Thursday, 7 June 2012

A day in London

Although I've worked in London for over 20 years, 95% of that has been 'go to work, sit at desk for 8 hours, return to home'.  However, in the remaining 5%, I have come to know some things in London and continue to enjoy visiting this fascinating city.  Once a tourist, always a tourist, I guess.

So at least once a year, we like to have a tourist day up in London to visit some of our old favourites and discover new ones.  This is a record of our day out yesterday.

9am - We arrived at Vauxhall and crossed the road to visit LAASCO's London base at Brunswick House. This is an architectural salvage firm, and the first time I came here I was convinced I was lost because you walk past several new luxury high-rise riverfront buildings before suddenly coming upon this relic of a bygone age.  I wanted DH to see it, because the building is fascinating.  It's a dilapidated old Georgian house which still has some of its architectural features like cornicing, and a main drawing room. Very atmospheric to wander around, particularly in the crumbling cellar where you can still see the vaulted ceilings and coal hole, and old kitchen shelving still stuck on the walls.  I forgot to take a picture, so have borrowed one from the Chelsea College of Art and Design's blog. Somehow a dilapidated old beauty is so much more romantic than one that's been kept pristine (so there's hope for me yet...)

9:30am We walked through one of the high-rise buildings and strolled on the Thames Path along the riverbank.  You could still see some evidence of the Jubilee flotilla crowds because a lot of the shrubbery looked rather battered, probably from being stood on.  Next stop was Cafe Madeira, a Portuguese cafe tucked in the arches under the main Waterloo line near Vauxhall Station.  I discovered this after becoming hooked on Portuguese custard tarts while on holiday in Lisbon, and being desperate for a fix once I got back to London.  They have stacks of them here, plus loads of other goodies, and very efficient service.  At this time of year, they have converted the verge into a little bit of European cafe land, with lots of outdoor seats in the shade of a big tree, almost like being on holiday.  This picture is from their website.

10:30am  Two custard tarts each and a cup of tea later (oink, oink), we caught the Tube up to Chancery Lane and went to find S and M Tools at 57 Leather Lane (warning, be prepared for a shock if you try googling THAT name).  This is the bricks and  mortar shopfront of the Proxxon tool people who go to the big dollshouse shows with all their tempting hobbyist tools.  The actual shop is more a mixture of neighbourhood hardware shop but still with lots of hobbyist tools, adhesives, gadget, lighting etc.  I bought two fine-toothed razor saw blades like we were using on the Mulvaney Master Class, a small hand drill, some contact adhesive, and some flexible filing sticks.  Image from, but after this I started taking my own photos.

11am  We particularly wanted to see the exhibition on the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens which was on at the Foundling Museum near Coram's Fields, so we walked up there from the tool shop. They were doing a 2 for 1 offer for V and A members, so we only had to pay one £7.50 admission fee.  It was well worth it, a fascinating and well-displayed exhibition which really told the story of this 18thC proto-theme-park.  There was a large scale model, loads of contemporary illustrations, artefacts such as paintings that have survived from the Gardens themselves, contemporary accounts, and even a cool light-up picture (I got to push a button!!) to give an impression of what the Gardens looked like at night.  We looked around the rest of the museum, which tells the story of Captain Coram and his vision to provide a home for some of London's many abandoned babies.  There is one magnificent room which is a re-installation of the original room where the Governors met. I took several photos of the cornicing, panelling, ceiling etc. as a reference for future dollshouse work.

c. 12:30ish Fuelled by another (very expensive) cup of tea from the Museum cafe, we strolled to the nearby Skoob bookshop, one of our favourites.  This subterranean crowded secondhand bookshop is a treasure trove of the classic and marvellous, all at very affordable prices.  I even found some knitting books in the Design section as well as enjoying perusing tomes on everything from Moorish Interiors to the Grandes Horizontales of Paris in the 19thC.  I didn't buy anything but DH found a few books that needed to come home with him.

c 1:30pm  And if you go to Skoob Books, then you have to have Japanese food at the Hare and Tortoise, a noisy fast-service noodle and sushi place that always has a bit of a queue because the prices are pretty good for London and the food is tasty.  It's in the Brunswick Centre on the other side from Skoob books.

c. 2:30pm  Much fuller, we waddled up towards the British Library to visit their free exhibitions, visiting another secondhand bookshop on the way which wasn't as good as Skoob. But as we were about to cross the road, my eye was caught by another 'Books' sign which turned out to be 'All books £2'.  Always the bargain hunter, I headed in to find a very odd assortment of junk and treasure, including for no apparent reason a bunch of recent quilting books sitting on the floor at the back. Several of those came home with me, as well as a couple of other books that looked like they needed a home also.  They only had one knitting book however, but perhaps worth revisiting in case they restock from time to time.  The shop is directly across the road from the British Library entrance.

c 3pm Although we can't claim the dizzying heights of a British Library Reader's Ticket, we can visit the free exhibitions in the Lobby.  As well as an interesting exhibition on the St Cuthbert's Gospel, they have a permanent exhibition of some of their great treasures such as the Magna Carta, Shakespearian volumes, illuminated manuscripts etc. which is well worth a wander around. Also low stress while you are digesting a lot of Japanese food. I got to push some more buttons in the interactive Magna Carta exhibition.

c. 4pm  Having watched a documentary series on TV where English Heritage spent a lot of time arguing with the Kings Cross station developers about whether or not to preserve vintage brackets, we wandered down the road to inspect the finished result.  The new ceiling is spectacular, and the brackets are impressive, but what we really wanted was a drink by this point.  So we found what appeared to be the only pub, the ParcelYard Bar, which was an absolute oasis of calm and light.  It says it is the biggest pub in a UK station, and it was virtually empty when we were there.  Several rooms, all clean and fresh, with skylights or windows so loads of light, and vintage touches here and there.  It was heaven, and we found a lovely corner with a sofa which was ideal for knitting on my Japanese Stitch Sock while I read the paper and sipped my Pimms.

c:5:15pm  As I thought they might notice if we slept the night in our cosy corner, and it was starting to fill up a bit, we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the comfy chairs and headed to the Tube station.  This time we were heading up to Camden Town where I had found a leafy Regency villa that was opening their garden for charity through the National Gardens Scheme.  A short walk from the station, we found the signs and paid our admission and claimed our included glass of wine to enjoy a wonderfully lush stepped garden with pools and cascades.  You could still hear all the traffic noise from outside, but you could have been in the deep countryside.  We lolled around on various benches and talked about when we win the lottery and what kind of villa garden we might have.

c 6:15pm  By now I was feeling the need to sober up a bit, and as the weather had stayed dry, we decided to walk back through Regent's Park.  Again, it is hard to believe you are in one of the world's greatest cities when you are surrounded by parkland, people playing football, lovely rose gardens and waterfalls, all completely free.  It was spitting a light mist of rain at this point at the same time as being sunny, and we spotted this rainbow in the sky.

c 7pm  Having worked out from my map that we were going to end up near Baker Street Tube station, and DH deciding that he was hungry again, I remembered from a long time ago a work outing to a Dim Sum restaurant near there.  Thanks to Maps on my Iphone, we rediscovered the Phoenix Palace, and enjoyed a light meal of baby octopus, crispy aromatic duck, prawn toast and Dim Sum - which was slightly confusing for the waiter but was what we fancied.

c 8:10pm  Once again extremely full, we realised that we were going to have to hoof it if we wanted to get the 8:28pm train from Waterloo.  I do not recommend charging up escalators when you have just eaten a big Chinese meal, but we did make the train with literally two minutes to spare, and were home by 9:15pm.  A lovely day:  lots of good food, relaxation, bookstores, history, and just enjoying strolling through London.  My kind of touristing, and I hope you enjoyed visiting it all with me.


Sarah Nopp said...

That sounds like an excellent day out! I hope you got a nice day to recover from it too.

Sue said...

Loved strolling around London with you!

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