were often awoken by an uneasy feeling in the dead of night, and would find his phantom form lying beside them on the bed! As soon as they cried out in shock, the figure disappeared. Staff with no previous knowledge of his ghost would often report seeing him, and their descriptions would always be the same. Nobody had any idea who he was and those who had occasion to live on the premises, learnt to accept him as the pubs oldest resident.

In June 2000, however, a new landlord took over the pub and decided to clear out the cellar. He found an old metal box hidden away in the corner, and opening it, discovered the contained the personal effects of a man called George Roberts. The items dates from the early 1900s and with them was a brown leather wallet, inside which was a press cutting from the same period that talked of his having being murdered with an axe in a Swansea Cinema. Further research revealed that a man named George Roberts had indeed kept the pub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the landlord concluded that it was his ghost whom staff had been encountering.

A tenant who lived on the premises in 2001 often heard footsteps followed by a faint peal of laughter outside his door, even when he was the only person on the premises. Whenever he investigated the sounds, he found the corridor outside empty. Going down into the bar to investigate further, he was often pushed hard on the back by an invisible hand.

A psychic was once brought to the pub to see what she could pick up on the premises. Having reached the top floor, she paused outside one of the rooms and refused to go any further. She said that she could sense that something terrible had happened in the room and was almost certain that it involved the brutal death of a baby in the 19th century.