London is full of interesting places that you won’t find on the usual tourist routes. Wherever you are in London, you’re always just around the corner from a wonderful gem with the most amazing story you’re missing out on.
But now, there’s a new app that helps you discover these incredible places! TrailTale is a free app for both iOS and Android that helps you to explore the little-known gems of London.
Simply activate the app, allow location tracking, and the app will show you all the great places around you. It’s as simple as that!
The app allows you to personalise the display by focusing it around your interests. Want to see Film locations? Or maybe espionage is your thing? Pop up the selection pane, select your chosen categories and the app will display the points which comply with your selection.
Here are some of the hidden gems of London:
Richmond was a small village favoured by the Kings and Queens of the 15th and 16th century. The adjacent Park – Richmond Park – was a favourite hunting ground, and as such building a palace here was required.
The size of the palace and its gardens was small compared to other palaces, and today one can walk around the borders in about 5-6 minutes. The North-West border of the palace is called Old Palace Lane. At the corner of the lane is the River Thames, which at the time reached the wall. This corner was the servants’ entrance, and a house was built there to store the goods arriving by boat, before dispatching them to their appropriate location in the Palace.
At a later stage, a brewery was built there, but this didn’t survive the destruction of the Palace. The land was split between a variety of noble people and ended up in the hands of Sir Charles Asgill. A villa was built in 1760 in the style of a Palladian villa. It was probably one of the last to be built on the Thames in that architectural style.
Upon Asgill death, the house passed hands and over the years alterations and extensions were made, taking away from the original design. Today, the house is in private hands, but is listed as Grade I.
This is one of the most surprising places in Central London. You can enter the Yard via several routes, but once you stand in the middle you feel as if you have been transported to an Italian square or a Spanish Courtyard; you certainly do not feel like you’re in London. The houses are colourful and there’s lots of vegetation.
Thomas Neale lived in London during the second half of the 17th century. The money that came with his wife allowed him to start several ventures, such as being the patent holder for the postal services in the new colonies of America; land mining in the Colonies; he also developed a pair of dice that prevented cheating, which was rife in gambling.
He was the architect of the area known as ‘Seven Dials’. The reason the Yard is shaped like this is because the streets leading out from the Seven Dials create a triangular shape between them.
The Yard itself was initially simply a shared yard between the houses on either side. It developed from the 70s onwards to include restaurants and shops that you see today.
The blue plaque on the building, positioned on the adjacent side of the triangle, says ‘the Monty Python producer lived here’. Monty Python were a group of British surreal comedians who were famous for their movies such as Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life and their TV show The Flying Circus. This comedy group has influenced many other shows all over the world and the members of the group (John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Jones) were household names in many British movies, thereafter.
Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women
This impressive structure sitting at the corner of Waterloo Road is a grade II listed building. Its fortunes were quite turbulent and while it was a pioneering institution in various ways, it didn’t manage to become the leading medical institution it should have been.
The hospital was founded in 1816 as a Dispensary for Children and was the first of its kind. It was founded by Dr. John Bunnell Davis, described as an energetic and talented physician but flamboyant and eccentric. He also had great compassion for children.
According to Davis, the need for such a Dispensary was undeniable. The death rate of children under the age of 5 in 1815 was 7,116 out of 19,560 (36%). At the time, hospitals would not admit children, preferring to treat adults.
While he was still alive, the dispensary grew and attracted royal patronage from the Dukes of Kent and Sussex, the Lord Mayor and sub-patronage from 4 Dukes, 8 Earls, 3 Marquises and HRH Princess Augusta. Finally, in 1821 King George IV bestowed his Royal Patronage on the dispensary. The institution treated an average of 250 children a week and had to move to its current location in 1824 shortly after Davis died.
Unfortunately, it changed name and purpose 6 times over the next few decades, which caused confusion and detracted from the devotion it received. This meant that it missed an opportunity to become the first hospital for children; a title which was given to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The Hospital received donations and managed to expand so that 50 beds and cots for women, children and babies were available in 1875; later in 1938 it had 130 beds. It joined the NHS in 1948, but couldn’t prevent its closure in 1976. In September 1981, the building was renovated and became the Central London campus of Schiller International University.
In the 19th century, Bermondsey was one of the largest industrial locations in England. Leather processing and leather goods production were the main trade here, but there were also associated industries such as products made of animal horn and hair. Not surprising is the fact that fur processing was very successful here as well. The biggest factory was Alaska, the one you stand in front of now.
The Alaska Factory was established by C.W. Martin in 1869. It manufactured fur goods of all types, but their speciality was seal fur. This can be seen today by the image of a seal at the top on the gate. The business itself started with John Moritz Oppenheim in 1823, but changed hands until it ended with Martin.
The new factory building was designed by the architect Wallis Gilbert, who also designed the Hoover buildings in London in the Art Deco style. The factory opened its floor in 1932.
When WWII broke out, the factory employed 1,100 workers. During the War, it suffered damage from the German bombers, and as a result it was partially burned down. That didn’t stop the factory from increasing its production to help with the war effort; the seal skin products were used in the manufacturing of flying suits and other items for the RAF and USAF. During the War, it manufactured 345,000 suits and over 100,000 coats. Even Winston Churchill was photographed wearing a hat made of seal skin.
After the war, the firm moved from Bermondsey and the factory was converted into flats.
Clerkenwell House of Detention
Clerkenwell was an area north of the City of London in which several monasteries existed throughout the middle ages. Most notable is the Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, a change of purpose was required, so several prisons were built in the area to accommodate prisoners and detainees awaiting trial. They were used to hold those who could not be accommodated in the main City of London prison (NewGate).
The entire area was purchased by the Middlesex Justices for the Peace. On the two and a half acres, two prisons and a workhouse were built. The workhouse didn’t last long, and along with the first prison, was burnt down. The area at the north of the site was rebuilt as the Quaker Workhouse (see it on the map from Rocque in 1746; the Workhouse and Prison are circled in red).
These two buildings functioned until the late-18th century when their dilapidated state necessitated their demolition.
The House of Detention was built in 1818 and cost £18,799. An additional building was constructed in 1845 due to massive overcrowding. Much of it still survives today.
The prison’s design followed that of Pentonville prison in Milbank, London. Each cell had its own WC and water basin, heating and ventilation. However, each had only a small, single window.
The wings had 3 floors with balconies in the front and stair cases leading to each of the floors, as shown in the internal view. The wings joined in the middle of the prison, creating space for a hall where the prisoners had their communal area. The reception areas for new prisoners, the infirmary, fumigation, and further detention cells were built in the basement. Most of this structure still exists as the Clerkenwell Catacombs.
As this was a house of detention, the detainees were all people awaiting trial. They were allowed to wear their own clothes and their relatives could bring them food and materials if they wished to carry out their professional duties.
The prison was closed in 1886. It was demolished and instead the Hugh Myddelton School was built.
The catacombs mentioned above are a very in-demand film location, with the following films featuring it: Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, Most Haunted, Spooks (TV spy series), Secret Diary of a Call Girl and St Trinian’s 2.
TrailTale offers more than 450 points of interest in London. Later in the year, points around the rest of England will also be available. So why not take TrailTale with you when you drive around the English countryside? TrailTale will track your position and show you some fantastic points along your way.
If you have more time, try one of the 14 different self-guided walks (more to come). TrailTale offers to take you all around London on interesting and unique walks you won’t find elsewhere.
London has many iconic landmarks, but sometimes a more interesting spot is hiding in plain sight. Don’t miss out on the true gems and fantastic history London has to offer.
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