London is one of the oldest cities in the world and taking a walk through the bustling streets can feel like stepping through time. Everywhere you look around this old metropolis you will find references to the past through hidden historical features in London’s buildings. And that’s just on the outside!
There is plenty more history to be uncovered on the inside of London’s buildings. Let’s discover some of the most amazing historical features found in homes across London.
Chiswick House – hand-woven blue silk velvet walls
Many of London’s homes were built as rural retreats for the rich and powerful but as the city continued to expand they were absorbed. Chiswick House is a great example of this and perfect for anyone looking to transport themselves into a Jane Austen novel.
Built during the Georgian period, Chiswick House highlights the cultural differences at the time. The Georgian Era is known for a vast difference in the quality of life for the people of Britain. Some lived in extreme luxury while others were going through extreme poverty.
One in 10 families remained below the ‘breadline’, which rose to nearly two out of every five families in times of food shortage. Chiswick House is an illustration of what fortune and being born in the ‘right’ family meant in Georgian times thanks to its vast gardens and opulent interior.
It was built and designed by famed architect and designer, William Kent, with his friend the Earl of Burlington III. Today, guests can roam through the halls and rooms of Chiswick House to take in the many Georgian details. No room highlights the sheer luxury of the time like the Blue Velvet Room, which features hand-woven blue silk velvet walls and a faux-mosaic ceiling.
Boston Manor – Jacobean strapwork ceiling
Stretching even further back through the history books is Boston Manor, which was built during the Jacobean Era. This was a brief period following the Tudor times when William Shakepeare was alive and writing some of his masterpieces.
Perhaps the best surviving example of Jacobean architecture can be found in West London at Boston Manor. Conservators have dated sections of the ceiling as far back as 1622, which is when the house was built.
Arguably, the highlight of the house is the strapwork ceiling, found in the drawing room of Boston Manor. It features an ornate, geometric design filled with tiny details and symbols that keep your eyes glued to the ceiling until you spot them all.
Southwark Brick House – converted garage houses
London is filled with rich history, and it doesn’t always date back to the 16th century. Even if it seems like most of it does! Modern architecture is often keen to celebrate the past and intertwine it with modern and contemporary design features.
This approach is clear with a vintage Bermondsey car garage plot that was transformed into the Southwark Brick House by architects Satish Jassal Architects.
It mixes new with old thanks to some careful design choices, which ensured the modern elements complement the traditional home. The original garden wall forms the plotline for this former car garage, with exposed brickwork found throughout the property.
Westminster Fire Station
Westminster Fire Station is another shining example of when modern architecture meets the past. This converted fire station is home to 17 bespoke apartments in London’s most expensive postcode, SW1.
The original station was built in the early 1900s and is a Grade II listed Edwardian property. Each apartment is unique and retains many Edwardian features lovingly restored. Some of the traditional features of the old fire station, like the carriage doors, ceramic tiles, and watch room had been preserved for the new occupants.
The redbrick building might be from the past but it brings modern thinking to the fore thanks to its sustainability-focused approach. The development uses solar panels and cutting-edge energy storage systems to reduce its carbon footprint significantly.
Kensington Palace – the King’s Staircase
Short of visiting a castle, there aren’t many homes in the United Kingdom that feel like entering Hogwarts. However, Kensington Palace may be the exception thanks to the King’s Staircase.
As you walk up this magnificent staircase you can almost feel the eyes of the 45 people painted on the walls and ceiling stare at you. You might even think some of them are moving portraits as you climb the stairs.
Like Hogwarts, there are meant to be several ghosts residing at Kensington Palace, including King George II who is said to haunt the palace where he lived.
Sir Christopher Wren, the famed English architect, originally designed the staircase with plain wood paneling. However, when George I rose to the throne he wanted Kensington Palace to make a statement so he commissioned William Kent to transform it.
Kent painted 45 people you would expect to see at a Georgian court onto the walls, including himself and his wife.
Fulham Palace – the longest moat in England
Fulham Palace was the former residence of the bishops of London until they vacated the premises in the 1970s. While the palace was built in the 16th century, people have inhabited this site since the 700s.
The palace was used as a country home for bishops for 1,300 years and it needed protection so a moat was formed. It wasn’t just any moat though, it became the longest moat in England.
Eventually, the moat was no longer required and it was abandoned. By the 1920s it was covered with trash and builder’s debris, at the request of the Bishop of London.
Some historians believe the moat dates back to the Iron Age so the moat was excavated and restored to its former glory. The excavation was approved in 2006 and by 2011 the moat had been cleared. Now the moat is clear but not filled, allowing grass and wildflowers to flourish in the historical location.
Syon House – the Great Conservatory
Property by the Thames isn’t easy to come by for London residents, with the average riverside house price well above £500,000. Syon Park is in a prime location, on the north bank of the River Thames and it’s a grand estate.
Despite its fancy architecture and grounds, the buildings at Syon Park were originally a nunnery. However, Henry VIII suppressed the nunnery and passed it onto the Duke of Somerset. The early, humble monastic buildings were transformed by the Duke, and Syon House developed into a lavish home until the 19th century.
One of the last but most impressive features to be added to the house was the Great Conservatory. At the time of its building, most glasshouses were small and delicate but the Great Conservatory is anything but.
The Great Conservatory was filled with exotic plants from all over the world until it fell into disrepair following World War I. In 1986, extensive restoration works began and now the Great Conservatory is in such great condition that it plays host to weddings and events.
Eltham Palace – Art Deco interiors
Some of London’s oldest homes can spring a few surprises for visitors. Eltham Palace is one such home and from the outside, you could mistake it for one of the many country estates found in Britain. However, the moment you step inside the entrance hall it becomes clear that Eltham Palace is a little bit different.
The 14th-century palace was revamped in the 1930s by the wealthy Courtauld family and it is filled with Art Deco interiors. Perhaps the most outstanding interior feature is the Art Deco entrance hall with its wood panel walls, etched with artworks from around the world. The artwork on the walls includes a mashup of Venetian and Japanese designs.
The Courtauld’s built a textiles empire and were not afraid to live lavishly. Lady Courtauld owned a lemur, named Mah-Jongg, and depictions of the exotic animal can be found throughout the artworks in the house. As well as Art Deco features, there is also a Tudor ceiling in the great hall that was dismantled and reassembled in 1914.