Last Updated on October 24, 2021
Secret, surprising and unusual places to discover.
If your coffee table books could do with refreshing, look no further than a copy of London Unexplored (Frances Lincoln) taking pride of place. The third in a series of magnificently photographed books on London (Unseen London and London Uncovered being the first two), this volume reveals 60 places that will surprise and intrigue. Photographed by Peter Dazeley with commentary by Mark Daly, this sumptuous book would make a wonderful gift for any London enthusiast.
London Explored is subtitled secret, surprising and unusual places to discover in the capital. Having lived in London for three decades, I hoped to find much that was new to me. The book is usefully divided into geographical areas which will help readers who wish to venture out to explore the revealed venues for themselves. It would make a great guidebook for a walking tour, perfect for showing visitors the hidden parts of London, always a thrill when visiting a large city. This is far too large and heavy a book to throw into a backpack, so it is worth reading up beforehand on the sights one wishes to visit. There is fascinating historical and architectural information about the venues. Alternatively, the book is lovely just to dip into, each page revealing somewhere lovely to look at.
Not every place is accessible to the public – such as Annabel’s private members club in Berkley Square. At the least, those of us who are not celebrities get a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle being enjoyed by certain echelons of society.
Many venues are well known to Londoners, such as Admiralty Arch – now being converted into an hotel. Others are more obscure like the Victorian pump on Broadwick Street which tells a fascinating history of the plague and the doctor, John Snow, who fought in 1854 to get the authorities to close the pump as he believed, correctly, that it was a source of typhoid in the surrounding area. I would imagine that thousands of people stream past it everyday unaware of its significance.
Museums are given space to shine in London Explored. I was reminded of how I have yet to visit The Foundling Museum and was delighted to find one of my favourites – The Museum of Brands, a quirky and fascinating museum in West London. Other museums are world famous like the Natural History Museum which probably needs little introduction.
One of London’s most iconic shops, Liberty, is deservedly included in London Explored and reading about the history of the building of the half-timbered Tudor building on Great Marlborough Street was very informative. Londoners may take some of our marvellous buildings for granted when we go out for some retail therapy or rush in to buy a gift, but this book gives one the opportunity to pause for thought.
Windrush Car Storage is so secret that its address cannot be published nor can it be photographed openly. Listed as being situated in Holland Park, it is a parking garage that comprises a 10 floor underground bunker filled with the Aston Martins, Ferraris and the like belonging to those who are ‘high net worth and time poor’ and whose cars are stored there in tip-top condition, accessible at a moment’s notice. For my money, I prefer the coverage of the East London Liquor Distillery at Bow Wharf or Fullers Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, all of which provide egalitarian pleasure for those with time to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life in London.
Further East we have the famous Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich with its inspiring architecture and a fine example of the English Baroque. A chapter entitled Further Afield jumps from Hampton (Garrick’s Temple) to Hampstead (Keats House) and on to Hendon where the Metropolitan Police Historic Vehicle Collection is to be found. No doubt the latter continues to thrill a niche audience. On the other side of London is another museum for enthusiasts – the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, once the RAF fighter station that defended London during the Battle of Britain. The London Sewing Machine Museum will also delight. Who knew such places exist? Such is the constant reveal as one pages through London Explored.
London Explored meanders through historic houses, artist studios, a biker’s café on the North Circular, the Oval cricket ground, Oxo tower, and other big names such as St Paul’s Cathedral and Lloyd’s of London.
My favourite venue in the book is the Crystal Palace Subway which reminds me of the magnificent Mezquita in Cordoba. Once a subway hall on a line that has since disappeared, the octagonal columns supporting a vast vaulted subway are topped with beautiful red and cream bricks. It was built mainly to provide visitors access to Crystal Palace. Originally built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851, Crystal Palace was later moved to Sydenham Hill in South London. The subway was intended to sharpen the appetite for the treasures that would be found in Crystal Palace itself, an architectural amuse-bouche one might say. When Crystal Palace caught fire and was destroyed in 1936, the subway fell into disuse except for its function as an air raid shelter during WW ll. It can now be visited at particular times of the year such as the Open House weekend. I will certainly be hoping to get a ticket for that. This is the sort of gem that makes London Explored such a delight to page through. There is such an eclectic mix of venues that there is certain to be something to delight all readers. The beauty of living in a vast city such as London is the unending opportunity to discover new sights and neighbourhoods. London Explored brings together a selection in a beautifully illustrated book.
All photographs are the copyright of Peter Bazeley
Buy London Explored now – we think it would make the perfect Christmas gift